The two captains wandered through the jungle back to their ship. For once Clark seemed satisfied with the world around him, Martin however was absorbed in his own thoughts. The pirate was aware of the fact that many strong willed women with a goal in life prefered partners of their own sex in loveplay. His eagle was, as he had learned, none of those. Martin would have not been surprised if Jenny/Clark understood herself as a gay man rather than a woman. But whatever the creature was, it had turned out as his fated lifemate. Francois felt aroused by the spanish girl in Clark, he loved the pirate and overlooked the man. With the english officer he had at least come to terms, so everything was settled well between them.
The turn of events raised some questions, questions a husband-to-be could not ignore. They touched some close friendships that had to be viewed from a different angle, now that Martin knew what was hidden under Clark´s coat.
“Of course there were others”, Clark answered Martins cautious question. “But they were few and love I have felt for only one before you.” The captain reconsidered. “Or perhaps I still do. But he’s dead.”
“Was he like me?”
“No! In my younger days I was looking for different qualities in men.”
Francois decided that he didn’t want to delve deeper into this. He could only hope Clark was refering to something like “well-to-do english gentlemen with little to no identity of his own that I can show off with in public”, the male equivalent of a prize wife. Francois really didn’t need to hear from his future wife that she had come to terms with dating a near-equal, for this, he was afraid, was his partner’s mental picture of him.
Instead the man asked: “Were you and the black Garcia a couple?”
“No!” Clark laughed out loud, recalling how Garcua has discovered his wrong secret on Escapio Domingo. “He never even knew!“
“Then… Jarundo? No? But you two are so close! What will happen if he finds out what you are? Won´t he insist on his alleged older rights?”
“Don´t worry. Jarundo knows my secret. He has known it right from the beginning. But do you think he ever deemed it neccessary to tell me so?”
“Sounds like a story that´ll put to shame even Redbeard´s.”
Clark´s face reddened. Francois had never before seen the privateer blush. It looked odd while he was in his male form.
“What? Did I say something wrong? I mean, all I have to do is making one of you two drunk enough to make him spill the beans. You cannot keep it secret from me forever!”
“No, that´s not it. You can hear that yarn anytime. It´s just, well, about Redbeard…”
The privateer captain squirmed like a prisoner bound with red-hot chains while he slowly worked towards his explanation: “There´s a couple of people who know what I really am. Jarundo, of course, and my first partner, who died in the war. Chief Aripei, though actually he believes I can change between male and female form. Then there’s an uncle. An indian witch-doctor in Providence. L´Oiseaux – may seagulls pick his rotting bones clean! And Threesee, Dr. Corner from St. Kitts. Many years ago I lost a drinking contest against him. Threesee demanded that I should pose in his leather-stuff, that rogue! So, the pirate in the pub in Basse Terre, taken aside the haircolor, that´s me.”
Martin broke into roaring laughter! Even the monkeys in the trees could not help but feel the cheerfulness. The man laughed until he had to gasp for breath.
“L´Oiseaux noticed it on first sight”, Clark grumbled. “I´ve got to watch him closely, ever ready to have him suffer an accident…”
“Invite him to our wedding!” Martin suggested.
“Because I have a plan how to silence him without losing the most promising pirate of his generation. You like him, too, don`t you?”
Clark used the opportunity to lean over to his partner, kissing him and stating: “No, I only like you!” The behaviour came naturally to him, unlike pretty much everything polite modern society required from a female.
“I´d love to share a lot of old stories with you”, Clark promised Martin. “But first we have to make sure that you are accepted into the crew again.”
“My name´s cleared! Hornbasket is the one to blame!”
Clark nodded grimly. “I believe you. And my word would be good enough to let you sail with us as a crewmember, but we want to be captains together again!”
“Is that really that much of a problem? What’s the worst that could happen to us in your opinion?”
“The could maroon us both here.”
Martin´s face went pale.
“But they won´t!” Clark hurried to re-assure his dearest.
“That´s not it”, the other captain moaned. “I just remembered that I´m still preying on you with a shipload of buccaneers armed up to their teeth!”
When the captains arrived at the beach, a full-scale battle between the eagles and the buccaneers was already raging there. In their ferocity the coastal pirates outmatched the privateers, but now it payed off that Clark had organized the eagles in a chain of command similar to a real military force. Three leutnants and three more petty officers kept together the units while the captain was absent. True, most of Louis´ marksmen had fled into the jungle like frightened rabbits, but that did not influence the moral of the pikemen led by Pepe in the least. In contrast the buccaneers followed a single leader, whose death would leave them unorganized and confused. Jarundo did his best trying to engage that man, but to no avail.
Even with Whipcrack debilating several opponents at once with his whip and Perry finishing them off quickly, Jarundo just could not get close enough to his target. There seemed to sprout a new buccaneer for every fallen,
Gregory – also called Greg, because it sounded tougher, or “Crack” after the nick in his sabre – was a bear of a man. In any given moment he was facing four eagles at the same time without putting a sweat. The privateers had surrounded the hulking bucaneerchief, but were no match for him even with their combined fighting strength. Already Felipe, born in a buccaneer hideout themselves twenty-odd years ago, lay dead to Crack’s feet. It had to be said, though, that in this man’s case, his last action had been to offer the chief to join his side.
Keelpig-Karsten was certain that this time his final hour had come, when two fierce buccaneers pushed him with bis back against a palmtree. He hoped for a quick, painless death by the blade, not another keelhauling like last year near Providence. A prayer on his lips the dutchman awaited his death. But before the buccaneers could perform the coup de grace, Martin appeared behind them, his twin cutlasses brandished. He drove one cutlass into the first buccaneer´s neck, but his off-hand slash missed. The second pirate turned around, only to be gutted by his attacker.
“I heard you – praying for an enemy is good for one´s soul”, Captain Martin said, winking at Karsten encouragingly.
“What? You here?”
But Martin’s blades were already at work at another spot of the battlefield. He fought side at side with Gontard Lenoir now, without the other being aware of his brother-in-arms´ identity. When things calmed a bit around the duo, the frenchman stared at his erstwhile captain and repeated Karsten´s outcry of surprise: “What, you? Here?”
Perhaps the determination of the captains returned from the jungle had been decisive for the battle´s outcome or the eagles had been superior to their enemies from the beginning. In the end the privateers stood victorious and Greg was pinned somewhat undignified under five men.
