Guardians of Gaea Excerpt 2: To the Last Man

Nightfall, 22 November 1718. Shortly before being captured, the crew fought down to the last twenty men: Once they realized that their captain had been killed, they lost the battle lust that had claimed them from Reach’s rallying battle cry. Half of Reach’s crew had been killed, and Galahan was taking the rest of them to be tried before a court in Verena. Galahan’s men were brutal to the pirates, throwing punches and kicks when they were certain that Galahan was looking the other way. ‘Red’ Jacques LaRoux was the only crew member that had any amount of fire left in him following the death and defeat of the pirate captain known as The Red Dawn. For his impertinence, he had his legs shackled together, and his head and arms trapped between the pillory; a set of poorly crafted blocks of wood that closed over the head and wrists, and was locked with a heavy padlock. Every movement he made was met with the rough edges of the blocks, more often than not leaving splinters in his neck and beneath his chin. Luckily for Red, it was night time; there would be no throwing of rotten fruit as entertainment for the locals. The Verena Prison courtyard was an open tomb: Walls all around him with only way out, but the pillory was the only thing between him and a chance at freedom.

A few hours passed. Guards would come and check on the prisoners every half hour. Red didn’t see the point; he was trapped in a way that was nearly impossible for him to escape. He did his best to remain completely still, but as time moved on, his body became weary. One guard strutted arrogantly by him, but then paused to have a little fun at Red’s expense. “Oi, mate. Looks like you’re in a bit of bind there. Y’shoulda not mouthed off to the lieutenant like that.” The solider grinned at Red, who stared at him with dull eyes.

“Why don’ye go ‘n launch y’self into the abyss, y’scurvy dog.” The soldier’s eyes lit up, hate visible in every pore of his face. Without another word, he punched Red directly on the right eye. His vision went white, stars filling his mind. The soldier then spat on him, and proceeded to strut off as if nothing happened. ‘Be ‘nother ten hours or so of this,’ he told himself as another guard passed him by. Another guard? Red struggled to turn his head without getting even more splinters around his neck. He failed, but at least now he could see what no other prisoner could; the second guard that passed him had knocked out most of the guards in the prison yard area, and was closing in on the last guard quickly and silently. Red couldn’t discern the gender of the guard, so he just watched as the person struck the last guard in three different parts of the body. He fell like a sack of potatoes, but the unknown person had managed to catch him to keep him from making any more noise than necessary. Red turned his head back to its original position, looking down at the dried grass and dirt on the ground of the prison yard.

A few minutes passed, and Red heard another set of footsteps approaching. In the few hours he’d been locked away, he’d become accustomed to hearing rather than seeing the guards when they did check up on him. These footsteps were different; they had a feeling of grace in them, and every step was different from the last. He wanted to look up, to see who his saviour was, but instead he kept absolutely still in case it was a trap. The shoes on the feet of the person walking towards him stopped, and he found himself staring at them instead of the grass and dirt. “How would you like to be a free man tonight?” Her voice was soft, but there was a layer of fire beneath it that sent a shiver straight to Red’s loins. He would never forget that voice and those words for as long as he lived. “That’d be lovely, lass.” His voice came out harsher than intended, due to Galahan’s troops leaving him out in the cold, dry air with no water or food. He hadn’t been paying attention to much of his body, and he realized that he was going to freeze to death before the morning of his ‘trial’. He swore loudly, and the woman chuckled before moving over to the edge of the pillory with the heavy lock in place.

“Now, lass, I reckon ye think ye’re strong, but no la—“ His words ground to a halt as the woman ripped the lock off of the wood with ease. She lifted the top block of wood and cast it aside. Red attempted to straight, but found that his legs were so numbed by the cold that he found himself on the ground. She shook her head slowly, extending her hand out to him. He shook his head, using the pillory to help himself up. “I be thinkin’ ye’ve done enough fer me, lass. I ‘ppreciate all o’ it, I do, but thar be some things a man must do hisself.” Even though it was pitch black out, he could see her rolling her hazel eyes at him.

“I think it’d be best if you let me carry you. You haven’t eaten in nearly two days, and if my guide is correct, you are the one that I need to save.” What? Guide? His face showed his befuddlement. The woman laughed again, a melodic ring of amusement. There was something off about this woman, and Red knew it, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. “Look, you can come, or you can stay here and rot like the rest of your mates. You have until the count of ten to make your decision. One…” She began to count slowly and deliberately, her eyes weighing him at the same time. He turned, looking around the barren prison yard for the first time since he arrived at the hellhole with his crewmates. It was a lot larger than he’d first imagined, and even then he’d felt as if the walls were closing in on him. He inhaled deeply, shutting his eyes. The woman was at a count of seven, and still he warred with his emotions on whether or not he could truly trust a stranger so much, even though she had just saved him from possibly being executed. He shook his head slightly, before saying, “Ah, t’hell with it. I’ll go with ye.” She paused at nine, her face becoming still.

“Good. Now, let us depart this place. It would seem that the guards I disabled are coming to.” She offered her hand to him once again, but this time he took it without hesitation. He was just positioning himself to get at least a bit comfortable on her back without feeling foolish, when suddenly the alarm bell began to clang. Red’s heart filled with dread, skipping a beat at the same instant. The woman laughed. “How long can you hold your breath for?”

“What d’sat have ta do with the time o’ day?”

“Just shut up, hold your breath, and hang on. Tight.” He wrapped his arms around her neck and tightened his legs’ grips as best he could. He glanced back, seeing several guards running towards them, some with their guns pointed and others with their swords drawn, shouting as loudly as they could for the woman to stay where she was. She grinned, and without so much as a glance back, she scaled the giant wall surrounding the prison, knocked one of the guards from his position in the watch tower, and leapt the thirty feet downward without a second thought. The moment they landed, she started to run and it was as if she became the wind itself. Though Red held his breath, it was still difficult for him to take in the fact that he had just been rescued by a creature out of legend.

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