Legend of Kawilara Part I: Fire
She was lost in her thoughts as she walked down the street alone when someone suddenly yanked her by the arm and threw her to the hard ground.
Janey fell to the dust, coughing as dirt filled her chest. “What the…” she glanced up and her heart began beating frantically to see Azrael standing over her.
His dark eyes were flashing with that dominating anger she had seen many times before when she had done something wrong by his measure. Her stomach was in fanatical butterflies as she scrambled to her feet.
But she wouldn’t let it show, not to him. “What in the world do you want, Azrael?” She wiped the dirt from her dress with her hands.
His face was red as the crimson sun in the sinking dusk skies, his hair in its wavy perfections atop his head. Janey felt that old anger rise to her trembling breath.
“How dare you humiliate me the way you did last night! That was completely uncalled for!” he said.
Janey felt that old wound struck, like another knife straight through where he had struck it so many times before. “What?” She was outraged. She almost couldn’t believe what he had just said, though she knew she shouldn’t have been surprised.
Azrael clenched his hands inconspicuously at his sides. “You know what I mean, Janey. You had no right to do what you did last night. Poor Nadine was in tears after you left.”
“Excuse me? Uncalled for? What was cheating on me? What was beating me? What was everything you ever did to me in the last six months? None of that was bloody well uncalled for? You’re just a stupid bastard who thinks he by his stupid self can control whatever he wants! And of course, Nadine gets what she wants again. How long will it be until she discovers the monster you really are?” It didn’t take Janey long to explode into rage anymore. She could feel the people stopping to stare, whispers hushed as the breeze blew around them. For a moment, it was the only sound as she stared him down darkly with all the rage of a catastrophic sky grumbling and ecstatically crackling.
Azrael said not another word but brutally backhanded her across the face, knocking her to the dirt like a helpless ragdoll. “You little bitch. Don’t think a woman can ever out-show a man. We control your life, remember that; trampy lowlife witch. You all deserve to be burned alive, you and that crazy aunt of yours.”
She could hear the hiding voices around her and Azrael of those who stopped to watch the conflict as she stayed down on the ground for a moment, collecting herself and holding her breath. She looked up to Azrael, seething in anger. Slowly, Janey stood up to face him again. He wasn’t going to keep her down.
“Yeah, and you’re the useless rich boy who thinks he’s all that. Why, you’ll be the same useless kind of parent your father was. Your dad kills women for a living.” she wasn’t letting him get the best of her. He had done it too many times before. Azrael smiled that disgusting smile, slowly spreading across his face in the traces of the witch hunters from her nightmare.
“Just remember what my father can do to you and your precious Aunt Olivia, you have no control over that. You never will. You women are just our tools to use as we wish.”
“Oh, did Daddy teach you that? You take well after him. No wonder your Mommy ran away, she couldn’t stand you.” She could tell by the brief flickering in his eyes that she had struck a deep chord.
He stepped closer to her but Janey refused to back away, even if every terrified shaking nerve in her body wanted to run. She stood until he was face to face with her.
He looked deep into her mind. “You remember those words. They’ll come back on you, I can guarantee that.” His breath passed scathingly over her face.
“Great. You run to Daddy, like you always do. Bloody stupid coward, you’ll beat me behind closed doors but can’t admit to a damn thing in public.” She was glad everyone around them could hear this, much as she had been the previous night.
Without another word, Azrael spun and stormed away down the street. Reeling dizzily from her anger, Janey put a hand to her cheek. It was in some pain from that blow from Azrael.
Stupid boy, I wish he’d burn alive, she thought spitefully, blood running cold in her veins. Tears slowly filled her eyes as she broke from the watching crowd. He had humiliated her once again and no matter how she tried to make a stand it seemed he would always win. Her pain was at the breaking point, fed up with not being able to trust her own intuition anymore for all the ruthless mind games he liked to play on her.
“It’s your fault, you’re the one who deserves this beating…you’ve done wrong by me again, you know I control you. You’re just a useless excuse of a woman; you’ll never be anything more than your aunt- a stupid slut.”
This is my mistake, my stupidity…maybe I never will be nothing more…
She walked alone until she found herself down where the ocean crashed peacefully upon the golden shores, blue green glittering just as colourful as her eyes. She slowly let go of the breath weighing heavy on her chest, the anger still wrapping itself tightly around her heart. She finally collapsed to her knees in the sand, her fingers just in reach of the waves trickling up to her in soothing breaths and hisses, delicate heaves of the weight of a world that was becoming too much to bear.
I hate this, I hate this, I hate this…she let her head lean back slightly, taking in the oceanic breeze across her bruised skin, and for a moment…just for a moment…it went away.
