Nine months later….
Prince William strides up to the front of the boat newly rechristenedRoderik’s Revenge.He glances out at the clear horizon and rubs the rough beard he has been growing. Sighing he turns back and looks back over his fleet.
“Twelve longships. Almost a year gone by, and the only thing I have to show for it is one more longship. And of course more dead and such. No closer to ending these raids then we ever were ah Rod-“ He closes his eyes and pauses for a moment as he remembers the counter raid that got him this new ship, and brought much needed hope. It also almost brought about his companions near death and forced retirement to a job that did not require so many limbs. “So much lost. Including someone to listen to my monologues. And yet….every time we meet those Islanders…I come closer and closer to understanding why they persist in these raids. Even at the cost of so many soldiers. God knows, I’m never at a loss for volunteers to replenishmyranks. Especially when we raid them. Its….it’s a way of life, it’s how some of these people lived this long….sometimes…I…” He grimaces and sighs. “It does not matter. None of this matters. I need to end these raids. For the good of the Kingdom. For the last hope of my father’s sanity.”
As he finishes his monologue the lookout atop the masthead calls out and the ship abruptly shifts direction. Crew members that had been staying out of their prince’s way and thoughts rush to their battle stations. The prince stays out of their way instead, and he calls up to the lookout. “Sails?”
The man calls back down. “Ay sir. Looks like another group of raiders out from their islands.”
“Mayhaps ten ships. As many as twenty possibly.”
Will rubs his chin and slowly nods. “Good. Signal the second fleet, if you haven’t yet. Come from the east and flank them in the sun.”
“Ay sir.” Said the man, already in the process of doing so.
Confident in his crew’s competence, William enters the small cabin that serves as the ship’s armory and prepares himself for battle. Forgoing the relatively cumbersome, and non-buoyant, chainmail he would normally don, he slips into a leather jerkin. As he does so he glances at the narrow scar on his right arm, and remembers. “I wonder if you are out there, in that fleet. You are almost a month over due for another brilliant plan to get past me. You’ve tried at least once a fortnight. Succeeded a couple of times too.” He sighs. “And yet I still have no idea who you are. Not that I don’t have my suspicions. But then, I don’t go around announcing who I am either…” He shakes his head and grabs his sword. It is a rather battle scared wakizashi, a fancy version of the swords reinvented by those who fight on board ships fairly often, and so need light, short blades that are useful in the close, careful mêlée that is ship to ship conflict. It’s well used, yet still usable appearance emphasis the craftsmanship of the weapon, a weapon fit for a prince of war. Carved into the blade and hilt is the royal Winged Lion and scythe of his family. “Well, I must do the best for the Kingdom. Even if that ends in you….” He does not have the heart to finish his thought and leaves the cabin for battle.
When he emerges onto the deck the other boats are visible to the naked eye as they close for battle. William quickly counts them and assesses that they have an equal number of ships to his own fleet here, and will be heartily outnumbered by his other fleet. He nods to himself, pleased at the likely victory.
His ship is in the lead as usual and so is the first to engage the enemy. The crew of each boat launches ropes to ensnare the other ship and force it alongside. As both sides are attempting the exact same thing, this occurs very quickly, and the real battle is joined. William enters the fray and soon loses sight of the larger battle as he attacks the raiders.
This first skirmish is over quickly, for the raiders have learned that the first ship is invariably attacked by the best troops, and so is generally used to slow down the Royals as the raiders use their best troops on some other part of the fleet. Once his part in clearing the enemy ship is done, William glances around to see how the rest of the battle is going. The ship behind him is in a revered situation to his, the raiders quickly overtook the Royal troops. After the first two sacrificial ships, most captains forgo engaging one sip at a time and instead try to flank a ship someone else is attacking. This causes a snow ball effect of ships docking with other ships ad infinitum. This time is very bad and almost every ship is connected somehow in a maze of rocking morass of lines.
