Eusari Thorinson watched her crew load milled lumber aboard her ship. She Wolf had held up well on the voyage to Estowen’s Landing, and the heavy supplies she ferried had not strained recent repairs. It had only been a few months since dragging the hull across a reef and then aground. That had been during the infamous raid on Pirate’s Cove, the attack that deposed Lord Stefan Nevra.
At the time she had believed her ship lost, and it would have been, had it not been for her friend Sippen Yurik. But he completed the repairs in record time, restoring seaworthiness and upgrading her weapons. She Wolf had not been the only casualty in the attack, and much more lumber was necessary to restore the fleet. The little engineer had constructed three drydocks in The Cove and he and his team cranked out new vessels every three weeks.
A massive black wolf lay at her feet. Gelert growled low, alerting that someone approached from behind. She turned and greeted her uncle. “You shouldn’t sneak up on people, Shon.”
“Aye. That’s true, dearie. For what it matters, I wasn’t trying to.” He walked a wide berth around the animal, clearly cautious from a previous meeting. “You’re lost in your thoughts,” he observed, “what troubles you?”
“I was thinking about our world and how much it’s changed in such a short time.” She ran her hands along the hilt of one of her many hidden knives, toying with it nervously. She finally rested her palm along a newly made pistol resting in a holster on her hip. There was a time when all she took into battle were blades. That’s also new, she thought. Even the way we fight has changed.
Shon Wimbley nodded and touched his own pistol as if in agreement. “Will you be making another run?”
“Probably not. We’ve enough ships now to run the supplies. I need to be home for the elections.” Home. She marveled at the phrase, once so foreign to her. A word nearly as strange as “family” had been before she had met Braen Braston. “You’re sure that you won’t return?”
“No, dearie.” He strained his eyes up at the town, once abandoned and now a haven for his outlaw army. “We’ve much work if we’re to help your Northman with his war. I need to recruit and train soldiers on these.” He pointed at the rifle slung on his shoulder. “I’ll keep the mill running and make sure The Cove is replenished. You’ll need more ships for the coming wars.”
Eusari allowed a smile for her uncle. “Did you ever think you’d be on this side of the law?” The once constable answered honestly. “If it weren’t for their Falconers then I think that I wouldn’t have made the switch.” A troubled look crossed his face. “I just can’t abide by their tactics.”
His words returned her thoughts to a room littered with slabs. Atop the smooth tables slept men and women of all ages, some were mere children. She shivered at her inability to save them from the Rookery in Diaph. “I can’t believe we’re merely a farm to them.”
“Aye, and I won’t rest until we’ve found a way to free all of Andalon.”
Eusari’s eyes rarely met another’s, but she looked deep into her uncle’s. Not long ago she trusted only two living men. Now, she had more friends and family than she had ever hoped for. “Uncle Shon. I… I’m sorry that I doubted you, before.”
“Nah. Don’t worry about it, dearie. I walked into your life without warning. Trust takes time.” He knelt before Gelert. The wolf looked away, not meeting his eyes. “I see that some will take longer.”
“He remembers your deceit.”
“No, dearie. He probably senses some lingering doubt through your connection.” He watched her face. “It’s okay. You’ve grown much in the past few months and someday we’ll be family in more than name.”
Strangely, Eusari didn’t feel anger at his candid words. She stared at the deck and asked in a weak voice, “What was she like, my mother?”
Shon’s voice broke slightly. “My sister was the most giving woman I’d ever met. She was beautiful with eyes as green as yours and hair just as raven.”
“Did she love my father?”
“Of course, she did.”
“I mean, what was their relationship like? I… I can’t remember.”
Shon closed his eyes, remembering a time long before. He let a smile take over when he spoke about his friend and mentor. “Your mother loved Franque. She defied our own father to marry him without even a dowry. At the time he was a mere deputy, but he rose quickly to serve as constable of Brentway.” A tear formed in the corner of his eye as he spoke. “I loved him as much as she did, only differently. Something about him drew men to follow, kind of like your Northman.”
