The Fortune of Captain Brolgen

Ocean Ship (woodcut/the adventure) ©2012 w.m.ley

Brolgen sat along the seaweed strewn dock gazing at the hypnotic swirl of the waters in the glow of the setting sun. He could see strands of kelp in the orange and blues below him; the sky was blazing with colors so bright they could only be painted with light.
He still had no ship. He had no score. He had no money. He had no freedom. He was instead enslaved in a manner to his own poverty. It was a strange trap; nothing really kept him here, but nothing gave him any ability to go anywhere else. He was ensnared by his own incapacity.
Brolgen tossed his line out, half-heartedly, and pulled up a few salvageable pieces of torn sail from the debris strewn waters of the cove. One ship came and went, a small craft that ferried the shadowy denizens of the pirate cove out to a point on the mainland, a sort of trading post where all were welcome, none questioned. It was the cove’s only reliable link with the outside world. For days at a time, it was the only vessel that would moor.
As he sat there, his black hair greying, his bulging mucles aching with weariness and age, his heart breaking under the hopelessness of his life, he felt a small burning inside.
The waters were mesmerizing, different layers of ripples cascading off the piers and rocks caught between waterfalls and broken ocean waves, a beautiful ephemeral tapestry of utterly unfreezable glory. You could be there, you could see it; but no one, regardless of how rich or powerful, could capture that vision for their own. For a moment it soothed him, cooled the burning, made him feel connected in a subtle way and at a peace.
Then his attention drifted, and the fire came back. It was quickly turning to anger.
Brolgen had already downed two steins of a local brew from the dockside tavern; perhaps it was this that loosened his emotions and then lent boldness to his hand. Whatever the case, he soon found himself standing waiting for the boat to dock, his daggers ready and his hands resting on the hilts in a nonchalant sort of way. He was a pirate scoundrel after all, it wasn’t uncommon to have one’s hands on one’s weapons and in fact it was normally a sign of health under the circumstances.

The boat docked, the ropes were tied, he was the sole passenger to climb aboard the small ferry, a single masted barc.

Brolgen sat calmly, betrayed nothing. He could hardly anticipate himself, but he could feel it deep inside. He knew what he was about to do. It filled him with a sort of buzzing energy just below the surface.

There are times in a life when things are easy, you know what is expected of you and so does everyone else, and you do it. And then there are other times.

Times when the universe holds its breath just for you. Times when you know you have this moment, just this one, to change EVERYTHING. And there would be no precedent; it would be something you’d never done before, and you would have to get it right the first time, or you lose it. There was no guidebook, no help, no mentor, no practice. One chance.

The boat pulled away. The waters rolled below. Brolgen knew he had roughly an hour between ports; and he knew he was not, directly, a murderer nor would he hope to ever be, having passed many years with only thievery and fraud as sins. He eyed the captain up casually. The five sailors who ran the ship were a disinterested lot, just hired hands and not a permanent crew. No loyalty.

The pirate cove dipped out of sight below a horizon of water. He knew the other horizon would be coming soon.

Hands on the leather hilts of his daggers, the cow skin warm and soft, the metal cold and hard and sharp.

All at once the metal was at the captain’s throat.

No blood; no murder. Brolgen calmly took the captain to his chamber and tied him to the bed. Then he walked above decks and told the crew he was their new captain.

Astounded at boldness and indifferent to bosses, the crew immediately accepted their new leader with scarcely a nod and followed their first direction to abandon their route and plot a new course to the open sea.

Brolgen had a ship.

Brolgen was a captain.

Captain Brolgen, of the Nodding Coor.


Brolgen knew he couldn’t keep this ship for long; the pirates would want their ferry back. So now he would have to commandeer another ship fair and square, and become a real pirate rather than just the shady wharf rat he’d been living as. To this end he set out into the ocean, his body full of electric vigor with the knowledge that he had certainly cheated death once and was dead set on doing it again.

Captain Brolgen set out for the waters round Priolus, knowing this to be a place where ships frequented and the royal navy would not be so assiduous in their guard as further north towards Acralis. Though their empire remained in dissarray, the navy continued to function under its regimen of discipline, and Brolgen was in no mood to hang for piracy. Dying under cannon fire or by cutlass was another story entirely, almost a form of living.

