Iron and Canvas – Flash Fiction Challenge


Greed is good. The old pirate motto festered in the bilge of Captain Reid’s memory. It certainly drives men mad. Off to starboard, the corvette could be seen running toward dark waters, black flag raised in defiance. Captain Reid placed the collapsed night glass it into a deep pocket, exchanging a wary glance with the sailing master.

“The wind favors our quarry.”

Reid stared into the horizon, lips pursed in solemn reflection.

The darkened face continued, “At this speed The Eel will reach deep water before us. If they do-.” The words — decayed fish in the blazing sun. Not even a ship as well-equipped as The Crimson Blade risked navigating in the black ocean. The rumored home to beings that sail absent the wind, far beneath the waves, and can track ships from below the depths.

Reid’s eyes remained fixed on the escaping vessel. “Do you recall the range of the long guns?”

“The main’s can fire over a thousand yards — that’s a fixed-mount under ideal conditions. Mind you, to hit a moving target, accounting for wind variation, you’re looking at an effective range closer to four hundred yards give or take , depending on the target.”

The Captain peered at the young master, eyebrows arched.

The sailor’s eyes widened. “Prepping the long guns Captain!”

Reid nodded. “And order Morgan’s crew to stoke the coals. I’ll have us a warm meal tonight.”

The Navigator bared muddy teeth, barking orders after-deck before disappearing into the bowels of the ship. A riotous orgy of cheers and catcalls erupted as the crew set to work. Captain Reid gripped tight to the rail as The Blade lurched. Twenty-four piston-driven ores out-thrust along each side drove the ship to greater speed. Steam from the engine flared from nostrils in the bulls-head rostrum beneath the bowsprit. The race was on.

Below deck the navigator caught Morgan and the vessel’s boatswain engrossed a game of Deadman’s Parley, the quartermaster buried neck deep in an inventory logbook. No doubt keeping track of the goods exchanging hands. A trio of poor swabs was losing their flintlocks, a pair of fresh trousers, and a set of worn boots to the Quartermaster.

“Oy Dregg, you here for business or pleasure?” Teach, the greasy-faced mechanic called out.

“Bit of both I suppose. Captain wants the long guns.”

“Is that right?” Morgan’s eyes sparkled. “What’s on the menu then? Oysters on the half-shell?”

“Ha! More like roasted gull,” said Dregg.

“Pity that,” Teach pulled a crusted bean out of an ear and ate it. “Been ages since I had a decent meal.”

“Quit yer bellyaching and put on the fire. Back to work you lot,” Dregg waved in a dismissive gesture.

Teach grunted, heaving an oversize wrench over one shoulder and trudged off to the engine room. Morgan flashed a winning smile, gathered up the goods, and stalked towards the galley to torment the chief cook.

On the main deck, Dregg spotted The Eel, growing larger by the minute, as The Crimson Blade closed into range. At the Captain’s command, the long guns belched molten rounds of fire and cinder towards the smaller craft, twirling streams of dark smoke pinwheeling in their wake. The first volley died out in a whisper as the projectiles fizzled in the water. A second volley roared, catching wood and canvas as panicked seamen scrambled to douse the fires. With their rigging ablaze and The Blade advancing, The Eel was out of options. The corvette turned close-hauled bringing it’s small arsenal to bear, heeling hard to starboard from force winds.

The enemy cannons let loose a hail of iron shot to rake The Blade’s bow, but The Captain, quick to anticipate the move, turned the ship to absorb the blow across the broadside. Crewmen flattened to the deck as the hull splintered, but the big ship kept sailing. Crews from both sides taunted and cursed at each other, pistols firing into the air, as the two vessels passed. The Captain of The Eel has overreached; The Blade’s port-side oars replaced by bristling rows of cannons. The Eel lashes out; A desperate gesture. The Blade’s reply is decisive. Four steel whaling harpoons affixed to thick chains stab into The Eel and haul, listing her badly and spilling men and equipment into the depths. Cut off from escape, the crew of The Scurvy Eel fights to the last man.

The resistance doesn’t last long.

Heeled boots clicked against the deck, hair the likeness of fire in the cool wind. Dark lips parted in a half smile. She doesn’t walk so much as swagger. Captain Juliana Reid surveyed her pirate crew, pride swelled in her chest. Despite their youth, her girls performed valiantly today. Reid bowed before the prisoner, blade in hand, a firm grip on his chin.

“I hear tale that greed is good. Can you guess who told me that?” she breathed into his ear.
Tortile eyes stared blankly at her.

“No need to answer, I’ll tell. The man in question was my father, the irredeemable Pirate-Captain Jovan Reid, Scourge of the Salted Seas. The Blade was his ship. I renamed it when I slit his throat.”

“In this very spot,” Eve Dregg smiled at her Captain.

Reid continued, “You’ve stolen from me. It wasn’t enough you had my gold and my hospitality. What you took has more value than treasure.”

A tiny orb formed in the corner of her eye as the rouge pool trickled past her blouse spilling onto the deck.

“I’ll have back what you stole, love.”

The lifeless body collapsed onto the blood-stained deck.

“Let the sharks take him,” she said facing her navigator. “Scuttle the ship. No sense attracting the scavengers.”

The last of the treasure safely aboard, Captain Reid spared one final glance toward the sinking vessel. You were right to warn me, Father, greed is good.