Two months went by.
Clark´s privateers spent their time on Tortuga. First they forgot that they were no pirates and then they sank below the typical buccaneer´s level. Finally they stopped being humans. They drank. Again and again, and especially when thinking and the first signs of an identity threatened to get in the way of enjoying their shore leave.
Still pondering how he could fleece the silver fleet, Clark nevertheless had not forgotten about his greater dream. One day he sat in his luxurious hotel room, writing a letter, while it poured outside.
Martin was there, seeking refuge from the rain and the fact that his friend Pierre had snatched a local woman from right under his nose.
“You forgot half the surname”, Martin called Clark´s attention when the englishman folded up the paper and put the adress on it. It read: “Mister Holger Van.”
“Van what…?” Martin asked.
“Just Van”, Clark replied. “That´s alright. Holger comes from a poor family. He never knew his father and in his youth there was no need for a family name anyway. But by and by he made name for himself as an adventurer and explorer. His comrades found that Van was a typical dutch name and since a good portion of Holger´s blood is of netherlandish origin, the name stuck.”
“So you are serious about that expedition of yours, if you contact the man”, Martin thought aloud.
“As serious as I am about the silver fleet.”
“Ha! To tell the truth, I don´t really care where we are heading next, as long as long as we´re doing it soon! Landbound life makes us too tame. Or did it escape your notice that we neither dueled nor yelled at each other for several weeks now?”
Clark rose from the desk. “Tell you what”, he said, “we’d be better off finding ourselves a girl to brawl over instead of my galleon.”
“Instead of my galleon, yes. Gee! It’s as if she’d been engaged to respectable me for years, but suddenly is smitten all over with the dashing privateer that came from out of the blue!”
“A story that’s said to have happened more than once. – Come on, what kind of girl is most to your liking? I saw you’ve put hardly any effort into persuading the chick Pierre went into the hay with.”
The pirate shrugged. “Spanish ones. – Sorry.”
Having mentioned Clark’s hated nation was justification for Martin to change the topic. The first picture that had stolen itself unbidden into his mind had been disturbing enough.
Another month had to pass before it was time to say goodbye to Tortoise Island.
Captain Clark sat on a rock at the dirt road that led from town into Tortuga´s interior. Smoking his pipe he expected Martin´s return from one of his rides any moment. Riding a horse for fun was something the englishman could not fathom. His uncle Rupert often rode to the hunt, some useful purpose Clark did not particularily enjoy, but could at least understand. But just “moving” the animal for movements sake?
When Clark heard hooves trampling and saw a a dust cloud approach he smiled. Francois liked it when his friend smiled like this. It was a welcome diversion from Clark´s mathematician´s seriousness and his mocking laughter alike. Of both he had heard his share during the shore leave. With the Errant Eagle chained to the quay and the issue of who was her commander not right at hand, the two men had bonded in a fashion Martin had never believed possible. Clark was smart, where Martin was educated, so their long talks were never boring. Especially since both valued adventure as much as those dreamy hours of calm. Martin had never really grown up while Clark had passed the dreadful thirty and needed to prove to himself how young and energetic he still was. Aside from the Errant Eagle, both men had totally different tastes in women. At least Francois has noticed that his friend seemed to have a thing going for redheads when it came to pinch barmaid bosoms. And however much the privateer tried to downplay it, he seemed to genuinely care about the Redbeard-model from St. Kitts, while Martin liked his loveplay non-commital.
But during their last week in the pirate haven, the crazy dares had started again and the old tension was back.
The Black Dog urged his mount to go faster. It rose into the air right before the english eagle.
“Ahoi, Clark! One rises when one welcomes guests”, Martin threw at Clark from up in the saddle.
“And one dismounts when one is invited somewhere”, the other replied. “Me, I don´t care, but you better remember in church.” Clark extinguished his tobacco pipe and stowed it away while making casual conversation: “Not that I would mind if the catholic praying-barracks they plant the island with came to life a bit…”
With vague interest the captain studied the second rider who had arrived together with Martin. The man was about the same age as Martin. He looked not the brightest, but alert and aware and he had a pretty face. His dark, slightly curly hair grew as long and rampant as Clark´s own, his skin was sun-tanned like a seaman´s. The old clothing the stranger wore had served one or two former owners well, tarnishing the man´s appearance needlessly.
Clark could not help noticing such things in males. Though he was living a man´s life, feeling as a male would in his heart, those parts of him that were neither brain nor heart were undenieably of female nature.
“And you are…?”
The stranger dismounted respectfully.
“Zacharias Croft, Sir. I want to apply for the Errant Eagle.”
“You cannot need a job this deperately, if you ride in here on a full-blood like yours.”
The original spanish explorers had brought pigs and goats to the Westindias and the horses, too, came from this old stock. Animals and humans alike had made the New World their home, but while some felt right, others, like horses, would always stand out as oddities.
“What good is the horse to me?”, the young man grumbled. “If I slaughter it, the meat´s going to spoil before I can use it up and if I try to sell it, nobody on this island´s going to pay even close to it´s full value.”
“Well, for one option you have to decide before coming along”, Clark laughed. “You´ve got references? I mean: What can you do that could aid us on my eagleress?”
“My father was a rope-maker”, Zack informed the captains. “I learned his trade as well. When I´ve had enough of knotting hangman´s slings I went to sea. With the Sharkeye.”
Captain Martin whistled and Captain Clark nodded favourably.
“Hers is a good reputation. An english privateer, just like us. A good deal smaller, of course… Why did you leave, seaman Croft?”
“Did not. We sank north of Tortuga. Only a few could save themselves. The Sharkeye is no more.”
Martin´s head sank down and Clark, who had just a few moments before mocked the catholics, made the sign of the cross for the souls of the drowned.
“How did it happen?” he asked Croft.
“We were lucky, or so we thought at first. Happened upon the spanish silver fleet, can you imagine? And there was this one ship that got left behind. We attacked, of course, but the distance from the main convoy was not big enough. One of the escort ships pursued us. Trying to shake it off we sailed right into a thunderstorm. And that did it. The spaniards had hardly even scratched our hull, but the storm tipped us over.”
“And where did that happen?” Captain Clark inquired when Zacharias had finished his report.
“North of Tortuga, as I told you.”
“On the map I mean!” Clark shouted at the seaman.
Zack laughed dryly. “What do you expect, now, Clark? Me telling you numbers and stuff? I´m a sailor! I don´t understand all this business with them lines and squares. Didn´t even see the equator going ´round the world once!”
There were days when it deemed Captain Clark the best method of raising humanity´s average educational level to simply have men like Zack Croft keelhauled. He was ready to beat the information out of the seaman, but Martin steered his horse between the two.
“Come off your horse, then you and me have a talk among men!” Clark hissed.
“I´m sorry, I can´t. I need the animal to reach the airs you are giving yourself!” the other replied.
Zacharias looked from the one to the other, unsure what to do. A cronfrontation was inevitable, was it not? The poor seaman could not know that the exchange of words had been one of the friendlier ones judged by the rivals´ standards.
“Please let go, my friend”, Martin beseeched his Co-Captain. “The silver is lost to everybody.”
Clark clenched his teeth. Letting go, that was said easily, but it wasn´t. Where Spain was concerned, Clark the Shark did never let got, but bit until his fangs fell out. He wanted to see the nation bleed for his irreplaceable loss, wanted to see the spanish empire in ruins. The treasure itself was secondary. Clark assumed that this was a trait he had in common with his idol, the pirate and explorer Francis Drake. He did not try to emulate the man, strived only to be able to look him into the spiritual eyes in the afterlife as his equal. That the majority of the population did not follow a similar goal, but was living from day to day simply for enjoyment of their existance, the privateer held against humanity. Zack was one of those people and however much Captain Clark might despise them, he needed them, being nothing at all without the work they performed.
“Okay, Croft”, Clark said. “To the harbour!”
He tossed the man a piece of wood no bigger than his thumb. A tiny eagle´s outline was carved into it.
“Show this token to our scribe. It tells him that the owner can sign on without a trial run of any kind.”
“Is there a catch?”
“Yes. You´ve got to stay for a full year, because we need your expertise when we´re going after the silver fleet, too!”
“That´s no big deal, Sir. On the Errant Eagle I could stay forever!”
The captains Martin and Clark went to the harbour, where Jarundo and Marita were already waiting for them. The couple greeted the captains with the words “Look, there!”
While Errant Eagle was preparing to depart, another ship just came home. Returning from a raid Captain L`Oiseaux put his smaller vessel, the Maiden Braid, into port next to the galleon below the keep. The captain had just started out on his career, but he was already a well-known, promising player in the criminal underworld of the region. Clark knew that he was dealing with a very dangerous man, yet he had a soft spot for “Chicken L´Oiseaux” just like a slave driver for a bloodhound puppy.
