Meanwhile on the pirate sloop Midnight Blue:
The black clad man was walking back and forth on his equally black painted ship. The dutch shipwrights had applied the coating in Chien’s favourite color to the Midnight long before her new owner had captured her. It wasn’t really black, either, but a particularly dark shade of blue that would render the ship invisible on the waters. For a mere sloop, the Midnight Blue had a lot of useful tricks up her sleeve. Had his chief gunner not been so careless, however, Chien would command the famous Aquila now.
“A wooden hull can take one hundred hits before it breaks?” Chien ranted under his breath. “Whoever calculated that should get sent over the plank!”
“Are you making progress, Chips?” the captain asked his new carpenter, the last memento of the defeated eagle ship.
“Could go better”, the man replied. There was no language barrier to overcome for the newest addition to the black dog’s crew. Chien del´Onyx called his own a motely band of french and spanish pirates and french was the carpenter’s mother tongue. The only difference was that Chips has grown up on Tortuga, while Chien´s mode of expression and pronounciation marked him a native speaker from somewhere between the Windward Islands. Other than that, the captain had provided Chips with only two clues as to his heritage: First, he wore a mask, which implied that his face was known already in the right – or wrong – places. And second, several remarks by Chien’s closest friends led to the impression that the man had turned to piracy because landbound life had become a little too dangerous for him on account of a bounty on his head.
His new liege being a rogue didn’t bother Chips in the least. He neither shunned criminals on principe, nor did he adore them as epitomes of personal freedom or whatever Garcia had believed in. What irked the caprenter was that the’d return home from a journey with Chien with far less coins in his pockets than from sailing with Clark. The english privateer had gifted Chips with something worth even more, though: his life. He might not have acted on his friendship with Clark, but he had never ceased to feel as a friend. Chips’ at least token level of loyality to his former captain was why Chien had chosen the carpenter to take with him as the witness to his victory over the Aquila. And something else the black clad pirate had taken along: Viviane Bridger’s notebook.
“Your chief gunner can fire the cannons, hit the target, too, if he pulls himself together, but he´s lost at deciphering Bridger’s notes about her invention”, Chips complained to the captain.
“I was also thinking about this loser right now”, Chien grumbled. “Seems to me a successful pirate has to steal not only for a living, but also to assemble a decent crew.”
“We actually bought Longstreak Eddy on Jamaika”, Chips remembered. “He was a natural at gunnery and rising through the ranks so fast that he had payed back the sum in a breeze. But the sketchs Viviane made are more than even Eddy could handle. ‘Wheels’ she wrote! How and where exactly am I to put wheels on the construction?! You should have taken her with us, too!”
“You´ll solve the riddle eventually. I´d rather go on without the witch´s invention, then sailing with a known mutineer”, the captain replied.
“Saaaaaaaaails!” the boy in the crow´s nest, Chip´s nephew Alfred, shouted. “Can´t tell what type this is supposed to be, captain!”
Chien was puzzled. Little Alfred had not only grown up in a coastal settlement, he had also been sailing for a while by now, first under Clark´s, then under Garcia´s command. So inexperience did not account for Freddie’s inability to identify the strange ship.
The Black Dog called for a looking glass and climbed the rigging. Halfway up he risked a look through the lense. Aftergetting a good look at the stranger, the man whispered a single word: “Merde…”
Leaving his work, Chips approached the captain. “Chien…?”
“We´ve got to get away from here! At once!” the pirate shouted down. “Under no circumstances must we get ourselves caught in fireing distance of their guns!”
The pirate made haste to climb down.
“You look as if you´ve seen a ghost, Onyx!” Chips remarked. “Do you know this ship?”
Chien nodded. “This is the french´s new warship built in Martinique”, he explained. “Captained by Marcel Perben. Or La Mancha… from your expression I take you’ve heard of him?”
“In passing only. Clark pondered raiding Fort-de-France, so we reached out our feelers for information about the target.”
“With luck we´re facing Mattei only…” Chien shook his head. “But, no, I cannot count on fickle, fleeting luck now. We´ve got to make our escape as long as we still can!”
The Pride of Martinique, too, exploded into hectic activity.
“Battle stations everybody!” Captain La Mancha ordered. “Clark – you take the helm!”
“No need to tell me”, the englishman agreed. He brought the ship around in order to shrink the distance between her and the Midnight Blue some.
La Mancha´s gunners were lurking behind their cannons already…
“One thing´s for certain”, Chips sighed. “We cannot row away from them…”
The greatest adavantage of a sloop over a full ship were her oars and the ability to row against the wind. But the wind did not favour the pirates now. It blew from the east, from the same direction the french behemoth was steadily gaining on the Midnight Blue.
“Chips”, the captain adressed the Aquila´s veteran, who had served on the Midnight Blue whenever Clark´s larger ship was down for maintenance or when a mission had called for it. “What was a sloop´s optimal mode of sailing again?”
“Athwardships”, the older man informed his captain.
Chien´s lack of mariner´s lore gave him away not only as a neophyte pirate, but also as a stripling seaman. The men of the Midnight Blue had a cunning fencer, shrewd haggler and unruffled woodsman in their captain, but no sailor. But in contrast to Black Garcia, Chien del´Onyx was above hiding or even downplaying his achilles heel. Able and willing to learn, he was proving his progress to Chips daily.
His shipwright in tow, the captain hastened to the rudder. He grabbed the helmsman by his shoulder and told him: “When the Pride of Martinique performs a turn to face us with their gun hatches, get us in a square-angle to the wind! But do not do it too early, Benk, lest they smell the rat!”
The man understood the clumsily given instruction and nodded.
“No reaction at all from the Midnight Blue“, one of La Mancha´s leutnants reported.
“What did you expect?” the captain shot back. “They are pirates, they´ll be waiting for the right moment to board us. They allow us to close in on them to resolve the encounter in melee. But this favour we won´t do them.”
Meanwhile Clark hesitated to bring the galleon into battle position. Instead he kept her in the best position to intercept the Midnight Blue, in case she should try to swerve out of line towards the coast.
“The Martinique´s cutting off our retreat to the main land!” a seaman by name of Gontard, one of the closest confidates of Chien´s, realized on the Midnight Blue.
“Well, abeam is our best option, and that works two directions”, Chien del´Onyx responded. “Let´s go north!”
“But that course will lead us right into the open waters!” the helmsman protested.
“Unfortunately there´s no other way of shaking off the french.”
“But they´ll prowl there, never ever letting us come close to the coast again!”
“Then we´ll be sailing straight towards Domingo!” Chien del´Onyx yelled at the contradictory helmsman.
“We´ll be starved before we get there”, another pirate threw in. “We could just give them what they crave…”
Chien grabbed the man by his shirt, pulling him closer.
