Credit to MandTeKad who is serving as co-author on this story (along with working in the backroom for my other series).

As always, this chapter was released at least 2 weeks ago to my Pat-re-ons (with every level above tier 1 having seen a draft version, and the highest level seeing the redrafted form, around 2 months ago) and on the story's Discord server (in GDoc form) about a week ago. Hopefully, all the little mistakes have been found and removed.

Raiding the Whores

… …

(Circa 297AC)

The blade, a shorter cutlass, swiped toward me. My shield came front, generating a screeching sound as metal dragged over metal even as I pushed to one side, taking the cutlass away from me. In the same motion, I stepped forward, driving the tip of Red Rain into the pirate's guts. While he wore armour, it couldn't stand against Valyrian steel, and I felt my blood sing as I stepped close to the pirate; my blade bursting out the other side of his chest.

His eyes bulged as I stepped back, pulling my blade back and twisting, widening the already fatal blow. A turn as I stepped had my blade slide to the side while still inside, and as Red Rain emerged, steaming blood and guts came with it, soaking the planks of the galley in red.

The pirate fell to his knees, and as I turned, looking for my next target, the edge of my shield slammed into his face, knocking him backwards so he couldn't attempt any final act of revenge against me. My eyes scanned for the next target only to see blades being thrown down and the remaining pirates dropping to their knees.

Not all did so though, and they were either overwhelmed by my men near them – Irraro removing the head of one such pirate – or struck out at their traitorous colleagues. The head Irraro had just removed bounced merrily on the deck, and as a cheer of victory went up from my men, it bounced again, coming to rest against the starboard rail; near a ramp from the Windchaser.

I joined the cheer, thrusting my blood-soaked blade skyward, and we were soon joined by Ymir. Turning, I saw him on the foredeck, the fur around his maw soaked in blood. My smile faded as he tossed back his skull, chewing on the leg of a man, and my mind rushed back to when I'd shared my thoughts with him as he'd killed a traitor.

That man had deserved to die, but the sheer enjoyment of the warm, powerful taste of his blood and flesh as Ymir ripped the man to pieces just before I'd left his thoughts, would forever haunt my mind.

I shook my head, clearing the memory, and any concerns about how that was still affecting my human taste, and refocused on the here and now. Looking around, I took in the newest ship in my fleet; the first galley I've seized but if the blitz of The Whores went even halfway decent, not the last.

I looked down at the deck, ignoring my final kill. Finding a body whose tunic was soaked in blood, I knelt and ripped a section of the tunic clear. Standing, I used that to wipe the gore from Red Rain. While it didn't need sharpening, I wasn't going to slide it back into the sheath soaked in blood. Beyond the fact that it would begin to smell and ruin the sheath by seeping into the leather, the blood I'd spilt wasn't worthy of being allowed to fester on the blade.

"Secure the ship!" I called out as I ran the section of tunic from the guard down the blade. "Search and bind those who surrendered, loot the bodies and toss them overboard!"

The men moved to follow my orders even as Ymir leapt down the short flight of stairs from the foredeck to the main deck; the leg still hanging from his maw. Once Red Rain was clean, I slipped it into its sheath, and when Ymir was close enough, gave him a scratch behind an ear. "Try not to get blood everywhere," I said as I ignored the limb.

He gave a gentle grunt of acknowledgement, and as he moved off, looking for somewhere to enjoy his meal, I turned and headed aft. The galley wasn't massive, perhaps half again as long as the longboats, though narrower. About thirty benches ran along the sides for oars, though not all benches had oars. That suggested the vessel was older and that its former owner hadn't had the resources or inclination to have the ship repaired and serviced. The mainmast was tall, having a spot for a crow's nest at the top, though the frame there was damaged, further hinting to a lack of regular maintenance, and a smaller, triangular foresail rested about two-thirds of the way from the mainmast to the foredeck.

There were also two scorpions mounted near the front, though those had been the first locations I'd targeted as we approached. If this vessel and the other galley had managed to turn those on my fleet, we'd have had major issues.

Faint screams carried over the sound of the sea lapping against the hull, and looking toward the other galley I saw it slowly slipping under the waves. The Trickster and Grim Minnow were pulling back, not wanting to be dragged to the depths as men struggled to float in the water, calling out for help. For a moment I considered ordering those men rescued, as I'd need men for this galley, but movement in the water stayed my voice. The fin of a shark pierced the surface just before a man was pulled under; the others panicked to get away even as I picked out more fins racing toward them.

Leaving the pirates to their fate, and the sharks to their meal, I reached the door underneath the quarterdeck. Pushing it open slightly, I saw it was a single cabin inside; no doubt used by the galley's captain, whatever had happened to him. I pushed the door open fully with my shield even as my free hand rested on the head of my axe, mindful that someone might be hiding inside.

The room though was empty, and my nose wrinkled at the smell of booze, sweat, and sex that carried out of the cabin. After leaning back and taking a deep breath of the cleanish air outside the cabin, I entered. Moving quickly, I reached the first of two small windows in the cabin and pushed open the cover back. After repeating the process with the other window, I inhaled the sea air as it rushed into the cabin.

With that done, I moved to the desk, skirting around the bed that was unkept and the source of most of the smell. The desk's surface was devoid of books, instead holding several half-drunk bottles and a few goblets. Lifting one of the bottles, I groaned. "Why could it not be a Dornish red?" I asked myself as I saw I was holding an Arbor Red. "Or even something from Volantis?"

Putting the bottle down, I opened the drawers of the desk. Two had broken latches and contained nothing. The last had a working latch, but I jarred it open with my axe. Inside I found a small book. Flicking through it, I groaned as I saw most of the pages had been torn out, and those that remained covered in random chicken scratches.

Dropping the book back in the drawer, I moved to the bed. After using my axe to push back the sheets, I gently kicked at the boards underneath. Jaeronos had mentioned before I'd left Northpoint that many captains and pirates had a hidden section under their bunk for storing valuables.

After a few exploratory taps with my boot, I found what I was looking for, and after carefully finding an edge of the plank and pulling it back with my axe, I found a small satchel inside the space. Once my axe was re-looped to my belt, I picked up the satchel, a small smile coming to my face. While small, the satchel had decent weight.

Opening it I saw a good number of coins, which after a gentle prodding with my fingers, I saw were from across the Narrow Sea. At a guess, there'd be the equivalent of twenty, perhaps thirty Dragons inside the satchel. That was more than I'd expect if the vessel had just sailed from port, suggesting it and its former companion had a successful patrol. Though I wasn't going to actively seek out the owners of the lost merchant ships to reimburse them.

"Boss." I turned at the voice, seeing Cayde at the door to the cabin. His face wrinkled, suggesting the smell hadn't cleared fully before he continued. "Prisoners are ready to meet you properly."

"Good," I replied with a smirk. "Hopefully one of them has some useful knowledge on our targets." Walking toward him, I sealed the satchel and tossed it to him.

He caught it easily with one hand, though his brow rose as he did. He looked at it as I approached, giving it a few jiggles. "More than I would expect for a patrol."

"Aye, which suggests this was a raiding group," I added as he moved to let me exit the cabin. "Might be more in the hold that has to be transferred to the Windchaser."

Cayde smiled widely. "Aye, on it." He broke away, heading to the stairs leading to the lower decks, gesturing for some men to follow. While the lower deck would've been searched for men, the priority was gathering the prisoners. That group were gathered near the foresail, Daemon, Ymir, and the rest of my men standing watch over them.

As I approached, many of the prisoners looked my way. Most were despondent, resigned to their fates whatever they might be, though a few held my gaze as it swept over them. Of the five that met my gaze, three seemed curious while two glared daggers at me. A growl from Ymir, had everyone turn to him, those closest to the direwolf shifting back at the sight of the large black beast with the blood of their comrades dripping from its maw.

