Sword of the Saints: Sinner Introduction

“Arius the Vagrant, Arius the Despoiler, Arius the Terrible, even Arius the Rake,” a villainous man certain to deserve such a variety of condemnation hurled from high and low, a pirate of no small notoriety with a fleet massive enough to more than worry coastal settlements both great and small.  On the other hand, elsewhere, in other climes chattering from the tongues of distant throngs he’s whispered heroic “Arius the Great, Arius the Magnificent, even Arius the Conqueror,” a long-time veteran, bitter exponent, and even savior of the Perihelion.  A complicated man, no doubt, and a man enveloped in a quagmire of myth and wild mistestimony, absent as he is an honest biographer.  To that end I will stick to the facts and dispel wild rumor, whether through the testimony of my own eyes or from the words of the man himself or his many lieutenants and companions.  What happened and what didn’t, these are objective experiences, facts blindingly clear under the great auspices of everlasting Brassos, high in the sky.  What follows is the accidental saga of Arius, the feller of the seven cities, the pirate lord of the Vorago Intervention, the endless seas that separate the sacred space of Middle Kingdom, Manfall, from the warring states of the West and the East and bestial kingdoms of the North and South; what succeeds are the tales of the man who ruled the far flung minor kingdoms, the disparate pirate cavalcades, a monstrous fleet beyond contempt.  I was honored as stripling to be taken into his fold as a midshipman, and I’m honored in my developing age to chronicle for posterity his countless deeds—much against his dying wishes I might add.  What follows here is the true reckoning of the man as he was and the honest recitation of his performances as they were genuinely.

Faithfully,

Major Cantor Thrasymedes

Sword of the Saints: Sinner Chapter One

It was the sickly rollicking back and forth amidst a medium sea that sent men, land-lovers all, bound hand and foot hither and thither to expel the contents of their tenuous viscera upon the blood-stained planks laid below quivering feet.  Blood, vomit, and shit—it was everywhere, crossed every boundary, and found port-of-call between unsuspecting knees and unwilling digits.  His head, throbbing, pulsating, was braided with more than the mere consequence of a night’s heavy drinking, gift to those that can’t stand the light of day.

“Wha-wha-wha,” he began, a creature damaged, but he couldn’t finish, as the poison’s garden delights had only begun to ebb from their magnificent apex.  “Who who who?” he rejoined, blearily looking out from between the pin-points of his bascinet into a wandering basement realm of meandering skylight.

“It smells like shit in here,” he muttered to which a hoarse repeating cough was his only rejoinder.  “Who the hell?  What the hell?”

His vision, with the painful lack of urgency given to living flesh, connected upon a singular focus, and he looked this way and that amidst his new close compatriots, slavishly garbed sun-scarred  men altogether unified in chorus of miserable groaning punctuated with the throaty recollection of yesterday’s gruel.

With an undulation he flicked open his visor and surveyed his newly-graced comrades, suffering with heat-stroke mere notes away from the gentle pall of shadowed death bearing away holy souls into a different dawn under a different auspice.  Those that could, those that hadn’t collapsed utterly upon the sparing space of the floor, those huddled together thickly in this mid-space maritime deck with him eyed with the severity of a thousand angry mothers, the responsibility his to raise them from misery countless.

“What the fuck is going on?” he spat from between bloodied teeth.

“I didn’t believe it when I saw it,” muttered one from beneath the pall of dense shadows.

“I mean, who would imagine it?”

“One of our own.”

“The best of us.”

“Taken like this.”

“Taken.”

“Food for the scaled slavers of the south.”

And the world returned to him with a swoon—the troop, the mission, the missive, the gambling den he’d foolishly visited for the vain purposes of possible enrichment and an evening’s entertainment.  The women had been less than attractive.

“Me?!”  He struggled against the iron links of his bonds.  “The southern shore?”  The panic became tangible as the clinking of his armor rose above the general sickly din.

“It won’t help you.”

“Won’t help.”

“Not at all.”

“Not like they run these cruises at a deficit.”

