(Eagle) The final intrigue

(Note: This is the LAST chapter. To read from the beginning please use your browser’s back-button and then scroll down to the entry from December 29th 2015, the one labeled „Prolugue“, for that is where the story begins.)

“Just how well does the Don know you?” Captain Martin asked his partner after the tailor´s punishment.
“He knows that the spanish ship´s boy was a girl, but failed to realize that she became Captain Clark, if that´s what you mean.”
“Did he take notice of your seizing of the Corse or were you too small a fish for Escobedo back then?”
“To Don Escobedo no pirate is too insignificant”, Clark clarified. “His superiors put him onto the most dangerous ones, but when he acts without an actual comission, Escobed grabs the smallest rat by it´s tail.”
Martin clicked his tongue. “Perfect!” he rejoyced. “So he knows you rid yourself of the Royal Bride and that you would under no circumstances use a barque. And since we already sorted out that you can pilot one… turn around and have a look at what´s swinging by over there!”
“A small trader.”
“What type?”
“Barque.” Clark´s face brightened. “I´ve got the feeling you wish to tell me something, Martin.”
Clark´s Co-Captain smiled like the born mystery-monger.
“I´ll tell you once we´ve taken over the tub.”

*

A warship of the Errant Eagle´s size turning towards one´s own, though not helpless, but obviously inferior, ship was cause for concern, if not panic. The men aboard the barque relaxed when they beheld the galleon´s figurehead. “That´s Captain Clark´s golden eagle!” the first seaman told the one standing next to him. This man informed his shipmate a few feet away and so the chain continued across the deck until the information reached the captain, an englishman by name of Joseph Grangerford. He had his sailors hoist the english flag.
“The Errant Eagle´s still not slowing down, Sir”, the barque´s mate reported to his captain.
“Why should she? If they come straight from Providence, as I assume, they are welcome to share their knowledge about the market situation there with us!”
“I don´t know… I have a bad feeling about this.”
Closer and closer the larger ship came. The Errant Eagle showed it´s colors, too. It was an english flag, but it was a little different from Grangerford´s: Clark had hoisted the war flag, the white one with the red cross on it.
When Grangerford watched the galleon´s crew empty buckets of water into their sails and some of them carrying smoke bombs as well as boarding hooks, he fully realized that the eagles were preparing for a fight. But by then it was too late.
“Let´s get away from here!” he ordered, calmer than he would have thought to be able.
Two cannon shots, one close to the bow and one that nearly razed the stern, persuaded the captain to cancel the maneuver.
“Those were warning shots only”, he stated. “We´d be dead before we performed the full turn.” Then Grangerford cursed under his breath. “Who´s in command over there? I thought Captain Clark was a man of honor who did not attack fellow countrymen? Or did they replace him again? No, it´s him, I recognize the guy…”
Clark was the boading operation´s undisputed leader. He really seemed to indulge in piracy now.

“English trader Bristol!” the privateer-major´s voice rang out. “Hereby I requisit your ship, crew and cargo for a military operation! Cease hostilities immediately! Any attempt of resistance will be interpreted as rebellion against the crown!”
“Damn civil war”, Grangerford hissed. “We´ve got no choice, men. If Clark wishes to play soldier, he knows no friends.”
The man stepped towards the rail of the Bristols´s quarterdeck so that he was in full sight and straightened. “We surrender, Errant Eagle. You may board anytime.”
The major, his shadow Jarundo and a dozen armed men changed from the galleon to the Bristol. Almost every seaman of the smaller vessel was facing a battle-hardened privateer now.
Clark smiled when he recognized his aquaintance from Escapio Domingo. Captain Grangerford now wearing civil clothing, a merchant´s attire, was confusing, though. Especially since Clark had donned his navy uniform on this occasion.
“Reversed roles, Captain Grangerford?” the major asked. “Or did you disguise yourself on purpose? I should not like to disturb a covered operation. But I need the Bristol and it´s really urgent.”
“Don´t worry”, Grangerford made of sign of decline. “I´ve parted with the military. Took my leave a couple of months after we´ve met. You see, I´ve got friends on both sides in this conflict. I can no longer stay part of a military that´s fighting itself.”
“The civil war stays east of the line”, Oldworld Eric, one of Clark´s companions, said.
“Not in this war. This one doesn´t adhere to the papal decree”, Captain Grangerford replied. “I had to pay a very large amount of money for leaving the military in times of war. But I do not care anymore. I made a good profit in the recent one and a half year. Now I´m sailing one last time from St. Kitts via Barbados and Providence to Grand Bahama. Then I´m going to marry in Eleuthera and settle down with Lady Janice in St. Kitts – full circle. At least, that was the plan, before you thwarted it.”
“You were headed for Providence? Then you were lucky, Mister Grangerford, that we intercepted you. Be my guest at dinner today, then you´ll hear the full story. But I´m afraid what I´ve got to tell you won´t stimulate your appetite.”

*

Puerto Bello.
Don Escobedo´s castle.

Three men and an adolescent girl sat at the dinner table. This company, too, included a phantom from Captain Clark´s past: The nobleman Escobedo entertained not only his young hostage and one Steven van Eijk, a spain-friendly agent of the Dutch Westindia Company, but also a french captive by name of Raoul La Mancha.
“You are quite far from home”, the dutchman spoke to Henri de Monet´s captain.
“Puerto Bello isn´t next-door to Aruba, either”, La Mancha shot back.
“What did they say?” Ann whispered to the interpreter.
The common born man did not share the table with his employer and his guests, but sat in an armchair next to the window, ready to perform his duty when called for. His help was hardly needed, though. Except for Captain Clark´s daughter, everbody in the room was fluent in the spanish tongue. Escobedo, however, did not take kindly Ann´s wish to hear every single sentence translated into her mother tongue. She was expected to look neat and keep polite silence during the conversation, whether she understood what was said or not. But the Admiral allowed his interpreter to translate the short exchange between Van Eijk and La Mancha for Ann, because he knew it would amuse the girl.
Ann giggled. She had decided at first glance that she would not like the dutch sales representative. For this reason it was easy for her to like La Mancha. The girl blinked at the captain, then she busied herself with petting her host´s long-haired black cat that was prowling under the table.
“Could your sudden desire to leave Martinique be connected in any way to the arrival of a royal director in Fort-de-France?” Don Escobedo probed.
“The first one died of fever soon after he sat foot on our island in fourty-one”, La Mancha said. “The new one is hardier – and a lot more stubborn. This man actually believes he can succeed in getting through the ban on dueling!”
The spanish noble shook his head. “At my age I realize more and more that politicans fail to grasp what makes up civilisation“, he said. “A dueling prohibition! Why not also… no, there´s just no comparison!”
“Politica”, the interpreter summed up the talk´s content for Ann. “That´s po…”
“Politics”, the girl interrupted, smiling. “I know. He entendido. Duelo? Prohibido. Punible. The terms are similar enough.“
Escobedo could not tell whether he should be proud of the girl´s progress or concerned. Obviously Ann had inherited not only her father´s questionable morals, but also his brains. She even sounded like the captain had at the rare occasions of a personal encounter of Clark´s and Escobedo´s within insulting-distance.

