The Pirate King of Sidh
⊰ Books 1&2 ⊱
Chapter I: Manrenth
As they did every Tenthyear, the Dwarfs returned to the Orks of Sidh. The Pirates of Cragreaf knew to fight and raid for gold and honor. This Tenthyear, they returned the Manrenth, whom they had taken as an honor guard. Out from their great vessel marched the Marenth, Fionlach, who left as child and returned as man. His skin bore his age in scars and burns. He brought home one eye, seven fingers, and more gold and gems than lesser men could carry. All knew of the Manrenth: warriors who bought honor and gold in service of the Dwarfs. Their names were stone. As the Manrenth returned, Fionlach’s name became stone. Fionlach knew his honor and his place among Sidh, and the first day of feasting began in Fionlach’s honor.
Coinnach had been knee-high when Fionlach was chosen for the Manrenth. A Tenthyear had passed, and Coinnach would be chosen himself. He trained in spear and shield, in might and fortitude, but Coinnach had not trained in the Ways of Age. Coinnach had not learned patience, nor humility, nor wisdom. Knowing this, on the second day of feasting elder Tavich did not choose Coinnach for the Manrenth. When Coinnach knew he was not chosen, that Kathsich was the Manrenth, he grew angry.
On the third day of feasting, Coinnach did not join in feast or song or dance. Coinnach brooded with anger and envy. On the night of the third day of feasting, when Kathsich—drunk from festivities—went into the bog to relieve himself, Coinnach followed. In the dark of night, Coinnach came from behind Kathsich and cut his throat. Coinnach took from him the Manrenth’s shield and the Manrenth’s spear, and as the sun rose on the fourth day, Coinnach stole Kathsich’s place of honor among the Pirates of Cragreaf. The Pirates of Cragreaf saw the shield and the spear, and thought Coinnach to be the Manrenth.
Chapter II: Deckhand
Coinnach knew the stories of the Manrenth. Eadhan who slew great sea monsters. Ruadh who had fought one thousand men and lived. These men were stone, but Coinnach was neither Eadhan nor Ruadh, nor any other of the Manrenth. Aboard the Witwenvogul, Coinnach was not honored. The Captain saw in Coinnach’s demeanor that he was not honorable. The Manrenth’s Spear and the Manrenth’s Shield were taken from him and buried in the belly of the galley. Instead of Manrenth, Coinnach would be Deckhand.
Siegmar, the Captain, knew Coinnach upon first seeing. He saw Coinnach to be rash. Coinnach did not know the Honor in Work, and Siegmar sought to teach it. Siegmar replaced Coinnach’s spear with a mop, and set him to clean the Witwenvogul. For many days Coinnach did not do what he was made to, but Siegmar knew patience. Siegmar lessened Coinnach’s food and told him he could work when he chose. After many days, hunger made Coinnach choose work.
When Coinnach worked, he did so bitterly. He chafed at the orders of the First Mate, and fought with other deckhands. Only Siegmar’s words did he hear. Siegmar knew Coinnach must learn the Honor of Work before he could learn the Honor of War, but Siegmar worried for his Crew. Siegmar took Coinnach and set him not as Deckhand, but as Servant. Coinnach would not clean for the First Mate, but would clean for only the Captain. Coinnach saw that he was separated from the Crew, but he did not see why.
Chapter III: Guard
After weeks at sea, the Witwenvogul came to port. This port was not the boglands of Sidh, but an island of galleys. Many Dwarfin vessels, some alike and many larger than the Witwenvogul. Each was lashed together and adorned with planks and boardwalks. Coinnach had known great towerhouses in Sidh, but never had he known such works of the hand to stretch so far. The Dwarf-made island stretched for miles, and every manner of flag and sail decorated the sky.
On this day, Coinnach would not wear sackcloth, for Siegmar returned him the Manrenth’s Spear and the Manrenth’s Shield. Siegmar knew that Coinnach must look as if mighty and honorable, for Coinnach would be as a symbol of power: silent and tall behind him. Taking only Coinnach and the First Mate, Siegmar left the Witwenvogul. Striding boardwalks and ship decks, Siegmar led the group to the largest vessel, a Catamaran twice in size the Witwenvogul in every direction. Across the bow of the ship read, Federation.