"As you can tell, your ship is now mine, which causes me an issue" I began as I reached Ymir's side, running my hand over his side. "I could take you all prisoner, however, I have other places to go first. Nor can I simply let you go. If you survived to return to your lord, you may mention Ymir here," my hand rested between his ears, gently scratching his fur. "Thus, two choices are left to us." I stepped forward, my hand sliding to Red Rain's hilt. "Either I can slit all your throats, and toss you to the sharks and sail off with an under-crewed galley," I partially drew my blade, many eyes drifting to the distinctive red ripples in the blade, "or…"

Many shuffled back concerned about what I might be implying. My eyes were drawn to those who didn't. That included the five who'd met my gaze as I'd approached with my focus landing on the only one wearing chainmail with a silk shirt underneath.

"Or what?" The chainmail armoured pirate asked. His voice was calm, and measured, suggesting he was made of sterner stuff than many of his crewmates.

I moved forward, keeping Red Rain partially sheathed. "Or," I began once I was directly in front of him, "you bend the knee to me."

"And who the fuck are you?"

I turned to the new speaker, seeing it was one of those who'd glared at me as I'd approached. "I will tell you that only once you kneel," I said. "So will you?" I asked as I moved closer to him.

"Why the fuck should I?" He spat back as I approached, those nearby shuffling away as best they could.

I sighed, running my free hand through his hair. "I believe I already mentioned the first option," I said. Before he could reply, I pulled his head back. My other hand, the one on Red Rain's hilt, came around, crashing into his jaw. Teeth and blood went flying as his head snapped to one side.

I then yanked him forward, dragging him toward the side of the galley, even as he struggled to recover from my blow.

"Wait!" he called out as I pushed him onto the railing of the galley. "Aargh!" The cry slipped from his mouth as I tossed him overboard.

I turned as his body impacted the water, ignoring the faint, spluttering screams he sent hoping for rescue. With his hands bound, and blood seeping from his mouth, it was only a matter of time before he drowned, or a shark got him; either of which was fine with me.

"As I said," I began, addressing the remaining pirates, "your choices are that or to bend the knee." I looked over the group, watching most struggle to meet my gaze. The only one who would was the chainmail-wearing pirate. "Anyone have a preference?"

"Who are you?" the chainmail pirate asked.

I sighed and shook my head. "They seem not to listen," I remarked to Daemon, drawing a chuckle from my fellow knight. "As I said, I will tell you only once you bend the knee," I answered the pirate.

He held my gaze for a moment, as if getting a measure of me, before nodded. "I will do so," he said, lowering his head since he couldn't actually bend a knee given he and the others were already on their knees.

"Good," I said as the others slowly did the same. "Lift your heads," I said once all had accepted my control of their fates. "Until I know I can trust you, you may call me the Rogue Viper."

"Then we place our lives in your hands, Lord Viper," the chainmail-armoured pirate said, lowering his head again.

I clapped my hands together. "Excellent. Ser Daemon here will tell you the terms of working for me. If you accept those terms, then I welcome you into my service. If not," I gestured over my shoulder, toward the railing I'd just tossed the other pirate over. "However, before Daemon explains my terms, might I know your name?" I asked the pirate who seemed to be a leader. "And what role did you formerly serve on this vessel?"

"Hendal, Lord Viper. And until your arrival, I was First Mate aboard the Grey Curse."

"First Mate, eh?" I replied with a smile. That was useful as he and the captain, wherever he was, would know details of the fleets of whichever Pirate Lord they served. "And where, pray tell, is your captain?"

"He died manning the helm, Lord Viper. An arrow through his eye ended his life before your men boarded us."

I chuckled and turned to Daemon. "Seems you were right," I muttered. He laughed and rubbed his fingers together, reminding me that I owed him for losing the wager after killing the helmsman.

After taking out the men manning the scorpions of both galleys, I'd targeted the helms, wanting to disable the vessels. Dameon had pointed out that the pirate manning the helm of this ship wore armour, though that hadn't stopped me from targeting him to cause chaos aboard the galley. It seemed I'd been right about it causing chaos, but the friendly bet we'd made as I'd lined up my next arrow had been lost.

I pulled Hendal to his feet and then patted him on the shoulders. "Well, with your former captain dead, I find myself in need of someone to manage the crew of my new vessel. I wonder if you know anyone interested in the position?"

Hendal smiled back at me, dropping his head slightly before he spoke. "I would be interested, my Lord Viper. However, I feel before you offer it to me, there may be more you want to know."

"Aye, that I do," I replied with a chuckle. Turning, I moved away from the pirates, bringing Hendal with me. "Inform them of the rules and see which are willing to mark their name," I said to Daemon, which drew a nod from him. "Once Bronn, Irraro, and the others are alongside, and the new men understand their roles, see about distributing them among our vessels." Daemon nodded again, and I moved away, heading toward the captain's cabin with Hendal.

I wasn't going to remove his binds until I'd spoken with him, but given Ymir hadn't reacted to his declaration of loyalty – hinting the man was genuine – I suspected Hendal would soon be a valued member of my crews. "Now," I began as we passed the mainmast, "before I restore you to your former position, I will need to speak with you privately." As I spoke, Ymir fell into step just behind us, the gentle scraping of his claws sending a few tremors of fear through Hendal. "I would particularly enjoy hearing about your former employer, with a focus on his holdings – and those of the other Pirate Lords – in The Whores, and where exactly you have been before our serendipitous rendezvous."

… …

… …

I stood on the quarterdeck of the Grey Curse – which, along with any other vessel we captured, was so getting renamed once the blitz of The Whores was over – manning the wheel as the port on the southernmost island of The Whores came into focus. Even without a Myrish Eye, my boosted sight could just make out the buildings separating from each other, and the faintest of hints of movements near the docks.

Beside me, Hendal manned the helm, his intel proving worthwhile enough for me to reappoint him as First Mate of the Grey Curse. Provided he survived the blitz, then he'd likely be given command of the vessel. While the galley was a better warship than the Windchaser I wasn't moving my flag off it permanently. At least not for a simple galley.

From his intel, this port was the only one on the island and the largest of the three ports Alequo Ryndoon controlled in The Whores. It was also the only island that was seemingly entirely controlled by a single Pirate Lord with the others having ports from at least two other Pirate Lords. Hendal couldn't provide full details about which Pirate Lord controlled which port as several were being constantly fought over, but his intel did cover this island and the next three.

As this island was semi-safe from raids by the other Pirate Lords, due to its distance from the other ports in the chain, Ryndoon used it as a major base to raid vessels in the Stepstones; which was what the Grey Curse and her sister ship had just finished doing when we'd encountered them. Also, while the port was larger than the others Ryndoon controlled, it supposedly had fewer defences, with its focus on supporting raiding vessels, and with its location, it could see ships approach from several miles away. Because of that, we were only approaching the port with the Grey Curse and the Windchaser and attempting a slightly more devious attack plan.

A rope was strung from the Grey Curse to the Windchaser suggesting the vessel was under partial tow. Cayde was posing as the captain with Garreo and a dozen others – all my men – secured in the hold as the supposed captured crew of the vessel. The crews for the two vessels were split between men who'd bent the knee and those who'd sailed from Dustspear with me and none of the damage from the previous battle had been cleaned, bar the bodies being tossed overboard.

If all went well, we'd sail into the port looking to everyone there as the surviving galley of the raiding force bringing in a new vessel as bounty. The Grey Curse had left port over a moon ago with two other galleys, the first had sunk when they'd tackled a larger trade fleet – amusingly, one composed of Martell and Manderly vessels – though they'd struck it lucky about a week before running into my forces by finding and boarding a long Lysine cog. The cog had sunk due to damage taken during that battle, but most of its cargo had been looted. That cargo remained in the Grey Curse's hold, along with some of the supplies from the Windchaser.

Due to the various battles, Hendal should be able to explain away the loss of the captain, and the new crew members to the port's commander: a man known as Dwan who was considered one of Ryndoon's most trusted commanders.

Provided this plan paid off, and we were able to dock without incident – which, given the supposed constant changing of a pirate ship's crew, should be possible – the plan was that, sometime during the night, my men would wake. While some would move to free Garreo and the others, others would move to open the gates around the port.

