When the morning sun sent his first rays down on the Martinique´s deck, he found several of the seaman going about their usual work, supervised by Jarundo. The rest of the men could not enjoy the warmth and dryness. They had been locked in the prison cells until their work shift was due. But even if all of the captives had been put to work at once, the Pride of Martinique would have been far from fully manned. As long as the wind was blowing calm and steady and encounters were limited to the sighting of ships at a far distance, the galleon was covering ground to their new owners´ satisfaction despite the lack of workers. Despite this, the three pirates were tense all the time. They worked with an efficiency that subdued their personal quirks as if they were slaves themselves.
Francois de Monet joined Clark at the helm, when they had finally arrived at Aruba. The coast was dominated by steep cliffs. Here and there black dots hinted at where caverns hollowed out the rock and probably quite deep, too. Seagulls nested in the maws of those caves.
“The caves in the cliff over there are our destination”, Francois revealed to his co-captain. “There’s the entrance to our base of operation.”
“I was under the impression the french had scoured this area already?” Clark replied, his voice betraying more than a little suspicion.
Francois just laughed at his worries! “Raoul´s search party would have discovered some frightened shipwrecked, but not adventurers determined not to get found! I have more men at my disposal than I could employ on the Midnight. The excess crewmembers always lead a good life on Aruba. It´s like our own little Tortuga, you see? Turn straight south now, please!”
The Pride drew closer to the island. A narrow gap between two cliffs formed a natural channel. A little further in, the channel was bridged by a stone arch.
“We are watched even now from out of the caves to the left and right above our heads”, Francois told Clark, pointing out the dark holes in the cliffs. “In there we found a good sized system of caverns and tunnels that we made into a fortress. The dutch herdsmen on this island don´t even know about those dens’ existance. Except for a few women, but they keep their knowledge to themselves. So – we are there. Might you try for a comparatively inoffensive first impression?”
Clark just snorted. Seconds later a crossbow bolt bore itself into the planks at his feat.
“Hey! What does this mean now?!”
“Hey there!” Francois called out, upwards. “Everything´s fine! No need to worry!”
In the mouth of one of the caves the marksman´s head appeared.
“It´s just me, Louis, an old friend. I ask permission to enter the channel!“
At this distance Louis´ facial expression was hard to read. Clark assumed that thousands of questions ought to go through the man´s mind, considering Francois´ return in this fashion. No black mask and costume, no Midnight Blue, but commanding France´s most modern warship instead. But he gathered himself up and asked: “I trust the weather was fine?”
“Come out and have a look yourselves!” Francois de Monet offered.
Louis relaxed visibly. Any other answer, Clark deduced, relayed “Danger” in various versions. In this case it would have been easy for the defenders perched in their caves to set on fire the sails of an entering ship and assault the crew with grenades.
“Wait!” Louis ordered the arrivals.
He shouted something into the cave-fortress, then a second man emerged. Fleet-footed the duo entered from their hiding place into the galleon´s rigging, climbing down from there.
Francois alias Chien del´Onyx happily approached Louis, his childhood friend. The french settlers called themselves the lords of Martinique, but in truth they controlled only the town of Fort-de-France. There was still much to explore and Francois had made a start on this almost from the day he set foot onto the island. On his daring expeditions into the island´s interior he had been accompanied by a wild horde of boys, children from any tier of society. Right from the start Louis, a stray born in Fort-de-France, and officer´s son Pierre, orphaned in the battle for Trinidad, had belonged to the gang. They had grown from adventerous children into capable explorers, but then one by one had been forced to take up the roles they were expected to from society: Monique had become Raoul’s wife, Francois a merchant and Pierre an officer. The young people were not exactly thrilled with their new responsible adult lifes, but neither were they unhappy. Francois halfsiblings held posts in the various family enterprises now and did not want it any differently, not even Adrien and Janine, the unfortunates who had ended up as servants in the family mansion. Only Louis had escaped his designated fate as lowlife-found-dead-in-a-backalley and scored a place on the Prince Paris as a sailor instead. From day one he had rued his decision. Louis missed the forest just like Francois could not let go of his more carefree days and so, when they had met again on the Prince Paris, a plan had formed between them…
Chien was stopped from greeting his accomplice by the second man, a french sailor from the Prince Paris.
“Who are you?” this man challenged.
“Gontard! What kind of question is this supposed to be? You know me!”
“Of course I know you, Francois de Monet, but it´s been awhile, you see?” the seaman replied. “Last time I saw you, it was during an inspection in Fort-de-France. In the month to follow you changed, gradually. At first into a full man, somebody we could follow, and then into the Black Dog of the Spanish Main. Now you´re standing before us in the same fancy twist you left Martinique in. So – what´s your game now? I have a right to know!”
Chien sighed: “The Black Dog´s dead. Raoul and Clark did me in. In order not to get hanged for piracy, I was forced to assume again my old identity.” The noble smirked at his man when he continued: “But if you wish to wear clothes such as mine, you´ve got to set out with the Pride of Martinique, Gontard! Because on their own the prizes won´t sail into our maw!”
“Hm”, Gontard thought aloud. “Chips and the buccaneers have no idea who the Black Dog really was. As for the rest…”
“Why, the others from the Prince Paris, of course, who were with you on the Midnight Blue! Aren´t they here, too?”
Chien shook his head in regret. “La Mancha sank us to the last man. Well, except for Fernando, Felipe and Benk, who serve some short-time imprisonment in Rio, of course. But of those who know who I am, you two and Pierre are the last.”
“What are we to tell Pierre and the others, then?” Gontard demanded. “They are waiting up there for our assessement of the situation.”
“Tell them”, Francois decided, “that the Black Dog is dead. And that the man who destroyed Chien´s ship got overpowered by me and Clark together. We marooned him afterwards, so Captain Onyx is avenged. And tell the men further, that every last one of them is welcome on the Pride. It´s the truth, from a certain point of view.”
Louis and Gontard nodded. They climbed up again with ease, clambered into the cave with a little less ease and stayed away from sight for a while.
After the messengers had gone, Clark looked around, trying to get a better picture of the channel. It did not go straight all the way, rather it was winding through the cliffs and the end could not be seen from the Pride’s anchoring spot.
“A galleon won´t fit through”, Francois voiced the obvious. “We should chain a few row boats together in order to fetch the men and our provisions.”
Clark agreed to the suggestion at once. Shortly afterwards Louis signalled the arrivals that they were granted passage.
“Where are we going to turn to after we´ve finished cleaning up here?” Francois asked, while he and Clark were rowing.
“Curacao. To complete our crew.”
“I meant: Afterwards.”
“What do you mean? What´s wrong with harassing the spaniards in these waters a bit longer?”
“You tell me! I thought, well, you are infamous for aiming much higher, Clark.”
For several beats of the oars the englishman remained silent. Then he said, tentatively: “I´ve got to recoup some substantial losses, indeed. Considering I´m going to miss out on a stash of money from Martinique now, too.”
“The reward for rescuing me?” Francois guessed.
“No. Proceeds from the sale of certain maps. The originals burnt when you attacked my Aquila.”