And so the Nodding Coor set out into the open sea under the direction of its erstwhile captain. Several ships passed, great massive things with rows of masts and columns of sails and ranks of serious looking cannon protruding from their hulls. The Nodding Coor had cannon as well; one on each side. And this was more a formality than a practicality though the crew did know to load and fire them. Soon, coursing along the sparkling blue waters as fast as the single square sail could take them, they came upon a ship small enough to conceive boarding and capturing. Brolgen was no experienced pirate though, just a moderately innocent sailor, and ordered the crew to let loose a cannon shot at the small craft. Amazingly, it struck true across the short span of water between them, but much to Captain Brolgen’s surprise the vessel took a gaping hole to the port side which then ruptured the ship aft of the beam; without much further ado than the audible screams of the sailors the craft began to sink.
Won’t be capturing that one, he thought, and gave the orders to sail on. They weren’t far from shore, and it seemed the survivors weren’t in such a terrible plight as might be expected as they were already done with screaming and the sinking ship had now become a bobbing cork of wood, stubbornly holding on to its status as a floating vessel.
They encountered two other boats as the day wore on, but the late afternoon brought the beginnings of a storm and the waters had become choppy while gusts of wind caught him and the sail equally off-guard. The crew were as little pirates as himself and were better suited to short runs between ports than this rough open sea-faring. Indeed, in weather like this they normally simply put in and weathered the weather at the local tavern.
The two other encounters, in this atmosphere, were frustrating for Brolgen. He now knew that cannon fire might prove disastrous, and instead gave orders to run along side and hurl the boarding ropes when possible. Under this command the Nodding Coor took a trio of glancing blows from her opponent’s cannons, but nothing crippling. Twice he had her tied to another vessel; twice himself and his crew did battle; twice the ships were cut free and twice he lost his chance to trade vessels as the more experienced captains of his would-be victims raced away to safer waters. Most captains worth their salt in these waters knew how to deal with pirates, as this was where buccaneers lived for the most part. It was fortunate for Brolgen that most small craft dealt with pirates by simply avoiding them or outrunning them.
Frustrated and tiring, he had the ship tie up at a small fishing village in the open wilderness south of Priolus. Here he let all who wanted to of the Nodding Coor’s crew go ashore and hired men to replace and fill up his crew from the locals. Then, against all advice, after a meal of rum and rabbit and he set sail again.
The night was dark, and the storm was coming up to something fierce. He stood at the bucking prow and peered through this telescope at the waters beyond. With seven men behind him instead of five, and all of them bent to the task at hand, the Nodding Coor cut through the dips and swells with an unaccustomed grace. Soon he had a vessel in his sights, a decent craft just a bit larger than the Nodding with a single triangular rigged sail. In minutes he had come up along side her. This time he had the cannon fired again, but this time at the deck rather than the hull. Fortune smiled and he saw the blast take the lives, or at least remove from the ship, three of the five visible sailors. Then he ran his vessel alongside and had the ropes thrown across the heaving sea.
The storm broke full; this was not the lightning storm that might be imagined, but a storm of torrential cataracts and fierce winds. The rains dumped across the decks of the two ships; the waves grew higher and higher; in the chaos the other captain broke free. Brolgen was prepared for this and had the sails trimmed back and the anchor dropped, at the same time he slammed the wheel hard and swung the Nodding Coor, groaning with the strain, around to race alongside, bringing the anchor back up and letting the sails loose a bit to catch the gusts.
Soon, racing down the troughs between the waves and nearly leaping free of the raging water on the swells, his men had the boarding ropes thrown again. This time five of them swung across while three remained to man the ship; this math worked in the captain’s favor and after a brief clashing of steel and choir of screams he found himself captain of two ships.
He quickly moved to the new vessel, made certain that all resistance was defeated, and then sent three men back with the Nodding Coor to the fishing village with orders to return the craft along with a reasonable sum of silver to cover damages. He couldn’t afford to buy a whole ship; but having paid nothing for the one he now sailed, he figured he could at least cover damages. He hoped it might keep his former comrades from running him down and slitting his throat.
They sailed a bit further into the night, just long enough to find a place to drop anchor in a sheltered bay of an apparently uninhabited isle across the sea southeast of Priolus. The next day he found it inhabited by mammoth like creatures and that it held a site of ancient ruins, the architectural style quite unknown to Captain Brolgen, who was not a scholar by any means. While on the island he found some brightly colored beetles which lived in massive colonies on the isles south side, and he found, as he suspected, that when their shells were crushed and mixed with water they yielded a fine shade of blue paint, which he applied to the sail and topside hull to hopefully disguise the pirated craft. He also dubbed it The Blue Fortune.
So the hopeless scoundrel Brolgen became the adventurous Captain Brolgen, and so began his new life of the open sea and limitless freedom.

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