The youngest son of a well-to-do merchant, Captain Zeal was wild for the sea from an early age, and eagerly soaked up the after-supper tales of the sea captains who did business with his father. The Royal Navy might seem an odd career choice for one like Zeal, but between acquaintances of acquaintances and his father’s money, he was able to get a berth as midshipman aboard that creaking old tub the Phaon, bound for the knacker’s yard after one last expeditionary voyage, which would have put paid to young Zeal’s naval dreams before they were well begun, had he not distinguished himself in a pitched battle with Errisian smugglers, and also shot a polar bear.
After Phaon, Zeal duly moved up the ladder of promotion; when a new pirate threat against Camembert’s trade emerged in the form of the flying ship Eschaton, the Admiralty in its wisdom sent the new-minted Captain Zeal in the antique frigate Kraken to see what he could do. The Kraken was sunk, but the Admiralty was so impressed with the young captain’s, well, zeal, that they gave him a second chance in the form of the beautiful new-built 32-gun frigate Circe.
The two ships came together not with a gentle kiss, but with a horrible rending crunch, and the pirates came swarming aboard. But the Krakens were waiting for them, and on the deck there was smoke and blood and confusion as the battle raged, and the Kraken and Eschaton each tried to batter the other into submission.
“Capture the leaders if you can!” Zeal hollered over the din, ducking the sabre-swipe of an ear-ringed rogue and stabbing him through the middle. All around him was the smoke and chaos of battle, and the deck was awash with blood. His men were fighting and dying on all sides of him—and his boys, too. He saw Mr Childe fall, savaged by a pirate’s boarding pike, but he had no time to react, lest his own life be lost.
But somehow, amidst the thunder of cannon and the crack of sharpshooters in the tops, the clangour of steel on steel and the shrieking of the wounded, amidst the arid scent of gunpowder and the tangy reek of blood, amidst the infernal raging anarchy, the battle was thinning. Most of the barbarous figures on board the Kraken were no longer moving, and on the mizzenmast of the Eschaton, the black flag twitched and began to descend.
“She’s striking her colours, sir!” exclaimed Mr. Morrow, who came lurching up out of the smoke, a bloody sabre in his hand. His coat was slashed, soot-stained and bloody, but there was a light in his dingy eyes that Zeal had never before seen.
“So she is,” the captain agreed, biting his lip and frowning. It was unlike a pirate to surrender, especially unlike everything he’d heard about the Eschaton. They would fight until every last one of them was dead, rather than face the (highly theoretical) mercy of Her Majesty’s courts. Better to die in battle than to hang, after all.
Zeal narrowed his eyes, watching the sea, the ship … awfully quiet on board the Eschaton, there….
“Your glass, Mr Morrow!” he said.
The Voyage to Ruin, volume one of The Sky Sailors, is available in a variety of formats in a variety of places: in Kindle format at Amazon, in other electronic formats at Smashwords, and, for the traditionalist, in dead-tree format at Lulu.com.