Where the Witwenvogul held silver, the Federation shone with gemstone and gold. Coinnach had never known such wealth. The Chief Captain did not meet Siegmar, but his Assistant did; an angry dwarf with a beaded beard. Siegmar bowed to the Assistant, and Siegmar spoke confidently. Siegmar requested a Letter of Marke. Coinnach did not know what this thing was, but Siegmar spoke of earning the Federation’s support in raiding the ships of Koventry.
The Assistant appraised Siegmar. He asked of the strength of the Witwenvogul, and Siegmar did not lie. Then he asked of the experience of Siegmar’s First Mate, and Siegmar did not lie. He asked what duties Coinnach performed, and Siegmar hesitated. Coinnach was to be the Manrenth, not Deckhand, but Siegmar did not lie. The Assistant laughed at Coinnach, and mocked his strength. Coinnach knew he was told to be silent, but he did not know the Wisdom of Silence. When the Assistant mocked him, he challenged the Assistant.
Chapter IV: Portent
Siegmar left the Federation with no Letter of Marke. Coinnach knew that he was to blame, and Coinnach knew that he would be punished. The First Mate knew this as well, and when the First Mate told the Crew, the Crew too knew of this. They all felt an anger towards Coinnach, and they spoke this anger in hushed tones. Coinnach awaited his punishment, but none came. Instead, Siegmar knew that Coinnach must grow. He spoke honestly to Coinnach. This season they must act without a Marke, but Siegmar knew a new season would come. Coinnach must grow before that season comes.
The Witwenvogul docked with the vessels of the Federation’s Alliance for ten days under watch of the guards. They had no Marke, and could not leave as privateers. During these days the Crew grew anxious at waiting and bristled against Coinnach, who they knew had caused it. On the morning of the eleventh day a great fog came. Siegmar knew this fog would cover the Witwenvogul, and wordlessly he roused each of the Crew. All were assigned a silent task, and when all hands were assembled, the Witwenvogul slipped its moorings. They had escaped the wooden island unheard and unseen.
The Fog that freed the Witwenvogul did not pass that day. Nor did it pass the second. The fog grew thick and heavy in the air. The fog moved in lazy patterns across the deck. The Crew feared the fog, and the Crew blamed Siegmar for the fog. More than Siegmar, the Crew blamed Coinnach. They brooded in anger and hate, and they did not drink or sing. On the third day, heavy rains came, and the fog did not leave. Though blown by heavy rain, the fog stubbornly remained. Siegmar sent Coinnach above deck. Coinnach would secure the masts, but the Crew knew otherwise. At the stern of the Witwenvogul the Crew cornered Coinnach with hate in their eyes. They muttered angry words stolen by the wind.
Coinnach knew a fight would begin, but it did not. Instead, the galley shook. The First Mate shouted orders but Coinnach did not hear them. Coinnach heard the storm and Coinnach heard his blood in his ears. The Crew scattered about the Witwenvogul, and like ants they scattered. Like ants they toiled, but Coinnach did not toil. Coinnach knew anger. He was the Manrenth, not deckhand and not guard. Coinnach knew he should be stone. The First Mate shoved him and pointed and shouted, but Coinnach did not see and did not hear. Coinnach shoved back, and the First Mate fell to the ground. The First Mate’s face changed from anger to fear. His hands reached for his saber, and then Coinnach heard. The world was a deafening crash. Scraping and cracking and screaming. Then silence.
Chapter V: Awoken
Coinnach knew the sound of waves and wind, but his sense would not return. The heat of the sun sat upon his face, and cold, sharp rocks upon his back. The smell of salt came to his nose, and the taste of iron filled his mouth. Coinnach knew not how long he lay in darkness, but when his body became his own again, he rose uneasily and faced the wreckage of the Witwenvogul. The wooden beast, that which bore him from his tribe, was no more. Its frame was broken and strewn across a craggy beach. Before Coinnach stood only sea, and behind him, a great cliff of stone.