“Those weren´t the only copies, I take it?”
“Correct. I hid some others in the Tongue of the Ocean.“
Francois stopped rowing for a moment.
“The Tongue of the Ocean? Count me in!”
His new aquaintance´s lust für adventure warmed Clark´s heart. To a young man who had felt caged at home the voyage to the Bahamas was akin to crossing the ocean! The profit to be gained during the journey was of secondary interest to Francois, it seemed.
“We could make a detour to Martinique, however”, Clark offered.
“With a ship as well known there as ours? No way!”
Clark tried to judge the renegade. Francois´ answer had come quick, but also rash? The privateer captain could not tell. He got into detail a bit more: “I envision an attack from the landside. There´s a dire lack in surveillance…”
Now it was for Francois to row in silence. The thought of attacking his own hometown did not sit well with him. Clark nodded, uncharacteristically sympathetic. The situation in England had attuned his awareness in that matter a little.
“So the Tongue of the Ocean it will be”, he decided. “The wind has changed with the seasons, so we could aim straight for Jamaika from here. I´ve never done that with a ship rigged like ours, though. But whatever, after having to tack against the wind from Rio de la Hacha to Aruba, any speed will feel like flying!”
Clark and Francois passed several turns of the long, winding channel with their boats. Clark noticed sidearms, some of them ending in dead ends, others leading to ledges overhanging the waters. Once he spotted fishtraps and he was certain there were larger obstacles hidden below the waterline that could be triggered from within the fortress.
In some curves they had to use boarding hooks to keep the line behind them in order. The only ship able to pass the labyrinth was indeed a pinnace or a sleek sloop.
“A pity we cannot make use of this hideout”, Clark remarked. “But the Pride anchoring in front of it in full view would kind of defeat the purpose of a secret base. A barque is too large already to make it through here.”
“Except if it´s steered by you”, the Black Dog corrected.
“Come on, Clark! Ranting about how you hold this particular model in contempt at any given opportunity is part of your well-tended image! So no one might guess…”
Their boat hit shore. Francois jumped out, yanked at the line and finished his sentence: “…that you might be incredibly proficient with one!”
Angrily the englishman rammed back the oars into their position. Had he not done so, he might have given in to the urge to hit the Black Dog with it.
“Okay, okay”, the privateer hissed. “But I´m good at cooking, too, and would never contemplate to work as one!”
Francois waited for his Co-captain to get ashore, too. “You can cook?” he asked. “If that´s true, it leads to only a conclusion that is quite humilating for you.”
“What are you hinting at?” Clark flared up.
Francois shook his head. “You know. It´s better I don´t speak it out loud, because, believe me or not, I still harbour the utmost respect for you despite this revelation.”
“But I command you to!” Clark yelled.
And that was how the pirates of Aruba found their leaders-to-be: Locked in a brawl in the shallow water. Captain Clark forced the Black Dog´s head underwater and had him swallow mud.
“Now, if you´ve got nothing better to say, I can ‘baptize’ you again”, Clark said and made true on his threat at once.
“So be it”, Francois wheezed when hos head emerged from the water again. He spat water and a small stone, as if he was a fish that needed it for digestion. “I´m going to tell – in front of the whole crew! They´ve gathered behind us, in case you haven´t noticed!”
Francois revelled in his triumph. A panicking Clark totally made up for spiling his original takeover plan. The black dog saw Chips rolling his eyes behind Clark. The rest of the pirates waited anxiously what would happen next. They seemed ready to follow the Pride of Martinique´s captain – whichever of the two men would turn out to be that one.
“They´ve demoted you before and marooned you somewhere!” Francois stated. “That´s why!“
Relief filled the privateer captain. He allowed himself a smile.
“Idiot! I´ve learned it in my time as a soldier. I thought you were smart enough to make the connection.“
Chips nodded meaningfully.
“Now that you´ve met Captain Clark, stranger, does it take you wonder, that he had to serve more than his usual share of kitchen duty on the Royal Bride?”
“Actually, no”, Francois murmured. “I´d rather ask myself whether he had time to shoot. The detentions with the kitchen knifes must have served as a good practice for boarding fights.”
The former captain of the Aquila turned around to Chips, one of his oldest companions. The shipwright was one of the few persons alive who still remembered Clark sailing into port with a pinnace, the Corse, in Providence. He also remembered the name of the barque Clark had stolen from England.
“Chips!” the englishman exclaimed, ready to hug the other. After all that was behind them Chips allowed it. “You yellow-bearded coffin-maker of the devil! You survived!”
“Clark, you old shark“, Chips returned the compliment. “You here? I was afraid you might have joined your little Jenny by now.”
The privateer captain let go of Chips. He lowered his head, averting his eyes.
The carpenter thought that maybe he was missing Jenny Little more than the englishman, who had been betrothed to her. But it hadn´t been Clark, after all, who had overseeing the first Aquila´s construction, but the young woman. Jenny Little, nineteen years of age and with child from her Captain Clark. Chips often wondered how events would have unfolded had mother and child not died in childbirth. Would he have begrudged Clark the jolly dreamer Jenny in the long run? But since Jenny was not standing between the men anymore, Chips could greet Clark as a good friend, free of jealously.
“Listen up, men!” Francois called for the attention. “You’ve already been told that your capitano has fallen and how the Midnight Blue was lost. I pressume you´ve heard about Captain Clark of the Aquila, for who has not? He freed me when I was Chien del´Onyx´ captive. Returning the favour I helped Captain Clark take over the Pride of Martinique. So, guys, the galleon out there in at the channel’s entrance Clark here and me have to share. If you´ve got no problem with this, you are welcome aboard!”
Freddie, Chip´s young nephew, cast an appraising look at his uncle. A ship with two captains, that just wasn´t done, was it?
“Let´s find out”, Chips re-assured the boy.
Alfred nodded. He had seen both captains in action (though he did not know it yet) and did not care whom he followed, as long as there was loot. Besides, the issue of captainship seemed to be one that did not involve the crew in the least, that much was plain to read in the two men´s body language. Alfred decided that it was better that way. What was the alternative, anyway? Herding cows at Aruba? No way!
“They are way too ready to accept the facts and switch their loyality from Chien to us”, Francois snorted. “I´m afraid it would be the same, was the Black Dog still alive.”
Once again Clark nodded. “Captains need ships”, he said. “Crews always come with trouble!”
The Black Dog seemed to agree with this assessment. He gave his first order to their new crew: “Stuff everything not able to move by itself into the boats!”
Soon the boats were loaded and moving towards the galleon.
“So this is the Pride of Martinique“, Pierre Dupond remarked, rapt with awe. Somehow it felt to him as if he had never before seen the ship. And to a certain extent that was true, for it was one thing to see your next-door neighbor with a big belly, but another altogether to hear her infant crying. The “infant” that was the galleon, was kicking now – and it knew how to hit hard!
“We placed such high hopes in her from the very first plank”, Pierre recalled.
“And she surpassed our expectations”, Francois added. “She´s my pride, now, too.”