Janey wandered with oceanic echoes breezily diminishing the grumblings of infuriation brewing within her. Barefooted and her shoes in hand, her footprints were washed away gently in the rushing waves crawling upon the shore. Sauntering beyond the giant rocks she was alone and for just the meanwhile rumours were only words floating off somewhere in town, the stupidity was for a split second mere stupidity and nothing more.
As the sun came close to standing still in the middle of the cloudless sky, Janey began wandering until she could see that dreadful little town, one more thing that never seemed to change. She sighed, as across the distant beach she spotted someone walking towards her. Her heart paused in its beating, her first thoughts of Azrael and the dangerous potential of finding herself alone with him. She released a breath when she recognized Billy, unsure of why she was relieved to see him.
Biting her lip as he approached, she couldn’t think of a thing to say. Janey could tell by those eyes that he knew already about the day’s earlier incident.
Billy was concerned. “You OK, lass?”
Janey stared at the sand beneath her feet. “I guess I suppose you heard about my little episode with Azrael?”
“Yeah, I did, shortly after it happened. That’s why I figured I’d find you down here. Your favourite place.”
Janey couldn’t help but to smile a little. “Well, you were right. It’s nice being the only one down here.” The moments on the beach made her calmer than she had been in days. It didn’t even bother her that Billy was standing beside her. She would have much preferred his company over Azrael’s.
“I can imagine. Damn it, I get two days back into town and everything blows up. It was a shocker enough that Mike and Anita split up, let alone you having problems with Azrael. He always seemed like the last kind of guy you’d want to date.” Billy shook his head.
“Well, after you ran off with that tramp…I didn’t know what to do. Started with just fooling around with him, guess I let it get more serious than I should have. When I tried to break it off he reminded me who his father is. I became something merely for Azrael to use. He didn’t really let up until Nadine came back to town without you, said she was visiting family but she stayed. Heard what she said about you being abusive, that was why she supposedly left you. Never sounded right, you’re a better man than that. I should have known she was only after Azrael. No one knew she was pregnant until about two months after she started dating him.”
“I’m sorry, Jane. I had no idea what was happening here. I was off working when Nadine was making her trips back here to supposedly see her family. Stupid of me not to think she wouldn’t be seeing Azrael. I had no idea you were seeing him until last night. Anita filled me in on every detail. I don’t know, Jane. They got the best of both of us.”
Janey could see the sorrow in his eyes, a broken marriage was just one more hurt in his life. Billy was six years older than her and even at 26 years old he had endured many pains in his life. His father had run out on the family when Billy was three, leaving his mother, Milene, stranded. From what Janey knew Milene met another man a few years later named Gary McGee. She soon found her and her son in a dangerous situation afterGarybecame extremely abusive. Janey herself vaguely remembered stories, the ones that somehow stayed within the confines of her memory…
He beat her again last night, look at the bruises on her arms she’s trying to hide…what her son must be learning from that man. Some women just play victims their whole lives, too bad it’ll be her boy who pays the price for her mistake…if he’s like any other kid he’ll grow up to be the same as his father figure…you know she slits her own wrists? Look at those scars, they must be self inflicted. She’s falling faster than she can be saved…some mother…if she were a more decent parent she’d get out of there…
Then there was the day tragedy struck. Milene was found dead in her home, Gary had fled and Billy was nowhere to be found. As Milene’s best friend, Olivia was devastated; tears streaming down her face in both sorrow and anguish at this man who thought it OK to take a life that mattered to someone. Olivia had fallen to her knees in a weakening grief as across the street in Witch Elm Village, Milene’s blood covered and beaten body was removed from the house. Her soft brown hair was a mess atop her head, her usually pretty face unrecognizable beneath the bruises and marks. Her wrists had open slices bleeding profusely onto the dirt below her limp body as she was carried.
“You know who did this! You know who did this! You’d better find the bastard!” Olivia shouted after the men who had gone to the house. One of them just shook his head.
“We don’t know where he is, unless we find him there’s nothing more we can do. I’m sorry.”
“Oh sure you are! You don’t know where this man is and you’re not even going to look are you? You don’t care! That woman has a little boy somewhere out there and I’ll bet my last damn silver coin you’ll do nothing to find him either! You’re not even going to look because they don’t matter to you.” Olivia yelled down the street after them, crying outwardly and frantically. It must have been like chasing sanity down one more time in a life that seemed like a never ending tragedy.
“By the looks of it, ma’am, it was a suicide. As for her little boy, we have to have a clue where he is before we can go looking for him. There is no trace of him.”