Bronn and Daemon had sailed to the east with the longboats and should beach them further along the coast of the island. Led by the pair and Ymir, they'd move through the night, getting ready to attack the port when the gates were opened sometime during the night. From there, attacking from within and without, the port should fall quickly. The only factor that might cause an issue was the number of men inside the port.

I knew there was risk with this plan, and without Red Rain at my hip, I felt naked, but the attacks around The Whores needed to be fast and brutal. Straight-up attacking each port from sea or land in one large force invited high casualty rates, which was something I couldn't sustain beyond a handful of battles. Even if half the men in each port bent the knee after surrendering, if I lost the same percentage of men in an assault, then by the time I cleared The Whores I might be the only man left who'd sailed from Dustspear.

That was why I was trialling the new tactic, which was one Hendal hadn't encountered before. That said something about the tactics commonly employed by the pirates in the Steps, and along with Bronn, Ymir, and me believing Hendal was truthful in what he revealed about the port and the rest of Ryndoon's forces, gave me hope the plan would be generally successful. Plus, it would force the men to apply tactics we'd practised on Dustspear about coordinating attacks over sea and land.

"Looks like the port be almost empty." Hendal's words caught my attention, drawing me from my thoughts. "Only two vessels are docked. There could be up to eight ships berthed here when we need to shelter from storms or bring in captured vessels."

I grunted at hearing that; I leaned forward. It was still too far for me to make out much detail, but Hendal had a Myrish Eye; one looted from the captain's cabin that I'd missed during my quick, initial search of the room.

I stepped back from the wheel, letting him take over, and took the Eye. While it was a risk to use it to observe the port, we were standing on the quarterdeck, and not the foredeck or in the crow's nest, so it was less likely we'd be seen by any in the port.

Looking through the Eye I saw Hendal was accurate. Only two vessels were docked, though there were two more piers. Given that one of the ships docked looked to be a galley the size of the Grey Curse, I'd judge that the piers could support up to ten galleys if they were docked with almost no room between bow and stern.

My gaze shifted to the port itself, and I noted where the locals were gathered; with a focus on two buildings that had men standing outside them, hands on their hips. Those must be important, but whether it was prison cells, a treasury, the commander's office, or something else of note, I couldn't say until I was inside the port.

Sweeping my gaze over the sides of the port, I grunted as I took in the state of the walls. While decently tall and made of wood, even at this distance I could see gaps in them, letting me see the forest. While it didn't appear to be as dense as the one on Dustspear, it seemed to run close to the walls, meaning Bronn, Daemon, and the men with them should be able to approach close without much issue. At least so long as the port didn't send out patrols to scout the nearby woods.

Scanning back over the port one final time, I counted the men I could see, even if they then left my sight. While I wasn't seeing all the port, I barely got to twenty men. There had to be more men further into the port as the two docked ships needed at least eighty men to crew, so unless they were short-handed then there had to be more men out of sight of the docks.

Still, even if there were only enough men to crew the two docked vessels, it might be possible to take the port with just the men aboard the Grey Curse and the Windchaser. If we moved quickly during the night, when most of the pirates would be passed out drunk, sleeping, or bust fucking any slaves the port might have – something Hendal had revealed all Ryndoon's ports had to keep up morale – then, at the very least, we should be able to cripple the port before the rest of my men arrived.

"Good for us then," I replied as I lowered the Eye. "Provided you not be trying to lead us into chains," I added as I handed the Eye back to Hendal and retook control of the wheel.

"Can understand your fear, but I gave you my word," Hendal said as he slipped the Eye into a padded pouch to protect it. "And I told you everything I knew about Ryndoon and the other Pirate Lords."

"Aye, you did, but that could easily be a trick." I turned my focus to him, holding his gaze. "Words are but wind; actions determine someone's value and honour. Prove yourself and claim your reward as Captain"

Hendal's eyes narrowed, not liking my opinion of his valour. A grunt slipped from his lips. "Fair enough," he muttered before turning and moving ahead of the wheel, looking over the main deck. My eyes watched his body, looking for signs of treachery. So far, he'd not given me any reason to doubt him, but until the port was captured, and probably even afterwards, I wasn't going to turn my back on him while he was armed.

"Turn us slightly to starboard," Hendal said, "there is a small reef we need to avoid as we near the port if we do not want the Windchaser to ruin her keel."

I did as he said, stopping the turn when he grunted, and watched as the port slowly slipped closer. We were still a while away, perhaps an hour, but the buildings would soon come into view. At that point I'd have Hendal point out the various buildings of importance; detailing what was where. It would be easy to tell if he was lying once we docked, but so far I had little reason to doubt him. As he said, he'd been forthcoming with intel, even offering pieces I hadn't considered asking about as they were seemingly unrelated to The Whores. However, as I'd just said, judgment for him would wait until after the port was secured.

… …

… …

I moved slowly, hugging the shadows of the building next to me as best I could without it being fully obvious that I was doing so. One had rested on the head of my axe while the other held a dagger. Behind me came Cayde, Hendal, and two dozen of our men with them. Irraro had slipped away with about half as many men just after we'd started to move on this almost moonless night, heading for the walls. While it was in a state of disrepair, it was manned so those men would need removing for when Bronn, Daemon, and the rest of my men arrived. We were heading toward the docks, wanting to take that position before the walls were breached.

Things had been a little tense when we'd docked as while Dwan knew Hendal and many of the men aboard the two ships, he didn't know me, Cayde, or the others, with Irraro sticking out more as a summer Islander. Hendal had spun a yarn that mixed truth with lies to explain us being forced into the crew after the first galley the Curse had sailed with was lost in a failed battle. After the capture of the Windchaser, he'd promoted me to the helm as that's been my role on the last vessel I'd served on. The fact that Garreo and a dozen others were secured in the Windchaser's hold helped further sell the deception; at least enough that Dwan allowed us into the port.

After an evening telling stories of where we came from, women we'd fucked, battles we'd fought, and me sharing a handful of songs I'd created that the pirates seemed to enjoy, Dwan's suspicions had fallen away enough that he'd left us to enjoy his evening. Several of my men – including some who'd sailed from Dustspear with me – had joined in the merriment, even taking liberties with the female slaves in the port. Their faces were burnt into my mind, and if they survived The Whores, they'd face justice for their actions. I would reduce the punishment for those from the harshest penalties as their actions had helped sell the deception; or at least those who'd been partially drunk before taking liberties. Daris and Vogor – who were in the group behind me – along with three others were dead men walking as they'd gone for the slaves before the drink, and that was something I'd not tolerate.

The waning moon hung high in the sky, clouds drifting over it to cut out the light it generated, though it provided just enough light to help the men see where we were going. With my enhanced sight via my bond with Rian and perfect recall of the port, while the sun had been up, I had little issue with plotting my path toward the docks.

Rounding a corner, the faint light of a slowly dying fire illuminated a half-dozen men. While there was some movement from the group, it was slight and subtle, suggesting they were either sleeping or almost there. Since the night was cool, almost warm, it didn't surprise me that they were sleeping outside. Not after already finding and dispatching a dozen men in various locations since we'd passed since starting the op.

I moved closer, mindful of my steps, memories of training to stalk a target from my previous life merging with the times I'd been in Ymir as he moved. Each step caused the loose pebbles of the ground to shift, and I was mindful of the noise they made. As we neared, faint grunts – of pleasure and pain – reached me, masking the slight sounds of my steps. Along with that was the constant, rhythmic pattern of the tide brushing against the docks. My steps were timed to the tide, using the sound to cover my movement.

I lifted my hand from the axe, flicking it to one side: around the building separating me from the small group of men. I didn't need to look back to know Cayde would take half the men the way I'd indicated. Back on Dustspear, I'd established signals with him and the other officers of my men so we could move without sound. I'd just not expected the first battle of The Whores to be when that training came to the fore.

The flickers of light from the fire the pirates were around illuminated their faces as I crept closer, and a faint smile slipped onto my face as I saw one face in particular. That was one of Dwan's lieutenants; the man was nearly two heads taller than me. He'd been one of those I'd wanted removed before any battle began as just his size would make him a challenge. To say nothing of the massive blade I'd seen at his side when we'd docked.

