to Chapter 6
Chapter 7. The Dark Fleet
By the following morning it was clear that the Maw's Jaws could not outpace the dark fleet which ringed the western horizon behind her. Even with the entire ogre force bending their backs and heaving on oars close to splintering, she would be overhauled by the next moonrise.
Welhung shook his head. The fleet was clearly of Naggarothii origin. "Ship oars! Save your strength and look to your weapons!"
Argsplat was sporting a shiny bladed hook where his right hand should have been. This was the work of the ship's smith. In addition he had two elegantly carved wooden legs, fashioned in Queen Anne style, and a jaunty eye patch. He looked somewhere between "pirate-y" and "over stuffed furniture-y."
Argsplat squinted at the hook. "I was 'aving a bet with the lads about 'ow 'igh a shark could jump out the water if you 'eld a piece of meat. I lost. You want me to get the lead belchers?"
Welhung nodded in disbelief.
The sleek Dark Elf wolf-ship would approach the lowered beam and rake the exposed main deck with crossbow bolts. One they were confident that resistance would be feeble, the cruel Druchii would hurl grapnels and lash their boat to the beam of the seemingly crippled ogre ship as the crew of corsairs swarmed aboard.
At this moment the ogres would boil up from below decks and the Maw's Jaws would right itself. This would lift the sleek wolf ship clear of the water. The doomed boarders would find no escape that way, and nor would captives survive to be sold as slaves at the next port. The surprise tactic would be spoiled if the secret were revealed.
The flotilla, which was closing around Welhung's ship like a wolf's jaws, was composed of scores of low sloops. The traditional tactics would not work against these numbers. Nor would efforts to ram or employ the iron toothed figure head. This was effective against fat Tilean traders, but the wolf ships would be far too nimble. The only sensible course of action would be to use the Maw's Jaws' elevated deck as a fire platform for the ogre lead belchers. If the Druchii were denied access to the hulk's deck, they would not be able to bring their superior numbers and martial prowess to bear.
At around the middle watch of the afternoon the Dark Elf ships were harassing the ogre vessel like a pack of wild sabretusks might harry an isolated rhinox. Individual sloops would slice in for a close pass, release a hail of crossbow bolts and dart back out of range. This posed no great threat to the ogres protected by the high gunwales, but it prevented the gnoblar riggers from venturing aloft to maintain the sails and tack.
The Druchii raids would come from any quarter at any time, and the ogre artillery men found themselves running from starboard to port, and from stem to stern, in response to each threat. Finally, as the lead belchers crowded the prow to impotently blast at another taunting boat, the elves attacked their real target. Another raider swept in under the aft deck and released a storm of "Y" tipped quarrels which severed the ropes which connected the great rudder to the captain's wheel above.
The devious dark elf captain and his crew did not celebrate their victory for long, tucked, as they were, under the after deck. Not for nothing is this called the "Poop Deck."
The ogre hulk could not flee and the Dark Elf fighters could not approach close enough to board. The stalemate continued for some hours until, close to dusk, the black hearted Nagarothii prince who commanded the dark fleet chose to act.
He was a despot among despots, second only to the Druchii overlord, Malekith, in malevolence and infamy. He had terrorised all the oceans of the world and his cruelty was legend. He wore about his shoulders the impenetrable Sea Dragon Cloak, and about his neck the dark magic Pendant of Khaeleth. Together these sorcerous items made him the Unkillable Dreadlord.
His name was Chuck-Norrith.
When he tired of the game of cat and mouse he turned his flagship to approach the Maw's Jaws bow on. The predictable ogres fired a fusillade of scrap metal his way. This caused some messy casualties on his vessel, but any shrapnel which struck him ricocheted in a brilliant shower of black sparks. The ward of dark magic emanating from the pendant deflected them harmlessly away.
Once his ship had drifted close enough for boarding grapnels to be hurled, he raised his arms and muttered an incantation. From his outstretched hands, waves of coruscating black light poured forth and flooded the ogre's deck.
By the time the inky darkness had cleared, the ogres were confronted by the sight of Dark Elf corsairs perched on their forward deck and rails with repeating crossbows and vicious hook bladed halberds at the ready. The battle for the deck had begun.
