Pirate Days along the Yann
Words by Ken St. Andre
Art by Greywulf
When the last gold eagle had been squandered and the great carouse was over, we wandered back down to the banks of the Yann and found our ship. By ones and twos and threes and fours, we staggered up the gangplank and came once again to the safe haven of our ship—safe for us, not for our prey.
There, in a comfy chair in the center of the foredeck, sat our Captain, reclining languidly, his eyes shut, and his swarthy countenance all foamy with lather. His scarlet coat lay folded across a barrel. The cabin boy crouched nearby, polishing the captain’s high-topped black boots while wearing a dirty yellow towel to protect his frilly silken shirt from flying bits of hair and foam. Smee swung his glittering straight razor like a maniac, but never a drop of the Captain’s blood did he shed.
With the last of the crew finally aboard, we hauled up the anchor and began the long trip to the sea, setting sail in our brigantine into the midst of the wide-rolling Yann. The sweet-scented evening wind from the mountains filled our white sails as we began yet another voyage on the lucrative Yann River, where dreams come true.
When the sun had slipped behind the western hills, I, Red Jack, stood on the fore railing next to my scarlet-jacketed captain, and we smoked our long-stemmed pipes while the gem-like stars danced gloriously in the obsidian sky overhead. The distant sounds of squawking parrots and howling monkeys drifted over the water, but did not disturb our planning; the jungle beasts that frequented the shores of the river hereabouts settled into their treetop nesting places. The night watch went about their work, silently for the most part, for two thirds of the crew slept, curled up on rich blankets or stretched out in hammocks wherever they could hang them, while Long Tom, the helmsman, held our course to the center of the peaceful river.
So the Yann carried us down toward the Sea of Dreams, for he was strong with the melted snow that the Poltiades River brought down to him from the Hills of Hap. During the night, he carried us past the jungle towns of Kyph and Pir, and even past the lights of stately Goolunza. We didn’t stop at any of those places, for we had plundered in all of them on the trip upriver.
Sometime past the middle of the night, the Captain went into his cabin, and I, being first mate aboard the Triumph, went also unto mine, and laid me down to see what dreams might come in Dreamland.
When the sun rose in crimson glory, and the ship moved into the waters commanded by the Khalif of Mandaroon, the Captain ordered us to port to gather supplies. Spider, Blag, and Smedley went to the jungle to gather provisions, while Smee, Dagmar, and the Captain led a party of barrel-bearing hearties to a crystal spring, nigh unto the main gate of the city, to refresh our water supply. But I went in a different direction, even past the hut of the white-bearded, bespectacled guard, to the edge of a blue-towered district where every man, woman, and child remained asleep. And, as I would have walked among them, the guardian stopped me, saying, “Go not into dreaming Mandaroon, unless thou wishest to sleep until Doomsday.” Then I turned away from the slumbering city and went back to the ship, no richer than when I had set forth.
We once again entered the slow-flowing flood, sailing, as leisurely as lords sail, down a river covered with dancing butterflies. And so the day passed, almost like a waking dream, until the purple shadows of evening began to fall once more. Then I heard the Captain shout for Smee to bring his sword, and I thought it might be well for me to claim my own weapon, even that great poleaxe from which I took my name. All around, the men gathered clubs, daggers, and fine-hilted rapiers until all were bravely armed.
Then we came to ancient Astahahn, where fabulous beasts, all carven in time-eroded stone, guarded the approaches from the river. There we saw the representations of manticore, chimera, griffin, gargoyles, and bulky black dragons, some looking so real that we feared they might come out to attack us as we drifted by. But the men of the city seemed to fear them not, and, though a few of the children waved to us, most of the citizens simply paraded on about their business, carrying strange banners and statues on gold-fringed litters to the uncanny music of flutes and drums.
“What do ye fear, Cap’n?” asked the rotund and near-sighted Smee, who had found no better weapon than his old feather duster.
“Fear!” scoffed the Captain. “There is not much here to fear, but soon we will enter the Territory of the Vampire Moths! Be ready to fight them off, me hearties!”