“And what could they want, if not our souls?“ he challenged. The other man averted his eyes in submission. The captain pushed him away for now, but Chips got the inkling that this man´s days on the Midnight Blue were numbered.
“I said: North!” Chien repeated his command to Benk.
“They´re fleeing! I knew it! The little doggie has his tail between the legs!” Clark exclaimed.
“Fire!“ La Mancha shouted at the same time.
The first volley went over the sloop in a high bow. Chien del´Onyx made no move to respond in the same way. He simply had his men stand ready to extinguish the fires should the next salvo hit.
“I assume you have rallied up the lordship of Martinique against your person somehow?” Chips asked his new captain. “Not just in general because you are a pirate?”
“Ask me this particular question again, once you´ve made your Gun Horses or whatever you call the things, work!” Chien replied. The shipwright had not viewed Viviane´s invention as “his” until now. He let the matter rest, even moreseo because the Pride of Martinique had gotten ready to fire again…
“We are losing them“, Captain La Mancha of the Pride of Martinique realized. “The weak wind hinders them not nearly as much as it does us. And it´s weakening even more, as if the fellows over there were dearer to the Good Lord than righteous seamen.”
“I told you before that our chances aren´t so great without a strong wind”, the “righteous seaman” Clark reminded his commander.
“I need solutions, not reproaches, Clark.”
“Hoist the white flag.“
“They will never fall for it!”
“They will, too – if there´s noise and we start listing. We should cut loose the ballast to simulate a leak.”
“And the explosion?”
“A powder keg in a rowboat. We´ll have it burst where they cannot see it.”
“Call it daring. Besides, what have we got to loose, but a boat and a bag of gunpowder, Captain La Mancha?”
“How are things going?” the Midnight Blue´s ship´s cook fearfully asked the pirate Gontard.
“They keep firering after our asses, but at this distance I do not think we are in immediate danger.”
Clamour rose when the Martinique suddenly listed. One of her guns had backfired, it seemed, or it had broken through the hull due the heavy cannon´s recoil. It happened, and when it did so to the opponent, it was welcome!
Only moments later the enemy commander hoisted the white flag.
“Captain! They are giving up!” the men rejoiced.
“The the leak must be larger than it appears from here”, Chips mused. “They probably sustained some additional damage below the waterline.”
“Whatever. They are sinking way too slowly”, Chien thought aloud. “If we approach them now, they can still open fire at us. We’d never get close enough.”
But then the Pride of Martinique´s gun hatchs closed, one by one. Alfred saw it first and shouted it out loud, unable to contain himself. Was this their chance, finally?
Chien gave the boy a simple calculation: “Two hundred french seamen and marines, eight for each of us, Freddie. That´s too much. A chance we´ve got, yes, but one for survival, not vainglory. We´ll circle around them and return to Aruba. It´s safer this way. Let´s get out of here, men!”
“The Midnight Blue did not fall for our trick”, Raoul La Mancha said. “Their new bearing leads them to the south-east…”
Clark frowned. “Towards Curacao? I wish we could give chase. But we´ll loose the Midnight Blue in the night. I saw to it myself. Notice her paint? With this coating the sloop will turn invisible at the ocean.”
“Chien cannot sail back to the dutch territories”, Jarundo added. “But La Mancha claims to have thouroughly searched the surrounding islands. A pirate hideout wouldn´t have escaped his notice. So where´s the Black Dog headed?”
“Caracas”, Clark assumed. “It may be true that he´s in posession of a spanish Letter de Marque, as the rumour goes.”
“Then we´ll have to tack these waters a bit longer than expected”, La Mancha grimly concluded.
Clark´s notion about Caracas was as wrong as wrong could be. It bought Chien del´Onyx much time to recover from the encounter with the dread from Martinique.
“I´m from Martinique”, one of his pirates by name of Louis told Chips in a moment of calm. “When I was Freddie´s age, I got caught at game poaching. A major crime against the god-given order, as they said. One might think that trying a common born runt without a surname would be below the governor´s notice, but, no, he saw to my case personally. A flogging, a few hours at the stocks – I got away much cheaper than expected. I guess de Monet saw his own little son in me. There´s this good-natured streak of his, not really a weakness, when one comes to think of it. What I’m trying to say is, I think your former captain, Clark, is still alive, though imprisoned. Chien´s pondering to liberate him from there, even although Martinique´s dangerous ground for him.”
“And settle his personal score with the french in the bargain?“ Chips assumed.
“Collect the interest, I´d say.”
“Might you have something to trade for Clark that you have not yet shown me?” Chips prodded.
Louis smirked. “Might be, but the captain will be loath to part with it”, he said.
In the weeks to follow Chien del´Onyx consolidated his hunting grounds. The reports concerning a black sloop reached the Pride of Martinique, too. Grudgingly Clark and La Mancha came to respect the pirate whose star was rising that fast. They buried their differences, working together as one man to devise a plan that would bring about the Black Dog´s downfall. Their original mission, the quest for the governor´s lost son, had been fruitless. Capturing the Midnight Blue became the men’s last flicker of hope, something to concentrate on in order not having to admit their failure.
But then, one day, the privateer locked himself up in Raoul´s cabin and Jarundo was seeing to it that nobody breached his defences.
Up to that day, Raoul La Mancha had not given this man much thought. Jarundo had been nothing more than Clark´s constant shadow in his eyes, a convicted pirate like so many others.
Laying siege on his own cabin had led to some intense duels of words and will between the captain and Jarundo. La Mancha learned that the native was not Clark´s mere sidekick, but the more level-headed part of a duo of equals. Jarundo was older than his friend, a man driven by desire like the nextbest pirate, but ultimately ruled by reason. In his own unobtrusive manner, he could get his way just as easily as flamboyant Clark. La Mancha never felt challenged by Jarundo, as he had by Clark, and because of this he learned to trust the “wild one´s” suggestions. Jarundo was an experienced seaman, although in this area of expertise he had to teach nothing to La Mancha. His wisdom covered the human nature instead and in this Jarundo proved as competent as the late – no, the lost! La Mancha corrected himself – Francois de Monet had been.
“Captain La Mancha!” Jarundo shouted across the deck one day.
“Captain!” Jarundo called again. “He wishes to speak to you, now. Clark.“
“How gracious, to receive an invitation to one´s own cabin”, La Mancha grumbled.
Clark’s friend just shrugged. Leading the way, he coughed a few times. It sounded like “Huff, huff” and conveyed quite innocently what additional similarity Jarundo saw between La Mancha and Clark.
Had the captain wanted to use his cabin so badly, he’d have Clark extracted from it by force the very first day of the “siege”. But La Mancha had let the prisoner work his magic, because he needed results and, however much he complained, believed the little inconvenience worth it in the end.
La Mancha followed Jarundo into the room, unable to hide his anticipation.