The eagles ignored the fallen of both sides, encircling the captains. Back to back Clark and Martin stood, threatening their opponents into four directions at once.
Those who knew of the duo´s affection looked sceptical. Jarundo, Jose and Pepe could not tell whether their captain was protecting the frenchman just for this reason.
“You are thinking with your dick, Clark!” the junior navigator barked at his teacher.
“I´m thinking with all I´ve got”, the privateer captain replied. “It´s the only means to counter your collective stupidity!”
Keelpig-Karsten pushed his way through the crowd.
“Shipmates! Martin saved my life!” he announced. “Perhaps we should hear him out?”
Harris stayed suspicious: “Allow him to speak and have him throw dust into our eyes, like he did to the captain? No way!” The doctor was about to grab Keelpig by his collar and drag him back into the crowd.
“But that´s what Escobedo wants: That we wear down each other!“ Clark shouted. “Me and Martin, the two of us and you, you and the buccaneers…”
Jarundo took a step forward towards his friend. Instinctively Clark moved closer, too. It was not enough to break off the back-to-back – formation he maintained with Martin, but the movement robbed Martin off his support. Without realizing it the man had leaned to his partner to ease the pain his injury from Tortuga gave him once again after the demanding battle. Now he staggered first and then collapsed behind his partner.
When Martin woke up, his upper body was still hurting. The recent hours´s strain had re-opened the wound again. The soft swinging told the man that the Errant Eagle was at the high seas and the way his lair was swinging with the ship, that he lay not in a mattock, but either in his own bed in his cabin or in Doc Harris´s care. The location in combination with a fluffy wollen blanket and a cushion stuffed with rags and feathers spoke their own language. Their message was: “You are a free man, Francois de Monet.”
“Mhm…” Martin sighed. Everything was so cosy… But mere seconds later a bright voice abruptly broke the idyl: “Hey! If you´ve got such dreams I don´t wanna lie next to you!”
The boy answered with a moan, for he was suffering from injuries graver than Martin´s.
The man opened his eyes. He found himself, as he had already guessed, in the cabin that was reserved for seriously ill patients. The ship´s physician slept exhausted in one of the beds and in the one next to Martin the ship´s lookout-boy rested. Horrified the erstwhile captain stared at his young shipmate´s disfigured face.
“That´s nothing”, Alfred laboured to say, “compared to what I wanted to make you feel!”
“It´s okay. Doesn´t seem to be your fault, after all.”
Martin and Alfred were interrupted by the Errant Eagle´s leutnants, Jarundo, Whipcrack and Creed. They entered the cabin accompanied by Gontard.
“The ship´s leaders have held council and announced the result to the crew”, Whipcrack opened the conversation very formally. “A decision was made.”
With the words “On the Errant Eagle, where he belongs” Creed cut short every further question. Martin sought Jarundo´s eyes. “Worry about your own hide”, the carib indian conveyed silently. “The Eagle´s fine.”
“Alright. What´s the sentence?”
“You noticed that we are four?” Gontard asked. “Three leutnants and one captain, Martin. Jarundo is the Errant Eagle´s new commander.”
“Clark is navigator and first helmsman”, the french elaborated. “You´ll lead the swordfighters into battle from now on. Do you accept this?”
Martin clenched his teeth. Expectantly and full of thinly veiled suspicion the four men watched him.
“No!” Martin yelled. “No, Gontard, I do not accept your terms!“
“Oh?” Jarundo inquired. “You don´t?“
“Have a fart on it! Demoting Clark to navigator? Anytime and with pleasure, as you all know. But I´m as innocent as he is when it comes to your encounter with the Padre del Mar. As captain of the Errant Eagle I do not accept a sentence for something I´m not to be blamed for – and neither should Captain Clark!”
“So you say”, Whipcrack said. “But there´s still the matter of you sending a horde of buccaneers after us!”
Martin nodded. “I thought Clark was the traitor, when I did so”, he admitted.
“Hm?” Roused by the exchange of words Harris blinked, tired, into the lanterns´ light. “Whadda madder?”
“We are standing jury over de Monet“, Creed explained.
Harris rolled over to the other side. “Okay”, he murmured and was asleep again the next moment. A doctor´s battles always started only after the warriors had done their part and Harris´ work today had been demanding indeed.
“Well?” Jarundo demanded after the short interruption.
“What do you think?” Gontard gave back the question.
Jarundo bowed his head, as if everything was said by the gesture.
“Just what I think, too”, Creed agreed.
“I agree with you”, Whipcrack joined in.
“Then I proclaim…” Jarundo started. Martin interrupted him: “Not that I would claim to understand what you´re talking here, but you have not heard Gontard!”
“Think you´ve got an advocate in him?”
“I do not buy the leutnant, Whipcrack, if Gontard stands there, saying nothing, when you omit him!”
The four men erupted into laughter!
“Gontard´s leutnant as little as Jarundo´s captaining the Errant Eagle”, Whipcrack clarified.
“Clark is our captain”, Jarundo told Martin. “That hasn´t changed. We played you for a fool, because we needed to get an honest reply from you.”
Leutnant Creed nodded. “You see, a traitor would have agreed to our proposal to bide his time and wait for an opportunity to strike again. But you felt your honor as a captain challenged, spoke up on Clark´s behalf and took poor, disregarded “leutnant” Gontard´s side, all of this in the knowledge that your sharp response could have ended you up keelhauled. In short, the crew agreed to confirm you in your old position, if we three are convinced of your innocence. The few that did not see it this way joined the buccaneers instead.”
“Greg had to swear an oath of loyality to Clark”, Whipcrack Werner added.
“But one wrong move”, Freddie threatened the returned captain, “and it´s all the way up for you!” With his hands and feet the boy imitated climbing up the rigging. “And then…” Freddie gesticulated in the way of an executioner, who fastened the loop around a convict´s neck. “…krck!”
The journey to the northwest was uneventful. The Errant Eagle´s veterans were used to more battles than ordinary pirates, one in seven to ten days. But after the recent events nobody minded a slower pace.
