Pepe Gonzales had grown up at the borderlands of civilisation. During his childhood and later in the army he had never heard anything but his mother tongue and a bit of church latin that he wasn’t supposed to understand. On the Errant Eagle that wasn´t enough anymore. Though all four major languages were spoken here, english had been established as the official ship´s language. The young ex-soldier picked up it´s comparatively simple structures quickly. After a few days he could understand and use words in the proper context, without actually being able to translate them. Pepe learned to distinguish square rigging from lateen rigging, but could not name them in spanish. Soon he spat “Bite me!” when the situation called for it without knowing what the phrase meant and then he drifted into a pre-babylonian state where all languages melted into one: One moment Pepe spoke spanish with Louis and the next he answered a question that Whipcrack had asked him in english with a french term he had learned from the marksman. Only rarely took someone his time to formally teach the newcomer. Pepe’s learning process took place while at work. And most of the time it was about altogether different things than language…
“The captain was a soldier, Perry, too, and whole lot of others”, Viviane Riet recalled some very basic lore about the eagles.
The chief gunner was busy mending and patching up sails together with the ordinary sailors. In theory one could cite one´s rank to exclude onesself from work, but if there wasn’t some real good justification, the attempt only resulted in leaving the ship very soon. Neither boat nor port nor shore were needed in such a case, a quick sentence followed by a shove over the rails was sufficient. In this respect the Errant Eagle´s rules were more like those of a pirate-, rather than a true military ship.
“James Perry?” Pepe wondered aloud. “The writer?”
“Yes, believe me”, Viviane confirmed. “Our scribe is loyal to his nation. He´d never join a pirate crew!”
“So why has he done it?”
“Because we are privateers, lad, not pirates”, Oldworld Eric reminded the youth.
“Thanks a lot! That makes me a defector instead of a deserter”, Pepe grumbled.
“What´s Perry´s story, exactly?” Eric asked.
“He signed on at a military ship, not as a marine like Clark, but as a sailor. Perry was already literate then and it got him into trouble. The army´s not so different from us, there are rules…”
“No good ones!” Eric threw in.
“Perry knew the few good ones, those the officers repeatedly disregarded”, Viviane went on. “He was something like the crew´s spokesperson and his captain held it against him. He punished Perry once too often for minor incidences. Anyway, our yard was locked with theirs, we board the others, Clark advances, but before he can reach the enemy captain, the man collapses – punctured from behind and by his own sabre! That´s how Perry came to us. That was shortly prior to our Gibraltar-raid.”
Pepe was lost at the story: “But weren´t the others english, too?”
“A Letter de Marque, Pepe, is often limited to a certain span of time”, Viviane explained. “Ours had run out and due to bad weather we could not make it back to St. Kitts in time to renew the papers. The other ship saw our situation as an invitation. They opened the hostilities, not we. God knows, Clark has made not only friends in England – but whenever one of those bastards tried to get the better of us, we got even!”
“And what about Clark´s so-called secret?” Martin´s follower Gontard asked. “Is he a blue-blood or not?”
“Ask him yourselves!” Eric said.
Badmouthing the captain, even by accident, could end badly, or so the seaman thought. For if Clark was of noble birth indeed, he would have been born for his position. The mutiny had been an affront against the divine order and the Aquila´s end the subsequent punishment… Eric called himself a fool. He was a free pirate and should not belief such nonsense about rulers, but he could not help it.
“That´s rubbish”, Viviane told Gontard. “Clark´s old man banged the prettiest whore along the spanish coast and she raised him until he was old enough to fend for himself. He came to the New World as a cabin boy, but his capitano betrayed him when the hunter Escobedo was chasing them. Didn’t help him much, though. All of the pirates were either killed or enslaved. Clark had to toil on a sugar plantation for almost two years before the english took over the place. Among them was his father and he freed him. Then Clark became a soldier and the rest you know.”
“A few coincidences too many for my taste”, Gontard remarked.
Pepe had to agree. “And isn´t it said the the spaniards killed his parents?” he added.
Viviane threw her arms into the air. “Well, contradictions are part of a good legend!” she stated. “I´d rather like to know when the captains are going to incite the attack! That fat-bellied indiaman’s trottling in front of us for five days now!”
Indeed the Errant Eagle was following a trader headed for Havannah for a good while now. The thought of his first boarding operation so close at at hand did not sit well with Pepe. At least the former soldier could take comfort in the knowledge that he was superior to any seaman in a fight. He needed not fear for his life.
When Clark and Jose were finally convinced that they could cover the distance between the Errant Eagle and the prize in the shortest time, weapons were handed out. Like the rest of the pirates Pepe, too, covered up his insecurity with loud shouting. From Felipe he had picked up some choice cusswords for this occasion and lack of any other perspective made up for what the young man lacked in brashness.
The red flag with the skull split by an axe still struck in it went up. As always Viviane timed the first salvo to go off the moment Clark´s war flag reached the top of the mast – no second earlier, but none later, either. Cannonballs chained together in pairs were hurled into the indiaman’s rigging to render it unable to escape.