Clark looked severly tired. He smelled unwashed for days, his hair was oily and his belly was grumbling, but, as La Mancha noticed, the man was correctly shaved as befit an officer. Leave it to that ambitious englishman to put his appearance before his basic needs!
“Anything?” the captain asked briskly.
Clark nodded. “You were right all along, La Mancha. There is indeed a pattern to the Black Dog´s operations. And I finally found it!”
He pointed at a sheet of paper on top of a heap of calculations.
“This is a prognosis if his movements for the next four weeks.”
“Anything we can use to our advantage?”
“A stopp to unload goods at Rio de la Hacha.”
“Can we get there before him?” Jarundo asked.
Simultanously the two captains grinned widely and that was was answer enough for the pirate. This time the wind was on their side!
“You´ll be the one wearing a disguise, this time”, La Mancha told Clark. “Since France and Spain maintain a wacky peace at the moment, we can approach Rio openly. You´ll be playing the role of a french marine.”
“On your orders, Sir, Captain Snyder…” Clark murmured.
Then he bent over the table and was asleep over his calculations the same instant.
“Captain Snyder?” La Mancha wondered.
“His last commander from when he was a soldier”, Jarundo said casually. “He died by the hands of the spaniards and Clark took over his ship afterwards. But that really should not worry you now…”
Rio de la Hacha.
Four days and one quick naval battle later.
The tavern Traitor’s head was situated not far from the fortress. It got frequented not by seamen, but rather by the off-duty soldiers from the fortress, some dock workers and small-scale vendors from the port district. Strangers were rarely seen in the Traitor´s Head, but they were not unwelcome.
This evening a french captain with his adjutant and indian servant were counted among the patrons. The three were quite merry, but that came to nobody´s surprise, considering the outcome of their most recent battle.
“They won´t make it far with all the damage we dealt them”, La Mancha claimed.
“Drinks on the house for the men who defeated the Black Dog!” the owner of two small trading ships called out. “Come on, barkeep, don´t be cheap!”
“Not exactly defeated”, someone else interrupted. “And now he´ll be mad at Rio, spanish Letter de Marque or no.”
“Still, we have to ackknowledge the frenchs´ success”, a noncomissioned officer from the fortress said. “Crippling the Midnight Blue has been a great feat, and with that travesty of a galleon to boot!”
“Don´t let him rattle your drawers”, Clark whispered to La Mancha. “I, at least, apprecciate your ship. It´s perfect.”
“But she doesn´t look like much”, the privateer thought. “And that´s what makes the Martinique the perfect pirate ship. Normally, when confronted with a warship of this size, everybody will flee. But not so from the Martinique.”
La Mancha would harbour similar thoughts, so Clark changed the subject.
“Black Dog will wish to sneak into town”, he said. “He´s got a hold full of booty, but neither food nor ammunition. He desperately needs a fence, so he´s bound to come here. Except for a tiny Jesuite Mission there are no settlements within the Midnight Blue´s reach – not in the pitieful condition we left her.”
“That´s what we would do, anyway”, Jarundo added, as quietly.
La Mancha rose from his seat, when another group of strangers entered the tavern a short while later. The black clad leader of the arrivals eyed the frenchman curiously.
La Mancha drew his weapon and to the captain´s left and right his companions followed his example.
Before the arrivals could react, some daring townsmen cut off their retreat by shoving several barrels and a table against the Traitor´s Head´s door from the inside. They were merchants, peddlers and common workers, united in their disdain for the pirate, who dared walking into their midst openly.
The spanish soldiers themselves had no reason to attack or arrest Chien del´Onyx as long as he had done nothing like existing. But on the other hand no agreement bound them to come to the privateer´s aid.
“Captain La Mancha”, the Black Dog greeted his enemy. “So this is the place of our final encounter? At land? Pray tell, why are you making things so easy for me? Are you tired of the hunt?”
And with these words the battle erupted!
“Oi! I was wrong!” Chien laughed. “You are tired of life, too!“
Without having to look, he jumped onto one of the barrels in his back. “My gratitude for providing those, good people of Rio”, he sneered. “Much obliged!”
The pirate captain´s four companions shot forth now to finish off La Mancha’s servant and adjutant quickly. One went for the indian, three others for the one who looked like a young marine.
Clark tumbled out of his attackers´s reach with practiced ease, but they pressed the attack again. Only now they knew that their intended victim wasn’t as helpless as they had assumed and chose their movements more considerate.
Jarundo had even less problems with his single attacker. He kept his position and waited for Clark to go back to back with him. From their sanctuary-like defence the two eyed La Mancha and the Black dog. To his dismay he found the pirate still out of reach. Getting through the wall of blades wasn’t a matter of two or three quick strikes, as it had been, were they common sailors.
Jarundo slashed out at one of his opponents, Chien’s helmsman Benk. The man jumped backwards one or two feet. But instead of following through, Jarundo raised his cutlass, shouting “For the freedom of Rio de la Hacha!” in the hope of goading the patrons into joining the fight. The presence of a licensed, but in the end unpredictable, privateer in the surrounding waters had made many citizens nervous recently, especially since this Chien del´Onyx was a foreigner.
Jarundo´s plan worked. A handful of townspeople came to his and Clark´s aid, keeping busy his attackers. They were free to move around and choose the opponent they wanted to engage now.
“Go!” Jarundo urged Clark.
“I’m on it!”
Clark and La Mancha dashed towards Chien. La Mancha was the faster. The officer kicked over the table Chien had danced onto from his barrel. The pirate lost his footing. Falling he managed to roll with the momentum and escape the full impact of La Mancha´s blade coming down on him. It had been a maneuver that would not have been very effective with an epée anyway. Only Chien´s shirt got cut, the man remained unscathed.
“What´s this going to be? Duel to the third stitch?” the black dog mocked his opponent. Not that he felt like joking in the least. For Felipe, his buccaneer friend who loved a good fight accompanied by some choice curses, had fallen silent after the first contact with the enemy. Foes that put up enough of a challenge to make Felipe stopp cursing were never good news. La Mancha alone was a dangerous opponent, but that servant and assistant of his seemed to be capable fighters in their own right. Very capable, veteran officer level combatents, to be specific. Chien wondered what exactly he was facing here.
The pirate got back to his feet, when La Mancha and his adjutant tried to attack simultanously, yet only managed to render each other’s attack non-effective. He tossed the turned-over table into La Mancha’s direction and locked blades with his adjutant.
While their captain squared off with La Mancha and the blonde youth, the other pirates found themselves hard pressed not only by Jarundo, but also by the townspeople. Trying to evade a blow from a heavy chair, one of them tripped and stumbled right into Jarundo´s cutlass.
The other three got overpowered and disarmed one by one. Now Felipe cursed again – only this time not from enjoyment of his situation.
“Consider yourself arrested on account of disturbance of the peace!” the spanish non-comissioned officer told the captives, grinning. “The City Watch will be so pissed about the extra-work that you can expect to stay a good while in the hole before they even think of penning down a protocol.”