The wounded healed and the sickbed´s boredom was replaced by lazy days with much freetime. Deep down in the bilge Martin taught his partner the female dancesteps and –figures. They brought weapons and returned with roast meat, claiming they’d hunted the keelpig, to tease the most green of recruits. Their rivalry continued, but it became more playful, since none needed to prove his superiority to the other anymore. And then something the privateer captain´s eldest friends had not seen in a long time happened: Clark made himself comfortable at the Errant Eagle´s prow, letting the sea´s spray blow into his face. He needed the quarterdeck´s authority no longer to re-assure himself of his competence or his crew´s loyality.
“He still has the eyes of a dreamer”, Aberforth Harris recounted a talk the men had shortly after setting off from St. Kitts the year before.
“A very successful dreamer”,Whipcrack replied, knocking on the galleon´s wood three times – for luck and to prove his words.
“He knows now the meaning of the word impossible”, Chips threw in. “but our captain knows many foreign words that do not apply to him in the least.”
Despite the pirates´ easygoing their exploits garnered them enough loot to have a pleasant time in town when they eventually arrived in Eleuthera.
One full chest of treasure in the hold, however, was the english crown´s property. The eagles were long overdue to pay their dues to the motherland. Because the lords of Eleuthera were well aware of this, the captains did not receive a polite invitation to the governor´s residence this time, but instead a stern summon. An armed escort stressed the order´s urgency.
Martin and Clark took point. Behind them the soldiers carried the chest with the crown´s shares into town.
“Think London´s going to actually see some of those coins?” Martin teased Clark.
“Huh? Why do you think so?”
“The european governments are robbed blind by their local governors. Worse than pirates they are! I can live with Sir Langley buying another little stone-creature from our money, though. It´s better than losing it to that greedy louse in Providence.”
In the audience hall next to Governor Langley an admiral by name of Rodney Goodrick expected the privateers. Goodrick visibly relaxed when he beheld the chest.
“Captan Clark, Captain Martin – welcome back to Eleuthera!”
“What´s the matter, Admiral?” Clark mocked his old aquaintance. “Did somebody fear good old Captain Clark could make his escape with the whole stash?”
Martin grinned. “They respect our little chick.”
“Chick?!” Admiral Goodrick repeated. “That´s a three-and-a-half-masted, fourty cannons vessel you´ve got there! Some of them are 36-pounders, not to mention the capability to outrace substantially lighter ships. Really, fellows, seeing the Errant Eagle turn to piracy would leave many of us bereft of sleep. Though I wonder…” The officer´s worried expression was replaced by a cheerful one when he ended his sentence: “…why did you not bring her with you? The piece of work of a mean eyed cooper´s you came to town with can´t be the infamous Eagle-ship.”
Obviously L`Oiseaux wasn´t the only man outside the eagles who had seen through – and appreciated – the bluff.
Clark opened the chest. He buried his arms into the coins, then offered two handful of them to Goodrick. “That´s how much a sight-seeing tour to my baby costs England, Admiral Goodrick. Come and learn.”
The englishman nodded. The two captains shared the money equally between themselves.
“Then there´s just one more matter to settle, a situation that would cost us too many nerves unneccessarily over time”, Goodrick said.
Clark and Martin changed into a mental mode of utmost alertness. Standing poised to act in the span of the blink of an eye they watched the admiral stroll towards a low table. He took a rolled up paper from it.
“This two captains – affair is getting old”, Goodrick told the guests. “I cannot make you Commodore, Mister Clark, but one rank above the captain there´s still the Major…”
Clark felt mixture of wild joy, scepticism and preventive anger in case of being played for a fool. But Admiral Goodrick seemed serious. He spoke: “In recognition of your merits in the motherland´s service – preventing the Springflower from being ransacked by pirates, disrupting the french trade routes in the Caribbean, substantially disrupting the spanish trade routes in the Spanish Mainlands, seizing a french galleon of up-to-date construction, jeopardizing an espionage mission near Providence, sinking two spanish cannonboats near Tortuga and the amount of money sent to England over the years – you, Mister Clark, are granted the rank of Major.”
Martin´s face clouded.
“That´s no honorary title, is it?” he challenged.
Admiral Goodrick shook his head.
“The new rank comes with all duties and priviledges associated with it.”
“I thought so! As long as we own the galleon, we are a risk factor. So you had to come up with something to bind us tighter to the motherland!”
“The rank is granted to Mister Clark, not to the Errant Eagle”, Goodrick replied. Though man made an effort to banish the condescending tone from his speech, he did not fully succeed.
“Should he lose the eagle-ship he won´t be left a beggar, but get assigned a new command. A military rank also includes the right to a pension one day and…”
“…and you can cite Clark wherever you want whenever you wish!” Martin protested. “An inspection he offered you just moments ago? Ha! You could demand the construction plans now and even take the Errant Eagle from him!“
“Martin!” Clark shouted.
The pirate stepped forth. He grabbed the certificate from Admiral Goodrick´s hand.
“Martin!!!“ Clark warned his partner a second time.
“Calm down, it´s alright”, the pirate went, sharply. “I just want to know if…” Martin unrolled the document. Within the scroll found a second one. “Ha!” he exclaimed triumphantly. “I knew it!”
“Well, it´s the usual thing…” Admiral Goodrick said.
“What´s the usual thing?” Clark demanded.
Martin showed him the second certificate. “Your promotion includes a gift of land property. You now share the island equally with the governor. That means income from the tenant farmers, taxes, that is. Farmers, cattle-breeders, fruit pickers, fishers, damn, you could even try to start a mine, if you felt like it! You name it!”
“You still don´t like it”, Clark answered with only thinly veiled reproach.
“Not one bit”, Martin confirmed. In a whisper he added: “But I´m still too much the merchant to throw away the advantages the english´s offer gains us. And I take comfort in the knowledge that, if one day you should decide to live with me as a free pirate, adding desertion to the list of your crimes will be a small matter.”
Governor Langley coughed. “Rest assured, young Captain Martin, that England can take the Errant Eagle as little as I can demand the major´s handkerchief or used underwear. It’s private property.”
“You are wrong, Governor! In a war the military could requisition all those things!”
“And perhaps”, the man thought, “you should. For this would be the moment my eagle will finally open her eyes and come with me to my world, away from all this.”
“The handkerchief is negotiable”, Clark said with a smile.
“Then may I add a first name to the certificate?” Admiral Goodrick pressed.
“I´m afraid we need one”, Governor Langley explained, in an apologating tone.