“Hm. Yes, why not?” his friend replied. “With the Black Dog dead you´ll need a new pirate-name. For the galleon Clark will, I suppose, think of something along the line of ‘eagle’.”
During those last words a second boat had come closer. Pierre and Francois abruptly fell silent.
Pierre´s last remark, however, had been overheard by Alfred and what he had picked up let the boy´s chin fall and his mouth stay open! What the former officer hinted at just wasn´t done! For several long seconds Alfred turned Pierre’s words round and round in his mind, then he exasperated: “You suggest renaming the ship?! But that brings about bad luck of the worst kind!”
The boy stared gape-jawed at Pierre. Letting go of a superstition one had grown up with was hard. As long as the issue had never actually been brought up, Alfred had easily been able to talk about it in an enlightened way. But confronted with a specific threat, his old worldview came back full force.
Pierre nodded at the accusation.
“Yes, Freddie, but not as you think”, he explained. “Because the name will not vanish. Francois´ going to take it for his own.”
The governor´s son agreed: “I can hardly sign on as Francois de Monet, you know? To leave behind, but not deny, my past… yes, the name ‘Martin’ seems fitting. Luck and bad luck will get distributed evenly between me and ship this way, with no undue harm befalling either of us.”
Just a few heartbeats later the first of the rowboats reached the Pride of Martinoque. Alfred eagerly climbed aboard.
“Captain Clark! Captain Clark!” he cried out exitedly.
“Easy, boy!” the privateer captain laughed. His voice came from behind Alfred´s back. “I was in the boat behind yours.” Clark bent down to Chips´ nephew. Winking roguelike he whispered: “Never let your enemy out of sight, you see?”
Alfred nodded. He was a former mutineer and had been Clark’s enemy thus. If he gave the captain reason, Clark would certainly gut the lookout boy where he stood. So if Alfred valued his life, he’d better behave in the future. To Freddie it was that simple, unaccompanied by any emotion, least of all a sense of guilt.
“So you heard everything?” the boy asked. “What do you think about it?”
“About renaming the Pride of Martinique?”
“Yes. Pierre and the guy you rescued! He wants to take up a pirate-name and…”
Alfred repeated Francois´ explanation about the renaming process and why it was supposed to be good thing.
Clark folded his arms.
“My new crew thinks”, he sighed. “Not like one would expect from normal people, but at least they are thinking. It´s a start, Freddie.”
“He thinks it´s a good plan”, Jarundo explained to the boy.
Finally Alfred´s face brightened again.
“I think there´s work for you, uncle”, he told Chips. “A new name bagde and all!”
Clark enlightened his ship´s carpenter in brief words about what had been agreed upon. With each repetition of the strange argumentation he got used to it a bit more.
“But I say we should do it only after we´ve officially started our new voyage, out at sea, with everybody present”, Clark said. “This way we´ll have a ceremony to meld the two crews together.”
“Yeah, that would be adviceable”, Chips agreed. Then he nodded to both his captains: “Martin, ey? For the island that almost would have become both your fellows´ final destination?”
But instead Martin and Clark both could enjoy a fresh new beginning now.
Chips watched Freddie romping across the deck. At the moment the boy was the youngest, for on Chien’s small ship poweder monkey and cabin boy duty had happened to everybody.
The older crewmembers were showing their exitement a bit more civilized, but far from the discipline La Mancha´s marines had demonstrated.
The shipwright whistled in appreciation. “I´ve seen smaller villages”, he commented on the galleon.
“And I think”, a young spaniard added, “that I really do not fancy scrubbing a deck this large!”
Chips studied Clark´s face. One or two drops of spanish blood the englishman could usually tolerate, but how would he cope with Chien´s crew, half of them being spaniards? Not all of them were denizens of the coastal villages who counted, for all practical purposes, as buccaneers. The man who had spoken up, for example, was a pure-bred, city-educated – if not too loyal – subject of the spanish crown.
Clark´s mind seemed to dwell in the past when he beheld that Jose Peralta. Chips was already fearing the worst, when Captain Clark adressed Chien´s man: “Your name´s Peralta?” But then the captain continued: “I think I knew your father.”
“Well, it´s not you, that´s for sure”, the shipwright joked. “He´s a bit too old for that!”
“Miguel Peralta, helmsman of the Clarabella”, Clark remembered.
Jose nodded eagerly. “Yes, that´s his name!”
“A playboy with a bride in each port and then some more sweethearts”, the captain went into detail.
“ So what”, Jose dismissingly replied, “every seaman has!”
“Miguel´s blood, no doubt”. Clark commented on this, much to Chip´s relief. “But this one dalliance must have meant more to him, else you would not bear his surname.”
“I guess so”, Jose replied. “He had tried to track her down for some time, but when he came to Caracas, he only found me in the orphanage. Said it was the nexbest thing and what fine figure of a man he’d make of me. So for all he had done for me and all the good times we had together I went and confessed to him what I had been up to since joining Chien’s gang. Instead of beating me unconscious as I had expected him to, father laughed. And this is how I learned that he had been a pirate in his younger days.”
“You are taking the spaniard-thing rather relaxed”, Chips adressed his captain, after Peralta had rejoined his friends.
“Probably because I intent to take in something far worse than any spaniard.”
“And what would that be?”
“Seed potatoes, Chips. Every single one a specialist in his field of expertise and thankful for being allowed to work his miracles on our behalf for half a share. All we have to do is to pluck them out of the good earth of Curacao.”
The Pride of Martinique alias Pride of Francois but soon to be Eagle reached Wilhelmstad a few days later. Captain Clark instructed the men to keep their ears open for any news about Captain La Mancha, not to forget Don Escobedo, who was still patrolling these waters. From the island governor´s secretary he got informed that the netherlands would not issue Letters de Marque to anybody at this time. The privateer left the residence knowing soon to be in a better position for negotiation than with the memory of the mutiny still fresh.
Then he went down to the dungeons, to have a good look at his gardening results.
“Are you even aware of that we should be in Providence by now?” Clark greeted his former crewmen. “It never took us that much time to get from the Windward Islands to the capital! Fortunately I got a fast galleon now, so this… regrettable singular occasion will not repeat itself. Got it?”
“An isolated case, yes”, Perry repeated in a small voice.
Harris, however, shook his head uncompehending. “You took over the ship? You really did?”
Clark nodded. “Now it´s your choice whether you wish to sign on with the Errant Eagle or the Midnight Blue”, he told him.
“You´ve got them both?!”
“Not. But I know the exact position where the Midnight went under. As I said, it´s your choice…”
Soon as no more bars were filtering the air for him, the land-heavyness liftet from Whipcrack Werner. What did the man care that he had just now taken his first step out of the guardhouse? The ocean was beckoning to him and it felt as if he was already sailing again! Reaching for Viviane´s hand he grabbed it and held it tight.
Viviane and Werner were not the only pair ready to leave Wilhelmstad today.
In the harbour Jarundo met with the group, a fearful-looking Marita clinging to his arm.
“Your men sought information about La Mancha!” the half-indio confronted Clark. “The Pride was his ship, in truth, and you marooned him somewhere! But La Mancha now knows about my connection to you guys! I don´t want to be here when he comes to take up the hunt for the Pride!”