“I’m glad that he died before he could find her like… like that.” Eusari felt a lump form in her throat as she thought of what Skander Braston had done to them both.
“Aye. It would have broken Franque. He loved her so much.”
Eusari caught herself in the midst of vulnerability and quickly changed the subject. “Any luck finding more emotants?”
Shon shook his head with a hint of disappointment. “Nay, dearie. I’ve dispersed instigators to every town in the Empire. They’re teaching about the real work of the Falconers and their relationship to the crown.”
“And none have turned up?”
He shook his head again. “Not a one.”
“They’ll come.” She abruptly turned back toward the harbor entrance. “We’re shoving off soon, so you need to disembark.” Eusari paused then added, “Shon, take care of the children.”
“They’re more than air emotes. Remember that they’re children.”
Shon looked at the five teenagers on the pier, laughing without a care despite the desperate state of the world. “Their connection to the others will reach this far, you think?”
She nodded. “Samani seems to think that it will. He said that a youth in Weston contacted him all the way in Diaph. That’s roughly the same distance to The Cove.”
Shon hugged his niece and then turned to leave.
With a glance over his shoulder his eyes met hers once more. “Yes, dearie?”
Speaking intimately was still difficult for Eusari. “Take care of yourself, too. Don’t try and take on the Empire by yourself. Promise me that you’ll wait for Braen.” He tipped a quick salute and walked across the brow. She watched as he slapped two of the youths on the shoulders and walked with them, laughing with comradery into the hidden village of Estowen’s Landing.
Before long her first mate reported. “Captain, She Wolf is loaded down and ready to set sail. But I warn you, our draft is low in the water. We’ll be slower than normal, even with Caroline blowing on the sails.”
Eusari nodded. Marita had stayed behind at The Cove and the crew carried a younger and less experienced emotant on this voyage. She had not been with them during the attack on Pirate’s Cove and Eusari wanted to shield Caroline from the dangerous missions. “How low’s the draft?”
“We’re displacing five extra feet from the load.”
The captain, clad in her traditional black leathers, frowned. “That’s a lot. We’ll be considerably slower.”
“Aye. We need to be leaving before the tide runs out or we risk running aground in the channel.”
“Then make ready the sails and shove off immediately, Pete.” She smiled as her friend ambled off on his wooden peg leg. She remembered the first time they had met. Peter Longshanks had been a gunner on her original crew before she had lost her best friend and first mate, Sa’Mond. She had wanted to die after losing him, but Braen had pulled her out of despair and helped her win over her crew, still skeptical over following a woman pirate. Peter had fought alongside of her during the mutiny and remained by her side whispering wisdom all along the way.
Within an hour they cleared the channel and drifted with the wind toward the south. Pirate’s Cove lay a week away if the wind cooperated, but she expected that time to double with the added weight. Without an escort vessel She Wolf would be a sitting duck, exposed to both the elements and hostilities. Thankfully, the winter storms had ended for the season, and spring weather was more favorable for a southern voyage.
“Sail Ho!” A voice called down from the rigging, “Too far for identification!”
Eusari felt the hair on her neck bristle. This far north the ship would hail from Fjorik or one of the Imperial cities. Either way the sighting spelled trouble. Her thoughts turned to Caroline, instincts warning her to try and outrun the ship. However, She Wolf was too slow and overburdened to outpace a ship that may carry Imperial Falconers. “Hold steady on this bearing.”
Devil Jacque, the quartermaster, raised a spyglass to the horizon. “Captain, she’s Imperial, but appears to be without extra wind. Don’t suspect any birdmen.” He lowered the glass and pointed the eyepiece toward Caroline, suggesting they use the girl. “What are your orders?”
