Game: FE 8
Word Count: 3430
Characters: Seth, Eirika, Orson
Warnings: Bloody images here and there
A/N: Notes can be found here. And a big thanks to samuraiter for betaing!
Summary: It is Captain Seth's mission to find the missing Adamant and Captain Ephraim, but he only finds a traitor. -- A Nautical AU version of FE: SS Chapter 8.
The coast was eerily quiet. Captain Seth, standing on the quarterdeck of the frigate Valour, let his gaze roam over the coast of Serafew. The Adamant, Captain Ephraim’s ship, had last been seen around there. After the devastating loss of the Renais two weeks ago, the Admiralty had fought over every ship that was loyal to them. It still had been difficult to make them agree to a search mission. They couldn’t risk losing the Adamant, but sending a second ship into enemy-controlled territory when they didn’t even know if the Adamant was still afloat was a folly. Still, Lady Eirika had convinced them and now they were there, beating down the coastline.
The long, thin beach area was deserted; no fishermen from Serafew were bustling on the dozen jetties. The small boats lazily rocked in the calm sea. Squinting his eyes, Seth looked up into the forest. Thanks to the harsh winds, many trees were half-bare. The traitors wouldn’t be able to hide any marines there; they would be an easy target. No, Seth was sure there were ships lying in wait for them in the bays.
He looked up at his sails; no flapping but taut canvas. The breeze was weak but sufficient. His gaze fell to Valour’s main deck. The gun crews were hanging over their cannons, watching the coast passing by. Behind every starboard cannon was standing a midshipman, most of them fretting. Lieutenant Gilliam, an experienced sailor Admiral Hayden had forced on Seth, was pacing up and down the main deck. Most of the middies’ nervousness seemed to come from his grim presence.
A movement on backboard caught Seth’s notice: the men who were not currently working on the sails or the guns were mingling about. Seth frowned deeply. "Lieutenant Franz." The young first lieutenant immediately stepped close.
"Send these men below deck." Franz followed his gaze to the men.
"Aye, aye, sir." Franz quickly climbed down the ladder to the main deck and Seth returned his gaze to the coast.
They would soon round a spit. It was tall, too high for them to look over it. Serafew was a region characterised by many mountains and the accompanying vales. The foothills of the Borgo Range reached down even until the coastline. Seth gritted his teeth; this was only the first of several spits behind which the traitors could lie in wait. "Lieutenant Vanessa."
"Aye, sir?" She was the other officer Admiral Hayden had given to him; she was as competent as Gilliam, and after losing most of his officers in the battle of the Renais and Grado, Seth was glad that he had not been given the worst of the worst. It was probably not his fame or name that had secured him this favour, though.
"Send someone with good eyes up on the mainmast as high as possible. See if they can see over the spit." Vanessa saluted and left.
Minutes later the reason for the Valour being in the Admiral’s favour climbed on the quarterdeck. "Lady Eirika," Seth greeted her, lifting his hat. She smiled and touched her hand to her head.
"Nothing so far?" She stepped forward next to him. Captain Seth didn’t like her being there; it did no good for the crew’s morale when a lowly surgeon’s mate was allowed to converse with the captain so free and easy, but, in light of the nature of their current mission, he didn’t want to send her back down below deck.
"Nothing." The Valour carefully and slowly wheeled around the spit; Seth still hadn’t heard anything from the lookout. He glanced up the mainmast. There was a sailor sitting on the yard of the topsail, looking towards the land. Five, maybe ten minutes, then they would be around the head of the spit. They could already have one broadside in their side before they could even run out their cannons, should a traitor wait for them. Seth suppressed a sigh and straightened, clasping his hands behind his back.
"I see," Eirika said lowly, and, after staring at the coast for a second, she shook her head. "I’ll go back to my post." A knowing smile played around her lips as she met his gaze for a moment. "Doctor Moulder is waiting for me." Seth only nodded and immediately returned his attention to the coast.
"Coast is clear!" he suddenly heard from the mainmast. He could just prevent himself from relaxing with relief; it would do nobody good if he showed his crew how nervous he was about this mission. They had already lost so many ships to Admiral Vigarde and the Grado. This mission needed to be a success.
They were barely around the spit when the next came into sight. Seth yearned to pace the quarterdeck to relieve some of the stiffness in his legs, but he wouldn’t with so many eyes on him. The call from the lookout had not only roused him but also the gun crews. He could see the men and women looking up at him, wondering what his next move would be.
