Chapter 32
Terror on the High Seas

North Pendragon Sea

Three ships hardly made a blockade, but you had to make do with what you had. Sun Yang was once a sea captain of great renown in his native land, the Kingdom of the Ming, but when his fleet was wrecked on these shores fourteen years ago, he could have returned home in disgrace and been executed for his failure, but instead he remained in this barbarian land. He found favor with the King and was awarded honor few foreigners could imagine. His children also had succeeded in distinguishing themselves. Anyone who could not work as sailors served in the castle. It was greater hospitality than a foreigner would find in his own homeland.
The Hulks, as they were known, were once the merchant ships of Sun Yang's fleet, or rather the parts of several ships cobbled together to make seaworthy vessels. Now they were floating prisons and mobile watchtowers, after a fashion, guarding the northern bay. The Norlanders had a talent for navigating the treacherous western coast and from what he had heard about them, their longships would allow him to command a proper navy, but all the old longships were burned by the order of the previous king. Shipwrights were greatly restricted in the craft and most sea raiders were forced to make their living on land. It was a waste of knowledge and experience, mostly lost as the older generations began dying out. Nothing could be done about it, though.
He was told precious little, just to seal off the Neck. Even at its narrowest point, ten ships the size of the Hulks could comfortably pass through side by side. Were it any narrower, he could run chains to snag the keels of any unwelcome ships that meant to pass, but the distance was too great. He linked the three Hulks together by their anchor lines, but it would not be difficult to got around them. He was counting on any intruder to try to attack the Hulks rather than avoid them. Of course, it would be better still if no intruder appeared at all, but, alas, it was not to be.
"Captain!" the lookout cried. "Ships approaching from the north!"
Well, of course they were approaching from the north. It was the only way into the bay.
"How many?" Sun Yang shouted back.
"I count five!"
Sun Yang told the cornicen, "Sound the alarm. All hands on deck."
The cornicen blew his horn and the sailors abandoned their work to assemble on deck. The other Hulks could be heard sounding their alarms as well.
"We have ships approaching," Sun Yang told his crew. "All men to arms. Ready the ballistae. These ships do not pass."
"Aye, sir!" the crew shouted in reply.
A signalman with his flags relayed the orders to the other ships while the crew readied themselves to meet the invaders. Sun Yang went to the prow to get a better look at the intruders as they get closer. It was not long before they were close enough for him to recognize the ships. This was not the first time he had seen them.
"It is that damned devil Gore," he muttered mostly to himself. He told the nearest mate, "Bring me my bow."
"Yes, Captain," the mate replied.
While he was waiting for his bow, he took the signal flag from the sash at his waist and raised it high, shouting, "Archers, at the ready! Nock arrows!"
The archers drew their arrows and nocked them. Sun Yang waited until the pirate ships were in range--and indeed the pirates were already starting to loose arrows of their own--before then shouting, "Draw!"
Thy pulled back their bowstrings and the men operating the ballistae quickly worked the cranks to draw back the bolts.
"Take aim!"
His men were well-trained enough that they carefully picked their targets even as a few of them were falling to the incoming arrows. Sun Yang did not believe in wasting arrows to harry the enemy. For him, an arrow ought not be loosed unless you were sure it would hit its mark.
As the pirate ships were closer still, he swung the flag downward and yelled, "Loose!"
The pirate ship to starboard snagged on the anchor chains as its crew on the deck was met with dozens of arrows. They raised a crude shield wall, but a ballista bolt cut right through it.
"Keep loosing until you run out of arrows or they run out of men!"
Having the lead ship, Sun Yang would be expected to take the center position, but he and his more trusted captain took the flanks because that was where there was the greatest threat of someone slipping through their rather limited net. He hurried over to the port side and told the men there, "Do not let it pass! Use the tow lines!"
In case of an emergency, the ballistae could be used to loose a bolt with a line attached. Normally, you did not want to damage the hull, but when speed was of the essence--or in this case, where damage was no concern--it was quite useful.