The table-chatter inevitably included the Don´s imminent triumph: “In a few days Chien del´Onyx will arrive in Puerto Bello with his Errant Eagle and deliver Clark to me!”
La Mancha called for more red wine.
“Did you say Errant Eagle?” he asked for re-assurance. “That ship´s said to be a severe misconstruction. When I saw Clark for the last time, the bastard was sailing away with my Pride of Martinique. I wonder what happened to her.”
“It´s the same ship”, Van Eijk supplied. “They gave it a new name.”
“They?”
“The Captains Clark and Martin”, the dutchman explained. “There was a lot of superstitious stuff related to the re-naming and so it became the talk of the town in Wilhelmstad for a while.”
“Well, if the Black Dog rose from his wet grave, I won´t believe the rumours that he has killed “Martin”!” La Mancha said. “Francois´s made of sterner stuff and a clever guy.”
“Tell us again the story of those three, Chien, Francois and Clark!” Don Escobedo bade his prisoner.
La Mancha oblidged. Happily he recounted those chapters of the tale that did not include him having his ship his stolen by pirates. “Considering all the trouble we had to go through with the Midnight Blue”, he prepared for the finale, “her end came fast, real unelegantly.”
The Don´s facial color changed from pale to deep red and pale again, the longer La Mancha span his yarn. “Martin and the Black Dog are BOTH Francois de Monet!” he shouted eventually. “Didn´t anybody notice?!”
“Why, then, would Chien del´Onyx capture Clark?”Steven Van Eijk wondered. “If those two are friends?”
La Mancha breathed at his single glass lense and started cleaning it.
“Friends? One can never be sure with Clark in this respect”, he said.
Escobedo shook his head. “I´ve tried. But nothing can separate these two, it seems. Such friendship between men who are not brothers…”

La Mancha coughed. “Well, there is this rumour going ´round the caribbean”, the started. “About Captain Clark being a woman.”
“Fairy tale!” Van Eijk said. “People tell each other stories like this because they dream of unmasking and taming such a she-pirate. But there´s not a grain of truth to the tales.”
The dutchman helped himself to the wine.
“Like it or not, Captain”, he went on, “your friend and that pirate were a couple. That’s why Martin turned pirate, too: he was rotten from the beginning.”
“For my part, I do know of one case where a disguise really worked”, Don Escobedo remembered. “There was a ship´s boy – a ship´s girl, I should say. But she chose the wrong side of the law and I had to apprehend her along with the rest of her pirate friends. I can only hope that she learned her lesson and did not pay with her life for her folly in the years after.”
“Did you ever check?” La Mancha asked.
“It occurred to me to do so, but by that time the english had overtaken the plantation where she served for her crimes.”
“If this child had been ambidexterous, to boot…” La Mancha thought aloud. “That´s a rare talent.”
In Escobedo´s head the puzzle pieces connected! Clark´s fighting style included dual-wielding. The Admiral had never dueled the privateer in person, but Hank Straight had relayed his witnessing of many a practice fight on the Aquila to his captor. And the teenaged girl from the Clarabella had been ambidexterous, indeed. Not to mention that their ages matched.
“That was her!” Escobedo whispered. “Clark!”
Suddenly everything made sense, at least from the warped perspective of a woman: “Audacious! She declared a crusade on my nation because we dared punishing her for breaking the law! Rally, after three marriages the track of a female’s thoughts still astonishes me.”
La Mancha shook his head ever so sligthly, as if to indicate that there was more to the story. But this wasn’t the place to enlighten his host about Captain Clark’s background. It was far more important to put an end to the pirate’s exploits.
“You can bet there’s something fishy about the “capturing” of Clark’s. If I was in your place, I would not allow the Errant Eagle to enter port”, Captain La Mancha adviced the spaniard.
“To the contrary, captain! I will let the gang in. Only they will never get out again…”
Escobedo signaled a guardsman that was stationed at the door. “While we are at it, Captain La Mancha, you´ll take up quarters in a cell down there inside my fortress. Someone who is too thick to see what´s right before his eye even with a bloody magnifying glass on his nose deserves no better!”
The frenchman bowed deep, before he let himself be led away without resistance.
“When will you join me there, Don? Because if I´m not completely mistaken, you are hunting our common aquaintance Mademoiselle Clark for fifteen years now without having realized the truth…”

Ann was lost at the foreign conversation. It´s end, however, had her listen up: “Mademoiselle Clark? Don Escobedo! What did he say about me? I want to know!”
“We did not speak of you, my child”, Escobedo clarified.
He explained to the girl the discovery made at the table just now.
Ann lifted a napkin to her mouth to dampen her laughter.
“Then I was right all along!” she giggled. “Captain Clark is not my father. Because he´s my mother!”
A stranger-pirate who was supposed to be her father was a bit intimidating. But a mother who had gotten away with a clever ruse at her age? That sounded like fun and Marianne was looking forward to meeting this person now. At least for a few moments all of the girl’s fears dissolved in laughter.

*

Come morning Don Escobedo walked up and down the harbour. He was agitated, though his emotions did not divert the veteran officer´s attention from the task at hand.
The silouette of a fast galleon at the horizon could belong to the Errant Eagle only. The Admiral expected her to arrive sometime tomorrow or early in the morning of the following day at the latest.
A barque coming from the same direction had just anchored and it´s captain went through the formalities needed to start unloading goods and passengers. Urged by his curiosity, Don Escobedo approached the harbourmaster.
“Where are those people from?” he asked.
The sudden interest of a high-ranking officer in their affairs made the barque´s captain and his servant stiffen.
“They are merchants from occupied Providence, Sir”, the harbourmaster told Escobedo.
“Splendid! I hoped they were!” Escobedo turned to the captain. “Capitano…?”
“Miguel. Jose Miguel. Captain and owner of the Brisa.“
“Capitano Miguel – my heartfelt welcome in Puerto Bello! Your arrival from Santa Catalina makes our victory there complete.“
The businessman bowed respectfully. “Thank you, Sir.”
“And now relax, dear captain! The local trade routes are guaranteed to be safe in the future!”
“I cannot claim that I felt at ease, travelling right in front of the infamous Errant Eagle those recent days”, the merchant admitted. “Even now that she´s on our side. In Santa Catalina I´ve heard that Chien del´Onyx…”
“Yes, I know”, the Don cut short the man´s speech. In his opinion he had spent enough time talking to a non-titled individual already. “I expect the Black Dog ardently, Capitano Miguel.” Escobedo turned away.

Meanwhile on the Brisa there was a heated argument between some seamen who were allowed to go to town and those who would have to stay behind. Miguel´s mate had to put his foot down and he even did so literally. Expression and posture told the workers in port enough. They needed not hear the mate´s exact words to know that he was a martinet. Had his voice carried all the way down to them clearly, however, the dock workers would have sat up straight!
For the man said: “No, Bobby, that´s absolutely out of the picture! You are not by a long shot as fit as I need those accompanying me on this mission to be. Wait ´till you are fully recovered before playing the hero! Besides, you do not know Ann any better than the rest of us. You entered the tailor´s service only after her abduction.”
Capitano Miguel returned to his ship. Out of listening-distance of the spaniards he spoke to his mate: “Meeting Escobedo so soon after our arrival I would never have expected! But he drew no suspicion at all.”
“The best thing about disguises is”, the smaller man explained, “that the one to be duped completes them himself. Usually we see what we expect to see, a law-abiding spanish citizen in your case, Jose.”
Jose nodded. “I used my father´s name when talking to the Don. It was the first that came to my mind. But you know what? There wasn´t the slightest trace of recognition. As if blue-blooded Porreno had given Escobedo all the trouble all by himself!”
“Miguel isn´t that rare a name” the mate replied. “Anyway, your father was fortunate that he got severly wounded and Porreno left him behind in Havanna, before Escobedo tracked us down in our hideout. Thus he became one of only two survivors of the Clarabella.” The mate turned towards one of the Brisa’s seamen: “And the other one, as you know, Joshuah, is me. So. You now got your first look at the man who abducted me to a plantation when I was Ann´s age. That´s the man from whose clutches we need to free our daughter!”
Joshuah Anders slipped a handaxe into his belt and closed his coat over the weapon. Clark, Perry, Jose and Pepe, too, were carrying concealed weapons. Each man had two pistols plus a small blade suitable for melee, though they hoped to get away without a fight.
“Your ship, Sulpicius”, Clark told the one of his companions who had accompanied him right from the beginning. Nevertheless Chips could walk the streets of any town without getting recognized. Only on Tortuga, the island where he was born, he enjoyed some fame, but it was already being ursurped by his young nephew. So for the time of Clark´s absence Chips would convincingly play the role of the Brisa´s second mate charged with guarding the ship.
Joshuah’s mouth and throat went dry when he beheld the fortress towering over the town, the place the small group had to enter undetected.
“We´ll get in no matter what”, Pepe said to encourage the tailor turned pirate. “Either by our own skill or because we muck it up and they throw us in.”
“I´m positive that prospect will ease the man’s mind…”, Perry grumbled.