As I reached the edges of the fire, the man closest to me shifted. The eyes flickered open, then widened; the fog of sleep driven from his mind as one hand clamped over his mouth. Before even a grunt of confusion could slip through my fingers, the dagger was embedded in his throat; the tip pushing toward his spine. His body went limp, meaning I'd caught the nerves at the back of his spine, rendering him immobile. Withdrawing the dagger, blood spurted out as I severed his vocal cords and windpipe.

The body slumped as my hand left his mouth, the dagger already turned and driven itself into the side of the next pirate's neck. Like the first, his eyes shot open in confusion, and as I pulled the dagger forward, repeating the destruction of the vocal cords, he fell forward; his hands going for his neck as faint gargles slipped from the ruined voice box.

A bloody grunt slipped from the wound as my dagger slammed into his chest, piercing his heart. The lieutenant stirred at that, but before his eyes could focus, Hendal drove his blade into the man's chest even as one of those with us thrust another dagger into the next man.

A flash of recognition and understanding came to the large lieutenant's face as Hendal removed his blade though before any words could come, the former pirate now under my banner crashed his fist into the pirate's face. The pebbles shifted louder than I'd like as the lieutenant's body crashed to the ground, though I ensured he wouldn't rise by driving my axe into the back of his neck, severing the spine.

Once the pirates were dead, I slipped the axe back into its loop and started shifting around the bodies. While it was unlikely anyone would find them before the port was taken, it was better to be cautious. The pirates were sat back up, slumped over in ways that would hide their deaths unless someone came closer. We'd done the same with others in places where we couldn't hide the body properly, and so far, it was working.

With the bodies staged to hide their fates, I moved forward, seeing Cayde's face as the light fell behind me. He nodded, gestured to where he'd come from and held up three fingers, indicating he'd had a successful ambush as well.

Nodding back, I turned, letting Hendal come closer. I put my hands together and then pushed them apart. Tapping my chest, I gestured the direct path to the docks, which was where Dwan's office, the prisoners, and the armoury/treasury were located. Pointing at the two men, I gestured for Cayde to go right and Hendal left. Both nodded and moved off, taking roughly equal numbers of men with them. I waited, watching them go. They'd need time to flank out, so we'd arrive at the docks at roughly the same time, and it allowed me to watch Hendal.

Sending him like this was another risk, but he's proven himself so far, and as a captain – well future captain – in my forces, he needed to slowly gain more and more trust from me. His intel on the port had been accurate, and he'd helped remove most of the suspicion about myself and the other new crew when we'd docked. Adding in that he was helping me take the port and he was fast earning the position I'd promised him.

Once the groups had moved far enough away, I started moving forward, watching my step, and listening for the sounds of men, be they awake or asleep. The building to my right brought forth faint snores. Going through my mental map, that made sense as this building and another to its right – the other side of the path Cayde should be heading down – were the main barracks. I paused at the next intersection, checking it was clear. Once sure, I turned, gesturing to the men behind me to secure the door to the barracks to the right.

Once I was over the intersection, seeing Cayde's and Hendal's groups doing likewise, the men behind me moved to my right. The dagger and axe were in my hands as the men moved to secure the barracks door. There was little they could do about making some noise.

Sound and movement from my left had my attention, and looking that way I saw two figures moving toward Hendal. I slipped to that side of the intersection I was at, wanting to be close in case things went sideways. Hendal moved toward the pair, though what he was saying I couldn't catch as he spoke in hushed tones. My grips tightened as I feared he was betraying us, though after a few more words, one of the pair nodded and they slipped around Hendal.

"Hey!" one of the pair called out, the movement of my men securing the barracks to my right catching their eye. However, anything else he might've said or done was stopped as his body jerked. He glanced down as something caught the light of the moon and I realised Hendal had thrust his sword through the pirate's chest.

"Wha?" the other said, turning to Hendal, hands going to his blade, however before he could fully turn to face the traitor, he stumbled forward, crashing into the man with Hendal's blade through his chest. I'd hoped to strike his chest, but the man had turned before my throw could get away, and the bit of the axe embedded itself in his lower back.

The trio of men tumbled to the ground, sending pebbles flying and generating a symphony of noise. I took a step toward them, wanting to silence anything further, but paused as the men with Hendal moved. They fell on the pirates like a pack of hyenas, and when they pulled back barely half a minute later, the pirates lay motionless on the ground.

I moved closer, wanting to retrieve my axe, and as I neared Hendal held it out to me, shaft-first. Giving him a nod of thanks, I took it back and turned, the men around us lifting the bodies off the path. While this was another small step in Hendal earning my trust, it wasn't the final one he'd have to take. While I didn't doubt he was with me to take out this port, I couldn't discount the fact that he might still move against me at a later date.

By the time I returned to the intersection, axe in hand, the bodies of the pair had been removed from the path and the men with me had secured the door to the barracks. While it might be easier to simply enter and remove everyone inside, with two vessels sitting in the docks that I wanted to take, to say nothing of others I might find in The Whores, I knew I'd need manpower. While pirates weren't the most reliable or trustworthy, bodies for a battle should never be tossed away without good reason.

Moving forward, I passed the next building with ease, no sounds of anyone reaching my ears. That brought me into sight of the docks, with the prison and Dwan's office the closest of the critical targets. While taking out, or preferably capturing Dwan was a priority, I wanted the prison taken as soon as possible. It would be well guarded, Garreo and a dozen of my men were held along with about half that number of other male slaves. There were a handful of females as well, but they were kept elsewhere; with some having been dragged away by the Dwan – the port's commander – after the evening meal for his personal enjoyment.

At the docks, I just make out all four ships there. The Grey Curse was docked next to the other galley on one pier while the Windchaser was docked on a pier with a cog that was shorter but wider than her. According to Dwan, the Westerosi trade vessel, its cargo and crew had been captured a few days ago, the ship skirting the coast of the Broken Arm in an attempt – which clearly failed – to avoid pirates.

While the cog, Ilaerah's Luck, wouldn't be of any use in The Whores, having it available would save me needing to use military vessels to help transport cargo and men to and from Sunspear or hire a merchant to do the job. Provided it was in decent condition, then it and the Windchaser would head back after this island, or possibly the next one, were raided of anything useful.

Thoughts on my future plans were interrupted by a familiar presence at the edge of my thoughts. Ymir was close to the wall, if not in sight of them. That meant Bronn, Daemon, and the rest of the men would be there as well. Soon the need for subtlety and stealth would be lost, but before then, I wanted to see how much more damage we could do.

And then, once the port was taken, I'd see what new men and resources I had at my disposal for the next stage of the attack on The Whores.

… …

… …

"Never!" Dwan spat at my boots. "I would never betray Alequo!"

I sighed, annoyed at the response even if it wasn't unexpected. Hendal had mentioned when we'd talked about the port that Dwan had been with Ryndoon since before the man from Myr had become Lord of the Grey Gallows, so I knew the offer to bend the knee to me was unlikely to be accepted, still, I had to make it. Hendal and others spoke well of Dwan's skill and experience.

Ymir moved closer, a low, warning growl slipping from his teeth. Dwan snarled back at the direwolf. "And you can call off your mutt, he does not scare me!" He snapped.

I moved closer, kneeling close enough that I could speak to him softly, but not close enough that he could attempt anything while forced to his knees and restrained. "First off, Ymir is not a mutt. He's a direwolf from north of the Wall." That still failed to pierce his anger and he only snarled. "And as much as I doubt you will believe me; I respect your decision. It fucking annoys me, but I admire the conviction."

Dwan looked at me, his anger soothing slightly with my words, finally taking in my features. He blinked as if confused by what he saw. "Who are you?" he asked in the calmest voice I'd yet heard from him.

I chuckled, one hand reaching down and picking up some pebbles from the ground. "I have had a few names already in my short life," I said as I rolled the small stones around in my palm. "King Robert Baratheon named me the Bloody Wolf of Dorne, Princess Arianne Martell of Dorne has dubbed me the Wild Wolf," I explained, my voice quiet enough that it wouldn't carry to the other pirates restrained about five metres behind him.

