Johannes loved the feel of the wheel in his hands, the weight of it, the way the wood had been smoothed by years of exposure to the sea air and however many hands helping the ship find her way. He loved the salty air on his skin, the way the buffeting of the sails clapped. Johannes wouldn’t trade sailing for anything.
It didn’t matter that the food was often scarce, it didn’t matter that sleep was rare due to minimal crew numbers. Johannes would take almost anything to be able to keep sailing.
He had been obsessed with the sea since he was a child. His mother used to joke that he had been swapped out with a sea fey’s offspring, a changeling child. She embraced her child’s sea obsession though, taking regular trips with him to the sea shore, enrolling him in sailing lessons and finally a sailing apprenticeship.
In his cabin he had gathered together small gifts from various locations the ship had taken him to, all bought with his mother in mind. It was difficult for her, Johannes was no fool, he knew it was difficult to regularly watch your child disappear on potentially endless voyages, especially in such a high risk occupation.
The sailing itself wasn’t too dangerous, with a ship like this one and a crew who, while understaffed, was as experienced and worked well together. The real risks to Johannes were the other sailors, most foreign naval units wouldn’t attack merchant ships but there were always outliers and the risk of being presumed to be enemies. Then there were the pirates, whom Johannes had yet to come across, but he had heard enough tales of their ruthless nature, they would plunder the ship for its valuables and kill anyone who got in their way, Johannes’s plan was to stay out of their way wherever possible. And, of course, he had heard stories too of sea monsters and whirlpools and deadly triangles, but Johannes’s ship didn’t sail dangerous routes so he wasn’t too worried.
He was looking forward to getting back home, eating one of his mother’s stews packed full of vegetables she had grown herself, sitting by the fire with her and handing over all the small gifts he’d got her. He couldn’t wait to sleep in his own bed, with his own blankets, and wake up whenever he wanted the next day.
The lookout called down, “ship ho! Off the starboard bow.”
Johannes stood ready to receive instruction. Whatever direction his captain called, he would be ready to steer the ship that way. He couldn’t help but rise up on his toes in an attempt to catch a glimpse of the ship in question.
Solid black the ship sped toward them, faster than any ship should have moved. Johannes’s heart pounded against his ribcage, as if it wanted to crack his ribs open and escape. Still, he waited for his captain’s orders.
The pitch black ship pulled up alongside, stopping even though it should have been impossible.
Johannes searched the stern for a ship name, some kind of clue as to who they were dealing with, or at least what kind of people. Naval ships had fighter or royal names, merchant ships often bore the names of beloved sisters, mothers, and lovers, pirate ships were called by names promoting chaos or a lack of order.
The black ship had no name.
Johannes almost didn’t notice as its crew swung across, still awaiting his captain’s order. The black ship’s crew moved silently. They swarmed Johannes’s ship, leaving only bloodshed in their wake.
The ship, the sea, everything turned red with the blood of Johannes’s fellow crew. He stared down at it, his stomach dropping into his boots.
Johannes backed away from the wheel, away from the stairs to the main deck, away from these mysterious people who came to kill.
Nowhere to run.
One stranger clambered up the steps, glinting black dagger in hand.
The dagger slashed across Johannes’s throat. The pain was so much that Johannes almost didn’t register it. His body became overwhelmed by it almost instantaneously and his vision left him.
He wouldn’t get to deliver those gifts to his mother after all…
Deep brown eyes finally opened, Baz couldn’t help but sigh in relief. He hadn’t thought the straggler would make it, not really, but ever the hopeful ship’s surgeon he wouldn’t give up on a patient until it was unequivocally too late.
Brown Eyes tried to jerk upright.
“Whoa there,” Baz touched his shoulder lightly to convince him back down. “We very nearly lost you.”
Brown Eyes touched a hand to the bandages at his throat, his eyes turning glassy with the memory of what had happened. He opened his mouth.
Baz touched a finger to Brown Eyes’s lips. “You stay quiet for now, don’t aggravate your throat. Let it heal and then we can see where we are, yeah?”
Brown Eyes’s eyebrows pulled together.
Baz grabbed hold of his hand. “We can get through this; you’re still alive after all.”
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