Categories > Original > Fantasy > Stories of Tavanta

The Captain

by mattappleby 0 reviews

Category: Fantasy - Rating: R - Genres: Fantasy,Horror - Warnings: [V] - Published: 2011-09-24 - Updated: 2011-09-24 - 4461 words

The Captain
by Matt Appleby

30 miles north of Salugestede, Kilender Sea
Year 892, Fourth Age

Llwelyn had been the first one to spot it. The Green Man had been at sea for five
weeks, deep into the annual three-month Agora Black Crab season, and up to that
point everything had been relatively normal. The eight-man crew had survived the
endless storm that was the Kilender Sea in winter, weather that would brutalise even
the toughest sailors, and whilst the haul was lower than in previous years, they were
still bringing in a stable supply of fish. This perhaps didn't qualify as 'normal' by
traditional standards, but the Green Man could earn its keep in even the worst of
conditions, and compared to its reputation, the sea had actually been well behaved.

At least, it had been until now. A few hours previous, as the dawn started to
break, the storm had actually faded. The wind died to a breeze, and the waves, instead
of trying to capsize the ship, instead gently lapped at its side. The sea was still, and all
was calm. In over a thousand years of exploration and settlement, the Kilender Sea
had never been calm. Had never even been close. The crew had only become more
disturbed when a thick mist rolled in, covering the endless horizon, turning their
world into only a few metres of sea.

This wasn't a respite from the storm. This was the storm taking a deep breath,
preparing to release a savagery they couldn't imagine. They awaited the worst.

Llwelyn, stood alone on the deck, had noticed another ship drifting through
the mist. It was a wooden galleon, full sails raised, at least a dozen times bigger than
the Green Man. The details were impossible to make out, but it looked new, in too
good a condition for a vessel of that age. And even if his eyes deceived him, a galleon
was still too big and too old to be in these waters, not through any rational means.

Even before he called for his shipmates, he knew exactly what he was looking
at. A ghost ship had just appeared out of the mist.

And they thought they knew what the Kilender Sea was capable of.

Once the others joined him on deck, no time had been wasted in agreeing with
him. Helm, their token orc and unofficial expert on ships of old, had confirmed it. The
ship was most likely Genturan, 6th-7th century, and built for the tropical waters of
Natiki. On the equator, you could maybe accept that it was a modern restoration that
got lost, but this was the Kilender Sea. There were no accidents here, and there was
nothing natural about the ship's arrival.

Captain Haagen had made the decision to investigate. No other fishing vessels
operated north of Salugestede, and the nearest civilisation was Yewelong, an oil rig
over a hundred miles away. There was no one they could call on for advice or
assistance. Ghost ships were the tales of drunken sea dogs, but there was a real one
right in front of them, and they had to find out why.

Haagen chose a four-man team for the job. Climbing aboard would be himself,
Llwelyn, Helm and their Assistant Engineer, Jonns. The others would remain on the
Green Man, under acting command of First Mate Anund.

And an hour later, with all necessary gear packed and shouldered, the Green
Man drew up alongside its new neighbour. As they got closer, they could see that, as
Llwelyn suspected, it looked too new for its own good, like it hadn't aged since the
day it was first built. There were no signs of a crew, or that there had ever been a
crew, just the gentle clanks of the rigging twisting in the breeze.

On a board by the prow, the name Enteriza had been painted in neat letters.

Helm cleared his throat. "My Genturan's pretty shit," he said, "but I think that
means 'Endurance'."

Jonns gave a dry laugh. "You don't say."

A little further along, they could see a rope latter hanging down from the deck.
It flapped a little in the breeze, but looked perfectly climbable.

"Am I the only one," Jonns said, "who finds that really ominous? A deserted
ship is inviting us aboard. I'd rather take the stranger offering candy."

"Well, you're going aboard anyway." Haagen replied after a moment. "And so
am I. Also, I don't see a better way."

"I know. I'm just saying I don't like it."

"It's a fucking ghost ship." Hakon, the Steward, chipped in. "What's to like?"

"Alright, that's enough group bonding." Haagen said with a half-smile.

The Captain took out his radio and called the bridge. "Anund, get us closer to
that ladder."

"On it, Captain."

The Green Man slowly edged towards the ladder. It was a small, the Enteriza
was a moving target, and the trawler wasn't exactly precise anyway, so this was
something Anund did with more care than either ship had probably ever known.