I stood, letting the stones slide from my palm and bounce off the others on the ground. A wide, vicious smile that I'd learnt from Oberyn spread over my face. "To you, and any who stand against me, I am the Rogue Viper." I stepped back, my hands coming to rest on the pommel of Red Rain. "And since I, like you, have honour, I make one final offer. Bend the knee and serve."

"Never!" Dwan shot back, though the anger in his tone was more subdued.

I sighed, running one hand through my hair. "Very well." I moved to his side as I continued. "You fought well. When the battle was lost, you chose to surrender to save your men, and now show conviction in who you follow. For that, I grant you a quick death, may your ancestors welcome you in the afterlife."

Once I was behind him, in full view of the other pirates, I unsheathed Red Rain, holding the blade up to let the sun flash along its crimson blade. Dwan, understanding what was about to happen, lowered his head, exposing his neck. My blade flew true, and a moment later Dwan's head fell to the ground beside his lifeless body.

Now, I could've taken Dwan captive, dragging him back to Dustspear and interrogating him for information on Ryndoon's forces in the chain and on Grey Gallows or the forces of the other Pirate Lords. However, I knew that it would take a good deal of time to gain that intel, and by the time I learned it, it would be all but useless. Nor could I take him with me as this campaign was one of speed and chaos, not slow, controlled conquest. Thus, I granted him a clean, honourable death to prove that those unwilling to follow because of conviction would be given the honour that conviction deserved.

I watched the head roll to a stop before turning to Daemon. "When the body burns, let it do so with a blade in hand." He nodded, accepting the words though there was a hint of confusion in his eyes; something echoed in the faces of Bronn and Cayde when I turned back and saw them behind the prisoners. After taking a cloth he offered, I turned back to the other bound and kneeling pirates.

"You motherfucker!" One of them called out, struggling against his bonds even as one of my men struggled to ensure he stayed kneeling. Ymir growled and stalked forward as the man continued shouting. "What the fuck?"

As I calmly cleaned my blade of Dwan's blood I said. "This man would not bend the knee because of loyalty. That is worthy of an honourable death."

"Honourable? Honourable!? We be fucking pirates, you dumb cunt!" The man continued to struggle as another of my men moved over, holding him down. "I will not serve a crazy bastard like you!"

"Is that your final choice?" I asked, Red Rain now cleaned of blood.

"Fuck you!" The pirate spat at my feet, mimicking Dwan's actions just before I granted him a clean death. "And fuck your dumb dog!"

That had Ymir growling fiercely, his ears flattening back as I sensed the man's aggression against him and wanted to deal with the challenger. After sheathing my blade, I moved forward and placed a hand on Ymir's neck. In a sign of his anger, he tensed at the touch, which made me sigh.

"Dwan made his choice based on honour, on duty to his lord. You, however, make yours with your lack of respect. For that, your death will not be clean."

A gentle push on Ymir's neck was all the signal he needed. The man's eyes widened as the giant direwolf bound toward him, his mind just beginning to understand what was happening as Ymir stretched open his maw. The start of a scream was drowned out as Ymir bit down; crunching through the man's throat with lethal teeth that were almost as long as my hand.

I stood still, watching Ymir yank his head to one side, the pirate's skull being ripped clean from the body. The men who'd previously been holding the man had fallen over, scampering back to avoid the enraged direwolf. They would need to be disciplined as their blades were now near the hands of a dozen bound pirates. None of them made a move for the weapons though as they, like my men, had rushed back, not wanting to be near the violent death of their compatriot.

There was a moment as Ymir leaned back and bit down, sending another soul-damaging crunch over the beach, where my mind wanted to return to when I'd shared his thoughts. A second later, I was considering re-entering Ymir's mind, wanting to savour the rich, incredible sensation of a fresh kill. Both were pushed away as I remained stoic, watching the faces of the prisoners and my men.

Ymir turned, shaking the head violently, sending blood, gore, and brain matter flying. Several of the prisoners shrieked in shock as they were splashed, however, I gave them no thought. Nor did I react when Ymir tossed the head upward, revealing the terrified final expression of the piss-poor excuse for a warrior.

The direwolf bounded up, his back legs not quite leaving the ground, and caught what remained of the skull; the man's final expression clearly visible to all. Ymir held the head there as he turned back to the pirates, and I sensed his amusement. Whether that was for the sad attempt at a challenge, or the fear flowing from the pirates, I couldn't say, but either way, he was enjoying his meal.

Bronn caught my eye and offered a nod, seemingly impressed with my actions. Cayde also seemed accepting, though his cheeks appeared whiter than they'd been a moment or two before. Behind me, I knew Daemon would've seen the action, and probably didn't approve, but I wanted to make clear that I wouldn't treat everyone equally. Dwan had earned my respect for his convictions, the other headless man hadn't; instead displaying the intelligence of a blind and deaf doe when being hunted by an apex predator.

Ymir turned from the men, and with the prize still in his maw, walked back to my side. I held out my arm, letting him slide under it until he was back at my side, my hand once more on the back of his neck. Once there, I nodded to Bronn and Cayde, indicating I wanted the prisoners to stand. Once they were, I spoke.

"Now," I said slowly, my voice calm and measured, "with that done, I offer you a choice. Die with honour like Dwan, die like prey, or if you wish to live, bend the knee."

… …

… …

Standing on the quarterdeck of the Grey Curse as we sailed clear of the harbour, I turned and looked back toward the port we'd taken. Or more accurately, the beginnings of the end of the port. It had been less than a day since I'd entered aboard this ship uncertain of my plan and placing faith in Hendal; a man who'd only just sworn himself to me, yet already the port had fallen, and we'd picked the bones as clean as we could in the time allowed, with everything of value stored aboard the Windchaser. That included the fifteen slaves kept in the port, and while they would all be heading back to Northpoint with the Windchaser once her hold was fuller, the males had caused problems before we left the port.

They were furious that I'd taken those who'd been abusing them into my service, and struggled to understand my reasoning for it. However, they seemed willing to believe me when I said once in Northpoint they'd be free to leave, to try and recover their lives. The issue of taking pirates into my employ while also freeing slaves was one I'd have to be careful about as it was clear problems could easily develop, but I needed the manpower for raiding the rest of The Whores, and that took priority over my dislike of having to have rapists in my forces.

In the end, almost all the pirates had bent the knee to me and then signed their consent to my terms after Daemon had informed them of the rules I used. Some had even looked at me oddly as if trying to figure out why I had such rules as a pirate, but until the raiding of The Whores was finished, few would learn the truth of who I was and what was my purpose here. Hells, even Bronn, Daemon, and the others who'd been with me since the taking of Dustspear didn't know my full plans; only that I intended to attack Redwater once The Whores were blitzed.

While I'd not detailed it fully to them, I suspected Doran and Oberyn understood my intent was more than just building up Dustspear, they didn't know I planned to hold Redwater and, ideally, develop it. While taking the entire Stepstones was likely beyond reach, I would certainly make the attempt. If, at the very least, I could control the islands on the Westerosi side, then by default I'd go from a useful piece for Doran in the Great Game to a minor player myself. It would also, I hoped, put my name on the lips of other power players; something I'd then use to help deal with the Wildlings, and then, if I could, the Others.

The flickers of fire were slowly growing inside the port, which would over time grow to envelop most, if not all, of the buildings in the port. The greatest fire was growing on the main dock where, at the point the dock reached the stoney beach, the Grim Minnow was beached and ablaze.

While the loss of a ship hurt, I'd replaced the longboat with two galleys – even if both needed repairs done before they saw large-scale battle – and as the ship once more bore the marking of the Grim Prince, its destruction here served a dual purpose. Apart from the flames travelling to the other piers, which was ensured by wood and other flammable material that I didn't want to loot stretching from the Minnow to those piers, the wreck would let Ryndoon know the port had been attacked by another Pirate Lord.

