Post by Char-Vell on Feb 18, 2018 10:29:25 GMT -5
For three days, the Aquilionian galley Swiftsure was tossed and battered by the churning waves of the Western Sea. Its crew, near exhaustion, struggled to keep it upright. All pretext of maintaining anything resembling a course had been abandoned. For three days, the oars had been shipped and the hatches closed. For three days Fabricus, overseer of the thirty slaves compelled to man the oars of the Swiftsure, had grown blacker of humor. He gazed in disgust toward the crowded benches. He could not make out the faces of those seated there, all flames had been extinguished to prevent accidental fire, but he could smell them. The air, never sweet here where the enslaved toiled in their own filth, had grown abominable since the storm had entombed Fabricus with these cretins. He absently fondled the amulet he wore about his neck. It was a rude depiction of an enormously pregnant torso with pendulous breasts, the head, arms, and legs had been omitted from the reddish glazed clay figure, so as not to detract from its fecund attributes. It reminded him of the barbarians they took onboard just before the storm began. Several galley slaves that had left Aquilonia with the ship had died of an ague, and desperate for manpower so far from home waters, Captain Amulias had put ashore in Vanahiem, buying Aesir captives from Vanir slavers. They now sat aft of Fabricus in the darkness. Great, blue-eyed, tawny-bearded brutes. He could feel their gaze upon him now, even through the dimness.
But not all the Aesir had been purchased as slaves, there was one exception. Shortly after leaving the shallow bay where they had met with the Vanirmen, another blonde savage was discovered onboard, trying to pry the shackles loose from the headman of the Aesir. The crew set upon this stowaway, and were met with fierce resistance. One crewman died with a knife twisted in his guts, another suffered such a blow to the head that it was likely he would remain a gibbering idiot the rest of his days. At last they managed to subdue this wild creature. When the wolfskin cloak was torn from the captive, the Aquilonians where shocked to find that what they thought was a tall, longshanked man, was a woman, a girl really, though she towered a head taller than most of the Aquilonians and had muscles like a cart horse. Fabricus gave the order to cut her throat and toss her overboard, but this was belayed by Captain Amulias. There was some ruckus among the Aesir, Fabricus could not understand their savage babbling, but the captain apparently knew a smattering of their tongue, as well as another of the galley slaves, a captive Kothian mercenary. An agreement was reached that the Aesir would submit to their servitude and offer no resistance, if this girl were allowed to remain alive and unspoiled. To this, Captain Amulias agreed. Whether out of a desire to keep the savages placid or some foolish sentimentality, Fabricus knew not.
Fabricus spat in disgust. Bargaining with barbarian trash! Better to slay all the dogs! Such maudlin weakness would one day bring Aquilonia to its knees! He turned his attention to where the girl now sat chained to the oars with her tribesmen. She had not spoken since her capture, nor looked anywhere save straight ahead, nor even cried out when he struck her when the captain was not looking, nor even when he snatched the barbaric amulet he now wore from around her shapely neck. Aye, it was shapely, though thick and sinewy compared to the pale slender throats of the civilized women on whom Fabricus normally focused his attention. He rose, and, mindful of the swaying deck, made his way over to her and squatted down. She sat with her shackled arms draped over the oar, green eyes staring straight ahead through filthy, matted hair. Fabricus seized the girl’s hair and jerked her head backward. She showed no reaction. He allowed his gaze to roam over her body, barely covered by the tatters of a linen tunic and a rag twisted about her hips. She was not unlovely, he thought; Aye, she was heavily muscled, but the curve of her hips and the swell of her breasts appealed to him. Fabricus ran a hand over his face and close-cropped scalp. The storm had started with her arrival, and had only increased in strength. Perhaps it was her doing! Some sort of northern witchery! He would be doing the Swiftsure a service to slay this wench and toss her into the churning sea! But, such a waste.
Grinning, he moved in and shoved the girl down prone on the bench. The savages began yelling at him in their guttural tongue, but he paid them no heed. He tore open the girl’s tunic and seized a breast, squeezing it savagely; still the girl stared straight up at the ceiling, showing no reaction. There was a cry in thickly accented Aquilonian, from the Kothic mercenary;
“Dog! Would you break your Captain’s vow? Is this Aquilonian chivalry?”
“Still your tongue, you Kothic bastard, lest I cut it out! I’ll see what it takes to coax a moan out of this whore!” There was an outcry and a rattling of chains as the Aesir strained at their bonds, helpless to aid their tribeswoman. Some of the other slaves stirred as well, but most were too cowed to protest. Fabricus crawled atop the girl, and reached down with both hands to tear the loincloth from her supple young body. He whispered huskily in her ear, his rancid breath hot against her tender flesh.
“No doubt you’ve been astride many a stallion my golden-haired filly, one more should be a small matter!”
Suddenly he found himself entangled! The girl had abruptly wrapped her legs about him, pinning his arms to his sides, he strove to free himself, but the strength of the girl’s thighs was unrelenting.
“Mitra!” he croaked. His last thoughts were of confusion and anger, but these thoughts ended when the girl struck him a fierce blow under his nose with the heel of her hand, driving the nasal bone into his brain. She pushed the still twitching body off of her and seized the poniard from the overseer’s belt. Her eyes wild and her teeth bared, she drove the blade repeatedly into his breast. Great gouts of blood spewed across the planks with every stroke of the dagger.