Clark remained silent for a long time. Nobody spoke, but the room was heavy with every man´s thoughts and fears.
Eventually Clark pulled himself together.
“This is the first name, Admiral”, he said. “Captain Clark. Clark of Brackenridge.”
The two english gentlemen stood frozen! Martin drew satisfaction from the fact that he wasn´t the only one whose innards tensed up today.
“Holy Mother of God!” Sir Langley exclaimed. “Brackenridge House Gloucester? There was another child?”
“Twins, in fact.”
Martin waited how this would work out. He had few secrets and all of them were known to Clark. Amused Martin watched the englishmen squirm when a hitherto unknown chapter of the eagle´s past was revealed to them.
“Sir Nick had an heir?!”
“I am his son”, Clark confirmed.
Admiral Goodrick stroked his beared. “The son of a man trialed in absence and found guilty for high treason”, he mused.
“Arrest me, if you dare!”
“No! No, Major Brackenridge, I won´t. As long as you do not go to London to open up the case again… You are a dependable ally, a man of honor…”
To Martin´s relief the admiral seemed to function as his country´s tool, yet be able to to see more in the newly appointed major than a risk factor that had to be dealt with.
“And smart enough to remain outside the system?” the major interrupted Goodrick´s stammering. “Not to demand justice for my family? Never to try to clear my father´s tarnished name? And especially not to reclaim our property seized by Sir Rupert, my father´s own cousin?”
“Yes, all this, unfortunately”, Governor Langley answered in Goodrick´s stead. “But that may change one day. The civil war, as you know, is going well for us. England´s ruling heads will remember who was loyal to them in times of crisis.”
Major Clark replied with a respectful bow.
The governor could not help but ask a personal question: “Tell me, Major Clark, did you kidnap Jenny of Brackenridge – your sister – for this reason? To protect her from further plots and schemes?”
“As I told you before, she never protested against her new life”, the woman who had proclaimed herself her own twin-brother today, a boy that had never existed, answered. “And just so Uncle Rupert knows where he stands with us, Jenny is engaged with Captain Martin now.”
“It would do your family´s name some good if you stopped marrying subjects of hostile foreign nations”, Goodrick sighed.
“If it makes you feel better”, Martin threw in, “he tried to drown me in a swamp the very hour.”
“That´s a long bedtime-story you have to tell me tonight”, Martin told the major, when the pair left the governor´s residence.
Clark nodded. “Father in law knows most of it already, that´s the part I revealed to you, too. But I kept to myself the prologue. In retrospect I made exactly the right decision. It would have hurt Henri out of proportion.”
“You told me about Henri´s love for a negro slave. Well, my father made another choice. His blood was of nobler stock than Henri´s, by the way, no offence meant.”
“None taken. You know how I feel about this: Blood spills, spirit remains.”
“But when he found himself in a similar situation as Henri, father decided to kiss goodbye society´s expectations of him. He was a diplomat, a man trying to talk sense into people before they started banging each others heads. And I´m told he was a splendid fighter, your equal, probably.”
Martin chuckled. “Every man with ideals needs to be, I suppose.”
“When father fell in love with a common born spanish maiden in Toledo, he asked himself: Why? Why am I doing my job? Peace treatys look good on paper, but they are worth no more than a child´s scribbling when no one actually lives them. Fulfillment of his love, to him, was also a public demonstration. Father made his point, showed them all that differences could be bridged. It was his dream. The dream Sir Nick of Brackenridge had to die for when I was two years old.” Clark laughed dryly, when he concluded: “His death was the one thing England and Spain could agree on.”
“You had to flee from England?” Martin pressumed. “And fell victim to the spaniards?”
When his partner nodded in silence, the pirate captain took him by his upper arms and drew him closer to himself.
“But you are alive! They could not kill your father´s dream, no one can! Think of all the people on our ship: Whipcrack, Viviane, Jose, Gontard, Lipnail and Jarundo! Men and women from France, Spain, England and the Netherlands, negros and indians! All one, all equal! With us the dream is alive, here, in the New World! And it will live on, long, long after we are no more!”
“And that´s why you wish to convert me to the carefree, lawless pirate life?”
Martin´s hands sank down.
“Yes. Finally you understand!”
Clark shook his head.
“No, Martin. Nick and Isabel tried to take me to safety far away. They were on the run from England to the colonies and now you, too, want to hide out at sea, forever running away? Today England had no other choice but to promote me to major. I say, the world has to accept us and with our ideals!”
Martin stood as if struck by lightening. Then he grinned from one ear to the other.
“You know, eagle, suddenly our plan with the silver fleet doesn´t seem so impossible anymore…”
“I´m fully aware that it isn´t as easy as I made it sound”, the eagle relented. “It will take time. Generations.”
“But if, deep down, you think like I do, why are you supporting the royalists in that civil war of yours with our money?” Martin inquired, puzzled.
“War, trade and piracy”, Clark answered, “that´s an unholy trinity. My parents died in the wars of the nobility. In our generation the common born merchants are sitting on full coffers, reaching out for the highter stations´ priviledges. The middle classes don´t want to change how the world works, they just want their share of the power. Best to get rid of the king, they say, for he comes from God´s good grace and despite all their puritan pretentions they think they need god no longer. God is in the way, is bad for business. Our children will die in the wars of merchants, one day, Martin. That´s a change of some letters, not a future worth fighting for.”
“I know”, Martin said. “I did not stay a merchant myself for it makes me ill. Sir Langley´s right: I´m running from something. You run towards something, something so far away we cannot even see it clearly. But a war that isn´t won by weapons or words, a battle for the souls, as Jarundo would put it, for a war like this I´m not ready yet. It frightens me.”
Jenny blinked. “Then we should deal with the silver fleet first!”
A nobleman by name of Rupert of Gloucester, a distant cousin of the eagle, had once made a vow: He would pledge Jenny´s hand to the man who managed to end Captain Clark´s career. To some extent Francois de Monet had met this condition, but the pair was certain Sir Rupert had envisioned a different end. Under no circumstances the husband had been supposed to ally with Clark to an even more lucrative career!