Captain Seth ignored them as best as he could – he would give them no reason for relaxing or fretting – while he impatiently waited for the next spit to draw close.
In the weak wind, it took them more than an hour until they reached the tongue. Seth ordered the midshipman of the watch to gauge their speed; he might have to suspend the search if they weren’t able to sail down the whole coast before nightfall. While he waited for the results, the lookout of the mainmast called again: "Ship to backboard!"
Seth stepped to the railing, shielding his eyes against the light reflecting from the water. There was indeed a ship sailing towards them, not from the land but from the sea. Frowning, Seth put his telescope to his eye. "The Faithful," he whispered to himself. Unbelieving, he lowered the telescope. Only seconds after the news had been carried through the whole ship, Eirika appeared next to him.
"Is it Ephraim?" she asked breathlessly.
"No, it’s Captain Orson."
"Captain Orson? He must know where my brother is. He was positioned next to the Adamant." Seth nodded slowly. He didn’t like it.
"Course towards the Faithful. Get in the mainsail!" As the Valour slowed and turned, Captain Seth watched the Faithful. There were men bustling about on the main deck, as expected, and Captain Orson was standing on the quarterdeck. Seth couldn’t see it clearly through his telescope, but the man looked terribly thin and sick. He checked the Faithful for signs of repair; his frown deepened when he found none. It was impossible that the Faithful should’ve been able to flee the battle of the two admirals without being hit, nor was it possible that she had been repaired that perfectly. It had been only two weeks; there were no odd-looking planks covering holes and the paint was still perfectly complete. They couldn’t have made port anywhere, not when most of the port cities around Serafew and Renvall were in the traitors’ hands.
With a snap, Seth shut his telescope. "Lieutenant Franz?" The officer stepped forward; his expression openly showed his relief at the sight of their perceived ally. "Tell the men to inconspicuously man the backboard guns. Do not run them out yet."
"S-sir?" The young man looked at him with big eyes. Seth frowned darkly at him. "I’m sorry, sir," he saluted curtly, expression sheepish, "I will do so at once." As Franz hurried down the ladder, Seth shook his head.
After twenty minutes, the two ships laid alongside. Eirika had come on deck again and was a step behind Seth as he stood at the railing, waiting for Orson to come into speaking range. Faithful’s deck and masts were looking clean and new as well. Seth could not keep his doubt at bay any more; something was very wrong.
"Captain Seth, Lady Eirika!" Seth snapped to attention. Captain Orson was walking towards them; he looked changed. His cheeks were sunken, his eyes hidden so far in their sockets that they were barely more than two dark holes. His skin was grey under his sunburn. His uniform was clean and impeccable, but his hair glinted oily.
"Captain Orson, it’s a delightful surprise to see you," Seth said pleasantly and touched his hat to him. The gesture was returned. "We feared you had fallen alongside the Renais." Captain Orson shook his head and smiled tiredly.
"We followed the Adamant. She was surrounded by four ships and couldn’t have freed herself on her own. While we distracted one of them, Captain Ephraim sank one of the remaining three and then fled. The two ships followed him. They continued their fight the whole time and the Adamant was heavily damaged. We couldn’t let her go alone."
"Do you know if Ephraim is still alive?" Eirika asked. Seth bit back a reprimand, since he could use the distraction. His gaze flickered over the Faithful, searching for any sign of betrayal.
"We’ve lost the Adamant at Renvall Bay. We’ve been searching for her for a week now. I assume you’re here to do the same?"
There! Out of the corners of his eyes, Seth had seen movement on Faithful’s gun deck: the flap of one gun port had opened. Nobody would be down there at the flap if they didn’t wait for the order to shoot. Goddess bless impatient and stupid sailors.
"We are." Seth returned to the conversation while dread filled the back of his mind. He threw a sharp glance at his First Lieutenant. Franz noticed his gaze, but didn’t seem to understand him. "Have you any hints to her whereabouts?"
"I fear not," Orson answered, his expression concerned. Disgust gathered in Seth’s stomach. How the traitor could act so calmly when he was about to betray them as well. "But I have heard something."
"Oh?" Seth raised one eyebrow while inconspicuously watching the Faithful’s gun ports.
"Yes, I’ve heard that Admiral Vigarde is not only trying to destroy the Admiralty and the line, but is also searching for two bracelets."