To add to the confusion, a barrel was floating in the harbour, the tide pushing it away from the port, and inside it was a banner the Grim Prince had ensured his vessels had flown. I'd initially planned to simply destroy those banners after taking Dustspear, but on the sail back to Sunspear the idea to use them for diversionary tactics had appeared, and now that was being put into effect.

Whenever Ryndoon's forces arrived – be they reinforcements or a change in rotation – they'd discover the place gone, and the banner. By the time Ryndoon learnt of this, he'd likely have also heard the Grim Prince was dead, so ideally he'd just ignore the idea that the Grim Prince's replacement had carried out the attacks. Something I planned to ensure by pinning raids on other ports in The Whores on him. If I did that for enough of the ports, if not all, then the various Pirate Lords with interests here would increase their attacks against each other in retaliation; granting me time and space to unleash hell on Redwater.

Now, while the Minnow was no longer part of my fleet, it'd been stripped of everything of value before being set ablaze, with its scorpion added to the pair on the Grey Curse and the oars attached on both galleys to bring them back to full capacity. Yes, the longboat oars were shorter, but they still reached the water and would grant the galleys a little extra speed if the need arose.

"Where to now, my Lord Viper?"

I turned around, leaving the ruined and soon-to-be-destroyed port behind me. Hendal was manning the wheel, his position as captain confirmed just before we'd sailed though I'd shifted my flag to the Curse as with the extra scorpion it was the strongest ship in my small fleet.

He'd gained the position after convincing three of Dwan's lieutenants to bend the knee. While I'd not heard his exact words to them, their oaths had been genuine enough that I, Bronn, and Ymir, believed them. With them on board, the other pirates had felt safer in accepting my terms. Still, as we sailed, I planned to ask for names from each lieutenant and Hendal privately on which of my new men they felt were the most untrustworthy or troublesome. The names that appeared more than once would be placed in the vanguard of each attack, which would ensure the worst of the worst were removed by the time I returned to Dustspear.

"West and then north around the island," I replied. That had Hendal look my way, some confusion on his face. "This was not the only port in The Whores," I explained with a vicious smile. "Nor was Ryndoon's only outpost."

Hendal watched me, waiting to see if I was going to add more details, but when I didn't he nodded and then turned back to the wheel. I trusted him enough to make him a captain, but not enough to bring him in on the full plan. Once the second island was raided, and their ports ablaze, I was sure he'd figure out my intent, but until then he and the other new men would stay in the dark. Though even Bronn and Daemon didn't know my exact plans for the Whores as, to a large degree, I was adapting on the fly.

The composition of the forces here was relatively unknown, and as no battleplan ever survived contact with an enemy, I was keeping things loose to allow me to adapt quickly. The overall objective was clear, and from the new intel I'd gotten from Hendal – and soon from the others who'd bent the knee – I was adjusting the next few stages. Time would tell though if those stuck, or if I'd have to change tact.

The island we were going for was the westernmost of the middle trio of islands that made up The Whores, and was currently contested by Ryndoon and the Bloodhawk, a Pirate Lord from The Shrouded Isle. Ryndoon's third port in The Whores sat on the easternmost of the middle trio of islands and was currently one of the last I planned to strike at. By that time, provided everything went reasonably well, the chain would be clear, ports ablaze, ships stolen, and the Pirate Lords who'd controlled the ports at each other's throats.

The ports nearer the Broken Arm of Drone should be larger than those facing eastward, but at the same time, they'd likely be less regularly under threat from other Pirate Lords. If the next few raids didn't go quite as well as planned, then even taking some of the vessels there, along with greater bounty, would make this campaign generally successful, even if it didn't reach the heights I was hoping for.

Of course, even with the two galleys added to our numbers, we weren't capable of engaging anything but the smallest of enemy fleets, and so, as Ryndoon's port burned behind us, I offered a silent prayer to the Gods for at least some fortune to avoid such an outcome.

… …

… …

I looked through the Myrish Eye, taking in the second of Ryndoon's ports. The place looked slightly smaller than the last one, with two piers to the previous ports' three. Like the first port, two ships were docked there, though we were still too far away from me to be certain of their size, I felt at least one of them was a galley.

Due to how we were sailing toward the port, the sun was slowly sinking behind us. That meant any looking out at us from the port would struggle to make out much until the sun dropped behind the mountains of the Broken Arm, and ever after my small fleet would slide into the shadow that generated, hiding our size in another way.

Still, to be careful, the Grey Curse and her sister ship,the Grey Tide led the way with the Tidehalf a ship's length behind off our port side. Both vessels still bore the flags of Ryndoon, flying them proudly from the top of the mainmasts. That would have anyone able to make them out, thinking we were reinforcements or a returning patrol.

The men from the last port were spread out among my fleet, with most of the remaining longboats. None were on the Windchaser to avoid issues with the freed slaves there, and my personal ship and the Ilaerah's Luck were much further back. If the battle turned ugly, they had orders to turn and sail back to Northpoint as I'd rather some of my forces made it back than none. That said, even if nothing went horribly wrong with this port and the next, at least the Windchaser would return home.

"How large is this port?" I asked Hendal as I lowered the Eye, waiting until we were closer to get a better look at the place's layout and dock-side defences.

"Not sure never sailed out of it, but been told it be smaller by others. Ryndoon kept it armed to raid passing vessels, but he never committed heavily as it was far from Grey Gallows and the Bloodhawk controlled the other port on the island. Though from what I heard, the Bloodhawk is focused on Koros currently."

I nodded, remembering the intel Hendal had given before we'd attacked the first port, and added to since we'd sailed from there.

The Bloodhawk and Lucian Koros were the two major Pirate Lords on The Shrouded Isle and were often at each other's throats. On the rare times that they weren't, they skirmished with a pair of minor lords on the isle, though I'd yet to learn the names of those Pirate Lords, and the Blood Serpent and Aeron Indarys – Pirate Lords from Bloodstone – over the Bone Breaker Isles. Those were a series of small islands that lay between the two larger isles, and control of them granted control of the strait there. Much as control of The Whores would, in theory, grant control of trade around the Arm of Dorne.

Hendal hummed, considering something. "If I remember, Iron Hands served there for a while before working for Dwan."

I offered him a smile of thanks, and as I moved toward the steps to the main deck, slipped the Eye into a padded satchel on my belt. Once down the steps, I moved through the middle of the deck, keeping clear of the men manning the oars as they sat there, rowing gently to push us toward the port. Once we were closer, they'd row faster pushing us into the port at speed as I wanted to take this one with a rapid, frontal assault. While the men that'd come from Dustspear could carry out other plans, those who'd bent the knee couldn't, and even if they were mainly on the longboats, I didn't want too much confusion in the battle so went with a simple, but generally effective approach of a full-frontal assault for this port.

Bronn was standing near the main mast, beating out the slow rhythm to have the men row in time, and I nodded as I passed, only to stop a few steps beyond him as I reached Iron Hands.

That wasn't his real name – not that I currently knew that – and the man wore steel gauntlets – which I'd never seen him take off – which was where I assumed the name came from. He'd been a former lieutenant of Dwan and had bent the knee after Hendal spoke with him. He'd given me some intel, but given we'd reached this port in just over a day, I'd not had time to fully debrief him or the other former lieutenants or Dwan's that had joined me.

"What do you know of this port?" I asked as I knelt beside him, staying far enough away to avoid the oar he and the man beside him were manning.

"Smaller than the last port," he replied as he pulled the oar in time with Bronn's beat. "Better armed though. Always has fifty men, and normally four vessels. Commander's a cunt with no care of anything but control, so the men there should join once that bastard's dead."

I patted his shoulder in thanks and then stood. walking to the bow, I considered Iron Hand's words. Since this was a more military port, the assault would likely work better than the deception used in the first port. At the bow, I placed a hand on one of the trio of scorpions there. It was a little tight having three here as the galley wasn't the widest, but this was where they'd do the most damage.

Supplies of bolts for them were in crates nearby, and if they couldn't be recovered or replaced as the raids continued, would have to be conserved. The same was true of the arrows for the bows stored here as well, though if it came down to it, they'd be kept for me. My weirwood bow, which was given a place of prominence here, was the best bow we had, and I'd continue using it to snipe until we ran out of arrows.