“Had a pleasant journey?” he called out to the arrival.
“A better one than Hornbasket, certainly”, came the reply. “I have him stored down below, unharmed, ´cause he claims to enjoy your protection. It did not help him against the Don, though…”
“Don Escobedo sank Hornbasket´s ship. The captain could barely make it to the nextbest island’s shore, where I picked him up. Is it true what he claims or can I extract from him what I want to know?”
“Let the man go. But tell him to get himself a new ship or the deal is off!”
“Nothing else. Everything was just splendid”, L´Oiseaux claimed. “Next thing I´m going to do is raiding Gibraltar!”
“Everyone does, now that it has become easy”, Clark remarked to his companions. “If this keeps on, there´ll be nothing left of the town in a few years.”
“At least his plan gives L´Oiseaux a believable excuse to withdraw from these parts as long as Escobedo´s around”, Jarundo said.
His friend nodded. “Depending on who´s coming along this time, I´d say we won´t have to shirk from our next encounter with the Padre del Mar. Not with our new ship.”
“Escobedo commands a fleet”, Jarundo reminded Clark.
“That´s why I´m going to pay my respects to the local bucaneer clans´ chiefs before I hunt for the hunter.”
“I still hope it won’t come to that.”
“To be frank, me, too”, Clark started. Over the couple’s shoulder, he got a good glance at the prospective cremembers lining up next to the galleon. The captain rubbed his hands.
“Pegleg has just signed up! Even minus one leg that’s as good as three fighters. And that’s Harris over there! So we’ll have a doctor again – though he’s not planning on bringing those three ladies along, I hope?!” The privateer scratched his head, mumbling something about having to ask Perry whether this or that former crewmember had shown up at the quay. Each and every eagle’s function was clearly mapped out in the captain’s head, though he would probably not have recognized a family member of Chips’s when he saw one.
“I’ll be right back with you”, the captain promised and strolled over to the recruitment stall.
“Do you think he ever looks at us this way, too?” Martin wondered aloud.
“Like what?” Jarundo asked.
“Um… like a slave dealer assessing his inventory.”
“Uh-uh, he isn’t like that. More like a craftsman his tools.”
“You know, sometimes it feels like I was really just following him, instead of sharing the command with Clark. As if our conflict had already been settled. And then I wonder why I’m doing this.”
Jarundo stared at the other as if he wanted to say “You really do not know? For real?”.
“Hey, what’s the matter?” Martin waved his hand. “Oh, forget it!”
And then he followed Clark.
Jarundo, too, strolled over to his friends while Marita said her goodbyes to a group of friends she had made in Basse Terre, wifes of dock workers and soldiers.
“Three months and they still haven’t figured it out”, he moaned.
Right next to the galleon James Perry had placed his recruitment stall at the quay. He had a long list of names lying on his knees, all of them veterans who were to be accepted without testing them or questioning them about their motives. Even so, there were more than enough positions to be filled for newcomers.
The actual trialing of appliccants was Whipcrack´s and Viviane´s job. Experienced sailors and fighters that they were, the couple could easily assess every candidate.
To the captains´ surprise the Riet-family had grown a new member: The pair had taken young Pepe Gonzales under their wing. Regardless of the circumstances of their first meeting, the youth looked up to them now.
When the spaniard beheld the ship´s commanders approach, he made a fist at Jarundo and shouted: “No additional agreements this time, leutnant! This time I´m going to get rich!”
“Supplementary agreements, Jarundo?” Martin asked with a smirk.
Jarundo shruffed. “Everybody has to decide for himself what deals he enters into. On his first journey Pepe payed me for a sound pirate-education – money well spent, you have to admit.”
Pepe was not the only one who despised pirates in general, but returned into service despite his doubts. Lured by even greater riches than his first voyage had garnered him, the dutchman Korthals from Wilhelmstad, too, rejoined the crew. Lipnail Tom, on the other hand, claimed all he wanted was a quick passage to Eleuthera, where he planned to buy a house and some boats and live out his days as a fisherman. Still, Tom signed on as a sailor on the Errant Eagle to achieve this goal, instead of booking a passage on a passenger ship…
The bystanders followed the exchange of words with interest, trying to gauge what to expect from a future on the Errant Eagle. Viviane´s presence demonstrated vividly that equality among pirates went farther here than elsewhere and the spanish boy broadcast the same message. On the other hand, Clark was not exactly known for a democratic style of commanding… Prospective recruits had to make up their minds what rules they could live with. Once out of port it was a bad time for to change one´s mind. Bad for the human sharklings, at least, but probably quite good for the real ones.
“Why do you want to sign on at the eagle-sip, where there are no slaves?” one of the locals asked his buddy. “Where the hellcat and the spaniard-trash can order you around?”
“Think, man!” the other replied. “Have a good look at the ship! This here is Captain Clark and he has performed all his great deeds with this botch-up of a galleon!”
The first seaman considered this. He sized up the Errant Eagle.
“You are right”, the man concluded. “He must be the greatest pirate in all of Westindia, indeed! Let´s apply!”
The preparations dragged on a few days longer than expected. Though the galleon was equipped and provisioned, there was trouble with some candidates that needed sorting out, having to somehow free Aberforth Harris out of three engagements being not the least of them.
The day before the departure Martin decided to visit Lady Redbeard one last time. At his favourite table a familiar face was already waiting for him: Daniel Morris, alias Captain Hornbasket.
“Got a bit too bold, if the Don had to target you?” Martin greeted the captain.
“More like desperate”, the pirate admitted. “I had to make up for our losses. Too many catchs in too short a time drew Escobedo’s attention. But what other choice did you leave me?”
Martin did not protest. Hornbasket was speaking the truth, after all.
He took a seat.
“Did you seek me out to collect your debt, Captain Martin?” Hornbasked asked. “For persuading L´Oiseaux to let me go?”
“Not really. But since I´ve found you anyway, we can handle this right here and now. No use leaving behind loose ends. To cut to the chase, Captain L´Oiseaux hinted at easily carried and well hidden goods you may have for us: Information.”
“Yes. I let that slip unfortunately when they took me in and I was still sunstruck.”
Martin laughed: “You were bound to share what you know in the first place. Only it will hurt less if you tell me, instead of having the pirate force it out of you.”
“I want an equal share of the profits gained from my information!” Hornbasket demanded. “You´ll see that this is possible without losing a single piece of eight!”
Martin ordered the his favourite drink, the newfangled sugar liquor called Rum, for himself and his business partner. “I´m all ears!”
Hornbasket leaned over the table, whispering: “Have you ever heard of the Da Vinci diarys?”
“Damn, yes, that I have!”
“Haha! Well, I was completely at a loss at first. But if you know them, then I´m finally convinced not to have fallen for some fairy tale.”
Martin licked his teeth. “Leonardo Da Vinci was the greatest genius of his time, perhaps of all times. He was a painter and inventor, able to compete with a cat on terms of never-satisfied curiosity and with a monkey in his lust for experimentation. There are said to exist three dozens of issues of his diarys. But they are not just copies of a single book. Each tome deals with a specific realm of lore. The contents are advanced, unique. Da Vinci invented mechanisms they could not build back then…”
Hornbasked nodded eagerly. “But we can, now! My informations say that some of the genius´s writings have found their way into the colonies, among them at least one of the lorebooks. Now, Captain Martin, try to guess, which one! What book would be deemed important enough to hide from the european powers and bring it here to secure some substantial advantages?”
“The medical one”, Martin answered without having to think. There were more seamen dying from disease and infection than were killed in battles. This was true for the military as well as for the pirates.
“Much better”, Hornbasket revealed. “It´s the shipbuilding-compedium! A crew can be replaced, new sailors grow faster than wood. But with the right rigging-configuration and a few modifications to rudder and hull the Errant Eagle could become invincible!”
“Not to mention the ship you wish to build for yourself from Da Vinci´s construction notes?”
“Pshaw! You profit from it as much as me, if I pledge myself to your privateer fleet´s service with my new baby.”
The rum was served. Martin took filled two cups.
“Where´s our treasure wating for us?” he inquired. “Is there a map to it or will we have to steal the book from a heavily fortified castle? Perhaps some church cellar? I´m not exactly inexperienced in this respect…”
“That would be unwise”, Hornbasket warned the adventerous frenchman. “There is a way of walking away with the book in the open and without a fight. But I could never make up my mind to go through with it.”
“So?” Martin drank. “Why not? Pirates scare their victims to avoid fights, generally. So what´s not to like about a nonviolent approach?”