The indiaman opened it´s gun hatchs in a last, desperate attempt to discourage the opponent. A stately battery of fifteen cannons stared at the attackers on each side.
“It looks ridiculous”, Viviane commented the weapons. “Like a woman wearing trousers!”
“What´s so funny? The trader being armed?” Alfred asked.
“No”, Viviane clarified. “The silly trick with the wooden cannons. Judging from here I´d say they´ve got two to four real guns, nothing larger than fourpounders. The rest is ornamental.”
A short lesson about judging an object´s weight by the speed it moved with followed. Alfred listened intently. Gunnery seemed hard, especially when it came to measuring the powder needed. But much as he enjoyed tickling prisoners with daggers, melee just wasn’t the boy’s cup of tea. While many a cabin boy begged to be included into a boarding team, Alfred wasn’t looking forward much to this prospect. He’d rather sit with Viviane, look at her boobs and learn just enough about gunnery to be allowed to come back for another look, erm, lesson some later day.
“Whoa, there, careful with your toys!” Viviane yelled, when the indiaman, against her expectations, returned the Errant Eagle’s fire.
“Return fire… now!” Viviane shouted at the gunnery teams. “And now! Your turn now, Fernando! – Alright, that will teach them.”
The galleon was in range now and the boarding hooks flew. The eagles tossed smoke bombs at the enemy ship. The first wave of men boarding the indiaman had fastened wet cloth around mouth and nose. They needed not see their comrades´ faces. They did not even need the kerchiefs to recognize each other. There was only one rule: Whatever ran away, screaming, was the enemy.
A short wile later the captives turned like panicking chickens between sabres, cutlasses and handaxes. The pirates had seperated their prisoners into several smaller groups and were encircling them, while their officers took inventory.
A pirate with tender, boy-like features could not take his eyes off the women aboard the indiamen. “Undress!” he ordered.
Gontard barked at the lad: “You know Clark´s rules! On shore leave everybody as he pleases, but at sea no woman in our custody is to be touched! Find yourself a ship´s boy if your need´s that pressing!”
“What do I care for the woman?” the first speaker replied. “I want the dress!”
Gontard jerked around, dumbfounded. Then he laughed.
“Oh, it´s you, cook! Do something against your cold soon, you sound like a guy already!”
“Such a beautiful dress!” Marita sighed in admiration.
The pirate had cropped her hair short and wore pants under her leather apron. Her new attire had led to more than one yelling-duel with Viviane, but it was convenient. Jarundo encouraged his partner to dress up like she did. It wasn´t a full disguise like Clark used, but might lead astray an opponent a few minutes, a short time span Marita had learned to use well. A pretty dress was more to her liking, though, and to the female pirate´s delight clothing was exempted from the rule not to take any part of the booty on one´s own before it officially got divided up.
“Dresses like these they sell not even in Providence!” Marita said.
Before she could try on her new posession, Clark and Perry returned from the cargo hold. “Some of the stuff down there will fetch an okay price”, Perry announced in front of the gathered eagles. “But mainly we are sitting on a heap of women´s clothing.”
“Really? Here – hold his for me!”
Marita pressed her cutlass into the next-best seaman´s – it was Gontard – hands. She ran off to get a good look at the booty for herself.
Martin lifted the dress Marita had left behind.
“Gowns like this one, Clark?”
His friend nodded, sullenly.
“These are model dresses from Paris”, the renegade noble recognized. “But then again not. The french court´s influence if obvious, without negating the typical spanish elements.” Chuckling he added: “Guess they´ve yet to learn that there are colors other than black. Anyway, the people at Cuba will murder for those dresses!”
Clark´s jaw dropped. “How could I doubt that you can sell with profit anything, Martin!” he groaned.
“In a wealthy port”, the other clarified. “Not in Eleuthera.”
Martin handed the gown back to it´s original owner, who pressed it tightly against her body. “We have a contract with Senor Soladi in La Habana”, the woman stated, piqued. “These models are not meant for the racks of Tortuga´s street vendors!”
“Splendid! We´ll take over that contract, of course. Deducting what my men want for their brides. I have a notion that our gunner´ll be only too eager to accept her share in wares this time.”
One of the passengers gasped: “These are works of art! Of art! Not meant for the rabble!”
The other lords and ladies aboard exchanged meaningful looks. Their brains had processed the the “gunner” only, not the “her”, because this combination was just unheard of. The pirates´ chief gunner, they took it, wore skirts…
“Well, what else did you expect from the scum?” one of the women remarked to the indiaman´s captain.
Lashing out with his whip Werner took a step towards the pair. He knocked down the male´s hat and the female´s bonnet.
“One more word and it´s your throats!” he threatened.
Captain Clark could not tell the female spaniards´ function on the indiaman. But one thing he was sure of: “The rules say no violations. I´ve got no complains about the extraction of tongues… or heads.”
“Oh, please, good lord, let the pirate do so! I´m dreaming of it for months, now”, one of the spanish seamen whispered to his neighbor. “The fashion artist and his chicks – that was the worst voyage I ever undertook!”