And while Uncle Rupert fumed, the lovers were ready to marry. Because both of them were captains, they could not simply perform the ceremony aboard the Errant Eagle as in Viviane´s and Werner´s case. A priest had to be found. There was no shortage of clerics in the colonies, but the search narrowed to one place: Only on the pirate haven Tortuga Clark and Martin expected to find a man who would be willing to marry a renegade french noble to his english darling in secret. There was not only the issue of the different religious confessions. A public appearance of Jenny´s of Brackenridge the captains staved off for a dire predicament. There was no telling what damage acting openly as his own sister might wreck to Clark´s disguise. Twin couplets of mixed gender never looked as strikingly alike as did the Brackenridge-siblings. Their only difference was in their weapons, because as a civillian Jenny did not wield a captain´s sabre.
“She´s more the type for a zippy epée”, Clark joked while he, Jarundo and Martin were strolling down the streets of Cayonne. The carib indian had accepted the existance of a twin sister with the stoicism that living with Clark for a long time had taught him.
“Still as fond of Tortuga, Martin?” he asked the husband-to-be. “Cayonne is nothing more than a quay with a few pubs.”
“To the people here it is their city”, Martin said and this was all that needed saying.
At the easternmost spot of the settlement Captain L`Oiseaux awaited the threesome. The prodigious fledgeling pirate was more than a little nervous.
“May I hear now what this meeting is about?” he greeted the arrivals. “Le Vasseur is still mad at you and if I´m seen with your ilk… The Maiden Braid cannot change it´s base of operation as easily as you. Men like me do not call all of Westindia their hunting grounds and Gibraltar is nothing but wishful-thinking to us, a dreamhaze inspired by a jug of rum!”
“As we speak, my men Louis and Gontard deliver to the king heathen writings he can happily put to the flames”, Clark told the pirate. Some of the scrolls from Lizard Island served this purpose after Martin and Jarundo had studied the trove declared them expendable. “That will ease his mind a bit.”
“Heathen writings?” L`Oiseaux smiled. “You are a mystery, Captain Clark. Though I´m afraid in the spaniard´s eyes the signature of an anglican like yourself would qualify as heathen writing without much further ado.”
“And that´s why”, Clark Clark replied, “we four are going to do our souls some good today and visit the local church.”
The church was located outside the settlement. It was tended to by a priest by name of Gilbert, a young man who nevertheless had to be adressed as “father” by his flock.
The young man had heard of the Errant Eagle, of course. When Jarundo announced Captain Clark´s marriage ambitions, Gilbert felt honored to have been selected to perform the ceremony.
“Captain Clark, I´m overjoyed for you!”
Gilbert looked around.
“Who and especially where is the girl?”
“No girl.“ Clark pointed at his Co-Captain. “Him.”
“Captain Clark!” Gilbert crossed himself. “This island may be a place of sin, and I know atrocities like what you suggest take place, but no cleric in all of Westindia will bless such a union!”
“Ever heard of the templars?” Martin spoke up.
Gilbert startled and Captain L´Oiseaux, too, though not looking scared, seemed to have heard his share of templar-legends.
“Did you know, father, that the order did not allow women to join? There was, however, a rule that allowed brothers to share beds with their fellow knights. Why, do you think, was that so?”
“Please? I don´t understand! How am I to know? They were blasphemers, after all, weren´t they?”
“I believed so a long time”, Martin smirked. “Until Major Clark here offered me an alternate explanation.”
“Redbeard!” L´Oiseaux whispered, putting together the pieces. “I knew it all along!“
Clark nodded towards the pirate captain, then loosened the sash around his coat. And then he showed father Gilbert what a priest got to see on rare occasions only.
“Oh… uh… er… could you please cover it again? I don´t mean to be rude, it´s very beautiful…” Poor Gilbert stammered. “But the temptation… oh, dear! So, please? If you´d be so kind? Yes?”
Cold sweat ran down father Gilbert´s face even after Clark had put away his femininity.
The priest was frightened by what he had to ask next: “Captain Martin! Just to make sure… you really are what you seem to be… well, you know? A man?”
“Heavens above!” L`Oiseaux laughed. “Those priests really can´t wait to study a majestic pair! How far are you planning to go with your test of authenticity, father?“
“At cutlass length”, Martin grumbled, before he did as asked to.
After Gilbert had confirmed the marriage´s legitimacy he still wasn´t satisfied.
“I need to see something from you, too, Leutnant Jarundo”, he stated. “Your certificate of baptism.”
“Well, if I´m correct in assuming that you wish to be the grooms best man…”
“He is”, Clark chuckled.
“…and witness to marriage, then you must know that only a christan has this right. You should not even stand here if you ain´t.”
“The Good Lord´s child I am as any human”, the carib indian replied. “But if the church wishes to legitimate this fatherhood, I have no objections.”
About an hour later Jarundo sat on a cliff looming over a lonesome beach where his brother and brother-in-law were teasing each other, wearing nothing but their skin.
Pensively he looked out at the sea. The now baptized man searched his feelings and had to admit to himself that he felt no different after the ceremony. That meant he had been different before already and Jarundo believed he knew why.
Young Gilbert had suggested a long list of proper, mostly biblical, names. But the carib indian had insisted on “Jacques”. Jacques, the missionary´s, whose head, heart and spirit had become part of Jarundo, name. The bond made so many years ago was fully realized now.
Jarundo would not use his new name often, but he did not rue his decision. Many people still believed it was pointless christening the natives. Jarundo now knew better. Nothing in the world was ever pointless, even if one had to wait for decades to find out where an action had been supposed to lead one.
The day of the wedding drew closer. When it was at hand, Jarundo expected to see his brother in the officer´s uniform he had bought from Eleuthera´s military equipper. But instead the eagle had went for one of the middle of the century ´s fashion-experiments: Jenny wore a playful silvery-white gown brimmed with lace. In contrast to the stern, protestantic woman´s clothing of this age, sacklike dresses that veiled the body´s shape, this one tied the waistline tight. It even left the shoulders uncovered. Jenny´s thick hair fell, from the ears downwards in curls, over the shoulders. Strangely even the ornamented scabbard holding the epée once given to Clark by Captain La Mancha looked not out of place.
“Enchanting, isn´t it?” L`Oiseaux greeted the carib indian. “Though personally I´d preferred the Redbeard-version…”
Martin took a step towards his bride. Moved beyond words he was unable speak. The man raised his hand, but let it sink down again, before he could touch the bridal veil for fear he might awake from a dream if he did.
“Still disguised”, he commented the presence of the fine tissue.
