The Pride of Martinique came complete with crew, captain and watchdog. Governor de Monet had made it clear that the prisoner would be in charge of the mission, but not captain the ship. Raoul La Mancha held this position.
The crew consisted of experienced able bodied seamen and also carried a contingent of marines. Those men not only understood the orders they were given, they carried them out without the constant need for displays of power Clark had gotten used to with his pirates.
Captain La Mancha was a bit younger than Clark and he had led a life no less colorful and adventerous. The captain’s name hinted at his low birth. To the foreigner Clark it sounded like a perfectly normal french surname. But in truth Raoul had gotten stuck with the region his parents had come from, when the need for a surname had arisen during his early adulthood.
La Mancha’s signature item was a single lense that he wore on a chain, as if the optical device was an ornament. Clark knew that naturally there had to be a percentage of near-sighted persons among sailors, too. Although in a pirate crew nobody would have displayed his handicap as openly as La Mancha did.
“The lense has proved useful more than once“, Raoul explained, when Clark brought up the topic. One time his ship had been boarded by pirates and Raoul had found himself marooned. “The spectacle glass served me well to lit a signal fire. Just a few days later I was found and rescued already.”
“That fire could have attracted slavers, too”, Clark replied. “Your trusting ways seem weird to me. Dangerous, shortsighted, blue-eyed. Except… I reckon you have the fencing skills to back them up?”
“Anytime, englishman, anytime”, La Mancha smiled.
Despite the expected frictions between the two captains, they functioned well together, even coming to sort of uneasy friendship. Jarundo, however, proved a constant pain in the butt for the french sailors. Since Henri de Monet had not demonstrated enough forsight to keep the privateer´s friend hostage, Jarundo was running free on the Pride of Martinique. Here he absorbed himself into the crew, going about a sailor´s daily routines same as he had done on the Aquila – in the most efficient way, even if it meant disrupting the Pride´s order over and over.
After his friend had rallied the sailors up against him once too often, Clark ordered Jarundo to stopp involving him in the work. Seeing the french sailors so disturbed by what they could not fathom had been amusing, but Clark had already alienated one crew and felt no need to do it to another. The Pride´s well-oiled military machinery had to be maintained.
“Think of it it as a shore leave that doesn´t require you to leave the ship”, Clark told Jarundo.
To everyones relief the carib indian spent his days lazing around from then on. His favourite pasttime was finding out how long he could balance a dagger on his big toe and then hit a target with his toy. Oftentimes the foot-tossed blade came dangerously close to center.
Clark spent his own freetime double-checking La Mancha´s nautical calculations. It was a matter he was unwilling to let rest in anybody else´s hands. After he had set off from San Juan towards Coro once and found himself at Santa Marta instead, the young captain had learned the needed conscientiousness that complimented his natural skill as a navigator. He had even come to enjoy the effort and soon he had mapped nearly every coastline in painstaking detail.
Jarundo´s and Clark´s excentricities served another purpose, but one the two were not quite aware of themselves: It made them appear a bit odd and thus less dangerous than they really were to the french…
Passing the Isla la Tortuga the Pride of Martinique had covered half the distance between the carib island chain and the Gulf of Venezuela. Deep in spanish territory, Clark could not even dream of gathering information about Francois. At best he and La Mancha could test the galleon´s firepower against some nosy patrol ships.
But at least the wind was on their side. Down here it blew steadily from the east, bringing them a good deal closer to their destination each day.
At the height of Caracas a single, heavily damaged trader appeared in view. Long before more details could be made out, Clark was pacing the deck in circles, agitated by a dread he could not name. Jarundo stood close by, watching him with concern. But he could not deny that he, too, was harbouring a certain suspicion.
“It is her”, Clark whispered just loud enough for the friend to hear. “I know her outline. No other trader looks like this. I´m dead-sure of it!”
A closer inspection through a looking glass finally brought certainity. The sinking ship was indeed the Aquila.
“I assume the Pride of Martinique is held to give aid to a ship in distress?” Clark asked the captain, the challenge apparent in any fibre of his body.
“If not on some sheet of paper, then by a higher power´s decree, yes”, La Mancha answered. “The wreck looks stable to me. It´s bobbing up and down, but if it was sinking fast, it would produce a larger current around itself. I think it is safe to board and search for survivors.”
“I´m coming with you!”
La Mancha nodded. Then he pointed at Jarundo and ordered his men to keep an eye on the man. “He´s staying on the Pride”, the captain explained. “Just in case.”
Though in a hurry to get aboard his dying ship, Clark took the time to comment on La Mancha’s foresight – or lack thereof, from his viewpoint.
“I get your point. But one of these days you´ll have to start trusting me. Because sooner or later you must issue me a sabre, if I´m to be taken serious during our investigation.”
“Without any doubt, this is my Aquila”, Clark thought while striding over the deck of the wreck. She just did not feel familiar to him anymore, as if the soul of the dying ship had fled already. A new would be needed to contain it.
“And a new crew”, Clark added. “This one brought me nothing but trouble!”
A few steps further in Clark found the ship´s cook. Tom Fishfry lay flat on his belly, just like a drunk, his arms spread from his body. But he wasn´t sleeping off an intoxication. From this sleep the man would wake no more.
Clark turned around the body with his booted feet. To his surprise he found that there was some life left in it still.
“Clark…” Fishfry moaned. “Then I´m dead now, too, and in hell.“
And then he died for real.
Clark stood on deck, looking around. Everything around him felt unreal, like a dream.
One did not loose his ship twice in a row! He, Clark, did not!
Like a sleepwalker the former captain too step after step, until an unknown face among those of the dead stirred him from his trance. The man lay as dead as the eagles on his back. He was wearing a combination of seamen´s clothing and attire looted during many a raid. A pirate, Clark instantly knew. But none of Garcia´s?
“Aye, this is all those bastards´ doing!” James Perry called out.
La Mancha´s soldiers were leading the Aquila´s treasurer away in bonds. Pirates rescued from drowning were pirates nonetheless and did not remain rescued for long…
“Wait!” Clark commanded the french. “I wish to hear what has happened to my ship from this man!“
Perry eyed his former commander, who was now in position to order around the strangers. Why did the bastard always come out on top, while he, Perry, bit the dust, he wondered?!
