The Flame of Old Instincts – A Short Story

Sparrow tossed the heavy ropes into the water then leapt onto the moving ship. Now unmoored, the large vessel drifted out to sea. The other fishermen smiled at her as she gripped the push pole one of them was holding and added her strength to it. Soon the ship was clear of the shallows and the wind was filling its two large sails. A new day always brought new promise.

The newest recruit on the crew, Sparrow had earned the respect of the older veterans by showing she was comfortable with dirty hands. Dust had rubbed off on them from the mooring ropes, and the line’s rough fibers had left their minute scratches. Still, these were nothing like the wounds she had received in her past life, the life of an assassin in the City of Magic. But those days were behind her and retreating further every day.

The ocean wind blew hard, throwing spray onto the deck as the ship cut through the water towards its destination. The Captain had obtained some private information on a prime location for catching miniature sailfish. The nets were checked and ready, as were the men. As was Sparrow.

The projected haul might get her enough to finally buy an apartment of her own. Living with the Captain in the warehouse had its merits, but Sparrow was seeking freedom more than anything else. Having her own home was a critical part of that.

The ship approached the island shoal that marked their hunting grounds. The crew got to work dragging the nets to the edge of the deck. Then the lookout shouted something.

At first Sparrow could not hear what the man had said, due to the dull but loud noise the rope made as it was dragged across the wooden deck. The crew halted and looked up at the crow’s nest. The Boatswain waived a hand, indicating the lookout should repeat his comment.

“Incoming ship!” the red-capped man shouted.

The crew rushed to the opposite side of the ship, where the lookout had been pointing. Sure enough, another ship was fast approaching, it’s colors not visible at the current distance.

“Spyglass!” the Quartermaster yelled. He was handed the bronze cylinder and looked through it. “Bring the Captain. Now!”

“What is it Castor?” one of the men asked.

Castor looked the younger man in the eye, seeming to consider whether he should answer the question. “Pirates,” he finally said. “Sorun damn them all, bloody pirates! Get your weapons, boys!”

“Belay that!” the Captain shouted over the erupting ruckus. “I know that ship. I know its Captain. Keandre the Shark is not a man we should try to challenge.”

“All due respect, Captain,” Castor began, “but we cannot simply be defenseless when they board our ship. Even if we mean to parley.”

“No, you are right,” the Captain conceded. “But your swords remained sheathed, or by Raza I will pain you for it.”

The men gathered their weapons as instructed, an air of anxiety rocking the old ship. Sparrow was unable to fight her own instincts, which drove her to the shadows below deck.

She watched through a small raised window in the hull, as the larger pirate ship came up alongside her own. The drawn swords of more than a dozen black-clothed pirates glistened in the noon sunlight. The pirates tied the ships together and then lowered a bridge between the decks. It angled down onto the fishing ship, which rested deeper in the water. A group of men wielding curved blades stepped arrogantly aboard.

“Who is the Captain of this vessel?” a voice shouted above.

“I am,” the Captain said.

“You are trespassing in our territory,” the haughty pirate said. “We are here to collect our fee for your use of our waters.”

“These are not your…” The voice was cut short by a heavy blow. Countless feet shuffled heavily on the deck. Sparrow recognized the interrupted voice as one of the younger crewman.

“You will do exactly as we say, or the consequences will be fierce.” The pirate’s voice was growing angry. “Now, let us see your haul for the day.”

“We have nothing,” the Captain said. “We have yet to cast our nets for the day.”

“This late? My, what a lazy crew.” The source of the voice moved around the deck, the pirate’s footfalls heavy and confident. “The fee still must be paid. And if you cannot pay us in wares, you will pay us in labor.”

Sparrow heard a pair of men yell. The boards rattled as they struggled against whomever had seized them. Her mind raged. This cannot stand.

She crept towards the rear of the ship, where a ladder at the stern led up to the raised quarterdeck. She grabbed a few knives from the galley as she swept by, then scurried up the ladder.

The thick, salty air greeted her as she reemerged into the bright sunlight. Peeking her head above the edge of the deck, she eyed a pirate pacing along the starboard edge of the quarterdeck, where the ships were bound together. She pulled herself up silently and stalked towards the man. A hand over his mouth and a knife to the back, under the ribs, silenced the pirate permanently.