*

The next day, in the prison below the fortress another man from the Aquila did not feel like joking. A full day had passed since the Brisa´s – alias the Bristol´s – arrival, but Hank Straight, of course, had no way of knowing that his former shipmates were in town.
“Almost two years…” he whispered to himself. “Two bloody years and for nothing! That´s what you get for being such a law-abiding chap!”
The prisoner stood, his arms folded, leaning against the stone wall of his cell. He did not feel the cold coming from it. Besides, had not his life started in a similar cell? Hank Straight was the son of a female pirate, a death-candidate pardoned just long enough to give birth to her child. Hank’s foster parents had never ceased to remind him of this fact. No child or adult resident of Barbados had ever let the boy forget his origins.
“The whole caribbean sea seems to be inhabited by pirates!” a local vendor had used to say. “Nobody´s talking about us hard working folk! I have some very good weather-proof capes for sale that would deserve talking about!” The man had been friendly to Hank, especially when there was an errand to run or some advertisment to get to the right ears. At other days he had ranted away about the young men of present times, a depraved, respectless, duty-shirking, work-shy and thieving brood with no hope of redemption. Hank was not one of those kids. With his background he had no other choice but to become a virtual prig. Praise or respect it never garned him. The best a fatherless criminal´s son could hope for in this respect was to be left alone by the grown-ups.
Serving aboard a trader where nobody knew his heritage had placed young Hank Straight in an environment where he had to fight against pepole´s prejudices no longer. But it had not granted him the respect he was yearning for. Joining the army, in the incarnation of Captain Clark´s famous privateer-ship, seemed the logical fisrt step to his goal. But now the Aquila´s second mate had finished his twenty-third year, that should become his last…

A knock at the door had Straight´s ears prick. Ever since he was serving time down here, the jailor announced himself with a knock when he brought the prisoner´s meals. The knocking meant “It´s alright, it´s just me, Pedro” and was to placate the prisoner´s fear. Neither the Don nor a torturer or executioner would knock…
Pedro was a good soul, a war-disabled, who earned his living as warder. From time to time he spoke to the prisoner in spanish, even though the young man did not understand the words. Hank valued the gesture nevertheless.
“Ejecución…“ Pedro ran the side of his hand across his throat, to illustrate the meaning. He tried to think of an english-sounding word and found one: “Ejecusing. Sorry.”
The prisoner lowered his head.
“Yeah. Me too.”
The next moment he had snatched the plate with the porridge off Pedro´s hands, just to ram it into the warder´s mouth. At the same time Straight raised up his knee, kicking body parts that were vital not to his opponent, but to the next generation. Without said parts there would be no next generation. Pedro gasped, breathed in some of the mush involuntarily and coughed.
While the spaniard was still choking, the prisoner took his keys and club, shoved the man deeper into the cell and closed the door behind him.
“Two years, my ass!” Straight grumbled. “The Don could have announced his “Ejecucing” earlier, so one would have known where one stands with him!”

“What´s going on here?” a voice used to give orders sounded.
The escapee winced at the call, but then he realized that it originated from the neighboring cell, the one where the french captain was held.
“You want your meal or out of there?” he asked in english though the window slit in the cell door. The reply came: “How about both?”
Smiling Straight turned the key in the lock.
“Unfortunately we haven´t got enough time”, he explained. “But you can show your gratitude by helping me rescue a maiden in distress held captive by Don Escobedo.”
La Mancha rose from his plank bed.
“Captain Clark´s daughter? You need not ask.”
Straight hesitated. The answer had come too fast and too convinced.
“Whose side are you on, frenchman?” he demanded.
“At the moment? The town’s.”
“What do you mean by that?”
La Mancha looked the younger man up and down. Don Escobedo had told him about this one’s help in finding a weak spot of Clark’s. To the captain’s eyes the escapee didn’t look like much – but least of all did he look like a hardened criminal.
“You are one of Clark’s men”, La Mancha said. “So you know what happened to Gibraltar. I hope to prevent something similar from happening to Puerto Bell by delivering his girlchild safe and sound to the pirate. In allying with the likes of you I’m protecting innocent lifes – can you claim as much of yourself?”
Hank Straight shrugged. “I’m sort of trying to escape getting strung up for piracy by letting Clark hang me for deserting”, he said. “It’s complicated. Let’s just move on with the plan, okay?”
“We have a plan? Jolly good!”
“Um… it will present itself to us in time, I hope.”

*

While Hank Straight and Captain La Mancha were sneaking through the fortress like shadows, the Errant Eagle had just arrived in Puerto Bello. Now the men and women were watched closely by the guards. Even a useful privateer was just one small step above a pirate and one could never be sure that he would not one day swap the spanish flag for the blood-red one. It was different depending on who and where you were, of course, but the Black Dog was not ranking very high in the eyes of the public or his employers yet.
Chien del´Onyx approached an officer of the city watch.
“My men would like to enjoy themselves in town a bit. I say they´ve earned it!”
“And I think that´s alright, as long as as they come unarmed and in small groups and do not leave the port district”, the man of the law replied. He ordered his watchmen to keep a close eye on the unwelcome guests.
Whipcrack and Viviane found the spaniards shadowing them quite amusing.
“Pepe was right, this port is funny”, the leutnant remarked. “But I have an idea how to add to the fun. Can you guess where we are going to lead them?”
“Where are we going to lead them?” Viviane asked.
Werner told her. The woman´s gloating grin had the guards fear the worst…

There were those stores in Puerto Bello, too. “Foodstuff” or “Spices” it said on their outside, but the ingredients sold here spiced up the meals to satisfy hunger of a different kind. The muncipal officals tolerated the shops’ existance, because their products were reputed to have saved many a marriage. On the other hand, you never could be certain in whose bed exactly the customer put his purchase to good use… In the end the vendor close to the harbour had to thank Don Escobedo for his continued business. The Admiral used to say that he needed aphrodisiac to kiss his daughter in law´s hand. The ugly-joke conveniently distracted from the fact that pretty much the Don’s whole family, servants and slaves included, loved to make use of the spice shop’s wares. So the Don held his hand protectively over the store and acting against Don Escobedo´s wishes wasn´t wise for citizens of any social standing.
The city watchmen tasked with shadowing Werner and Viviane felt uneasy in the store. One of the reasons for this might be that the vendor had greeted one of the men by his first name like a regular and generous customer…

“Pine pips are known to help along conception a great deal”, the man advertised his wares.
Whipcrack Werner was still sceptical. “Hm. And who´s to take them?”
“Usually the one intent on having the child”, the spaniard replied. “Now Senor privateer seem to lead quite a modern marriage, but I would suggest that Senora privateer will be the one to do it nonetheless.”
Whipcrack flared up at the insult: “The wifes have the kids in a bladder-like thing in their belly. Am I to open up your gut and have a look at what you are having there instead?!”
“That would not sit well with Don Escobedo, I´m afraid”, the shop owner said, grinning.
One of the watchmen took a step closer. “Wrong!” he said. “The Don would be disappointed if the shop went out of business. He could not care less about who runs it.”
Threatened twice now, the vendor just shoved a bag with the kernels over the counter without charging money. The city guard nodded, satisfied. The shop owner´s small loss of money seemed him enough compensation for his embarassment he had suffered upon entering. Werner, however was as a free pirate. He was holding his honor in higher regard.
“What?” he roared. “Is your life worth no more than a bag of flower seeds to you?”
“Strictly speaking it´s not flower, but…”
Werner drew his dagger!
“Oh, don’t mind that little knife, it´s a tool, not a weapon”, Viviane told the alerted guards in a singsong. She silently congratulated her husband to his temper. The more trouble the couple caused together, the more occupied the guards were with the eagles in town, the less attention they would pay to the preparations that went on aboard the ship itself!