“Not a scratch on your body, Perry”, Clark adressed the mutineer. “As always. Had a good view of the battle from your hidey-hole? Seen our men die one by one? Spit it out already! What happened here?“
“Somebody must have thought, why hunt onesself, when it´s easier to snare the seagull that’s already carrying the fish in it´s beak”, Perry started, angry and exited. “They were pirates, just waiting for us to fill up our cargo hold to the brim.
In the meantime Don Escobedo had come a bit too close to our heels, but we were able to shake him off. We were done in by other pirates. They came after us when we were still licking our wounds from the encounter with Escobedo. With a sloop. Went straight in and finished us off. They could not even carry away everything and so a great portion of our booty is now lost together with the Aquila.”
“Not if I can help it, Perry”, Clark grinned. “We´ve got quite a large hold over at the Pride of Martinique. Tell me, the attackers, was it anybody we knew? Trying to get even for something he thought we´ve done to him?”
Perry shook his head. “The captain was dressed in black and wearing a black mask. His flag had a black dog in it, too. I´ve never heard of him before.” The pirate spit out. “But in sinking the Aquila he has layed out the foundation for quite a reputation! He was well aware of this. Took Chips and Alfred and Bobby from the Plough with him as captives, so they could testify his victory.”
“So Chips has survived? Then there really is a divine justice, Perry! Well, I suppose we´ll be seeing each other in Martinique.”
“Clark!” Perry cried when he was led away. “They are going to hang us for certain! You cannot let them! You cannot do this!”
Clark waited for Perry’s wailing to subside, then he braved his old ship once again. He could not tell what else he was hoping to find here. It just did not feel right to leave alone the Aquila in her extended death-throes.
Only a few steps further towards the quarterdeck Clark heard someone cry.
Among the debris of a direct hit from the enemy´s cannons Viviane Bridger knelt. He dress was torn and Clark knew at once what had happened to her. He kicked away a now useless cannonball that had never been fired, nearly stumbling over the chain that connected this ball with it´s twin.
Clark cursed under his breath! Why had this fool insisted in wearing a dress? One did not leave his chicken shack open when one knew there were foxes on the prowl!
Viviane was still crying, something Clark had never seen her do, but that wasn´t the strangest sight at all. The female pirate cried for somebody else and that was so out of character for her, that Clark found himself caught in another world even moreso than before.
He stepped next to the woman and realized what she had not noticed in her pain: The shipmate Viviane was mourning was still alive. It was Werner Riet.
“Over here! Quickly!” Clark yelled at the french marines. “Hurry up and help them, you tortoises! Even turtle soup´s faster than you, ´cause liquid runs!”
The familiar comparison had Viviane listen up and jerk around.
“Am I hearing a not-so-mild reproach for coming to your rescue?“
Viviane lowered her head again. She had wanted to scream her frustration at Clark, but found that she could not muster the courage for this. Her lips alone were moving with the words the woman wanted to say – or were they merely twitching?
“Where´s Garcia?” Clark demanded.
Viviane indicated the direction with her head.
Captain Garcia was lying next to a large hole in the deck, his legs dangling into it, fist clenched around his old rapier. Broken neatly into two pieced Clark’s sabre was lying nearby.
As if an hitherto unknown rule of the Good Lord called for it, life had not yet faded from Black´s body completely.
The former captain had imagined what he would do to the traitor, if he ever layed hands on him. All of Clark’s fantasies had ended with Garcia´s death – some sooner, some later. Man needed no anger to kill, he could do it in cold blood just as well. But to balance this, there was something good in humankind, too, and thus not every act of anger resulted in murder.
Clark folded his arms, wondering how he felt. Death and seamen were a weird pair. Rage, hatred and the craving for revenge had vanished from Clark´s mind all of a sudden. There were only two shipmates and one of them was dying.
Clark bent down next to the dying man.
“Hello, Garcia”, he said softly.
Above his head a sail gave way and fell down. It covered parts of the ship like a shroud.
“Captain… I… destroyed … your ship…”
“It´s no longer my place to judge you”, Clark answered. They both knew that.
Garcia labored to turn his head towards the Pride of Martinique´s silouette.
“A… Galleon? Good substitute! Wish I could… go with…“
“To Martinique, Garcia! We´re going to take the fortress! I know, how! Just like Gibraltar!”
Garcia tried to grin. But with his soul almost in another world his control over this body was faltering.
“Are we there already?” he asked.
“Yes. We are winning.”
“I know. I can see… the fires…”
In the caribbean heat Clark was shivering, when he rose from the dead man. What fires had Garcia seen, dying? Not really…?
Clark´s heart was beating fast. He forced his breath to come out slow and steady. Everything around him could just as well have been his doing. Pure coincidence had taken revenge out of his hand. A few days earlier, and he would have faced a dire challenge to his character, a challenge he was not sure he would have been up to. The mutineers´ blood would haven been on his, not the Black Dog´s – or whatever the new pirate was calling himself – hands.
Clark returned to the galleon.
“Everbody who’s still breathing on board? Then let´s get away from here!”
Captain Clark had to find this governor´s brat. He needed a good deed badly…
“I don´t give a fart how many soldiers you place next to, in front of, behind me or onto my shoulders! I´m going to talk to the prisoners!” Clark stated short while later. “Let the whole ship listen in, if you like!”
Captain La Mancha waved his hands.
“Then do, what you have to do”, he said, amused. “You have my permission to speak with the other prisoners.”
Clark went down to the lower decks of the Pride of Martinique where the cells were located. In one of them two seamen punished for some minor crimes against the ship´s order were cowering. The largest cell was holding the men left of Clark´s eagles and in the final compartment Viviane knelt, close enough to the men to be a part of their sorry group, but seperated from them by sturdy bars.
Aberforth Harris, Viviane Bridger, Chat Creed und Oldword Eric were suffering from wounds that were nowhere near mortal. They seemed rather responsive. Chatham even flashed Clark a shy smile.