A single ogre would easily crush a dark elven opponent, although he may later succumb to his wounds. In open terrain, where the Druchii could move freely and fight in groups, their superior speed, initiative and skill at arms would eventually prevail over the clumsy ogres. This was doubly the case where the Dark elves were supported by marksmen, such as the crossbowmen who had now occupied the forecastle. The ogres were pushed inexorably back until only pockets remained around the hatches and clustered under the after deck.
The rest of the dark elven sloops had lashed their vessels to their flagship in a great raft which swarmed with more of the cruel brigands.
"What ith the thituation, thailor?" he demanded of a Naggarothii fighter.
"We have thecured the... secured the main deck, Sire. The Lizardman Sorcerer is on the after deck."
The Dreadlord nodded to his subordinate. "Thee to it that the ogre tholdierth are thafely imprithoned below deckth."
At this moment a mighty ogre maneater burst from a hatch on the deck and hurtled towards the dark elf leader. With an ear shattering howl he brought his two handed axe down upon Chuck-Norrith's head. There was a sun-burst of black light and the axe splintered into a thousand fragments.
"You thilly, thilly thauthage," the dreadlord intoned as he stopped the ogre's heart with a flash of dark magic. The ogre champion slumped lifelessly to the deck as Chuck-Norrith withdrew his bloody hand.
The Dark Elven prince picked his way along the gore smeared boards until he was confronted by a knot of heavily armoured defenders who were making a stand below the after deck. "Thubmit or thuffer the conthequenthes!" he called.
"What?" an exceptionally ugly and mishapen ogre raised a hook as if cupping it to a missing ear.
"Thubmit or thuffer the conthequenthes!" the Dreadlord repeated, a little louder.
"What?" the ogre captain reiterated.
"Other ear," suggested another of the ogre troopers.
"Yaa, right." The ugly ogre cleared his throat and cupped his other hand to his last remaining ear.
"Thurrender!" screamed Chuck-Norrith.
"Thurr...What?" replied the puzzled ogre.
Chuck-Norrith howled with frustration and thrust out a clenched fist. With a thingle thortherous thyllable of thummoning he releathed..... (oops, that should be single sorcerous syllable of summoning. Thorry) he released a hammer stroke of dark force which smashed the ogre troop through the bulkhead which stood behind them.
" 'Ave a 'arpoon, 'ellion!" A mighty ogre was crouched behind a ballista of generous proportions. "I'll 'ang your 'ead on my 'alyard!"
Chuck-Norrith absently smote the ogre tyrant with a bludgeon of dark force, knocking him senseless against the aft rail.
"Your pendant," a weak voice rasped from beneath the ship's wheel.
"Thpeak, thkink!" the elf commanded the puny green reptile.
"The dark magic. It won't mix with the geomantic power. They are like oil and water. Your ward... You must remove your pendant!" Caneghem suggested.
"Yeth, of courthe! Then I will potheth thith power!" Chuck-Norrith tore the Pendant of Khaeleth from his neck and cast it carelessly on the deck.
"Mwah ha ha ha ha ha!" he howled with manic glee, "Mwah ha ha Clang!....."
Chuck-Norrith's eyes rolled back in their sockets and he slumped slowly to the deck. Behind him stood Caneghem clutching an ogre frypan in both hands like it was a great weapon. The utensil was still reverberating like a dinner gong. At that same moment, the quivering harpoon severed the last fibres which lashed the main spar to the mast. The mainsail fluttered down to smother the deck like a heavy blanket.
The speed and skill at arms with which the Druchii corsairs had been besting the ogres was neutralized. Their marksmen could find no targets, their halberds snagged in the rime stiffened sailcloth and their feet tangled in the loose lines and rigging on the deck. The advantage shifted to proponents of brute force and hammering fists. For most of the elven boarders, the blanketing sail became their death shroud.
The ogres soon regained control of their deck. With the benefit of their elevated position they could pound the rafted dark elf vessels with shot while remaining impervious to the renewed hail of quarrels from below.
On the after deck, Rodekhil Offaleater removed the frypan from Caneghem's vibrating fingers.
Caneghem could predict what would happen next as the ogres formed a long queue to take it in turns heaping praise and affection on him.
One by one the crew slapped him on the back, or playfully boxed his... where his ears should be. The Unkillable Skinklord smiled serenely as each crushing blow was deflected in an incandescent shower of black sparks.