Ship log of the Aeolus May 23rd, 9 AM
Over the Atlantic. Fair weather, wind from the West at five knots. The Stribog spotted to the port, and gaining quickly on us. Captain Jackson is a stubborn man. I have had little choice but to order the men to their battle stations. I might well try to evade again, but it would seem that Captain Jackson will follow me until this is through. The crew seems determined to see this to the end. He shall not take Catfish back, Catfish has made it clear that he has no desire to return to the Stribog, and having taken him under my protection, I am duty bound to see this to the end.
I was hardly able to record yesterday’s events as they occurred, and so I am forced to write them now, the best that I remember them. I will admit that my memory in some places might be foggy, due more to the action I am not accustomed to, than because I was not paying attention. I am also in some pain, and therefore find myself having to break off my thoughts often to rest. This may well make the flow of my writing uneven, so it is well that it is only for my own use. Had I not been minding my surroundings yesterday I would have been dead. In the past I have suggested to editors that I might make a talented reporter for wars. I am now grateful for them seeing what I failed to see in myself, and refusing me the job. I lack the temperament for a clear head in the midst of a fight, something needed to record events clearly and impartially. Indeed I am forced to question the judgement of Mr. Donovan for hiring me to cover the Defender. Had we captured, rather than been rescued by, Captain Neriena’s crew there would have certainly been a fight. It was surely supposed that I should write about such an exciting event. I find it very unlikely that I would have succeeded to the satisfaction of anyone however. I find it only possible to start at the beginning and work my way to the end of the events, it being the only manner of storytelling that will ensure I leave nothing out.
Things began when I was walking on the gundeck of the Aeolus. It has never failed to impress me with how free they allow us to be with that space. On the Defender the gun deck was a well kept secret, lest those of us associated with papers should write about it, and give the pirates a hint of what to expect. It should be expected that on a pirate ship they would not wish the people who were sent to hunt them down to know what arms they were carrying, but that does not seem to be the case. The gun deck seems to be as much an exercise space as a place to fight off the ship’s enemies, and those of us who belonged to the Defender have been given as much use of it as any other man or woman on the crew.
I had no idea the meaning of the bell when I heard it ring, but it gained my attention all the same. It was the variety used to announce that a break has come in a factory, but it went on for far longer. My first desire was to cover my ears, but before I could even manage that, people were rushing through the room, in the direction of the mess. As I had no idea of what was happening, I chose to follow them at a calmer pace, mostly out of curiosity. I have at no point managed to convince myself that anything that occurs on the ship is a concern of mine, as I am in the end, an outsider. I like to consider that such a mentality will prevent me from becoming an insider.
Neriena was already in the mess when we assembled, with Blaze standing near her. They both gave out a military air, and for that matter so did the men around me. I was starting to guess at the meaning of the bell, and I was only hoping that it was a navy airship or a search ship, which would come and take me from the company I was in. Though it may make me seem too much an optimist, I do continue to hope for rescue, or relief in some other form, from my captivity on the Aeolus.
“I want this ship battle ready in ten minutes, Captain Jackson is on our port, and will be on us within the quarter hour,” Captain Neriena announced. To my amazement that was all. No further explanation was given, and the crew did not seem to need one. It seemed as though only myself and the other members of the Defender’s crew were unaware of where we were supposed to be in such a situation.
“Captain Bilke to the control room,” ordered Captain Neriena, hurrying past us. “We will need an extra hand in steering lest we fall into some trap.” Captain Bilke obeyed the command without pausing, clearly recognizing that we were all in this situation together, friends or not. This left myself and the remnants of his crew without any leader however. We were standing like sheep who have strayed from the shepherd when Blaze came running up to us.
“You men to the guns,” Blaze ordered. The rest of the men who I had been standing with me. I continued to stand where I was though. I knew myself well enough to know that I would be useless around firearms.
“What are you doing?” demanded Blaze, when he noticed that I was not moving.
“I have never fired a gun in my life,” I replied. Blaze seemed to consider this for a moment.
“Come with me,” he ordered finally. I could not argue, Blaze was armed with several guns, and seemed in no mood to debate. It seems strange to me that I was so intimidated by a boy, but Blaze has the sort of attitude that suggests that he will have his way, or there will be very strong consequences. In any case, as I told him, I have no experience with guns, while he is very comfortable around them. It will never do for a man who does not care for guns to argue with even a child who is willing to shoot him. I followed meekly, and was brought to the gun deck, where Blaze handed me a knife.
“What am I to do with this?” I asked suspiciously.
“Cut their tethers,” Blaze ordered.
“What tethers?” I asked, looking about me for any ropes that were connecting the two ships.
