(sorry mods, I keep writing up crazy Empire scenes. Is there a fiction sub-forum? Anyway, this is basically my character’s view of the naval battle that turned up in the latest Winds of War. For your amusement while waiting for the WoF).
The first cool winds of Autumn were blowing off the Urizeni peaks when the Dromond ships joined the Imperial Navy, south of Necropolis. Sailing in a precision diamond formation, with a silver serpent and golden chalice blazoned across their the sails, they were led by the Silver Serpent, recently upgraded and with Earl Argent at the helm, much to the annoyance of his perfectly competent helmsman, and with a few knights sparring on the mid-deck. On the port side, the Flashing Blade cruised at half-sail, with Marcus Dromond watching the horizon and composing a battle sermon for his crew, newly acquired after years of evangelical work. On the starboard flank, Gawain Dromond was tweaking the runes and magical enchantments of the Starchaser. Occasionally a shower of sparks streamed from the tiller as he poured power into the runes. And bringing up the rear, Esme Sailmaker tried to bring more speed to the Furious Beast, dodging around the inexperienced crew and the heavy ballistae, and wondering if this was a promotion or a punishment.
Ahead of them gathered a mighty fleet, dozens of captains from across the Empire joining the Freeborn Storm, and sailing south-east towards Spiral. With flag signals and bullhorns, Serpent Squadron slid in behind the sloop-rigged warships of the Brass Coast fleet. While the navy was aiming to disrupt the supply lines of the Grendel armies in Spiral, Argent had planned, and received approval for, a simple but brutal hunt for Grendel warships.
He looked up to where the stern and bearded face of his predessor and brother William was carved in wierwood on the foremast. “A little more for your account, William…” and his thoughts were interrupted by horns from the scout ships ahead. He bellowed up the mainmast, “Sing to me, lookout!” The reply drifted down through the salty air, “Grendel ships sighted, milord. I see. Uh…. Lots…”
Pushing to the foredeck, Argent grabbed a Holberg-made telescope from First Mate Gavriel, and trained it on the horizon. What looked like a stormy haze resolved into sails, dark and brooding, some purple, some bright red, and some with a white symbol upon them that he expected was a stylized shark. They were concentrated and sailing in tight formation, like the fingers of an armoured fist coming straight for your head. “Fuck…” muttered Argent, swinging the telescope up and down the friendly fleet. Strung out to strike convoys and a coastline, the Freeborn were closing hulls, but it would take more time than they had. “Knights of Dawn!” he bellowed, “Gird for battle!”
The wind was starting to smell of blood and smoke, with only a brisk gust bringing a fresh burst of cool salt. As a second Grendel warship listed behind them, Serpent Squadron trimmed sails and swept back towards the fray, its captains… unsatisfied. The Grendel had once again closed and manouvered with the skill and practise of veterans, and the effortless co-ordination of a school of fish. Next to them even the darting ships of the Freeborn had seemed lumbering and clumsy, and the Grendel had brought many, many vessels.
“Captain!” came a cry from an archer platform, Gavriel having stationed himself there with the telescope. “I think we’ve been targeted! Three Grendel peeling back towards us!” “How long?” “Half a mark or so milord. The Freeborn aren’t letting them get away easy!”
“Good on them,” muttered Argent. “Serpents! One more then wheel to face ‘em!” Ahead of them a mighty Grendel vessel manouvered for a pass through the packs of Empire vessels ahead. The Silver Serpent swept around towards it, bowmen on the masts taking a few speculative shots. A ballistae fired from the Grendel vessel, but the Serpents helmsman was jinking the mighty ship like a yacht, and with wierwood tiller and keel, the warship moved like a dancer. “Keep their attention….wait…. wait…. Now!” and at Argents command, a pair of green flags sped up a line amidships. In response, the Furious Beast fired its catapult, a couple of barrels rolled through the air, shattering as they hit the waves (well short of the Grendel ship) into a haze of fine powder that seemed to hover above the water.
Momentarily blinded, the Grendel ship (The “Tolar Kay” Argent noted, as the Serpent got came in on a curving course) forged ahead, trying to get out of the cloud. There was a volley of screams from the Tolar Kay, and Argent grinned. Gawain and the Starchaser had closed to a suicidal distance, and fired with their spell-guided shots through the haze. As the Tolar Kay turned to face this new threat, the Flashing Blade swept in and out, its ram striking the Grendel vessel at the stern, shredding its rudder in passing and firing ballistae at point blank range up the ship. Argent could hear Marcus exhorting his crew to Courage and Vigilance as they cheered, sweeping past the crippled Tolar Kay.
The powerful Grendel ship was heavily crewed and reinforced, and stood the battering like a castle gate, it’s crew jeering and boiling up onto the decks. They knew what was coming and were confident and blood-thirsty.
The Silver Serpent lunged forwards through the debris-strewn waves, and the orcs waved their swords as it came. Amid them the ballistae fired again, and Argent gritted his teeth as it went high, punching through sails and lines, leaving ruin in its wake. A few arrows started to hit the deck around him, and he rolled his shoulders, and raised his shield. Around him two dozen knights formed an assault party, and the bowmen on the masts started returning fire. Argent checked his call for them to concentrate on the war engine, they knew their job. The orcs mustered on their mid-deck, over a hundred strong, and formed tough battle-lines as their ship drifted with the wind. Argent could pick out his opposite number, a wiry orc bouncing energetically up and down the Tolar Kay, shouting something encouraging to his warriors. “That one’s mine…” he muttered. “Say again Milord?” Asked the knight alongside. “Nothing Lady Sarrion… just a few breaths more….”
And as the orcs pressed towards them, only a few were unlucky enough to notice the Furious Beast coming round the other side. They died quickly, as hatches slid back along the side of the sturdy ship, and slings of redhot sand swept across the deck of the Tolar Kay. Some orcs were blinded, some were burnt, and all of them were hideously distracted. The Flashing Blade and the Starchaser swept back to lend further contributions to the carnage, and finally the Serpent slammed into the Grendel vessel side-on.
“Navy and Empire! Dawn and Glory!” came the call as yeomen below decks slid out a dozen reinforced platforms, forming boarding ramps down which thundered the Knights of Dromond. A couple of changeling Knights swung across from the topmast into the enemies rigging, bowmen fired through the chaos, the other ships concentrated fire on the waterline of the Tolar Kay, and the great warship entered it’s death throes.
The wind was doing nothing to disperse the columns of greasy smoke rising from the jarringly blue ocean. Serpent Squadron, battered but whole, limped back towards Rebekah’s Leap with the rest of the Navy. Once the Grendel had sent a squadron after them, the uncanny co-ordination, and, Argent admitted, greater experience of the orc sailors had nearly caught them. There had been no more easy kills, just desperate fighting amid screaming chaos.
The Silver Serpent had taken heavy damage, and the Furious Beast was leaking heavily, from a crushing encounter with a Grendel armoured dreadnought. The Starchaser had fared well, but had a towline out to the Flashing Blade. Marcus had steered his ship like a madman, cutting apart the entangled ships and breaking the Dromond vessels a path. His ship had burst seams, a broken mainmast, and a smashed tiller, while Marcus himself was below decks, injured badly but apparently holding on.
Behind them, dozens of ships on both sides were shattered wrecks, burning, slipping down into the depths. The Grendel had paused to finish off the valiant few ships that stayed to draw them off, and the day was theirs.
This day at least. There would be others…