The boatswain had overheard the words. “Ten whiplashes, man!” he promised the seaman. “Soon as we´ve got over this crisis!”
Martin´s eyes narrowed to small slits.
“They are still doing it!” he hissed. “Surrounded by pirates tickling them with cutlasses they still give themselves airs!”
Gontard, Perry, Eric and even Pepe tightened the circle around the indiaman´s officers and passengers. Suddenly the boatswain felt less secure in his loaned power.
Martin and Clark exchanged quick glances. After the Cuba-desaster the eagles were too few to dispatch a small crew to the prizeship to sail it to Tortuga or Eleuthera. The captains gestured for their men to release the common seamen.
Clark adressed the mouthy sailor whom the boatswain had threatened: “Your tub´s not fit for use as a pirate-ship. But perhaps you´d like to have it nonetheless? I´m asking you this, because your lordships are going to take a little bath…”
A short while afterwards Pepe hang over the indiaman´s rail in the middle of a bawling mass of people, choking.
“Hey, mite”, one the spanish seamen said, grinning. “Retching on a drowning man is bad style!”
Pepe coughed once more, then he turned away. His short-time memory was busy with fading out the scenes around him, the sending of captives over the plank and the scary fun the pirates indulged in with them beforehand. From his soldiering time the spaniard was used to the sight of brutal punishments, but the pirates´ creativity topped everything he had ever witnessed. A few days ago Pepe had experienced at his own body how someone could be kept alive despite severe mistreatment in order to keep him interesting.
Pepe sought and found his captain, one of them at least. Clark was leaning against the indiaman´s mast, half amused and half appelled by what he witnessed.
The former soldier faced his commander: “Clark! What happens here is no different from what one expects from pirates! But it doesn´t fit the tales I´ve heard about you! You’ve never been that cruel!”
“So? And you think you can judge this?”
Pepe nodded, in all seriousness. “I tell you why you let all this happen: You are afraid your crew will desert you again. Because you aimed too high at Cuba and failed. Your star´s sinking ever since you returned to the high seas last year!”
“Oh, is that so? Have I not secured an incredibly expensive stash of ball gowns today?”
The cynism in Clark´s voice left Pepe speechless. When he had put himself together again, Clark had already left for the Errant Eagle. In his stead Jarundo appeared – seemingly out of nowhere – next to the young pirate.
“Oh – leutnant. Are you here for your cut of my share?”
“I have not forgotten about it”, Jarundo grinned. “But actually I wanted to tell you something. You heard about Clark holding your nation responsible for his parents´ deaths?”
“You see, what happened on Cuba went deeper than a plan failing. Old wounds re-opened. The captain feared, nay, firmly believed, he had again lost somebody who´s dearer to him than a brother. That´s why he turned back on his own.”
Pepe put together the puzzle pieces easily. Not for the first time Jarundo realized that he spoke to a young man who was a lot like Viviane Riet. Both were of above average intelligence, but their potential had never been fully gauged in the environment they´d grown up in. The one had been supposed to spend her life as a fisherman´s wife and mother with no identity of her own, the other to lay down his life in some meaningless conflict. But the right circumstances had helped Viviane aquire competence in mathematics and invent a useful improvement to the guns. Jarundo could not foresee what life had in store for Pepe Gonzales.
“The Captains Clark and Martin, they are in love with each other?” the former soldier asked for re-assurance.
“Well”, Jarundo replied. “To tell the truth, they havent´t realized it yet.”
“But you have! Why don´t you tell Clark?”
Jarundo pointed with his head towards the plank where the indiaman´s crew engaged in their cruel games with their former superiors undistinguishably from the pirates.
“Do I want to end like this?!”
The Errant Eagle continued searching for prey between Cuba, Hispaniola and Jamaika. Frenchmen and spaniards made up the majority of the ships they met. The english flag of a trader among so many enemy ships might have exerted a calming effect – had not Captain Martin spotted a spanish and a french one that the men at the trader were keeping ready just in case. He concluded that none of the three colors were their real ones.
“They are hoisting an english flag over there?” the captain remarked in a jolly voice. “In this case we can take down ours.”
Jose Peralta made haste to exchange their liege´s colors for the privateers´ own, the axe in the skull.
The next moment Alfred called out from the crow’s nest: “Captains! They´re swapping their colors, too! Pirates, they are!”
“Stalemate”, the other captain cursed.
Alfred, who had never played chess in his life, wondered why Clark´s matings had become stale? But this was not the time to ask such questions.
“Are they mad?” Captain Clark exclaimed after he had taken a closer look at his opponent´s flag. Chips and Martin shot him questioning looks.
“Hoisting a black rag with a skull and two crossed bones on it?”
“What´s wrong with the sign?” Martin wondered. “It looks impressive. One of the better pirate-crests I´ve seen in my time.”
“That tells me that you´re indeed lacking a proper military background”, Clark said. “The problem is in the color – or the lack of it”, he explained. “Black means ‘no captives’. They are throwing down the gaunlet.”