*

On the Errant Eagle Kevin Blake sat on the rail. In his hands he held a bowl of turtle soup that he was drinking from. The boy was watching the goings-on in the harbour district, trying not to glance too often to the Bristol´s anchoring place. The setting off of the barque´s would be the signal for the eagles to initiate their attack. Then the cannons would talk – first aiming at the Padre del Mar anchoring close to the Errant Eagle, and then spitting their fire against the fortress. While the soldiers there were occupied – and hopefully had not yet recovered from their surprise – the privateers would enter town and Puerto Bello would be set ablaze.
Who would hold it against the poor trading vessel Brisa to turn tail under these circumstances? Nobody. Just as nobody would suspect that Captain Clark´s daughter would be at the Brisa and under Captain Grangerford´s watchful care by this time. Or that the “fleeing” ship was on it´s way to a rendzevous point with the Errant Eagle that was to follow her later.
Those were the basics of the plan the three captains had come up with.
The pirates estimated that the fort was holding five hundred men and that they were facing about fifty less well trained city guards. The Errant Eagle had almost two hundred fighters to employ. Not all of them were battle-hardened veterans, however…

Johnny Cavendish approached Blake, his accomplice from Providence.
“Nervous?” he asked.
Blake nodded. “You know how it would have went in the tales we heard when we were children”, he said. “Clark frees his daughter, returns to the barque discretly, leaves port officially and just in case something went wrong, the Eagle would have to cover her with her cannons. But we agreed to sail right into the leviathan´s waiting maw and risk a full-scale battle! What were the captains thinking…”
“Well, last time he did something similar, Clark had to shoot himself a way into the harbour. Back then, in Gibraltar, his men were in only for the gold. Now against Don Escobedo it´s personal for many of them. And does that not apply to us, too?”
Again Blake nodded, this time a little more confident. Then he said: “I´ve been assigned to the gunnery crew tonight, and you, Johnny?”
“With Louis´ sharpshooters.”
The two teenagers resigned to silence again. Only the seawater splashed rhythmically against the galleon´s hull. Then Cavendish went relieving himself of some water, too. In his place Eddy Anderson pulled himself up the rail next to Blake.
“You know what Alfred told me?” he started. “Your treasurer Perry, the one sneaking around in Escobedo´s heavily guarded keep at the moment, he´s the biggest coward among the eagles!”
“So what?”
“Well”, the younger one mused, “if Mister Perry is convinced that we´ll get out on top today, then we may trust him. He´s not taking risks!”

*

In the fortress Jose stepped back from a window in the floor that was facing the direction of the harbour. He returned to the intruders´ hiding place, a medium-sized room where old clothing was kept. The articles stored here were either worn out, or out-of-fashion or waiting for Escobedo´s grandchildren to attain the right age and size to wear them. Only rarely did the personell enter this room. Even if someone happened by, it was easy to hide in or behind the large baskets and chests. If one of those was opened, the disvovered intruders´s companions had still enough time to club the unwelcome servant unconscious and place him in the chest himself.
To prevent such inconveniances for both sides, the eagles had disguised themselves as servants, too. The room´s contents had supplied them with more than enough material.
Clark, Perry and Joshuah waited in the wardrobe room, feeling a strange mix of strain and boredom. On Clark´s orders Pepe Gonzales had remained outside the castle. He had been instructed to secure horses or a carriage in case a swift retreat was called for.
“The Eagle just arrived”, Jose told the others.
“Good!” Clark replied. “Who came out first?“
“Viviane and Whipcrack.”
“That means Martin negotiated the prisoner exchange for the early evening hours and the Bristol´s disguise has not been compromised”, the privateer captain decoded the message. Before Clark had sailed away with the barque, he and Martin had agreed on a code that was made up of of living beings. Depending on what he wanted to relay to his companions, Martin was to choose a specific combination of seamen that he would send into town. Not every crewmember was suitable for this purpose, because not everybody could be clearly identified at this distance. But Viviane in her skirt was easy to recognize and Werner´s curly beard and hair stood out well enough.
“Alright”, Clark nodded. “No time to rush, men. Let´s do this swiftly, but with cool heads.”
The three followed Jose outside. By now they knew the main routes through the castle´s living quarters and had a good idea of the daily routines. Through careful probing their “fellow servants” and many hours spent sneaking around the day before, the spys had also discovered where Ann was held when she was not accompanying Escobedo.
“Ann ought to be in her room right now”, Joshua said, needlessly.
“Not much longer”, Clark promised.

*

With experienced fingers Clark picked the lock at the door to the room where Joshua’s – and his, too, somehow – girlchild was held captive. The two guards to this room Perry and the captain had knocked out quickly.
“Do not get it wrong, Mister Anders”, Clark warned the tailor while he was testing the tumblers. “Granted, we had an easy time until now, but getting away unseen will prove the real test.”
He opened the door, took a step inside the room – and froze in the spot.
Impatiently Joshuah forced his way into the room.
“Empty…” Clark whispered.
“Ann!” Joshuah called out, assuming the girl had hidden herself after hearing the two “thuds” and Clark’s fiddling with the lock. “It´s me! Do not worry!”
But no child at all left her hiding place.
The pirates took some more steps into the room, taking the unconscious guardsmen with them and closing the door behind themselves.
“Just like cuba”, Jose could not help to remark. “The best laid plans are those that will fail.”
“Does that mean what I´m afraid it does?” Perry moaned.
“Yes”, Clark confirmed. “We´ll have to face Escobedo in person to get at the girl.“
Joshuah walked over to a dining table. He grabbed the rim and bent forward.
“We must move!” Clark hissed, ready to drag the tailor with him, but Perry went between Ann’s two fathers. “Give him a minute, please. Or are you particularly thrilled at the prospect of battling Escobedo?”
The captain shook his head. Of course he wasn’t! And if he and the eagles were dreading the confrontation, how much more would it drag the civillian down?

And so, while Perry was talking to Joshuah, Clark looked around in the room for anything valueable or otherwise useful.
His gaze fell onto several painted canvas lined up along the wall. The paint on most of them had already dried, but there was also a half-finished painting still on the easel as well as several charcoal-drawn sketches scattered across the room. Ann’s favourite motive seemed to be the starry nightsky…
A sudden surge of parental pride swelled up in the captain. Clark knew it wasn’t right. He should cherish his offspring for herself first and foremost, not for anything Ann might be good at. But he could not help. Besides, finally the father could hope to relate to that stranger he had brought into the world. They had something in common.
“This is good”, Jose remarked. “Your kid’s talented!”
Clark fixated his apprentice. “Notice anything weird?” he asked.
“No. I do not know art that well”, Jose started, but then he realized that his captain was refering to something else. And indeed there was a hard to pinpoint quality about the stars in Ann’s paintings. Not just the fact that she had gotten the constellations right (at least as right as any layman astronomer could without the proper instruments), there was also an innocent charm to them. It almost seemed as if the pictured stars wanted to escape the canvas and frolic in the world of mortals.
“I’m not sure”, Jose answered.
“Well, talk to me again when you do”, Clark said. He gathered a few of the sketches and pocketed them, leaving Jose to ponder the meaning of his words.

“What´s the clamour outside?” Perry suddenly wondered.
Jose hasted towards the large window. To the man’s surprise it wasn’t locked. He pulled it open and looked down. There was much shouting of “Alert! Prisoners trying to escape!” and: “Where are they? Stopp them! Stopp them, you dogs! Oh, you could not even find your own heads with both hands!“
“Sounds a bit like our captain, but he´s standing right behind me”, Jose commented the shouts. He pointed down to the level below the one the eagles were on. The four prowlers saw what had escaped the spanish soldiers´ notice: the three sillouettes crouching in a niche.
“La Mancha?” Clark gasped.
“Ann!” Joshuah called out.
“And Straight?!” Perry wondered.
“I do not claim to understand what exactly´s going on…”, Clark summed up the situation. “…but we need to cover their retreat!”
While speaking, he rolled off a thin rope he had brought with him in case someone needed to get bound. The rope he fastened to the window frame. The Clark slung a piece of cloth around his handhold and jumped up the windowsill, ready to lower himself down.
Jose grabbed the rope right after his captain. His hands were covered with leather gloves, so he needed no additional protection.
“Do as Clark, if you do not want to add bloody seams in your palms to the ones on your back”, Perry counseled the tailor, who was to descent last. “It´s one of those small things making the difference between life and death!”