The sun stood high when Coinnach waded into the waters, but as it started to set—and as his body grew cold and numb—Coinnach hadn’t found a single man alive. He knew great pain and hunger, yet greater pain he knew from shame. The tide rose as darkness fell, and cold Coinnach fled into the caves among the cliff-face. The tide followed Coinnach into the cave, and his heart knew fear as water sealed him within. Deeper Coinnach went, until he came upon a wide cavern. Above he saw a ledge, and knew that there he would find shelter from the rising water. Coinnach’s body no longer wished to serve him. Still, Coinnach hoisted himself upon the ledge and, to his surprise, found respite awaiting him.
Coinnach saw a hammock of cotton rope and wool blankets set in the nearest wall. An oaken table and chairs with velvet seats sat nearby. A fireplace rested against the far corner, its flue cut through the ceiling. Fine, red meat roasted in the fire, and bread sat plated on the table. Coinnach knew hunger and cold. He took the food and blanket, and tended his wounds before the fire. Coinnach thought not of where these gifts came from, not until a voice broke his ease.
“You have eaten my food, and dirtied my blankets. Who are you to take these things from me?” The words were cold. The Hag who spoke them, old and Haggard. Coinnach knew not how to answer, and so spoke well of his past. Ork, Manrenth, sailor, survivor, yet the Hag was not impressed. She asked him how he came to be Manrenth. Coinnach felt shame and he did not answer, yet the Hag seemed to know he had slew his kin. She asked why Coinnach was Sailor and not Soldier. Again, Coinnach could not answer, and again she seemed to know: he showed no Honor, and chafed at his duties. She asked him why his vessel was smashed and crew dead, and Coinnach felt great shame. At last, Coinnach bared his errors, how he had fought when the crew needed him to serve. The Hag told him only “Tomorrow you shall repay me for my goods. Tonight, rest.”
Chapter VI: Servant
When morning came, and when the water receded, Coinnach rose from his place beside the fire. Coinnach saw his errors, and though he did not wish to serve a stranger, he knew no more fight. Coinnach went to the Hag and asked what he must do. The Hag told Coinnach that he must climb the cliffs. She knew the best of the land lay above, yet she could not reach it. Coinnach took a length of rope from the Hag, and set about the cliff face. The stones rose a height twenty times his own. Though much of the wall was sheer, Coinnach saw a path he could climb.
When Coinnach reached the peaks of the cliff, he found a great field of green beyond. Sheep and crow flocked about. Coinnach tied off his rope, sat, and rested. Coinnach thought his work was done, yet when the Hag climbed the rope to reach him, she tasked him with catching sheep. Coinnach did not envy this job, but he did as he was told. Throughout the morning, Coinnach chased and captured the sheep. He brought them to the Hag, and the Hag sheared them. When her bag had filled with wool, the Hag slaughtered one of the sheep for food. The Hag now told Coinnach to carry her down the rope. Coinnach knew she could carry herself, and Coinnach knew he could do better work, yet Coinnach bitterly accepted the duty.
When Coinnach and the Hag reached the beach below, the sun again stood high. The Hag gave Coinnach bread. The Hag told him his work was done. Still, the Hag gave one last task: serve his crew. The Hag showed Coinnach where his crew had been caught in the waves. Coinnach swam into the sea, and recovered the bodies of the Crew. He carried them onto the beach. He cleaned them and tended their clothes. When the last of the bodies was set on rock, the Hag came with silver yarn and wooden needle. The Hag told Coinnach to sew shut their wounds, reknit their severed limbs. Coinnach’s stomach rejected the task, yet Coinnach thought on the Honor of Work. He restored the Dwarfs to their pride.
As Coinnach’s task finished, the sun hung low and a silver fog came from the sea. The fog was thick and heavy in the air. It moved in lazy patterns across the beach. Coinnach knew this fog. This fog had taken the Witenvogul, and this fog had taken the Crew. Even so, Coinnach no longer feared this fog. As the water rose—as the water reclaimed the Crew—Coinnach returned to the Hag’s cave. That night Coinnach ate lamb and drank mead. The Hag spoke stories of Manrenth. She spoke of Eadhan and Ruadh, who served their clan. She spoke of Fionlach, who inspired the young. She spoke of Katsich, patient, humble, and wise. She spoke of Coinnach, who was not these things. She spoke of Coinnach, who could be.