However, the bows and scorpions couldn't be manned until we were inside the slight natural harbour here, otherwise those onshore would know our intent. That meant that for now, all I could do was wait.

… …

… …

Red Rain flicked out, knocking aside a cutlass that was thrusting toward me. At the same time, I was pivoting, ensuring the blade couldn't reach me. Once that was certain, my blade flicked away, crashing against the second cutlass. Sparks flew as the Valyrian steel slid down the flat of the cutlass, scarring the blade, and then pushed down against the guard.

A grunt slipped from the pirate as I removed the fingers on his hand at the knuckle; the fingers and cutlass falling away.

That was a surprise as while Valyrian steel could slice through steel, I'd not put much pressure behind the move, planning to do so once my blade touched the guard to push the pirate back. Taking advantage of the moment, my wrist turned, Red Rain shifted and then the tip of the blade dragged itself across his chest, slicing through the padded armour there to split open his chest.

The pirate stumbled back, the two quick attacks wounding him badly. Quickly shifting to avoid a thrust of the first cutlass. The blade's owner had recovered from the failed attack and turned to engage again before I could kill his companion.

With Red Rain out of position to engage the cutlass, I shifted, my axe coming around to hook his blade and direct it past me. That removed it from position allowing me to thrust my blade forward; the tip easily sliding through the leather the pirate was wearing and embedding itself in his chest.

I pivoted, pulling Red Rain with me, the blade slicing its way through the man's insides. My eyes shifted to the other pirate, who was going into shock, I swung the axe around, driving the bit deep into his chest at almost the same moment Red Rain emerged from the chest of the other pirate.

The realisation of his impending death flickered across the pirate's face as I ripped the axe free; his body shuddering as I did so. Red Rain continued coming around even as he fell to his knees, the tip of the blade catching him at the shoulder and then slicing a wound through his throat. Hearing the second body drop behind me, my eyes scanned the port, looking eagerly for my next target.

Around me, chaos reigned as my men engaged the forces of the Bloodhawk. This was the second port on this island, with Ryndoon's having fallen quickly early yesterday evening, a longship with symbols of the Grim Prince again left burning in the port. With that secured, I'd led a good portion of the men – mainly those who'd bent the knee – over the island while Daemon led the naval forces. The three galleys and longboats bearing Ryndoon's colours had led the fleet, leading the commander of this port to order his vessels to sea.

That had been what I'd been waiting for, and with Ymir getting the first kill when he'd leapt clean over the wall, taking down a guard there, we'd assaulted the place from land. With their forces caught on my fleet, we'd taken the wall with ease. Something that was a relief as unlike those in Ryndoon's ports, this one lacked any gaps in the wall that we could slip through. Thankfully through my bow, and then Ymir's dramatic entrance, the main gate in the wall had fallen before the men inside the port could prepare a counter.

The sound of boots on the ground caused me to swing around Red Rain coming around, slicing a section of the small wooden shield the new pirate held. That had him sliding to a stop, which granted time for my axe to up and over. The bit gripped the top of the shield and pulled it down, exposing the pirate's face and chest.

My blade up and thrust down in a perfect diving eagle, taking advantage of the gap created, with the tip easily sinking into the man's chest. Pulling my arm to the side enlarged the wound, and guts splurged from the wide cut. Yet, instead of unhooking my axe and pushing the dying man away, I pulled to one side as I turned.

As I'd driven Red Rain into the pirate's chest, I'd seen two of his compatriots rushing toward me having just cut down one of my men that had recently bent the knee. The body I'd just dragged to my side fell creating a barrier as it went down. One of the pirates slid to a stop though the other wasn't as lucky and ended up falling, the spluttering final moments of his companion weighing him down.

My blade flicked out, knocking aside an obvious attack from the pirate that remained upright. A roll of my wrist had Red Rain banking down. The pirate grunted as the tip of my blade caught his thigh. Before he could recover, I stepped in making my blade sink deeper into the leg before it burst out, blood flowing freely from the wound as I shoulder slammed my opponent.

The pirate stumbled, and my arm came around in a tight loop embedding itself in the juncture between neck and shoulder, hot blood splattering over my face as I grinned.

Even as the man fell, gargling his final breaths, I turned back to his partner. He'd yet to get free of the body on top of him, and a simple thrust of my blade into his throat ended any threat he might pose. Yet even as I pulled my blade clear, another pirate rushed toward me.

This man had two short blades but seemed to hesitate as he neared, his eyes drawn to my blade as I pulled it from the throat of another dying pirate. I'd seen that same look in the eyes of pirates in the last port, and wanting to empower here as I had then, I called forth my magic.

Flames raced from the guard to the tip of Red Rain, the fire seeming hotter to the naked eye due to the blade's distinctive colouring. However, instead of the fear growing in this pirate's eyes, they widened in shock. I could work with that and moved to engage him only for the pirate to step back and drop to a knee.

"Lord of Light guide us," he muttered in a bastardised form of Valyrian that I quickly understood came from Volantis.

A grunt slipped from my lips as I looked at the kneeling pirate. I wanted fuck all to do with worshipers of R'hllor, especially as they routinely sacrificed people – including children – at the stake to please their god. However, before I could move closer and end this man, movement from my left caught my attention.

Turning slightly, I saw three men approaching, the lead man wearing a breastplate, pauldrons, vambraces and gauntlets and carrying a greatsword in his hands. The two men with him only had on chainmail, but the fact all three had metal armour meant they had to be the commander and his most loyal officers.

I moved back, not wanting to get trapped facing them with the kneeling pirate behind me, but before the trio could reach me, the other pirate stood. I tensed, expecting an attack only for him to slide between me and the trio.

"Harlor!" The pirate in plate armour called out. "What the fuck are you doing?"

"He shall not be harmed," Harlor replied, his body tensing, readying itself for battle. "He is important to the Lord of Light."

I bit my tongue, holding back a comment on what I thought of R'hllor and his followers. If this fool wanted to die for me, I wasn't going to stop him. Especially when it changed a four-on-one engagement into a three-on-two. Instead, I called on my magic again, making the flames dancing along Red Rain's blade surge. They moved in ways flames simply couldn't, creating shapes and symbols as they flickered along the weapon.

The leader's eyes narrowed at this. "Bullshit!" he called, his body readying to attack. However, my gaze drifted to the two men with him. Their eyes widened in shock and as the leader took a step forward they hesitated. "Just a charlatan with a cheap trick blade!"

Wanting to use the confusion in the men with him, I pointed my blade at the commander, a smirk spreading over my face. Around us, the battle raged, though from what I could see it appeared my men were quickly overwhelming the defenders. From Red Rain's tip, a firebird grew and then slipped clear of the flames dancing along the weapon's blade. The firebird swooped forward, making the commander take a step back even as the men with him tensed in shock.

"Lord of Light protect us," one of the men with the commander said, dropping to a knee and pointing his blade down. The other man did the same, making the commander glare at the pair.

"Oh, for fuck sake," He spat out. His blade swooped around as he turned toward the man who'd spoken, the blade sharp enough, and the swing powerful enough that it removed the man's head in a single sweep. He continued to spin, bringing the blade around in a wide arc. "Enough of th… Harlor!" The commander called out as Harlor stepped forward to block him.

With a grunt the commander pushed Harlor back, the less-armoured pirate stumbling back. The commander advanced, his blade readying to attack. "Hkg.." the odd sound slipped from his mouth and a moment later blood flowed from his groin as the blade of the man he'd left kneeling removed his balls.

As I fought an instant action of sympathy, the blade moved to the side, cutting a deep, flowing gorge in the commander's thigh. At the same time, Harlor stepped forward, his blade swatting away the commander's before his blade dug into the commander's neck.

As the commander fell to the ground, disbelief racing through his eyes as he bled to death, Harlor and the other man approached me. While their blades were kept low, I still readied myself in case they attacked me.

"My Lord," Harlor said, dropping to a knee. "I saw you in the flames," he continued as the other man also knelt. "The Lord of Light guided me to this island so that I might serve you. My blade, my life, is yours to do with as you wish in fulfilling R'hllor's will."

