“Dreaded”

(This is a short piece from the same universe as my first planned book series, from the viewpoint of a side character who may someday get his own book.)

Crookshaw awoke to a knock on his door. He cracked his neck and planted his feet on the floor, letting out a long yawn. Looking out the small window, the sea was peaceful and his ship peacefully swayed with the waves. What could possibly be wrong now? He thought as he walked to the door. Throwing it open, he instinctively reached for his side to feel his sword which was still sitting on the table by his bed.

“Captain…” his first mate grumbled. “There’s a ship on the horizon flying a flag we’ve never seen. Maybe it’s elves?”

“Not this far out,” Crookshaw replied as he walked onto the deck. He had encountered elves many times but could never pinpoint where they came from. He squinted as his eyes searched the horizon. “It’s small, let’s have a look. Tell the men to be ready for a fight.”

The first mate yelled out orders to the men while Crookshaw spun the ship’s wheel. As the ship groaned, their heading slowly changed. Crookshaw walked back to his cabin to grab his sword and put on his bladed gloves. The steel bar across the knuckles was enough to stop any sword and break it with a flick of the wrist. Crookshaw carried the sword for dramatic effect, waving it around to give directions in the heat of battle. The dread pirate Crookshaw, as he was famed, was a force better avoided. He was known to sailors as a ruthless bandit of the sea, plundering anything he wished whether it was cargo or a fishing boat.

As they approached the small vessel, his men were ready to cross. Crookshaw counted the men on board. One…three…five, six…seven? “Put your swords down men and lower the gangplank. I’ll go alone.” With a few grunts, the men sheathed their swords and relaxed, staring at the small boat. After the plank crashed onto the boat, Crookshaw slowly walked across, cautiously scanning for bows or anything else that might cut his infamy short. In front of him stood a bewildered man with firey red hair and a scowl across his face. To his left stood a fat man, presumably the captain, and a few sailors. Off to the other side stood a hooded figure in a blue robe. He must be the rich one.

Getting into character, Crookshaw cleared his throat and was about to speak when the fat captain bellowed, “What do you want with me ship?”

Not intimidated, Crookshaw replied, “Hold your tongue and you may keep it. I’m sure you all know who I am.”

“The dread pirate Crookshaw,” murmured one sailor meekly.

With a grin, Crookshaw replied, “Aye, good man. He’s a smart one, keep him around.”

“We won’t give you the ship without a fight!” yelled the captain, once again interrupting as he took stance for battle.

“I told you to hold your tongue before you lose it!” yelled Crookshaw. Regaining his composure, he smiled. What is this ship doing so far out in open waters? One storm and they’d all drown.

“Is it true, what they say about you?” asked a terrified sailor.

“You’ll have to be more specific than that,” Crookshaw replied.

“Th—that you once, t-t-took a ship twice your size without drawing your sword,” the sailor stuttered, keeping his head down.

“It’s true, and yes, I prefer my fists.” Though that ship wasn’t half as armed as they claimed nor twice our size. And my men fought with me. In stories like that, the fish gets bigger every time. “Now it’s my turn to ask the questions. Where are you headed and why?”

Stepping forward, the man in blue spoke confidently, “We’re sailing for the elves. We need their help.”

“Help? The elves have been reclusive for a thousand years and you want their help? You’re all mad from the sun. I ought put you out of your misery.”

“It’s true,” said the one in blue. He took his hood off, revealing his long white hair and—pointed ears. He’s an elf? “We’re overthrowing the king.” Crookshaw let out a laugh but he knew he should take them at their word, on account of the elf. It had been years since he last saw an elf and even longer since one was willing to speak. If he could find the elves, he could find…

“And what hope do you have?” Crookshaw questioned.

“This,” said the man with red hair as he took off his glove. The man held the back of his hand toward Crookshaw as it began to glow red. A circle with an “X” across it shined from his skin with strange symbols encircling it. Crookshaw had never seen anything like it but he knew to be wary. This looks like strange magic.

“And what is that?” he asked.

“Thousand-year-old magic that contains the power of a demigod. Do you know the legend of Xan?” asked the elf.

“A story parents whisper to their children at night in hope of a better future. It’s a fairytale,” Crookshaw replied, walking closer to the red-haired man.

“I thought it was a fairytale too. Fight me if you want proof,” said the man as he drew his long black sword, gripping it with both hands. “I kill you, we go free. You win, I’m a dead liar.” Crookshaw gave a smirk. Seven months since my last duel. The sea is too boring.