“And an additional week because they´ve got to cope with the fact that we interferred with their work again”, one of his underlings added. “Let´s have a good look at your purses now…”
Benk was looking over his shoulder repeatedly, when the prisoners were led away. Spending some days in the slammer after a tavern brawl was nothing new to the man. The only difference was that this time he was sober. Getting arrested also meant being safe for now while his captain had to face the french officer. The helmsman really did not envy Chien his fate…
Still locked in duel with Clark, Chien del´Onyx realized that he could only delay his defeat.
A murmur went through the crowd, when Chien del´Onyx let go of his weapon.
“Away with it!” Clark commanded.
He placed the point of his epée at the other´s throat.
The Black Dog obeyed. He kicked his rapier away with his foot. The he bent to his knees slowly, while La Mancha´s adjutant closed in on him. Only a few heartbeats later it became obvious that the pirate had not knelt, but merely flexed his knees in preparation of a sudden jump!
Several onlookers screamed, when Chien forced Clark into a grapple. From a hidden holster inside his sleeve the pirate let snap forth a thin knife. He pressed the blade against his captive´s throat under his chin.
“So, La Mancha”, the Black Dog panted. “If you wish to get your assistant back in one piece, let me go!”
The captain indicated a short nod.
“And you´ll refrain from giving chase!”
“He´s not that dear to me, come to think of it”, the french said.
“Don´t let him go!” some of the citizens called out.
“Let´s hang the other three first!” another one suggested.
“Aside from the boy, what else have you got to offer, Onyx?” La Mancha inquired.
“What do you want? Gold?”
“To begin with, your word not to harm Rio de la Hacha in the next ten years.”
“Didn´t plan to anyway”, Chien admitted. “Deal.”
“We are also interested in information about the Prince Paris´ fate, a ship lost near the Gulf of Maracaibo”, La Mancha continued. “Especially about Captain Pierre Dupont and Francois de Monet.”
“De Monet?” Chien whispered.
“The name sounds familiar?”
“Er… isn´t that the governor’s of Martinique´s name?” Chien del´Onyx tried to cover up his lapse, all the while moving a little closer to the exit with his captive.
La Mancha pointed towards the man Jarundo had accidently killed.
“This man was a sailor from the Prince Paris”, he claimed.
Though the officer had not been entirely certain, the black dog’s reaction proved that he had not erred. Chien paused, his fingers twitched nervously.
“How would you know! That’s a guess, nothing more! To those of standing all the rest are of no consequence, aren’t they? One looks like the other to you!”
Just when Chien had finished his accusation, he was already flying through the air and landing hard on the Traitor´s Head´s clay floor. Loosening his grip on his hostage even the slightest bit had been a severe mistake.
Now Clark was threatening Chien with the pirate´s own knife.
“I´m confident you can delve a bit more specific into the subject”, he purred. “Well?”
“Yes, yes, the governor´s brat is with us” Chien hastened to declare. “I can have him fetched, if you let me go!”
Clark intensified the pressure against Chien´s neck.
“Why shouldn´t we get you both?”
“That´s out of the picure”, the pirate laughed, depsite his dire situation. “I´m the only one who can lead you to where we keep him and I´m going to wave you goodbye from there as a free man!”
“First things first”, La Mancha silenced the cheeky man. “You are not in the position to dictate the conditions. On to your ship, black dog!”
In the dark of night the giant sized Pride of Martinique approached the heavily damaged Midnight Blue. The Black Dog returned alone, worse: alone and as a prisoner, held in check by Clark.
But despite the hostage was clearly visible in the torchlight, the Midnight opened fire. Then she turned, hoping to make her escape in the chaos following her first salvo.
“I see yours isnt´the most loyal of crews, either”, Clark remarked to the pirate in a jolly tone.
“Doesn´t matter”, Captain La Mancha decided. “We´ve got what we need. Besides, I still owe the Midnight Blue´s destruction to somebody …”
The man raised his gloved right hand. “Return fire!”
His adjutant stared at La Mancha and could not believe it. And just like Clark had done in the Traitor’s head, Black Dog used his one chance to pull himself loose. He jumped over the rail and into the water, right into the raging inferno.
The lopsided battle did not last long. Soon the Midnight Blue drifted on the water in the form of black planks, barrels and and torn sails only.
“There´s no use in searching for survivors in this darkness”, Jarundo said. “Looks like we have to return to Rio and interrogate the imprisoned pirates there.”
But La Mancha and Clark were of one mind in this regard: The french desperately needed a live witness who could lead them to Chien´s secret hideout. The pirate had not demanded a ransom for Francois, which led to the assumption that he kept him for his entertainment. What condition the kidnapped nobleman was in could only be guessed and every hour young de Monet remained in captivity could be his last.
La Mancha delegated the command of the search party to Clark. Boats were put to water. With lanterns fastened to long poles the seaman sweeped the water, scouring the sloop´s wreckage. Jarundo got lucky first. He found the Black Dog´s mask drifting on the water.
“The rest went to the fishes”, he stated.
The bodies the search party found no longer housed souls. But Clark gave not up that easily and his patience was rewarded.
“Over there! Somebody´s holding fast to a crate!” the englishman called out.
He ordered his coxswain to steer closer.
Menawhile the man Clark had discovered lost his handhold. He sank into the water, not to surface again.
Clark jumped overboard without stripping off his boots. He had swom in stirred up waters before and was an expert diver.
The privateer´s decision to keep on his uniform payed off soon after he had dived in. He sank rapidly, faster than Chien´s crewman, and had reached the man´s body in no time.
Clark grabbed the man. Now he had to get rid of the ballast. Clark wriggled her ankles – one of the rare moment´s where a female pronoun seemed appropriate. The soldier boots Clark was wearing were made for a man´s feet. Slipping out of them without using her hands was not too difficult for the woman. Two pieces of cloth, that she had stuffed into the footwear to prevent sores, were still wriggling around her ankles for awhile, soaking themselves full of water. Clark struggled free of them with effort. With one-handed, but nevertheless strong, strokes she swam towards the lanterns´ light.
With the words “One´s enough?” Clark greeted the waiting seamen.
Meanwhile Chien´s accomplice was shivering in his grip from cold and fright.
“Well, he knows what´s in for him”, one the french sailors remarked. “Let´s get the scoundrel into the boat, mates! Oh, and Clark´s captive, too.”
Clark snarled, as expected. But in truth all of them were far too relieved about the search´s result to hold anything against anyone tonight.
“Let’s call it a day,” Clark decided. “If the fish I caught doesn’t agree with the captain, we can always return to Rio.”
He pulled a blanket free from under a seat. But before the rescued pirate could grab it, the englishman had pulled the woolen blanket over his own shoulders and covered his body with it. Nobody took more than peripheral notice and Clark´s secret stayed a secret once again.