A quick glance reveals that the battle is not going well for the royals. There are an inordinate number of raiders for the number of ships. William curses and accepts this development, focusing his energies on countering it.
A blinding glance to the east reveals no sails of his reinforcements, but then that is the point of springing the trap from the direction of the sun. Figuring his best hope is to get his best troops into the thick of the fighting, he orders the raider ship set adrift and for the ship to head to the morass. The victorious raider ship finishes off its battle and does the same. They manage to reach the battle at about the same time.
Almost before they latch on, William’s ship is beset by attackers. The royals manage to quickly change this, and press the attacks back off their ship and into the battle for the next ship. In the brief pauses between the two, William again surveys the battle. His troops have managed to hold some ground, but are inexorably being worn down and over run. He prays for the swift arrival of his reinforcements before the trap back fires and searches for where the fight is fiercest, and therefore where he will be of the most use. He finds it three ships down, and also sees a familiar flash of blond hair. Taking a deep breath, he rejoins the fray and tires to force his way down the ships.
This foolhardy charge meets with a fair amount of success, both because everyone knows his reputation as a fighter and fears to engage him, and they hope to cut their foe off from assistance.
Before too long William has cut, and been let through, to the fiercest part of the raider force. A shout erupts and the Blond Woman finishes her opponent and turns to face William. A space clears around them, but the two are so intent on each other they really don’t notice. They start to circle each other as best they can on the longship.
“Yet again, we come face to face. This seems to happen every time.” Says the Woman as she regains her breath from the fight. She is slightly flushed from the exertion, but still relatively fresh, battle speaking. There does not seem to be any new open wounds on any part of her body that William can see. He double checks her chest to be sure.
William gives a small grin. “Well, we are really best each side has to offer. And we both want to spare our people as much as we can. Therefore, we both head to where the battle is thickest. Even if we don’t try to seek each other out, we tend to kill anyone in between us eventually.”
“A rather brutish assessment, but true as far as I can tell. ‘Even if we don’t try to seek each other out’? Are you saying…you try to find me?” She raises an eyebrow in a suggestive manner as they keep circling.
“Well….You do have yet to give me your name.”
She laughs. “You know, I was thinking the same thing as we closed with your ships. I was regretting that one day one of my plans will end you before I know who you are.” And you know what I decided?”
“I know what I did.” He looks at her. “And now I know you are important enough to make the plans the raiders carry out.” Their circular paths start to shrink and they slowly get closer.
“Ha.” She nods. “You have found out a bit about me then. But, I decided that I prefer the mystery. My people must come before…anything. If we know about each other…”
He nods in agreement and finishes the thought. “It may weaken our resolve for our people. I understand. So, the Blonde Woman of the Raiders you remain.” They are less than a swords length away from each other.
She snorts. “That is what you call me? I call you Ben Franklin, after the first warrior king of the Empire of United States.”
He is taken aback, and almost stops their dance. “Wow….that is…an honor…I must think of a better name for you then.” He narrows is eyes. “Maybe later. But…we have bantered much longer than normal. I know my reason for delaying our battle, and thus delay the larger conflict.” He stops his approach to her, and instead maintains their space.
“And I have my own. They are almost certainly opposed. Therefore, we should counter both plans by commencing our battle in earnest.”
Will nods sadly. “One of these days, one of us will banter for the last time. As much as I hope that time is far away, I must do my best to force it to happen posthaste.”
“I reciprocate.” They nod to each other and with an almost imperceptible shift go into battle mode and close the distance between each other. Their blades meet in a few preliminary clashes, to make sure the other has not changed significantly since last time. William makes the first truly offensive move with a quick slash that is neatly parried away. With that, they fall into a familiar pattern, neither of them really making a mistake or gaining an advantage.