Chips nodded.“I imagined it meant something like this. Like ’We send you to the cemetary’. On Hispaniola you find symbols similar to theirs on old gravestones. The eldest settlers call them hero-stones.”
“A pirate crest on a military sign”, Clark snorted. “I could as well sew my split skull – assembly to the english flag – just to demonstrate how silly this looks!”
“So what are we to do?” Jose interrupted the discussion. “Attack?”
“What else?” the captains answered as one man and went to business.
The battle sails had already been in place when the eagles were still in the belief to face a regular trading ship. But the other pirate had armed his vessel up to the teeth and stuffed it with way more battle-ready scoundrels than a trader needed sailors. Tradships turned pirate were usually used as troop carriers. And indeed, the man who had brandished the black flag made haste to engage the galleon in hand-to-hand combat.
“I could swear it’s the Torro“, Jarundo said. “But those aren’t Hornbasket’s colors…”
“Hm…” Clark murmured. He was staring intently at the other ship, not in an attempt to read it’s name, but to count down the seconds. The pirate was approaching fast and the galleon had not yet made an effort to bring her guns into play. In fact, she was still facing the onrushing foe with her bow.
“Okay… any moment now…” Clark whispered.
Martin took it to mean that the collision would come any moment, though the opponent wasn’t that close yet in his opinion. And their opponent was lulled into the same false belief. The moment the pirate ship closed it’s gun hatchs, Clark shouted: “Now, Benk! Turn her ‘round and fire with all we’ve got!”
Under the experienced hands of her dutch pilot, he Errant Eagle performed the asked for turn. Literally in the last moment before the crash, she fired grapeshot at the approaching pirate vessel. The enemy boarding troop could only dash for cover. When the ship’s hulls collided, those pirates that were not laying flat on their bellies (or in puddles of blood) already, lost their footing.
“Your turn”, Clark told Martin. And now the eagles started to board the smaller vessel.
The boarding operation was finished as quickly as it had started. In fact, it never really got going. For when the eagles beheld the enemy captain´s identity, they clasped hands and slapped each other on the shoulders.
Daniel Morris of the Torro called himself Captain Hornbasket, a well earned title. The pirate claimed having taking the bull down by it´s horns so often, that he needed a basket to carry them. Morris had been a force to reckon with already when Clark had just been starting out – less dangerous he had not grown with age.
The defeated captain greeted Clark with a nod.
“New colors, Hornbasket?”
“Yeah. New ship, Clark?”
“Fortunately!” the privateer laughed. “A match between the Aquila and the Torro could easily have gone either way.”
Hornbasket sighed, then unfastened his sabre.
“Captain Clark – I formally surrender. But tell me, is this really supposed to be the famed Errant Eagle? This misconstruction?!”
“It pays to lure high spirited pirate captains into attacking us because of their misconception of our lady”, Clark replied uncharacteristically polite.
“Oh! You are playing hunter now?”
“From time to time. If it pays off.”
“It has, this time”, Hornbasket grumbled. “You´ll see for yourself, soon.”
Clark nodded. “But before, let me make some amends”, he said, pointing at Hornbasket’s wounded crewmembers. “We’ve pelted you rather heavily with those metal scraps. Luckily Dr. Corner dropped his apprentice off with me last year. The kid has matured into a real physician and will see to your wounded.”
“No!” Captain Hornbasked declined the offer. “If you should have learned one thing from Capitano Porreno, than that you do not want to have extra mouths to feed when your cargo hold is about to be emptied!” Hornbasked chuckled. “That bastard used to thin out his crew before diviing up the plunder and occasionally I, too, take a page from his book.”
“Porreno set me on a path than ended on a sugar cane plantation”, Clark replied. “I follow my own now and as the victorious party in this encounter I command you to accept our help!”
“As you wish…”
As usual when it came to inspecting the loot, James Perry, accompanied by at least one of the captains, entered the hold first. But this time James hesitated, then froze on the spot, soon as he had cast a look though the door. “Holy Mother of God and Joseph!” he whispered at the sight of all the treasure in there.
“And the Three Wise Men with all their camels!” Captain Martin added. “Men!” he shouted upwards. “Come down here and have a look at once!”
Amazed by what they saw, Martin and Perry entered the hold, followed by Whipcrack.
“From the day we set sail from St. Kitts”, the leutnant whispered, “till our arrival at Eleuthera. That´s how much loot has gathered here.”
Creed laughed: “Haha! Our yearly wage has just doubled! Gold, silver and rusk – eternal values!”
The intake of ten months of sailing changed into the eagles´ posession. Organized by category, trade goods, coins and objects of art waited to get transported over to the Errant Eagle.
While all around him his shipmates lugged heavy load, Jeff Spencer asked a gilded Madonna to dance. The man from Eleuthera had coming a much larger share now than he could have garnered in his short time with the eagles even under the best circumstances. Many crewmen followed Jeff´s example and romped though the hold like children. The leutnants felt no need to stopp them.
“So you ransacked a church, Hornbasket?” Jarundo adressed Captain Hornbasket. “Then you deserve what happened to you today!”