Llwelyn felt his nerves mounting. He'd grown up around the Kilender Sea and
its attached fishing industry, but this was his first time out on an actual crab season.
The storms had been rough on him, but he'd expected it, and at the risk of blowing his
own trumpet, he felt that he'd made a pretty good account of himself so far. He was
far behind his more experienced shipmates, of course, but he was greenhorn doing
tough work, and no one had been expecting excellence.

And now, after only five weeks, he was about to climb aboard a two-century-
old abandoned Genturan galleon, that was almost certainly haunted or enchanted or
something else equally terrible. The fishing was hard enough, but he knew fishing.
Since when were ghost ships in the job description?

The Green Man gently bumped against the Enteriza, the ladder dangling right
next to the deck.

Haagen clicked the radio. "Good job, Anund."

"Thank you, Captain."

"Keep it level. We're going aboard."

"Will do. Good luck."

Haagen put the radio back in his pocket, then grabbed the ladder and gave an
experimental tug. It held. He muttered something Llwelyn couldn't catch, then started
climbing. The ladder flapped about more than the crew would've liked, but he kept
his grip and didn't stop moving. It was several minutes before he reached the top and
pulled himself onto the deck. Jonns followed him, and then Helm.

And now it was Llwelyn's turn. He briefly considered the possibility of
backing out, but then realised how stupid that was. He was thirty miles from the
nearest landmass, and a hundred miles from civilisation. If he was going to back out,
he'd have done it five weeks ago.

He steeped forward and grabbed the ladder. The rope was cold and wet, and
almost tore itself from his grasp, but he was a strong young man and kept hold. He
climbed, nearly losing his footing a few times as the ladder bounced against the ship,
but eventually he too reached the deck. He pulled himself to his feet and tried to take
in his surroundings.

The deck of the Enteriza looked much like he'd expected of a galleon. There
were three masts evenly spaced out, the sails and rigging swinging about above his
head, and spare equipment lying at the bases. Metal grates formed a line down the
middle, the first one open and containing a ladder to the lower decks. Everything was
clean, nothing was damaged, nothing was misplaced. Everything was wrong.

There was something else, this time out of place in the traditional sense. To his
right were two stairs, leading to the upper deck and the helm. Stood at the helm, his
hands unmoving on the wheel, was a skeleton. He was wearing a tricorne hat and a
black cloak, and staring down at the main deck with a total absence of expression.
Llwelyn realised he shouldn't have been disturbed by this, on account of the skeleton
being so obviously dead, but then again, it was a skeleton.

Haagen, Jonns and Helm were all looking at the skeleton as well. They seemed
to share Llwelyn's sentiment.

"Finally, some genuine weird shit." Jonns said.

Haagen shook his head, but more as if to gain focus than to refute anything.

"Jonns, Helm, you two search the lower decks. See what you can find. Me and
Llwelyn will take the dead guy."

"I'm not sure which sounds less appealing." Jonns said.

Llwelyn couldn't have agreed more.

"I know." Haagen said. "But the sooner we find out what's going on, the
sooner we can get the fuck out of here."

"Amen to that."

Jonns and Helm went over the open grate, and headed down the stairs.
Llwelyn followed Haagen up to the dead helmsman.

The two fishermen studied the skeleton for a few minutes. Neither of them
spoke. There wasn't much to say. The skeleton was obviously dead, but as why he
was stood at the helm, or even able to stand, or even just so well preserved, there were
no real clues.

The silence began to fray at Llwelyn's already fragile nerves. The mist was
still heavy in the air, obscuring all the world beyond the ship. It was almost as if the
world was not hidden, but gone all together, the ship and its explorers trapped alone in
a whitening void. That the rigging clanged so loudly without other noises to drown it
out certainly didn't help the atmosphere.

Suddenly, Haagen's radio crackled into life. Llwelyn damn near shat himself.

"Captain? Are you there?"

Haagen took out his radio.

"I'm here, Anund."

"Have you found anything?"

"No, not yet. I suggest you move away from the ship. Don't want any

"I'd rather stay here, Captain, if it's all the same to you. We don't know what
could be up there."

"Don't remind me. But you're Acting Captain, Anund. The Green Man is your
priority, not me. Besides, you'll be no use to us if the Enteriza runs you over."

"That's...a good point. Radio me the second you find anything."

"I will. Stay as far out as you can, but keep within line of sight."

"Won't give me much in this soup."

"I know. Just do what you can."

"Good luck, Captain."

Anund signed off, and Haagen put the radio back in his pocket. There was
another few seconds of silence, then Llwelyn gestured to the skeleton.

"Any ideas, Captain?"

Haagen thought for a moment. "No. None at all."

