The Snake and the Mirror

Battle of the Faroe Islands

 

The Faroe Islands were rugged pieces of land that jutted out from the choppy grey sea. Noemi watched them from the deck of the Flying Dutchman, the only thing in sight save for the cold water below. This piece of ocean was where the Atlantic, Norwegian, and North Seas met, a convergence of water that would be the route by which the Naglfar came south, and the one place they could afford to stop it.

Now, more than ever, Noemi hated the natural quiet of the ship. The crew was, as usual, unseen and unheard save for an occasional whispy phantasm at the corners of her sight. At least there was still Jonah, Ronny, and Ophidia.

“Are you nervous, Noemi?” Ophidia’s voices sounded in her head.

“You know I am. I bet you can sense it,” Noemi sighed.

“Your mind is not so clear to me as you might think…but I can sense your apprehension.”

“It’s cold here.”

“It is very cold, yes.”

“Hey umm…Ophidia?”

“Yes, Noemi?”

“Thanks…for saving my life when we first met. I’m not sure if I really thanked you properly for that.”

“…It has been my pleasure, Noemi.”

Noemi smiled before another voice cut through the quiet.

“Having a chat with the serpent there, Red?” Ronny asked, stepping beside her on deck.

“That’s right,” Noemi nodded. “Surprised you’re still aboard.”

“Well I’m not about to run away and hide at this point,” Ronny folded her arms. “Doubt I’d hear the end of it.”

“Not a chance,” Jonah clapped her on the shoulder. “We’d call you a yellow-bellied elf till the end of time.”

“Can’t have that stain on my fearsome pirate reputation,” Ronny growled. “Cabin boy! How’s the ship?”

“Ship-shape and Bristol fashion, as they used to say,” Jonah said. “Not that you should be giving me orders, Miss Pirate.”

“I just want to make sure this barge is in fighting order when the enemy gets here!” Ronny protested.

“That will not be long.”

The voice of Ophidia was loud as it echoed over the ship, as the goddess took her more human form, a tall pale woman with red eyes and long feathered white hair.

Jonah glanced out to sea and nodded as Ronny gulped; even Noemi could feel the pit growing in her stomach as the temperature seemed to drop a few degrees.

The sky grew steadily darker, though it couldn’t have been past midday. The clouds overhead churned and roiled, threatening rain as a fog moved in from the North. Above them, from among the high masts of the Dutchman a warning bell began to ring.

“They’re here,” Jonah growled. “Get ready.”

Noemi ran to the ship’s railing, looking out over the dark mist-strewn water. She wouldn’t be much help in a naval battle directly. She’d need to act as a spotter until the boarding began. Looking out into the deep mist, she saw the sharp dark lines of a prow breaching the water, and another, then another.

From out of the mist came a fleet of ghostly ships, pale vessels shining with an unearthly light and crewed by ghosts or the living dead. The mist was too dense to see them all, but there were at least two dozen ships gliding quietly over the water towards them.

“Ghost ships!” Noemi called. “Off the port bow!”

“Like we though they’re coming from the North…” Ronny said. “This is the opening round. It’s not serious until we see the Naglfar.”

The ships approaching were of all shapes and sizes. Most were Viking longboats, raised from the deep to raid and pillage, the small ships dwarfed by the colossal man-o-war that was The Flying Dutchman. But there were still dozens of them, all crewed by fierce-looking spectral raiders looking for the chance to take hold of their ship.

“Don’t bother with the warning shot,” Ronny said. “Jonah, if you have any pull at all with these ghosts, tell them to open up and not hold back.”

“Right,” Jonah hurried back towards the helm as Ronny stood next to Ophidia and Noemi.

“I’m a little surprised,” Noemi said. “That they never reached out to the Dutchman.

“Whaddya mean, Red?” Ronny asked, glancing at her.

“Well, we’re on the most famous ghost ship,” Noemi said. “Makes sense a fleet of ghost ships would want it on their side.”

“Heh, you still don’t quite get it, do you?” Ronny smiled. “To put it in terms for you…they’re different sides of the same coin. Those sailors out there? Those raiders and risen ships? They hate death, they hate what they lost. There isn’t even a human spirit left in there. All those human souls went to Valhalla or Folkvangr or wherever they went…what’s sailing at us right now is all that hate and fear and misery you get in those last few moments of drowning at sea.”

