The cold breeze carried flecks of snow. The ships oscillated non-stop with the waves. The northern seas were the most terrifying in winter. Black dominated the world, a black abyss beyond the edge of the deck. The cold froze to the bone. Even the inside of the ship was never more than cool.
Senbaud stood undaunted at the helm of the ship, gazing into the black beyond like a king over his lands.
A decade. A full decade had come and gone since he swore fealty to His Lordship. For ten years he'd sailed in the cold, chasing pirates not much different from his former self. Barely not rotting away on Silowas and the surrounding waters. Now. Now, ten years after his fate changed, it was finally time to prove his loyalty, to show the extent of his skills, to demonstrate his worth to his liege.
He'd finally been given land and title by His Lordship. A reward for his years of service. His hands clenched when he thought about that night, to the promise His Lordship had made, almost casually, as he saw him off.
"If you pull this off, you'll come back a viscount."
God, wouldn't that be great? He would become the only knight under His Lordship to have risen to viscount.
"Invincible, we're finally going to have a good showdown. Let's see who's the real unbeatable one..."
Come on, Silowas, come on! Faster, faster! He would have loved to sail straight for Morant from Northsea, but he had to stop and stock up, and pick up eight Blitz class in Silowas. He was determined that he would not stay for more than three days though.
Loze, Freiyar, Josk, and the rest all look down on me. They think the only thing this old pirate can do is kiss His Lordship's ass. They think I sent Jinolio to buddy up to His Lordship. Hah! Do they really think His Lordship would have accepted him if he wasn't talented enough? They're just jealous! His Lordship didn't accept Freiyar's twins, now did he? I'll show them! I'll wipe Invincible out and lord over them as their senior noble! Just try and mock me and Northsea then!
A waved crested and crashed into the ship's flank, shaking the deck. Senbaud stood firm; his legs were long used to this. His gaze lifted to the sails, bulging in the wind. If the wind got any stronger, they'd have to lower the sails to keep them from tearing.
"Blow the horn! Remind the others to be alert! We'll reach Silowas tomorrow! I don't want any accidents!"
The wind wailed and howled across the deck and around the ships as eight black silhouettes cut through the black night.
Flagfish Ridge was Northsea's headquarters. The curled deep into the ocean, creating a small bay of calm water where the fleet sat at anchor. Senbaud jumped onto the jetty from his small row boat and headed for the castle. The few on guard shivered in the cold. They saluted him stiffly as he passed.
Inside, soothed by the relative warmth, he cuddled up to the fireplace, an open barrel of rum beside him and a dozen sausages on a plate, ready to be grilled over the fire, on the table on his other side.
"Why'd you come back so quickly? I thought you'd want to keep warm with the wife a little longer. I thought you said you were going to be made a noble. I thought you'd go look at your territory after the celebration and only come back after winter ended," a towering man grumbled as he stepped into the room. It was Tok, the second flotilla's commander -- a fellow former pirate.
"I was, and I would have, old friend, but we have a job to do. A change to not just gain glory that'll outstrip all the others', but to make history. To do something so huge our names will be sung in shanties for hundreds of years to come!
"I didn't hand in your request for leave. They wouldn't have allowed it, anyway. You'll only get it after we're done with this job. And trust me, you don't want to miss this!"
"Really?" Tok shrugged casually, "Let's hear it, then. I don't mind delaying a little if it's worth it. You sure you want to sail in this weather though?"
"Yes. We won't be in this weather for long though. We're heading for Hidegold Bay!"
"What?!" Tok dropped his chicken, "Does His Lordship know about this?!"
Chikdor and Peterson stopped all trade the moment they heard about Lorist wiping out Wessia. They didn't even bother to pay the 450 thousand gold Fordes' debt they still had. Senbaud had submitted requests to go take the money from Hidegold Bay several times, but was always refused. His Lordship thought the peace treaty would be signed quickly and trade would resume.
When the negotiations failed, Senbaud again asked to go and take the money several times, but with His Lordship's whereabouts unknown he couldn't leave, and later when the rebellion started leaving was even further out of the question.
Now, however, rather than Senbaud again submitting a request, His Lordship had ordered him to move out.
"Yes. In fact, it was his idea this time."
"Great! I'll ring the bell and gather the men! Let's show those monkeys who's boss!"
The two sides were not without their friction. While they had unofficially divided the ocean between them, Northsea's men weren't happy that Invincible had claimed the Sea of Grief, which was part of the north. But they couldn't do anything since Invincible insisted on holding on to it to keep Hidegold Bay safe. They'd tried numerous times to dislodge Invincible with small skirmishes, but they wouldn't budge, and they couldn't engage them with full force without permission from His Lordship. Invincible operated as if they thought they were the ones letting Northsea keep hold of the north only because they couldn't be bothered to clean them out.
Last summer, for example, two Invincible LLDAMs were out on patrol and tried to run into one of their ships. They could easily have avoided the collision, but they just kept their course. The men aboard the Northsea ship would have sunk them if only they weren't forbidden from firing their cannons unless openly attacked.
The bell rang loudly. Mountains of muscle soon burst through the doorway. When Senbaud announced their mission, they roared uncontrollably. Some even turned around and punched the men behind them.
"Tok and I will lead twelve Blitzes. Eight LLDAMs will follow with supplies. Well man each Blitz with a hundred corsairs. The other four will stay here and keep the peace. Don't worry. You won't be the first wave, but you'll get your chance. It's still mid-winter; we have all the time in the world.
"Those of you not taking part in this first attack will return to Northsea. Your ships will be overhauled and fitted with cannons. We'll keep harassing the enemy and keep them on the back foot until you're done. I want the big fight to be in the 4th or 5th month when you're all ready.
"We have 200 cannons to work with, so, while you won't match our Blitzes, you'll still have more than enough firepower. The men have to be able to fire blind once the training's done, you understand?"
"You'll all get to join the fight, so don't worry. Concentrate on getting used to using the cannons, I won't have any mistakes, misfires, or friendly fire during the battle, you hear?!"
"Alright, go get the men ready and make your preparations, you leave tomorrow."
When the captains heading back to Northsea had left, Senbaud began his briefing.
"Our first target is the patrol ships in the sea of grief. There're still quite a few of them out despite it being winter. We'll sink them all.
"Our second target is Eilniba. It's the closest to Hidegold Bay and an important hub for ships going north. Everything sailing up from Morante has to stop there to resupply before sailing further north along the Golden Coast to Hidegold Bay. After we sink the patrols, we'll go around the bay and blow up the city's port. It'll cut the enemy fleet off from supplies. We'll also seal off the entire region. I don't want a single ship to pass us by!"
"Admiral, why don't we just rush into the bay and sink the fleet?" asked Tok.
"Are you out of your mind? You want to sail right into their trap? D'you know how many ships are docked there? We don't even have enough cannonballs and gunpowder on board to sink them all even if they don't move. No. We'll fight them on the open seas outside the bay when the time comes."