“There are more!” one of the fortress´ soldiers yelled when he saw the four human spiders coming down.
“More escapees?”
“No – more like the opposite.”
“Pull yourself together, man, and give me a proper report!”
Jose and Clark smirked to each other, before they ended the two spaniards´ discussion abruptly.
It dawned to Joshuah that the four of them would not reach his Marianne as quickly as he had hoped. Escobedo´s castle was brimming with soldiers. All the privateers could do, was covering the fugitives´ flight from the fortress. And so the englishman fought to the best of his abilities, fully aware that it might very well be the last thing he could do for his daughter in this life.
Joshuah dished out wild strikes and blows with his hatchet, some inflicting mortal wounds, some barley even scratching his target.
Meanwhile James Perry proved a master of subterfuge. He knew how to make use of the smallest cover and how to best conceal his own body against the background, becoming almost invisible. Fading from the scene, Perry re-appeared when and where he was expected least. Then he’d hit his foe from behind, create a distraction for the others to catch their breath or flank an enemy together with his captain.
Around Jose´s neck a brace of pistols was flung. After he had emptied those two, he employed every gun he could lay his hands on. The spaniard relied on keeping his opponents at a distance and so he snatched up a pike someone had lost or thrown away.
Clark defended with his dagger and attacked with a cutlass. His masterwork sabre had been to unwieldly to conceal and bring into the castle. Clark concentrated on one opponent at a time, but if hard pressed he could employ his weapons to keep occupied three men at the same time. Captain Clark did not feel challenged in the least. But at the moment he and his companions were facing mere guards with the occasionall corporal threwn in. Their arch enemy had not yet shown his face…

*

Pepe Gonzales sat on the carriage for hours now. Passers-by at the fortress´ base payed the young man no heed. Coachmen waiting for their masters at any time and in any weather were a common sight, after all.
Clark´s follower had decided to give the smoking passion a try to pass the time. Jose´s spare tobacco pipe between his teeth Pepe worked hard at lighting up dried herbs. He stopped when he heard the sound of feet closing in on his position. At least two people were moving very fast towards to or from something. It could mean nothing but trouble – but for whom? One of the persons wore heavy boots from the sound of it, and that was never good news.
Pepe took a closer look over his shoulder. He recognized the boot-wearer as an officer. He wore a single glass lense over one eye and on the head the wig that befit his standing, but he had been forced to replace his officer´s sabre with a halberd. The figure was accompanied by a bare-footed seaman who was blinking into the light of the sun nervously and whose skin had not seen the sun for a long time. Between the two men a girl was running, kept from gaining her full speed by her expensive attire and an epée she was holding with both hands. The group appeared so weird to the former soldier Gonzales that he could think of only one thing: “Errant Eagle?”
“Je crois que oui“, the officer answered, affected.
“Aye”, the seaman shouted with relief.
“Si!“ the girl added in a confident voice.
“Then hop on quickly!” Pepe ordered.
He urged the carriage horses to gallop, before the door had closed behind the last passenger, the frenchman, completely.
Ann´s cheeks were glowing from agitation. She had seen her foster father among the burglars who had come to their aid. In her opinion that wasn´t cause for worry. To the contrary, Ann felt that there was no need to even ponder a less than glorious end to this adventurer now and so it held no sour aftertaste for her. In this regard she was no different from her real mother, the only difference being the mannerism coming from having grown up loved and well cared for in Ann’s case.

The coach was racing fast down the main road towards the harbour.
Captain La Mancha risked looking out of the window. He realized that they were not followed – yet. The man knocked against the coach´s frame, to catch the driver´s attention. “Slower, man! You are only raising suspicion!”
Pepe misinterpreted the knocking. He believed the passenger wanted to alert him to pursuers and drove the horses even harder, whipping them repeatedly. Idle strollers, shoppers, servants on an errand and beggars alike jumped aside. They sought refuge behind crates or in a sideway.
“What´s happening out there?” Whipcrack, still standing in the “foodstore”, wondered.
He raised his head, saw the four horses approach and recognized the man sitting in the driver´s place as Gonzales. Werner grabbed a watchman´s halbard and pushed the man away. Viviane got rid of another guard by means of well placed kicks with her boots, then the two ran towards the port, too. When the coach was passing by, they jumped on.
With one hand the leutnant held fasst to the coach, with the other he brought forth a sheet of sailcloth from under his vest. It was a flag with Captain Clark´s crest. Whipcrack held it with his teeth, climbed to the coach´s roof and fastened the flag to it.

*

At the Errant Eagle Chien del´Onyx lowerd his looking glass.
“The flag´s up!” he shouted.
The next moment the galleon and the inconspicuous trader Brisa opened their gunnery hatchs simultanously.
“Damn, Bristol, what are you doing?” Jarundo cursed.
Captain Grangerford was under the belief that his assistance was needed, for the signal to initiate the attack had come much earlier than expected. He fell back into his old warrior´s routines easily, even moreso since the Bristol was manned at the moment with some of Clark´s privateers in addition to his civillian seamen.
The sudden attack caught the Padre del Mar´s crew unawares. The spaniards realized that they could not get out of port and to their prefered battlefield, the open sea, quickly enough. So they returned the fire as good as they could.
Captain Grangerford had his barque circle around the port, demonstrating the other ships with well aimed warning shots that entering the fight in order to give aid to Don Escobedo´s personal warship was a bad idea
All the while pirates not needed at the cannons were storming the town already.

Soon as she returned from town, Viviane took command of the gunnery crew again. It hadn’t escaped the woman’s notice that a good number of shots had already hit the Padre del Mar´s hull, probably enough to sink the behemoth. When she saw who exactly had done the math and ordered the shots, Viviane grabbed the pirate, lifted him and swang him around in circles on account of him being one of the lightest seamen aboard.
“Falconeye Freddie!” she exclaimed. “The child prodigy of the Westindias!”
But even a wonder boy – pirate had to stay away from the heat of battle and refill the powder horns for his suprerior officer, if he wanted to life to his adulthood.
On the main deck Fourpound Maddock and Blake pelted any resistance from the harbour with the galleon´s swivel guns and on the cannon deck Viviane aimed at the fortress now.

At land the privateers were gaining ground easily enough. Louis´ marksmen worked with military precision to provide cover fire for the close-combat fighters. As of yet, the privateers were keeping a marching order, but the formation would break sooner or later, when the shark-part within the men scented too much blood. Clark´s officers were well aware of that fact and as prepared for it as one could be.
But until then Puerto Bello´s residents felt like being subjected to a military operation instead of an unorganized pirate raid. The realisation did not exactly encourage them to strike back. Militia and City watch worked hard to organize the escape of women and children into the coastal forest surrounding the town.

The governor’s castello was already sealed off from the rest of town, a tried tactic from many an attack of epidemic. Should the peasants perish! They’d breed like rabbits soon enough to re-populate the town as they always did.
The only man who might have changed the governor’s, well, not his mind, but very well his course of action, was occupied elswhere at the moment: Admiral Escobedo.