“It was not a suicide! I know Milene, she’d never kill herself, Billy meant too much to her! You were all the fools who wouldn’t help her. She’s dead because no one else would help her!” Olivia continued to scream at the men as the surrounding neighbours watched wordlessly, knowing that Milene had meant everything to that little boy that had vanished into nowhere, who would be alone from then on…
Billy didn’t show up in Tia Justace again until he was a hard-hearted and troubled 18-year old. This Janey remembered. He would say nothing to Olivia of his experiences after Milene’s death, telling her simply thatGaryhad killed his mother. It’s all he had ever said to anyone. He spent only a brief time in Tia Justace that day. Olivia had toldNancyabout Billy reappearing in town.
“I found him at Milene’s grave, the poor boy. He wouldn’t say anything about what he had been through, Nancy, but damn…I don’t even want to think about the horrors he’s seen. I’ve seen what they do to those young boys in the prison…” Olivia had said, shaking her head in disbelief.
Billy let his life spiral more out of control as he began running with pirates after that. He would drift in and out of town, staying briefly to catch up with Mike, as they were best friends, and be gone again. The longest he stuck around was when he and Janey had started dating. For that year he stayed, until everything unravelled around his affair with Nadine. It was always like him to take off when things went wrong.
Yet Janey stood before him, a year and a half later, when his marriage to Nadine had fallen apart and Janey had just slipped out of an abusive relationship with Azrael. They found themselves in similar positions, with life once again rearranging itself into disassembled pieces all around them.
“Yeah, they sure did.” Janey said. “They made us look like idiots.”
“Definitely.” Billy bit his lip as if he didn’t know what to say.
They stood in silence for a few moments while only the ocean had breaths of anything to say at all.
Billy still let his glances sneak over to Janey as she stared out across the waters, gloomily as the shifting colours merging and drifting. Everything just seemed to crash through in one sudden moment, the break up, the witch hunter threat, and the fight with her best friend. She could let the rumours fly back in the town but didn’t ease the real complications any less. They still didn’t go away. Janey knew they would keep coming back just as predictably as the moon sauntered out into his dark domain every night, just as he would fade and let the sun peek over the horizon every morning. Janey shook her head.
“Aw, Janey,” Billy said, letting it fall gently on his lips and into the air. It sounded so sweet.
Janey restrained a smile. “Yeah?”
“I hate seeing you this way,” Billy said with his arms crossed and a pondering expression on his face.
Janey shrugged. “I’ll be OK, I guess.” Her sadness and anger sat upon her chest like a heavy weight unreleased. There wasn’t a lot holding it back.
“Janey,” Billy said her name again.
She wished silently that he would stop saying it like that. He held out an arm for her in a welcoming embrace. In a moment of weakness Janey let him put his arms around her, finding herself against his warm chest, her arms around his neck and open tears on her face. His shirt smelled sweetly familiar with salt water and sweat. At that moment, he was like that safe place when no other was there.
His breath blew softly across her hair. “I’m here if you need me, OK? No matter what happens, love. I’m here.”
“Your Majesty, I know little of these Black Guards…but I have seen what they do. That’s why I’m here. It is too terrible to allow them to continue…” Mauriat said, staring off distantly.
Jaffee nodded. “I agree. Sydow, what are your thoughts?”
“These…Black Guards, who are they? I have no such thing in my country…are they rebels perhaps?” Sydow answered in contemplation.
Jaffee shook her head. “No, Sydow, these men are much more terrible, the vilest scum. They’re witch hunters. More than that, they are misogynists of the worst kind. They would gladly lay hands on your queen, torture her, rape her and burn her alive just because they enjoy the thrill. And if you tried to stop them, they’d kill you too, just as they did with King Terence and Queen Alanis long ago.” She paused a moment and glanced at Noah before she continued. “I’m sorry Noah, he needs to know how severe this is, I wish I knew how to explain it in a way that makes some sense, but there is no explaining what they do or why…”
“It’s about control, power,” Janey said without thinking. “They make a woman confess to the most outrageous things and blow it completely out of proportion, twisting into accusations of using witchcraft for murder, infanticide, or they simply pick up on petty little. They torture it out of her, and if she doesn’t confess…the torture gets worse.”
Silence descended on them before Janey realized what had escaped her mouth. Even Sydow seemed slightly taken aback, though whether it was at her words or her bluntness, she wasn’t sure.
Mauriat shuddered in horror. “And after the torture…”
“They burn her alive. She never has control from the start, they take it away completely. She’s doomed the moment she enters that prison unless she’s damn lucky like I was. But I lost everything so I sometimes wonder just how lucky I really am,” Janey said.