The the pair approached father Gilbert hand in hand. The speech the man made differed a lot from the one Clark had given at Werner´s and Viviane´s wedding. The privateer captain could have recited the traditional words Gilbert used in his sleep – and found that she had really closed her eyes. Jenny thought of her parents. She was sure that this one decision of hers at least, met with their approval. If spanish and english blood could mesh so well with french, did it not prove that it was one and the same liquid? But not just her choice of a partner, but Jenny´s decision to get herself what civillians called “a life” would have made her parents happy.
Martin on the other hand could not deny that this secretive pirate´s wedding was far more to his liking than the grandest party his father in Martinique could have thrown for him.
“Finally!” L`Oiseaux whispered, when husband and wife kissed at the ceremony´s end. Jarundo nodded his heartfelt agreement.
Puzzled Jenny and Martin looked at their friends. “We aren´t doing it for this first time, you know?” Martin explained, much to his father Gilbert´s shock – though not surpirse.
“Well, yes“, Jarundo replied. “But L`Oiseaux and me have never seen it before!”
Some time later the bride had danced to Gilbert´s musical accompaniment with every male guest and Jarundo urged the pair to leave. “We are having a party on the ship”, he told them. “On what occasion?” Captain Martin wondered. “I mean, me and her have cause to party, but the crew?”
Jarundo raised his brows. “Since when do pirates need a reason for a party? We have money, our reputation with Le Vasseur is repaired and in a few days we´re going to set sail. I only had to hint at the possibility that all this would be worth a party and the others took to it joyfully!”
Martin hugged his brother in law. “Awesome!”
“Yeah, I figured you’d love the idea. Besides, Clark will want to get rid of that dress the sooner the better.”
“Oh, she’ll want to get rid of pretty much any clothing tonight, for…”
Jarundo pushed the friend back. “No details! I understand you are planning something special, but my imagination is active enough on it’s own, so the last thing I need is the two of you to actually confirm any of that!”
While Jenny was changing back into her male clothes, Gilbert presented her husband with a question that troubled him since their first meeting: “One word, please, Captain Martin! About the templars…”
“Oh, don´t worry”, Martin replied as boastfully as if he had routed out the order singlehandly. “They are no more!”
“And we are to believe you, Sir knight?“ L`Oiseaux murmered, when the privateers were out of listening distance.
Father Gilbert shook his head. “Not Martin”, he disagreed. “I think Clark is the templar. Captain Martin told us clearly who has initated him into the…” The man´s voice suddenly trailed of. “Order´s…”, he murmured and then: “Customs.”
“Both of them!” L´Oiseaux confirmed the priest´s suspicions. He added: “Believe me, father, I won´t ever cross those two! I have no inclination of ending up as a sacrificial victim!”
“And because everyone around here is scared by this myth”, Martin meanwhile explained to his companions, who had made it back to town, “neither Father Gilbert nor Captain L`Oiseaux will dare taking advantage of their knowledge of Captain Clark´s identity as a female!”
Jarundo suddenly stopped in his track.
“What´s the matter?” Martin inquired. “Do you believe in this nonsense, too?”
The carib indian pointed into a street, that was, into the muddy space between two houses standing close together. “Hornbasket!” he hissed.
In no time the three had drawn their weapons and taken to the man´s pursuit! The moment the pirate saw them approach, he broke into a dash. Hard as he tried, Hornbasket could not shake off his pursuers. He sought protection in a sturdy, well visited building.
“Oh, no, that´s going to far!” Martin protested. “I will not enter a whorehouse on my wedding day!”
Jarundo saluted the captain. He followed Hornbasked and drove him back to the street quickly.
Sitting with his back against one wall of the place were two drunken seamen. They had been snoring off their haze and woken up by the clamour. “Man, must the women inside there be ugly”, the first drunkard commented the sight of Hornbasket storming out of the house. Jarundo followed in hot pursuit. “Even the redskin´s horrified!” the drunkard added, amazed.
“Yeah”, the other heaved. “An hassooo seen see da firshd wons fays? Sh-shcared he wos!”
To Captain Hornbasket his situation was not funny in the least. To him it was serious and potentially lethal.
Clark, Jarundo and Martin had split up to cover the most ground possible. They could be everywhere. Praying to god didn’t deem the black-hearted pirate captain a valid choice anymore, so he cursed the devil. Then he chose a direction at random and dashed forward. Footsteps behind him told the man that he had chosen the wrong alley. Worse: a low wall blocked his escape route.
The man did not make the mistake of turning ‘round to check who exactly was at his heels. He simply ran on and attempted to climb the obstacle.
Scaling the wooden wall was easier than expected. When his pursuer reached him, Hornbasket was already out the reach of his weapons.
Alas – from the ceiling of a shack to Hornbasket’s right Clark came running, an epée in hand.
“Cayonne´s small, Hornbasket!”
The pirate balanced a few steps backwards, until his back was bracing against the wall of the row of houses there. There was an open window just in reach, but when the man tried entering it, he was staring into Jarundo’s face.
Hornbasket jumped down again, followed by Clark and Jarundo and expected by Martin. He turned between the three men´s blades, unable to escape.
“What do want from me?”
“I don´t know”, Martin replied. “What could one want from a man who runs away at the mere sight of his allys, as if the devil was after his soul? If you ask me, Hornbasket, that´s a wee bit suspicious!”
The traitor knew that his game was finished.
“So you both survived the traps set for you!” he yelled. “Why did you not slaughter each other afterwards?”
“Ever heard of friendship?” Martin shot back. “Loyality?”
“Or of thinking before acting?” Clark added, grinning.
“You have no idea”, Hornbasket lamented. “Yes, I payed Marinus to feed you the false information about the Oro Grande. And I made up the story about the diary. But I did not do so from ill intention!”
“Of course not”, Jarundo nodded, grimly. “You were just bored and acting out, I suppose.”
“I… no! Do not make fun of me! You don´t know the man, not face to face!“
“Are you talking about Don Escobedo by any chance?” Clark asked nicely. His facial expression hardened, when he spoke on: “The man I was not afraid to cross blades with as a mere thirteen-year-old?”
Hornbasked nodded eagerly, ignoring the jab.