Clark had to disagree: “Raoul La Mancha is a man of honor. He would never harm you. A she-pirate´s life is far more dangerous…”
“But I´m frightened!”
“She´s afraid not to see Jarundo and you again alive”, Viviane translated the unspoken subtext for her captain, who was not well-versed in matters of love and partnership.
Marita nodded. She stepped closer to the privateer captain.
“Though I could never convince you to live with me, allow me to die under your command, at least.” Speaking the woman corrected the collar of Clark´s new mantle.
“Let´s have a compromise and say you are going to live under my command”, Clark said. “That´s nothing more and nothing less than I demand of anybody here.”
“Thank you!” Marita breathed out, leaning closer to the supposed man. Over her head Clark shot his friend Jarundo an angry look. “Everthing she does ON, AT and especially TO my ship is on your head!” his mimic conveyed.
Jarundo relieved his captain of the newest crewmember. “She can cook like no other soldier I ever had the honor to meet”, he teased Clark with an information he had aquired only so recently at Aruba.
“All women can”, Clark replied. Because of this widespread prejudice he had found himself more often than he would have liked in the kitchens back at the plantation. The overseers had meant well with the young convict and never understood why the girl had prefered to “make war on canes” on the actual fields instead.
Provided the right circumstances, Clark knew, anybody could learn how to cook up something edible in no time. But turning the grub into something enjoyable Clark had picked up far too quickly for his taste. On the Royal Bride he had not needed his skill. Preparing and serving had been a cook´s priviledge who had needed the soldiers sent to assist him only to peel the vegetables, boil the water and clean up after a meal.
“Were you able to find a good pistol for me?” Clark inquired, steering away from the subject.
Jarundo handed his friend an object covered in wax cloth. “Flintlock, as you requested”, he explained and added: “That I tell you, Clark, our Martin has learned haggling before walking! The gunsmith was close to tears when he realized what bargain he had entered into!”
With envy Viviane watched her captain stow away the pistol for now. The Errant Eagle carried enough blades and guns for the crew to use. The mutineers, however, had yet to re-earn the right to carry weapons.
Martin frowned when his erstwhile opponents from the Aquila approached the port together with Clark.
“Your mutineeres, Clark, you know it violates my principles to have them with us!”
“I´ve got to man a galleon, Martin. If we took in only gentlemen, a pinnace would suffice”, Clark replied.
Not hiding their curiosity in the least, Perry, Whipcrack, Creed and Viviane eyed the stranger. Oldworld Eric sometimes just did not get this or that custom of the New World, but he was an able bodied seaman. In contrast Aberforth Harris was lacking expertise as a sailor, but he had grown up in the colonies and knew his way around. Clark´s newest aquisition looked like he had grown his sea legs only months ago, even though he was well into his twenties. Where did his real expertise, if any, lie?
“His name´s Martin and before the same man happened to him that happened to you, he wanted to become a pirate-hunter”, Clark explained. “I defeated the Black Dog, then offered this guy a place among us. Martin is probably the best fencer of the Spanish Main, but some aspects of our life he still has trouble comprehending. It´s not always like in the the books he read as a boy.”
“You real name´s de Monet, isn´t it?” Werner asked. “You are the wayward son of Martinique´s governor.”
“You heard of me in the few hours it took you to sell Clark to my father and drink away the bounty?!”
“Haha! More like from our whistleblowers all over the carib island chain! Or did you think pirates just set out with a jolly tune on their lips and wait for happens?”
“That’s pretty much what Black Dog did… So, what else did you learn about my family?”
Whipcrack shook his head. “Face it: we are your family now.”
When Martin was at a loss for words at this claim, Clark added: “Having mutineers for friends is quite convenient. Totally obliterates the need to have enemies.”
Martin looked from one man to the other. There was something between the eagles that seemed to suggest that they were indeed more than shipmates. They had journeyed together for such a long time by now, that they simply could not part ways even if they had wanted to. Clark and his followers were like a couple of old marrieds – and he was the smelly kid they had adopted from out of the workhouse to keep their legacy going.
“Who cares!” Perry slung one arm around Martin, the other around Whipcrack and led both of them aboard. “I say, some of us are named ‘Maria’. In comparison ‘Money’ sounds promising!”
“Speaking of money…” Clark started. Martin broke free of Perry´s hug. His innards convulsed and he knew he would not like the next revealition.
“Captain La Mancha destroyed the Midnight Blue before I could capture her. That could stretch relations between France and the company, let alone the Netherlands, too far, I´m afraid. I think we should reimburse the governor for the loss.”
“From Chien’s treasure we fetched from Aruba?!”
“Yes. First, I´d feel better knowing I´m not leaving behind a fucking war zone. Second, Curacao will prove friendlier to the party the money comes from – us, and not La Mancha, in this case.”
Martin was of another opinion altogether: “Raoul destroyed the sloop while it was in pirate hands for far longer than twenty-four hours! By right the Midnight Blue had been France´s anyway.”
“Of course! If your english friends fail to re-capture one of their ships during this twenty-four hour window, but you manage to seize it sometime later, it´s your legal prize. The crown could not even piss at your leg should you decide to keep the ship, sell it or chop it up for firewood!”
Clark’s eyes narrowed.
“Is that so? Just to think that the governor tried selling his suggestion to keep the Midnight Blue as a great favour to me…”
“Being learned in the law pays for the merchant as well as for the privateer”, Martin remarked.
“For almost fivteen years no english governor ever felt the need to inform me about this clause!” Clark exclaimed. “I hear it today for the first time – and out of an enemy´s mouth!”
“Well, you see, those Letters de Marque can come in handy, but one should not trust the noble-born dogs”, Martin replied. “They turn you in whenever they feel like it. And because that´s the truth, Clark, I prefer a pirate over a gentleman anytime. Even if this pirate considers me his enemy.”
Soon as he had spoken these words, Martin turned around, leaving his rival standing alone.
Clark felt like following Martin, but he could not quite make up his mind. So he dawdled, until a youth seized the chance to approach the privateer captain.
“What do you want?”
“I´m not somebody´s errand boy, if you thought so”, the young dutchman answered. “My name´s Korthals. Peter Korthals.”
He pronounced his name more like “Payter“, but his english was good. Speaking spanish was more important in this region, so Clark assumed that the teenager was a well-travelled merchant´s son or apprentice and asked him about it. “We brought some goods from Aruba, but they are not for sale. They´ll fetch a better price in Providence to the west”, he added.
“My father thought so, too”, Korthals said. “Conducting business between Bonaire, Aruba and Curacao was not enough for him anymore. He wanted to get a foot into long-distance trade. Father invested all our money… sold some valueables and pawned some more heirlooms to this end – and lost everything when our ship sank. My family sleeps in our warehouse, the only place left to us. I need money, much money and fast! So I want to apply for your crew, Captain Clark.”
Clark sized up the youth. Peter seemed determined, but what was a young merchant to the eagles? Just a spoiled brat who had learned nothing useful!