“You’re…positive? I mean, really, it can’t be that bad that witches just can’t live with it,” Sydow said arrogantly, waving it away as if it mattered none to him.
Without a word, Rhiannon stood and harshly slapped the back of Sydow’s head, knocking the beautiful crown from atop his perfect head. The pirate queen’s eyes may as well have been afire when she stared him down with the ferociousness of lightning in a storm. Janey was caught between shocked at Sydow’s ignorant words and Rhiannon’s sudden outburst.
“Live with it, Sydow? Really?” Rhiannon scolded angrily. “You and your pompous little self, dare to enter this conference knowing the delicate nature of what we are discussing, and you give us that rich boy fickle attitude? Your display of disrespect is sickening. There are real survivors of this ordeal in this room, including myself. Watch your bloody mouth or I swear I will obliterate every single ship of yours that dares sail into my waters.”
The silence that followed would have been awkward, but Jaffee wasted no time in diffusing the dispute. “Rhiannon, please, calm yourself. I cannot have that behaviour in my country. Sydow, as my sister said, do watch your tongue here. As I said, I will have no disrespect here.”
Sydow picked up his crown, glancing it over for any damage. “I thought we were here to discuss anti-violence,” he said almost mockingly.
Janey watched it all quietly, until Sydow said that. Something inside of her snapped with his ridiculing attitude.
“Are you serious, Sydow? Live with it?” she asked, anger on the edge of her voice.
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The days still came and went. Sunsets and sunrises passed in coloured streaks like nothing ever happened. With each one that passed, Janey felt emptier, her will drowned by a depression that seemed to draw her deeper into darkness. She awoke every morning never feeling alive. She survived every day to lie down every night feeling more worthless than before.
Jill was gradually teaching Janey more about the mysterious extents of her magickal powers. Together, they would wander into the dense forest through the waist-high grass, where the colourful butterflies would pop vibrantly from nowhere and flutter into the sky.
Jill explained to Janey the levels of magick; that each witch started off at the apprentice level. It was the level at which an apprentice learned the very basics of magick; its every day uses, and how to properly control it.
“There are four elements that come into account when it comes to magick,” Jill told her, opening her Book of Magick to show Janey some of the text. “Water, Earth, Air and Fire are all the basis of all life and all things in the world, and all magick. Every witch has a preference for which element she likes working with most, which corresponds to whether her magickal tools are gold or silver.”
Jill flipped to the page she wanted Janey to read and handed it to her. Janey held the Book of Magick in her hands, awe-struck at how ancient the book was, the tattered edges of the pages and the slight fading of the ink.
Jill smiled at the expression on Janey’s face. “It was my mother’s book. You are the only woman outside of my family to ever see this, besides Olivia.”
Janey let her eyes wander over the pages of the book, soaking in the sacred knowledge through the decades-old handwriting on yellowed pages.
Elements of Kawilaran Magick
Water: The liquid of life, a drink that keeps all things alive. Water is vital in brewing potions, harvests, and life in general. Water is symbolized by the west, the cup, the colour blue, the chalice and cauldron, female principle, nature’s rhythms, emotions, instability, indifference, and is associated with the metal silver.
Earth: The soil upon which living things walk and food of plants that feed living things. Earth is symbolized by the north, fertility, aquisition, darkness, practicality, boredom, patience, responsibility, the colour green and is associated with the metal gold.
Fire: A source of heat and light and the power of the sun. Fire is symbolized by the south, the sword, male principle, courage, defense against hostile forces, anger, jealousy, the colour orange and is associated with the metal gold.
Air: The very breath in all living things and a force that moves. Air is symbolized by the east, the sword, male principle, energy, intellect, endeavour and is associated with the metal silver.
Janey was somewhat familiar with the elements she was reading about; Olivia had taught her the basics of magick and not much more. Her aunt was always reluctant to teach Janey more magick because of how Tia Justace viewed witchcraft. While there was a witch population there, there were also rumours and vindictive women who looked down upon the way Janey and Olivia lived. The fact Olivia wasn’t there made it painfully obvious just how cruel even people not associated with the Black Guards could be. But suddenly, in spite of all that, Janey felt a small spark of excitement at the possibilities. She had this power, this talent not every girl had, and she had a High Sorceress’s daughter to teach her all these things.
“That’s just the basics?” she asked. Jill smiled.
“Just the very basics, my dear; there is still so, so much you can learn,” the red head stated, her eyes glimmering a little at Janey’s subtle enthusiasm.
A continuation from the excerpt I posted earlier…
“That’s just the basics?” Janey asked. Jill smiled.