“Pshaw!” the pirate snorted.
The Torro’s captain, Jarundo and Clark watched the reloading together. Down to the smallest piece of eight everything was fetched by the victors and added to their own treasury. The process would take several hours. Only a scanty handful of sacks containing cane sugar got left behind by the eagles for reasons of space. Clark and Martin also left the Torro’s provisions and weaponry untouched.
“A bitter pill to swallow for your men, captain”, Clark remarked to Hornbasket. “But such a tragic incident does not need to repeat itself.”
“Next time I´ll be better prepared, you can bet!”
The privateer shook his head. “A bit of mockery is the victor´s priviledge, but I mean what I said. I discussed it with Captain Martin and he has no quarrels about the offer I´m going to make you…”
Bewilderment showed in Hornbasket´s face.
“Martin is the Errant Eagle´s captain? So it is true that you got overthrown in a mutiny?”
Jarundo made a gesture of decline. “That´s a long story, captain. Let´s just say that the two of them have a way of acting out democracy that puts to shame any ancient greek tyrant.“
“And we have use of a third captain”, Clark went on, “especially if he brings his own ship. Why don´t you sail for me, Captain Hornbasket?”
The other blinked at Clark´s continued formal use of his title. He realized that the time he spoke to young pirate Clark, the plucky deserter marine, was long past. Hornbasket faced a full grown shark now, and the favourite of one of the three-and-a-half political powers of the New World.
“You would pay shares – taxes – to us and sail formation with us from time to time” Clark elaborated on his proposal. “We have a physician and a master haggler whose services would be at your disposal. Use of our secure port, Eleuthera, is already subsumed in your rates. Most of the time you would operate on your own, but if you attack an english ship – an english ship loyal to the crown, I should specify – you´ve gambled away our favour.”
“Do you fancy yourself an admiral now, Clark?”
“I´ve had absolutely no trouble with the role so far. Three years ago I razed Gibraltar and next year I´m going to get myself the Silver Fleet. Together with the allys I´ve made ´till then.”
Captain Hornbasket clicked his tongue. “That´s right, you need a fleet for this endeavour. And I won´t claim the thought of laying my hands on spanish silver doesn´t appeal to me. But is it worth my freedom? That´s no decision I can make over my men´s heads.”
“We won´t press you”, Clark replied. “Take your time – and you know what? We´ll even leave you a barrel of the newest comfort for the soul from Hispaniola as a token of our goodwill.”
Clark and Jarundo left Hornbasket.
“Once his men have tasted that devilish stuff…” Clark started, but Jarundo was faster. He finished the sentence: “…they won´t be able to stopp drinking and will be too drunk to even think of pursueing us!”
On their own ship Martin received the brothers. “We cannot risk traveling to St. Kitts or Eleuthera”, he told them. “With a hold that full, we´d better divy up the plunder on Tortuga!”
“Haha! You just want to spend your shore leave on Tortuga instead of in a proper town!”
Martin smirked. “Let’s call it an added benefit.”
Martin did not know how wise a decision he had made. The eagles were not the only poachers in territories not theirs at the moment. A war galleon had appeared in the region and it was commanded by a man, who was to the human sharks what Doctor “Threesee” Corner was to his pets.
The waves rolled against the Padre del Mar´s hull, but not the smallest drop could penetrate it. This vessel was made to withstand stronger forces. Inside a man who had almost found his grave in the sea crouched, covered in thick blankets. The Padre del Mar had fished him out of the water not far from the spot where Clark had taken the indiaman. The man´s name was Don Eusebius and in his old home had made a name for himself as a fashion designer. The attempt to widen his fame and horizon – not to mention his business – to include the New World had almost cost his life. Now the artist sat together with two other survivors of the indiaman in a cabin aboard the Padre del Mar, the flagship of a small fleet under the command of a spanish nobleman by name of Escobedo.
His advanced age had not dulled the pirate hunter´s intellect or blade. It had only served to make him keener. But the one catch the man considered the crowning glory of his career escaped him again and again. Don Escobedo was afraid that he’d spent all his lifetime fishing fellow countrymen that had fallen victim to Captain Clark out of the water or rescuing them from tiny islands.
The artist Eusebius knew that he might one day forget his own mother´s name, but never that of the english pirate! “And then”, the man lamented, “that scoundrel was bold enough to present us an english Letter de Marque. Since when are we at war again? The war ended fourty years ago!”
“Not on this side of the line, Don Eusebius”, the Don remarked. “It goes on and on and alliances change as often as the tides. It´s a war of profit. The spanish crown issues such certificates, too, you know.”
Actually Spain did not acknowledge foreign letters de Marque, only their own. Don Escobedo usually discriminated between pirates and privateers, treating the latter a bit better and arranging exchanges of prisoners if possible. But it was a personal decision, one that he was bound to by no law of his nation.
“Not long ago we had a very efficient licensed privateer who kept the Spanish Main clean of dutch rebels and english smugglers”, the Don recounted. “His name was Chien del´Onyx, a half-blood from Trinidad, I believe.”