“Do not think that I buy into this freedom and romance – stuff, Sir!” Korthals hastened to clarify. “I know it´s a hard life. And I hate pirates. May just as well have been pirates, not bad weather, that cost us everything. We’ll never know…”
“I´ll take you along, on probation”, Captain Clark told the teenager. “If you do well, we´ll keep you, otherwise we´ll leave you behind on Bonaire.”
Korthals shrugged. “Okay. I can find work there, I guess. Doesn´t matter, where I end up, one eater less is a relief for my family in any case. And who knows, perhaps I do return home treasure-ladden.”
After the two had finished talking and the young man moved towards the ship, more men gathered. “The Errant Eagle´s recruiting!” they passed the news between themselves.
Clark smiled. “Korthals!” he shouted after the newest recruit. “Send me down my brother and the scribe! There´s work to be done for them!”
Two days later, early in the evening:
After a swift cat´s lick Jarundo helped his friend into the new mantle Clark had bought in Wilhelmstad. The style was the same as that of the black one from St. Kitts, the coat Clark had lost in Fort-de-France. But this one was red, red like the cross in the english war-colors and like most of the pirate-flags of this era. Finally Clark was looking again as Jarundo had known him all the time!
In return Clark combed Jarundo´s long plait, bound together the strands and cut away some short hair at the head where no hair belonged in the carib indian´s opinion.
For more than a decade the chosen brothers could touch each other in this way without feeling anything. Clark was able to hug Chips like one man the other and perhaps he would even have managed to kiss Viviane´s mouth in all innocence. The woman dressed up as a man seemed bereft of any sexual identity. This Captain Isaac Snyder, Jarundo concluded, had to have been a truly remarkable person, if Clark had entered into a relationship with him. Could there ever be another man like him? Jarundo took it as a meaningful indication that his friend consciously tried not to touch Martin – except for the two occasions when Clark had first beaten him and then almost drowned him, of course. But on the other hand he had stared rather persistently through the hole in the door when young de Monet had soaked naked in his bathtub…
“The Errant Eagle´s fully equipped with everything we need”, the carib indian stated. “We can leave Wilhelmstad with tomorrow´s evening tide.”
“Why not tonight? Are you all so eager for a fight with La Mancha?” Clark retorted. “He could be preying on us somewhere around Curacao at this very moment! If I had my way, we´d be away from here the same day we arrived!”
“The ceremony will dealy our departure by just a single day, Eagle. You´ll nullify this one day easily with your navigation skill.”
Clark smiled, looking sad. “So I still have no authority on my own ship.”
“The highest! And that´s why you´ll have to give a long speech, my friend”, Jarundo replied. “It´s traditional. Two ships sunken – the Aquila and the Midnight Blue – the drowned seamens´ souls wait for us to give them the goodbye they deserve.”
“Martin´s captain good as me. He can do it.”
“But he did not know the old Aquila.”
“He did not know any of my eagle-ships!” Clark suddenly exploded. “Who does he think he is, burstings into my life, seeing the stars dance?!”
“In Rio de la Hacha you made each other see stars, true enough”, the carib indian grinned. The deeper meaning of his friend´s expression was lost to him. Jarundo safeguarded some of the most private secrets of his captains, but he did not know about a true captain´s secret.
“Haha, yeah, you are right”, Clark laughed. “But you are wrong about the speech. Because there´s someone next to Martin and me you forgot: You, brother.”
“I´m not much of a public speaker…”
“You speak to crowds the way I cook: Reluctant, but competent. So no argument from you or I´ll have you read the bible to the men each Sunday from now on!”
Some time later rowboats were leaving the Errant Eagle, moving towards a spot at the beach selected in advance by Martin. Here men returning from shore leave joined their companions coming from the ship. Those who stayed behind to guard the galleon were seamen from Wilhelmstad who had signed on only after Marita and Payter. Among those was Lipnail-Tom, a runaway slave from town. The teenaged fugitive combined late Hank Straight´s eagerness to outdo the faceless masses with Perry´s talent for numbers and figures, much to the treasurer´s dismay. Of all the mutineers, James had felt least expendable and was now proved wrong. With Payter and Lipnail, there were two possible candidates that could take over the eagles’ bookkeeping with little effort.
The galleon was still lacking it´s full crew of two hundred men, but now that more than three pirates and a dozen prisoners were working, it could be sailed into battle again. Clark planned to stock up his spanish-french-dutch crew in Providence with some englishmen, making the foursome of the carib political powers complete.
In the boat on his way to shore Clark moved closer to his new cook.
“Well, Marita, what´s freedom smelling like?” he inquired.
Theatralically the woman breathed in the air. Then she gave her answer truthfully: “Spanish roses and dead fish, captain.”
“Best combination there is”, Chatham Creed remarked.
“Why, captain? Well, do you want yours still breathing?“
Before anybody could even think about eating fish, fruit and the sow, firewood had to be fetched. The evening was still young and so Martin welcomed the arrivals each as he saw fit: Clark with a friendly slap onto the back and the rest with much work.
Clark let his gaze wander over the game downed by Louis and his co-captain. “If you two are half as capable at bringing down prey on the high seas as in the forest, I have no fears for your future”, he said.
A little bit more inland the men gathered up firewood. Alfed cursed aloud. Despite his age he wasn’t a ship’s boy, but numbered among the actual sailors. Among those, however, the boy was the smallest and youngest and had been burdened with the most work by the adults.
“If only we had a proper protocol”, Fred complained to Clark, “then Tom would have to do all the dirty work! He was last to sign on!”
“If only we were at sea, we had a proper protocol”, the captain shot back, secretly pleased with the boy’s justification for wanting to saddle Tom with the work: not the man’s skin color, but the ages old sailship tradition. “Alas, Freddie”, the captain went on, “I´ve got a crew whose only virtue is to dawdle. The majority wanted this ceremony and now you´ve got to live with the consequences. Now you see how nothing good comes from the majority vote!”
Grumbling to himself Alfred piled the wood and started gutting Martin´s game animals. At this task he went with abandon. What did Clark know about anything! At Alfred’s age he had been a spoiled brat – or so the boy assumed on account of the rumour that his captain had been a proper english officer in his younger days.
Away from the others, the two captains were smoking together. They watched their men, the faceless and the noteworthy, merge. Fewer in number, but veterans all of them, Clark´s followers dictated the others´s opinions and actions already.
“See, Black Dog, you got company”, Clark remarked. “No I´ve got half a ship full of enemies.”
Everywhere large fires flared up. As the sky was getting dark, they soon became the only lightsources available.
The party started rather solemn. It was held in honor of the now dead mutineers as well as Chien´s companions. Jarundo started speaking about the Aquila and the men now sailing with her spirit forever in the there-after. Some of those had called the ship their home for years, men who had not posessed the common sense to retire after the Gibraltar-coup, like Butcher Silas and Longstreak Eddy had done. But there were also many young faces whose stories and lives had been short, but burning all all the brighter for it. Jarundo conjured up all their images in short, concise phrases: Tom Fishfry, Alexander Brady, Hank Straight, Kidd Christopher, Midget Mike and many others. Once again he brought to mind the most noteworthy memories about the fallen, alternating between names from the Aquila and the Midnight Blue.