Kidd Christopher´s und Whipcrack Werner´s wounds were grave and their survival doubtful.
James Maria Perry was only physically in a good condition. His thoughts were about the gallow and he went from one panic attack to the next.
But of the empathy Clark had felt for a while there was not a trace left now.
“We are sailing towards Curacao, should it have escaped your notice”, he told the captives. “And afterwards – into the gulf.”
That could mean many things. The local governors of Maracaibo and Gibraltar would shower with gratitude any captain who delivered to them Captain Clark and his crew. The ransacking of the treasure fleet had severly tarnished their standing with the motherland, after all.
Was their former captain planning for the mutineers would they had done to him, the eagles wondered? Hand them over to the enemy for a bounty?
The silent plea not to do so stood in many a face. Even those “eagle chicks”, that had not participated in the raid almost three years ago, could not hope for mercy. In the eyes of the law “Clark´s crew now” was also “Clark´s crew then”.
“We all knew the risk from the moment we signed on”, the captain told the survivors.
James Perry stared at him, terrified. Clark replied with an icy gaze.
“Well, I´m not exactly feeling thankful for what you did to me.”
“We´re going to make up for it!” Perry begged. “Sail for half shares!”
Clark smirked. If James of all men offered to give up a financial boon, he had to be really desperate. Out of his mouth it was akin to the promise of throwing himself into a blade on Clark´s behalf.
“Say, where´s your new sabre, Clark?” Harris suddenly asked.
Eric hit the apprentice pharmacist hard with his fist.
“Hehehehe…” Perry giggled nervously.
“Don´t listen to the fool!” Oldworld Eric pleaded.
“But I am right”, the fool persisted. “He´s not carrying any weapon at all! Clark is a prisoner himself, nothing more. He could not help us even if he wanted to. Let´s face it, guys, we are sitting deep in the shit!”
“You have no right to talk like this about my ship!” Clark hissed.
Harris´eyes narrowed in surprise. “We sit…”
“Very, very deep”, Clark repeated the young man´s words.
“In your ship´s belly? If you really believe this, you are crazy!”
“As crazy as Brady was, turning his back to Viviane during our battle with Escobedo”, Eric snickered. The Aquila´s new chief gunner shot him a devasting look.
“So”, Clark said. “I could learn to apprecciate your frankness, Harris. Unfortunately a bunch of mutineers isn´t very convincing when it comes to their sincerity.”
“I could be in luck”, Viviane whispered. “Pregnant women sometimes get pardoned. In a month we will know, if…”
Clark, already on his way back to the maindeck, gasped: “It happens that fast?! I thought it shows only after about five months?”
“You guys don´t know anything about anything!” Viviane bickered back.
Clark, however, was satisfied with her reaction. As long as he could play Viviane for a fool about his true sex, he needed not worry about the others.
“It´s mine”, a hoarse voice suddenly croaked. It was Whipcrack Werner, laboring to speak.
Viviane bent down gently over the man. Returning to his consciousness just now Whipcrack had not yet realized where he was and that Viviane’s cuddling him was hindered by iron bars.
“I´m going to make your brat a man, no matter who the father is!” he promised the female pirate.
“And if it´s a girl?” Clark followed up.
Not shy for an answer the dutchman claimed: “Then I´m going to make her a pirate!”
“And if Viviane´s not with child at all?”
“Thunder and hellfire, then I´m going to make her one! Don´t ask such silly questions, Clark!”
Whipcrack hesitated. Then he blinked and tried to sit up.
“Clark? Here?” And where was “here“ anyway?!
“Explain his situation to him or prove friends to your quartermaster at least, if you have not to me.”
With these words Clark left his former crew, leaving it to the pirates to unscramble their meaning.
Through the bars seperating their cells, Viviane held Werner in her arms. She did not give her quartermaster a report of what had happened. Instead the she-pirate explained lots of others things to the man, things culminating in one and the same result: a nice pink feel of the air surrounding the two of them.
Meanwhile Harris still could not believe what he had heard: “Clark really believes he has the ship in the pocket already!”
“He wants it at all cost”, Viviane corrected.
“But why?” Perry threw in.
The cells’ inhabitants looked at the scribe as one person. Was their comrade loosing not only his nerves, but his sanity, too? Who would not want a warship?
“What does Clark want with this misconstruction of a ship?” Perry repeated. “Did you get a good look at the Pride? I mean, it kind of looks like a french fast galleon, but I´ve never seen a model like this before! Whoever built it should give back his journeyman certificate!”
“Whatever”, Eric murmured. “The bars are quality work, at least. We are not getting out of here that easily.”
The rest of the journey passed without any more noteworthy incidents.
“Dutch Wilhemstad is a secure port for you?” Captain La Manche inquired one day.
The privateer captain spat and answered: “If any place where that dutch devilry, the windmills, stand can be called safe, then, yes.”
“Yes, they do look impressive. Even frightening, if you haven´t seen one before. But they certainly are not the ‘hellish bone-mills’ people thought them to be in my grandparents´ time.”
“They frighten me mainly because I was far too near to one for my taste when it exploded.”
“It did what? You are joking, Clark!”
“Too often for my wellbeing, but not in this case.”
“It´s because of the flour dust in the air. An easily inflammable substance”, Clark explained. “You should keep this in mind well – from one warrior to the other.”
La Mancha´s face brightened. “I see!” he laughed.
“One weapon for another, Captain La Mancha?” Clark pressed on. “I shared this little trick with you and you could make even by handing Jarundo and me cutlasses at least.”
“And loose the best helmsman I ever had, because he throws himself into the fray? No, thanks!”
“Then let´s delay the decision again“, Clark sighed. “And talk about Wilhelmstad instead. Coro and Maracaibo are situated about the same distance from where you found the Prince Paris´ wreckage. But the dutch port isn´t that much farther away, either. These three places are our best places to turn to for information. Should Francois have survived, he most probably was captured. Nobody will have recognized him, else by now he would have been ransomed. If we are in luck, we´ll simply have to buy the young man back from somebody.”
