Sea birds circled The Rock Tail Islands almost constantly. The Rock Tail were a chain, the tips of five ancient volcanoes, rising slightly above the water, each sheared off almost completely flat more than fifty feet above the water. The largest island was the north-most, a rough circle almost four leagues across, and entirely covered in farms, with one small village directly in the center, as far from the water as it could be.
Arian Tilwin’s keep was on the north side of the second island, rising over one hundred feet, topped with battlements. From the upper spire, he could view the village on the island across the harbor. One level below, one hundred guns spanned three sides of the keep, silently protecting Rock Tail Harbor and the farmland on the north side. No other pirates had dared attack The Rock Tail since Tilwin’s father built the keep.
“Captin Tilwin, Sir,” said Maign, somewhat timidly. “You asked me to find you at twelve bells.” As if to punctuate his sentence, the keep’s bell started ringing. “It’s time, sir.”
A salty ocean breeze stirred Maign’s greasy black hair slightly. He was a thin man, wearing ragged dirt colored pants that stopped just below his knees in ragged strings. He had a white tunic on, with a tattered red wool waistcoat. A long, thin rapier hung at his side, the blade slightly bent in two places, but completely free of rust.
Maign never wore shoes. Tilwin had personally given him a dozen pairs, but he always said shoes blocked the feel of the ship.
Arian Tilwin looked down at his son. Five years old, Jack Tilwin’s piercing blue eyes filled with fear as he looked at his father, the Lord of The Rock Tail. “Daddy, I don’t want you to go, I’ll miss you,” he said, his voice pleading. His shaggy light brown hair quivered in the breeze.
“I’ll miss you too, Jack. But I have to go. Some men want to take what’s ours, and I have to defend our home. When you’re old enough, you’ll be my first mate, and fight at my side. But until you’re big and strong, I have to do it by myself while you take care of Mommy. Can you do that for me?” Arian brushed a strand of hair to the side, tucking it behind his ear. The rest of his hair was in a loose ponytail flowing out from under his brown leather tri-cornered hat.
“Sir,” Interrupted Maign. “The men are waiting on The Windlass.”
Arian stood, spun, and gave Maign a look that would wilt the most stalwart soldier in the Shindow Collective. “Do not overstep, Number One. The Windlass sails when I say she sails. If the men have to wait on deck for a week, the men will wait at attention on deck until I arrive, or they’ll be using their entrails to swab the decks. Are we clear?”
“Yes, Sir,” said Maign, shrinking back into the stairwell that led up to the battlement.
“Good,” said Captain Tilwin, turning back towards his son. He knelt down and hugged the boy tightly. “I love you, Jack. You’re the best buccaneer in my fleet. You make me proud.”
“I love you too, Daddy,” replied Jack. “And don’t worry, I’ll take care of Mommy.”
“Good boy. I’ll see you in fifteen moons.” Arian turned on his heal, and strode towards Maign, who was looking everywhere except at his captain. There was no doubt in the first mate’s mind that Captain Tilwin would find a way to make a man swab the deck with his own guts.
“Daddy!” shouted Jack from across the battlement.
“Yes, Jack,” said Arian, turning back to look at his boy, who was holding up three fingers, a salute Arian and Jack had been using since Jack was a child. Arian saluted back and walked down the steps of the ancient stone keep.
“Maign, my effects are stowed in my cabin?” Captain Tilwin’s voice had changed since leaving earshot of his son. Hardened, now the voice of command and authority. All trace of the kind hearted father were left on the battlement.
“Yes, Sir,” said the First Mate
“And the other things I asked for,” Tilwin asked. “Loaded and secured?”
“Good work, Mate. I know that wasn’t easy, I’ll see that you’re compensated.”
“Sir,” said Maign, a note of protest in his voice.
“Compensated. Means paid,” replied Tilwin. They stepped out of the tunnel that led down from the center of keep onto the docks. Seventeen ships made birth in Rock Tail Harbor. Seventeen ships in Tilwin’s fleet. Today there were just two present, the one hundred fourteen foot Windlass, and the slightly smaller, thirty gun ship The Wicked Wench. Two days ago The Wench limped into port, badly damaged. She had a dozen holes in her port side, and her main-mast was broken. her crew and the dock-hands had worked round the clock, torch barges lighting the harbor for the last forty eight hours.
“How sea-worthy is The Wench,” he asked Maign, his boots clicking on the wooden dock. The smell of the ocean, sounds of the waves and sea-birds calling reminded him of why he chose to live here.
“She’s tops, Sir. New reinforced mast, and her port side is completely rebuilt. The woodyard is out of ironwood though, so she’ll have to make due with an oak starboard.”
“That ironwood took three years and most of my fortune to gather. She’s going to need every stick she’s got. What’s your opinion of Captain Skirn?”