“You need to become a Templar.”
Martin spat a mouthful rum across the table. Hornbasket could not avoid the splashes in time, but the pirate did not care.
“First Leonardo and now the Templars? What rubbish are you trying to feed me?!”
Hornbasket cleaned his mantle. He took his time, speaking slowly and carefully: “Tales the common buccaneer never gets to hear. Deadlier stuff than serpent venom and the syphilis combined! If you try laying your hands at the tome without being a member of this society, you suddenly have enemies all over Westindia, in places you never even imagined!”
“Lots of blasphemous, though very dead bankers with a knight´s title”, Martin replied, laughing. “The templar knights are no more, Hornbasket! The order was anhihilated a long time ago. Whoever tried to frighten you with it lied.”
The pirate shook his head.
“They are still around. And it could be everyone. The friendly fence buying your loot. The pimply halfgrown waiter in this very pub. Even your father!”
“I don´t know…”, Martin joked. “Wicked rituals in our mansion I would have noticed, I think. The smell of sulphur is hard to get out of the curtains.”
“Mock me all you want, Martin. But I´ve uncovered that there´s a hidden temple of the knights on this island. That´s where they keep their treasures, among them said book.”
Martin sighed. The trouble was that everything Hornbasket said was adding up. Martin believed Tortuga´s governor to be the kind of man fancying himself the order´s successor. He could picture King Le Vasseur and his confidates re-enact weird rituals that they had found hints of in old documents. If nothing worse than playing along with Le Vasseur´s phantasies was required to gain the Da Vinci-diary, Martin was willing to commit. “Tell me more about the hideout!” he ordered Hornbasket.
“There´s a song revealing the temple´s exact location. I´ll pen down those verses I remember for you.”
Martin passed the waiting time with more rum. Then he perused Hornbasket´s lines:
Where fallen heroes´ skulls white gleam
of battles yet to come they dream.
If you look into their eyes
there is no turning back.
So, adventurer, be wise
about the road to trek.
Alone the … has to come
… … …
None but the most pure hearted soul
in the end will reach the goal.
A final test awaits the heir
In secret place of stone and square.
The heros´ gifts…
…into the good lord´s service.
Knight Rene Dutreill, 1551 – 1610
Martin stared at Hornbasket´s handwriting. Whoever had translated the original text had put more effort into making the words rhyme than to preserve their actual meaning. Martin could only hope that the information was still whole. He had no idea what a place of “stone and square” might mean, for instance. A plateau perhaps? Some mystical reference to works of architecture? Or simply bricks? The missing lines were simple, in comparison. All Martin had to do was convince Le Vasseur that he would use the tome to further christianity only.
“Just one more thing”, Hornbasket said. “The lodge meets once per quarter year. Outside those meetings they deny being involved with or even knowing anything about the organisation. I´m afraid you´ll have to be patient a long time before you can profit from my information.”
“Why? When did the knights assemble last? Yesterday?”
“Close. The day after tomorrow. At midnight. You need to encrypt the song until then. But that´s impossible.”
“Perhaps you are right”, Martin said. “But I think…”
All of a sudden Captain Hornbasket rose, mumbling something about an appointment he had nearly fogotten. He left the tavern in a hurry. Martin chuckled when he heard the words the pirate spoke to himself: “I´m not going to let him drag me into this…”
Martin folded up the paper. He was ready to leave, too, when he saw an informant enter. Every successful land- or waterbound robber employed some. The man in question worked as guide in Basse Terre when he was not acting as informationbroker. His services were never cheap, but he was known as dependable in both his trades.
“Ah, Marinus”, the privateer greeted the arrival. “Have you got something for us? We were ready to leave tonight, but I think the Errant Eagle will stay in port a few days longer, after all.”
The local shook his head.
“You are as wrong as wrong goes there, Captain Martin”, he promised. “When I´ve told you my story you´ll set off yesterday…”
It was noon and the evening high tide seemed an eternity away. Why his Co-Captain was in such a hurry, Clark could not tell. He only saw Martin approaching the quay as if chased by a legion of hellhounds.
“We have a problem!” Martin gasped.
“We always have”, the friend replied.
“Yes. But this is of a different kind. We´ve got to decide between two treasures.”
“So, must we? Why shouldn´t we have both?”
Martin pulled Clark aside. Hidden from sight by a heap of sacks and barrels he relayed what he had learned from Marinus: “A fat-bellied treasure ship is headed from Cuba to San Juan. The spaniards have already lost their escort in a pirate attack and their ship is heavily damaged. The pirates payed for their brash move with their lifes, but it was close. The Oro Grande cannot withstand a second attack. It´s highly proably that we can seize her without a fight at all. But we would have to leave Tortuga at once, lest our gold escapes us.”
“Oro Grande? Whoever picks the names should be hanged from the yard for his lack of creativity! Well, Martin, it´s nice to have a target instead of patroling at random. But why should this pose a problem? We are ready to depart tonight.”
“We should not. We, that is, I, have the opportunity to lay hands on a precious in two days, an item unequaled in Westindia.”
In brief words Martin informed his friend about the lorebook, keeping the full story involving the templars to himself.
“You cannot tell me why whatever you´re planning can only be done the day after tomorrow?” Clark wondered.
Martin declined. “I would, but I´m afraid of stirring up a hornets´ nest if I did. Governor Le Vasseur has set his mind to a scheme that defies common sense. I have to play the game the way the king intends it to be played.”
“Trust me! We already twisted the man round our little fingers once, you and me. If I can repeat this in two days…“
“…we´ll lose the treasure ship.”
“You see, now, that we´ve got a problem?”
Clark hesitated, then he asked, to re-assure himself: “Your adventure’s a one-man-mission? In this case there´s only one way to get the book and the treasure ship. We´ve got to split up. Give me five days, a week at best, then I´m back here with the gold.”
“And my captain´s share?”
“Will be yours, the full sum, if you´ve managed to procure the diary in the meantime.”
Martin´s hand rested at the pommel of his weapon. Thoughtfully he picked one stalk after the other from a hole in the sacks with the other hand, snapping them.
“Alright”, he finally agreed. “I´m sure enough of my success to accept your proposal.”
The captains sealed their deal with a handshake.
But despite the expected double gain Clark had a queasy feeling in his stomach when he boarded the Errant Eagle alone that day. To command her without interference from the french noble, wasn´t that what he always had wanted? The privateer shook his head. Of course he wished to command absolute and unrestricted, but he had never questioned Martin´s presence. The adventurer belonged to the Errant Eagle and at Clark´s side!
Meanwhile the frenchman made haste to return to town. He was eager to start his research, but he also did not want to watch the Errant Eagle leave without him. Martin´s blades clanged with every step he took, a sound the adventurer long since had stopped hearing consciously.
The first day the captains went seperate ways, Martin followed a hint Chips had supplied three months ago. Nobody had payed much attention to the shipwright´s mentioning of hero-stones back then. But now they might just turn out the key to solving the templar-riddle. Asking around in town had uncovered that Hornbasket was obsessed with templar-tales. To Martin it seemed believeable that the pirate had included a reference to it into his colors. Following that logic, the fallen heros line from the poem might very well refer to those grave markers. But Martin could not be entirely certain and so every minute spent on following thos hint, felt like fifty-five seconds too much.
“And?” Martin knocked on the wood with a piece of chalk. Behind the bar a pocks-scarred woman studied the sketch he had made. “Do you know where tombstones with markings like this can be found?”
“I´m not sure…”
“Oh, please, if I´ve got to order another round first, then so be it! Is it enough, now?”
The woman beamed. The sight put to shame even the grin of the skull in Hornbasket´s pirate-flag – the very skull and crossed bones that Martin had drawn.
“Hero-stones we´ve got by the dozen at the old cemetary north of town”, the woman enlightened Martin. “But…” She cleaned away the skull with a wet piece of cloth, took the chalk from Martin and corrected the picture. “…you´re looking for signs like this. The skull in profile.”
“My thanks, good woman! I´m much oblidged!”
“Tipp as generously as today the whole next week and I´ll have my grandmother´s bones dance for you, my strange bird!”
Martin tipped his hat, then left the pub. He fetched his horse from the stable, glad not to have sold it yet, and mounted up. In case his search for the temple would lead him all across the island, Martin had stocked up on torches and provisions for several days and brought a light blanket with him. He was ready to start his quest!
While Martin left Basse Terre northbound, Clark finished another batch of nautical calculations. He had Marita serve him a cacao-drink. Usually Clark drank it like the spaniards did: with added sugar. Today he poured, following a whim, a small glass of rum into it.
“That´s sugar, too, somehow”, he justified his action.
