Thursday, February 04, 2010

Father Paolo, pt. 3, 576 words

One fight caught his eye. A pirate, better trained than the others, and the watch officer, over near the warning bell. The pirate fought with a saber in his right hand, a parrying dagger in the left. He moved fast, an easy match for the watch officer, though he defended better than he attacked. His motions with the dagger were swift and sure, while his blows with the saber were clumsy and often overextended. His easy facility with the dagger saved his life more than a few times as the pirate and the officer traded blows. Finally, though, the pirate caught the officer's own blade and knocked it aside, and ran the poor man through. He turned to look for a new fight, and caught the priest standing there, alone.

Indecision struck. It would be a small thing to use his Gift to blast the pirate where he stood... But that's why Father Paolo held back. Because it would be a small thing. Had been a small thing, before, entirely too often. He had not always been a priest.

Before he could make up his mind, the pirate came close and held his blade up. He grinned, showing a few missing teeth, and said, "Hoy there! Cap'n says we're not to kill any priests, so it's your lucky day. But he didn' say anything about not robbing 'em!"

Father Paolo spread his hands out to his sides. "I'm sorry, my good man, but I've nothing of value on me. I am a priest, not a merchant."

The pirate snorted in derision. "Everyone knows the Church's got scads of money. I've seen the fancy clothes and jewelry brought out on holy days, so I know you're gonna have somethin' of the like on ya. So hand it over!"

Paolo sighed. True, the high clergy's formal attire and symbols of office could be rather expensive, but... He was an itinerant. What did the pirate expect, a silver amulet carried at all times to help perform blessings over births and deaths? A gold knife for ceremonies to represent the cutting away of old sins? How absurd, out in the Sky. Silver tarnished and gold was heavy. But this one wouldn't listen to such things. He tried a different tack.

"Tell me, my son, when you first learned the saber, did your teacher smack you for taking the blade up in your left hand? Force you to use your right?"

"Huh? What of it? Stop trying to distract me, holy man."

"Oh, very well." He shrugged, and reached into his robe. "Let me get my purse, then," he said, and ran a silent prayer through his head, asking for forgiveness for the lie. Instead, he grabbed a hold of the saber at his side, curling his hand around the grip. He stepped closer to the pirate, as if ready to hand something over -- and rammed the sword's pommel and his fist up into the pirate's chin, catching him by surprise.

The pirate's teeth clacked together audibly, and Father Paolo would not have been surprised if he had bit his tongue or cracked a tooth. The pirate went down swearing, and looked up at the priest with an expression of utter malice. He started to climb to his feet, grabbing for his dropped blade, and Father Paolo casually cracked the saber's guard against the man's temple. The pirate collapsed.

"You should have fought left-handed," he suggested to his prone foe.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Father Paolo, pt. 2, 431 words

Paolo strode calmly out of the cabin, and went to the steep, short set of stairs that led up to deck. The same winds that blew the pirate ship their way, descending like a raptor out of the Sky above, whipped across the deck. The priest folded his arms against the chill, and waited, watching aft as the pirates closed. Their ship was swift, sleek compared to the overladen tub that was the Lily.

Crewmen and women took up guns and manned the cannons. A couple rangefinding shots fell well short, ball plummeting to the distant Blue below. They waited nervously, priming the cannons once more as the pirates approached inexorably.

Tentatively, the priest raised a hand and tested out his Gift. He was a little rusty from lack of use, but the familiar power came to him, and he fought the wind with his will. The Thunderbird wasn't with him, that day, however, or perhaps the winds were just too strong against them. The pirate ship closed no matter how he fought to take the wind out of their sails. Nor was there much he could do to push the Lily any faster; its sails already strained near to breaking in the gusty winds.

And then the pirates were upon them. Chainshot clipped the Lily's mainmast, tearing the sail down with it. Men in wingcloaks flitted out from the other ship, most flipping and swooping on the breezes to dodge the hail of musket fire that met them. While the wingmen stooped down upon the Lily, the pirate ship drew up and fired off grapples. Between one breath and the next, the Lily was boarded.

The crew formed a fighting front line, but were pushed back as the pirates swarmed over. The pirate ship must have been overloaded with men, many only half-trained thugs there to soak up the losses yet leave the pirates still able to fly after the fight. The fighting was too close, too many men packed together for the priest to safely use the other aspects of his Gift, so he helped pull wounded men back and tie strips of fabric over the worst of their wounds, offering a small prayer before sending them back into the fight.

But the line could not hold. There were simply too many of the foe, too few of their own. The concerted effort became a series of skirmishes across the deck, and the priest retreated. He felt more than a little shame at such, but a rout was a rout. No matter where he turned, men fought and died.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Father Paolo, pt. 1, 413 words

Father Paolo cracked his eyes open and sighed. The feeble light of early dawn shone through the porthole in the small cabin he shared with the Soaring Lily's navigator. He wanted to go back to sleep, given the hour, but sat up in the bunk nonetheless. Sloth was not exactly sinful nor dishonorable in the eyes of Vaoz, no, but the disrespect it showed to others when you were needed... Ah, that was another matter altogether.

From outside the cabin, he could hear running feet and the clanging of the warning bell. The mate on watch was ringing for all he was worth, rousing the whole ship to action. When you were needed, well, that's when it was disrespectful and dishonorable to give in to the urge to turn over and pull the blanket up.

He took a moment to consider the saber hanging on the wall. It had been pressed upon him by Captain Armandsdar when he had come aboard. She didn't plan for trouble, she said, but 'twas better to be prepared than not. He agreed, in theory, but his creaking joints reminded him that his best fighting days were past. Nonetheless, he pulled the saber down and belted on its scabbard. He pulled a robe off a neighboring hook, more for the warmth against the open Sky than because his vocation demanded it. Despite the frenzied rushing outside, he took a moment to smooth his thinning hair down and peek out the porthole.

Ah, he thought, there. Another ship, far off but closing fast. The winds seemed to be on the side of the black-sailed pirates that accosted them, and not the Kingdom ship. A shame, but such things happened. Vaoz had made the world, but He did not command its every nuance and detail once it was set in motion. To do otherwise would have been to deny men their freedom under the Skies, if the world itself strove to constrain them against ill deeds. Might as well have made every man unable in his heart to lift a sword, then, and where would be the value of honor and proper piety then, if goodness was written into man as immutable as the motions of a child's wind-up toy?

Still, this was a good crew. Honorable and pious. And skilled, which in many ways was more important than faith. With luck, they would fight off the pirates and go on their way only a little the worse for wear.