"Bracelets?" Seth asked genuinely surprised. Eirika mirrored his feelings.
"Yes, bracelets that Lady Eirika and Captain Ephraim are supposed to possess." Captain Orson threw a glance at Eirika that sent cold shivers down Seth’s back. Greed, the basest greed he had ever seen, was lurking behind the fake worry; she didn’t see it because she didn’t know him as well as Seth. Instinctively, Seth stepped forward, between Orson and Eirika.
"Why?" he asked simply, staring down at the smaller captain.
"I don’t know," Orson answered, his tone slightly changed. Guarded or distrustful. "I only know the admiral wants the bracelets and will hunt whoever has them."
"But…" Seth glanced over his shoulder at Eirika. She was clutching the thin, golden bracelet against her wrist. "But why? They’re just bracelets. They’re nothing special."
"It doesn’t matter why," Orson said, trying to look around Seth, "it only matters that he will come after you. We need to hide the bracelet in a safe place." The hairs on Seth’s neck stood on end. "Or give it to someone whose death wouldn’t be as harshly felt as yours. Give it to Seth or me."
"Enough." Seth’s voice was calm and low and seemed to cut the air like soft butter. He couldn’t hold back a glare now; Captain Orson stiffened and finally directed his full attention at Seth. "You will neither get the bracelet nor our lives."
"Seth?" Eirika asked, confused.
"You are a traitor." Orson didn’t even have the decency to flinch.
"What are you talking about?" Eirika asked, her gaze flickering between Seth and Orson.
"Or a coward, whichever you like better." Orson smiled condescendingly and shook his head.
"You wouldn’t understand, Seth. You’ve never lost something that is worth more than your own life."
"And the life of hundreds of sailors, it seems." A dark melancholy seemed to flickered over Orson’s face before his expression grew oddly blank.
"Fire!" Orson yelled and the gun ports beneath his feet collectively snapped open.
"Guns out!" Seth yelled at almost the same time. Thunder rolled through both ships as the heavy cannons were moved. Almost simultaneously, the ships recoiled from the force of firing a full broadside. At the same time, their sides burst into a rain of splinters. Smoke burned in their eyes, screams deafened their ears. "Heave to!" Seth yelled over the noises.
Thanks to strict drills and years of discipline, Seth’s men immediately went to work. The main and mizzen sails fell, slowly filling in the light wind. The guns roared again, the ships recoiled and the Valour began to creep forward. Seth hastened back up on the quarterdeck. "Heave to as soon as we can get behind her," he called towards the sailing master. The Faithful moved as well, twisting away her rear; Orson had expected that move. It didn’t bother Seth because that would still buy them time, and they were not in reach of a full broadside.
"Capt’n, Capt’n," somebody suddenly yelled. Seth reluctantly ripped his gaze away from the traitor ship. His blood froze when he saw what his men saw. Three ships were coming around the spit; a two-decked man of war, judging from the cut of the sails made in Carcino, and two frigates. And the Valour was caught between them.
"Get out the tops’ls," he yelled up at the men in the rigging. "To the sea," he said over his shoulder to the sailing master. They would be dead if they let themselves be surrounded.
Painfully slowly, the topsails fell and filled out in the wind. Even more slowly, the Valour completed her turn and crept towards the open sea. The Faithful was close and Seth could see her forward guns aiming for his ship. Orson moved to his backboard side. Seth looked over to the newcomers; he cursed inwardly when he saw that they were already splitting up. One of the frigates was hurrying towards them, probably intending to cut off their escape route. The slower man-of-war moved to Valour’s stern.
"Captain, sir!" Franz was suddenly standing next to Seth. "One gun is lost, sir. The carriage was broken." Seth set his mouth in a grim line.
"Any other damage?"
"Not yet, sir." Seth nodded, which Franz correctly interpreted as a dismissal. Seth raised his eyes to his sails; they were starting to flap. The wind was easing up. He looked over his shoulder; the Faithful was struggling as well. The newcomers, however, were still racing towards them. The wind had turned to their favour.
"Man all cannons!" Seth called. There was no way they would get away, not against four former ships of the line. They wouldn’t give up without a fight, though. The men poured out of the lower deck and the starboard guns were run out. Seth took a deep breath to clear his head.
