Deep Water – Armada Short Story – Part One

14th Mar 2023

Jonny Mann

Ahoy shipmates, 

Pull up a barrel and listen in, we’ve got tales of the sea for yee.

“Send him in then,” yelled Commodore Ricardi and laid his quill down on the desk. He let out a sigh of agitation. He had better things to be doing than this. More important tasks than listening to the ravings of some mad man.  

The doors to his grand office opened and a scruffy-looking merchant sailor was shoved in by a man-at-arms. The door was slammed shut and the sailor just stood there. Eyes wide with… fear? Nerves? Alcohol? Commodore Ricardi shot him a sneer. He despised dealing with the traders. They had no respect for formality. This one wasn’t even wearing a uniform. 

Ricardi slammed his diary shut in the hope it would stir the unkempt individual into action. The sailor jumped like a frightened kitten. 

“Out with it. I haven’t got all day. And take off your cap for the Shining Ones’ sake. You’re speaking to a Commodore of the Basilean navy. Not some filthy dockhand.” 

The sailor scrabbled to remove his cap but continued to stand silently for a moment. He turned the cap over and over his hands. Ricardi was about to call in the man-at-arms to throw him in the cells for a spell, when the sailor finally gave a cough. 

“Begging your pardon, sir,” he whispered. “I’ve just had a shock, is all. Something terrible.” 

“I’ll be the judge of how terrible it is.” 

“Of course, sir.” 

Ricardi pulled a sheet of paper from his desk drawer and studied it carefully. Occasionally he would tut and give the sailor a disparaging, almost exasperated, glance.  

“According to this you say you’re the only survivor from the Trueheart Trading Company’s latest expedition. Delivering supplies to the lizards on the Three Kings.” 

“Salamanders, sir.” 

Ricardi shot him a vicious look. 

“If it looks like a lizard, lays eggs like a lizard and has scales like a lizard, then in my book that makes it a lizard,” snapped Ricardi. “Wouldn’t you agree?” 

“Of course, sir. Sorry, sir.” 

Ricardi turned his attention back to the paper. He gave a little snort of disbelief. 

“You claim to have been attacked by an island that rose from the sea.” 

“The water came alive, sir. Was a clear day. A beautiful day for sailing ‘n’ we were making good progress. Then we heard a noise, like the sea was wailin’. The waves thrashed ‘n’ churned like I ain’t ever seen. Then an island rose from the water ‘n’ the ship capsized like a toy in a pond, sir.” 

“A toy in a pond? Of course,” sighed Ricardi. “Do go on.” 

“It was all too quick to man the lifeboats so we just bobbed in the sea. But that’s when the crew started disappearing. Something was grabbing ‘em from under the waves ‘n’ they vanished. Gone! I hauled meself onto a piece o’ driftwood ‘n’ I laid there like a dead man. A dead man!” 

The sailor’s voice was rising to near panic. 

“I watched ‘em go one by one. Not a sound, apart from their screaming. I’m ashamed to say I pushed ‘em away when they tried to get on my raft. Then there was nothin’.” 

“The island vanished?” Ricardi struggled to hide the indignation in his tone. 

“Gone. And the crew with it. Was lucky that patrol picked me up, sir.” 

Ricardi watched the man for a moment. Probably a drunk, or addicted to Ophidian Blossom. He wouldn’t have even listened to him, had it not been for the fact this was the fifth report they had received recently of merchant ships going missing. He gave a silent curse that the admiralty had tasked him with getting to the bottom of this mystery. There was only one way to test if the man in front of him was a fantasist, or was telling the truth. 

“Show me on this chart where the incident happened,” commanded Ricardi and motioned to a sea chart spread out on his desk. 

Nervously the man approached before placing a trembling finger in the Infant Sea. Ricardi cursed again when he recognised the spot. It was almost exactly the same location where the other ships had been reported missing. He gave the sailor a smug smile. 

“Well, there’s only one thing for it,” stated Ricardi. “You must show me in person where this island was. We set sail tomorrow.” 

A wild look entered the sailor’s eye. 

“No please, sir. I showed you where it was. Please! Please, sir!” 

“Guards!” boomed Ricardi. Two men-at-arms entered through the large, double doors. “Put this man in the cells until we’re ready to sail. Perhaps he might sober up and he can tell us what really happened out there.” 

As the two men-at-arms hauled the sailor out, Ricardi listened with indifference to his pleading screams. 