“What became of him?”
“He fell victim to our common aquaintance Captain Clark.”
“Isn´t there anything that can be done against this monster?”
Pleading the rescued man looked at Don Escobedo, his hands clenching a cup of hot tea like a lifeline.
“I have stopped counting how often I almost got Clark”, Escobedo sighed. “But since he got himself this – what are the english calling it? Sidekick? – by name of Martin, my hope dwindles. I studied the pair, their tactics and motivation. It turned out that the greatest weakness of one is the strength of the other. Alone each would be vulnurable, but together they do what they like.”
Besides Don Eusebius, one of the walking female clothing racks and the indiaman´s boatswain had made it on the Padre de Mar. Until now they had remained silent, as befitted their station. Now the woman cleared her throat: “They say there´s strength in numbers, but in the Errant Eagle´s case it is in their captains´ unity. Don Escobedo! If a woman´s favour is concerned, greater men than them have turned against each other!”
The spanish noble shook his head. “It´s not enough to ignite desire. To really divide them, Martin and Clark ought to feel honest love. According to my assessment there is no woman capable of this in all of Westindia. Martin is a shallow womanizer to his core and Clark never got over the loss of his betrothed.”
The boatswain, the artist and his favourite chuckled.
“You may be wrong there, mylord”, the boatswain eventually claimed.
Escobedo cast him a look that was more questioning than scornful.
“Well, the lady we are thinking of is not exactly made of flesh and blood”, the man started. “More like wood, bolts and sailcloth…”
Sooner or later all paths met at Tortuga. Some uninformed wanna-bes calling themselves pirates took the name for that of a town, though in truth there were several settlements scattered along the southern coast of the island. Captain Martin had already survived his first encounter with the pirate-haven. He enlightened the newcomers, among them Pepe Gonzales, about the situation there: “We enter french territory, but since the governor changed last year, the island has become even friendlier to pirates than it always used to be. The new island ruler fancys himself the King of Buccaneers and he is slightly mad.”
“Ah, mad. I knew there was a good reason why you feel at home here”, Pepe remarked.
His captains´ mode of speech, not to mention attitude, had rubbed off on the young man without him being aware of it it.
“We passed by La Ringot, over there is La Milplantage and further to the east is Cayonne”, Martin gave his shipmates a tour along the coastal settlements and ports. “Then “La Deathriff” awaits the unsuspecting sailor. There´s a fortress and something akin to a main road to the interior, provided you do not raise your expectations too high. Once told it is supposed to be a road one recognizes it after a while… And even further east is another port, Basse Terre, but the Errant Eagle is due some privileges. We´ll anchor at the better quay below the fortress. As captains Clark and me are also expected to pay his majesty the King our respects.”
“Is it true that the governor… the king… that he collects relics and stuff?” Jeff Spencer asked.
“Yes. With the church treasure liberated from Hornbasket we´ll make quite an impression before his majesty Le Vasseur.”
“Cannot hurt that you´ve been christened catholic in contrast to Clark, hm?” Pegleg Sam added in.
Martin smirked. “The king will love us for it“, he promised.
Pepe nodded. Like the captains, for any reason?! “You are right. The man is crazy!”
In addition to the keep, Basse Terre enjoyed some natural fortification from cliffs. The pirates didn’t linger in the shadows of the castle for long. In small and large groups they poured into town, eager to exchange their shares for entertainment. Some were greeted by their sweethearts at the quay. Chips seemed to want to merge with his wife right on the spot, while his nephew stood a little lost surrounded by his cousins of all ages, some of them looking up at and others down to him, but with an equal mix of suspicion and expectation. The transistion from ship life to what he had called normality for the longest part of his life did not come easy to the boy.
Eventually a four year old tugged at Freddie’s jerkin.
“Godda stowies to tell?”
“Hell, yes!” the fledgling pirate answered. Now this was easy. Telling stories and making merry, just like on Eleuthera. “Like the day when I fought that massive negro to get a bouquet for my girl. Yes, I have a girlfriend now…”
Freddie’s voice trailed of when Chip’s children went to find a place to listen to their well-traveled cousin, granting the parents a bit of privacy. Captain Martin could not help but chuckle. He wondered what their adventure on Cuba would sound like from the mouths of his adult shipmates…
Despite this being his second visit to the town only, Basse Terre´s inhabitants seemed to know Martin better than he himself. To his astonishment the adventurer heard that the shooting star´s Chien del´Onyx end was ascribed to him foremost.
On their third day in town Clark, Martin and Jarundo sat around a table laid out for five in the best pub of the place. It qualified for the title because – Clark acknowledged it with a moan – it served the new drink that was called “Rum” now. Like most taverns in Basse Terre, this one, too, was jam-packed. Mainly this was because rumours of Don Escobedo´s arrival in these waters were traveling around and the human sharklings prefered hiding in their secure harbours. But this evening an auction attracted even more people. Seats were scarce, yet no one dared taking those at the eagle-trio´s table or carry the two unused chairs away.