"Heave to." The sailing master seemed to hesitate for a second, but did as he was told. The frigate which was destined to stay on their starboard side was still too far away, as was the man-of-war. But the Faithful and the other frigate were close. Valour slowly turned, her sails fluttering, but Seth knew they could still return to their old course with the help of their jibs.
"Aim carefully!" he called as he watched the men of the Faithful prepare their guns as well. "Fire at will!" As soon as the words fell from his lips, the first cannons roared. The cannonballs were far too low; they sank into the depths of the sea a good ten metres from the Faithful. "I said ’aim carefully’!" Seth yelled angrily. He wondered briefly if they wanted to die early so that they wouldn’t have to do that much work any more.
The next round hit home. The cannonballs buried themselves deep into the Faithful’s sides. "Aim for the masts!" Seth said after he saw just how little damage his guns caused. Only a lucky hit would sink the Faithful and they were painfully out of luck; they needed to incapacitate her.
Suddenly, his starboard guns roared. The frigate had come upon them and fired a broadside at the Valour as they moved towards her hull. Seth cursed inwardly again.
Minutes seemed to stretch into hours as Seth watched their certain death encircle them; the Valour valiantly tried to push back her enemies, but it seemed like she did little more damage than a toddler’s fists did to an adult. And yet, it felt like only seconds had passed between the first sighting of the traitors and the death lock the Valour was now caught in. Seth gritted his teeth painfully as four broadsides crashed into his ship; his ears rang from the sound of more than two dozen guns firing at once, the breaking of wood and the blood-curdling screams of his men as they were torn into little pieces by the cannonballs.
There was nothing they could do; most of their guns were destroyed. The first salvo had killed most of the men on the main deck. Seth knew that Valour’s guns were still firing if they could but there was no hope.
Suddenly the mainmast of the man-of-war fell. Seth could almost not believe his eyes. There was confusion on the ship’s main and quarterdeck. The man-of-war stopped in their assault for a second. Then Seth saw her: a three-decked man-of-war, her sails billowing as she rounded the traitor and all her guns were out and firing. Seth felt the urge to rub his eyes to make sure the smoke wasn’t making him see things that weren’t there. The man-of-war didn’t disappear, though, and then he saw the ensign on her hull. Seth wanted to cheer: it was the Adamant.
The traitors were confused and the Faithful was turning. "Jibs out!" Seth called immediately. "Get us out of here!" He grabbed the steering wheel and threw it around after noticing pieces of his sailing master to his feet. The Valour swung around very slowly, her planks groaning like a hundred-year-old. Her guns were still giving as best as they could.
A sudden cheer from his men brought Seth’s attention back to them for a second. The second frigate’s mainmast was falling; someone was a lucky shot. Hope was returning to Seth; maybe they would not die today.
Suddenly, there was a crash so loud that Seth’s eardrums almost ripped. A shock wave slapped against his back and blew his hat off his head. He whirled around when the noise had subsided. The man-of-war in their back was gone; wooden splinters rained down into the water, pieces of the keel floating on the waves and burning scrapes of canvas dancing in the air. Seth swallowed hard; even if they were enemies, the destruction of a ship by a hit in their powder stores sent a cold shiver over every captain’s back.
Only the Faithful and one frigate were left, and the Adamant was already taking on the frigate. "Clear away the debris!" Seth called to his men. With only two enemies left, they could join the fight again. They had lost half of their guns, but the Valour was still afloat so she could fight. And Seth still had some unfinished business with Captain Orson.
Adrenaline pumping through his veins, Seth turned to check Faithful’s position. His mouth almost fell open in disbelief: the Faithful was turning to flee. Now that her allies were beaten, she was running like a coward. Seth gritted his teeth and want to throw around the steering wheel to follow her, hunt her like game, but reason intercepted.
It would be madness; even though this was not the worst damage the Valour had ever received, she was still in no shape for a pursuit. Instead, he heaved to; the remaining frigate had given up, a white flag fluttering on her stern. He saw men from the Adamant boarding the traitor. The other frigate was also still lying motionlessly to Valour’s backboard; she would be soon taken over as well.
"Clean up the deck," Seth said to Lieutenant Franz, whose face was blackened from the smoke. The young man saluted, his hands trembling lightly. After Franz had left, Seth positioned someone at the steering wheel. He grabbed his telescope and looked towards the Adamant. There, on her quarterdeck, Seth saw the familiar figure of Captain Ephraim, alive and well.
Maybe hope wasn’t completely lost yet.