La Mancha nodded. Most buccaneers and pirates tended to be slavers rather than murderers. The captain could not say what was worse. His disdain for slavery he shared with Clark. Jarundo harboured no prejudice against the keeping of slaves, as long as he wasn´t involved as one. But he could not remember the Aquila travelling with live cargo even once. The only execption were those men and the woman kept in the holding cells right now. Clark had not yet made up his mind about what should be done with them. He tried not to dwell on that question, entertaining La Mancha with stories about Curacao, the dutch and his adventures, instead.
Eventually the port came into view. Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire, the dutch settlements in this region, were not under control of the dutch government that spain still did not really recognized. They belonged to the Dutch Westindia Company. To a pirate the difference was irrelevant, but Captain La Mancha had learned to acknowledge – and use to his advantage – those finer points of colonial politics a long time ago. On his recent journey into the region La Mancha had realized that relations between Wilhelmstad and Martinique were strained. Because of this he agreed to Clark´s idea to disguise the Pride of Martinique.
The ship was called simply “Pride” now. The new name would not come to anybody´s surprise who had dealings with Clark before. Since the galleon had never before been seen, Clark and La Mancha did not run any risk of her getting recognized as a french warship. The slightly bruised eagle figurehead salvaged from the Aquila made the disguise perfect. To anybody not prone to the real facts it would look as if Captain Clark arrived in charge of his own ship, though, of course, one much larger and more powerful then his old Aquila.
The englishman did not feel like the mighty commander at all, however. He was still waiting for La Mancha to issue him a personal weapon. When the captain finally was ready to, Clark yelled at him: “All right, all right, I´m not going to feed the crocodiles, rape the natives or steal the windmills!”
“These were not exactly the conditions I ordered you to repeat.”
“But good ones, wouldn´t you say so? And now give me that sabre!”
La Mancha sighed. He complied, though hesistantly. Jarundo received a cutlass and Clark a long, thin package. With the handing over of the blade the mission would officially start and that meant that La Mancha would be second in command only from now on. To take full advantage of Clark´s reputation, the privateer just could not presented as a captive or somebody bound to another´s orders.
Clark removed the cloth from his new weapon.
“It´s an epée !” he gasped, apalled.
“Yes.” La Mancha grinned. “I would not insult you with a cheaper gift.”
Clark fastened the fencing weapon to his belt, burning with anger. He was lacking the agility to wield such a blade efficiently. A sabre, a hatchet, even a mere club, complimented Clark´s fightiny style based an strength and stability. La Mancha had chosen a weapon that left his captive bereft of his full danger potential.
“It´s a lady´s weapon!” Clark grumbled. “A needle! It´s embarassing!”
On the other hand La Mancha, too, was using an epée. To become better with his chosen weapon than his rival was a challenge – and as such a wellspring of joy of life – for Clark…
“Under normal circumstances I could apply for an audience with the governor at quite a short notice“, Clark explained, while the three of them exited the boat that had ferried them from the Pride to the quay a short while later. “But it´s highly probable that he does not know anything about the issue. Or that he would want me to carry out some mission I cannot undertake because of… other responsibilites right now.“
“And for lack of a ship of your own”, La Mancha added.
Jarundo and Clark shared a telltale-look, then Clark suggested to start their investigations in a tavern.
A shabby-clad half-caste woman left her vendor stall to step into the arrivals’ way.
“Spanish roses?” she offered.
“Marita!” Clark laughed, when he recognized the eagles’ old aquiantance. “You are the only person I let get away with as bold an offer as this!”
He bought one of the roses, only to put the bloom into the woman´s own hair right after he had payed for it.
“Welcome back, Captain!” Marita said with an honest smile in her face. “And Jarundo. And a new face?”
“I parted ways with Garcia”, Clark commented La Mancha´s inclusion into his crew. “This one’s the replacement.”
“Nice deseesion of Senior at allest!” the woman praised Clark. Her usually fluent dutch was wavering whenever potential customers were in the vicinity. “That Garcia was a scumbag!” she stressed the point once again, when they were alone again.
When the three men left behind the small vendor stall, Jarunod looked back more than once. Marita was a good friend and sometimes playmate of the man. Alas, she would have preferred being Clark´s sweetheart and had not yet buried the notion of winning him over one day.
True to it´s name the Tullip Cup tavern sported tullips on every table, colorful flowers carved from wood. Nobody in Wilhelmstad knew what tullips were supposed to smell like, so something artificial had been created by an alchemist – all in in the name of keeping up with modern times. Everybody wanted tullips at the moment, everybody in Europe, that was.
And the Tullip cup´s owner went to great lengths to make his patrons feel like back home in Amsterdam, where tullips were in great demand now.
Francois had prophecied, La Mancha whispered to Clark, that the whole tullip-affair would end in a desaster sooner or later… rather sooner than later.
Clark´s thoughts were elsewhere. Taking up a chair, he wondered how he felt about flowers in general. Certainly they weren´t enough to win the heart of the woman inside him, but he did not actively dislike them, either.
“Where are you, Captain?” La Mancha asked, giving no outward sign how awkward he felt having to adress the prisoner as his superior in here.
“I was thinking about a girl, no, a young woman, who had been in my life once. She really hated flowers.”
“What happened to her?”
“She bore me a son and died from the effort. Chips and me planted flowers on her grave, just because it was what one always does…”
Clark shook his head to shake off the unwanted memories.
“Come, sit with us for a while!” he invited the landlord. “This round´s on me!”
The captain threw a handful of coins onto the table, a small portion of the generous expenses Henri de Monet had granted him and Raoul.
“My pleasure, captain”, the dutchman replied. “Nice epée, you have there, by the way.”
“What happened to your pistol?”
“I always warned you of newfangled devilry like blackpowder.”
The landlord was as hopelessly oldfashioned as he was perceptive, La Mancha realized. He had not taken into account that someone would remember the exact kind and model of arms Clark had carried before the mutiny. But it could not be helped now.
“What brings you to Wilhelmstad, Captain Clark?” the dutchman asked casually.
Clark stated his quest for the missing trader in detail, keeping to himself only the real reason why he undertook it.