Captain Martin looked around the room. To his left a framed oil painting hang on the wall. What it portrayed was hard to see on account of three seamen staring at it intently, blocking the view with their bodys.
“Interested in the painting?” Clark adressed the seamen. “I brought it from St. Kitts years ago.”
One of the men pointed at the picture.
“You don´t say! You know her, captain?”
“We met on Redbeard´s ship”, Clark answered. “Have I ever told the story of my encounter with Captain Redbeard?”
The seamen stepped closer to the table. Clark nodded them an invitation and pointed to the empty chairs. A short scuffle for the chairs ensued. Afterwards two men sat down on them while the third had to sit cross-legged on the ground. The difference was important, because there was a bottle of rum on the table. Certainly it was included in the invitation?
Clark picked up the bottle. After just a small sip he passsed it to Jarundo, who subsequently tossed it to the seaman sitting on the ground.
Martin got a better view at the painting now. It portrayed a she-pirate with hair glowing red as hellfire. Only a brassiére and a tight-fit panty covered her body. The boots she wore were made of the same material as the rest of her attire: sharkleather. The sea-wolf aimed her pistol at the viewer. Martin got a good impression of how she had done so while the picture had been painted. The woman´s features seemed vaguely familiar to him, but he could not tell why. Perhaps Clark´s tale would help answer his question?
“There we stood”, the englishman recounted, “around us Redbeard´s men and no party willing to give in. ‘Let´s decide this one-on-one!’ I shout, hoping the enemy captain will hear me. And indeed out of his cabin he comes. Redbeard´s followers wince, so afraid are they at the sight of their leader alone!”
“What was so special about the guy?” Martin inquired respectlessly while the pirates’s guests followed Clark´s story open-mouthed.
“He was covered all over with jewelry”, Clark whispered.
“Yes, jewelry”, Jarundo confirmed. “Brooches, rings, bracelets and necklaces that he was showing-off with at every opportunity.”
“Seems to me he was quite the successful pirate”, Martin mused.
“Just you wait”, Clark thought. “We´ll have you shudder yet!”
“That he was. But the gold he robbed, Redbeard spent as fast as he took it. His trinkets were of a different material.” For effect Clark paused, then he announced: “He had put it together from his victims´ earrings! And as I told you, Redbeard was covered all over with jewelery!”
Martin and the threee seemen winced. A sailor´s earring was sacred and the eagles´ code forbade stealing it from a live or dead oppponent. A small piece of valuable material worn at one´s own body at all times. If a dead body was recovered after a catastrophe or an attack it was customary to remove the earring and give the wearer a christian funural from the proceeds. Obviously Redbeard had disregarded this custom. “Oppose me and your souls won´t find rest in the afterlife!” his message was.
“So Redbeard exits his cabin. Slowly, deliberately he strides across the deck”, Clark span his yarn. “All eyes are on him and his majestic beard! It glows like hellfire and we stand petrified. Then it dawns to us: The man has fastened lighted up fuses under his hat!”
Clarks listeners shivered, as if they had to face the redbearded pirate-captain themselves and right now. Martin cast his friend a sceptical look. Clark knew what he was going to say, so he spoke on quickly: “But I put away my sabre, calm and composed. The others think I´m about to surrender, but they are wrong! I fold my arms and ask: What are you trying to prove, Redbeard? Frighten me? Pray tell, what should I have to fear? You nee all your skill to defeat me in duel. I, on the other hand, only have to wait till your fuses burn down and set fire to your hat!”
Martin toasted Clark. The turn this story took met his preferences perfectly.
“But Redbeard is unreasonable. He stares me down like the rat the snake: grim, but to no avail. Embers jump from his fuses in all directions! His beard catches fire and when it´s fully ablaze, Redbeard´s men nearly stumble over from laughter! He jumps up and down frantically. And he howls, oh, yes, he does! Well, and when the spook is over, who stands before me?”
“Who stands before you?” one of the seated sailors whispered.
Clark leaned back on his chair. He pointed towards the full-body portrait to his right.
“Without her false beard, because she had burned it off, of course.”
“An then she throws off her coat, standing there just like in the picture. Only without the pistol.”
“Yes, that´s how it happened back then”, Clark concluded. “But what transpired afterwards I won´t disclose. Let´s just be said that Redbeared disappeared from the ocean afterwards, tame, never to be heard of.” By now the bottle had found it’s way back into Clark’s hands, so he felt hard pressed to take sip. The recipe tasted a bit differently from the one he knew. It was almost fit to drink. On the upside, with kill devil being the latest fashion in the local pubs, beer might have dropped in price…
“Oh, yeah, Redbeard, lady of fire”, Clark mused. “I might visit her again in time, for the sake of the old times. It´s been a while.”
Jarundo noticed the Errant Eagle´s treasurer enter the pub. He shooed away the three guests to make room for the arrival. James Perry was a man best to keep under close supervision. Jarundo could not help but think about how the scribe had changed. When he had been but an ordinary, yet learned, seaman, James had used his wits to help the common man. Now that the Gibraltar-raid had left him rich – Jarundo did not doubt that Perry had made some long-term investments instead of spending everything – he craved more. More wealth, more power, more of everything. But with both Lipnail and Payter gushing about how they wanted to return to a respectable life at every occasion there was no sensible replacement candidate for Perry that Jarundo could think of.