“An island,” snorted Ricardi and looked once more at the chart. If he solved this little predicament though, he was sure the admiralty would promote him out of this backwater posting. Perhaps he could even return to the City of the Golden Horn? 

Ricardi shielded his face from the glaring sun and looked out across the waves. He strained his eyes to see if he could make out any land, but all that surrounded them was blue sea. Ricardi was currently taking lunch on the aft of the Blessed Light, an Elohi class ship. His silver knife rattled on a fine plate as the Blessed Light crashed through the waves. He crammed another hunk of meat onto his mouth and felt his stomach lurch. It had been some time since he had spent so long at sea and the motion was causing havoc with his digestion. Being stuck behind a land-lubber’s desk had not been good for him. 

The Blessed Light was flanked by a pair of Gur Panther class ships; the Vengeful Roar and Sister’s Mercy. Ricardi could just make out the crew of mostly Sisterhood busying themselves on the decks by practising drills. 

Before they had set sail Ricardi had briefly considered adding more to their flotilla. After all, he would just have to send a message to the admiralty to request an Abbess or a couple of Gunbrigs. However, he could just imagine how his reputation might suffer if he called upon the full might of the Basilean navy, just to track down an imaginary island. No, it was much better to have this whole thing cleared up nice and quickly, without too much fuss. 

“Cooperson!” shouted Ricardi.  

The Blessed Light’s first officer emerged through the hatch and joined Ricardi on the aft. He snapped to attention. Ricardi made him hold the position for a moment. 

“At ease, Cooperson.” 

The first officer, Jonn Cooperson, placed his arms behind his back and gave a nod of thanks to Ricardi. 

“An update on our location, if you please Cooperson,” Ricardi gave a small burp and cursed his roiling guts once more. The sooner this was over, the better. 

“We are approaching the approximate spot where the Trueheart ship is reported to have sunk, sir.” 

“Most excellent. Order the crew to drop to light sails and tell the other ships to follow suit. Let’s take a look around.” 

Cooperson placed a whistle to his lips and gave a few blasts, which was greeted by a series of echoing whistles on deck. Soon a pair of flags on the main mast jerked into life, making sure the command was relayed to the Vengeful Roar and Sister’s Mercy. Both replied with their own flags and Ricardi watched a flurry of activity on the ships as the sails were lowered on the Gur Panthers too. Soon the flotilla slowed to a crawl. 

“Bring up our guest Cooperson.” 

The second officer disappeared back below decks, while Ricardi took a moment to loosen a button on his trousers. He walked to the railing of the aft and looked around him, hoping to spot something that could be confused for an island. But there was nothing. Just the lapping of the waves as they hit the ship. 

Eventually Cooperson reappeared with the merchant sailor in tow. Even compared to his dishevelled state in Ricardi’s office, the sailor’s appearance had deteriorated further. He was now clapped in irons and a large, unruly beard had begun to spread across his face. His clothes were in tatters, possibly torn by the rats on board the ship, which would appreciate a little extra bedding for their nest. Ricardi wrinkled his nose in disgust. Not only at the sight of the wretch but the awful smell. The sea breeze only seemed to waft it straight into Ricardi’s face. He responded by holding a delicate, embroidered handkerchief to his face. 

“Look familiar?” he asked the sailor and cast an arm around them. 

Ricardi was greeted by the sailor swivelling his eyes and groaning. With a tired sigh, Ricardi nodded to Cooperson. The first officer issued a stinging slap across the sailor’s face. 

“I don’t like to repeat myself,” hissed Ricardi. “I asked if this is where your ship went down, sailor.” 

“We should no be ‘ere,” whispered the sailor. 

“I’ll take that as a yes then. Bring him here, Cooperson.” 

Cooperson pushed the sailor toward the railing. 

“See any secret islands?” asked Ricardi with a sneer. He smirked to himself when he spotted a smile tickling across Cooperson’s lips. 

“I told you, it disappeared,” replied the sailor with a slight edge in his voice. 

“Last time I checked, islands don’t just vanish! You’re a damned drunk. We haven’t even seen any wreckage. Take him back down below, Cooperson. We’ll do one more sweep and then it’s back to port.” 

Before Cooperson could grab the sailor’s cuff, they were interrupted by a strange, song-like sound. It seemed to echo all around them, as though the sea itself were singing. The sailor began to tremble with fear. 

“We should no be ‘ere!” he wailed…

Point your sails towards our Newsletter and on Friday yee shall find the finale of this great tale.

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