Skulls and Shackles - The Maiden's Promise
Captain Whalebone Pilk
From who the bell tolls
On nights when Whalebone Pilk and his ghost ship Deathknell take to the waters, none are safe on the Fever Sea. Crewed by a company of brine zombies (the undead remnants of the ship’s original crew) and captained by Pilk himself, an undead abomination capable of stealing the very breath from the body of a living soul, the Deathknell is a ragged, mud-choked Magnimarian whaler that looks like it has spent years at the bottom of the sea.
No one knows how Captain Pilk chooses his victims during his infrequent jaunts upon the waves—perhaps it is nothing more than a chance encounter—but once he selects his target, the hunt always plays out the same. When first sighted, the Deathknell is always some distance off, difficult to identify and not overtly threatening, but those who witness it feel its unnatural aura of menace, and the sound of its clanking ship’s bell carrying across the water never fails to unnerve those that hear it. For 3 nights the Deathknell stalks its prey, the ship getting ever closer and always accompanied by the sound of its raspy bell, until the third night when Captain Pilk attacks and attempts to board his victims’ vessel with his deathly crew. Those who stay to face this rush of cutlass-wielding undeath find themselves overwhelmed and taken below to the processing hold, where their f lesh is stripped from their bodies for its blubber and is consumed by the crew in a ghoulish feast. The victims’ still-living bodies are then beheaded before the ship’s bell, their souls becoming one with the ship to fuel it in its eternal hunt.
Captain Jeremiah Pilk took the whaler Belle Dame to sea from the port of Magnimar in 4631 ar. The Belle Dame could take a whale in far waters, skin it, render its blubber in the tryworks, and store its meat, all without seeing land for weeks at a time. Such was Captain Pilk’s success that he became known as “Whalebone” among Magnimarian seafarers after the rumor that all he left of his prey were the picked-clean bones, and his ship became known simply as the Bell for Pilk’s habit of sounding the ship’s bell with a furor every time he caught sight of a whale’s spout.
Whalebone Pilk’s success proved to be his own undoing on his last voyage. For 2 weeks, pickings were frustratingly slim on the Steaming Sea, until a pod of bowhead whales was finally sighted off the shoulder of Hermea, heading south. Pilk nearly beat his knuckles bloody that night striking the ship’s bell, but the pod always stayed elusively ahead of the Belle Dame. For days, the pursuit led ever south and west into the Arcadian Ocean—almost as if the whales were luring the ship onward. Home fell farther behind, and supplies dwindled, until some of the starving crew decided to mutiny. Pilk had the ringleader tied to the mast and ordered the mate to give him lashes for as long as Pilk rang the ship’s bell. The mate’s arm grew tired before Pilk’s did, but by then the mutinous sailor was dead from the beating. To keep the rest in line, Pilk had the mutineer skinned and rendered in a try-pot and his cleaned skull nailed to the mainmast as a warning.
The ship continued on until the 23rd day, when a dense fog rolled in. An indistinct shape loomed large in the water ahead and the mate ordered the helmsman to steer hard to port to avoid collision, but Pilk countermanded the order and began ringing the bell, ordering the men to the harpoons. When the huge bull bowhead came out of the fog, it rammed the ship, breaching the hull. Pilk cursed the whales and cursed his men and continued to ring the ship’s bell as the foundering ship slowly slipped beneath the waves with all hands aboard, 2,000 miles from home.
TAt the 3rd night the Maidens promise encountered the Deathknell. Out of nowhere she doomed next to the crew’s ship. Dozens of rotten men attacked the Maidens promise, at the point where it seemed everything was lost, our good fellow Brograth placed some explosive charges beneath the Deathknell, sending her to the bottom of the deep sea, hoping she would never return…