The eldest of the Aesir captives hailed her. “Sigyn! Enough! The dog is dead, take his keys and release us!”
She ceased her butchery and tore the amulet from the corpses’ neck. Taking the keys from the dead Aquilonian’s belt, she unshackled herself, and then delivered the keys to he that requested them.
“Release the others, Honir.” she whispered while tying the amulet about her neck. “I am going up.”
“To what end?” asked the Kothian, now in the language of the Aesir, “You mean to take on the whole crew with that dagger? Wait for the rest of us! We go up as one!”
Sigyn’s eyes narrowed as she regarded the speaker, a sun bronzed man of middle years, his hair and beard shot with grey, clad in the filthy tatters of some military garb.
“Who is this dog that speaks the tongue of the Aesir, Honir?”
The Kothian grinned, and, not waiting for the Aesir elder to speak, said, “Turn not thy rage toward me, lass! I am Vikare. In my former life as captain of a company of free fighting men, I gained a smattering of many tongues. More than one Aesir has shed his blood at my side.”
Honir nodded. “This man seems honest enough, Sigyn, and he speaks wisely, wait until we are all free. Then we will take the ship.”
Sigyn scowled, and then shrugged. “As you wish, but hurry!” She then crept up the short flight of steps that led to the deck.
In short order, all the slaves had been unshackled, about half of their number armed themselves with lengths of chain, boards, or whatever improvised weapons could be had, and assembled themselves near the hatch. The remainder cowered toward the back of the benches. Without any arrangement being made, all deferred to Vikare, as his mastery of several languages and air of command made even the savage Aesir gravitate to him as a natural leader.
“Sigyn will throw open the hatch.” he began, nodding to the girl, “Then we will attack. The crew will be distracted because of the storm; this will work for and against us. Strike fast. Seize weapons when you can. Mind you don’t get washed over board.”
He met the gaze of each man in this ragtag force, then, commending his soul to Ishtar, nodded once more to Sigyn. She took her dagger in her teeth, and pushed open the hatch, leaping through it and immediately to one side, allowing the men behind her to climb out onto the wildly pitching deck. A wave struck her, forcing her to grip the sill of the hatch. The water was cold, but she almost relished it as it soothed her wounds and washed away the filth of her confinement.
“Close it Sigyn!” Vikare bellowed over the tumult of the raging storm, “Lest it fill with water and we sink!”
Sigyn did as she was bid; then, taking her dagger in hand, fell in behind the force of desperate slaves. It was as Vikare had predicted; the crew was so preoccupied with keeping the ship afloat, they knew not of the attack until the slaves were among them, The half dozen Aesir were at the forefront. Having been confined for less of a span, they retained more vitality than the others. They lay about with chains and bare fists. The Aquilonian sailors were lightly armed with knives and daggers, and began defending themselves robustly once they realized what was happening.
Sigyn ran along the length of the ship toward the rudder, thinking to secure it, though she had no clue how to steer a seagoing vessel herself. She blundered directly into a crewman, and the twain fell to the deck in a tangle of limbs. They grappled fiercely, the sailor trying to slice at her with a hawkbill knife. Sigyn managed to get astride him, pinning his flailing arms with her knees, then, thrust her dagger through his neck. Hot blood spurted into her face as she sliced open the sailor’s throat, his gurgling cries drowned out by the thunder and the crashing of waves. She relented only when he lay still. Sigyn regarded her vanquished foe. He was a handsome, auburn haired lad, no older than herself. She rose, wiping the blood and salt spray from her eyes, burying any twinge of sadness she may have felt after killing the lad. He was far from the first foe to die at her hands. Young as she was, she was the veteran of many savage battles. In the wild uncivilized reaches of northern Asgard, manslaying was as common a chore as chopping wood or tanning hides. Looking about her, she saw no more foes within reach of her blade. There was a riot of men brawling about the deck. She saw Rothall, a burly man from her village, lift an Aquilonian high overhead and toss him into the churning sea. For the first time, her gaze was drawn out into the ocean. It was as gray and roiling as the violent sky above it. Sigyn had not seen the ocean before plunging into it weeks ago to swim out to the Swiftsure in her ill-fated rescue attempt. It had been calm then, and the shore had been visible nearby; but now it was a boiling vision of madness! Sigyn suddenly felt very small and vulnerable, an insect clinging to a twig in a vast neverness of water where no land had ever existed. Great arcs of lighting crawled across the vault of heaven, and lo! A great swelling of water rose, gradually forming a colossal wave, larger than any wall or cliff face Sigyn had ever beheld. At first it seemed the Swiftsure would climb up and over the mountain of water, but then the wave crested and arched over top the ship. The sky was blotted out and it was as if the boat dwelt within a bubble, enclosed on all side by the sea. Within a heartbeat, this deluge crashed into the galley. Somehow, Sigyn stayed on her feet as the ship lurched over to one side, then another. Then she watched, detached, as the mainmast of the Swiftsure bent and shattered. A wall of water and debris hurtled towards her.
“Ymir!” she muttered, and then all was black oblivion.