Rather rudely Clark threw the rescued pirate onto the Pride of Martinique´s deck.
La Mancha gave a sudden scream: “Young dominance de Monet!”
“De Monet?” Clark gasped. “Are you sure, La Mancha?”
Up until now Clark had assumed Henri’s heir to be like sixteen years old, not a fullgrown man in his mid-twenties! Aloud, however, he said: “So he was at the Midnight Blue, after all? The Black Dog lied to us?”
Francois winced at the name.
“Why should he not lie?” he asked with a grim face. “Chien, ha! He´s treated me like a dog. I had to serve him hand and foot as his slave!”
La Mancha nodded, understanding. His sympathy was with his freed friend and the dead pirate captain equally. Chien del´Onyx had been of the same age as Francois. His closeness to the french and the spanish culture gave reason to assume that he, too, had called the island of Trinidad his home. During the french occupation the Black Dog must have been a young boy. But now nobody would get to know about what memories of this time he had carried with him…
Francois straightened. He wore only a loincloth. The complete lack of bruises or whip scars on his body told Clark that the noble must have been a very obedient slave. The privateer prided himself on his keen nightvision that many of the eagles had developed over time. It had served him well during the dive and now to estimate the newcomer.
“Light blonde hair, the eyes a very light shade of gray, but a bit small. Hm. All in all quite a fine figure of a man”, Clark could not help but think. “Considering he hasn´t exercised his body for months or practiced with a weapon…”
Clark could not to admire Francois´s merits to their fullest extent, because Jarundo hastened to dress the governor´s son in his own servant´s uniform from Martinique. To a man of standing any clothing would be preferred over nudity, the carib indian thought.
Francois seemed satisfied, even thankful. His lips remained tigthly pressed together after his short outburst, however.
“Captain Clark”, La Mancha announced, “You´ve finished this mission and finished it well, I must say!”
“This is Clark?” Francois de Monet inquired. “And you are calling him captain?!”
“We share the command between us…”
“Oh, no, you don´t!” Henri´s heir protested. He tightened up his body a bit more. “Hereby I, Francois de Monet of Martinique, take command of the Pride of Martinique!” he declared. A smile crossed the freed man´s face. “She´s done great. My commends to officers and crew!”
When the cheers started rising around them, Clark followed the nobleman´s gaze. Francois did not only look around proudly, but also upwards, where the stars were dancing for his liberator. The privateer almost felt that they were trying to tell him something. Though everything had ended well, he could not shake a weird feeling…
Come morning Clark stood at the rail, watching the rolling waves. The Pride of Martinique was homeward bound, but by no means was this cause for the crewmembers to get about their work less carefully. Never before had Clark seen such disciplined a crew! But it wasn´t his any longer and until they reached the dutch waters there was nothing to do for the privateer captain.
Certainly the de Monet family would compensate the company for the loss of the Midnight Blue in some way. Clark felt less sorry than expected about the loss, for he kept dreaming of overtaking the Martinique. Dreams were not supposed to be rational, right?
Francois´ thoughts, too, were about the galleon, when he approached his rescuer.
“My father had high hopes for this ship”, he told the englishman. “How has she served, Clark?”
“She´s the best ship I ever commanded, including the Aquila”, Clark answered truthfully. “I know no mariner who could best her.”
“No ship can be better than it´s captain…”
“Yes, the Midnight was a tough opponent”, Clark admitted. “I expected nothing else from her.”
“Indeed”, de Monet answered, then he, too, cast his eyes at the ocean. Clark could not tell what the nobleman might be dreaming of.
“Was there a blonde-bearded man at the Midnight Blue? With a boy?” Clark eventually asked. The freed nobleman closed his eyes. Whatever emotions accompanied his memories of the pirate crew, he fought them down.
“Yes. They were captives like me at first, but got absorbed into the crew.” Francois paused. “The kid´s a pain. He likes to have fun with prisoners. What little goes on in his head is centred all around himself. He needs a strict hand, but his uncle isn´t the one to give him that. Chips, now, he was kind. He helped me a lot. Never got to know his real name…”
“So they are dead.”
“Actually, no!” Francois laughed.
Again, Clark could not tell whether this laughter was caused by sadness or relief. Perhaps a mixture of both.
“Chien left them in his secret hideout last time he set out. A few of his friends also stayed behind.”
“One of them might decide to don the mask and become the new Black Dog.”
“Mhm… You may be right. It is not completely out of the picture.”
The two men´s contemplative mood was broken by Jarundo. The pirate obviously was in a festive mood.
“Captain de Monet! La Mancha!“ he shouted. “Will the sow have to wait till Martinique?!”
“Whom exactly do you refer to?” La Mancha asked back.
Perplexed Jarundo replied: “Well, the sow, what else? A mission sucessfully completed always calls for the slaughtering of a pig!”
La Mancha smirked. “Soldiers of France need no such incentives to perform their duty. Their pay and honor are reward enough.”
“Easy-care”, Clark remarked. “And what about us officers?”
“I could have a frog served to you”, La Mancha offered.
Clark pulled aside his friend. “Come, brother. I reckon we´ve got a bad influence on him.”
“That´ll be be a long journy to Martinique”, Jarundo sighed, crestfallen. “We cannot even be certain if we´ll get there, nobody ever can. And then no sow!”
“You´ll get one all for yourself in Fort-de-France”, Clark promised. “But in this you are right: the journey will take long, with nothing to do.”
“Shouldn´t the pirate-lords be glad to be allowed to run free on my ship?” Francois snapped at the two prisoners.
“Apart from the fact that it is a waste of good talent?” Clark retorted. “You´ve got the best navigator of all of Westindia here!”
“Ah, yes, the famous Eagle-charts”, Francois recalled. “The Black Dog was talking bout them.”
“Forget him”, Clark adviced the nobleman.
“You let him escape!”
“Only to see him drown miserably”, Jarundo said. “Don´t worry. He´s gone for good.”
Common sense was on Jarundo´s side, but it was a fact that no body had been found. Soon the legends surrounding Chien del´Onyx and his life after his end would set in. But when that happened, Clark planned to be well away from here and on his way north – from a slightly less wealthy town of Fort-de-France.
The young de Monet, however, could not forget the pirate captain that easily. He practiced fencing with sabre, dagger and epée with his friend Raoul. Clark´s suggestion to include the hand-axe got rejected by both of the gentlemen alike.
One of those days de Monet and La Mancha were facing each other in mock battle, armed with epées and parrying daggers. La Mancha was well versed in this technique, with an extraordinary talent for cross-blocking. Clark had already noticed this when the Pride of Martinique had captured prizes in the past time during their long hunt for Chien.
But something about Francois´ fighting style did not sit well with the privateer captain. The man was using his off-hand weapon clumsily, leaving himself open for La Mancha´s attacks far too often.