If only to ease his nerves, Llwelyn reached out and rested his hand on the
skeleton's shoulder. He wasn't sure why touching a dead guy would be calming, but
then again, he'd just spent five weeks in the company of pissed-off crabs. Maybe he
was just after some familiarity.

And then, as if the universe flicked an off switch, the spell ended. Whatever
strangeness was keeping the skeleton in one piece released its grip, and the dead man
in the tricorne hat and black cloak collapsed into a pile of bones. The clatter echoed
across the open air.

Llwelyn realised he was still holding out his hand, and put it back to his side.

"Well, that was dumb." he said in a quiet voice.

"You think?" Haagen added. "Ah, fuck it. Damage done. Let's get moving.
There's no more to see here, anyway."

"Yes, Captain."

The two of them headed down the stairs and onto the main deck. Between the
stairs was a door, leading to a cabin under the upper deck. A silent agreement had
them going inside.

Llwelyn could see at once that this was the captain's quarters. It was large and
well-furnished, with a bed, desk, dining table and others items, all way beyond what
the average sailor, even Captain Haagen himself, could expect to have. The furniture
was finely decorated and, whilst he knew little on the subject, obviously made from
expensive woods and metals. However, beyond these things, the room was empty. No
paintings, charts, sheets, nothing at all to suggest that it had ever been used by a
human being.

Haagen walked over to the desk and started going through the drawers.
Llwelyn kept to the centre of the room. He didn't want to touch anything else. The
sound of the collapsing skeleton kept playing through his brain, taunting him with the
knowledge he was a dunce.

Haagen's radio crackled again.



"You found anything yet?"

"No. We're in the captain's quarters. It's like no one was ever here."

"Same our end. We're in the galley. You could eat your dinner off these tables.
You wouldn't, 'cause that would be stupid, but you could."

"Right. Keep exploring. There must be something."

"Captain, could I trade Helm for Llwelyn? It's like being stuck with a fucking
tour guide."

Haagen smiled to himself, and Llwelyn couldn't help joining in. That was
quite an image.

"That's why he's here. At least one of us should know what we're looking at."

"There's nothing to look at, Captain."

"There must be. This ship didn't just sail itself. Keep looking."

"Yes, Captain."

Jonns signed off.

Haagen went back to looking through the desk. A few seconds later, he
stopped and snapped his head up. He froze. Llwelyn spun round, then immediately
wished he hadn't.

They were not alone.

The entity in front of the door was recognisably humanoid, but had clearly not
been 'human' for many years. It was a dead body with tricorne hat and black cloak,
almost a skeleton, but still with the last scraps of flesh clinging to its bones. The scalp,
ears and nose were gone, but the eyes remained, starting insanely out of lidless
sockets. Its heart was still in its ribcage, beating slowly and without a sound.

Llwelyn felt ill. Not just terrified, and there was enough of that, but physically
sick. He could feel the skeleton's sheer wrongness clawing at his mind.


The skeleton's mouth moved, but there was no sound. Its words seemed to go
direct into Llwelyn's brain, the voice thick and bubbling like tar.

And then it screamed. The sound was hard and inhuman, like an animal caught
in a trap, lost to all but its own agony. It went on forever, drowning out all ages of the
earth. Llwelyn could see his world collapsing in the face of it.

Then, suddenly, it stopped. The skeleton vanished into thin air, stillness and
silence flooding back into the world in its wake. There was no sign it had ever existed.

Neither man spoke for a few seconds. Eventually, Llwelyn found some
passing words to grab onto.

"Did you just...?"


"Did he just...?"


"...The fuck?"


Then more silence. Llwelyn tried to process what he'd just seen, but it wasn't
going to happen. Even in context of the Enteriza, it was just wrong.

Haagen took out his radio.

"Jonns? Helm? Either of you there?"

A brief, agonising silence. Llwelyn could only imagine what dark fate had
befallen them in the ship's underbelly.

"Yeah, we're here. Did you see what we just saw?"

"If you mean a skeleton that got really fucked up, then yes."

"That's about what we saw. What the fuck was that?"

"I've no fucking idea. Put Helm on."

There was a quiet rustling as the other radio changed hands.

"I'm here, Captain."

"Any idea what that guy said?"

"Not really. I told you before, Captain, my Genturan is shit."

"It's still better than mine. Have a guess."

"Uhhh...something about a captain, I think. I really don't know."

"That's close enough. Both of you, come back up the main deck. We're
getting the fuck out of here."

"Amen, Captain."

Haagen put the radio back in his pocket. He and Llwelyn looked at each other,
the same thought running through both their heads. This was bad. Hell, this was
already bad, but this was about to get a whole lot worse.

