Obdormio.com Unwasted Hours

13 August, 2012

Fiction: Red Flag

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

“It’s red, captain!” Bill shouted. The blood red flag filled the whole view through the spyglass. He lowered the glass and squinted towards the approaching galleon, already too close for comfort.

The deck was silent. Everybody knew what the flag meant. No quarter given. None would be spared.

The captain scratched his bushy beard with his hook. Some crumbs fell out of it. The rest of the crew watched him, waiting. Bill knew they were all feeling the same thing. Excitement. Expectation. Nerves. All the standard pre-battle jitters. The other ship might have treasure.

“Do we have a red flag?” captain Davies finally asked. Bill could tell from his tone that he was uncertain. The approaching galleon was much larger and finer than their own ship, which was simply flying the old black flag Red Willy had painted a crude skull on.

“We’ve a dark pinkish one, cap’n!” Raving Trevor responded. He was rummaging through the small flag chest, and pulled out a flag of dark but decidedly pink colour.

The captain sighed and scratched his beard again. “Anyone remember what deep pink means?” he asked the assembled pirates. Bill ran through all the flags he knew in his head. Deep pink wasn’t a common one.

“Er, I think it means ‘We don’t quite know if we’ll bother with quarter, we’ll see when we get that far’,” he finally said.

“Nay, that won’t do, can’t look uncertain,” the captain said at once. “Have we any others?”

Raving Trevor rummaged through the chest again, while a sense of inferiority spread through the crew. Bill could see it in their faces, and knew it would be visible in his own as well. The other ship had better flags than they did. And it was bigger. And, he could see now, painted in a rather impressive shade of black. Bill looked down at the brown planks beneath their own railing, and wished they were a just slightly cooler kind of brown.

“We’ve a Union Jack, cap’n,” Trevor said. Bill could tell he didn’t have much faith in the suggestion.

“No, we’ll meet them as honest pirates, not under false colours,” the captain cried to general sounds of assent. He sighed.

“There’s a green one as well.”

“Green? What’s green?”

There was a pause as the pirates puzzled through this question. Bill was sure he did not know himself. After a few seconds, Blue Balthazar gave a small, embarrased cough; he rarely spoke in such public circumstances.

“It means ‘vegetables for sale’, captain.”

“Vegetables for sale?! Why the blazes do we even have that flag?”

“We got it off that potato transport we took a week ago.”

“Oh. Well, don’t hoist it!”

“Aye, cap’n.”

There was another pause. Bill looked over at the enemy ship, which was drawing ever nearer.

“Well,” the captain finally said, resigned, “We’ll leave the flag as it is. We’ve no room for prisoners, so try not to give quarter anyway.”

“Aye, captain!” fifteen voices replied. Bill looked over at the other ship again. The men crewing it were visible now, and the sunlight gleamed off polished steel. Bill looked on his own rusty blade in shame. It was unlikely to gleam in any light. Several of the others seemed to have reached the same conclusion; Blue Balthazar was trying in vain to polish away a particularly ugly spot of rust with his sleeve.

“Look on the bright side, lads,” the captain said, his voice full of forced cheer. “We’ll give the lot of ’em tetanus.”

There were new sounds of assent, but less eager now. Bill kept his eyes on the other ship, which would soon be in firing range. The cannons were already loaded, but he could see that the enemy’s cannons were bigger, and also polished to a shine.

Bill sighed. Even if they won this skirmish, the other ship had already taken the moral victory. He could see them fully know. He heard the captain moan behind him, and he could see why. There was no end to ignominy; even the kerchiefs of the enemy were cleaner and costlier than their own.

“All right, lads,” the captain said, with no real enthusiasm. “Fire.”


  1. This was a pleasant surprise in the morning! As I told you on IM, I love this kind of “people in a situation where they should be worried about one thing instead worrying about completely nonsensical things”-humour. And “Oh. Well, don’t hoist it!” made me actually snicker out loud!

    On an envious note, I truly admire your ability to tell a story this efficiently. Had I set out to do a similar tale, it would have, for reasons quite beyond me, taken me four times the amount of text, and it would be so very weaker because of it. Did you write it this short from the get-go, or did it take you several painstaking revisions to cut it down to this impressively concise size?

    Comment by Loki Aesir — 13 August, 2012 @ 08:58

  2. I think it was this short from the start, yes. The point was to get to what I thought amusing, namely pirates feeling inadequate, so I didn’t spend much time or space on anything else.

    I actually wrote this story six years ago, but I was always pretty pleased with it, so I dusted it off, translated it and gave it a bit of polish in the process, to fill a post.

    Comment by Obdormio — 13 August, 2012 @ 09:11

  3. Colour me suitably impressed!

    Comment by Loki Aesir — 13 August, 2012 @ 09:13

  4. No, wait, dammit, I don’t have that colour here. Got lots of green, though, if you want any vegetables?

    Comment by Loki Aesir — 13 August, 2012 @ 09:14

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