This story is by Cloé Runion and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Aliza took a deep breath, inhaling the salty scent of the limitless sea. She closed her eyes, enjoying the calming lull of the waves against the Serafina’s hull. She reopened them and groaned at her crew of criminals.
“What are you doing, Atley?” she demanded the dozing, peg-legged pirate. “Wake the Underworld up! You too, Landon! Does it look like nap time?”
The two groggy-eyed pirates roused to attention. “No, Captain.”
After escaping Brenlin’s prison for stealing the crown jewels, she had required a plan to avoid recapturement. The boundless ocean was her best bet. Following months of being on the run, she had stolen the Serafina from its port and gathered wanted men, offering riches and freedom. And now, nothing could stop her from taking over the endless high seas and any treasures that came along with them.
She stalked over and raised her chin. “Glad you can still use your brains. If I catch you two asleep again while on watch . . .” She drew her hand across her throat. “Understood?”
“Yes, Captain,” said Landon as he saluted her.
“Captain!” shouted a voice from the crow’s nest.
Aliza shielded her eyes from the sun to glance up at the one-eyed man. “Yes, Garrett? What is it?”
“Three ships, starboard side! Middle one, a barque, the others flanking it, probably for protection!”
“Good eye, Garrett! Drop the sails, men! We’ve got work to do!”
The men rushed into their positions as Aliza made her way up to the captain’s wheel. She gripped the spokes and began turning the Serafina towards the trio. The crew followed Aliza’s order and soon, the sails billowed with air and advanced them closer to their targets.
“Man the cannons!” Aliza shouted. “We’re taking out the two schooners first! Then we’ll take on the merchant ship! Sharpshooters, get ready to fire!”
Aliza held her fist up, signaling the gunners to ready their muskets and staff the cannons. “On my mark!” she bellowed, her eyes set on the nearest schooner. Around her, a fourth of the crew stuffed cannonballs into the cannons, and the rest brought their guns to their shoulders. “Aim!”
A moment of silence passed. “FIIIIIIRRRE!” she roared.
The first round of shots went off, the sound deafening. The smell of gunpowder and smoke filled the air. “Reload!” she ordered.
This went on for five minutes, even though it had seemed like hours to Aliza. The first schooner went down easily. The second one would be more prepared. The third would be the hardest. But like all things worth fighting for, it would be rewarding.
Her knuckles turned white on the wheel as she spun it around to get them far enough away to where they could engage the other schooner. Gunfire bombarded the Serafina and its crew from both the merchant ship and the little schooner. “Fire!” Aliza screamed.
Her crew rushed to carry out her order, but it took longer because they had to dodge bullets while reloading the cannons and firing. A cannonball smashed into one of the Serafina’s masts, breaking it in half. It fell upon a lantern, shattering the glass and setting the sail on fire. Members of her crew scrambled to extinguish the flames before they could spread.
Finally, finally, the crew cheered as the second schooner went down with a shot to the stern, and Aliza’s crew doused the fire on board the Serafina.
“We’re not done yet, men! Last one, then we get what we fought for! The bounty awaits! Aye?!”
“Aye!” agreed her crew.
“Let’s finish what we started! Cannons at the ready!” Aliza positioned her ship so the cannons could aim at the enemy vessel. “Fire!”
Cannonballs flew through the air, and the left side of the merchant ship blew into pieces. Chunks of wood came back at the Serafina’s crew and Aliza had barely enough time to call out, “Brace yourselves!” She crouched behind the wheel. Wood hurtled past her, some pieces scratching her.
She arose and brought her ship out enough to make a turnabout. She spun the wheel until the Serafina’s hull was facing the left side of the other ship. “Full speed! We’re gonna ram them, so be prepared to board!” Aliza yelled.
The impact of the Serafina hitting the merchant ship was like a thunderclap.
Aliza’s ears rang, but she still led the charge to the other ship. She tossed a grappling hook over the distance and connected the two vessels. She grabbed a loose rope from above and swung aboard the other ship with her sword in hand. She landed on the deck and began attacking three of the enemy crew members while defending herself from their rushes. She cut them down and moved onto the next three. And then the next. The scents of blood and iron cloaked the two battling ships.
Aliza and her crew did not stop until all the enemy crew members were dead or bound. Turned out the “merchant” ship was a raider disguised as a merchant. There were prisoners in the brig along with the spoils the raiders had stolen.
“Captain, are you going to free those below deck?” asked her first mate.
“I’ll look at them. If they’re useful, they’ll become members of the Serafina.” Aliza didn’t mention what would happen if they weren’t.
“Aye, aye, Captain.”
Aliza nodded and headed down the stairs leading to the brig. Cages of people filled the hold. She strolled through the maze of cages, observing the captives inside each. Most were in their sixties, some only children. Aliza would drop them off at the next docking site, like she did to almost all prisoners. There were a few in their twenties and thirties, and to those, she would offer a position aboard her ship.
She came across one prisoner that she had to do a double-take on. One prisoner who knocked the air out of Aliza’s lungs.
He was dirty and looked rough, but he was her old partner.
His eyes widened when he looked up at her. “Aliza?” he whispered. She continued past him.
“Aliza! You gotta help me!” Brant begged.
She froze and slowly turned around. She walked back toward him calmly, but there was murder in her eyes. Her voice was ice-cold when she asked, “And why should I? You certainly didn’t when Brenlin’s soldiers caught me. I remembered our promise, but I thought we were past that.”
“But you couldn’t even wait on me before taking off with our loot. So please, explain to me why I shouldn’t do the same thing to you.”
“How long?” Aliza’s voice was low growl.
“Lies! I escaped after six!”
Brant changed tactics. “I thought you wouldn’t want me to rescue you!”
Her eyes flashed. “Who said anything about rescuing? I wanted you to free me because we were equals. Because we were a team.”
“We still are a team!”
Aliza closed her eyes. “No, Brant. We aren’t. All you did was limit me. I have the ocean to pillage from now.” She surprised herself by how little her voice wavered. How quickly she decided to let her old partner in crime die.
She proceeded to free the people. Most of the younger, able-bodied ones chose to join Aliza’s crew. She allowed the weak and weary prisoners to board her ship before rummaging through the hold. Chests full of expensive silks, jewelry, and supplies that would help her crew repair damages made to the Serafina during the battle.
Brant watched her as she pillaged, his eyes sad. She tried her best to ignore him. She couldn’t have anyone holding her back. Not anymore.
She brought Brant up to the deck, so he might have a chance at survival. It was the only mercy Aliza could give him. But Aliza doubted it. No one survives away from land without a way to get back to it.
She sank the prisoner ship, watching as Brant went down with it.
Aliza turned back to her crew and the limitless sea once it submerged. She cried out, “Now to the nearest port! Whiskeys for everyone!”
Her men cheered. They worked twice as fast due to the promise of free alcohol, making their travel to the closest port a fast one.
They all went to the nearest pub in the town, and Aliza held up to her promise. By the end of the night, everyone was smiling from the warm feeling of whiskey in their stomachs.
Most remained in the town that night, but Aliza eventually made her way back to the Serafina after all the congratulations to her subsided. It took her a long time to fall asleep, her mind racing with her choice involving Brant.
Did he die in the sinking? Or could he have made it out?
And if he did, what would she do if they met again?
Brant is dead. There is no way he could’ve survived. Aliza repeated over and over, like a mantra, until she fell asleep.