"Captain, I'm-"

Llwelyn didn't get a chance to finish. A loud boom echoed up from the lower
decks, its force rocking the floor. A splash could be heard some way off, over to the
right. The two men ran to the window.

The Green Man could just about been seen in the distance, half-faded into the
mist. There was another boom, and a splash not far from the trawler.

"Oh my fucking god." Haagen said. "They're gonna sink her."

A whole lot worse.

"Captain, we need to call-"

"Fuck the radio! We need to move!"

Haagen tore open the door, nearly pulling it off its hinges, and bolted out onto
the main deck. Llwelyn followed, only a second behind. He'd always seen the Captain
as all Captains were seen, as someone who could pull you through even the worst of
crises. So what exactly was this?

The two men reached the open grate, and the stairs down to the next deck.
Jonns and Helm were waiting at the bottom. They expressions were not reassuring.

There was a third shot, but it missed again.

"What the fuck's going on?" Haagen yelled down.

"Come and see!" Jonns yelled back.

They wasted no time in hustling. Once they reached the bottom, the problem
became pretty obvious.

The first deck was low, but stretched the length and width of the entire ship.
The only features were twenty cannons, ten lining each side. Each was manned by
two skeletons, without clothing but still with a little muscle and organ attached. Every
few seconds, there was what could only be described as a 'blink' in the universe, and
one of them would suddenly be carrying a ball or gunpowder, ready to load into the
nearest cannon. They worked in grim silence, but even so, the sound of forty scraping
sets of bone and metal was agonising.

Then another cannon fired. Llwelyn thought he heard someone scream from
the noise. It may have been him.

"What do we do, Captain?"

"I don't know. Anyone bring any weapons?"

"What? We're outnumbered ten to one by an army of the fucking undead. Why would I want a weapon?"

"They're trying to sink the Green Man. You got any better ideas?"

"...I borrowed one of Hakon's meat cleavers."

"I've got my sword."

"That thing even real?"

"Yeah. Last I checked."

"That's fucking great. What about Llwelyn?"



He suddenly realised that everyone was looking at him. He ransacked his brain
for a useful response. Any response.

"Uhhh...I've got my torch."

Jonns did another of his dry laughs. "You've got a torch. Fuck-a-doodle-doo."

"I...I wasn't expecting this."

"Who was?"

"That's enough!" Haagen snapped. "We just need to distract them. Anything
else is a bonus."

"Yeah, but, Captain...we're all going to die."

"You think I don't know that? If they sink our ship, we're all dead anyway.
What fucking difference does it make?"

Jonns just shrugged.

Llwelyn felt himself switching off. Anyone who went fishing for Black Crab
had a pretty decent chance of not coming back. He knew that when he signed on.
Everybody did. But there was a big difference between death being a probability, and
being a guarantee.

He tried to shake himself back into focus. Everything still looked wrong. The
skeletons didn't seem to have noticed their presence, but that wasn't much of a silver
lining. And it wasn't as if that would last anyway.

Haagen took out his own torch, and reached up to the metal grate above him.
He clanged the torch against the metal a few times.

The reaction was instantaneous. The skeletons, all forty of them, stopped
moving. They raised themselves up, and turned to face the four sailors. Absolute
stillness descended, a silence that had nothing to do with calm. Llwelyn waited for the

Then there was another 'blink', and suddenly, every skeleton was holding a
sword. They were old types, cutlasses, but looked pristine, and very, very sharp. But
still, no one moved.

"Shit." Jonns muttered.

Haagen whipped out his radio.

"Anund? Anund? Fucking answer, Anund!"

"Yeah, Captain, I'm here. What the fuck's going on?"

"Are you alright?"

"We're fine. What the fuck's going on?"

"We found the crew. They're hostile. We've managed to draw their attention.
Get over here and get us the fuck out before they hack us to pieces."

"On it, Captain. We're a long way out, but we'll be as fast as we can."

"Be faster."


Haagen flicked off the radio.


The skeletons moved out from behind the cannons, and started gathering down
the aisle. They pointed their swords at the newcomers.


"Not this again." Jonns moaned.

"Helm, think." Haagen said. "What are they saying? We need to know."


"I don't know. A captain...a captain...I can't make out the rest. Their captain,
I think. Yes! The ship wants its captain!"

Haagen and Llwelyn looked at each other.

"The captain's in bits." Llwelyn said. He felt ill again.

And then, suddenly, the skeleton in tricorne hat and black cloak appeared
again. He was at the front of the army, only a few metres away. He had a sword.