Meanwhile the patrons had grown more and more restless. The majority of them waited for the men from the Maiden Braid to arrive, pirates who planned to auction the spoils of their latest hunt today.
Perry seated himself, the fifth chair remained empty. “A real gentleman ist always late”, the treasurer commented the delay – his and that of the Maiden Braid´s captain.
“Who is this Captain L´Oiseaux anyway?” Martin asked.
Jarundo shrugged. “Just as well you could ask the townspeople about Clark or yourself”, he gave his opinion.
A man whose age and heritage was hard to determine placed himself in the fifth chair.
“Well, he´s said to have ransacked the town of St. Eustachius”, he said.
The four eagles laughed!
“That´s easy”, Clark laughed. “If I had done it, I would be ashamed to bragg about it!”
Martin realized how different from the man´s usual voice that laughter sounded. Brighter, and pitched higher somehow. He liked it, because… “Because it makes him appear younger!” the man persuaded himself before another reason could sneak into his mind, let alone other body parts, unbidden.
Unperturbed the stranger helped himself to the still half full bottle of rum. “Without firering a single shot”, he added.
“That´s impossible”, Jarundo claimed.
Clark fell silent all of a sudden. He fixed the stranger as if the man was one of Governor Langley´s blasphemous, yet so fascinating, stone creatures.
“Is, too”, he whispered. “I know how it´s done. But to think that someone really attempted it…” Clark was leaning over the table now. “And with success?” he prodded.
Captain L`Oiseaux, for no one else the eagle´s guest could be, took a whiff from the bottle before he took a gulp. “Good stuff, Captain Clark”, he said afterwards, leaving the other captain’s question hanging in the air. “You have a nose for unique findings. This is going to be the hit of the decade from the caribbean down to Terra Firma! And because this is so…” L´Oiseaux heaved a sack and several long, slim packages onto the table. “…have a look at these pearls while my friends sell the lesser stuff to the casual customers!”
The choice items of L`Oiseaux´s booty spread out before the eagles´ eyes. After their encounter with Hornbasket the officers were as eager to spend their coins as any pirate.
L´Oiseaux was a successfull pirate, but when it came to haggling, he was no match for Martin. Perry and Jarundo noticed that their captain held back a bit, probably because of an imagined solidarity among pirates.
When Clark chose an officer´s masterwork sabre and a signet ring, the other pirate captain hesitated accepting payment. “I´d content myself with a tenth of whatever your friend beats me down to”, he offered. “For a private meeting with her.” With these words L´Oiseaux pointed to the she-pirate´s picture at the wall. It was obvious that this captain had spent some time gathering information about his trading partners, if he knew that Clark had donated the painting to the pub originally.
The privateer declined: “St. Kitts is far away and the woman not for sale.”
“What a pity. I would have brought candles.”
“And a lit fuse, no doubt!” Jarundo laughed.
And so L´Oiseaux had to leave with his money and without the englishman´s mediation.
“You protect her despite her stunt with the earrings?” Martin inquired.
“She´s a bitch, but only because circumstances made her one”, Clark said evasively. “And I made up the earring-part.”
“I thought the whole story was made-up”, Martin admitted.
“What do you want to hear, my friend? That Doc Threesee spruced up a carpenter´s niece like this and had her painted? Because the two of us had drunken too much that night? Where´s the romance there? The adventure?”
“But a bitch…?”
“…she is“, Jarundo confirmed. He was about to pass around the bottle with the rum once more, but grabbed only air.
L´Oiseaux turned around to the pirates, the missing bottle in hand, waving them goodbye with the other. “Oh, and, Captain Clark?” he said. “Racy boat you´ve got there!”
The eagles´ hearts nearly stood still! Never before had an outsider recognized the Errant Eagle in her full potential!
“We haven´t heard the last of him”, Jarundo murmured.
“What did you buy a ring for, Clark?” Perry wondered when the eagles were amongst themselves again. “You chose some from our own loot already!”
Clark held up the signet ring into the torchlight, so that the crest could be seen more clearly. Martin did not recognize it, but Perry seemed to know more, because he whistled in apprecciation.
“Because the original owner will compensate me for the purchase”, Clark explained. “Well, and because I´m confident I can forge his signature, of course…”
“Sensible”, Perry agreed, chuckling.
Martin leaned back. “Tortuga!” he sighed, satisfied. “There´s no other place like it on earth!”
“But several in hell”, Jarundo remarked.
“No place like it?” Clark teased his Co-Captain. “That means I can keep the Errant Eagle for myself?”
“The ship does not count. She´s on the water.”
Martin closed his eyes. He was where he had always wanted to be.
And while Perry tried on his new hat from L’Oiseaux’s stash, Jarundo watched Clark how he watched Martin dozing…