Chapter VII: Returned
When morning came, and when water receded, Coinnach rose from his place beside the fire. The heat of the fire had gone out, and the cave had grown cold. His woolen blanket was worn through. The table, the chairs, the hammock were rotten through. Coinnach knew the Hag was gone, and he knew that he was alone. Even so, Coinnach returned the blanket and cleaned the cave as best he could. Coinnach left the respite grateful, and as he left, Coinnach found what he had not expected. The Crew, whose bodies he had returned to fog and sea, stood before him unharmed. Flecks of silver glinted where wounds once were.
Coinnach knew great joy at seeing the Crew, yet also great sadness. Among the Crew was not Siegmar. In his place, Coinnach found the First Mate. The First Mate, with whom Coinnach had once fought. The First Mate held Manrenth’s Spear and Manrenth’s Shield, and on his head rested the Captain’s hat. Coinnach knew that the First Mate’s anger was not gone. The First Mate yelled and blamed Coinnach, but Coinnach did not fight. When the First Mate spoke his anger through, he banished Coinnach, and Coinnach complied. Coinnach left the beach.
That day, as Coinnach explored the cliffs above, the Crew of the Witwenvogul worked. The men waded out, and dragged in driftwood and supplies. The sea had taken much of the Witwenvogul. When the Crew returned, they returned with too little. As the sun grew low, the Crew grew hungry and fought with one another. The First Mate sent men to fish, and men to hunt. One Dwarf, Mikkel, he sent up the rope Coinnach had laid. Atop he found sheep, but he knew not how to catch them. Coinnach knew how to catch the sheep, and gave his to the Dwarf.
As the days went on, the Crew gathered pieces of the Witwenvogul, but they could not repair it. The First Mate sent men to search for that which might. He sent the same Dwarf atop the cliff, and there the Dwarf searched, but found nothing. Coinnach saw this, and Coinnach showed Mikkel to a field of jute. Coinnach and Mikkel knew to make rope from jute, and when they did, Coinnach sent Mikkel back to the Crew. Coinnach knew the Crew was mad at him, yet Coinnach knew he must be patient. In exile, Coinnach did his duty to the Crew.
Chapter VIII: Captain
Two moons came and went before the Witwenvogul stood again. The ship, a shadow of itself. Coinnach saw the progress of the ship, knew every knot. The boards were lashed, but weary. The sails, tattered, but sewn. None of the ballistæ were recovered. When at last the ship was seaworthy, Coinnach sent Mikkel with smoked meats. The Crew would leave soon, yet Coinnach asked no reprieve.
Coinnach knew he was not forgiven, but Mikkel plotted. Mikkel spoke to the Crew. He unveiled each deed Coinnach had performed. When time came for the Witwenvogul to leave, Mikkel hid an anchor in the shallows to moor the vessel. As the tides came, the Crew could not pull the vessel from the shallows. The Crew knew if they could not free themselves, the tides would batter their weary hull. The First Mate cursed and yelled at the Dwarfs, but he could not rally them to the task.
As tide neared its highest, Coinnach saw that the crew could not escape the shore. Coinnach scaled the cliffs and ran to the crew. He pushed the vessel hard, and when he could not push it free, he knew the Crew must push as one. Coinnach called out to the Crew. They heard him, and they braced themselves against the ship. As waves came in and waves came out, Coinnach taught the Crew to push in time. As the tide reached its peak, and as Coinnach and the Crew heaved their hardest, Mikkel freed the hidden anchor. The Witwenvogul broke free from land.
Coinnach and the Crew swam to the vessel as the First Mate wrestled control over waves. Coinnach helped the Crew aboard. As the last Dwarf was lifted aboard, the Crew seized Coinnach and pulled him aboard. Mikkel told the Crew that Coinnach should captain the Witwenvogul. The First Mate still held anger for Coinnach, but the First Mate saw that Coinnach was not the same. He knew how the Crew saw Coinnach. The First Mate took the Manrenth Spear and Manrenth shield and laid them before Coinnach. The First Mate took the Captain’s Hat, and placed it in Coinnach’s hand. Coinnach saw the gifts before him, and Coinnach knew his duty to his Crew.