“Escobedo! He´s a devil! The Don captured my ship and forced me to set a trap for the Errant Eagle´s captains. After I promised that to him, he set me free and arranged everything so that L`Oiseaux could find me and pick me up. The lad would be dead by now, had he not proved useful in this way. See, Clark? You see? In a way I saved your friend´s life!”
The privateer spat on the ground.
“The Don cannot harm you where he can´t find you. Once free, you should not have felt bound to an extorted pledge any longer!”
“Yes”, Martin agreed. “You played along with Escobedo not out of fear, but because you craved revenge!”
The pirate tried a final plea: “You are not going to kill me now, are you? If it had been the other way around, Martin, Clark, you would not have let me sail away with your loot of a full year, either!”
“I do not wish to spill blood, indeed, not today”, Clark said. “But as english major it´s my duty to bring captured pirates to trial.”
Daniel Morris, called Hornbasket, would arrive in Eleuthera alive. Beyond this the captains promised nothing. They would not have been able to keep any further promise anyway.
The crew was not happy about having to deliver the traitor unharmed, so Martin, Clark and Jarundo spiced the trip up for them with an entertaining idea. In Cayonne they bought a waitresses dress and bonnet and had the prisoner don it. Chains around his ankles the pirate had to serve the eagles `round the clock. He sewed, brushed, washed, dried and folded their clothing, served the meals, cleaned up the dishes and had to sing a jolly tune to the other seamen´s work. On top of it he was exempt from all hard work like deck cleaning, because it wasn´t a woman´s place to be.
“Since we´ve got Daniela on the ship, I have learned to apprecciate a woman in the house”, James Perry remarked one day. The name stuck.
In Eleuthera the eagles waved Hornbasket goodbye.
“Farewell, Daniela darling!” Eric said, kissing her hand.
“And stay clean in prison, else you do not go to heaven!” Creed shouted after the prisoner.
Captain Martin, too, waved after Hornbasket from the Errant Eagle. He did not like the surprises Eleuthera threw at him each visit, so he stayed at the ship, leaving it to Clark and Jarundo to handle the matter.
Eleuthera´s fortress commander looked the alleged maiden up and down.
“If I had that ugly a daughter“, he could not help but sputter, “I´d advice her, too, to join some pirate crew – but in men´s clothing! With a ladies´ beard like hers, nobody would smell the rat.“
“Sidney, you´d be amazed how this beard grows if not shaved daily very thoroughly”, Jarunod joyfully replied.
Then Captain Clark revealed the she-pirate´s true identity to the officer.
“Another pirate”, Commander Sidney mused. “He can hang together with the rest next thursday. I´ll inform the judge about his arrival, so we can trial him properly beforehand.”
“What rest?” Clark asked.
The officer invited the privateer to accompany him into the fortress.
“Have a look for yourself, Major!” he offered. “Our coast patrol managed to capture Gaston Muselier recently!”
“Muselier!” Clark repeated. “Did he feel threatened by our fellow countrymen in the Caribbean to come here?”
“I think so. But our waters were unknown to him and so his ship got stuck. All we had to do was fetch his gang from their sandbank. Embarassing for both sides, but I do not complain.”
“That was past time!” Jarundo said from his heart. “Muselier´s a slaughterer. He sinks ships at his leisure, never leaving more than a single survivor, when he seizes a prize. Even his compatriots spat upon hearing his name.”
“If one deserves the rope even more than Daniela, than Captain Muselier!” Clark agreed with his friend.
“I´d love to see the man hang”, the commander admitted. “He´s in here, by the way.”
Sidney pointed at one of two doors to their left while shoving Hornbasket through into a cell across the floor. “I´ll have trousers fetched for you, later”, he promised him, then closed the heavy oaken door, turning the key in the lock.
“And this is where he´s going spend the next three months while his men work in the quarry and the brick-works”, the commander continued with a final glance into Muselier´s cell.
“Legit Letter de Marque?” Clark pressumed.
“Unfortunately”, Sidney confirmed. “Three months solitary confinement was the maximum sentence.” Then the officer smiled. “But things were put into perspective soon after. You´ll find that there indeed is a divine justice.”
The commander led the two guests away from the four solitary cells into the next room. It was dominated by two large cage-cells. Behind the bars lay, sat or stood, tied to the wall by chains around their wrists and ankles, about twenty men. Only a rare few of the inmates were not suffering from at least a light wound.
“Captain Muselier provokes losses as if he was aiming for an ancient roman March of Triumph”, the englishman explained. “But these dogs here are far worse! They are the pirates going to hang next thursday.”
“Which ship?” Clark asked involuntarily.
Commander Sidney adressed the man sitting closest to the bars. Around his head a thick bandage was slung. The cloth also covered the prisoner´s right eye, or what would be left of it.
“Come on! Introduce yourself to the guests!” Sidney ordered.
The man raised his head ever so slightly. “Why should I?”
The commanders grabbed the man by his shirt, dragging him towards himself.
“You could avoid making your miserable life´s final days hell, Maddock!”
“Four-Pound-Maddock!“ Clark exclaimed, surprised. “Of the Soaring Seagull!”
He took a step closer, forced Sidney´s hand aside and closed his fingers around the bars.
“On Tortuga we´ve heard about your exploits.”
Captain Maddock was even younger than L`Oiseaux, barely of age. His nickname he derived from his seagull´s light armament. Fourpound´s tactic was intimidation and extorting of tolls from traders. His list of casualities was surprisingly short for a pirate maintaining success.
Captain Maddock led a crew recruited from the english Bahamas colonies. Many of them had been in debt bondage, working off their tickets to the New World, before they decided to run from their often cruel masters. Others were were escaped forced labour convicts and the rest had been born in the colonies. They had grown up watching their parents trying to carve out a life under the shadow of a demanding motherland – and fail more often than succeed.
“Fourpound-Maddock?” Clark repeated. “That´s really no comparison!”
“Indeed!” Commander Sidney nodded. “The frenchman overdoes it with his bloodlust, but this one is another calibre altogether. He´s a traitor to the motherland, leading deserters, runaway servants and and fugitive criminals. His crimes target the foundations of our society!”
Major Clark folded his arms. What he was muttering to himself the bystanders could not understand.
“How much for the whole bunch?” he asked Sidney.
“What do you mean?”
“Simple, Commander. I own a large piece of land on this island for some little time now. I need workers to develop it for me.”