Reacting against the growing terror of his wrists’ suffocation he cried out, “Have you no pride as men?”

“Men!  Hah!”

“That attitude won’t help you.”

“They’ll have you learn to lick the floor.”

“And like it.”

Sword of the Saints: Sinner Chapter Two

The irregular plod of bored seamen, their eyes virtually blind against the unmitigated glare of a lackadaisical sea absent a cloud in the sky, came suddenly and screeching to a halt with the unmistakable clink of the armor in the hold below struggling in vain against the iron yokes of the sturdy bonds.  A windowed door creaked open succeeded by the heavy plodding of an overweight sailor pounding his hard wooden soles in some facsimile of eager glee across the main deck while the clinking of the struggling man cloistered in the hold below grew ever louder in apparent growing panic and developing terror only coming to a faux-friendship cessation when the footfalls began to reverberate down and down the half-rotted staircase whither hailed the stinking and feces polluted hold perverted with the broken dreams of countless stolen men.

“Arius!  Arius!  So good to sea you again, my old friend!  How has life treated you these last ten years?”

Against the wobbling of his vision and the throbbing of his skull, the cavalier in struggle met the gaze of the mustachioed wassailer, visible only in silhouette in the virtual darkness of the hull punctuated with the day-star’s glory just rounding the corner of the posterior stairs.

“Macheda?  Macheda?  Is that you?”  He wasn’t sure he was losing his wits.  “On god’s green earth what are you doing here?  What have you done with me?  Release me at once!  Are you out of your mind?  Have you lost your wits?  When my father hears of this, when the Perihelion learns of my abduction there will be nowhere on earth, nowhere under heaven, that you might hide and avoid their ceaseless wrath!”

“God’s green earth you say, Arius?” he quizzed, slowly supping the fantastic irony.  “Look around you.  Do you think it’s the soil that warbles around you?  Do you think your comrades yet know you gone?  Do you think you hail for familiar shores?  You’re mine, you scruffy little shit!”

“How dare you!  I’ll have you hanged, quartered, pickled, and then fucked three times from Saturday!”

“I see you haven’t lost any of that legendary wit, my friend.”

“Where are you taking me?”

“The others will have undoubtedly already told you.  The southern shore.  Do you know how much a knight is worth to the right people?  I’m going to fancy myself a proper commodore, new clean ships and dirty rotten women!  Just be sure you look proper knightly!”

“I’m not sure that I’m hearing you right.  Are you really this stupid?  Doesn’t matter whithersoever.  They’ll come for me, and they’ll find you.  I’ll find you.”

“Nonsense.  Nonsense.  They’d have to turn over every pebble on earth.  My flesh will remain unfortunately untarnished with all the bells and whistles of mankind’s discipline, my friend.  Meanwhile, you’ll be lucky there’s enough left of you in four years time to feed to the crocodiles, and I’ll be left to lament the mean disappearance of my own gambling buddy lost and shanghaied to serve out the rest of his miserable existence pulling cable and pushing the oar.”

In all that darkness, the blindness of arriving from under the glory of mighty Brassos, nothing clear could be further from the truth; expanding the fullness of his lungs, tightening in mighty cords every last millimeter of muscle, he silently undid the clasps of his bonds, which slipped away with a chattering tintinnabulation as his form again came to rest.  Smiling the weird toothy grin of a man with nothing to lose, he rose to his feet, meeting his captor eye-to-eye.

Sword of the Saints: Sinner Chapter Three

“I knew you were stupid, Macheda,” the tawny-bearded cavalier rejoined, his voice wavering as if the words unusual.  “But there’s nothing I can do for you now.  No more cheap whores and expensive swords.  You’ve already stepped into your grave.  Your crew will arrive insufficiently.  My apologies, in advance.”

With the experience of decades, the captain’s hand flashed to the golden-engraved ivory handle of his cavalry saber, bitten and struck with indelible marks of edge upon edge blows, a survivor—if not always a victor—of a lifetime’s worth of battles, what had once been an excellent prize robbed from the stiffening corpse of an overcome privateer.