Dumbfounded the cook gasped: “But you never touch the sugar-liquor if you can help it!”
“That´s true, but… it´s Martin´s favourite drink. Like this it feels as if he´d be with us, you know?”
Marita shook her head. “I don’t know what you’ve had before, but it was definitely at least cup too much!”
Martin was not in the mood for expensive or exotic drinks. He checked one tombstone after the other on the old graveyard. None of them moved to give away the entrance to a hidden underground compund. Neither were the stones forming a geometric form or, preferably, an arrow.
Eventually Martin braced himself against one of the tombstones. He put out the sheet of paper and perused the lines, one by one, again.
“Yeah, thanks, Sir Dutreill, this may have been your entry ticket into poet’s heaven, but us living ones would have been thankful for a little more precise instructions!” the pirate grumbled. And then he lowered his hand. How stupid exactly could one man be?! The name and date were his next hint, it dawned to the adventurer. All the tombs around him, with the names of their owners etched into stone – one of them had to be Sir Rene Dutreill´s!
Late into the evening, the last light of day almost completely faded, Martin found what he sought for. He once again read the date of birth and death carved into the stone: 1551-1610.
Even without Hornbasket´s story and the poem, an attentive visitor was bound to notice that something was not quite right here. Had not the buccaneers settled this island just twelve years ago? So where did a skeleton from the first decade of the century come from?
Captain Hornbasket would argue that there was a conspiracy at work that reached back to the days of Columbus. Martin had a theory of his own, according to which Le Vasseur had placed a fake tombstone here, to add to his his gentlemen´s club a mythical qualitiy. Martin had to admire to what lengths the governor had went to offer prospective candidates an entertaining paper chase. Knight Dutreill’s tombstone had been aged artifically by a masterful hand. It really looked ancient… more ancient actually, than the thirty-three years it claimed to stand in this place.
“Let´s see”, Martin murmured. “This is where our hero´s dreaming of future victories. And I´m expected to look into his eyes.”
The adventurer planted himself in front of the tombstone’s narrow side. From his position Martin could have looked into a real skull´s eye sockets. But the two-dimensional picture on the stone percieved the world in the way a fish did: he saw what was to his left and right, not directly in front of it.
Martin circled around the tombstone. He knelt down and reached for the inscription. Carefully the man traced the letters and the skull. It´s single eye appeared dark, but somehow not as deeply etched into the rock as the lineout. Martin used a twig to scratch in the socket. Suddenly there was no more resistance – Martin realized that he had poked right through a hole that had been filled up with mud. It went right through the tombstone, obviously artificially created by the stonemason.
Martin pressed his face against the stone to take a peek through the revealed channel. But all he saw on the other side were some enlarged flowers growing wild on the grave.
Martin circled the stone again. He risked a look from the other side. This time his gaze was led not down-, but upwards.
“No turning back”, the adventurer recalled the poem´s words. “The translation scrambled the hint to look through the hole from the tombstone´s backside!”
From the correct position he could make out a point in the mountain range that covered the island´s eastern part. Martin sketched down his discovery on the backside of Hornbasket’s paper. He tried to estimate the distance and came to the conclusion that he could rest tonight without missing the knights´ meeting. Unwilling to spent his night on a cemetary, he walked his horse some distance from it. Martin expected an exhausting climb and then some rounds of a game he was unparalleled at: the noble arts of diplomacy and decieving.
On the second day at sea Freddie Winston made out the Oro Grande.
The damaged treasure ship lay anchored at the beach of a hilly, forested island.
“Hats off!” Clark commented. “She made it a farther than I wanted to give her credit for.”
“With luck the main fighting force is at land, harvesting lumber for the repairs”, Whipcrack gave voice to his hope.
“No reason to let down our guard”, Captain Clark replied. He called together the leaders of the boarding parties: Louis the hunter, Pierre Dupont and Pegleg Sam.
Meanwhile Martin was on his way into the mountains. He hoped that the King of Tortuga would welcome applicants to the knighthood generously with food and drink.
The Errant Eagle approached her helpless victim unhindered.
“This is going to be a slaughtering”, Pegleg Sam sneered. “I won´t even need a pike, a kick with my wooden leg will suffice!”
His words still hung in the air when a dark sillouette emerged from the island. A second and third followed. The men on the galleon collectively held their breath, when they recognized their old nemesis: the largest of the three ships was none other than the Padre del Mar, the Errant Eagle´s equal in speed and firepower. The presence of the Luchador radiante and the Cuervo, two sleek and very maneuverable destroyers, complicated the situation further.
The three ships were battle ready, for they had been laying in wait for an attacker, probably the Errant Eagle specifically.
“Aye”, Doc Harris whispered. “A slaughtering! Jarundo needs to keep ready his bible…”
Freddie clutched the crow´s nest´s rim, shaking. Normally he was looking down on newcomers like Pepe and was treated by his shipmates as a competent seaman. But in this moment he felt like the simple eleven-year-old that he was.
Captain Clark´s hand found his heart. His fingers touched two documents he carried on his body most of the time: Holger Van´s reply to his request and the Letter de Marque Martin had negotiated in Providence.
“Didn´t our information say the Oro sails without an escort?” Whipcrack wondered, hoarsly.
“If we get out of this mess with our hides still intact, I´m going to skin Marinus!” Viviane promised.
Clark´s hand clenched to a fist and he was almost certain his heart was doing the same.
“The information did not come from Marinus”, he clarified. “Not firsthand, anyway. He wasn´t the one goading us into believing the treasure ship was an easy target.”
Pierre, Louis, Sam, Harris and the Riets looked at their leader. “Who?” they demanded silently. “What bastard do we owe our misery? Who placed us into mortal danger?”
The captain closed his eyes.
“Martin”, he said, toneless. “Francois de Monet.”
Martin enjoyed a phantastic view of the Tortoise Island and the surrounding waters. His climb had been surpringly easy and almost relaxing. Closer and closer he came to his destination…
His former crewmembers’ thoughts were all about Francois this moment: “Bastard’s to burn in hell!” Harris said through clenched teeth. The young man was close to tears. “And Escobedo with him!”
Captain Clark openes his eyes.
“That can be arranged”, he claimed.
“Huh? What? Don’t… please do not make fun of me, captain! Not now!”
Whipcrack made a fist into the air. “Ha! I knew you had not really given up! Let’s hear what you dreamed up while standing there like a cemetary statue!”
Clark shook his head. “The idea is to go out in a firework that can be seen far as Tortuga. If the Don loves us so much to arrange this rendzevous, he can accompany us to hell.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
Meanwhile Martin had reached a cave. He threw off his climbing gear and rested a bit. But curiosity forced the man up after a few minutes.
Martin’s fingers brushed over the rock. Their sharp edges reminded him of a mine on Martinique. Somebody had enlarged a natural cavern´s entrance by means of pick, hammer and perhaps blackpowder. Martin knew, he had reached his destination.
The sun was already setting. Was he supposed to wait here for the members of the lodge or seek the secret temple within the cave? Martin decided that it could not hurt to look around a bit. A torch in one hand and his epée in the other, he entered the cave. When he found a stairway hewn into the rock that led deeper into the darkness, a smile crossed his face. Yes, this had to be the right place!
“Hurry! Hurry up, you sacks!” Viviane yelled. Her voice was close to a shrill scream when she added: “I do not know as many insults as the captain, but I can dish out more pain, if you you don´t start moving right now!”
“No need to go to the trouble, for that´ll be Escobedo´s pleasure when he boards us”, Pepe replied. He hustled between the cannons to load them up with the special “ammunition” Clark and Whipcrack had come up with. From the youth to Pegleg Sam every eagle had to act as powder monkey in this critical moments of the battle. The Padre del Mar was still too far away to bring her guns into play, but the two pinnaces were already pelting the Errant Eagle with lethal grapeshot.
Viviane´s gunnery crew answered the attackers with her husband´s own tweaked version of chainshot. The english´s strategy also included bringing into play their complete supply of rowboats…
“Quick! Cast loose the nutshells!” Clark shouted somewhere above Viviane’s head. “They are of no use to us!”
The spaniards did not intent to sink the Errant Eagle. The galleon was a prize in her own right that Escobedo did not want it damaged needlessly. Alas, the hunter´s apprecciation of his ship did not comfort Captain Clark in the least today…
Werner severed yet another rope. A sturdy boat splashed into the water. With the cargo it had been given, the small watercraft might prove life-saving: Each lifeboat was soaked in oil and carried one or more powderkegs with already lit fuses.
As they were, the loaded up boats were useless, though. And this was where Whipcrack’s spontaneous invention came into play.