Eusari paused while the men stared. Normally she would have given an order, but this decision was tougher than most. She and Braen weren’t ready to reveal their use of emotancy, especially to the Esterling navy and the Falconers. If she outran them with this low of a draft, then she would give away a potentially effective tool in the fight to come. When she finally spoke, her voice carried determination, “Mr. Longshanks.”
“Prepare to strike colors when the ship is in range to see. Allow them to come alongside and board for inspection of goods.” She watched as Pete and the rest of the crew paled. Striking colors was a cowardly act at sea, and they had all sworn to The Cove that they would rather die in battle than be hanged by the Empire for piracy.
“Jacque.” She had given the order, but her quartermaster only stared at the deck, angrily grinding his teeth with dancing cheeks. “Jacque!” She yelled his name a second time, and he lifted his eyes to meet hers.
“Yes, My Captain?” He spoke through gritted teeth, a rumble of dissention in his tone.
“Place a couple of sharpshooters in the crow’s nest. Then go and prepare all three raiding teams. Place them in the longboats, out of sight and undercover until the enemy boards.”
A look of confusion crossed the quartermaster’s face, but then realization replaced his grimace with an understanding grin. “Aye Captain! Right away, Mum!”
“Pete, get Caroline below decks and safely hidden away. Lock her in my stateroom if you have to. Just make sure she isn’t topside when they board.” I want to shield her from witnessing the bloodshed, she thought.
“Aye!” Both men raced away and called the ship to order. They were careful not to appear like they had ordered battle stations.
The other vessel pulled alongside She Wolf in less than an hour. The galleon had thirty guns and could maintain a crew of nearly two hundred. Eusari commanded only thirty aboard the sleek two-masted sloop. Even if she had a bigger crew, she was limited to eighteen guns.
They soon learned that the larger ship was Desperation, a vessel captained by Bartholomew Cartwright. The ship of the line grappled alongside and Eusari awaited his arrival on the lee deck, wanting to avoid both wind and spray. Within minutes the enemy crew had sent seventy men aboard with swords drawn.
“This is the famed She Wolf?” The captain roared with laughter at the tiny woman dressed in black leathers, gloved arms crossed across her chest. “And you must be the famed phantom wolf, the she-devil and Lady Captain.” He casually strode forward and reached out his hand, stroking the fur of her cloak. As he reached to scratch the ears of the hood a low growl could be heard from behind a crate. He instantly stepped back and drew both of his swords. “What in the unholy hells is a wolf doing aboard a ship?”
“Easy Gelert,” when Eusari spoke the words seemed to purr out of her throat, “let’s not kill him until he’s had a chance to surrender.”
“Surrender?” Bartholomew and his men roared hysterically at her words, but she and her sailors stood fast on the deck.
Without flinching she responded, “You and your men will lay down your swords.”
The crew that hadn’t boarded manned the rails to watch the show. They shared the merriment and laughed along with their captain. He asked, “Just like that?”
“Actually,” Eusari purred, “you will also give over your vessel, Captain Cartwright.” She raised her gloved hand into the air and dropped a black silk handkerchief to the deck.
As soon as it left her hand two claps of thunder could be heard from atop the crow’s nest. With all eyes on the wolf, no one noticed her sharpshooters. Bartholomew sprang a red hole in the top of his head. Nearby another man fell with him in unison. On cue, three tarps flew back from the longboats and rifles ripped into the topside crew aboard Desperation.
Eusari’s men on deck drew their pistols and fired into the invaders, causing them to panic. With swords drawn her crew cut down man after man while those in the longboats finished off those on the other vessel. The battle ended in minutes, with Desperation losing more than one hundred men. Several of the survivors surrendered very quickly after realizing the awesome firepower of her weapons.
She Wolf did not lose a single sailor. She ordered the captives locked away below decks on the Galleon, intending to press many of the soldiers into service. Now, with a ship of the line at her disposal, she tied off her own and towed it back home to The Cove. With the help of Caroline, the winds favored the larger sails and she made the trip in a week.