Viviane and Werner, aware of the fact that they almost had ended up on the list, too, stood by the fire hand in hand, staring into the flames.
Captain Clark was still keeping his distance, He stood free, arms folded.
When Jarundo reached Garcia´s name, he looked at Clark, who had been Black´s best friend. Shrugging the captain came closer to the fire, just a few steps, and spoke up: “The best I can say about Captain Garcia is, he went with his ship. What more could one expect of a captain?”
A murmur went through the ranks. Captain Garcia Clark had said!
Suddenly someone shouted: “Aye! But when you were our captain, the Aquila never even thought about sinking!”
Clark recognized Creed´s voice. The men laughed and even their captain could not help but smirk, though he had not meant to.
“Oh, well, tap the beer already”, he ordered. “What shall our shipmates think, looking up from hell, seeing all of us so damn sober at their party?”
Clark needed not say this twice! The eagles who remembered having crossed blades with Chien´s men several months ago drank all the more, so that the memory would no longer stand between them and their new shipmates. The very few personal quarrels, too, would be resolved within the next hour. Raw meat made up for a black eye and roast meat for pain of the soul. This was a pirate´s life: You survived. You made merry. You cared for your friends, if possible. And you forgot what had happened yesterday, because the existance of a past only reminded you that there would be future, too, and you did not need this. To the human sharks there was only the endless ring. True, from time to time one of them got taken away by heavenly decree. But the sharks did not pause or look back. They swam on. They never saw coming the harpoon thrusting on them from above and so it´s point could never worry them.
Marita stepped next to Jarundo soon as he had emptied the first mug of beer after his speech.
“So you already put to death the most beautiful of pirates”, she remarked.
“I would not have allowed it! You´ve got him back, little orchid.”
“He´ll never be mine, won´t he? But you have been waiting, day in and day out. My body I´ve given you before often enough, for a short while each time. But now both of us serve on the same ship. I decided, Jarundo, to be yours, fully.”
And that pledge, the man realized to his utmost delight, included “right now”.
Just when the two were sinking to the ground in each others embrace, Jarundo could not help but tell his new lifemate that Captain Clark, too, would not be alone much longer.
“Oh! He got to know somebody? In Martinique?“
“No, in Rio de la Hacha.“
“And now he´s plotting a course to Providence, which leads us to Rio beforehand”, Marita thought aloud. She would have liked the thought of Captain Clark parted from his love a while longer much better.
“Perhaps we´ll return to theese waters, too, someday?”
Jarundo smiled inwardly. His partner had a hard time leaving her hometown, but he was determined to make any place they went together her new home!
Where Clark was concerned, the carib indian by now was under the impression that sex was in the air whenever he and Martin shared the same continent. He was looking forward to the day when they would eventually realize it…
Meanwhile Pierre Dupont and Martin had approached Captain Clark.
“A captain going down with his ship… Was that a jabb to the Midnight Blue?” Martin asked grumpily.
Clark flashed the two younger ones a wide grin, when he answered: “The Midnight sank, but she was never your ship, Black Dog!”
Pierre said: “I commanded that sloop from time to time, too. But…”
Clark waited patiently.
“But I was never a captain”, the former officer eventually admitted.
Clark´s eyes widened with surprise and uncomprehension.
“Somebody told you?”
“About the stars, yes. Someone in Fort-de-France. I am sorry.”
Clark wished for the gift of judging people correctly, the elusive skill Jarundo and Martin posessed. He had been impressed by the seamanship Pierre had demonstrated during their journey from Aruba. But would the erstwhile officer be content with his subordinate role on the Errant Eagle or develop ambitions just like Garcia had? Had Black started seeing the stars dance one day? An old friend turned enemy… was it possible for a newfound enemy to turn into a true friend? What had Clark to expect from Martin and his companions?
“I suppose Francois and me became pirates because of you”, Pierre mused. “The whole carribean tells stories about your adventures. I´m not really a captain and even now am I as afraid of you, as I admire you, Clark. It´s weird, standing next to someone you´ve heard all those tales about…”
“So I am weird, now?”
“No! I… I did not mean…”
The two captains laughed!
“Relax, shipmate”, Clark ordered the younger man.
Realizing he had walked into a verbal trap, Pierre joined in the laughter.
“Excuse me for a moment, will you?” Clark said. Strangely elated he worked his way into the centre of the party. He felt ready to give a speech now.
“Men!” the captain shouted. “We got shot at, hunted, outlawed and cursed! They hurt, imprisoned and humilated us, but let none say we did not know how to pay back everything over the years! No one ever managed to defeat us for good and none ever will! We are back! We´ll always be back, so we´ve got practice for when the Day of Judgement comes. And when we are facing a higher court then, let´s see whether it´ll be be the so-called noblemen in Spain, England, France and the Netherlands, or us, who have to answer justice!”
A chorus of hoorays answered the captain. Clark smirked when he heard Martin whisper: “I think your last sentence was too long for them, but they like your voice.”
And somehow, perhaps induced by the strong drink consumed, Martin found, that he, too, seemed to like his co-captain´s voice a lot…
Back on the high sees,
The day after the commemoration party.
Candles lit the captain´s cabin on the Errant Eagle. Clark needed no candles to see anything. He found that he needed not even his eyes, since they were on the high seas again, on their way to Providence, though without an english diplomat to babysit this time.
Providence it had to be, too, that one crewmember had survived the sinking of the Plough of the Ocean and of the Aquila. Taken captive by Chien del´Onyx, this Bob Benson had served on the Midnight Blue only to survive this ship´s end, too, save and sound in the cave-fortress of Aruba. The man´s story reminded Clark and Martin to the fact that their lifestories were not the most colorful imaginable by far.
“He got lucky thrice, this guy”, Perry remarked. “Though it seems he brings not the best of luck to the ships he sails on…”
James Maria Perry sat at the table in the spacious captain´s cabin. Clark´s old cabin would have fitted into this one almost three times. The scribe needed the brightly lit candles for his arts and Martin needed them while supervising Perry. The renegade sat at the short end of the table, feeling so much nobler than the mutineer in his role of self-serving rogue.
“The captains´ share is to be split evenly among…” Perry read the first paragraph from his list. “What name may I put down here, captain?”
“Martin… Marten… Martius…Martinus… I do not know!”
“That´s too long”, Clark said, grinning. “Stay with Martin. The crew will come up with a nickname for you soon enough.”
“Something like Clark the Shark?”
“…among Martin and Clark”, Perry put down the two names. He raised his head, looking up. “I pressume asking you for a first name is still in vain, Clark?”
“It is”, Clark confirmed.
He had no problem about living with a wrong surname. Men like Captain Grangerford did it all the time and many men did not even know that they wore not the name of their real sire. But that was one thing, laying aside one’s own first name an altogether different matter. Clark could not simply change his female first name, the name he had been christened to. He had stopped using it, but it was still his and the only name he would ever have, because it was was the label the Good Lord recognized him by.
“Should the case occur that the two captains are of different opinion…” Perry wrote on.