“For you, my love”, Viviane whispered when Clark had the Eagle in position and bellowed “Fire!”. “Fire!” she repeated to her gunnery crew.
From each cannon a ball with an unusually long chain shot forth. But the chains were not connected to a second cannonball, as usual, instead they were fastened to one of the boats. Lugged forward by the cannonball like a carriage by a very grumpy racehorse, the tiny vessels sped forth, towards the Padre del Mar.
Viviane allowed herself a small smile of satisfaction, when one of the boats flared up at just the right moment, forcing the Luchador to evade. For some precious time the pinnace was not able to point it´s gun ports towards the enemy.
But as often as the sending out of a lifeboat worked, there were less pleasing incidents. Sometimes the unusual ammunition tore up the cannon and then again a dud dallied near the Errant Eagle´s hull, threatening to set on fire the mothership instead of the opponent.
“All boats are on their way now”, Whipcrack reported.
“Then let´s get away from here!”
The waves helped drive the swimming bombs towards Escobedo´s flagship. If the Behemoth of the ocean was eliminated, the two remaining battleships would prove serious, but no invincible opponents to the Errant Eagle.
The rock appeared solid to Martin, nevertheless the adventurer checked each step with his weapon first. As Whipcrack had taught him, Martin kept away from the middle of the stairs. Burglars did so in order to avoid the wood creaking. Once taken to the heart, the habit was hard to lay aside, even if it was quite useless here.
But despite all his precautions Martin realized too late that he was not alone in the cavern. When he reached a landing, the bats hanging from the ceiling felt disturbed by the torch´s smoke. It was still a bit too early to swarm out and hunt. Like every sleeper roused before his time the animals were grumpy and confused. The whole colony came down upon the intruder, flapping their leathery wings wildly.
Martin could not maintain his discipline. His steps became unsteady and he forgot where he had already tested the ground. All of a sudden the floor gave way under his feet. It had been nothing more than a pit covered up with a dark grey sailcloth!
Trying in vain to get a hold Martin at least managed to snatch the cloth while he fell. He slammed hard on the the ground some ten feet below.
Fortunately this time the adventurer carried not a candle as on Lizard Island, but a torch. The tar-like substance kept burning when it came down next to Martin. It´s light allowed the man to see and distinguish colors to some degree.
Martin found that he held two sheets of cloth sewn together back to back. One side had caused the illusion of soild rock, but on the other side a skull was sneering at Martin. The pirate expected to see the hero-stones´ motive, but he was wrong. In the torchlight this second sheet appeared red as the typical pirate flag. Martin even knew the symbol on it, because he had fought, drank and slept under it for many months: It was Captain Clark´s axe-in-the-split-skull and it seemed to mock it’s victim.
“No…” Martin groaned. “Not this! Not… you!“
Then he opened his mouth to an angry and desperate scream: “Claaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaark!“
The echo nearly killed the captive in the pit.
On the Errant Eagle Captain Clark and Whipcrack Werner sank down next to each other with their backs to the door leading to the officer´s cabins. Around them the surviving pirates erupted into cheers.
“How do you feel?” Clark asked hoarsly.
The leutnant answered truthfully: “Shitty.”
“That´s the feeling of victory”, Clark remarked. He wiped sweat, soot and a liquid he had forbidden his eyes to produce many years ago from his face.
The – once again decimated – eagles payed no attention to the maelstrom devouring the Luchador and the Cuervo behind them. Those who had survived the brutal battle owed it not to their skills but luck. For this reason landlubbers like Pepe and petite Marita were among the survivors, but experienced seamen like Pierre and Benk had lost their life.
Pegleg Sam´s body dangled in an unnatural angle from his wooden leg that was stuck between two splintered planks of the ship, his broken eyes staring at nothing.
Chips clasped his nephew so tightly that Doc Harris almost could not reach the boy with his bandages and brandy. Alfred´s face and arms were disfigured from the spanish grapshot. “With all those scars you´ll be the most fearsome pirate of the Westindias!” the carpenter spoke to Freddie. The half-conscious boy could barely hear the words and Chips closed his eyes so he had not to see the doctor´s sceptical expression.
Captain Clark attempted to stand up again. Jarundo pressed him down with gentle force. “Don´t try, Eagle! No one expects you to see to every detail personally so soon after the two of you have saved us. That´s what leutnants are for – and friends.”
But while Werner accepted the offer readily, Clark protested: “I´m not hurt.”
“Not your body, no, my friend.”
“Friends…” Clark repeated. “I´m so sorry, brother! Ever since Francois joined us I acted like a little boy who has been given a new toy. But he sold us to Escobedo. I think the Don promised him the Errant Eagle as payment.”
“You really think Martin betrayed us?” Whipcrack thought aloud.
Jarundo nodded gravely. “Francois was the only one not on board. And the excuse he used to justify his absence… we should have realized sooner that it was the perfect bait for Clark.”
“Francois was a clever student”, Clark said, sniffing. “But he did not take into account what I said on Curacao.”
“Hm?” Werner managed.
“He forgot that we can´t be killed!” the privateer captain enlightened his comrade. “That we´ll always come back!”
Then he buried his face in his arms, sobbing. Whipcrack Werner felt like a fool when suddenly he felt the urge to comfort the older man as if he was a crying woman. Instead he rose.
Around the captain, almost on instinct, the veterans from the Aquila gathered: Jarundo. Whipcrack and Viviane. Chat Creed with his cousin Jeff. James Maria Perry. Oldworld Eric. Chips with his assistant Karsten. Harris, holding the barely alive Alfred.
Among the englishmen Louis and Gontard from Martinique stood, pale. They had known the traitor as the Black Dog of the Spanish Main and believed in him. The same went for the buccaneers, Felipe and Fernando, only they were still not aware of Martin’s secret identity as Chien.
Jose Peralta forced his way into the group, followed by Marita and the newcomer, Zacharias.
Peter Korthals and Lipnail-Tom approached the group, nodding towards their fellow contryman Werner. The merchant-son still hated pirates and Martin had proved one of the worst kind today. Finally Pepe Gonzales, too, joined the circle. He had saved Martin´s life and had to pay for it with nothing but pain and mortal fear so far.
“Not even when I shot him dead did the captain cry!” Viviane accused the absent Martin. “The bastard´s sure to pay for this!”
“Yes”, Gontard agreed from his heart. “Let´s teach the governor´s brat what it means to play with pirates!”
The men and the two women formed a living wall around their leader. The common crewmembers should not witness what happened inside. But the shouts Clark´s friends gave were carried on by the faceless followeres, too.
“Revenge!” Louis demanded.
“Death!” Creed shouted.
“Damnation!” Pepe sealed the vow and then all the voices united to a single chorus. Even the heavily wounded Freddie crowed the slogan, swept along by the crowd.
The man who was at the bottom of the eagle´s vows of revenge fervently tried to use the last light of his torch. He had cut up the sailcloth into stripes with his knife. The widths of cloth he fashioned together to a makeship rope. Ironically the knots Martin used had been taught to him by the man he held responsible for his misfortune: Captain Clark. Raoul´s and Pierre´s officer’s education had not included basic seamen´s tasks and the pirates hired by Chien del´Onyx had simply assumed that their captain knew the arts of knot-weaving, even though he never demostrated them. Clark had been the first man Francois had confided in about his lack of knowledge. He had trusted him…
Foot by foot, inch by inch the rope grew in length. Finally Martin tied the burnt down torch to one end. Then all that was left was throwing it blindly in the hope the improvised lifeline would catch somewhere. When his hope came true the second attempt already, Martin winced a bit, out of disbelief. It really had worked!
The pit´s captive climbed up. Martin allowed himself neither relief nor confidence whenever he managed another pull. In the end only the final feat of strength mattered, the one that would have him escape from the shaft. What use were three feet covered when the rope might give an inch below the brink? None at all! How far he had fallen the adventurer could not estimate. Climbing in utter darkness it felt like thirty of sixty feet easily, however, a man would never have survived such a distance unscathed.
Martin´s fingers brushed a slit in his climbing aid. Something up there had torn it in the middle, the same object the torch had stuck. Fearfully he worked his way further up. There was nothing gained if the rope could no longer sustain his weight…
But, no, luck was with him this time at least and Martin grabbed the pit´s edge. He touched a metal object that was hammered firmly into the rock. When he had rolled over completely, the climber studied the object. It turned out the hinge of a trapdoor that had once covered the pit. Perhaps this device had proved lethal to many an adventurer before him, but today it had saved Martin´s life.
The man stood up and walked to the landing´s end, where stairs were leading deeper into the mountain. He did not have to walk far. Only two steps below the landing a cave-in blocked the way.