“Prince Paris, you say? No, doesn´t ring a bell. Hasn´t been here.”
Jarundo noticed how quickly – far too quick for his taste – the answer had come. He kicked his friend´s leg under the table to convey his doubts to him.
“Please try to remember!” Clark asked the landlord. “They would have come with great clamour and under the french colors.”
“Nobody´s entering here with ‘great clamour’ and to glamour we are immune, captain. Our nation´s keeping neutral in the local conflicts. I cannot memorize every lousy pinnace breaking it´s journey here, anyway!”
“A barque”, Clark reminded the man. “I told you de Monet had commanded a barque. Yet you knew that the Prince Paris was a pinnace!”
“I… it was a figure of speech, that ‘pinnace’, alright? As in… insignificant…”
Clark shoved a few more coins over the table towards the man.
“I´m positive the indians know of a medicine against a faltering memory. Buy yourself some of it before I take my leave and drink it to my health!”
“Captain Clark”, the landlord beseeched his guest. “You really should not rally the french against you even more than you already have! However enticing it may sound, kidnapping this governor´s son for a ransom, you´d better leave the young man alone!”
Clark removed one of the coins from the pile and then another one. Hastily the dutchman grabbed the remaining pieces.
“I´m telling you everything I know! But first let me deliver a warning to you! They are building a ship in Martinique. The fastest galleon ever to grace the seven seas and powerful as none before! You won´t stand a chance against this warship with whatever you call the thing you came in with!”
“So you say. Well, perhaps I need not. What about the young de Monet, now?”
“Bought gun powder from Russian-Fjodor. A full shipload I´ve heard tell. Continued towards Maracaibo afterwards.”
“My thanks”, Clark said, drank up and rose from the table. “Men – we´re leaving!”
Captain La Mancha had remained silent all the time. Now he spoke up: “Francois´s ship wasn´t armed. What would he need a shipload of blackpowder for? And why the detour via Maracaibo? What´s left there that could be of interest, after your raid?”
Clark looked out at the ocean as if a fascinating new kind of seamonster had appeared there. “There´s a black market for cannons there”, he answered. “Have you any idea how many guns a humble pinnace can really employ? Francis Drake had one, too… They are lacking hold, but prove the most maneuverable destroyers in a fight.
As for the Prince Paris, seems to me their magazine flared up long before they reached their destination. You searched the surrounding smaller islands?”
“Every single one.”
Clark said nothing. The pirates seemed innocent, after all. They had not facilicated the Prince Paris´ end. Francois de Monet had drowned when his ship had blown up in an accident like a windmill. It was so simple.
“What face…? Clark! Have you given up already?!”
Clark shook his head. Each minute as a free man was too valueable to waste. He had too few of them before him to abandon this mission now, however hopeless it had become.
“We are going to visit yet another pub”, he announced. “But don´t stake your hopes too high. Oh, and you´ll want to hold your breath in there…”
Raoul La Mancha was choking. The stuffy air in the bar, the smell, the cheap alcohol and most of all the patrons in the Shaky Swordfish were getting to him.
“Not used to the good stuff, your new friend, huh?” the toothless barkeep grinned. From his barstool Clark toasted the frenchman, who was by now writhing on the ground. Had Raoul be able to retch, he might have felt better. But even that his lungs would not allow him.
“A deserter from Martinique”, the privateer said casually.
“Am no deserter!” La Mancha gasped.
Clark laughed. “Oh, right, he doesn´t like to hear it, yet”, he explained. “Come on, Henk, top me up! And then spin your yarn for us!”
“It´s no yarn, Sharky-Clark, it´s plain truth. See, the new one, Chien del´Onyx, you´ve got nothing to stand up against him. Not with that weird pot of yours.”
“Why not? What kind of ship has he?”
The bartender wriggled a bit, before he got to answer.
“Come on, tell me! Is it a barque?”
“Winnn…” La Mancha choked.
“Yeah, right, were going to win in the end”, Jarundo said in a comforting tone. “Don’t worry about that, Raoul. We always do.”
The officer pulled himself up against the bar. Waving about shakily, he unwittingly clapped his cup on his head. “Wind!” La Mancha finally managed to say. “Mussd dake advantatch of de wind wisse barque. Isse goooooooooood shib then. Shib whad´s going ´gainst de wind!”
“Certainly”, Jarundo remarked. “What are sails good for, anyway?”
“Sails or not, what vessel does the Black Dog command, now?” Clark demanded.
“A… sloop”, Henk answered, his reluctance lost to the privateer.
“Good choice!” he commended the absent upstart pirate.
“Er… the Midnight Blue.”
Clark tossed his cup aside. He was halfway over the counter and at Henk´s throat, before he managed to get a grip at himself. The only in rule in the Shaky Swordfish was “No one touches the barkeep” and it was enforced with no exceptions. The patrons usually knew creative ways of how to deal with rulebreakers.
“How come?” Clark hissed angrily.
“Seized her right out of port.”
“Of course”, Clark thought. “The Midnight wasn´t at her her usual place when we came into port. And I thought she was just lying in dry dock…”
“Is there any rumour concerning Chien´s port? Or his allys?”
“Can´t tell. Lad´s too new.”
“Thanks anyway, Henk”, Clark whispered. “Please fetch us a bucket before we go – for Raoul here.”
“Are you aware of that you´ve ruined my reputation along this coast forever?!” La Mancha shouted at his companions after he had been sobered again.
Jarundo and Clark just laughed: “Was it part of the agreement not to?”
“You are insolent, Clark!”
“What did you expect? We are temporary allys, nothing more.”
“Governor de Monet spared your life!”
“And his protections ends, when I set a foot off his island. Then he´ll have me shoot faster than I can say “gun”. That means lifelong exile.”
“If you prefer the gallows, that could be arranged…”
“Oh, Raoul“, Clark smirked. “Have you any idea how well you would fit into my world? Every navy captain has something of a pirate in him. It´s something that comes with the stars.”
La Mancha gave a start: “What about the stars?”
Clark answered with a smile and nothing more. It was plain to read in La Mancha´s face that he knew the answer well. Every true seaman heard the sea´s siren call, whether he followed it from his heart or unwillingly. But only the captains saw the stars perform their secret dance each night.