“Just the very basics, my dear; there is still so, so much you can learn,” the red head stated, her eyes glimmering a little at Janey’s subtle enthusiasm.
“The other part of that are metals. Gold and silver are the essential metals to Kawilaran magick. Each witch has her own preference,” Jill continued, drawing her glimmering sword from its sheath. “For me, it’s silver. My mother always carried this sword. She gave it to me shortly before the Black Guards attacked Kawilara and I have held it dear ever since.”
The sword shimmered gloriously in the sun, its handle a blinding glitter of silver jewels and diamonds. The blade was shining steel, and silver snaked in the middle of the blade dangerously. It was the most eloquent weapon Janey had ever seen.
“This is the centre of my personal magick powers. The silver embedded in the blade is what withholds magick and releases it when I need. With this, I can summon devastatingly destructive storms, herds of animals, wolf packs…” Jill stated, breathtaken by the sight of her own weapon, as if seeing it was something that never got old to her eyes.
“It takes that much power to summon a wolf pack?” Janey asked, still unable to comprehend the fact she had actually done such a thing.
Jill gave her a slow nod as she placed the sword back in its sheath at her small waist. “My dear, as I said, you have the potential to be a high-level witch. A mid-level witch in trouble like you were could summon perhaps one or two wolves out of desperation, but it takes a considerable amount of power to summon a pack. Given the magickal blood lines in your family, namely Olivia, I am not entirely surprised you did it.”
Legend of Kawilara, Part II: Swords
“Choice and consequence. Evaluate those two things in anything you do, boy, you’ll be alright,” Morley said, sitting across the table from Billy, his arm draped casually on the edge as he gazed into the wall of the interrogation room. Barond and his crew were being questioned right then. Morley and Tarrus were sticking around the castle and Billy was with them. Tarrus was assisting in the interrogations, from which Billy could hear the occasional screams from men. He shuddered a little.
A taste of their own torture….
“Alright,” he replied to Morley.
“Thing is, Billy, you choose your future. No one else chooses it for you. You don’t need to be what anyone else tells you to be,” Morley continued. He seemed to be undisturbed by the pained shouts of the pirates who were being tortured. Billy didn’t want to think about what was being done to those men, especially if this pirate queen was as vicious as people said she was.
“Why do the Black Guards do what they do?” Billy asked. It was a question that had lingered on his mind for all the years he had spent in the prison, a question he was sure that no one really had an answer for. Morley pondered a moment before answering.
“Nobody knows a true motive. Doubt we ever will. A man started the Black Guards about 29 years ago or so, a name you should always remember: Ulric Al Tedesco. He’s the filthy mongrel who started this massacre. No one knows where he came from or how he became the way he was. Some say it was his father. I say it was his choice. You see, Bill, you don’t become like that of you don’t choose to. Bad father figure or not, a man has to one day choose a better life or to stay in the same damn dark place he’s always been. Doesn’t make much sense to choose the dark place, if you ask me…
“Tedesco’s Black Guards mainly protested and occasionally burned a witch, nothing like it is now. It gradually got worse, nearing hysteria. The Royal family struggled to keep the bastards at bay. King Terence and Queen Alanis did their best but they were overpowered the night of their only son’s wedding. Prince Noah was to be married to his love, Kassandra, on the day the Black Guards ambushed the palace, knowing it would be an unexpected time to do so,” Morley explained, a darkness in his eyes as he described the tragic wedding.
“I remember that day, still; always will. I wasn’t there but I remember hearing about it. I had just gotten back into McGough that day, was exhausted from long sail from Weril Island here, not long before the ambush happened. I remember people were frantic, frightened; witch hunters were rampaging through the city and attacking anyone they could, grabbing women and holding them down while one man set her on fire. Screams were everywhere. I still hear them in me bloody nightmares. Wasn’t until the next morning I found out what happened. By then, Tedesco had the audacity to name himself king of Nevermore. It was never the same after that…
“Hysteria like nothing you ever saw before followed. Witch hunts and burnings every damn day. They’re nameless faces you see but they matter to someone. All of them. No one knew what to do. As pirates, we were lost. McGough was not only a great city to be in, it was an important trading place for us. Never has been since. Merchants won’t stay in a town so violent and dangerous. They move on to quieter port towns. A lot of me men had families in McGough too, female relatives they never saw again,” Morley continued. He seemed to be lost in the tale, as if reminiscing for the first time in a long time. Billy glanced down to the table that separated him and the captain. The violence had ruled all these years. He couldn’t help but wonder if it would ever end.