Then, as the bulky walls and columns of Astahahn faded into the darkness astern and a golden moon crept over the jungle trees to the east, multitudes of great albino moths rose fluttering from the shores to either side of us. Larger than eagles they were, and paler than phantoms, and they dipped and swooped and fluttered toward us like a wave of specters.
The captain struck out with his cutlass at the first moth to reach our decks, and his glaive split it in twain with a sound like shredding papyrus. Then, for at least two turns of the glass, we struggled with the winged hosts of hell, slaying them by tens, hundreds and thousands, and never letting them land or fasten their leech-like mouths upon our skins. And we did well, for we lost but one man, Big-belly Bert, whose flabby arms grew weary with the struggle until he could no longer swing his marlin spike, and three of the hideous insects grabbed him by the hair, and the shirt, and one hand, and dragged him overboard while all else were too busy to help him.
But when the sun came up, the devil-moths abandoned their attack, and we drifted wearily on toward a multi-domed marvel of a city. Lo! It was Perdondaris—that famous city where the luxurious toomarund carpets are woven, the city of merchants and hagglers. Were we not so weary from our fight against the Vampire Moths, we might have gone ashore to seek refreshment and whatever booty we could gather, for it was a rich, rich place. But the Captain staggered off to his cabin, and the rest of us put down our weapons and dropped to sleep wherever we could, mostly above decks, for the day waxed warm.
We drifted past ivory-walled Perdondaris and onward toward the Hills of Glorm. Then the Yann grew narrow and swift. High, rocky cliffs closed in on both sides of the river until all the water was lost in shadow and the sun seemed only a lamp in a far blue ceiling high above us. Every man stood on his post, and the river waves crashed and splashed across the deck, and I wondered that we had sailed through this gorge once before on the upstream voyage, but truly we had had a river mage to aid us at that time.
The peril lasted less than an hour. The river widened and slowed, and we found ourselves almost becalmed in the Marshes of Pondoovery. Then black clouds of mosquitoes in their millions rose up to meet us, yet another vampiric threat. But we broke out the smudge pots and the heavy grease, and passed through them by sunset without much harm—though all had been bitten more than twenty times.
When all threats lay behind us, and the lights of Cappidarnia showed golden against the gathering darkness, the Captain ordered the anchor dropped, and our ship came to rest in the center of the river.
“Rest well, me bold bravos,” cried the Captain, “for on the morrow, I believe we shall find prey at last!”
“Hooray for the Captain!” I shouted, and the men of my watch took up the cry, until the whole ship was cheering him. He smirked with pleasure then, and stroked his black mustachios with pride and glee.
On the morrow, we sailed down toward Cappidarnia, and many boats sailed along with us, but compared to our great brigantine they were all small and fragile things. All, that is, save one. A majestic barge, whose name, Bird of the River, was painted in letters of gold upon its bow, was making its way downriver. Gaily dressed men lined its high rails, and they were bold enough to wave at us and shout. But their shouts turned to alarm as we ran the Jolly Roger up our mast.
Moving beside the great barge, the Captain ordered the cannons fired in a broadside that wreaked havoc among the unprepared tourists on the other vessel. It seemed they had no cannons of their own, and so were at our mercy. Three broadsides we gave them, and the barge was listing low in the water when our yelling horde of plundering pirates swung across its rails. They could not stand against us, though one tall passenger fought well, cutting down Blag and Nigel, but when the Captain and I approached him, he turned and dived into the river and so escaped us at the end. Soon, we had their captain on his knees before our own. And we looted and plundered. We took everything of value, from the rings on their fingers to the gold in their teeth, from those arrogant fools who never thought to encounter peril. We took their cargo of silks from Gondara, spices from Golnuz, and gold from the mines of Mlo, and left the hulking carcass of that pleasure boat to founder outside the glittering gates of Cappidarnia.
Now, richly laden with treasure, we sail on down the ever-widening Yann. The sea is not far, perhaps just another day of sailing, and the Captain speaks of making course for far Tortuga if we can but escape these unknown lands where we have been wandering.
And I, Red Jack the Pirate, am content for now, and looking forward to the great carouse that is to come.