Only several days later Clark realized what his problem was: not a weakness of the frenchman, but a strength he wasn´t aware of. Clark himself was equally skilled with his left and right hand, not because of extensive practice, but because he had been born knowing no difference between them. He had maintaned the upper hand in the duel against the Black Dog in the Traitor´s Head only because he had kept confusing his opponent by switching his main hand repeatedly. Now he recognized the same natural talent in Francois.
“Hey, Mister Wrong War Money!” Clark yelled at the nobleman. “That´s not a buckler you´ve got there, but a dagger! Attack with it!”
The distraction cost Francois his concentration and La Mancha scored the final point he needed to win this battle.
Francois strolled over towards Clark, looking at him curiously.
“What do you mean, Clark?”
La Mancha accompanied the two, but he waved his hand dismissingly about the englishman´s suggestion. “Two-weapon-offence is a maneuvre of desperation, Francois”, he explained.
“When the Black Dog boarded us, it was a desperate situation”, Francois replied.
He stepped closer to Clark, demanding: “I´ve got to learn all I can about fighting. Teach me this style of yours!”
“I strongly advise you against handing him one weapon, let alone two!” Raoul protested.
But Clark had the better arguments: “Come on, Captain, why would I kill him of all persons? He´s the mission objective, after all. Keeping him alive ensures my wellbeing, too.”
“Very well, you´ve got my permission”, La Mancha gave in. “But be careful!” he warned his younger friend and repeated this warning in different words at the start of each practice battle between Francois and the prisoner.
Francois de Monet turned out a quick learner. Soon he had learned everything Clak knew about dual-wielding, but he had yet to defeat his teacher. The men saw each other only a few hours each day. They met, fought doggedly and parted again.
One of these days Francois selected two sabres for his weapons instead of the usual fencing weapon/parrying dagger combination.
“Do you want to lose even faster than usually?” Clark teased his pupil.
But Francois was confident. Two idendical blades it had to be for the heir of Martinique, not something that wasn´t even a proper weapon, but a tool and toy used by commonborn fishermen´s children.
Smiling superciliously Clark took initiative immediately. But his smile faded after the first exchange of swings. The two mens´ battleground covered the whole ship and they had agreed beforehand to employ no other helpful elements that went beyond their weapons and bodies. They stayed at ground level, ignoring sand sacks as well as seamen and even paused their fight once, allowing the ship´s cook to pass by, when he had to cross the battlefield with two buckets full of water.
The men’s battle had something of a dance, but Jarundo secretly called it “mating ritual”. Many lookers-on could hardly follow the combatents´ movements, but the more experienced fighters soon realized: Clark´s attention had shown Francois where his real expertise in dueling lay. Already the merchant fought at a very high level of skill that was on par with La Mancha’s. With some more training he would be unbeatable.
Clark, too, had realized this, but he was loath to give up now.
Jarundo laughed: “Now that´s a three-week-wonder you´ve unleashed there, brother!”
Clark did not even snarl at this. He needed to concentrate on Francois and his whirling sabres.
Forced into the defensive, Clark eventually tired enough to make the crucial mistake. A parry, when he should have sidestepped, a rash counter-attack not thought out well enough, his own momentum employed against him and he combatent fell backwards. When he came to lie on his back, Clark felt two bladepoints against his chin.
La Mancha and the leutnants rushed in to congratulate their liege, but Francois had not yet drawn back his weapons. Clark stared into the nobleman’s eyes. He found a mask self-control only. What primeval forces raged underneath, stayed hidden from the privateer.
“Young dominance…?” Uncharasteristically shy La Mancha adressed the man he had helped raise up.
Jarundo interrupted: “Put away that stinger, Francois! He´s not the Black Dog! Without Clark, you would still rot on the Midnight Blue!”
“Enough!” Raoul La Mancha directed his words of scolding not at the governor´s son, but Jarundo. “Francois”, he then turned to the noble. “Your father gave Captain Clark his word! Do not disgrace your family name!”
“That´s what it´s all about, isn´t it?” Francois´ voice was faltering. “The honor of the de Monet family!”
In a high swing he retracted his blades, sheathing them once again.
“Raoul! I wish to see no pirates ´till we get back to Martinique! It was too much. I have to become myself again before… before all else. Let´s consider this closed, my friend, and lock these two up.”
When four armed men surrounded Jarundo and Clark to lead them away, Francois turned around one last time. “Oh, and buy a sow in the next village we pass by!”
Clark heard Jarundo scream in indignance. He realized that they had made a grave mistake. Men like the young de Monet were not used to getting rescued. They were the people in power and lived in the illusion to be able to master any crisis by themselves. Clark knew this way of thinking too well. His own imagined superiority had brought into this mess, after all.
On the other hand, it his pride was also the only thing keeping Clark from crying, when the small cell they were put into was locked behind him and Jarundo.
Two days later:
“What are they doing?“ Jarundo whispered.
Clark had to look twice, peeping through a hole an the wooden door to Francois´ cabin. With an expression of utmost incromprehension in his face he answered: “They are bathing. Only french can get the idea to place a bathtub on a ship in the middle of the ocean!”
The carib indian nodded. “Weird. But I´m all for taking a bath, as you know. It´s a great idea, normally.“
Clark turned around, looking at the crewmembers standing in their backs. Two of them were looking rather guilty, since it had been their task to oversee the prisoners on their daily walk on deck. The sailors had not expected anything out of order from the duo. Clark and Jarundo had behaved civilly almost all through the journey, after all. To use the priviledge granted to Francois´ rescuers by Captain La Mancha to spy on the governor´s son now, deemed the french sailors a bold feat of piracy!
“Spread out a sail, we wish to have bath, too!” Clark told the seamen.
The men laughed out loud! “Soso, the masters wish to bath!”
“Not just the two of us. You, too! Don´t you wish to?”
“We are not giving in to whims, Misterclark”, one the french replied, as if the english titulation was part of the name. The name of the man who seemed to have no other first name.
“There goes your ‘easy-care’ – crew, Eagle”, Jarundo remarked.
Clark pulled open the door to Francois´ cabin.
“Well, then we´ll use the proper offcial channels”, he claimed. “Captain de Monet, asking permission to chuck a sail into the water!”
“I can think of something else I´d really like to toss over the rail”, Francois replied. Snapping his fingers he signaled La Mancha, who was already clothing himself again after his bath. “See to it, my friend!”
Clark and La Mancha disappeared through the door, closing it again behind them.
Four empty water barrels were tied to a large canvas and then the makeshift construction was lowered into the water. The sail cloth became saturated with water, but the empty barrels hindered it from sinking completely. Thus the seamen had created a basin where they could enjoy themselves in the shallow sea water.
“You are above such child´s play, I take it, Captain Clark?” La Mancha inquired.