He held up his blade, resting the tip on his free forearm. The other pirate did likewise. I watched them carefully, considering striking them down. While I needed men for raiding the other islands, I wasn't sure I wanted any of these fire-loving fools in my ranks. Especially if they started developing some odd beliefs that I was important to R'hllor, to say nothing of the ideas they might think I was Azor Ahai. Hells, I knew I wasn't, not least as it was said Azor Ahai would birth dragons from stone, and that was Daenerys's destiny, not mine.

I took a step toward them, planning to send them to their god – if it would even accept such pathetic fools into its service – yet before I could do so, a cheer started to my right. Turning, I saw my men celebrating, the cheer growing as they realized the port had fallen to us.

I sighed, knowing I couldn't kill the two men kneeling in front of me now. To others it would look like I'd executed two prisoners and while most wouldn't question it, it might make some reconsider their oaths to me, and possibly see me as a hypocrite or even a tyrant. As I turned back to the two men, I wondered how many other followers of R'hllor might be among my ranks, and how executing these two because of their beliefs might make them consider leaving. I needed the bodies currently, and if they left, then there was a good chance word would reach Volantis. There, the priests of R'hllor could whip up a storm, potentially turning the greatest of the Free Cities against me.

"Drop your blades and head over there," I gestured toward the docks. That was where any prisoners – which there were a good number of – would be gathered. It was the method we'd used since the first port and helped make it easier to secure them until they chose to bend the knee or die.

So far, only Dwan had shown a spine to reject my terms based on loyalty and earned an honourable death. The other dozen or so who'd rejected my terms had either been killed by Ymir or stabbed in the gut and then left to bleed out slowly.

… …

… …

Red Rain pulled back, blood gushing from the chest of the pirate I'd just killed. Around me my men, now numbering over four hundred strong, were overwhelming the defenders of the port.

This one belonged to Lucian Koros and was the second of two ports he controlled on this island, and the third overall that we'd raided. The battle around me wouldn't last long, and with it, the fourth island of The Whores would fall to me. Six, soon to be seven, ports had been taken, ransacked, and set ablaze with markers from another Pirate Lord to shift the blame. Like my forces, my fleet was now much larger, and I had a dozen galleys under my command, with two being larger, better-armed variants that I was terming war galleys, with my flag transferred to the first such vessel, the Red Kraken, once it had been taken.

One galley had been sacrificed as part of my false flag operations, and because of those, I only had three longboats with most of those captured then burnt in the first port of a different Pirate Lord. I'd also gained another cog, this one bigger than the Windchaser in all dimensions. That cog, the Pride of Saltbrook, had sailed back to Dustspear with my ship and Ilaerah's Luck after the taking of the third island. While the loot taken from the island wasn't much, the cog had been recently captured and nearly sixty slaves had been freed there, to go with the thirty or so that had come from the first island. While some of the male slaves had wanted to sign on for revenge, I'd not wanted them near pirates who might've been responsible for their capture and enslavement. At least not currently.

Once this port fell, another three regular galleys would be added to my fleet, hopefully with enough men to crew them at close to ideal numbers. While I was pleased with my force being more than double what I'd set out with, I was fast approaching an issue with crew numbers. Each galley needed at least twenty men to crew it, with sixty being the ideal number. The war galleys needed double that for both minimum and ideal numbers.

While taking new ships was something I felt we could keep doing, I wondered how much longer it would be before pirates fought harder, costing me more men, and denying me larger recruiting pools once a port was taken. Already, I knew the sneak attack approach wouldn't work. I'd barely worked in the last port with Cayde coming close to being murdered on the docks while the men who'd sworn to me explained the presence of new crewmembers. With smoke from the previous ports visible from this port – which sat on the north-facing side of the island – the other port commanders would know the islands were under attack. The only upside was that they'd not know by whom, and when they investigated, the evidence would point toward other Pirate Lords.

My concerns about the need to change tactics, though not the speed of my raids, were pushed aside as another pair of pirates rushed toward me. At my feet lay the body of the man I'd just killed, taking my tally to over fifty. While it wasn't a major thing, Bronn, Cayde, and the others were starting to keep track of their kills and we'd made a friendly wager after the second island was taken that whoever secured the most would get a cask of Dornish Red whenever I returned to Sunspear.

One of the two pirates approaching me was knocked over, a mass of black slamming into him. A scream came from his lips as he fell, though that was cut off as Ymir's jaw crushed his throat. I'd prefer if Ymir wouldn't attack like that, as even with the patchwork leather I'd made as best I could while we sailed, he was still vulnerable to a blade. Yet, even with a few scars along his side from strikes that had barely missed being critical, he still threw himself into battle, savouring the chaos and carnage.

Of course, as I rushed the pirate that hadn't been knocked down, taking advantage of his confusion and fear at Ymir's arrival, I couldn't say I was any different. I wasn't losing myself in the battles, mainly as none I'd fought had been a worthy adversary to truly let me enjoy a duel, but I loved the song of steel. I felt at home here, alive in a way I didn't feel anywhere else.

A grunt slipped from the pirate as Red Rain slipped through his armour like a hot knife through butter, and the body fell as I pulled my blade out to one side: severing one lung and potentially his liver as well.

Turning, I looked for my next target, a small smile coming to my face as I found him.

About five metres away, a decently armoured pirate was making quick work of two of those who'd joined me. The pair had belonged to the Bloodhawk before they'd bent the knee, but like most of those who'd joined, they'd not impressed me.

I moved toward the armoured pirate as he killed the second of the two men engaging him, taking note of his armour, blade, and footwork. Like a previous commander, he wore steel armour, though without the vambraces; those being replaced by greaves. His shield was large and made of metal as well, his helm solid but exposing his face, and the blade looked to be in decent condition.

As I neared, he turned, sensing my approach and I smiled, seeing the eyes of a man that understood battle. "Come on!" he growled out, stepping toward me as I readied my blade.

Red Rain flicked out with practised grace, effortlessly deflecting a thrust from my opponent's blade. With a swift motion, my own blade flashed toward him, but he skilfully shifted back, angling his shield to deflect the strike. A flicker of surprise crossed his eyes as my blade skipped off, replaced by a hardened expression that hinted at his understanding of the peril posed by Valyrian Steel.

Observing the decent armour adorning him, I had already suspected him to be the commander of this port. His recognition of Red Rain's potency confirmed my suspicions. Finally, I anticipated a worthy adversary amidst these forsaken islands.

His blade thrust forward, met by the swift interception of my own. Our arms twisted, blades locking together in a clash of wills. I was compelled to step back as his shield thrust forward, edge-first.

A grin crept across my face, mirrored by the pirate before me. It widened as my blade surged forward, compelling him to retreat and defend. Eager to test his mettle, I unleashed a flurry of strikes, probing for weaknesses in his defences. Each defence he mounted only provided me with openings to exploit, allowing Red Rain to block his counters and evade his strikes.

But after a mere thirty heartbeats, my grin faltered. Though skilled, the pirate was not exceptional. Already, I discerned flaws in his technique and plotted his downfall.

In a calculated manoeuvre, I deliberately exposed a chink in my defences, tempting him to take the bait. He seized the opportunity, lunging forward with his blade aimed at my vulnerable abdomen. With a swift step back, I unleashed Red Rain in a lethal arc, severing his hand from his arm. Deftly, I closed the distance, ensuring his shield remained pinned against his body. Red Rain flashed once more, striking like a scorpion at the vulnerable nape of his neck, its edge finding purchase and ending his life.

As his severed head thudded to the ground and his lifeless body crumpled, a triumphant cheer erupted from the onlookers. Another port had fallen to my prowess, soon to be engulfed in flames like those preceding it. With four down and three to go, our conquest of The Whores would soon be complete, and we would set sail back to Dustspear before the next quarter moon.

… …

… …

A/N: First half of the raids finished, and so far things are going well for Cregan.

This story is crossposted on Questionable Questing, Archive of our Own and Royal Road.

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