Their fighting styles have gone through slight changes every battle since their first battle. Both have honed their skills to the very edge of perfection, and their relatively regular battles have revealed their tricks to each other. In much the same way, their styles have slowly shifted to incorporate that of the only opponent who approaches their level of mastery. The Blond Woman of the Raiders now has more power behind her attacks, and they are more precise and deliberate. Ben Franklin, the Warrior King, moves his blade faster, and is more smooth and controlled. Their confrontation is less a fight than a dance, two people so skilled, so in tune with themselves and indeed with each other that the flurry of clashing blades transcends the brute violence of the itself, and becomes beautiful. Not that the combatants are any less intent at killing each other for all of this beauty, their deadly intent only heightens to majesty of their battle. Neither one of them makes a singles mistake; not even the rocking of the boat or the other slowly diminishing fights interferes with their meeting. Time may pass, or the sun itself may stop in the sky to watch them. Neither would matter to either one of them.
Suddenly, their fight is interrupted by an explosion of fire and confusion. The mass of boats rocks violently, knocking everyone about. The two combatants are more affected than anyone, this sudden and violent reemergence of the real world knocks them to their knees and they both drop their swords.
Around them, the flotilla of ships starts to rapidly disperse as crews try to get their ships away from whatever caused the disturbance. The earlier battle is ignored as boats are commandeered by whatever side has a majority of troops presently on board, all others are sent to the next boat owned by their own side. Once a ship has been mostly clear, they set themselves adrift and head for others of their side.
The Woman jumps to her feet to find the ship she stands on is being claimed by kingdom men. She grabs the sword by her feet and jumps over the rails to the next boat. William rises himself and grabs the other weapon; he rushes to the rail and searches for whatever caused the abrupt end to the fight. He finds it quickly, from the south comes a huge armada of ships flying not only the flag of the Kingdom of New England, or some local lords sigil, but the flag of the royal house, the combination that can only be flown when the King himself commands the Navy. An impossible hope lights up into William, and he looks out to the rest of the ships. He sees a large group of ships sailed the raiders fleeing to the North. They woman stands at the rear of one, watching the Kingdom ships come. She and Will meet eyes, and he shakes his head in disbelief and denial. She spits into the water and raises her finger in a blasphemous gesture, then turns back to command her fleet. They disappear before any pursuit can be organized.
Will whirls around to look at the ship he is standing on. The strategic part of his mind notes that this was the raider flagship, and that is has far fewer bodies than he would expect for the amount of time he was fighting the woman. “What is going on here?”
Everyone looks at his neighbor in confusion. The crew member who William spoke to earlier sighs, raises his voice and turn to face the prince. He now sports a bleeding cut on his arm. “I’d expect that you, being prince and our commander would have a better idea than we would.” He winces slightly and tears off a chunk of his shirt to bandages his wound “Although, why ever they are here, had they been much later, we may not have been here. Sir.” He then casts his eyes away and mutters something.
William is about to enquire further when one of the ships of the armada pulls up close beside his longship and hails him. He turns and stares at the new ship. It is fully three times the size of the longship, a deep ocean going war ship that could not have looked different from the battle scarred, northern made longship. Orders are shouted, and a wooden platform is slowly lowered. William ignores it, grips his sword in his teeth, and grabs onto a ropes running down into the water and starts to climb. To his surprise, the crew member follows him.
William tries to speak, but can only mumble around the sword in his teeth. The man nods and replies. “Someone needs to watch your back. My lord. Since Sir Roderik is gone, that duty generally falls on who is closest to you when you do something stupid. I am cursed at always being near you at the worst times. So, I’m here. Try not to get us killed. Sir.” William only grunts in what may be an unintelligible word and keeps climbing. “I’m Jim by the way. If you care. Sometimes you do.” He mutters something else under his breath, but then follows the princes lead and finishes the climb in silence.
When Jim reaches the top, he is treated to the rare scene of Prince William being very angry. He strides across the deck with the sword out, yelling insults and profanities in a very loud and inarticulate voice. He punctuates this at the main mast by slamming the sword into the rope holding up the flags. The ropes goes looses and both the flags tumble to the deck in an ungainly heap. The sword remains in the wood.