“And what’s this ship then?” Noemi knocked on the wooden rail.

“This ship’s acceptance, it’s on the side of the drowning ocean itself. The Dutchman isn’t just a ghost ship it’s…like…well, back in Wales we have this spirit named Ankou, the protector of Graveyards and Keeper of the Dead. When I first saw the Dutchman, I thought it was Ankou’s ship. Hmmm to help you understand, you could call this…the Grim Reaper of ships. Those lost souls see this ship and they see death all over again.”

“Heh, now I feel kind of bad about it,” Noemi said, a sardonic smile tugging at her face.

“Death’s important, Red,” Ronny said. “I’m not saying it’s good, or pleasant, but it is. The dead need to stay dead.”

“Mmm…” Noemi felt her heart sink in her chest a bit. There were many people that she wished didn’t stay dead.

“I know what you’re thinking, Red, and forget it. When the dead come back, they don’t come back right. They come back looking like that,” She pointed out to the wailing Viking souls.

With a sound like a roaring lion the Dutchman launched its opening salvo. The frontmost Viking longboats exploded into a shower of wood and rope as they disintegrated into thin ghostly trails of smoke, mingling with the fog. The rest, however, just kept coming.

“Hope these ghosts don’t plan on stopping,” Ronny drew her sword. “Those longboats are coming fast. Expect boarding parties.”

“Right,” Noemi nodded, feeling the revolve at her hip. “What’s the plan?”

“Keep ‘em on deck,” Ronny said. “Don’t let ‘em get below!”

“Got it!”

Again and again the Dutchman lay full broadsides into the oncoming fleet. But more and more ships simply rolled in from the fog. Soon the longboats were joined by larger ships. The ghostly apparitions of ships from Britain, France, and Spain, from Roman Galleys to a roaring Spanish Galleon. None of them opened fire, save for archers on the decks of ships, the guns of the newer warships long since silent while the Dutchman’s still spat fire across the phantasmal fleet. But they kept coming, all of them sailing on a dead wind straight for the Dutchman.

With a clang, the first of the grappling lines were thrown over the deck, cruel-looking iron hooks that sank into the wooden railings as the boldest longboats pulled alongside the Dutchman. Even as ropes clung to her sides the ship continued its series of broadsides, shattering lines of ships at a time. One poor Viking ghost, heaving itself past the gundeck, was annihilated at point-blank range by a canon round.

Ronny picked up a boarding axe from the edge of the railing and began hacking at the thick lines, the ghostly rope fraying under the assault.

“Put those guns to work, Red!”

“R-right!” Noemi hurried to the edge of the deck, ducking low as arrows flew wildly overhead. Looking down over the railing, she saw the first of the Viking raiders hauling themselves up the side of the ship. Drawing her pistol, she leveled a shot and fired, the bang echoing between the booming canon rounds as the closest Viking’s head was reduced to spectral mist, his body falling from the line before evaporating as it struck the water. As Noemi watched, the empty chamber in her revolver seemed to suck in the ghostly mist before another bullet took form within. Good thing it did, because Noemi had a lot of targets.

She started firing across the side of the ship as Ronny cut through the boarding lines. Her revolver’s bang was dwarfed by the thunder of the Dutchman’s guns. Even with both of them working, soon there were a dozen lines hanging from the Dutchman’s port railing with more and more raiders hauling themselves aboard.

“Pull back!” Ronny shouted as they began to spill out onto the deck, Noemi’s shots driving through the first of them even as they came in twos and threes. Noemi pulled away from the railing, lining up her shots as more and more of the ghostly Vikings hauled themselves aboard. Ronny still had her sword and the boarding axe in hand, rushing forward to meet the boarders as she cut through them like mist. Around them, Noemi could see the crew of the Dutchman taking form, rushing to meet the Vikings with cutlass or musket round as they worked to repel the boarders as well.

The Vikings, armed with little more than spectral swords and axes, were repelled by the first musket salvo and charge from the Dutchman’s crew, and for a second it seemed they had a chance to repel them for good before Jonah’s voice sounded across the deck.

“Naglfar! Portside!”