“Where Clark and me are concerned, that´s a when-, not an if-construction”, Martin said helpfully. “As a non-native speaker one pays attention to such details.”
“…the majority vote shall decide the final course of action”, Perry finished his sentence. “Every crewmember has exactly one voice, no matter age, gender, position, shares and miscellaneous factors.”
Clark and Martin nodded in unison.
Painstakingly Perry listed every officer´s and petty officer´s positions with their shares, but didn’t assign any names to the ranks yet.
“Decisive for paying out shares is the function held at the beginning of a boarding operation, even if said position has changed ´till the day of dividing up the plunder”, he wrote. “The shares of the fallen go without deducting to their heirs, or, should none have been named, the ship´s treasury. Rules about the drawing of shares into the treasury we have already laid out at the beginning of the document.”
“You write this last paragraph on every sheet?” Martin wondered.
Clark and Perry confirmed in unison.
“You have no idea how easily such a sheet disappears and no one wishes to remember that it has ever existed”, Perry explained. “My predecessor on the Aquila let it happen. Result: No shares were taken aside for the ship´s treasury anymore. At first no one was worried, no, everybody was happy with their suddenly higher income. But later, when we needed repairs and many men were in need of medical aid, the much-needed funds just weren´t there.”
“What have you done to the ones responsible?” Martin asked his co-captain.
Negligently or willfully risking the ship´s safety was a major crime. The untrained captain knew this as well as the two veterans in the room.
“At any other time I would have left their punishment to Garcia´s creativity”, Clark answered. “But back then there was the question of manning the Crimson Road, the third ship I brought along for the Gibraltar raid.”
Perry started humming the melody of a song that had not been popular enough to still be sung almost three years after the ransacking. But because he had made up several stanzas, the scribe knew them word perfect:
Captain Clark three ships he had:
one landed for the crew to enter the fray
one ladden with booty, it went away
and one stayed behind for customs to pay
to the sea devil in souls to pay…
Clark smiled wistfully. “Go on, Perry! Back to topic, please.”
“Crewmembers marked with an M renounce half of the shares they are entitled to by rank and serving time for the ship´s treasury´s benefit for the duration of three months” Perry wrote. His own name was one of those, it was followed by a large “M”, the letter standing for “mutineer”.
“Three leutnants”, the scribe went on, “have been elected by the crew.”
He leaned back, chewing on his pen, looking at the two captains.
“So”, Martin sighed.
“Weeeeeeeell”, Clark said.
The election had had a definite outcome – and then again not. Now Perry was laughing inwardly, while the two men once again were confronted with the fallout of their unusual way of leadership. About half of the crew had voted for Martin, Whipcrack and Jarundo, assuming Clark to be their captain. Roughly the other half seemed to believe Martin the captain, for they had voted Clark, Whipcrack and Jarundo for leutnants.
“Hand me over the blackboard!” Clark asked the scribe.
Perry produced a wooden board from under the table. Chalk lines and crosses documented the votes every candidate had received.
“Well, this works out nicely”, Clark commented what he saw. “The next in line is Pierre and with Pierre as third leutnant we both can live, right, Martin?”
The other captain nodded and Perry put down the names as agreed.
While Clark and Martin would fill the positions of captain and first mate, constantly squabbling about who was who, the other three officers, despite being called “leutnants” interchangeably, had their individual spheres of influence: Jarundo would be the second mate as well as ship´s pastor, Whipcrack preferred looking after the equipment as the boatswain and Pierre would act as quartermaster, dealing with the people in their day-to-day-duties, mostly. Gontard was made quartermaster at the paper and Creed boatswain, but in truth they would act as seconds to the leutnants already filling their positions.
“You allow a master next to you?” Perry asked, half joking, half apprehensive, when he worked down the list of officer positions.
“Yes. Jose Peralta has shown promise in this area. I´ll see to his education personally.”
He had listed the positions orderly by rank before, but when it came to filling them, Perry had to jump from the upper rows to the lower and back again.
“Treasurer: James Maria Perry”, the scribe wrote on, not without a twinge of satisfaction. “Shipwright: Chips.” Just like Clark was Clark, Chips was Chips and would never be anything else. It wasn´t that the carpenter made a secret about his name. But everybody had gotten used to calling him thus, that not even Perry noticed anything odd about it. Man and job were interchangeable. One of the oldest mechanisms of giving people second names based on their occupations made Marita into a Marita Kok, because the dutch word meant “cook”.
“Guide: Alfred S. Winston. Pilot: (reserved for Benk Remkes). Cook: Marita Kok. Physician: Aberforth Harris. Chief Gunner…”
“The Black Dog´s drowned at Rio de la Hacha”, Martin supplied.
“And Escobedo shot mine at Caracas”, Clark added.
“Well, Louis is quite talented”, Martin mused. “He started his career as a poacher.”
“He´s a trapper, then?”
“That, too. Believe me, Clark, as a sharpsooter Louis outshines any formally trained soldier. He’s that proverbial gaul kid with a sling that makes the helmet-wearing roman legionaires wet their pants.”
Perry waited, without taking the pen off his mouth. Martin studied the two englishmen´s faces, then he stared at Clark directly. Just like Perry he understood that Clark was struggling to make a decision, though he did not know why it was so hard for him to simply say “yes, okay” this time. Was it perhaps because Louis wasn’t an eagle, but a black dog?!
“Viviane Bridger”, Clark eventually announced. He spoke on hastily: “It doesn´t mean Louis won’t recieve acknowledgement whatsoever of his skill! A ship of this size usually carries her own squad of marine infantery with up to three petty officers.”
“Marine infantery? That means every single pirate in our case”, Martin laughed. “The full eighty men.“
Clark nodded. “We are going to divide them into three specialized units”, he explained his plan. “Louis will be responsible for the marksmen, another man for the sword… well, sword-like bladed weapons and a third one for those fighting with long-reach weapons like pikes, boarding hooks and spears. The candidates will present themselves once we´ve had two or three encounters.”
Martin had nothing to add or criticize.
“So all we are lacking now is a musician”, he stated.
The others two stared at their new companion, blank looks on their faces.
“What´s he going to do? Sing us into sleep each night?” Perry eventually asked.
“Have you never heard?” Martin wondered. “About Pirates accompanying their attacks with scary music to make their opponents surrender? Shaking their morals?”
“Sounds to me that the one filling the position doesn´t actually need to be a good singer”, Clark remarked to Perry´s and his own amusement.
“Don´t tell me you´ve learned this from the Black Dog, Captain Martin!” the scribe laughed.
“Martin!” Clark frowned. “Please don´t tell me Chien del´Onyx had a ship´s musician!”
“He never found someone.”
“I´ll say!” Clark nodded wisely. “Most seamen sing very good.”
By now James Perry was crinching on the table from laughter. Before he could suffocate for good, Clark ended the discussion with the promise to enlist the first eunuch he could find. “Until then”, he said, “we´ll have to make do without a chamber singer.”
