Taking the Kurstav
Brandr stood on the aft deck, trying to project an aura of calm readiness. Everything was in place for his first naval engagement as a captain, and it would not do to appear nervous.
The entire plan had come together almost by itself. While Brook and Morgana hit the dockside taverns, brothels and gambling hells to recruit and swap tales, Tragen surveyed the ships in port, and soon identified a likely prospect loading a heavy cargo. Morgana, apparently inspired by Aretta, disguised herself as a sea-worn slag and successfully infiltrated the ship as a potential recruit, easily learning her destination, schedule, and ship’s complement. She even found out that the crew was mostly simple sailors, and the few fighting men aboard were mercenaries who had already been ill-treated by the ship’s captain.
Setting out on the evening tide, the Storm’s Herald had made good time south, finding a nicely sheltered cove shortly after dawn. A narrow, heavily forested spit of land hid the ship from the south, and a good-sized river had carved out a nice anchorage. Acting on Tragen’s suggestion, Brandr had set a work crew to chopping down trees, and then, under Mr. Habbly’s expert guidance, building a rough dam. Soon enough, the work was completed, lookouts set among the trees, and the crew settled in to wait. Brandr stood on the deck, resisting the urge to pace as the broiling sun reached its zenith.
Shortly after noon, the lookouts signaled a sail, raising a great splash as they hurried back in a longboat. Morgana briskly ordered her riggers to the tops, while Corvus took charge of a gang of the strongest swabs at the capstan. Brandr and Brook stood by, eyes locked on Tragen at the helm. The enigmatic druid leaned on the wheel, eyes half-closed as he gazed up at the clouds. Any other man, and Brandr would have shouldered him aside and seized the wheel, but he had confidence in Tragen’s sea-sense.
If he hadn’t been so focused, Brandr would have missed the subtle shift of the Herald’s timbers that indicated the tide had shifted. Tragen had already muttered a few commands to Morgana, and her whistle quickly had the riggers unfurling sails to seize what little off-shore breeze was available. In response to his Master of Sails nod, Brandr bellowed out a command.
“Mr. Dreadbeak, weigh anchor, if you please!” Owlbear, Narwhal, and several other burly crewmen leaned into the capstan, hauling in the anchor, then taking up the slack on another rope leading to the dam. Brandr clenched his teeth as Fipps capered about the capstan snapping a whip over the heads of the straining swabs, but restrained his desire to wrap the thing around the brute’s throat. Next time, Fipps could haul a line like the rest of the crew.
The Storm’s Herald drifted forward as the anchor was lifted free of the bottom, then stopped with a slight jerk as it hit the end of the second rope. “C’mon, you lubbers, put your backs into it or I’ll cut you some stripes!” Fipps was definitely enjoying his work far too much. Still, he seemed to get results, as with a great heave the capstan crew ripped the linchpin out of the dam and a great rush of water sent the Herald hurtling forward. Tragen easily adjusted to the flood, and the sails bellied full as they shot past the headland into a strong northerly wind, their Jolly Roger streaming out proudly.
Kurstav’s captain must have been the worst kind of lubber, as he continued his landward tack long after he should have seen the Storm’s Herald moving to intercept. By the time the prey tried to evade, Tragen had brought the pirates within a bowshot, and Corvus had fired one of their screaming arrows the length of the Kurstav, sending her crew into a panic. Using a minor spell, Brook convinced the opposing captain that it would be in his best interest to surrender and keep his ship. With that, the Kurstav heaved to, and a few minutes later Brandr stood on her deck, surrounded by the ugliest crew he could find.
They must have put on a good show, despite Badger’s fidgets and Owlbear’s drooling, since the other captain’s attempt at treachery was met by a wall of sullen indifference from his crew. It did, however, free Brandr from Brook’s promise to let them sail on with only their cargo taken, so the Kurstav was taken as a prize, her captain, one Aspar Tharkidor, clapped in irons, and her cargo transferred to the Storm’s Herald.
All in all, it was a very successful engagement: no injuries, no danger, a hold full of loot and the beginnings of a pirate fleet. Still, Brandr had been hoping for at least a bit of a brawl. It seemed like the entire venture, from scouting, to planning, to execution, had gone off without his lifting a finger. Perhaps that was leadership…