Then, without warning, he stabbed. The blade went through Jonns' chest,
blood flying out in a high arc. The skeleton pulled back, producing more blood. Jonns
dropped his cleaver, coughed, then collapsed into a heap. The skeleton vanished.

The idea that Jonns had just died didn't enter Llwelyn's head. He knew, of
course, he'd seen it, but the full emotional weight of it wasn't there. This was perhaps
for the best.

The other forty skeletons stepped forward. The moved down the aisle, one
careful pace at a time, their gazes and swords never wavering.


Helm pulled out his own sword, a cutlass like the others. It didn't look so
sharp. Fuck, he'd bought the thing for $20 from a street market in Doelmylg. It
probably wasn't even real.

"Get out of here!" he said. "I'll cover you! Go!"

Haagen and Llwelyn didn't waste any time. They ran back up the stairs, back
up to the main deck, to daylight. Not to safety, but close enough.

They ran over to the ladder and looked out. They couldn't see the Green Man.
The mist was thicker than ever now, and they couldn't see a fucking thing.

There was a scream from below. Just one, cut short mid-cry.

The skeletons appeared on deck, blinking into existence one at a time. They
stood in a wide semi-circle around the two sailors, swords raised and ready for use.
Haagen and Llwelyn got out their torches, and readied for battle.

"It's been an honour, Captain." Llwelyn said.

"Yeah, I guess it has." Haagen replied after a moment.


Haagen rubbed his forehead. "The ship wants its captain. The ship wants its
captain. The ship wants its captain. What does..."

He smiled grimly. "Of course it does. What else?"

Haagen lowered his torch.

"I'm the Captain." he said to the skeletons. "I'm your Captain. I'm the one you
want. I'll take the helm."

Llwelyn just stared. Six hours ago, his only concern had been to get through
the next storm. And now this. Why?


Haagen turned to the greenhorn. "Even if our ship gets here, these guys won't
let us off alive. There's no other way. We have to give them what they want."

He pointed to the helm, where the remains of the previous captain lay. "What
they want is for someone to replace him."

"Then let me. I started this."

"No. You're just a greenhorn. You don't get your own ship on your first
season. It needs to be a fair trade. One captain for another."

The skeletons seemed to accept this. Their swords blinked away, and they
stepped back a few paces. A path was cleared to the upper deck, and the helm.

"It seems they agree." Haagen added, then sighed. "I really wish you'd kept
your hands to yourself, Llwelyn. But the damage has been done."

"Thank you, Captain."

"Don't thank me. Just get the Green Man home. Tell Anund he's been
promoted to Captain. I know he'll do a good job."

Haagen walked over to the stairs, and up to the top deck. He slowly bent down
and picked up the tricorne hat and black cloak, and put them on. He took hold of the
helm, never to let go.

A radio crackled into life. Llwelyn was about to call out to Haagen, then
realised it was his own. He fished it out of his coat.

"Llwelyn here."

"Llwelyn? Where are the others?"

"They're...they're not coming. I'm the only one left."

"Fuck. But we're by the ladder. Come on."

"On my way."

Llwelyn clicked off the radio. He realised that he hadn't heard the Green Man
arrive. The oddness of this didn't surprise him anymore.

He looked up at Haagen. The Captain was looking out across the main deck,
his expression unreadable, or just non-existent.

"Captain!" he called out, then paused. "I don't understand."


He wasn't going to get anything better. Haagen was right. The damage had
been done. Time to go home.

Llwelyn got down onto his hands and knees, and gently eased his legs off the
side of the deck. He moved his hands onto the ladder, and pushed himself off the ship.
The ladder was even shakier than before, but it held, and he was able to keep his grip.
He slowly climbed down, taking every rung with care. No sense in dying now.

Eventually, he got to the bottom. He let go, and dropped the last foot or so
onto the deck of the Green Man.

Anund was there to greet him. The remaining crew, Hakon, Gruffy and
Sigurd, were stood a short distance away.

Anund put his hand on Llwelyn's shoulder. "What happened up there?"

Llwelyn pushed his hand away. "They all died, that's what happened. We need
to go. Now."

Anund just nodded. He turned and started heading for the bridge.

"Haagen said the ship's yours." Llwelyn called out. "Captain."

Anund stopped, but didn't turn round.

"I guess that's so."

Llwelyn looked across the deck, and out to the open water. He couldn't be
sure, but it looked like the mist was lifting, and the waves were starting to build up
again. The Kilender Sea had another storm on the way.

He could almost welcome it.
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