“Comrades,” the captain announced with a concluding whistle, “the cargo’s escaping!”

“Fool,” the cavalier mumbled, as he stepped into the elegant crescent of the falling saber, which clattered helplessly against his pauldrons.  Grasping the captain firmly by the offending wrist, he launched his gauntleted fist with the force of an angry god into his low cheek-bones, which yielded into the air the sanguine spray of uprooted teeth which danced upon the shit-soaked deck like dice.

Having liberated the long-lived saber from his tumbling opponent, with a single motion handed down in the scope of long generations in the Perihelion’s alabaster square of childhood bruising, he freed the captain’s head from his shoulders, completing the sickle-shaped motion with the return to an imaginary sheath held customarily in the free hand.

They were falling over each other in the unabashed greed for a day’s more freedom even if it should be bought with enough sweat and bloodshed to drown the decks altogether in sweet crimson.  Their chains jingled as they vainly arose to the reverberating thud of the checking links, slipping and falling upon the slick, feces-stained wood finish.

“They didn’t have to ask,” Arius marveled, spell-bound by the obscene display of wicked and contorted limbs indivisible in motion.  “I need a good slave revolt.  And gods, miserable as they are, they look ready.”

A good majority of the prisoners were held by a system rooted in place by a single, long chain of particularly heavy and cumbersome character, much more than a man could violate with his hands; it would take a stout hammer and a broad steel splitter to see them off, things that weren’t available, unless he should deign to risk alone the hurricane footfalls streaming this way and that overhead.  He addressed a connecting link, fixing his newly acquired decades-abused blade like a wedge, and he began to twist with all the might that was available him.  And while to a common observer, it might have seemed an impossible task, the blade more surely to break itself than the impossible rounds of iron, a sufficiently holy man might have observed to glow from the circular brand, the burned imprint of his right palm as he strained against the very powers of nature herself.  It split, his woeful saber, the shattered edge launching itself like the blast of lightning to come to rest into the oaken walls, but so split the rung as well, which clattered to the floor in miraculous pieces shining like starlight.

So taken were they that all the madness and confusion at once terminated, and their eyes rose to meet his, as if staring into the unmarked countenance of a saint.

“Up there,” he began with a whisper, “they’re arming themselves, ready now to return you to bondage.  Come with me.  Stand by my side.  And follow my way.  We’ll win your freedom by the sweat of your brow and the blood on the timbers.”

Sword of the Saints: Sinner Chapter Four

Like the seven winged bearer of light rising from the deepest throes of endless Erebus, he shined in the undifferentiated dark like sparkling starlight, tawny mane fluttering in an imaginary wind reflected upon only his unblemished features.  Time seemed to slow, time seemed to crawl, and time seemed to cease as slowly he ascended the ashen and grimy staircase at the head of the starving and insatiate damned, doomed to live evermore—according to the firmament’s canon—eking out a miserable existence underneath the unfeeling tread of the living, persecuted for merely being on the wrong side of fate while the common man and the abbot both call it “justice.”  The sailors were dumbstruck, weapons held only limply in their crinkled hands, having already long forgotten the miserable death of their leader and employer, whose head even now tumbled back and forth upon the shit-riddled deck, reverberating through the timbers as its fractured fence of the mouth rolled to and fro.  His smile was remarkable, his teeth shining white, his cheeks a-glow with genuine crimson; they nearly threw down their weapons then and there.  But he wouldn’t stop, climbing at a resting rate ever closer, step-by-step, as all and one were universally held firm, only able to address his approach with the twinkling glimmer of their awe-struck eyes dilated almost entirely black.

He laid his hand upon the foremost’s shoulder like father and son, and reproachfully withdrew the man’s battered and half-rusted hewing spear once clasped tightly in hand, but before the man’s eyes could again address his face, the armored knuckles of the cavalier’s free hand collided with the force of typhoon, rendering concave utterly the whole of his face, and as if stricken by lightning, the man fell down there at once dead.