“What´s the big deal with the Midnight Blue?” La Mancha changed the topic.
“She´s my ship.”
“I usually have a dutch Letter de Marque in addition to my english one. The Midnight Blue comes with it. I christened her and commanded her a few times, when Spain and the Netherlands could not come to terms about who owns whose land”, the privateer explained. “The governor deigns selling the Midnight to me for good. I´m paying her off in small installments, just in case I should ever lose the Aquila. Now this day has come, but the Midnight Blue has disappeared, too. I hope she´ll reappear soon, because otherwise the company would be thoroughly indebted to me. They would have to actually pay me for my services to them…”
“You really are insolent!” La Mancha confirmed.
Jarundo tried to steer away from that subject to a more important one: “This new player appeared, as we know, not long before the Prince Paris´ accident. We also know that Francois´ de Monet liked to think of himself as an adventurer. Do you remember what Clark said about pinncaces earlier today?”
“I know enough about them, myself“, La Mancha replied, piqued. “You want to imply Francois had turned to hunting pirates?”
“Exactly. That´s what he needed the additional guns and the powder for. The Black Dog must have deemed him an easy target. But then the prey found the hunter first.”
“The Midnight Blue hit the Prince Paris hard and unexpected”, Clark agreed. “Francois could be Chien´s captive. Anyway, this dog´s our only clue right now. Care to go after him for a while?”
“Pursue? It will be my pleasure to sink his ship”, La Mancha said.
Clark gasped. “And the company?“
“Will recieve a monetary compensation, of course.”
“And where will I be in this calculation?” Clark murmured to himself, when the Pride´s real captain led them back to port.
“Raise the anchors!” Clark commanded right the after he stood at the Pride´s deck again. The sailors were about to obey the privateer as agreed, when La Mancha came up with a surprise for his prisoner: “We are in pursuit of the Midnight Blue, correct?”
The officer threw away the dusty old coat that completed his disguise as a pirate. Without it, in his navy trousers, the colorful shirt and a handy sash much like Clark, too, wore across his chest, he was looking even more like a recent deserter.
“Then there´s no more reason for this pretense” he said.” From now on this ship is the Pride of Martinique again and I´m taking back my command!”
Teeth clenched, Clark replied something incomprehensive first, then he demanded to note his protest in the log.
“And hope for real strong winds”, he added.
Jarundo pulled his friend aside.
“Clark! The Midnight Blue is no opponent for a ship like ours!“ he hissed.
Clark nodded. “That´s why she´ll wisely keep her distance, as long as we are recognizeable as a military ship. It might be different if we sailed under my colors. But since we do not, we should prepare ourselves for long hunt.”
A seaman approached the duo. Waiting patiently ´till they had finished conversing among themselves and acknowledged his presence, he told them that La Mancha was waiting for them. Some pressing matter had to be resolved before leaving port.
In his cabin the captain was waiting for the prisoners.
“Two are enough. We cannot attempt this journey with our hold full of prisoners”, he stated. “And I say it´s in both parties´ best interest to close this matter without further delay.”
Despite Clark not being competent in reading between the lines, he grasped what Captain La Mancha was suggesting here. Offically captured pirates had to be shipped to the motherland for trial. A waste of time, not to mention food, that could be better spent elsewhere. Especially since those convicts not hanged, but pardoned, ended up as indentured servants and had to make the journy back anyway. So conveniently only the most notorious individuals got delivered to Europe, while the rest disappeared with no questions asked.
La Mancha planned to do exactly that, but the privateer had objections: “You are not going to murder my crew!”
“Your crew? I thought they had deserted? That you hated each other?“
“They have. We do. But that´s not the point. I should make myself more clearly: Your are not to make decisions about anything that´s mine. Not about the Midnight Blue and not about these men!”
“Well, if it is that important to you, then I suggest a duel between men of honor. To the first blood, Clark.”
Flattered by being called a gentleman, Clark agreed before he knew what he was doing, though the victory condition did not sit well with him. Pirate battles were won somehow with one combatent still standing and no questions asked. Clark felt that even though he was severly out of practice, he stood a decent chance to win against La Mancha, a man of his own father’s or Don Escobedo’s expertise. Victory was far from guaranteed, but not ridiculously out of picture. In normal fight, that was. But under the condition of recieving not a single scratch? Last time he had agreed to such a gamble, his periodically womanhood had gotten the better of him during the duel. Jarundo and Doc Corner had kept chuckling about the misfortune for weeks afterwards.
“To the first blood drawn by the opponent using his chosen weapon”, Clark defined more precisely.
La Mancha grinned and nodded. The man had lived through his share of creative interpretations of that particular victory condition, too, although he had never taken advantage of one himself.
“Agree. Choose your weapon!”
“Sabre”, Clark snarled.
La Mancha decided to use his epée instead of the same weapon as his opponent – a breach of etiquette he hardly seemed to be aware of. Clark read this as a sign that in this battle the very unconventional pirates´ codex of honor would be employed and that he was allowed to fall back on other skills than fencing. So immediately after the duelists had taken up positions, Clark sought higher grounds. He entered into the rigging – La Mancha had to assume that his opponent would attack him from up there.
Clark checked where the sun stood.
“Perfect”, he thought to himself. “I hope La Mancha´s a gentleman to his very bones!”
“Come down there, Clark!” La Mancha shouted. “This hide-and-seek style of dueling is abhorrent and I refuse to…”
Clark´s lips formed an O, but no sound escaped them. The privateer fell, as if sunstruck, and came to lie unconsciuos on his back. His sabre landed a few inchs from his left hand.
Captain La Mancha failed to notice how convenient Clark had come down onto a soft pile of empty sacks. He hasted to his side to give aid – and was recieved with a quick and precise left-handed sabre slash against his cheek.
“He´s ambidexterous.” Jarundo grinned, satisified with his friend and the world in general. “I tend to forget this.”
“Could have been your heart just as easily”, Clark informed the captain.