“Indeed”, Clark, master swimmer that he was, replied.
La Mancha slapped the englishman on his back brotherly – or so it seemed at first. But then he grabbed him by his shirt and shoved him over the rail with his other hand.
“Thought so”, Captain La Mancha said.
He turned away, satisfied, when he heard a loud splashing noise and an even louder protest afterwards. La Mancha had carried out de Monet´s unspoken order and Clark cried blue murder.
In his cabin Francois de Monet meanwhile simulated the stirring of real waves with his toes. His civilized bath with the clear water and the bathing oils and essences wasn´t really to the young man´s liking. It smelled so strange and felt completely different than to swim in the lagoon at Aruba Island. With weeds in his hair. And with Swantje.
Francois sighed. Swantje had a lot to offer to a man´s eye and… other parts. Francois had to admit this, even though he preferred spanish women. What had they been laughing about during the last trip to the lagoon? Ah, yes, they had talked about whales. How loveplay could give cause to the most weird topics!
Perhaps Swantje was even now enjoying herself with Pierre…
Angrily, but ultimately to no avail, Francois quenched a handfull of bath water between his fingers. Pierre would not have freaked out at the sight of a single little warship! But Captain-leutnant Pierre Dupont had watched the Pride of Martinique´s construction from the first plank, too. He would have wanted her and together with Chips, Chien and his friends would have performed this feat one day, or so Francois believed.
But now Chien´s crew consisting of french sailors and spanish coastal pirates was resting in a wet seaman´s grave as befitted a bunch of traitors like them. And Francois, the only survivor, was on his way to Martinique where, as he felt, lifelong captivity was waiting for him. A gilded cage, but a cage nonetheless. And there was nobody in Martinique he could unburden his heart to about what really had transpired since the anihilation of the Prince Paris. Francois had to keep all of it his secret ´till his deathbed.
Clark and Jarundo, the prisoners, they were free, really free. Did they realize this? Did they apprecciate it?
Francois stared into his own face looming in the bath water.
“I´ve got to become again the man I used to be”, he repeated his own words. But who was he, after all? The noble heir Francois de Monet he had been raised to be, or the pirate he had chosen to be those recent months?
The Pride of Martinique had anchored at a small island that Clark had called “large enough to contain a house and garden“. The privateer and his loyal friend had to bide their time in the small cell, while crew and officers made a merry time at land by their captain´s decree.
Obviously the cell had no window to watch the party through, but the prisoners could hear the noise. The inhabitants of the costal thorp had joined the seamen in their festive mood and only a skeleton crew remained on the galleon.
Clark and Jarundo rose as one man when, they heard the deckofficer´s steps directly above their heads. This was the moment! A better chance for taking over the Pride would not present itself.
Clark was still wearing young de Monet´s attire, including the boots. Francois had confiscated the hidden needle, dagger and the weights in the sleeves, however. The imprisoned had only a few objects less suitable for breaking out at their disposal: the tooth of a rat Jarundo had killed, some wooden splinters, a piece of toenail of Clark´s and a large amount of impertinence.
The privateer captain knew a bit about lockpicking. It would take time, but the endeavour wasn´t hopeless. Jarundo was listening for disturbances while his captain worked. Clark was listening to the even more elusive sounds of the tiny tumblers. Again and again they clicked in places where they should not, and slipped from the spots where Clark wanted them. But every mistake taught the lockpicker more about this particular setup.
Eventually Clark heard the liberating sound of the mechanism giving in. He flashed his friend a grin, then opened the door of their cell.
Jarundo took the point. He had taught his captain the native hunters´ way of stealth and secrecy, but only one born as an indian could ever master them fully.
When the two emerged from the lower deck, the sound of water splashing could be heard. The escapees did not pay it any heed, because it did not repeat itself.
It was far more important to aquire some weaponry – that meant either sneaking to the armory or stealing it from the guards. Perhaps those soldiers would even play along, once confronted with the new situation. Because two men alone could hardly sail a full sized galleon, Clark and Jarundo had no other choice but to make some fast allys among their opponents. Alone they would never be able to reach Curacao, where Clark wanted to harvest his seed potatoes (with an option to peel them and sizzle them in oil) .
Seaman switching sides and joining a pirate crew was not unheard of. Especially those serving on battleships were often men conscripted into service against their will or criminals given the choice between prolonged imprisonment under inhumane conditions and the dangerous war service. Others had applied voluntarily, full of high hopes and expectations, only to have their illusions crushed by the harsh reality. All of them would seize the – at first glance – better opportunity and become pirates. Clark and Jarundo knew the names of men of each category: Joe Surname, Tom Fishfry and James Maria Perry. They did not know the name of the first guard they clobbered…
Clark took the man´s cutlass, Jarundo the knife. Then Clark signaled his friend where to turn to next.
On their way to the quarterdeck Jarundo picked up a musket. He moved towards a marine standing guard near the now empty captain´s cabin. Thinking about how to best get into the man´s back or at least close in unnoticed, Jarundo held fast to his improvised club – when suddenly the soldier rolled his eyes and sank down with a heavy moan.
From behind the now unconscious man´s back Francois de Monet appeared, holding a heavy boarding hook in his hands.
“What´s he doing here?!” Jarundo hissed.
Francois smirked: “Taking over the Pride of Martinique. And you?”
“Same as you”, Clark replied.
“Why should he steal his own ship?” Jarundo flared up.
“Because it isn´t his. It´s the ship of the governor´s of Martinique´s son.”
Jarundo nodded, the subtle difference not lost to him.
“Just to think of it… I had all the pieces where I wanted them: La Mancha at the island, most of the soldiers off the ship and my new quartermaster and navigator locked up in a cell until needed”, Francois sighed. “Are you still the best navigator of Westindia, Clark?” he inquired then.
“Of any use as helmsman, too?”
“Already there”, Clark nodded, moving towards the rudder.
“Sail a course that brings us along the northern coast of Aruba!” Francois instructed his new ally. “Then I´m going to reveal to you the secret hideout of Chien´del Onyx´s!”
Halfway to the helm Clark hesitated. “You owe me a sloop, frenchman, but the Martinique will do for a start!”
Francois paled visibly. “What? Why me? I´m not responsible for the loss of the Midnight Blue!“
Clark performed a gesture with his hand. Even though Jarundo did not understand, why he should grapple the young de Monet, he carried out the request at once. At sea one had to trust each other blindly. Because of this Jarundo of course expected an explanation, but he could wait for the right moment, until then doing what his warrior captain deemed necessary.
Clark came down the stepps again rather brisk. He hit Francois hard several times.
“Nobody who calls himself a captain should lie as as insolent you, Black Dog The Midnight was yours to command when she died. If you deny this, you´ll end in the same grave… Chien!”