All thoughts turned at once to flight, but he was already heaving forward their whole host under the length of his liberated hewing spear, untowardly mighty and emboldened with the pedagogical fury of the daylight bronze that robs midnight.  And as he rose above decks, the sky smiled again to see him, and he hurled a full score of men backwards, who fell helpless to be the prey of his lethal lacerations to stain his gauntlets crimson bright.

But he did not relent and lunged on ahead, the collapsed to be the prey of the eager hordes throbbing with the unimaginable fury of the enslaved.

His first succeeding opponent, unarmored and unprepared, fell down dead, bludgeoned lethally through the lungs with the reverse stroke of his haft.  Another, terrified stiff, he smote down to hell with a draw across his carotid that sprayed his immediate companions in a spurting shower of his essential ichor.

But a third found his wits, casting forward with the poorly constructed blade of a sailor’s dirk, but erring of his target he was fortunate to just very nearly turn the eerily concise and immediate counterstroke of his opponent’s spear intended for the yokes of his head.  Nevertheless the cavalier was a talented fencer, abounding in ruses, and the rebounding point lodged in the throat of the sailor’s immediate compatriot staggering in a wild-eyed jig before slumping to the rollicking floor.  Unnerved, but not to be outdone, the sailor lunged once again for the undefended face of his striking assailant, only to collapse upon the point of split wood, the haft in the cavalier’s hands smitten in a moment of need.

Sword of the Saints: Sinner Chapter Five

In the dark tumbling dungeons of Erebus flooded with the endless tears of dead and dying mortals, even there is light, as bubbling forth, yearning to crest into the amicable shine of day and join the everlasting sky came a man’s final panicked and exhausted exhortations and wild exclamations as he vainly grasped and fussed at the fastenings of his divine armor appointed in whirling stars as he sank further and further into the nether vorago voracious to steal his mortal breath forevermore.  On all sides, the broken and blasted bodies of slaves and sailors drifted aimlessly downwards, strange and blinkless as if the very wax figurines of some monstrous diorama.  Just the broken tip of a sailor’s lance had he, dulled with the long years of use and abuse—now little more than a bludgeon, his sole implement against the sinking steel dragging him ever downwards—slow, slow, proving ever more finally his downfall.  Garbling black imprecations at the outrageous cast of fate muddled in the blackening waters threatening the bloodied burst of his eardrums to undoubtedly attract the predatory gaze of murderous things conceived before the first tread of land, exasperated he tried and tried with every last exasperated essay only to witness the stiffening of his extremities as invisible hands continued to pull him downwards—the abyss increasingly his home.

But like the screaming, howling resuscitation of the struggling dying, heart pumping with every last gasp of berserkergang vigor, he strained just one last time, as the invisible tears drained down his cheeks with his final glimpse of the escaping star stalwart above, an old friend from what seemed a bygone age consumed with the inevitable progress of time and the obliteration of childhood innocence within the unceasing blows of the practice yard.  And then he whispered something only for his fiery ears contemptuous.  His dying hand drifted aimlessly to his hamstring and fixed meaningfully across his own leathern snap, which rapidly gave out and burst under the merest expression of intended force, and so similarly gave way the clasps of his greaves, which sunk with accelerating desire for the far-flung ocean floor.  And so, as if by miracle, the grand part of his panoply gave away, and with a renewed desire to live a long life—if only to escape such a fate—he trailed the final abandoned bubbles of his violent imprecations towards the shadowless noon forever away from the drifting, swaying dance of the horrible drowned.

As his head crested the remunerating waves, with the sound of slaughtered swine gasping the beloved respirations of the gentle air, he couldn’t help but notice—quite impossible—the inferno oven of something nearby crackling and exploding like the collected contents of a thousand overheated furnaces.  Whirling about hither and thither, seeing only dissident refuse of timber and canvas in his waterlogged vision, he suddenly came to rest upon something brilliant and bright, blinding against the sky.  She was alight, the brigantine.

“Nothing could survive that,” he mumbled without evident sadness, as he clasped upon the nearby flotsam straining to see upon the horizon any evidence of friendly land.