“Beggin’ your pardon, Sir. It’s not a mate’s place to make judgments on a Captain.”
Tilwin knew that if Maign liked the man he would have been signing his praises. His refusal to answer was an answer, but Tilwin needed details. His own opinion was that Skirn was a terrible leader, but loyal to the core. He would follow orders to the letter, and give his life doing so. That was the man he needed at the helm on this mission. “Maign, you’ve been my first mate since we ran The Maiden’s Sorrow together. Now I’m the Admiral of the largest fleet in the strait, and you’re my first mate. That essentially makes you a Captain. In this instance, I value your counsel, you may speak freely.”
“The men hate him. They fear him, almost as much as they fear you, but it’s different. The men know you wouldn’t lead them needlessly into harm. They believe the opposite of Skirn. He looks for trouble.”
‘Perfect.” Thought Tilwin.
The customary inspection of the crew went as usual. Tilwin had sailed with every man in his fleet, and knew them all. Almost a year ago he promoted Skirn to captain of “The Wench” with tonight’s action in mind. ‘All things in time,‘ he thought to himself.
“Alright lads. Nothing different about tonight. Do your job, The Windlass will earn her reputation again, and we’ll all be home in two weeks, a whole lot richer. Now get to work!” he barked.
Maign followed him aft. “Orders, Sir?”
“Set sail for the current. Put us in on the leeward side of the last island in the tail. I’ll be in my ready room.”
From the north east corner of the tower, Marianne Tilwin watched from her bedroom window as her husband sail away again. She cried, the smell of his hair still on her hands, wondering if this would be the time the man she was born to love wouldn’t come back, but knowing this was his destiny.
On the inner wall a huge six foot fireplace stood cold. They only needed it on the coldest nights. During the long summer months, the huge four-poster bed on the opposite wall was made in gossamer silk and linen sheets. Enough to keep the cool sea-breeze from chilling them.
The room was massive. Almost every inch of the stone floor was covered in rugs of all sizes. The mix of color and pattern was almost perfect, each rug different, and yet somehow they all formed a pleasing pattern.
“Come along, Ma’am. There is business to attend,” offered Carina, Marianne’s handmaiden. Carina had been by her side since they were four. Born on the same day, Carina was adopted by Marianne’s parents, so that the two of them could grow up together. That bond forged absolute trust; Carina was, in many ways, closer to Marianne than Arian. The two embraced and kissed at the doorway. Marianne thought briefly about pulling Carina back into her bed, loosing herself in the moment. She raised her hand to caress her lover’s face before ending the kiss.
“We have so much to do, Carina. I wish we could stay,” Marianne whispered. Her voice husky from the mix of passion and sorrow.
“I would like that too, Ma’am. But as you say, so much to do.” Carina’s face was flushed, the redness extended down her neck to the top of her breasts, which were bound tightly into a blue and black brocade corset.
Arian Tilwin sat at the teak desk in his ready room and listened to First Mate Maign bark out orders. “Yo there, stow that in the binnacle. Heave to on that anchor cable, lads, put your backs into it. Hoist the mizzen!”
The crew knew what they were doing. This was all a well choreographed symphony and Maign was the conductor. The well rehearsed crew didn’t need the first mate’s orders to know what to do. Maign’s calls helped keep time, making sure things were done in the right order, when they needed to happen to ensure the ship operated like a well oiled machine.
Arian felt the ship lurch forward, at last he was underway. In less than ten days time, he would be dead or the Idol would be his. Then the Algrind bastards would pay, and the price would be steep. Tilwin’s hand curled into a fist. For three hundred years, the Codex had kept all the pirate’s families safe. In the three hundred years since the Codex was written by the Paternal Nine, no man had dared attack another man’s family in retribution. Until Algrind. And now that fat fuck would pay.
About the Author
Kirk Allmond started writing the first bestselling What Zombies Fear novel in 2010 as an online story as part of his website The Zombie Preparedness Initiative. When the idea to write a novel struck him, he took his own “Zombie Apocalypse” plan and turned it into a story. That story has now spawned six novels and two short stories, and is showing no sign of letting up.
When he’s not writing or talking about zombies, the Michigan born writer holds firmly to the southern roots of his family. He grew up in Chicago IL, and Roswell, GA. Kirk has an amazing little boy who was born in 2007, who is the basis for the character Max in his novels. His time growing up in the south with his grandparents taught him the value and skills to live off the land. He is an avid outdoorsman, loves hunting, fishing and backpacking. When he’s not honing his survival skills, Allmond is often found sitting at a role-playing game table, either as the GM of his own Zombie Apocalypse role playing game or as a participant in games run by one of the members of Grown as Gamers, the premier podcast for all things geek and pop culture.