“The prince and princess disappeared, without a trace to be seen for six years. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Noah went storming back to the Nevermore palace and had slain Tedesco. No one had any idea what got into him. The Black Guard king was dead, but Noah barely made it out alive and was forced back into hiding wherever he had come from. He didn’t get his throne back. Tedesco’s right hand man, Norbert Bagan took over. The war raged on, and four years later he was killed by a witch rescuer. It still wasn’t a victory. Norbert’s good-for-nothing son, Marcus took over and he currently rules Nevermore with just as brutal a hand as his predecessors,” Morley spat the name, like something vile that came off his tongue. Billy was surprised.
“I didn’t know it had been going on for so long,” he remarked quietly. Morley let out a tired sigh at the thought.
“Unfortunately it has, boy. Because of one man’s choice to be hateful and violent, thousands and thousands of people who call Nevermore home have to live like this. It’s not fair. Because of how Marcus rules the country, the economy is grinding down to nothing. People can’t make a feeble living anymore. They scrape by, barely. No person, man or woman, has the right to rob lives like that. No one. As a young man, you still have a choice to be better. And I want to help you with it,” he said. Billy frowned.
“What do you mean?” he asked. He knew he didn’t want to choose the life the Black Guards tried to force him into. He knew his choice, but he didn’t know how the pirate could help him.
“The reality is, Bill, you were on that ship with the Black Guards. If Tarrus hadn’t of vouched for you being a runaway, you would be as good as dead to Queen Rhiannon. She isn’t as merciful as the Queen of Adara. Queen Rhiannon kills witch hunters, no questions,” Morley said sternly, looking at Billy with his dark eyes. A twinge of guilt wrung out his stomach, like two hands twisting his organs inside so tightly he couldn’t breathe.
“I know,” he managed to say. He was terrified of what was going to become of him, knowing that he was in a lot of trouble for so much as being on the same ship as any Black Guard. He was regretting taking that first step on the ship back in Tia Justace.
“However, Tarrus and I spoke to Queen Rhiannon. She is beheading the other gits. Even men who are so much as found with Black Guards on Weril Island are executed. However, under Queen Jaffee’s laws a pirate who had no knowledge of being with a Black Guard can receive a plea bargain. On this condition he becomes a privateer under her order and becomes a witch rescuer. In return, Queen Jaffee offers the locations of treasure that she knows. This prevents pirates from attacking places for plunder and they get pay back for their services of rescuing witches,” Morley explained to him. It was a bit of legal talk that Billy didn’t fully understand.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“I mean, that because you were simply a runaway and didn’t know you were with a Black Guard, or so you claim, you can take this plea bargain and become a witch rescuer. Billy, you ain’t no Black Guard and I can see it. You were too scared when Barond’s crew got busted to be a witch hunter,” Morley pointed out. Billy shook his head.
“I spent enough time with them. I never want to become one. They’re the reason I have nothing and nowhere to go,” he said bitterly.
“Of course they are. Do you know how many people can say that right now? You’re better than them or you’re just the same. You choose,” Morley told him, gazing at him as if expecting an answer right then. Billy knew he’d never choose to be a witch hunter. He had seen too much, hurt too much, and felt too much to fall into that lifestyle. The option to keep his promise to his mother was right in front of him.
Don’t ever become one of those monsters….
It was only with his mother’s final words to him echoing in his mind that he replied to Morley.
“I’ll take that bargain, captain.”
3 years later
The moon circled above as the first stretches of morning light dawned, the pendulum sphere hanging like a head knowing he was about to die long before blood was spilled. Serenity befell the waters crashing softly against the ship’s hull, as if whispering her warnings but nothing stirred. At least not aboard the Executioner, nothing except one blue eye that glared out to the ebony horizon as he awaited the moment he had been looking for.
“So this is it, eh?” the young man beside him remarked, his long brown hair fallen past his broad shoulders that the teenager he used to be had grown into. The pirate nodded slowly.
“Yeah, Billy, this is it. They should be here anytime. Let’s make sure things are alright below deck,” he said, turning to Billy with a sombrous expression. This was to be the hardest part, so Billy was told. He was 18 and on his first witch rescue.
Life on the ship was something else. Billy had come to love it. It was a freedom from land’s boundaries, from all the things he had ever known before. It had become his way of life; rescuing women and children then drinking with the other crew members at the tavern every night, trading jewels and other plunder for gold coins of his own. It didn’t take his pain away at all, not the hurt that he carried with him all the time for his mother. He would be reminded of it from time to time. He had overheard a conversation between Captain Friedlander and the healer below deck, Grace, earlier that day.
