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Authors: Barry Sadler

Casca 17: The Warrior

BOOK: Casca 17: The Warrior
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This is a book of fiction. All the names, characters and events portrayed in this book are Fictional and any resemblance to real people and incidents are purely coincidental.

CASCA: #17 The Warrior

Casca Ebooks are published by arrangement with the copyright holder

Copyright © 1987 by Barry Sadler

Cover: Greg Brantley

All Rights Reserved

Casca eBooks are for personal use of the original buyer only. All Casca eBooks are exclusive property of the publisher and/or the authors and are protected by copyright and other intellectual property laws. You may not modify, transmit, publish, participate in the transfer or sale of, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, display, or in any way exploit, any of the content of our eBooks, in whole or in part.
eBooks are NOT returnable.

CHAPTER ONE

Mountains of water swept the small schooner along on its crests. The masts were bare of sails; only one small triangular sail bellied from the forestay to provide some steerage way. In the stern Andrew Larsen stood wrestling with the helm, its length locked under his right armpit, the handle grasped in both his massive hands.

Around him his crew clung to the companionway and the two cabin skylights. All ten crew were on deck, as they preferred to be in such a storm, matching their skills and experience with the elements rather than suffering the effects below decks.

Chou Lui, the Chinese cook, stood facing Larsen, his short, fat legs spread wide, his arms folded, his back against the skylight. Now and then his impassive face would tilt upward to port or to starboard, indicating a giant following wave threatening to break over the stern.

Some of these seas did come thundering over the taffrail, burying the captain to his waist and forcing Chou Lui and the others to hang on for dear life as the deck disappeared under two feet of water.

Larsen managed to maneuver the
Rangaroa
away from the worst of these effects thanks to Chou's silent warnings, which left him free to concentrate on steering the bow on a path through the waves that would best keep the ship upright.

To get the bow crosswise to a wave could put the
Rangaroa
on her beam ends, and should a second wave catch her while she was lying thus, the voyage would very quickly be over.

The attention of the other nine men was on the rigging, on the deck cargo and its lashings, and on the whaler secured atop the forward cabin. Should the single sail tear in the huge winds, the crew would leap to secure the flying tatters and bend another sail to the halyard. And should anything else, no matter what, come loose, they would be after it as one.

A sailing ship was like a living creature, a functioning organism where every rope and spar and pin contributed to its integrity and stability. If a shroud or stay should part, it could result in the loss of a mast. A lashing coming loose could set the deck cargo free to smash its way around the decks, breaking rails and tearing ropes free from their vital functions. And should the whaler break loose, it could well be stove in and rendered useless before it could be resecured.

Like Larsen, most of the crew were Europeans, professional seamen who preferred the dangers of the south Pacific to the safer, smaller waters of the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, where their homes had been. The seas here were bigger, storms more sudden and much more violent, but the rewards were sweeter too. The islands of the South Pacific were the last places on earth to be exploited, and their wealth was carried to the market places of Europe and the New World by ships such as the
Rangaroa
. The skies were sunny all year round—hot days, warm nights—and there were beautiful, golden-bodied women to share them with.

Below decks there was one man, the only passenger. But he had no interest in the niceties of steering a ship through a storm,
nor in securing cargo or lifeboats.

Case Rafferty Lonnergan, who had started life almost two thousand years earlier as Casca Ruf
io Longinus, no longer had any interest even in the curse laid upon him by the Nazarene whose life he had plucked out on the cross with his Roman spear.

Casca was convinced that the curse must now be about to end, that at any moment the man he had killed on Golgotha, if he were a man, would appear. Perhaps he was even one of the
Rangaroa's
crew. Casca knew that Jesus had been a fisherman of sorts when he wasn't preaching. Strange occupation for a carpenter's boy.

He recalled the words of the dying Christ: "Soldier, you are content with what you are, then that you shall remain until we meet again."

For the many hundreds of years since that afternoon in Palestine, Casca had fought and suffered and never been allowed to die. His many-scarred hide bore the marks of dozens of wounds that should have killed him—had killed him, but only for relatively short times, for days, or weeks or months that had passed like moments in a dream. But this was different. Now he knew he was really dying.