It would seem that their efforts were not necessary because even as they were attaching tow lines to the pirate ship, the pirates were throwing out grappling hooks to catch on the wales. They meant to board from the start. Though it was reckless to invite boarders, it was more important that the ships did not get through to the castle.
The mate he sent to fetch his bow returned and he began to pick off targets along with the other archers. There were not arrows enough to bring down all the pirates, or rather they had the arrows but not the archers to kill all of the pirates before they started climbing the ropes. Some sailors poured out buckets of hot pitch on the would-be boarders, but this only served to slow their advance, not stop it.
Having expended the last of the arrows in his quiver, Sun Yang shouldered his bow and drew his sword, shouting, "Any man who sets foot on this deck will not leave it alive!"
An arrow stuck him in the chest, prompting several sailors to rush to his side.
"Captain!"
"Never mind me!" Sun Yang snapped back. "The boarders!"
Thanks to his armor, the arrow did not penetrate too deeply, but now he could not use his right arm without aggravating the wound. Fortunately, he could fight with his left hand nearly as well as his right. He swapped hands just in time to stab a pirate as he climbed over the wale.
"Get back from the sides!" he yelled to keep any others from falling prey to the pirate archers. "Draw swords!"
His sailors withdrew as ordered, put away their bows and drew their swords to meet the boarders as they came. Though the hail of arrows, the ballista bolts and the pitch served to thin the pirates' ranks, there were still plenty of them left to come aboard.
Rather than throw himself directly into the fray, Sun Yang stepped back to better assess the situation. The boarders were all coming from the port side. The ship on their starboard was focusing on the Golden Sun. Worse, he saw the pirates' Giant on deck, effortlessly plowing through sailors, unfazed by the dozens of arrows sticking out of him. Gore must have mistaken the Golden Sun for the lead ship and so sent his most dangerous weapon there.
Sun Yang hurried over to the helm and told the pilot, "Hard to starboard. Close the distance between us and the Golden Sun."
"But, Captain," the pilot said, "what of the pirate ship between us?"
"Crush it."
"But, Captain, we risk breaching the hull."
Pointing to the Giant, Sun Yang replied, "We risk losing the Golden Sun if we let that thing rampage any longer. Our Iron Wind's timbers are as good as iron. Trust her."
"Aye, sir," the pilot said, not sounding entirely convinced.
Without the oars or a stiff wind behind the sails, they were only going to drift toward the Golden Sun and would not have the force to crush the pirate ship, but that was not Sun Yang's concern. He wanted the Giant to be an easier target. He went to the starboard ballistae, calling the crews together and telling them, "Load up, load up!" He pointed to the Giant with his sword and said, "Take aim at that monster and when I give the command, loose!"
"Aye, sir!" the crews replied.
The ship rocked when it collided with the pirate ship and again when the two ships pressed into the Golden Sun's side. The shaking of the Golden Sun served to unbalance the Giant and turn his attention to the Iron Wind, just in time to see the ballistae trained on him.
Sun Yang swung his sword, shouting, "Loose!"
The three ballistae loosed their bolts. The Giant dodged the first one, but the second caught him in the gut and the third in his chest. He staggered back, tripping on the wale and falling over the side. From the sound of his landing, it seemed that he fell onto the pirate ship between the Golden Sun and Silver Moon.
The fifth pirate ship, which had stayed behind at a distance, sounded horns. The pirates fighting on deck took that as their cue to retreat, but as they were climbing back to their ships, the lines were cut, sending them into the sea. Only the two ship flanking the Hulks could retreat. The other two were not only caught in the anchor lines but also too damaged to make an escape.
At the sight of the pirate ships withdrawing, the sailors raised a cheer. When the cheering died down, Sun Yang addressed the crew, saying, "Well fought, men, but stay on your guard. They may yet be back. In the meantime, tend to the wounded, bury the dead, check the ship for damages. I want a boarding party assembled to salvage whatever we can from the pirate ships they left behind. Take no prisoners."
"And the men in the water, Captain?" one of the mates asked.
"Let them swim."