She took the opportunity to slash the tie line to the pirate ship then crept to the foreward edge of the quarterdeck. Looking down, she saw that the pirates on board only numbered a half-dozen, less than half her ship’s crew. The rest watched from the deck of the pirate ship.

“Enough whining!” The voice belonged to a large, shirtless man dressed in a deep blue vest and black pants. Tattoos covered his skin like an infection. Among them was the image of a fierce shark. “We are taking your carpenter and your bosun. And that’d be that. No more fuss or we start taking limbs as well.”

The selected men were being dragged to the improvised bridge, swords to their backs. The four other pirates watched the rest of the crew. No one was watching the quarterdeck.

Sparrow readied the knives in her left hand, holding the four by their blades. She took one into her right and tested its weight. Then she hurled it down at one of the pirates.

Chaos erupted on the deck as two more knives spun through the air, finding their targets. The first victim fell to his knees, blood spurting from his neck. The next one fell without a sound. The third roared and spun around, revealing the handle of the weapon jutting from his back. Men screamed. Freed blades sang. The dance began.

Gripping her last knife tight, Sparrow leapt onto the main deck. She ran straight for the tattooed man. He noticed her coming and lashed out. The strike was filled with force, but his size and power were his weakness. Sparrow ducked under his attack. She slashed his legs as she passed under him. Then she drove the knife into his back, using it to climb atop him. The man bucked like a wild horse, but Sparrow held her grip. She withdrew the knife and stabbed again, using it to climb up higher.  He threw his hands back, grabbing her red hair. She bit his fingers. He howled, but was silenced by a slash to the throat. Sparrow rode the beast to the ground, rolling off with the impact.

The sound of battle thundered all around. Swords clashed, bodies fell with audible thuds. The makeshift bridge fell into the water as the ships drifted apart, no longer bound to each other. Sparrow grabbed one of the pirates’ swords and leaped aboard the enemy ship, slashing and stabbing and lashing out like a crazed wolverine. Pirate after pirate fell to her strikes, until only a few remained.

The survivors raised their hands in surrender, falling to their knees. Sparrow growled and drew her sword back for a killing blow.

“Sparrow, no!” a distant voice shouted.

She shook it off and returned her gaze to the cowering men-in-black. Just the look of them filled her with fury. She pulled back again to strike.

“No!” the voice said again, this time closer. “Wait!”

Sparrow would not wait. Justice would not wait. Men like these did not deserve to live. Clenching her muscles, she struck out, but her arm was caught by a pair of old hands.

“Wait now, I say!” the Captain said, yanking her back and stepping between her and the pirates. “You have done enough, Sparrow. The battle is over.”

She glared at the old man, who returned a soft smile. The expression disrupted her rage, left her confused. She glanced around and saw the rest of the crew standing on the deck of the other ship, watching her. She counted them. All the crew was there, alive.

“It’s over now, Sparrow. You’ve done well,” the Captain said, reaching out a hand. “Give me the sword now. We can take care of the rest.”

She saw the hand that waited for her weapon, but was reluctant to surrender it. And yet the hand continued to wait, without judgement or impatience. Finally, she handed over the blade.

“You’re wounded,” the Captain said. “Have Lukas look you over. He’s no doctor, but he knows a bit or two about first aid. You’re gonna need to have that treated when we get back to town.”

Sparrow nodded and wandered to the edge of the pirate ship. The fishing crew had a hold of the mooring ropes and were pulling the ships together as best they could. She put a hand to her side and felt the warm wetness seeping out. She felt dizzy.

Sparrow stepped down onto the deck of her ship and collapsed.

THE END

*Author’s Note: Here’s your chance, dear readers, to get involved in Sparrow’s story. I’ve written a few short pieces about her, all centering on her new life as a fisherman and sailor. What I haven’t done yet is come up with a good name for the ship. I would fully welcome your suggestions, and who knows, maybe your ship name will become part of Sparrow’s canon and the Valley of Magic setting!

**More of Sparrow’s adventures can found here:

The First Sighting,  Learning to Let Go,  Water and Blood

The three older stories linked above will soon be removed from this blog, at least temporarily. They have been mixed into one complete story that will soon be published in audio format on the Manawaker Studios Flash Fiction Podcast in July.

Stay tuned for that! And thank you for reading!

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