He rolled to the edge of the bunk and lolled his head over the side, trying to vomit, but only a few drops of watery dribble came from his mouth. He groaned and lay back.

Yes,
he thought,
it makes sense
. The one who had said he was the son of God had cursed him to remain a soldier until he came again. He was doomed to walk the earth, fighting other men's battles, participating in other people's wars—an eternal mercenary, an eternal soldier—until Jesus came again, allowing him to pass on into everlasting eternity, and finally, peace. And now that his last agony was really here, of course he was not dying as a soldier. He had been in no battle, suffered no wounds. The sea itself was killing him. God's mightiest ocean was tossing the life out of his suffering body, rolling the ship from side to side so that his eyes rolled in his head as if, when the ship lay on her side, they might meet in the one socket.

Then, slowly, the ship would straighten up, the weight of its lead keel swinging it erect, the masts moving faster and faster until they were vertical and Casca lay on his back, staring at the planks of the overhead. But the ship rolled on, the insides of Casca's body rolling with her, until the tug of the small storm sail pulled her back. Then she would come erect once more before lying down in the sea again.

At the same time, she pitched fore and aft as the huge seas lifted her stern, rolled under her, then lifted her bow and dropped it as they rolled on their way. And Casca's insides would be lifted, too, then dropped as though forever, then jerked up again by the next wave. Or worst of all, his innards would be smashed down farther inside his body as an enormous following sea broke under the stern, lifting the whole of the ship itself from the sea. Sometimes one of these following seas would break on the deck, burying the ship, crushing it down, and Casca would feel his insides floating free inside his body.

If he could have seen topside at these moments, he would have felt better. A quick and merciful drowning was certain. The whole of the ship—the crew, the deckhouses, the cargo, the whaler, everything except the two masts and the tiny foresail—disappeared under the sea, and for what seemed like an eternity the sea held her there beneath the hundreds of tons of water.

But at last the wave would roll on its way and another would lift the buoyant
Rangaroa
up and up and up, until she was perched on its peak, racing along with the wave.

At these times Casca felt his entrails trying to leave his body by way of his rectum. And a second later, as the ship plunged down the steep face of the sea, it seemed his guts must exit his body by way of his mouth.

He didn't care. The irrelevant details of his death didn't concern him. This wave must surely be the last. Alive yet? Then this one. And still alive? Well, this one then. But alive yet now? How many times could one suffer this death and still live?

The ho
rrible thought came to him that the vengeance of the fisherman guru was now to become even worse than it had already been. He had died dozens of times in two thousand years, and now, was he to die dozens of times in a day? For how long?

He heard a stair creak and turned his head toward the companionway, opening his eyes a slit.

Now
, he thought to himself,
he comes to gloat. What will the son of God look like this time?

A pair of sea boots were
followed by an oiled silk smock, but the face was that of Sandy, the wiry young ordinary seaman in the port watch. "Are you feeling any better, matey?" the Scot asked cheerfully as he moved through to the galley. Returning in a moment with an armful of beef jerky and ship's biscuits, he said, "Man, we're all starvin' up there, and it looks like it'll last for hours more, or days." He threw a handful of biscuits onto the bunk. "Here, matey, try and chew on these, you'll feel a bit better."

Then he was up the steps of the companionway and Casca was hanging off the edge of the bunk, his stomach heaving, spewing nothing onto the cabin floor.

He fell back onto the bunk. Something hard but light hit him in the face, and he opened an eye to see one of the biscuits.

"Oh, Jupiter's ass," he groaned, and closed his eyes again, feeling feebly for the biscuit with his hand so that he could throw it away from him.

He found it and was about to hurl it across the cabin when it occurred to his long disciplined mind that the seaman should know what he was talking about. He had thrown the biscuits at him callously enough, but had also urged him to try them.