“Grace, ye do lovely work,” Captain Friedlander told her quietly, keeping his distance from the other women. Billy could see some of them scuffle to the nearest wall when he entered the room. The sight before him was another tragic one; women of varied ages nursing open cuts, bruises and tears, with their bodies so frail it looked like they hadn’t eaten in weeks. It tore Billy up inside seeing the damage done by bare hands, just how barbaric people could be to one another. It was a glimpse into the dark side of the world he would prefer to never have seen.
The grey-haired woman gave a small smile to the captain.
“I’m trying, Tarrus. Your men are brutes, the lot of them,” she said resentfully. Captain Friedlander leaned in the doorway of the hidden room with guilt in his lone blue eye.
“I know, Grace. I wish there was something I could do without looking suspicious. It’ll be over soon enough,”
the captain said softly. Grace gave him a sympathetic look from where she stood.
“Of course you are, Tarrus, dear. You and Billy are the only trustworthy men on this ship. Do yourself a favour. When we’re through here, go visit your mother. She’d appreciate that,” she said in a sweet tone. Captain Friedlander grinned.
“Ah, m’ dear mom,” he replied, more to himself than anyone around him. Grace smiled.
“How long has it been?” she asked.
“Since before we got on this damn ship, probably four months or so,” the captain said thoughtfully.
“Then you’d best do it. It won’t be long,” Grace told him, walking up and putting a hand on his arm as she glanced at the young boys, many of whom had no mothers to go back to. Billy remembered being one of them, and in many ways, he still was.
From upon the sky line the shadow of another lone ship emerged into the silvery strands of moonlight. Billy’s breath caught for just a few seconds as the galleon sailed slowly towards the Executioner, a beautiful vessel that both Billy and the captain were sure they recognized instantly, all 60 glorious cannons he knew were likely already aiming from the gun ports in their direction. Captain Friedlander squinted with his one eye, cursing the patch on the other, and tried to grimace at the other ship’s free-waving flag. The witch rescue ships never sailed under one flag; each sailed under the captain’s flag but both Captain Friedlander and Billy knew Captain Morley’s flag anywhere.
There in the moonlight it flew, the identifiable skull and swords crossed behind the head. Captain Friedlander grinned in silent relief at the sight. It was over, at least for the time being. Billy let out a sigh, also relieved, but was warned the worst could happen yet.
As quick as a man could move, Captain Friedlander was clambering up the shrouds and to the crow’s nest, beckoning for Billy to keep watch for any of the crew members should they stir in the midnight hour. He was standing high above the indigo-shaded waters in moments, lowering the flag to half-mast as was the planned symbol to Captain Morley that it was safe to proceed closer.
From where he stood, Billy could spot one of Captain Morley’s men scrambling up the shrouds to lower the flag. Billy and the Executioner’s captain had never been so satisfied to see a flag fly at half-mast.
Captain Friedlander climbed down to the main deck. He and Billy waited patiently as they watched the other pirate ship sail up, like a silent ghost atop eerie waters with the name the Saving Grace along the side. Captain Friedlander grinned in slight amusement. Only in the dead of night sneaking up on another ship would a crew of pirates be so quiet.
The captains waved at each other without a word. They already knew what had to be done. As quietly as possible, Captain Friedlander and Billy let down a series of rope ladders down the side of the ship. The other captain watched musingly as a few of his crew members approached the Executioner. Once the other men joined Captain Friedlander on deck, they began waving for the other crew to bring out the planks, which were set delicately and quietly onto the side of the Executioner. It was the moment that mattered most, when it was pivotal to everyone’s safety that they not get caught. Billy’s heart was racing wildly. He had never had so many lives rest on him not making so much as one mistake.
Accompanied by one other member of Captain Morley’s crew, Captain Friedlander and Billy went into the captain’s quarters and as they had done many times before, hurriedly pulled off the rug away from the trap door and unlocked it. Billy took a deep breath as his heart raced inside his chest at the sight of the yellow light at the bottom. There was no time to lose. Lives were at stake for every wasted second.
Captain Friedlander and Billy climbed down the wooden ladder and were greeted by Grace, who was relieved to see Captain Morley’s crew member with them. She rounded up the women, who one-by-one went up the ladder and followed the crew member out on deck, the first fresh air they had breathed since getting locked below deck. The kids went after, lining up obediently and fearfully. Captain Friedlander knew that neither the women or kids trusted him or any of the men near them for that matter, but they had to trust him for just a few more moments.
The women and kids were taken carefully across the planks and onto the Saving Grace. Captain Friedlander was the last to cross after Grace made her way over to the other ship. As he stepped onto the main deck of Captain Morley’s ship, he breathed a sigh of relief.