*

In the fortress Joshuah, Clark, Jose and Perry had ended up on a large balcony and surrounded by enemies.
The scribe found no more opportunity to work the territory to his advantage. He fought back to back with Jose now, who was the better fighter, but still only a mediocre one. Busy with their immediate opponents, the duo nonetheless caught a glance of the enemy commander, who was none other than Don Escobedo himself.
Joshuah´s berserker rage was ebbing down and he felt the exhaustion now. A fight like this was so different from the tailor´s usual lifestyle. Had the man from Providence pondered fighting Don Escobedo with his own hands before, he now dreaded the very thought of it. Joshuah had witnessed the first strikes exchanged by the spanish noble and the Errant Eagle´s captain and it had put the fright into his bones.
Clark was wielding a fallen enemy officer´s sabre in his right and his cutlass the left hand. The Don preferred a rapier like Black Garcia, but he was far deadlier a fighter with it than the pirate had been. Even worse: Under the guide of his fingers even the spaniard´s cloak became a lethal weapon.
“This battle I´m not going to lose!” Captain Clark vowed to himself silently. “Not this one! I´m thirteen years old no longer!”
But Don Escobedo, too, had improved since their encounter on the Clarabella. And he had listened to the description of more than one practice battle between Clark and his men Hank Straight had witnessed on the Aquila. So the Don was well informed about his opponent´s fighting stlye and could meet each move of the privateer with a counter-move his own. Step by step he drove the smaller man where he wanted him…
Clark was now defending frantically, unable to find an opening for another attack. Suddenly he felt a low wall in his back, felt forced to jump on it without looking, and found himself at the spires of Escobedo´s fortress.
“Where to now?” Don Escobedo challenged. “Right into the point of my blade, over the wall or will you yield, Captain Clark?”
Clark stared at his foe with a grim face. The corners of his mouth twitched treacherously. Don Escobedo would not have survived as long as he had as a pirate hunter, had he not learned to notice small signs like this. And he was able to draw the correct conclusions: His opponent was not fighting down tears of shame, but trying to hide a smile!
Escobedo threw himself to the side on instinct. He expected to receive a weapon into his back any moment – and was right. Joshuah the tailor had broken free from melee and somehow managed to get into Escobedo’s back. In an attempt to end it once and for all, the man had raised his hand axe and already started to bring it down with his remaining strength.
Clark saw Joshuah´s weapon coming. He felt terror when it was closing in on his own body, now, that Escobedo´s was no longer between him and the tailor. Before the blade could strike him, Clark threw himself off the spires, back to the balcony.
Joshuah bumped painfully against the stone wall. His upper body got bent forward and the handaxe slipped from his fingers. Below him the fortress and Puero Bello spread out and for a moment the man feared he’d plummet all the way down just like his weapon.
Someone grabbed Joshuah by his collar, turning the man around. It was a spaniard, but what Josh saw from his new angle, granted the man the strength to break free: Utilizing his momentum from his dive, Clark had managed to push down Escobedo. Joshuah let out a scream of triumph!

Clark rammed his foot onto the elderly man lying on his back. He pressed the point of his sabre against the spaniard´s throat.
“But Senora”, Escobedo croaked, “keep in check your lowly desires!”
“What?!”
One second of confusion of his enemy was enough for the seasoned warrior to get him off his chest. His rapier still in hand, Escobedo swang it in a wide bow and drew it across Clark´s breast.
“Auaaaaahhhhhh!“
Clark staggered backwards. The cloth of his disguise as a servant was torn and hang down from his body. His fighting comrades saw blood ooze down Clark´s chest. He broke from the fight to check where the spaniard had hit him and Escobedo allowed it.
The Admiral lowered his weapon and his subjects followed the example. But the eagles did not press their attacks. They needed to catch their breath first. Thankful for the interruption, they nevertheless looked uneasy. There was a tension in the air that was hard to fathom, something akin to the realisation of a great and sinister revelation looming beforehand.
“What´s happening?” Jose gasped.
Perry stepped away from the junior navigator. He stormed past Escobedo to his captain´s side. Clark´s fingers and palm were soiled from his own blood. He let out his held breath when he realized that the Don´s slash had hit him the span of two fingers above his breast, in a secure distance to his throat, and not really deep, either.
But Perry had seen it, too.
“Looks like it´s hurting like hell, but that scratch doesn´t run deep”, the scribe said. “The blade just pierced your skin.” He raised his hands to remove Clark´s not too clean shirt from the wound. “Burns like fire, huh?” he asked sympathetically.
“Perry!” Clark hissed, but not from pain this time. “You´ve got your fingers where they do NOT belong!”
Escobedos´s rapier blade parted the shipmates. The Don forced Perry back, then opened Clark´s damaged shirt a bit more. Perry, Joshuah, Jose and the spanish soldiers formed a circle around the two. While far down to their feet the battle for Puerto Bello was raging, the balcony had become an island of calm silence, the eye of the storm.

“And history repeats… Montoya”, Escobedo spoke up. “Yes, I memorized your name. One does not meet a fencer of your talent every day and your potential was showing even at the age of thirteen. You´ve been an opponent more worthy than some adult fighters of your crew had been.”
“Not good enough… never… good enough”, Clark moaned.
Don Escobedo shook his head.
“Of course not! Neither do we expect it from your kind, nor is it designated in creation.”
“Is that why you´ve been chasing me for full fifteen years without cease?”
“No, that´s not the reason. I simply hunt pirates.”
“We are no pirates!”
“You know fully well that Spain recognizes no Letters de Marque except for those we issue ourselves, Montoya. But even if we should make an exception in your case for whatever reason, your career has come to an end. I don´t care whether you step up to the gallows or get arrested. Your death means nothing to me, I draw no satisfaction from it. The knowledge of having put you out of action is enough for me. If I have any say in the matter, and I daresay I will, then the pirate will die, but Montoya survives.”
“Coincidently I am an english major!”
“Officer? Then yours will be a comparatively comfortable imprisonment. As I said: I do not need to see you suffer. Only vanish from the ocean.”
“I cannot.”
“So? And you think you are still in the position to decide this?“

“That´s a woman!” one the spanish soldiers blurted out suddenly.
Escobedo and Clark eyed the man, irritated.
“Looks like it”, Jose agreed.
Escobedo and Clark intensified their staring.
“Caramba!” another soldier cursed.
Escobedo opened his mouth.
“Now do not hold it against your subjects when they are trying to think”, Clark asked the spaniard. “I´m waiting for mine to start for years!”
The privateer bound his wound with a clean, though sweat-soaked, shirt Joshuah handed him.
All the while Escobedo was busy yelling at his men while still threatening the eagles with his blade.
“You and him are quite alike”, Perry remarked. “Except for the… the…”
“For the figurehead”, Jose finished, respectlessly. “Do you hear me, Escobedo? Our captain has larger balls hanging than you!”
Roaring laughter from Clark and Perry followed the statement.
Escobedo snorted: “LEAD! THEM! AWAY!”
The four eagles were far too spent to offer any real resistance.
“Now the outcome´s in Martin´s hands”, the scribe whispered to Clark while the spanish soldiers forced the captives’ arms behind their backs and bound their wrists.
“The Black Dog will manage it”, Clark replied.
Perry noticed that neither the woman´s voice of command nor her arrogance had changed in any way. Joshuah seemed to be embarassed to share his thoughts with the rest and Miguel´s son seemed to take the whole revelation for a source of great fun.
“What do you think, Perry?” he asked the scribe. “Who else of us is a girl? Creed? Eric? Or perhaps Viviane? He looks kinda like a woman, if you ask me… and then the whole skirt-thing he has going on!”
“Escobedo”, Perry murmured much to Jose´s amusement.
Still too confused the spanish soldiers did not even think about silencing the mouthy prisoners.

The small group was moving towards a gate leading into the main fortress. The men raised their heads when all of a sudden a shadow fell over them. There was a hiss and then a loud bang accompanying an impact above their heads. Debris was falling down on the humans, who threw themselves to the ground for cover. Clark yelled in pain when he fell onto his wound. “Damn!” he said, then, beaming with joy. Jose and Perry said nothing, instead they tried – in vain – to stiffle their smiles. Only Don Escobedo made a sour face.
“That was a thirty-six-pounder that went in up there”, Clark explained to Joshuah. “But none of our heavy guns on the Errant Eagle can be directed to fire that high. That means the shot must have come from within the fortress. Our friends must be close!”
In confirmation of his words a red flag with a split skull in it rose up from a tower opposite the balcony where the showdown with Escobedo had taken place. The men entrenched there controlled some of the fortress´ cannons, though not the whole structure. While Escobedo had been too occupied with his personal enemy to give orders everywhere, the eagles led by Captain Martin had gained control over part of his castle.
“Escobedo!” someone was shouting from the other side. “You remember me? Chien del´Onyx? We´ve got an appointment this evening! I´m willing to exchange this fine fortress for my men you are holding captive!”