“Agreed.” Crookshaw checked his knuckles. The blades were sharp and thirsty for fresh blood. Everyone walked to the sides of the boat as Crookshaw and the man walked to the middle of the deck. The elf stood nearby, hands tucked away under the robe. I’ll have to watch for that one. Those elves are quick. “What’s your name?” he asked the red-haired man he was about to kill.

“Drack,” replied Drack.

“Drack,” said Crookshaw. “What an odd name. Shall we begin?”

Drack nodded. Crookshaw nodded in return as he leaned forward, running fist-first at Drack’s blade. Drack swung his blade and Crookshaw caught it on his knuckle, the vibration rumbling through his hand and up his arm. It felt like his arm was just crushed under a crate of bricks. Crookshaw’s arm was burning with pain as he jumped back to adjust, keeping a straight face. That shouldn’t have hurt. Drack made the next move, swinging at him from above. Crookshaw dodged it, punching his bladed knuckles straight at Drack’s now grounded sword, aiming to break it before he had to block another hit. His fist made contact with the black blade and he spun his knuckle, putting all his strength into the turn. He heard a ring as one of the blades flew off his knuckle and stabbed into the wooden deck.

How?

Without hesitation, Drack kicked him in the stomach. Crookshaw staggered back, digging his fist into the wood to stabilize himself. He lunged forward at Drack’s right side. When he moved his sword to block it, Crookshaw feigned to the left and uppercut Drack’s face. He pulled his head back but still took a nasty cut as was evident from the blood dripping from his cheek. Taking another punch at Drack’s gut to slow him down, Crookshaw saw a bright light and he was knocked onto his back, his shoulder in immense pain. He could smell burnt flesh as he looked at his shoulder, dazed. Black smoke wisped off his arm as small charred ends burnt out.

Fire? Magic?

He heard a yell as he looked up, seeing Drack’s silhouette in the sun above. He rolled as Drack’s blade came within inches of him. The force of the blade cut clean through the wooden deck, cracking the planks holding Drack and Crookshaw. They plummeted below the deck and landed hard on the floor below. No amount of human strength could have done that. No blade can cut through a deck so effortlessly. Who are these people? Crookshaw got to his feet and looked to see Drack still on the ground. I could end it.

Instead of attacking, he jumped up and pulled himself out of the hole. Drack took the ladder up a few moments later, running straight for Crookshaw again. Feigning another punch, he got past Drack’s defenses and hesitated, sweeping at Drack’s leg instead of landing a fatal blow to his neck. Drack held his empty hand out, forming a ball of fire in it. Crookshaw leapt away from the fire and kicked Drack in the back of the head, knocking him face-first onto the deck. Crookshaw retreated, knuckles at the ready.

That was magic. Maybe the elf tells the truth.

Drack got up and Crookshaw could see the rage through the blood covering his face. Drack stuck his hand out, forming another ball of fire. “I’m done,” said Crookshaw calmly. He glanced over to his ship to see his men dumbfounded. “I yield,” he said louder. Drack lowered his arm and the fire on his hand burnt out.

“I’m glad you’ve come to an understanding. We must be going,” said the elf.

“All that and we let him go?” asked an infuriated Drack.

“He had every opportunity to kill you, Drack. And you, him. Best to call it a draw and be on our way. Of course we should expect Crookshaw to pay for the damages to the ship,” said the elf as he looked toward the captain.

“I-I…yes,” replied the captain, bewildered.

“Certainly, good men. I’ll bring over a few pieces of gold.” Crookshaw calmly walked up the plank and onto his ship. The men looked to him for instruction but he ignored them momentarily. He took two pieces of gold and a piece of silver from his cabin and walked it back to the other boat. “Here.” He handed it to Drack.

After they detached the gangplank and sent the boat on its way, his first mate came to him, confused. “We could have easily taken them. What happened?”

“Those men have something more valuable than gold or supplies. Let us not stand in their way,” determined Crookshaw.

Crookshaw watched as the boat sailed into the horizon. “Set our heading for the east and don’t lose that boat. Stay as far away as we can but don’t lose that boat.” Crookshaw walked to the bow and stared into the distance. He knew those men would find the elves. “I’m coming,” he whispered. “I’ll find you soon.” He wondered what the elves would think when their boat came to shore, how they’d react to a pirate incursion. He went to sleep with a smile that night.

When Crookshaw awoke the next morning, his first mate informed that they had lost the ship. He didn’t attack or kill any of his men like they anticipated, he just went back into his cabin. As soon as he slammed the door, he wept softly.

I’ll find you soon…

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