La Mancha jumped to his feet again. He was not wounded. Clark´s sabre had punctured his skin only deep enough to draw blood.
“Your orders, Clark?” a rather vexed La Mancha asked.
“The captives will be unloaded and stored in Wilhemstad just like the annual potatoe harvest.”
“So you might still deliver them to justice in the end… Why duel me for their sorry hides, then?”
“The pirates´ life or death was never the reason for this duel, as I told you before! Even if I´d wished to see them dangling from the yardarm this very moment, I had to fight for the right to make the final decision.”
“And I granted you this priviledge. Not because I acknowledged your pirates´s code in any way, but because you deemed me a man rising high above this scum”, La Mancha replied. “Cheap tricks like the one you employed to defeat me are not worth your time.”
The captain pointed at the eagle figurehead that had made the Pride´s disguise perfect until now. “As soon as we gained some miles, this thing comes off my bow!” he ordered.
Jarundo reacted without the slightest delay. “I´ll make sure that no harm comes to our bird”, he promised his friend, slapping him on the shoulder reassuringly. But Clark, it seemed, had not even heard his words.
“Martinique is your chosen home, captain”, he adressed La Mancha. “If you were hard pressed to either resort to dirty tricks or lose a battle for Fort-de-France, would you let the town perish?”
The french officer’s upset expression changed to one of heartfelt amusement!
“Captain Clark!” he laughed. “I would answer this, were your question motivated purely philosophical. But, no, really, it was a nice try, but your feint missed.”
“I see”, Clark nodded. “So a trick you do not fell for is an honorable feint all of a sudden. Well, a lowly potatoe farmer like me cannot understand the finer points in the dealings of real officers, I suppose. Let me tend to my crops, now.”
“Captain Clark!“ A very confused governor of Wilhelmstad´s received the privateer captain the same evening. “My secretary informed me you´ve got something for me?”
“Seed potatoes, Governor. I´d like them to germinate in your dungeons.”
Clark added some explanative words.
“If I´m getting you right, you wish to, er, deposit your crew in my cellar?” the dutchman asked.
Clark facepalmed. “Can´t carry them around with me all the time. In case you should have forgotten, a ship of mine went lost under your watch.”
“Oh, right. Very embarassing. Tell you what: If you can capture this pirate and get the Midnight Blue back, this will suffice for all payments still outstanding. The ship´s yours for good, then.”
Clark flashed the man a winning smile.
“That´s all I wanted to hear! She´ll probably need repairs. I´ll get them for free in Wilhelmstad?”
The governor coughed.
“The repairs undoubtly needed after a battle you can procure in Wilhelmstad at cost price!”
“Shit! Steaming, stinking, worm-tunneled shit!”
Clark started to curse right after he had left the Company´s local branch. He kicked a dead rat aside, but even the sight of the carcass bouncing of a wall and falling onto a cat´s tail did not lighten up his mood.
“That fart has me pay for the materials! That never happened before!” Clark raged on. “You know what that means, Jarundo? Next England will charge one fifths again, when I come calling at their door for a new Letter de Marque. Those cursed mutineers ruined my reputation!”
Jarundo, Garcia, Bridger, Riet and Creed were well known names, the faces of Clark´s confidates familiar to the dutch. Now one of them was missing altogether, replaced by a french renegade, another was half-dead and the rest Clark wished to see imprisoned? Even if no rumour at all about the mutiny had reached Wilhelmstad, this situation alone sowed a healthy quantum of distrust in the governor. Commanding a galleon did not Clark help much to polish up his now tarnished reputation, though it was a start at least.
The cat so nastily interrupted in it´s slumber tumbled around Clark´s legs. He bent down to scratch it´s ears.
“Night´s falling”, Clark whispered.
“Yes”, his friend replied. Paraphrasing a verse from the Bible he added: “That means the new day is drawing near!”
Captain Clark stood at the Pride´s rail, looking out at the sea. Curacao island was fading out of view already, but what had happened there was still haunting the privateer. The wind ruffled his thick hair as always. Francois de Monet´s tightfitting clothing in shades of white and brown along with the blue sash covering Clark´s breasts made him look younger, almost a stranger, to Jarundo´s eyes. His recent sorrows were plain to read in Clark´s face.
“The West India Company curtails my priviledges, despite me arriving in Wilhelmstad with a war galleon !” Clark spat. “This mutiny cost me more than I imagined.”
Jarundo stepped up to his friend´s side. He waited for Clark to bring a measure of order to his thoughts. The friend, however, was lost in self-pity.
“I´ve lost everything worth owning”, Clark complained. “My command, my freedom, my maps and now my last ship, too.”
“You still have me.”
“I do not own you, brother!”
“You better not”, Jarundo agreed. “You know what really irks me, Eagle? I envisioned that we could perhaps team up with this black dog, Chien del´Onyx. But not after what he has done!”
“Indeed. It was my plan to stay faithful to our agreement with Angry Money. Only after completition of this mission, succesful or not, would I have stolen the Pride of Martinique from Fort-de-France and then I would have offered the two young men, Chien and Francois, a place in my crew. But Chien crossed a line in kidnapping my sloop. Now I´m going to pursue him to the end of the world!”
“And when you are done with him?”
“Then I´m going to steal the Pride!”
The two of laughed together. Life could be wonderfully easy, sometimes.
“What about the mutineers of the Aquila?” Jarundo wondered. “Forgave them already, did you?”
“I do not know, Jarundo. Strangely, part of me wants to. That’s why I´m glad not to be in a position to slit their throats and let them bleed dry for a while.”
“You´ll see, brother, everything will return to normal”, Jarundo promised. “And better!”
“You really believe that, don´t you? But what if my idea of great things won´t match my new followers, either? I crave being able to serve my country, and I also want to explore and to sail farther than anybody before me, just like Drake. That´s not the typical pirate´s desire. But with pirates I´m stuck. A “man” of my station doesn´t have too many options.”
“How come? You never said so, but I was under the impression that your parents had been legitimate spouse and husband. You are a noble by right.”
“Father got trialed in absence, disinherited, disowned, exiled from England on penalty of death and whatnot. Uncle Rupert never tired of reminding me of it. Guess who layed his greedy hands at our property first?”