*

Puerto Bello.
The next morning.

The next morning Captain Martin and his entourage met with Don Escobedo for breakfast and negotiations in the governor´s palace. Escobedo was flanked by two of his senior officers, across the table the Black Dog, Captain Grangerford and the leutnants Jarundo and Creed sat. Whipcrack Werner had been left in charge of the Errant Eagle while Chips was overseeing the requisited Bristol. Only the Padre del Mar needed overseeing no more. Whatever today’s parley’s outcome, this nemesis was gone from the sea forever.
Besides the pirates and their hunter, two individuals were present:
Escobedo´s interpreter was waiting for the two parties to call upon his skills.
Sullen and, to tell the truth, overlooked by everybody, the official city governor, too, sat at the table, but it was Admiral Escobedo parlaying with the privateers.
“You´ll never be able to keep Puerto Bello”, Don Escobedo told Captain Martin matter-of-factly.
“It was never my intention to conquer it”, Martin replied. “But until the troups from Nombre de Dios or Panama arrive here, my men can cause damage that you´ll have to explain to the viceroy and compensate him for, Don Escobedo. We are willing to content ourselves with what we looted yesterday. We withdraw, but for starters we demand that the persons named on this list will be set free without further persecusion.”
Escobedo took a look at the document handed to him: “Captain La Mancha, Captain Clark, Mister Perry, the traitor Peralta, father and daughter Anders and Mister Straight?” The Don hesitated. “Straight?” he wondered. “How did you know he was held here?”
“Because Hank, Ann and Raoul have arrived safe and sound aboard my ship already. Your signature is merley a formality spicing up the whole affair for us. There´s more, so listen up! You are not to take any action against the Errant Eagle or any ship sailing under her colors. Swear it in the presence of a priest or your town will suffer! Trust me, Escobedo, we have not yet forgiven your Oro Grande – plot and neither has Clark forgotten what you did to Providence!”
“For a year, Captain Martin”, Escobedo offered. “One year – and let me speak, for I´m not finished yet! In this one year Chien del´Onyx has to act according to his spanish Letter de Marque. If he returns to Puerto Bello at the end of the year and if the shares payed to the governor by then satsify the man, then, yes, unders these conditions will I give in and resign from duty forever. But that will, as we both know, never happen.”
“Chien!” Jarundo protested. “We´ve got the Don in our hands, helpless, and he has done enough damage! Let´s gut him!”
“If we do so”, the renegade noble replied, “Spain will chase us with the whole fleet. Let´s be satisfied with having repeated the famous Gibraltar-raid, my friend.”
“You are sensible, Captain”, the Don confirmed. “Then let´s put into action now what has been agreed to.”

*

The release of the prisoners was not without trouble. Perry, Jose and especially the tailor stormed out of their cells, welcoming their freedom. The privateer captain, however, refused to meet his crew again. Pedro the jailor said Clark was struggling with hands and feet, teeth and nails against having to leave his cell.
“Alright, they locked you up!” Martin shouted through the peephole in the door. “But it´s not the first time! Swallow it and come out at once, else I´ll let you stay here!”
“Coming out? Dream on! I want to see you like this…“
A visibly amused Don Escobedo ordered Pedro to open the door, whether the stubborn inmate would come or not.
Chat Creed gasped when he beheld what was inside the cell.
“That monster!” he hissed. “Martin grants Escobedo his life and the Don thanks us for it by putting our other captain into woman´s clothing?!”
“I took the liberty”, Escobedo explained, “to gift your wife with proper attire after her old clothes were soiled and ruined in the fight yesterday. I take it that only a marriage explains this two-captains – style of command fully?”
Leutnant Creed stepped into the cell.
“She´s a wo…” he started.
Jarundo slapped the man on the back of his head when he was about to check whether the things that were bulging Clark´s dress so attractively were real.
Martin put his black Chien del´Onyx – cape around his wife´s shoulders. What she whispered to him, the others could not hear. They only heard Martins´s answer: “No, I´m not going to leave you behind! That´s out of the picture!” To Escobedo he spoke: “We´ll speak again in twelve months.”
The spanish nobleman bowed.
“My best regards to your lady, Black Dog”, he said in a mocking tone.

*

It was high noon and the Errant Eagle´s ship´s bell rang, signaling a new day´s beginning. The galleon was about to leave a substantially less wealthy Puerto Bello.
Captain Clark, once again clad in his red cloak, walked the deck, a familiar sight to the seamen. Wearing the mantle felt good, being home again even better, but what Clark had to see wasn´t fit to lift up his spirit. For his crew was more or less lazing around and this time it wasn’t just his perception of them. This time it was real. The eagles, despite in need of getting away from these shores, did nothing.
“I said: Set sails! What part of it did you not understand? The sails are those large gray things up there, in case you have forgotton!”
One of the seamen, the buccaneer Fernando, raised his head. “We are wating for Captain Martin´s orders.”
“Since when do you need two orders?”
“One is enough”, a second seaman answered. “From the real captain!”
“Yeah”, a third one added in.
Clark locked eyes with Fernando, ignoring the others for the moment.
Nervously, but not backing down, the man stuttered: “I mean, it´s cute and all that, you piloting the ship and relaying Chien´s orders to us… But in a touchy situation like today, in full view of the fortress´ gunnery crew, well, one wishes to be absolutely certain…”
The major stood aghast. His words failed him, something that did not happen very often. Captain Clark – a subordinate without command power of his own? That was what his own crew believed about him? Just because he wore his balls somewhat higher than other men?!
In an attempt to soften the blow, Fernando spoke on: “Hey, you fight better than most guys I know and that’s hot! But everyone knows women’s heads are not fit for decision-making.”
The man’s eyes were no longer meeting Clark’s. The gesture would have appeared submissive, had Clark not almost physically felt where exactly Fernando’s gaze rested. In a reflexive attempt to cover those two items of male interest, Clark folded his arms, though he felt childish for doing so.
“Whose orders did you wait for before Martin joined us?” he challenged the veterans of the Aquila. “Oh, right, I almost forgot: Garcia´s.”
At least two of the men, Chips and Hank Straight, had the decency to cast their eyes down.
Chat Creed, however, would not let himself be shamed this way. First, the mutiny had happened so long ago that is was hardly real anymore to the man. And second, wasn’t it better, in case one had commited a real wrong deed, to do the opposite at the next opportunity instead of wailing endlessly about the mistake? So the man stepped forward and assumed a position at Clark’s left side. His hands to his hips, Creed’s right elbow touched Clark’s coatsleeve in the slightest way. It was close enough for Louis to utter a warning to the officer: “Careful, Leutnant! She’s Martin’s girl and you know that!”
And as if he’d wanted to take it onto himself to protect his friend’s property from thieves, Louis’ showed Chatham his fist.
Between the two men trying to protect him, Clark vastly prefered Creed’s loyality over Louis’ attitude that reminded the captain of a herder’s.
“Is there a reason, not a sensible one, just a reason, mind you, that those idiots can accept Viviane and Marita, but not me?” he demanded to know from his leutnant.
“They know their place at least”, someone murmured, before Creed could answer.
Clark drew his sabre!
Startled, Creed stumbled back a few paces. But soon as he had found his balance again, he, too, held his weapon in hand, a slender rapier in his case. Creed clenched his teeth. Fate really seemed determined to make him make up for his misstep all the way.
“Damn you, Fernando, Garcia’s mutiny was way more relaxed”, the man uttered under his breath, while he waited what would happen next.

*

Don Escobedo watched the harbour district from the damaged spires of his castle. He had been pointing his looking glass at the Errant Eagle. Now he put it down.
“This is getting better by the minute!” the Don rejoyced. “They won´t even get out of port!”
“You mean in a few minutes we can pick up the scum just like it?” the governor gave voice to his hopes.
“Oh, the lady´s a stubborn one. I give her about half an hour”, Escobedo smiled.