Noemi turned and looked to the North, Out of the mist and fog game a ship unlike any other. The figurehead of its bow was modeled in the face of a snarling skeletal dragon, but massive in size, dwarfing even the Spanish galleons as it drifted past. As it breached the fog more and more of the great black ship came into view. Though looking vaguely like a longboat, it had stolen and stitched together styles from centuries of ships. Multiple decks rose above the water and a hurricane of torn and tattered sails flew above it. The ship itself was iron-black and narrow, with its stems visible against the hull as if the ship itself was a skeletal corpse. Images of human skulls and bones dotted every surface, and the deck seemed alive movement as a crew of risen dead worked to steer the massive ship directly for the Dutchman.

“That ship…is enormous…” Noemi breathed, staring at it. The Flying Dutchman was a large ship, over 40 meters long and armed to the teeth, but the Naglfar could have rivaled an old aircraft carrier for sheer size.

“I hope those dragons are on their way,” Ronny breathed. “Or that one of you have a plan.”

“Urgh…” Noemi swallowed, still staring at the looming ship. “Only one plan. Hold until they arrive.”

Ronny sighed. “I was worried you’d say something like that.”

Renewed by the sight of their flagship of the damned, the fleets had rushed the Dutchman, the longboats throwing their lines aboard as the larger vessels tried to corral the massive ship, guiding it towards the Naglfar.

Noemi leveled her pistol, firing at the boarding spirits as chaos broke along the deck. The line of musketmen had broken and the crew of the Dutchman and the raiders had descended into a fierce melee.

“Red!” Ronny shouted, tossing the boarding axe to her. Noemi caught in and slammed the hatchet blade into the shoulder of a ghostly Viking, the axe ripping through his spectral body as she leveled another shot and fired through the chest of another one. Ophidia had vanished, her smaller serpentine form moving to wrap around Noemi’s arm like a bracelet.

“Could use some help here, Ophidia!” Noemi said, firing off more rounds as the Viking ghosts fell, only for more of them to rise and take their place.

“I am helping to an extent, but I am mustering my strength.”

“For what!?”

A shadow loomed over the deck, and Noemi turned to see the terrible draconic prow of the Naglfar looming over them. The other ships hadn’t been luring the Dutchman in range to be boarded. They were going to be rammed.

“Jonah!” Noemi shouted. “Ronny!”

“Hit the deck!” Noemi felt Ronny’s hand on her back as she was forced to her knees. A terrible crashing noise echoed across the sea as the dark prow of the Naglfar slammed into the Dutchman’s port side. Wood splintered and shattered, the deck of the ship groaned and shuddered as Noemi felt the wooden planks straining under her. From the mouth of the draconic figurehead, spikes attached to iron chains launched forwards, embedding themselves in the deck of the ship as they were bound together, the Naglfar dwarfing the Dutchman.

Amid the sound of breaking wood and the groans of the ships and the attacking ghosts, Noemi could make out the sound of rushing water as the ship lurched and seized. Then, all at once, out of the fog came the sound of a bell. This wasn’t the high alarm bell of the Dutchman, but a much deeper tolling noise, like the sound of a great church bell.

All around them, Noemi could see the ghosts of the Dutchman’s crew vanishing, evaporating into the aether one by one until at last only one spectral figure remained, a tall gaunt-looking man standing at the helm, his hands held fast to the wheel with bony fingers. As Noemi watched, the man slowly, almost hesitantly, released the wheel of the ship and vanished.

“Noemi!” She looked and saw Jonah hurrying towards them, old cutlass in hand.

“Jonah! The crew!” Noemi shouted, rising up to stand with him as the ghostly raiders crept closer.

“The damage to the Dutchman undid the curse,” Jonah said. “Like a hole in a prison wall they all slipped through, even Captain Vanderdecken!”

“So it’s just us on a sinking ship,” Noemi said. She glanced towards the sky, hoping to see dragons soaring through the air, but only saw dark rolling clouds as the first soft drops of rain began to fall.

“We’ll hold,” Ronny said. “Not much choice left.”

“Right” Noemi nodded. “We’ll hold. As long as we can.”

 

 

Previous Chapter                                                                                                           Next Chapter

The Cities Eternal©2017, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s