“They will come,” said Blaze, with the certainty of a prophet. “We have the better guns, my own design. They will want to make it a close fight and board us. Captain Jackson has a larger crew, because he will never allow a man to leave him once he has joined the crew. In order to fight close though, they will have to lash themselves to us. When you see a rope, cut it.” With that Blaze was gone, but to my surprise I was not alone. Catfish had actually left the engine room and was standing beside me with a hatchet in hand.
“What about the engine?” I asked him. It was a legitimate concern, it had seemed during the storm that the engine was an old one that needed constant attention.
“My assistant will take care of it. She knows how to run everything well enough.”
“You want to fight Captain Jackson?” I asked, since it was the only reason I could image for Catfish to leave the engine. I had never seen Catfish around the ship, and so I could only suppose that his assistant brought him his meals, and that he never left the engine room. To my surprise, Catfish shook his head.
“I do not wish to fight, I wish to escape. I will not allow them to tie us so that we cannot run.”
“I thought you did not like Captain Jackson,” I said, now completely baffled.
“I do not like to fight,” said Catfish, as if that settled everything about the matter. Then Catfish turned back to watch his old ship approach us.
Blaze had been right. It did not take long for the ropes to begin to shoot towards us. There was very little that could be done, until they latched on to us. Then it was a matter of speed, cutting them before they could reel us towards them. I could not help but notice that they were aiming low, so that the harpoons did not damage the airbag, but instead hit the pulpy wood of the gondola.
“Why not just shoot us down,” I asked myself, not even realizing that I was thinking outloud in all of the excitement.
“Pride,” said Captain Neriena’s voice behind me. “We have Catfish, who he never wanted to let leave his crew. As a result his pride rests on taking Catfish back.”
“I am not a prize,” said Catfish, seemingly annoyed at the manner in which he was being referred to. I could not blame him for that. It seemed that he was a good enough mechanic to have two pirate captains fighting over him, but it also seemed that he was hardly flattered by that.
Captain Neriena might have apologized for her rudeness, but she did not get the chance. There was a jerk as the men of the Stribog pulled us together. Captain Neriena seemed to remember all of the sudden where her duties lay. She turned to scream to her men to fire their guns at the attacking ship. Then she turned back to me.
“What are you waiting for?” she demanded. “Cut the ropes.”
“They are below the ship,” I protested. Captain Neriena said nothing, she simply pointed to where both Blaze and Catfish were already climbing out of one of the gun windows, holding themselves to the ship with the rope netting that held the ship portion of the airship, to the airbag. If I had thought that this would be a more peaceful vocation than firing a gun, it seemed as though I was very much mistaken. One look at the eyes of Captain Neriena however suggested to me that it was more dangerous to object to the danger. Her ship was in danger, and therefore she would make it very unsafe for anyone who refused to protect it. Simple journalist and bystander or not, I was going to have to risk my life. With fear gripping my stomach, I took ahold of one of the ropes, and swung myself over the side of the ship, to hang only from the netting, looking into certain death below me.
Blaze had set one of the lines that connected us to the enemy ship on fire I noted, as I slowly climbed down to where the harpoons had gripped the Aeolus. That was not an entirely bad idea, I thought. There was a chance that the fire might reach the enemy ship, and even if it didn’t, it had to count for some psychological damage. Even as I watched, someone on the Stribog released the now burning rope so that it fell towards the ground. I had the knife that Blaze had given me stuck in my pocket, but I was not looking forward to reaching for it, with only one hand holding me to the ship. I heard a thunk and a twang on my other side, and could see that Catfish had used his hatchet with great force, cutting one of the thick ropes with one blow. He was already moving on to the next. It was clear that for all of his complaints about not being a prize, Catfish had certainly made his choice about which Captain he wanted to serve.
Both Blaze and Catfish were moving towards their third harpoons each when I reached my first. Taking a deep breath I reached for my knife, while clinging to the side of the ship so tightly with my other hand that my knuckles turned white. Even when I had been on my father’s ship as a boy, and there had been terrible storms, I had never been allowed to be in such danger. For once in my life there was no one to protect me, and that thought steeled my resolve. Mindless terror, it would seem, can on occasion lead to epiphany. I doubt that I will ever gain the courage to say that outside of the pages of my journal.
With the little bit of newfound courage I sawed back and forth with the knife at the rope. It was tempting to use the harpoon as a handhold, but I could not tell how deep it had bitten into the wood. Then the rope snapped. It was a rope, about twenty had been latched to the airship, but I felt a deep sense of accomplishment. With the amount of adrenaline rushing through my veins I hardly even noticed when the rope snapped across my hand when the tension released. Now that I am writing I find the pain very noticeable however, and I think I must put my pen down now, and continue recounting the battle on a following day.