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(A short story of 6248 words)

The Wandering Woman

Fantasy Horror

by David Collinson

The spray of the sea brushed his face like the soft caressing fingertips of a beautiful woman. His ship, the Red Shadow, was making good time as it cut through the sea’s waves, sending up small geysers of salty water. The open sea, a brilliant cascade of sparkling azure gems, lay before him and a healthy gust of wind was filling his sails. Captain Devon Harrad smiled to himself. Perfect conditions, he thought, at this rate I’ll make port before the week is out and have this cargo unloaded and my hold full of gold.

With that thought filling him with confidence, he turned from the prow and walked down the starboard side to inspect his ship. A grand ship it was, or maybe he thought that because it was his, every captain loved his own ship and every captain worth his salt knew everything about it, from the hull to the crow’s nest. At least, the smuggling captains did.
Devon’s Red Shadow was a beautifully streamlined vessel, its red tinted wood on deck and hull giving it the name Red. The Shadow part came from its slim and sharp body, a body that was well suited for speed and evading. Attributes that Captain Devon Harrad took full advantage of. Yes, Red Shadow was born for this sort of work. But, of course, all this was for nothing without a good crew. You could fawn over the most beautifully crafted and sculptured ship all day, but without a crew it was a lifeless husk. A lifeless husk, the Red Shadow was not.

Everywhere Devon looked seamen were working hard, tightening the rigging, scrubbing the decks, steering the ship, it was a seemingly chaotic display of sweat and muscle, but was what kept the Red Shadow afloat. Devon was fiercely proud of his crew, though he would never tell them - get it into their heads that they were valuable and it could give birth to all kinds of egotistical notions, the worst of which would be mutiny. But he wasn’t worried: Devon had been running with this crew for seven years, their loyalty had been tested time and time again. Those that had been true to him were the crew of the Red Shadow. Those that had tested his authority were the denizens of the murky deep.

Pleased with how things were going up top, Harrad made his way into the bowels of the ship; he walked past the men’s dorms, a long hallway of criss-crossing hammocks, like spider webs. The spiders that inhabited these webs were a bit bigger than your average arachnid, not least of which was First Mate Esor, a tall well muscled behemoth of a man. He sat sharpening his huge cutlass, the hardened knots of sinew on his arms lending strength to the whetstone he so diligently ran down the smooth curve of his blade.

Seeing the captain, Esor returned his cutlass to the heavy sheath at his waist and rose to meet him. Shirtless, Devon could see the many badges of honour Esor had received in his service. A veritable road map of healed scars blanketed his chest and arms, the worst of which ran through his eye, turning it into a milky dead marble. He could have covered it with his long black hair but Devon encouraged him to wear it tied back. “A man shouldn’t be ashamed of who he is,” he had said at the time, and there’s a man who most will think twice before trifling with, he had thought to himself.

“I don’t expect any trouble on this job Esor,” said Captain Harrad, eyeing the newly sharpened blade of his First Mate...

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