Shuddering, his stomach in spasm, Casca put the biscuit to his mouth. It was as hard as a plank. He tried to bite away a piece and failed. He had to clamp his teeth on a corner of the biscuit and lever with his hands to break off a piece. He closed his teeth on it and tried to chew. Some saliva ran down his throat and he felt the spasm in his gut diminish.

He chomped away at the chunk of tasteless material, feeling his stomach relax a little with each bite.

He opened his eyes, but caught sight of the wildly swinging lamp and clamped them shut again.

But he felt better. Minute by minute as he crunched his way through the biscuit his stomach calmed down. But if he opened his eyes or tried to sit up, he was instantly as sick as ever.

He laughed to himself. Had he really thought only half an hour ago that he was dying?

Two or three hours passed with Casca munching his way through one rock-hard biscuit after another. Sandy came below again and grinned at him. "Better, eh? If you can make it to the galley, take ye a handful or two of sugar." He was gone again.

Sugar?

Casca swung his legs off the bunk—and promptly fell on his face. He lay there on the floor until the gut-wrenching spasms eased, then dragged himself to his feet and moved carefully to the galley.

He found the ship's biscuits and took a handful. There was a large wooden bin full of black sugar, and he dipped a mug full of it.

He staggered back to the bunk and lay there alternately chewing biscuits and sucking on fingers dipped in the sticky sugar.

When Sandy next appeared a couple of hours later, he was able to speak.
"Are we in a hurricane?"

The sailor shrugged. "Du
nno. A hell of a dirty night, I reckon. Rudder's damn near torn off."

Then he must have slept. When he awoke the motion of the ship seemed easier, and when he went to the galley for more sugar and biscuits, Chou Lui was working over the stove.

As Casca moved he was thrown first against one side of the ship, then in a series of staggering steps, against the other. He marveled at the placid Oriental who managed, on his widespread legs, to remain in front of his cookpots, working as unconcernedly as he might have in the San Francisco restaurant he had left to join the
Rangaroa
.

When day broke Casca was awake, and he went on deck.
Ulf, the second mate, a taciturn Scandinavian, was at the helm, Sandy and an able seaman on the foredeck, the rest of the crew asleep below.

The seas were still gigantic. Enormous waves, as high as the masts of the ship, came bounding from the far horizon to lift the
Rangaroa
on their backs and surge away toward the outer edge of the boundless ocean. A white crested monster, ten or fifteen feet taller than the rest, caught Ulf unawares, the ship answering slowly to the damaged rudder. The wave struck the side of the ship like a battering ram. Green water broke many feet deep over the deck, washing Casca into the lee scuppers.

As he regained his feet, soaked and spluttering, Ulf let out a rare, dry laugh. "
She's in a hurry, that one. Left Lima yesterday, got a date in Sydney next Tuesday."

Casca shook his head in amazement. True enough, they were about halfway between Peru and Australia, with virtually nothing anywhere in between except this tiny ship to impede the regal passage of the gigantic seas.

He reflected that all of the lands he'd traveled in his immensely long life—the whole of Europe, Persia, China, and America—could all be dropped into this mighty ocean and still there would be more sea than land.

What on earth had made him come here? Never before had he experienced such seas. Had he known what a bad sailor he could be, nothing would have induced him to leave the Nevada railroad camp where he'd wound up after the defeat of the Confederate armies, driving spikes for a dollar a day.

Nothing, that is, except a corpse to explain, a pretty girl to escort, and a head full of the tales he'd heard of easy money and beautiful women in the south Pacific.

Throughout the war sergeant Case Rafferty Lonnergan had been mightily impressed with the efficacy of railroads in moving men and materials. He was astonished at the siege of Chattanooga, when the Union Army moved twenty-three thousand men together with horses, wagons, cannon, ammunition, tents, and cookhouses from Virginia to Bridgeport, Alabama, in less than a week to rescue the besieged Union troops.

The commander-in-chief, who had made his considerable private fortune as attorney for the Illinois Central Railroad, was impressed, too, and made the man responsible—Daniel C. McCallum—a general for his achievement.

BOOK: Casca 17: The Warrior
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