This seems to calm him slightly and he takes a deep breath before speaking in a voice that uses actual words instead of syllables lodged together in profane ways. It is still very angry though. “Who is the idiot that decided to FIRE a FLAMING BALL from a CATAPULT into my SHIPS? While there were PEOPLE onboard! How many ships do you think you destroyed! HOW MANY PEOPLE DID YOU KILL? And WHERE IS MY FATHER! What petty noble dares to fly our flag!” He looks about angrily at the crew gathered on the deck. Jim glances about, then decides to go stand behind the prince and look menacing.
From the other side of the deck comes a very prissy sounding cough. William whirls to confront the cougher. He is dressed in a very formal, clean, and uncomfortable looking uniform. His voice is even more annoying than the cough. “That would have been me, Lord New Providence, Duke of Rhode’s Island, and High Lord Admiral now. I do expect to be addressed as such, even by your…..charming visage my prince.”
William grinds his teeth for a moment, displeased to have to confront nobles and politics instead of angry people trying to kill him. He forces his mind to remember the correct etiquette that he must follow until the king decrees otherwise. “And, my Lord Duke, pray tell me WHY THE HELL YOU SHOT A CATAPULT AT MY TROOPS!” Certain liberties are allowed to be taken by a prince.
He scoffs and throws up a hand. “I knew you would be…..leading from the front, and therefore be uninjured. Besides, it was so hard to tell your…..troops from these savages, I thought it was best to just get rid of as many as I could. Also, had I waited much longer your force would have been obliterated. By the laws and precepts of the Royal Naval Law of Battle I was justified.” He gives a tiny fake cough and mutters, just loud enough to hear. “And it was the best way to try and rid this place of that…stench.”
William sputters angrily, but he must concede that had the Duke not arrived, his forces would have been overwhelmed. Then Jim lightly taps him on the shoulder. William glares at him, but he holds up his hands palms out in a pleading gesture and speaks.
“Pardon the...uh...interruption, my Prince. And you Duke. But, he is um…incorrect. Um….”
“Out with it man!” Shouts the prince.
Jim winces at the prince’s anger directed at him again, and so takes a deep breath. “Well….he could have waited as long as he wanted to. You might not…notice this…seeing as you are generally so intent on…the woman….but… when you two fight, most of everyone else tends to stop and watch. More and more do it every time. This time…was quite spectacular. In fact, I’d say any fights that were going on were….perfunctory. Just to make it look good. Except yours of course. My Prince. I know you and she…really do try and kill the other.” William just opens his mouth for a while, stunned by this revelation.
The duke glowers. “That changes nothing! I assumed that you were in real danger, and that I had to act as I saw fit, the-“
“Also, if you look behind this ship, you will see he has commandeered the reinforcements that were supposed to have saved us. My lord.”
“Why you little….cuckold! Men! Seize this defamer! How dare he accuse me, even by implication, of endangering the life of my prince?”
The men start to move when William holds up a hand. “Wait! I can see that Jim is in fact correct. I can see my reinforcements in the rear of your fleet Duke.” He thinks for a moment, getting his brain to shift from war path to court intrigue. “But, even a duke would be unable to divert troops ordered to go somewhere by a prince. There must be a reason why the majority of the Royal fleet would be sent up here, and why its captain would be able to overrule my orders. So, tell me Duke, why have you interrupted my war, killed my people, burnt my ships, and let the enemy escape?”
The duke frowns, but his voice maintains its southern impassiveness. “I was dispatched with the authority to overrule any order given by a superior not in my presence if I felt that it pertained and would assist me in my mission.”
William frowns, his hope turning to horror in a sudden realization. “I know of only one such instance in which that order would be permissible. I hope most severely that is not the case.” The prince takes a deep breath to steady himself. “Go on Duke, what is your mission?”