“Should not be too surprised”, the man murmured.
Martin left the cave. He waited till midnight and then another hour, just in case. But nobody, least of all a medieval crusader at home in the Westindias, showed his face between the rocks.
Martin started to descend. The remains of his rivals flag that should have brought about his death he left behind in the cave.
Because the threat the Padre del Mar posed to them was still out there, the Errant Eagle followed not the shortest route back to Tortuga, but the one deemed safest by Clark and Peralta. But they had not been true sharks, had they not taken what they could on their way to safety…
“That´s a sloop!” the french merchant that had fallen victim to the privateers exclaimed. “It does fourteen knots!”
“No longer”, Captain Clark answered.
Jose Peralta leaned at rail. He watched the familiar ritual of re-loading the loot from the small trader to the galleon with glee. “Sneaking on a larger ship and boarding, it every buccaneer learns at the age of twelve”, the spaniard commented the encounter. “But out-maneuvering a mite like this with a full-blown warship, that takes skill!”
“The Good Lord knows, I do not love the spaniards”, the merchant captain lamented, “But Don Escobedo will put an end to your misdeeds, that much is certain!”
“Why don´t you go, then, and give him our regards?” the privateer captain replied. “I´m sure the Don will be all fired by my name.”
The eagles commented Clark´s remark with laughter, since the last they had seen of the Padre del Mar had been her desperate attempt to escape the flaming carpet the sea had been turned into after their lifeboat-assault. At least a few such boats the Errant Eagle could replace today from the captured sloop´s supply.
When the eagles left behind the disabled sloop Jose approached his captain.
“The man´s right in one thing: Escobedo has started the hunt for us for real and he is not too proud to delegate the task and employ auxiliury troops. We´re sitting ducks.”
“Are you saying the Eagle is too well known a target and we should get rid of her?”
“I´m afraid so. We should return to Tortuga, we are bound to anyway, to catch the traitor. But the Errant Eagle is not to leave port again. Let it look to Escobedo as if were hiding on the island! With a smaller, less showy ship we can operate unperpetubed while the Don will be sitting in front of the mousehole, waiting for a snout that´s never going to show itself!”
To Jose´s surprise, no outburst of anger followed his words. To the contrary the captain answered calmly: “You are right on principle, but I´m not going to give up the Errant Eagle willingly if even Martin did not manage to take it from me. We´re going to withdraw to the north, to the Bahamas. England is waiting ardently for my taxes, so we´ll head for Eleuthera first. However, we are not going to hide like frightened mice!”
The captain’s fist slammed down on the wood.
“Jose, I´m done with running from Escobedo! He was looming in the shadows, visiting me in my nightmares ever since I was a child. He almost killed your father, too.”
“And you think Admiral Goodrick will assist us in our fight?”
“I´d love to request a second warship from the english, but unfortunately Don Escobedo enjoys a certain fame in England. True, he is of an enemy nation, but he cleans up with the pirate-plague and that´s to England´s advantage, too. Since I can expect no help from our english allys, I have no choice but to round up every buccaneer clan between the Bahamas and Hispaniola.”
“It´s a good plan, captain. But I´m afraid many chiefs will decline working together with you despite their hatred for the Don, as long as you do not let Pepe and me dance at the mast.”
“We´ll see. Was there anything else?”
“A personal question.”
“Shoot, but do not expect an answer!”
Jose sighed. “I´m Miguel Peralta´s son, that means I cannot help but notice certain signs others overlook. Well, I noticed that during our shore leave you´ve never been seen in a whorehouse or in a maiden´s arms. The men from the Aquila say that wasn´t always so. It started when de Monet joined the crew…”
“Is that so?”
“Yes. I´m sorry, captain, but this is obviously the behaviour of a man in love! You have feelings for the man! For the greatest womanizer of Puerto Principe?”
Clark´s hand was on the hilt of his sabre before he even knew it. But before he could draw, Jose raised his hands.
“Hey! I never said I´ve got a problem with it! We are not in some governor´s residence, but headed for Tortuga of all places! I mean, he´s a guy, not a sheep, so I really don´t care.”
“After what he did, I prefer even a sheep before Ex-Captain Martin!” the captain exclaimed. Clark was angry with himself for having neglected his disguise since meeting the Black Dog. But wasn´t that what he had “admitted” to the girls, accompanied by a handfull of money, everytime? Jose had uncovered nothing else than that his captain prefered males. That did not make him a woman inevitably.
“You won´t back down when we find Francois?” Jose demanded.
“No! Never!“ Clark answered with conviction. “He´s a dead man walking!“
“Did… did you plan to tell him someday?” Jose could not help but ask. His curiosity was stronger than his survival instincts.
Clark shook his head. “How could I? You are so clever and alert a lad, but I did not realize how much my rival really meant to me until very recently.”
His captain´s answer hit Jose unprepared, so that he wished never to have asked: “The moment we had destroyed Escobedo´s cannonboats and vowed revenge.”
In his favourite pub in Basse Terre Francois de Monet was gazing through a window into the rain. The downpour gave him an inkling to the might of the storm raging out at sea right now. The renegade noble wished not only that storm, but also Don Escobedo and the devil onto Clark´s head. But would even the thricefold threat frighten the Errant Eagle´s captain? Clark was now the galleon´s sole owner and his feeling of triumph would make him invincible. No duel and no majority vote had led to this end. The englishman had sent his follower Hornbasket with a fake story to his rival and Martin had willingly stayed behind. At least this was how Francois de Monet understood what had happened.
“Hornbasket and his templar-spleen”, he spoke to himself, shaking his head in disgust. “But I did buy into his yarn. The Da Vinci – diarys, Clark? The shipwright textbook you own yourself, I bet. You told me, didn´t you, when you confided in me the Aquila´s little secret: I know a tuning configuration that makes even the lamest sloth get a move on.”
And now Francois “Martin” de Monet was marooned here, with no ship, no crew and only a lousy handful of coins in his pocket, that he spent for rum. He owned little more than the horse and his weapons. But those blades, the nobleman vowed, he would employ to win back everything he had lost!
Francois toasted the Redbeard-painting.
“You think so, too, don´t you? Oh, I forgot… they framed you, too.”
A bitter chuckle escaped the pirate´s throat. Before he could continue flirting with the painting, he beheld grey sails and above them a familiar, hated red crest through the window. The Errant Eagle was sailing into port!
Francois kicked back his chair, left a few coins on the table and raced outside. Together with the treacherous englishman some close friends of his had been on the galleon. He had to find out how Pierre, Louis, Gontard and Chips had fared! Would one or more of them perhaps crave justice for their former captain?
In his drunken condition Martin approached the quay in the open and without thinking. The galleon looked the worse for wear and the crew even moreso. Some familar faces were missing altogether. Martin could only hope that these men were merely out of sight somewhere belowdeck.
Captain Clark stood in the midst of his followers. Under a headband he wore a bandage was visible. Francois could not know that his rival had sustained this wound during the storm. All he saw was that it was there and suddenly Martin forgot that he had come here to cut this man into pieces.
“Men! Clark!” he gasped.
Captain Clark did not see how pale Francois’ face was or the shock in it. He saw nothing but an enemy, just like the rest of the crew did.
“He´s mine!” the englishman shouted.
The eagles honored the unspoken agreement that the right for revenge was their captain´s first. Clark drew his sabre and ran off the ship. His habitual decision to enter melee saved Francois´ life. A pistol shot he could not have evaded as easily as the privateer´s first, impetuous swordslash. And more he didn’t get in, for just like in their first duel in Providence, the city guard interrupted the men.
But when Le Vasseur´s men attempted to part the troublemakers, the eagles no longer stood by passively. Several shots at once were fired from pistols and muskets, but only two hit their mark: Viviane´s shot felled one of the guardsmen to prepare a clear line of sight for Louis and the hunter in turn aimed for his childhood friend who struggled in the grip of a guardsman.
Francois screamed in pain, believing himself mortally wounded. Then he realized that the shot had merely dealt him a flesh wound. With renewed will to life he shook off the guard and ran away.
Two of the four remaining guardsmen followed the fugitive, one held Clark in a grapple and the fourth, a corporal, barked at the privateer captain: “According to our ruler´s law your men have just initiated a water-to-land-attack! Do you even understand your action´s ramifications?! Consider yourself and your ship banned from Basse Terre until further notice!”
The world around Clark seemed to spin.
“That´s ridiculous!” he shouted. “Better take care not to let that scum escape!”
“That one’s had his fill already”, the corporal replied. “He´ll die in some corner like a rat.”
To his subjects he said: “You see to it that Marcel´s wound gets tended to and you lead the agressor back to his ship!”
