All Stories, Historical

Black Bird of Prey, the Death Ship by Tom Sheehan

The battle had been harsh, crude, and longer than expected, but at the inevitable end the ship Gerben Huraq had sailed on for three years, initially at the point of a maniacal sword in the hand of a maniacal privateer, was sinking fast. Huraq, still on the good side of thirty years of age and seemingly primed for long distance of days, had once crawled up a rescue rope to that ship from another sinking ship. Now, twice saved and twice accepted aboard a rescuing vessel, he was in the water again, in the Black Sea, the sea of seas, death scene of floaters, those abandoned, thrown overboard or fallen from their stations at battle, each one in a downward slide into their own histories. He had no idea how long he would last on this wide sea, until one precise moment when he espied the growing dot of a mast at full sails advancing from a distant point, ever moving closer, hope most possibly a  passenger, and a final surge of excitement propelling his nearly inert body toward an expectant welcome.

“Have I not lived most miraculously these long years,” he said aloud, no fear of his fortune or ill fortune, if it was to be early shown to him, heard from his mouth at this new crux of life, “the salt so new and fresh upon me, so far the sea barren for me except for the prospects of the oncoming ship, a pirate also, no doubt, on cruise and watch, and which has spotted me alone here on these vast waters.” He cast a solid harrumph from his dry throat, accompanied by a controlled self-laugh, and uttered a comedic oath, “I promise if this is not the last of my seas, I will learn all the parts of the alphabet and use them properly and in true fashion.” A titter brought a new taste of salt into his mouth. “Hark, Lords of the Deep, I swear by this curse or by devotional promise to become most learned in my time, whatever it be coming to me.”

The pure sound of a whistle, his own, came to him across flat waters like a dog’s master at summons.

Also caught in the self-reflections came new admissions: “If I had advantages of a mirror, I would see on what manner my presentation makes to the master of this oncoming ship I now see sporting the Black Flag of our destinies, his and mine, mine and his, the weights in medial balance for the very moment, one more privateer abound at mission, commissioned by one’s majesty, king or queen, those who sit in power and who drop blades of promise and vow upon our souls as well as upon our hearts. We are the loving dead as far as they are concerned.”

“Ho, there,” a voice eventually called out in his own tongue, a tone he’d know in any port of the world, “if you swear allegiance to this boat and its captain, Slank by name, Jerdah Slank, we will haul you aboard, feed you, let you sleep a full day as is our wont, and then, upon faith, put you to work for the immediate now and until the holy Kingdom itself comes, with great prizes and finds promised to all our crew for all our energies and hungers.”

None else there found cause to express abeyance or hope in those words, and Gerben Huraq realized his gander was cooked to a fare thee well; he was both owed and was owed, part of, a member in good standing, a prisoner, a convict, a privateer, a free man for what circumstance was allowed him.

 “We are a motley crew,” continued the captain, “and I am a master of its indifference. What say you and by what name are you called, either by friend or foe?”

With a pronounced and dramatic move, illustrated by his uniform flaunting gay red and purple colors tinged with black edges on each piece of his dressage, and sporting a wide-brimmed hat fit for a king at a palatial ball, Jerdah Slank fit the idea of a sea-worthy monarch; king of this small estate of a ship now overrun and stolen twice in its ocean career, and now sporting a name burned into its name plank, Dark’s Dread Disciple.

“My word is my agreement,” said the swimmer, “for this water not friendly at all. Please hurry me aboard. I fear only great tentacles from the deeps. I am called Gerben Huraq by those who know me, trust me, and save me from certain death on this sea of deaths.”

“… and my hand at the throats of those too hungry to abide my rules and destiny,” being all he heard of the response from the deck of the rescue ship, which proved to be a dazzling, bright, shiny brigantine, impeccable to its very corners and Huraq judging it to be as large as 150 tons, about 80 feet long with a crew of probably 90 pirates as hungry as the captain would most likely prove to be; most of them lining the decks as the rescue was completed. She appeared to carry a dozen cannons and would likely sport cargo space twice as big as the sloop he’d just come off (deciding to tell nobody his last place on that sloop was a plank hanging out from her deck, his walking it presuming to be his last lifeline on this earth.)

This rescuing brigantine, which seemed to have flown out of the west, hurry in its bravado appearance, had two masts with square sails excellent for handling in a quartering wind and promising safe haven for another good hand, however brought on board. The odd and awed stories would soon come to him in the secrets of the hold or above decks in the rigging, away from other ears, the ones attached to those who exuded distrust from their first word or grimace. A sense of clarity fed him its promises, though he felt a serious reserve manifest itself in the pit of his stomach; he forced himself to absorb that feeling in his guts.

Gerben Huraq, near exhaustion, too familiar with the habits and forthcoming of lone swimmers on the seas of the world, announced his capture, his capitulation, his obedience when he said, loudly, “I do.”

As the ship came closer he realized it was a choice ship for battle rather than the quicker and smaller ships, like the sloops and schooners of his experience. He admired its cut, its way in the water, a sylph of a large ship loaded, no doubt, with more terror than The Deep itself. It, as disparate as could be, loomed warm and welcome and he knew it could survive strong seas and storms and had been constructed in some Dutch or Spanish harbor for those very purposes. He was willing to bet five toes it was built in a Dutch harbor, though he had no sound affirmations of that dictate, and knew no history of its prior use and the flag it carried, however long that service.

In his mind he saw it commandeered, boarded, stripped of original crew and captain and adapted as a new vessel under a new captain. To be sure, it was renamed on the spot, the old name erased forever, the new name scored into a mounted title board, six feet long, burned deep and black, a name to be known forever in annals of the sea. The ship was also rugged enough to cross the Atlantic ocean, and fair better than smaller crafts in harsh sea conditions, now and ever to be spoken in awe as Dark’s Dread Disciple, the very name scored by rods made red by fire to blacken the name.

As he was hauled aboard, he was sure he smelled the fumes of that scored naming, for all seaworthy reasons, a new ship with a new name, indelibly named, and of a most recent encounter, blood evident on many edges, on innumerable surfaces.

He was roughly dried off, thus warmed and blood rethickened, then ate and slept in deep leisure. When he came to he was in another battle, the guns firing away in two directions, fore and aft, sails rent, blood spilled, riches achingly at hand. They spent hours aboard the newly captured vessel, securing sworn transfers by the sword, caring for their own wounded, blessing those dropped to the deep, hanging the captain of that recovered vessel, scouring each and every space for stashed valuables, coveted trinkets, astounding gems whose quantity and unbelievable quantity tightened the crew in a hurry , and even a pet monkey promising larks and laughs on the coming voyages onto salty seas and Hells. The search was complete from stem to stern, prisoners freed and sworn to their savior, Captain Jerdah Slank, one-armed swordsman, gun carrier, fierce of beard, visage, voice, and a man who was not once alone aboard his own ship, sworn to be protected by two enormous black sailors, dubbed Shade and Shadow by the captain himself at their capture and “life-long enlistment.”

Tom Sheehan


2 thoughts on “Black Bird of Prey, the Death Ship by Tom Sheehan”

  1. Hi Tom,
    We don’t get many pirate stories. I think there is another one about a woman pirate somewhere in our back catalogue.
    I was left wanting more. I wanted to read on which is always a good sign.
    No matter what subject you take on, your skill and brilliant wordplay is always apparent!
    Excellent as always.
    All the very best my friend.


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