Jarundo gasped. “Chien?!“
“I had to become again the man I used to be, before I could face you again, Clark“, Francois reminded the englishman of the words spoken at the end of their last practice battle. “And that´s Chien de´Onyx. Yes, Jarundo, it is true. I was the black dog, all the time since we sank the Prince Paris to feign our deaths. And I thought I had to fear your perception more than Clark´s in this respect…”
“Well”, Clark laughed, “I know a thing or two about disguises! Let him go, Jarundo. Francois´s one of us now.”
Francois bowed respectfully to the privateer. This was not exactly what he had planned, but an outcome he could live with. It was far better, after, all, then the first time he had set foot on the galleon:
“Move your feet, rat!”
The tone Raoul´s adjutant of obviously spanish heritage employed was new to Francois and he crinched. This marine had proved a fine opponent for the man that he knew only in his guise as “Chien del´Onyx”. But Chien could bear entering the Pride of Martinique as a captive even less than his alter ego Francois. Hundreds of thoughts were racing through the man´s mind, fighting their own battles in there.
Chien had to guide the Martinique to the place where his sloop was anchoring and all the time the annoying marine was at his side. He spoke little, as befit his low rank, but what he had to say had Francois listen up. What did that mean “the most loyal of crews…?”. And “you, too?” Had Captain La Mancha had to face a mutiny during his journey? No, that was not possible! Every mariner, including Chien himself, admired La Mancha! But Raoul called Martinique his home and would not leave it willingly. Because of this, the two old friends had to part ways. The thought of them becoming enemies Francois still could not fathom.
All this went through the pirate´s head in the the short time between him jumping overboard and diving in. Now the darkness engulfed him, forcing his attention to the present. Chien´s boots had to go if he was to survive. The rest of his disguise had to follow – for the same reason.
The water dampened the sound of the cannons speaking above. The pirate risked surfacing, but where should he turn to? His second-in-command would try to escape from the larger ship. A captain could be replaced anytime, not so the Midnight Blue. Who cared that the Black Dog felt exactly the opposite? The Midnight, he realized, would not survive the battle. In order for Francois de Monet to survive, Chien del´Onyx had to perish with his ship.
But it was one thing to survive in the stirred up waters during a naval battle, undressing and staying hidden all the while cost the pirate all the strength he could muster. When he finally found a crate he could hold onto, he felt elated somehow, drunken from the high of another adventure mastered.
Unable to fully realize his exhaustion Francois waved his hands to signal the approaching row boats to his position. Doing so he lost his grip and once again was swallowed by the black-ness. But out of the dark something was coming at him… At first the man believed it was a uge fish, so easily was the swimmer blending with his environment. An isle of calm moved with the stranger, another mystery of the sea the noble scion raised as a merchant could not yet fathom. And then the diver grabbed him! Francois felt as if he had been seized by a predator fish. Now his old life would claim him again…
The Black Dog was shivering from cold and anger, when he realized to have lost. He almost laughed out hysterically, when he stood on the Pride of Martinique´s deck for the second time that day. The pitch trap had been triggered, the trapdoor’s hatch closed over his head, the play was over and the actors as well as audience went home. Only the epilogue was still to act out. ‘Was this how La Mancha´s betrothed that was murdered by pirates has felt in the end?’ Francois wondered. When life and death seemed equally terrible prospects?
Somebody threw a jacket over Francois´s shoulders. His body language portrayed gratitude, but the man´s mind was hardly present. Only the mentioning of a certain name had Francois´ body and spirit return out of of the hands of an invisible puppet player into his own control. Captain La Mancha had called his adjutant “Clark” just now! The adventurous nobleman knew of course every legend about Captain Clark. He took a closer look at the man wearing a marine´s uniform. Clark´s dark blonde hair reached his shoulders, his eyecolor was somehow undecided between blue and gray, he was of average height for a man and his facial features were strangely boyish. Had Francois not known that the englishman was at least five years older than him, he would have judged him much younger. No wonder that everybody had bought into his “La Mancha´s adjutant” – disguise!
“This is Captain Clark?”
Francois rose. He was taller than the other three men, even though at the moment La Mancha was standing taller than the half-naked governor´s son on account of wearing boots. Francois´ bare toes touched the wood under him and he felt as if he had never before stood on a ship´s deck. He tried shaking the slight dizzieness, but could not manage it. Proudly Francois raised his head. Having lost his command just now, he could still strip Clark of his, too!
“Your career ends at the gallows in Fort-de-France”, the young man thought, but he felt bad about it. Envy was a bad sin… Did he feel so dizzy because he harboured unclean thoughts? Or was it… Could it be?
“Of course!” Eventually it dawned to Francois. “The stars!“
Captain Perben had shared their secret with his Leutnant Pierre Dupont, even though captains-to-be were to find out on their own. Pierre had confided to his friend Francois, that no star had ever been dancing for him and together they had dismissed the tale as mere superstition. But here, on the Pride of Martinique, Francois experienced the dance for the first time and he knew, he had come home.
“What do you see?“ Clark asked.
The last stars of the night were winking out over the pirates´ heads, but they took their leave the same way they had watched the seizing of the Martinique tonight: dancing.
Chien swallowed. He spoke it out aloud. No true captain could lie at a direct query about the stars´ dance.
Clark nodded. “From now on they´ll continue doing it, no matter where you are. It can be comforting or feel like a slap in the face, trust me! But the stars having started to dance for you, makes our situation complicated…”
“Haha!” Chien laughed. “Well, not everybody has it as cozy as our friend Raoul on his island with the gnawed bones of his sow in front of him. But at least he can catch another one whenever he needs it.“
“And where are you going to maroon us, when you need us no longer?” a sailor of the Martinique´s skeletal crew dared to ask. It had turned out that La Mancha´s subjects obeyed their new masters at the threat of force readily, but could not be baited by the promise of a free pirate´s life. In this respect they were very different from “Francois del´Onyx”.
“Not in any port from where you men can report our deeds to Martinique in no time, I´m afraid”, the Black Dog replied. “You´ll stay nicely at Aruba. We leave you enough food and a reasonable wage from Chien del´Onyx´ treasure.”
“I do not understand, Sir de Monet!” the seaman pleaded. “After all you had to suffer from that man´s hand, you´re turning pirate now, just like him? Why?”
“Because Chien did to me nothing worse than my father before him”, Francois answered. “Making me his prisoner, dictating my decisions and restricting my life an a way mocking my rank as noble born – nay, as free born – man!”
Standing nearby Clark smirked to himself. Chien knew how to keep his secret. No one except himself and Jarundo knew that Francois de Monet and the Black Dog were one and the same person.
Clark liked the governor´s son despite their different opinions on many things, including their different loyalities – or lack thereof. When Clark had felt he had to break up with his uncle, he had not deserted England. Francois, however, was much more pirate than soldier. And he was a true captain, to boot, something, even a galleon did not need double…