“By golly, don’t ever make me be in the presence of them monsters again,” he said quietly, but Captain Morley overheard. Billy silently agreed with Captain Friedlander, but didn’t say anything.
“Ye alright, mate?” he asked in concern. With a thankful glance up to the last stars in the sky, Captain Friedlander shook his head.
“I will be, right now ye need to get us all away from this here treacherous place. This close to the Black Guards is too damn close,” he said.
“I understand, Tarrus. I’d best be making sure the women and kids are settled in below deck where they’d be safe until we’re out of gun range of the Black Guards,” Captain Morley replied, glancing over to one of his crew members, who nodded to him.
“They’re alright, mate?” the captain said quietly. His crew member nodded again, closing the door to the captain’s quarters, where another trap door locked to ensure the safety of the already traumatized passengers. But Billy knew it was the safest place for them for the time being. The Black Guards from the Executioner could awaken at any moment to discover the betrayal that had taken place.
“Bring up the planks, raise anchor. Avast! As fast as we can, men!” Captain Morley commanded quietly, pointing in every direction as he ordered his crew men around. The men ran alongside the Saving Grace, pulling the planks back on deck and away from the Black Guards as fast as they could. But from the corner of his eye, the moment Captain Friedlander dreaded had found them.
“Cap’n, we got company!” he shouted to Captain Morley, who glanced over his shoulder at the Black Guards swarming on deck and readying their guns. The witch rescuers had been discovered.
“Guns are readied, men! Ye know what to do! Send em to the depths!” Captain Morley cried out loudly, as instantly on order the cannons fired off, piercing into the hull of the Executioner and blowing the wooden sides to smithereens. The Black Guards were caught not expecting the prepared attack, and had no time to fire back. Captain Morley always had men ready at the guns when it came to facing the Black Guards.
Water began filling the holes in the hull, as the roars of cannons continued in the night, exploding on impact into the Executioner. The Black Guards ran rampant on the ship, but with their captain’s betrayal they were left in a bloody anarchy as many were blown to flesh and smithereens by cannon balls and grape shots, the deck once stained with blood of innocent women then drenched in blood of men who did nothing but torture the weak.
Both Captains Friedlander and Morley stood with Billy beside them and watched the blood bath blow up in fire, wood, blown off limbs, flesh and bare bones, bodies falling to the deck headless and some even torn in half by the devastating close range impact of the grape shots that clawed their way through human muscle and bone. Billy stood beside them, breath taken by the gruesome savagery with which the Black Guards were so easily defeated. The grape shots filled with glass shards prepared especially for the Black Guards ripped them apart as effortlessly as a knife ripping cloth, tearing open their chests and stomachs as blood free flowed in pools onto the deck.
Some of the Black Guards got giant glass shards through the throat, slicing their jugular veins in less time than it took them to notice what happened; bringing their hands to their necks and falling dead, realizing that there was nothing left to protect on their necks, they were already ripped open and any breath was gone. Remnants of dead bodies fell to the wood below them in crimson puddles and sea water that was slowly flowing on deck. By the time the gunners were through, little was left to even recognize of the remains that had once been human beings.
“Sink the bastards to the depths boys! Show Marcus we take no prisoners and we won’t take this anymore!” Captain Morley called out to his men as the women and children were brought back out to the deck, told that there was no need for them to be locked up anymore.
Both captains had seen this sight many times, not disturbed anymore by blood and guts flung all over the wooden deck as if those men had been nothing but simple rag dolls to destroy into fragments and pieces. Some of the women revolted at the sight, some vomited over the side of the ship and others glanced away from the men that had handed them their worst nightmares. Billy glanced at the young boys huddled together on deck, their innocence forever stolen and watching as the same men who had stolen that innocence were sent to a death that many aboard the Saving Grace saw justified. Billy was among those who saw it that way.
The gunners sent the last few cannonballs to the Executioner. Everyone aboard stood on deck watching as the Black Guards’ ship slowly went down. As flames burned what was left of the human flesh and bone upon the other ship in the clear morning light where clarity would otherwise settle, Captain Morley turned to the young boys, and in a voice that haunted many, including Billy, warned them as he pointed to the ship his crew had just devastatingly obliterated.
“If any of ye ever decide to join the filthy ranks of the Black Guards that is what will become of ye. That’s what those men are worth. There’s no glory in what they do, boys. You’re all better than that. Make better choices,” he said with a slight growl to his voice. Captain Friedlander glanced back at the boys. Both he and Billy detected the fear in their faces at both what they had been through and the power that Captain Morley had just shown.
To be released in fall of 2012. More excerpts can be found on the official Kawilara series blog: http://legendofkawilara.wordpress.com/