Clark wiggled in the guardsman´s grip, but to no avail. Where the average eagle might have escaped the grapple with some effort, their captain was better adviced to resign and let himself be led away. In a brawl Clark never knew what moves he could risk without bringing certain parts of his anatomy in too close contact with his opponent…
All he could do was yelling “You won´t escape a third time like this, Dog!” into general direction the black Dog had disappeared.
“Are we going to ingretiate ourselves with Le Vasseur again?” Jarundo asked a week after the incident in Basse Terre. All around them the repairs were drawing to a close, a least those that did not require a port’s facilities. The galleon was serviceable again, but still vulnurable.
Clark looked up to the sky, sighing. “I´m afraid I have no other choice. This island is our only safe haven in this region. Granted, one port on Tortuga is as good as the other, so we do not need Basse Terre. But it pays not to have the governor´s wrathful eye on us on each visit.”
“Sensible. Now what else I’d love to know is whether the Black Dog has already left the island.”
“I only know that he will do so with a gang of his own, when he does”, Clark replied. “And that we won´t have to search for him, because he´ll chase us until he loses his life in another attempt to gain control over the Errant Eagle.”
The man the brothers were talking about was at land at the same time, though no longer on Tortuga. Francois stood not far from the place he, Clark and Jarundo had made landfall at Lizard Island the year before. A nameless boat of the kind used by buccaneers, a light two-masted craft that Francois de Monet was ashamed to call “ship”, anchored in the bay. The adventurer was one of this merry band now, a rat feeding on the leftovers of civilisation. Sometimes it took some violent feat of persusion to get it into the civilized people’s heads that a certain piece of their posession was a leftover… And Francois would have been content in his new life, had there not been a loose end from the last.
According to Francois’ assessment the Errant Eagle ought to be a few days behind the buccaneer ship. Captain Greg’s sources said that the eagles followed a north-western course from Tortuga. Also Francois knew that Clark had promised the dutch explorer Holger Van some of his stored Indio-legends as payment for accompanying him on his planned expedition. So the englishman was bound to return to his island.
“Pray”, the buccaneer captain reminded Francois to their agreement, “that you are right! ´cause if Clark´s not coming to this island, you are going to stay here alone!”
“In this case I can´t miss him”, Francois replied. “For one day he will come.”
“Bah!” The buccaneer spat. “Marooning´s no fun if the marooned looks forward to it! And a seaman who is also a huntsman, too, but none of us, that´s raising the hair on my neck.”
“When I´ve seen the english and you the spanish part of Clark´s shed blood nourish the earth, then I´m one of you!” Francois promised. “As the Errant Eagle´s captain.”
“But to do so you have to enter the jungle, despite the galleon being a ship and not a wagon?”
“Correct. I´m cutting off the snake´s head. Trust me!”
“Trust! You are funny!“ the other man laughed. “I think I like you!”
“I do not ask for it, Greg. The last captain who liked me stole my ship and left me for dead in a pit trap.”
“Seriously, mate, you sure you can pull it off? Offing Clark and seizing that galleon?”
“Dead sure, Greg.”
Francois de Monet knew Clark well enough to know: To prey on the englishman he needed not think like him. It was sufficient to think like himself, so similar the two of them were in some respects. True, he would have to deal with some nasty traps, but this time circumstances were to the pirate´s favour, not the privateer´s!
About fourty hours later:
The “always shaved correctly” Clark was attested a boyish charme. Even his enemys could not deny this – and would have loved to give the guy a spanking, as one did with naughty boys who laughed about their own pranks. But at the moment every other description than “charming” befit the privateer captain. Alone, on his way through Lizard Island´s primeval forest to his secret place, his thoughts were about the rival who had become an enemy.
“My ship! My life! What he could not have, he tried to destroy! He was not even above allying with the Don!“
Sometime during the months spent on Tortuga, Clark mused, the other had contacted Escobedo´s spying network. Did that mean that Tortuga was no longer a safe haven for pirates? Certainly Le Vasseur would be interested in this information.
Clark reached the pest-village without too much trouble. He re-orientated himself and strode on towards the ruin. When he found the cellar´s door standing wide open, Clark hesitated.
“Light wind allows a smaller ship to travel faster than a large one in general, right, Black Dog?” Clark whispered. “So you arrived here before me. You knew, or guessed, that I would come.“
The warrior inside him insisted that the easiest solution would be closing the hatch and heaving a heavy rock onto it. Then he could return in a few weeks to check what was left of his rival. Clark´s pirate-part longed to kill Francois singlehandly. It was strengthened by Jenny of Brackenridge, whose motives were hard to fathom for the privateer that had lived so long as a man.
Clark loaded his pistol with fresh, dry powder. Carefully he stepped down the stairway. He reached the door to the main chamber, congratulated his opponent on closing it behind him and then passed this easy obstacle.
Just behind the door there was a floortile that triggered a bolt-trap. It served as a reinsurance in case an invader got around the other traps. Francois had not known about this one, but neither had he been stupid enough to fall to that trap today. Clark saw in his torch´s light that it was still unsprung.
In the middle of the room an old lantern lay on the ground, broken. It did no longer light the vault, but Clark did not need it to realize that the crossbar – trap had been sprung.
Step by step he closed in on the wooden beam that was dangling from the chains – and the shape lying flat on it´s belly underneath. It was no other than Francois de Monet.
A bandage was sticking out from under his fencing shirt, but his wound did not hurt the man anymore. Nobody with that much blood at the back of his head would have to worry about such triffles.
Clark could not bring himself to step closer to the dead man. But then the corpse managed a painful moan. Without thinking twice Clark crammed his pistol into the sash that kept closed his overcoat and went to the wounded one´s aid.
Francois was up to his feat within the blink of an eye, brandishing two cutlasses hidden under his body until now! The blood on his head, Clark realized, had been nothing but red paint.
“Still thinking me the student!” Francois snorted. “Serves you well to fall for that old trick, old man!”
Clark had employed a similar trick against La Mancha and when the Errant Eagle had arrived damaged in Basse Terre, Francois had reacted just like Clark today.
“Red suits you!” Clark replied. “I should decapitate you like an egg, to preserve the impression for future generations!”
After the initial exchange of insults he needed every breath of air in his lungs for the fight. The englishman kept his opponent moving. He lured the other one out of the room to gain an advantage by attacking from the stairs. But instead of being an easy mark now, Francois pressed the attack, driving his opponent in front of himself. Clark stumbled up the stairs and into the open. He found that the thunderstorm that had been gathering the whole day had broken while he’d been in the cellar.
Clark prayed to heaven that his pistol would not abandon him in this weather. He aimed downwards and pulled the trigger. Francois jumped aside. There he remained standing, pressed against the wall. When no further attack followed, the man dared leaving the cellar, too. And there the realisation that Clark was intent on winning this time sank in fully. Intent enough to consider fleeing a battlefield that didn’t give him an advantage! Francois saw the foilage still shiver where the other had disappeared deeper into the jungle.
“Just you wait, I´m getting you still!” he promised the fugitive and gave chase.
Francois de Monet laughed, bitter. He was able to follow Clark no matter what weather conditions. The rain could not blur the seaman’s footprints fast enough.
And there the englishman stood already, hapless, his back turned to the pursuer, behind a natural rock formation. He would have made a perfect target, were not powderweapons far too unreliable in this rain.
Francois sneaked closer, then he jumped! The same moment Clark turned around.
“You may be a skilled tracker, but you made noise like a whole heard of bulls! Did I ever tell you that my grandfather was a torreador?”
Francois was used to his rival’s overconfident grin. He expected nothing else from the englishman, not even if he should ever stand for execution. But Clark rising above him in the physical sense came as a surprise to Francois. He looked down at his feet, but could not find them anymore, on account of standing up to his calfs in mud. The ground here was all swamp, except for a tiny speck of dry land where Clark stood. But getting there would have required to get his feat free from the mud, an endeavour that only served to draw the victim deeper in..
“You bastard! You could not kill me with your own hands, never! That´s why the trap in the mountains of Tortuga! You are a coward!”
Clark watched Francois die. He was angry. Why had the other let it come to this?
“You were the one luring us into a trap!” he accused his rival who was sucked up by the swamp slowly. “Because you wanted the Errant Eagle for yourself!”
“The Pride of Martinique”, Francois clarified. “You wanted her.”
Clark shook his head. Sorrow added into his wrath.
“Not like this”, he stated.
“Then why did you try to get rid of me?!”
“And why did you want to deliver us to the Don?!”
Getting devoured by a swamp was a cruel way to die, just like hanging. It could happen quickly or take painfully long. Did the delay grant the convict time to make peace with the world and heaven? Captain Clark now realized that in his case it was the executioner who had to endure near unbearable pain.