“No, Major!” Sidney declined. “Not that the purchase in itself would pose a problem. But the town cannot accept your money. You are doing this for pity´s sake, because you once belonged to the same class. But if Governor Langley grants you this favour now, you´ll never be able to sever the ties binding you to your past.”
“Incidentally I was legally binding made major”, the privateer replied. “And from time to time the government issues acts of grace for criminals, provided they enter the military.”
“There´s no such remission valid at the moment.”
“No, perhaps not”, Clark gave in. “In this case do me a favour, please, Commander! Have Hornbasket hanged first, so I can watch it, before I leave the execution site. I think I´m growing soft with age.”
“That´s something that´ll never concern me”, Fourpound said in a fit of grim humour. “Growing old, I mean.”
“Then be thankful”, Clark replied, before he took his leave.
“You are taking it rather lightly“, Jarundo adressed his friend when the two were on their way to Clark´s mansion, where they’d spend the night while their men were making merry in town and Martin was sulking at the ship.
“Because the situation did not come as a surprise to me, brother” Clark replied. “Tell me, what do you think about prophetic dreams?”
“I know that fortune-telling is sinful and only the prophets can truly foresee the future anyway. The ability was granted to them. They did not actively seek it, you see?”
“No, not really”, Clark admitted. “And perhaps you are right and there are no such dreams. But we learn from experiences made in the past, even if this past never happened.”
Jarundo frowned. “I thought you do not drink rum?” he asked with some concern.
Daniel “Hornbasket” Morris got a proper trial and was sentenced to death for his many crimes. And just like he had seen it in his dream, Clark of Brackenridge stood by when a pirate captured by him walked to his death. Contrary to the dream he hadn´t quite made it to Admiral, but some considered him a knight…
Fourpound Maddock and his followers, too, waited for their execution today. The one-eyed captain no longer wore bandages around his head. He had not gotten granted an eye patch to cover the empty socket either, because his corpse was to look ghastly as to deter others from repeating his cimes.
Unlike the crowd in Clark’s dream, the people of Eleuthera were acting civilized, though they were eager to see the show. And the men, women and children got not disappointed. The first convict was not lucky enough to die a quick death. Instead of breaking his neck while falling. Hornbasket dangled from the gallows between death and life. The rope around his neck tore into his throat and suffocated the man slowly.
On the grandstand from where the town´s rulership watched the execution, Captain Clark felt slightly sick. This public display wasn´t about justice. It was about base motives. The privateer knew he should not enjoy Hornbasket´s death throws, but at least, he told himself, he had a personal reason for doing so. The spectators did not care, did not discriminate one death candidate from the other. The show itself was enough for them.
A youth wearing an english navy uniform worked his way through the crowd, ignoring the goings-on, obviously in a hurry.
“That´s Ensign Goodrick”, the governor realized. “What´s rushing the boy like this?”
Admiral Goodrick´s teenaged son left the crowd, passed by the gallows and struggling Hornbasket. He ran up the stairs to the grandstand.
“This came with a postal ship today, Sire!” he explained, delivering a wax-sealed letter to the governor. “Forgive the intrusion, but I was told it was extremely urgent.”
Sir Langley glanced at the crest in the wax.
“From Providence”, he told the bystanders. “What could it be?”
“Trouble”, Major Clark assumed and Commander Sidney had to agree.
The governor perused the lines. “It says here there has been an alarming increase of french fleet movements near Florida recently”, he summed up the contents. “Looks like they´re planning to extend their territory from there.”
“They won´t reach out for Cuba”, Clark thought aloud. “La Habana is too heavily fortified and can sent out troops to the surrounding settlements´ defence in almost no time. That makes us the primary target. The Bahamas.”
Governor Langley nodded.
“Providence claims not being able to muster enough men. They cannot send us support. Pshaw! The coward is afraid the spaniards could interpret it as an invitation for an attack on his town, should he send one or two ships away to the north.”
Admiral Goodrick adressed the privateer captain: “I used to formulate your orders in a way to give you utmost freedom, Major Brackenridge. But this time I have to insist that you set course to Florida and search for the french´s base of operation!”
Clark nodded resolutely.
“You did not need to even tell me that! I´ll be on my way sooner than you can say ‘frog’.”
“Wait! There´s more!” Governor Langley held back Clark, introducing him to another paragraph of the letter: “Considering the dire circumstances the Bahamas´ governors are held to issue a general amnesty to fill up the ranks of our military.”
The man handed the paper to Goodrick senior.
“Best start with the scum down there. Explain their perspectives to them!”
Rodney Goodrick rose from his chair. He found that the offer came too late for Hornbasket, so he spoke to Captain Maddock and his men.
“With your actions you damaged England, so it´s reasonable to make up for your misdeeds in England´s service”, he began his speech…
A short while later the Errant Eagle´s crew had grown by twenty-one persons.
“Until further notice only half shares for the losers, Perry”, Captain Clark ordered his treasurer.
“Why the increase?” Captain Martin demanded to know.
The adventurer loathed macabre exhibitions like public executions and so he had not been in town today. His shipmates who had returned from the show together with Clark, enlightened their captain about the message from Providence and it´s consequences.
“So it´s Florida next?” Martin inquired.
Clark shook his head, amused.
“What would we want there? Everything of value I took two years ago during my vacation already.”
Before his partner could open his mouth to another question, Clark brought forth a ring from a pocket inside his coat. “This precious will come in handy one day – I said so on Tortuga, remember?”
Martin took a closer look. He recognized the signet ring from L`Oiseaux´ loot. And something else:
“This isn´t the crest of Providence´s governor?!”
“Is, too. I forged the amnesty edict and had Jarundo smuggle it into the regular post for me. One day our beloved friend might contest the document, but then he would also have to admit that he lost his ring. I strongly doubt that he will do so just to see two dozen small-scale pirates hang.”
Martin nodded. He was certain that Clark´s trick would go undetected, still he looked thoughful. “Fourpound Maddock, Eagle”, he said quietly. “Is he a captain?”
Clark sighed. “Tonight we´ll know. But even if he were, I just could not stand by and let him perish while Muselier dined on my acres’ produce.”
“I know. I probably would have opted for a daring rescue, too.”
The major stroked his english uniform that he had donned for the occasion.
“You know I always craved this rank. Now that I have it, I have a reason to.”