“To deliverer that most regrettable of messages. You father has passed on. It was ruled a natural death. He took….ill…” He stares straight at William in a way that shows he knows what the illness really was, and he hopes that the son inherited this illness. “And is no longer with us on our earth, and has passed into the halls of those who have gone before. Although it will not be official until the Lords can convene and the coronation can be held,” he grits his teeth. “You are now King.” He bows down on one knee. “All hail King William Richardson, King of New England and Lord of the Duchies.”
William stands there stunned as the crewmen around him bow down and repeat his titles. “I…me…King? Father…dead…..but….” He looks at his fleet, his former fleet, in the water around him. “What of the war? What of….”
“The woman?” Says Jim as he rises. Will reddens, but he nods. “Well, you will be unable to lead the war yourself for a while. Although, you may not want to anyway now. And she can’t either. Sir.”
Will straightens in alarm. “What? Not lead…why?”
Jim pulls the sword from the mast. “You will need a new sword, seeing as you lost your old one.”
William looks confused and points at the sword in Jim’s hands. “But what of that one?”
Jim smiles. “This weapon bears the royal sigil of the High Lords of the Northern Islands, Nova Nova Scotia and Newer Brunswick. Only those in the ruling family can carry such a weapon. I do believe we have identified your woman. And, seeing as she now has your blade, she has identified you. Now that you both know how important you are, and more importantly, your people know who their leader has been fighting, the days of you and her running to each other and engaging in single combat are over. There will be too much at stake. Sir. Also, you need to go back and rule the realm, seeing as you are king now. She can’t be too far off from her days of ruling either.”
William starts out stunned, but then suddenly casts his head back and starts laughing deeply. “All this time….I should have known that only someone of note would have had the time to train in the sword as much as I had. I suspected as much the first time we met….” He smiles. “She probably did too. But we kept denying it.” His smile fades. “But we still have to do something about these raids. We were getting pretty good at limiting them, but once I leave they will only get worse.” Suddenly, the smile returns. “Duke, I have a job for you. Of course, I will have the need of your ships to return to the Capitol, so you will have to make do with my old fleet. Jim, you seem like a smart guy. I promote you to captain of the ship we just got. Show the duke how to best stop these raids. Make sure he takes page from thefrontof my book ok?”
Jim smiles and nods knowingly. “I will do my best my Prince.”
William rubs his chin. “You know….you look familiar. I’ve seen you before toady. More than just as a member of my fighting crew. Where?”
Jim sighs. “I was hoping you forgot. You said you would. The whole ‘doom of kings’ thing.” Jim looks away. “I knew I should not have said anything.”
“I had forgotten! It does seem you are next to me at the worst times. For you anyway.” He grins. “Right, there is one more thing. I will need to tell the nobles who I left in command of the flag. Captain Jim will never do. I’ll need the rest of your name.”
Jim takes a deep breath. “James Karlzun-Coleman-Kessel-Anderson-Greneleigh. Don’t ask for my middle name. It has way too many umlauts and cedilla. My mother used to say her mother’s mother said we declared war on the alphabet and won.”
The prince returns his mouth to its upright position. “You aren’t from here are you? This is why we use –son names. Started with the first king and queen.”
“Yeah. My family is a long story. Very long. But, sir, thank you for the promotion. I will do you proud.” He gives his best imitation of a salute.
“Right. I expect nothing less. Good luck.” Jim tries another salute, grabs the duke, and tosses him into the water. He is about to follow him when he turns to the prince.
“Sir, a thought occurred to me. Thinking about that song made me think of it actually. Completing the last rhyme in a…certain way. A way that these raids might end….and other things may happen as well. You will like these things. My lord.” The prince raises an eyebrow and Jim whispers something in his ear. This causes William’s eyes to open very wide, and very many thought to course through his head. Jim nods and leaps over the side to the longship. The prince smiles a very mighty smile and orders the ships back home.