Perry wiped the tears of laughter from his eyes and checked whether his moustache had suffered. Suddenly he jerked upwards, standing frozen, looking very much like a startled mouse. At the same moment any trace of amusement vanished from Clark´s face and Martin, too, listened intently.
The two of them left the cabin. Above their heads the stars were dancing, but in this hour the captains payed the show now heed. What was going on at their ship called for their full attention:
“Jonah! Jonah!” a chorus led by Gontard was chanting. Again and again the men were pushing one of their own back and forth between themselves. They kicked at him and beat him repeatedly. Whipcrack and Jarundo tried their best, but could not calm down the crowd, even though they were not afraid to employ whip and cutlass.
“Jonah!” Freddie, too, shouted, spitting at a much larger and broader man´s naked feet.
More beatings and kickings followed. The seaman stumbled, fell down and tried in vain to get up again. Eventually he crouched towards the two captains for protection.
Clark and Martin recognized the man as Bobby Benson, the sole survivor from the Plough of the Ocean. He bled from several wounds. Bobby ripped a piece of cloth off his torn shirt to stopp the bleeding with the rag. Martin grabbed his wrist. He forced down Bobby´s hand, before the man could apply the not too clean cloth to his body and called for Doc Harris: “Abe! Bring clean water!“
Hesistant Aberforth Harris made his way through the crowd. He held up his hands as if apologizing to his fellow shipmates for doing his duty as ship´s physician.
“No mercy for the Jonah!” a voice called out. The speaker could not be identified, but others took up the slogan. “Aye!” someone shouted, “Bob´s a Jonah!”
Clark overheard Creed explain to a landlubber from Wilhelmstad, what “a Jonah” was supposed to be: “That´s like in the bible, see? Someone thinking evil thoughts and that´s sure to lure misfortune.”
Indeed any ship Bobby Benson had served on since his arrival in the the New World had sunken: the Plough, the Aquila and the Midnight. Even his hideout at Aruba the Black Dog had been forced to vacate.
“So you are afraid”, Clark shouted across the deck, “that we are going to lose this ship, too? Because of Bobby and his aura of evil here?”
“Jo!”, “Aye” and “Yes, captain, that´s right!” came up from everywhere.
Uncomprehending the privateer captain shook his head. “But we are pirates, men!” he tried get to them. “We curse, raid, set fire, kill and rape without a divine punishment coming down on our pitiful asses!”
“Just because!” Oldworld Eric said. “We are doing all those terrible things and no misfortune befalls us! So a Jonah must ponder stuff even worse in his head! He´s a blasphemer through and through!”
Bob lifted his head. “Please!” he begged Clark and Martin. “Don´t believe that!”
Harris paused in his treatment of the man who was accused of being a blasphemer. He and the other mutineers from the Aquila eyed Clark intently. Would he be obstructive once again or finally act in accordance with his men´s wishes?
Clark´s face hardened. “Damn… I really do not like what I´m going to do”, he hissed.
Bob´s eyes widened in horror.
“What do you not like? Captain! What?! Please! Help me, please!“
Clark ignored the man´s wailing. He grabbed Bob firm, forced him upright and pulled him towards the rail. Cheers and even one “Halleluja!” followed him and the squirming english seaman.
Harris helped Clark dragging the Jonah to the spot where he was to leave the Errant Eagle. “Perry!” Clark shouted over his shoulder. “Come over here and bring your writing stuff! There´s an adjustment to make to the roll!”
“To the sea devil in souls to pay“, Perry trilled to himself. The scribe was no superstitious man, perhaps not even a firm believer, but he enjoyed the racket just like the others.
Bob had taken to whimpering in a heart-rending manner and Clark thought to notice a faint sobbing, too, when he pushed the “Jonah” against the rail. The captain cast a quick look over it, as to ensure that nothing would spoil his plan. Then he signalled Harris to lift the captive´s feet and move him over the rail. Bob´s continued “No! Please, please, please don’t!” made Clark ill, but he did not let the notion not keep him from going through with his intention.
To the left and right of Clark and Harris, pirates leaned over the rail, so that it looked like Clark wasn´t the only one feeling like throwing up. And then a scene replayed that had occurred at the Aquila and led to the Plough of the ocean´s eventual anihilation: Nobody splashed into the water to drown. Instead Bob screamed in pain when he crashed into the seats of a row boat.
“Anything broken, Bobby-boy?” Clark asked the man gone overboard.
Bob shook his head. Bruised all over and in his torn clothing he was looking as miserable as before.
“Am I marooned, Clark?“
The privateer captain did not answer. Everybody´s eyes rested on the englishman. Even Jarundo and Martin were lost, by now, to Clark´s intentions, and could do nothing else but wait out how the eagle´s play would unfold.
“Listen up, guys”, Clark shouted. “The divine providence has sent us something really good – provided we know how to use it correctly. The man down there may attract bad luck or not. I do not deny that he he might…”
“So what are we waiting for? Be done with the oars and cast away the boat!” Eric demanded. Clark heard his words, but for probably the first time in his life he also noticed the feelings behind them: Oldworld Eric was close to despair and terribly afraid.
“Why don´t we make use of Bob´s rotten state of soul?” Clark teased his men.
“Use it?” Harris wondered.
“How?” Chat Creed asked, rather curious than bloodthirsty.
Perry said nothing. He just stood open-mouthed next to the captain who was not only a lot harder to steer than Garcia, but was turning out a whole lot madder than Black!
Clark snatched the doc´s wineskin from his belt and raised it above his head.
“If misfortune unerringly chooses Bobby´s ship, all we have to do is make sure, that said ship isn´t ours”, Clark grinned. He opened the wineskin. “Hereby I christen this nice little ship…”
Clark let the brandy dripple down over the rail. He took care to hit Bob Benson “accidently” with the liquid. After all, he had a crew to entertain.
“Sorry, Bobby, it´s not what you might think!”
The roaring laughter told Clark that he had succeeded at least in this little aspect. One couldn’t go wrong with innocent potty humour even when confronted with the most depraved of souls, it seemed.
“…to the name Badluck Bait”, Clark went on, “and assign the command to seaman Robert Benson!”
“I make a note of: Robert Benson, acting captain of the Badluck Bait”, Perry said, resigned. “No changes to his shares, though, I pressume?”
“Correct”, Clark grinned. “So whatever misfortune the Good Lord and the Satan decide for us, from now on it will hit the little rowboat down there instead of the Errant Eagle. And to ensure that it stays this way, we´ll carry the Badluck Bait with us wherever we go.”
“And what about me?” Bobby whimpered, still not fully convinced that he would survive the night.
Clark threw his arms into the air. “What do I know! Get used to your new command! Make yourself comfortable in your ship or throw a party for the woodworms!”
Martin nodded appreciatively. Taking back in the “Jonah” tonight was too dangerous for the man. Should the pirates have their fun with the seaman marooned on his own ship! Sooner or later things would settle down again.
Harris, Creed und Perry, still standing close to their captain, did not know what they should say. “It´s for me to say who´s going to live on my ship and who´s to die!” Clark snarled at the mutineers. “For me alone! Is that understood?”
“And I choose life”, the privateer captain murmured, when he strode towards his cabin door.