Crow - Part One
by Martin Hall

   The night air roared in Marlowe's ears as the masts groaned under the wind's weight. The storm darkened the night to a shroud of black and the ocean's rage threatened to overturn the waddling merchant ship at any moment. Marlowe cursed loudly, the salt wind stinging his eyes. He blinked and then strained to find it again. There. The light winking in the distance, warning the ship away from danger. The rocks along this stretch of the Avalon coast were notorious, and he had to keep a sharp eye out or his men's blood would be the next to be spilled on them. The crow's nest swayed, and he checked the leather bindings that tied his feet to the perch. As the ship pitched, he heard a howl above the wind as a sailor was plucked from the rigging and flung screaming into the sea's dark embrace. He strained, peering down to the deck. The men needed him there, but he would allow no other to risk the lookout during a storm. It would be different if the captain were here, he thought. He'd be able to direct the men from the deck. But he'd gone on ahead to secure a buyer for the cargo, he should be here on deck. Marlowe shook his head. No, he thought. He couldn't have known the storm was coming, and finding a home for this Eisen Steel was a risky venture.

   As his eyes scoured the night sky for the lighthouse, the crow's nest was thrown back and forth across the darkened sky. He caught a glimpse of a man hanging limp in the rigging, his neck caught in the thick lines. Jim. He swallowed, the biting rain stinging a tear from his eye as the man's awkward purple face was cast into ghoulish prominence by the lightning. Marlowe tore his eyes from the gruesome sight of his friend and looked to the coast again. His brow furrowed as he searched for the lighthouse and found it again. The mast must be swaying more than I thought, he puzzled. It's almost as if the light keeps moving around.

   "Pull harder! Harder to Port!" Marlowe waved his arms in the indicated direction as the wind stole his words away, struggling against the roaring night air. The men on the tops clambered over the slippery spars to pull some semblance of order from the sheets. A few of them kept their eyes fixed on the crow's nest as Marlowe kept his fixed on the light. As it wavered in the black storm, a solitary point of defiance against the rage of the wind and sea, he heard the captain's voice again as he assured them that they'd make good time and with this route they'd be past the rocks long before night fell. They hadn't even made it before the sudden storm struck. A foolish mistake, and one which men were paying for with their lives. A mistake he wasn't there to deal with.

   Marlowe narrowed his eyes and focused on the light once more. By their distance from the lighthouse, they should be around the rocks soon, and then their battle would only be against the sea, a tough enough fight for anyone, but unlikely to swallow their ship whole. The ship lurched violently as an angry wave pounded the hull, as if the sea itself was hurt at being considered less of a threat than the rocks. A groaning sound echoed forlornly up from the decks, the sound of a ship pained and planking shattered. Marlowe started and cursed from his perch. They were on the rocks! His head snapped round to face the light again. It still wavered, far to port. As he watched, lightning roared, casting a brief silhouette of the head of the cliffs, where there was no sign of a lighthouse, only a cart surrounded by tiny figures. Far to Starboard, the darkened lighthouse stabbed from the cliff like a solitary finger, pointed accusingly at Theus himself. Marlowe went weak. They were being driven towards Mardigan's Teeth. He turned to the crew and shouted at the top of his lungs. "Wreckers! Wreckers! She's upon the rocks!"

   The wind stole his breath, robbing the men of the warning. He pulled a knife from his belt and began to cut the lashes that bound him in place. The wind tugged hard at his wet clothes, but he struggled to free himself. He wrapped a line about his arm and clamped the knife between his teeth as he prepared to swing over to help the men who strained on the ropes and the sails as the rain made all things wet and sluggish, easy prey for the driving winds. His concentration on the swing of the line, he hardly noticed the bolt of lightning that shattered the mast and sent the spar his arm was wrapped around hurtling into the harsh black depths of the ocean. As the knife flew from between his teeth, he tasted blood and saw the ship almost pulled into a final embrace by the rocks. As the spar dragged him under, Marlowe never had time to scream.

   His eyes opened in the cold grey morning. The sky was calm, clear and unforgiving above him. Seagulls wheeled greedily in the air. He could hear men working about him. He couldn't feel his arm. He was afraid to even think how injured he was. Had the ship survived? Had his comrades survived? He cast his eyes to the side, but was too weak to move his neck. There. Someone had noticed him. He heard footsteps picking their way across the rocky shore to where he lay. Attempting to hail them, he produced a weak croak. Voices sounded dull and haunted in his battered ears as the men came to him. A sound rasped clean and clear. Someone slipping on a rock? His hair was tugged forcefully as the muffled feeling of a blade dropped to his throat, his eyes went wide. No-one will survive, he thought. His head was dropped carelessly to the beach, and his dying eyes focused on the figure of a man standing over him. Guilt and fear played across the man's face as he stared at the blood the Wrecker's careless slash had sprayed on his boots. As Marlowe forced out a last rattling breath, the face became clear.

   The Captain. His Captain. No time for doubt, no time for confusion, as his life flowed over black rocks beneath an uncaring grey sky. All his soul had time to do was cry out for vengeance. It was a weak cry, but nonetheless something heard.

Continued in "Memories"