“What trap are you babbling about all the time, by the way?” he added to his accusations.
“I´m not talking at all!” Francois replied in a fit of gallows humour. “I´m just suffocating a bit!”
Clark winced. Francois was about to die for real! Already he was stuck up to his navel in the mud.
Lightening flashed. Thunder would follow. Next to the rivals another flash of lightening hit. It split a thin tree. One half stood upright, the other fell to the ground. It was symbolic for what happened between the captains, but Clark had could not apprecciate the parallel at the moment.
The sky was crying without cease now. But the heavenly powers would not have been themselves, had they not sent the former friends a final opportunity. Perhaps god did not want to receive the Black Dog so soon in his domain.
“I do not want this”, Clark realized. “I cannot bear killing the better part of myself!” Frantically looking around for a means of rescue he noticed the splintered tree.
He went to fetch it and pushed it forth, so the drowning man could grab it.
“Come on and out of there!” Clark demanded. “I need to hear your answer before I end it!“
Inch by inch Francois´ body escaped the trap. Had the other not assisted, his strength alone would not have been sufficient to reach the island via the log.
There he lay at Clark´s feet.
“Merde!” Francois cursed. His body was shivering uncontrollably, but the man forced himself to stand up. “Just what I always wanted: Standing with my mortal enemy on the only firm foothold in a swamp in the middle of a tropical storm!”
“I know where it´s safe to tread to return to the forest. I just expect a sound justification why I should not throw you in again!”
Francois laughed: “You can´t.”
The adventurer was right. But he had to admit, to himself at least, that he was equally unable to give Clark the final, deadly push. As as if that wasn´t bad enough already, the englishman once again looked so incredibly enticing!
“When I tell you now, you are guaranteed to throw me in again”, he promised with a grin.
“Tell me WHAT?”
Francois spoke it aloud: “You are attractive.”
He wasn´t prepared for the his opponent´s reply: “Then why don´t you kiss me?”
“Just kiss me. Perhaps we can finish our duel after this is standing no longer between us. To the death.”
“Clark´s right”, Francois thought. “If we do not hate each other enough now, then certainly afterwards.”
He took a step towards the other man… even before he reached him, Francois’s lips parted in anticipation. Clark looked up, raising his arms to embrace the other. There was an odd expression of “I’m such a trusting fool” in his face.
Simultanously shivering and grinning, Francois lowered his head. “Doubts already, shark?” he whispered.
“Oh, shut up, you!”
Their lips met. Despite a few stubborn stubbles on Clark’s upper lip and chin, the contact was strangely pleasing. Francois had not expected Clark’s skin to be of an almost feminine softness. The man gave in to his secret desire. When the other’s tongue started to scour out new territory in Francois’ mouth, he welcomed it. Allowing Clark to play, the pirate wished he could return the favour. Already his lower body was moving on it’s own accord. Totally lost at how men made love to each other, Francois simply rubbed himself against Clark’s groin. The man was everything but at ease, however. Anxious at what it would feel to meet his rival/romatic interest’s manhood, he held back for a split second.
A weird noise rose up in Clark’s throat. Was the englishman stiffling a giggle here?! Determined Francois reached out to pinch the other’s buttocks. Clark twitched a little and now he was unable to contain the giggle any longer.
“Just you wait!” Francois hissed. “You’ve mocked me for the last time!”
The man knew what to do to settle the score once and for all now! Something far better than killing the englishman occurred to him and he tugged harder at his rival. Once he was done with Clark, the englishman would live, but wish he didn’t, Francois vowed!
Bracing for the impact, Francois closed his eyes. Only – the feared for collision never came. And instead of walls to tear down, there was a festive hall with a buffet ready to dig in waiting for the pirate.
The man jerked back. He sought Clark’s eyes again. Jittery fingers reached for the buttons of the other’s coat. And there Francois’ eyes found prove of what his penis already knew would be there: A pair of small breasts that could pass for somewhat, though not unnaturally, large man-breasts during a casual hug. Only that on closer inspection the shape was totally different!
“You… a woman?!”
Clark laughed. Damn, did Francois love that sound!
“Believe me, I’m as bewildered about this fact as you” Clark admitted.
Had phantasies of violating the alleged man to prove his superiority passed his mind mere second ago, Francois now stood as peaceful as a saint’s statue. They had kissed. Nothing more and nothing less the woman had threatened him with… offered him…
Nevermind that the kiss, and once again the revelation about Clark’s sex, had stirred up far more carnal desires in Francois. Panting hard he worked to kept himself in check. His self-control was still setting him apart from hot-headed Clark. But also above? Francois found that it didn’t matter to him anymore. Wolf packs were always led by a mated pair. There was no rivalry between the alphas, it simply wasn’t in their nature, because the pack was a family in truth.
“Damn you, black dog, think of something other than mating!” Francois scolded himself.
Not even the raindrops could quench his desire, instead the cold made the man want to hug and cuddle all the more. But if he advanced now, uninvited, the pirate might trigger the kill switch in his rival, after all – only that their duel to the death was the last thing on earth that he wanted now!
And so Francois stood there, feeling very much like a fool.
“What’s gotten into you all of a sudden?” Clark teased. “I was under the impression you liked women quite a lot…”
There had been a girl once, who had disregarded the young noble for another girl. It happened. And besides, how could one ever be certain where one stood with Clark? He was so erratic… but then again, in a woman that was less of an annoying, rather than an expected trait in Francois’ opinion.
Clark reached for Francois’ pants.
“Me? I’d very much like to free that struggling fish down there from his net.”
Francois let it happen. He kissed his friend on his head.
“I chat too much, huh?” Clark whispered.
Now it was for Francois to laugh out loud! The other could read him the holy bible and his voice would only serve to arouse him even more.
But there was only so much foreplay one could bear without spoiling the experience. The eagle was not known for patience and the fish had endured too much in the recent weeks. All it wanted was to slip into the dark cave at the bottom of the sea. Francois gave in and the eagle spread his wings protectively over the wounded animal.
They were rolling over each other now, leading interchangeably, something they had never been at ease to do as captains of the galleon. Francois was more versed in loveplay, but he soon cast aside everything he had ever learned about women. Instead the man recalled all his duels with the eagle. Clark, too, fell back on what those encounters had taught him. Knowing how to counter each other´s attacks´s in a fight now allowed the two to move together and to please the other to the fullest. Their laughter and banter filled the jungle. Whatever wild animal had not wisely evaded the spot where the predators were mating, was scared out of it’s skin when the words of wolf and eagle changed into primeval moaning and – finally – howling.
Somewhere in the New World a single being once again parted into the captains Clark and Martin. They were vaguely aware of the fact that their “somewhere” was called Lizard Island in Clark´s nautical charts and their immediate surroundings were composed of much swampy water, but it did not matter to them in the least.
Captain Clark lay on his back, searching the sky for the first stars. He felt as if his gaze was sufficient to pierce the clouds that had finally stopped their downpour. They bent to the privateer´s will and drifted apart, to make room for the light.
Martin studied the woman. Now that he knew the privateer captain was female, Clark did no longer appear small and plain. For a woman the she-pirate had exactly the right height and proportions. Her body had felt wonderful against his…
“What are you thinking of?“ Martin asked.
“Since when do you need to ask?“
“I want to hear your voice, that´s all.”
The two started talking. About Tortuga. Captain Hornbasket. And the Padre del Mar.
“I´m sure at the bottom of all this is Escobedo!“ Clark said. “And perhaps we should thank the man. After all, his little scheme brought us together finally.”
“He´s not the big bad evil. More like you, only on the other side.”
Clark laughed! “Engagement doesn´t agree with us, my dear. It makes us sentimental!”
Martin joined into the laughter. He waited for the woman to sit up, too, before he brought himself to ask an important question: “What´s your name, anyway?”
“I am the Eagle. I told you so a few minutes ago.”
“What were you called before? I mean, I can hardly exchange tenderness with “Clark”!”
“You were ready to today before learning about my… condition.”
“Alright, alright! But I cannot propose to a Clark!”
The woman took her time to answer. The pirate did not press her. A proposal was a serious matter. It went deeper than playing at being betrothed. Not always led an engagement to marriage. But in the two captain´s case a bond had to be made. They simply had no other choice. Two men could not share the same lady, but wife and husband could give each other the Errant Eagle for their dowry. If his wife instead of a mere friend commanded the galleon, that did not bother Francois de Monet in the least. He would follow her wherever she led him.
“My name´s Jenny”, the woman eventually revealed. She looked up, blinking at Martin: “Jenny de Monet.”