“Then, if every bridge behind us has burnt down, we have to find a new way! We survived the mutiny, did we not? That´s something even most of the mutineers cannot claim!”
Clark caressed the galleon´s wood, smiling softly. Then, as abruptly as always, he jerked around. The starlight revealed to Jarundo, too, what was there to see: Captain La Mancha stood at the quarterdeck, looking up. For a moment Clark was painfully aware of the fact that the hated spanish blood was running through the veins of that officer.
La Mancha lowered his head when he felt watched. His gaze met Clark´s and an icy cold feeling spread in the privateer´s belly.
“He knows!” he thought. “He really knows! This thrice cursed spaniard recognizes the stars´ dance! He´s not just another ship´s commander with the matching military title. I´m about to steal a real captain´s ship. Just like Garcia and Chien did…”
In Wilhelmstad´s muncipal dungeon Clark´s former crewmembers were lost in their own thoughts. The moonlight shone though the narrow window of the cell they had been put into. It made the stars appear paler, somehow. But to the men and the woman in the cellar, stars were just little lights whirling around around the firmament. Not being able to see a dance they did not even knew about did not pain them. What the pirates were missing was the sound of the waves. They had to made do with the faint echo they were carrying indelibly in their hearts. It was a song they had heard all their adult lifes, even though they had not always liked having to listen to it.
“By now Clark ought to know it was the Midnight Blue that attacked the Aquila”, Eric moaned.
James Perry winced once again. Since Kidd Christopher had succumbed to his wounds at the galleon, the man did nothing but squatting in the cell in resignation. He moved only to mechanically perform the most vital actions.
“Doesn´t matter”, Creed claimed. “Did you not hear what Clark threatened to do to the dutch in case anything should happen to us while he was away? He´s as fickle as the sea and has already forgiven us.”
The european seaman shook his head. “Clark wants us alive, because he won´t let us go so easily”, he stated. “He wants us to know who´s won – and to die slowly.”
Meanwhile Harris made sure that none of the guards was watching, before he pulled something small from under his sash. The pharamacist had managed to smuggle three tiny phial into the cell…
“Bridger!” he whispered to the woman, all the while moving closer to the bars seperating her cell from that of the male prisoners. Right next to this bars the pirates had bedded Whipcrack to allow the lovers to exchange touches and caresses.
Viviane examined the object Harris held aloft. A brownish liquid was shimmering in the glass vial. Judging from the fact that the phiol was filled completely, the woman deduced that it’s content was better not mixed with air…
“What is this, Abe? Do you want to use it to corrode the bars? Or blow up the whole island while you are at it?”
“If that was a jab about the windmill at St. Eustachius – I wasn´t even at land with the rest of you before the incident!” the young man retorted. “Give this Whipcrack to drink!”
Viviane took the potion with shaking fingers. Werner´s condition had worsened, even though Wilhelmstad´s prison was clean, dry and comparatively free of many-legged denizens. Nevertheless it was a landbound place. There were no gently rolling waves here that told you that everything was well first thing after you woke up.
Viviane held the medicine in her hand. “What is it, exactly?” she asked.
“Dr. Corner has no name for it. It´s for emergencies only.”
“So if it has no name, tell me what it does!”
“I – don’t know?” Harris offered. “Fighting infection, I’d say, or perhaps sort of buffing up the body? You know I’m not a real physician, Bridger! All I’ve learned about this stuff is to judge when to offer it. ‘cause it either gets the patient back to their feet or they are a goner the same instant. But the way things…”
Harris did not finish his sentence. It was plain to see that Werner´s breath came slower, that the flickering of his eyelids had ceased and the fever was no longer helpful, but consuming his body now.
Eric moved closer to the pair.
“Careful, chief!” he counseled Viviane. “Clark knows now what´s going on between the two of you. He´ll want to execute revenge and kill you, to hurt Whipcrack. At least that´s what I would do.”
Viviane believed that not only the european, but every sane person, would act in this way, but she did not care. “So be it! As long as he´s going to live in the bargain!” she said and put the phial to Werner´s lips. And the the cell exploded…
“That´s the limit!” a dutch guardsman complained, when he found the mess later. “Next time soil your own cells, instead of spitting your bile into the floor where we have to clean it up!”
“We could swap places with you anytime if you liked”, Chat Creed suggested, but when the warder turned around his pike to kick the mouthy prisoner with it’s shaft, he he quickly retreated to the security behind the bars.
Aberforth Harris watched the jailor go about his unsavoury task of mopping up the contents of Whipcrack’s stomach. Very pleased with himself he said: “There you see and smell the effectiveness of my potion!”
“Rubbish!” Eric objected. “Whipcrack brought it out again immediately!“
“And got well within the blink of an eye!”
Werner smiled weakly. He did not feel well or healthy, but merely out of mortal danger. He had started on the long, difficult path to full recovery, a road with many a backtrack.
“I´d get better, too, if I had to drink that goo of yours”, Eric went on talking insistently to the ship´s doctor. “One recovers out of sheer fright of having to take another swallow!”
“See? Your say it yourselves: One recovers. What else could you expect from a medicine?”
Apart from the two argueing men, Werner was watching over Viviane, who had fallen asleeep by his side. Her outstretched arm rested on her partner´s breast. Werner caressed her fingers gently.
Perry sat down next to the two.
“She´s not that beautiful at all, nor can I think of nothing else but making love to her”, Whipcrack explored his feelings. “But she´s always been with with us and when the pirate was done with her and raised his weapon, I realized that soon she wouldn´t be there anynmore. Never again! I screamed just like young Hank when he went overboard. And then I ran right into the attacker´s cutlass. Crazy, neh, Perry?”
“Tom´s been around a good while longer than most of us, but when he was butchered, you did not throw yourself into the killer´s weapon”, Perry replied. “Because you did not love Tom.”
“So this is love?” Raising his voice caused the wounded man to cough. “But that´s worse than wound fever!” he claimed. “It´s… it´s… people live with it?!”
“Well, it´s a strange place, the world, is it not?” Perry remarked.