*

At the Errant Eagle, Louis the hunter´s hand rested on the his pistol brace. Two steps away Gontard Lenoir readied his own weapon, but Louis was faster. Each man was staring into the other´s pistol without backing down.
“But we are friends!” Gontard implored.
“Then come to our side!” Louis replied.
The men from Martinique were not the only ones who had picked sides:
Captain Clark´s supporters were less numerous, but the group included some of the most powerful eagles who had survived adventures that lesser mariners would not even believe to be true.
Captain Martin´s followers ignored the fact that their designated leader was standing in Clark’s group. For lack of a willing representative, they simply formed an unspecified mass.
“No, Louis”, Gontard rejected his friend´s offer to join the majority in their rebellion. “I became a pirate to do the right thing!”
Louis´ fingers twitched treacherously, but the shootist could not bring himself to pull the trigger. Only then Gontard fully realized that he was facing the most deadly male marksman in the crew. Panicking he fired his pistol. But the ball that had been aimed to disarm Louis entered the hunter´s weapon by sheer accident, a trick Gontard would never have managed consciously. Louis screamed in pain when the powder in his weapon exploded. Horrified he stared at three little bones sticking out from his bloodied right hand, gruesome parts that had been his fingers once. Of the thumb there was no sign at all and only the smallest finger remained.
With Gontard´s shot the battle for the Errant Eagle was ignited!

Ann shrieked at the sight. The girl had believed her adventure over and with a happy end, too! Now it seemed to end in blood.
Joshuah picked up not his axe, but a cutlass that was lying around. Instead of brandishing it, he pressed it into his son’s hands.
“Guard our family, my captain’s and mine!” he ordered.
The boy nodded, then he, Kate and Ann retreated to the alleged safety of the captain’s cabin.
There Ann took Clark’s epee from it’s display shelf on the wall.
“Damnit, it’s too heavy!” the girl hissed.
Secretly Eddy felt the same about the cutlass he was grasping with both his hands, but he kept a grim silence.
Meanwhile outside Joshuah had found himself a new hatchet and joined the fray. Alas, the man found it hard to distinguish friend from foe or to decide what exactly he should do besides shouting and swinging the small axe wildly at everyone who swang their weapon against him. Not that anyone would have bothered to harass the tailor.
“For the real captain of the Errant Eagle! By Captain Clark’s blood!” Leutnant Whipcrack yelled.
“Say, how stupid exactly ARE you?” his dueling opponent threw at him. “Considering whom you are following?”
Chat Creed, never shy for a joke or witty reply, came to his shimate´s aid: “By our captain´s monthly blood!” he embellished Werner´s slogan.
Joshuah grinned. Those were the right madmen, the faction he had pledged allegiance to. Moving undisturbed towards the trio, Joshuah raised his hatched. The broad side connected to the mutineer’s head with a thud and sent the man spinning. Werner slashed out with his whip to down the opponent. Another thud sent the man into timeout for the reminder of the battle.

A few steps away Clark was holding his own ground against the rebels. He said something Creed and Whipcrack could not hear, but it included most definitely tortoises and headless pigs, an insult intended for his supporters and the mutineers alike.
“Clark! You are a bitch, you know?” Creed shouted.
“And proud of it!” the captain replied, before he spattered a surprised “YOU?”.
“Yes, me!” his opponent grinned.
Captain Clark was facing James Maria Perry.
“Damned and damned twice, Perry! You are hard to recognize from the front in a battle!”

*

Don Escobedo turned round an hourglass that had been fetched on his request. It was keyed to exactly half an hour. The battle took longer than he had expected.
“She´s prolonging it”, the nobleman said, and it was hard to tell what he felt like about it.

*

On the Errant Eagle Clark´s faction had forced their opponents into submission by now. The decisive factor had been Viviane´s and Fourpound Maddock´s use of the swivel guns. The light cannons’s purpose was to anihilate enemy boarding troops, today they were threatening the mutineers
“Never underestimate women and children!” Falconeye Freddie said with a grin and the glee in his scarred face caused several men to shrink a bit.
So in a sense Clark had “won”, if winning meant having to guard his own crew like prisoners of war to get them to work from now on. It was really getting old…
“This storm has been brewing for some time, I take it?” Fourpound asked Viviane.
The woman shook her head. “Clark’s my friend, but everyone knows I do not agree with her style of leading. Had this been a showdown between Martin and Clark, you’d have found me on the other side. But it wasn’t. The mutineers did not choose Martin, they just un-chose Clark, and for the sole reason she’s a woman.”
Fourpound shrugged. “Maybe the others are right and wifes aren’t fit to make decisions, after all. But Clark has a firm grasp of tactics and is a capable helmsman in addition to navigator. These are qualities we need out here, that keep us alive.”
The man fired a warning shot at Freddie’s yell of “Down there!”, then added: “See, chief, I’ve been too close to hell to still care for anything other than my practical needs, least of all wounded male pride.”
The chief gunner smiled. “Or perhaps you’ve come close to heaven instead and absorbed some wisdom.”

Wisdom, however, if it had been found by the pirates at all, would not save the day. That much Clark was aware of himself.
“So you claim you cannot sail under a woman´s command”, he adressed the mutineers. “I say, you won´t have to. Coincidently we´ve got this fine barque here in addition to our Errant Eagle. You can leave with it right now or get hanged by your neck later and the choice is yours!”
Clark was looking at a group of former Seagulls specifically, men he had rescued from right under the gallows not long ago. Only a literal handful of Fourpound’s men, their leader included, had sided with Clark.
“You can´t do that!” James Perry protested. “The fortress´cannons are aimed at the port! You´ve got the spanish Letter de Marque. Without the document, Escobedo’s going to shoot us without mercy!”
“And besides, the Bristol is my ship!” Captain Grangerford interjected. He and his men had, as had Ensign Goodrick, assisted Major Clark in the fight. Not because they were especially loyal to Clark, but because only he could give them what they wanted: the leutnant´s comission, repectively the Bristol.
“Your wares were sold with profit in Puerto Bello before the attack, Mr. Grangerford”, Clark reminded the former officer turned merchant. “And your shares of the spoils from our raid will compensate you additionally.”
“Well, if that´s so…”
“Getting swayed, nay, ordered around, by a woman!” one of Grangerford´s seamen, who stood close to Perry now, laughed out loud. “What a splendid preparation for your marriage, captain!”
Perry smirked. Clark noticed that many of the mutineers were looking to the scribe as their speaker…

From the middle of the small group of about fourty loyal eagles Jose Peralta stepped up to his captain.
“I can get them out of here”, the man claimed. “I know I can! They need a good navigator at the Bristol anyway.”
Clark nodded.
“But if you leave now to guide the Bristol, you´ll have to stay there.”
“I know. But, captain, I was always on your side.”
Clark understood. He spoke the words Peralta would not have dared to, though they were true: “You are a grown man, Jose. And you cannot always remain in my shadow.”
“Yes”, the other confirmed. “But you are, too. A real man, I mean. Despite… you know what.”

Louis Hunter had crouched on the deck until now, whimpering from pain. Now he labored to rise. He spat in Jose´s direction to express his disdain, then adressed Perry: “Your orders, captain?”
Perry raised his brows.
“Orders? For you? I´m sorry, but the way you are now, you are useless to me, marksman.“
“But I cannot stay at the eagleship. You heard that Clark´s going to string up every mutineer!”
Perry aimed his pistol at the frenchman.
“Hold still! I´m doing you a favour”, he claimed.
A shot loosened and almost the same instant someone cried: “Noooooooooooooooon!”
Louis tumbled down, but not because he had been mortally wounded. Gontard had flung himself between the ball and the intended victim just in time and crashed both of them onto the deck. Perry´s shot hit him painfully, but harmlessly, in the buttocks.
And this was the end. The defeated mutineers changed, without paying much heed to the incident, ony by one to the Bristol. The barque was full to the brim. Clark knew from experience that one could stuff one hundered and fifty seamen on a ship of this type, but Perry had almost two hundred followers when he left.

“Just one word, Captain Perry!” Clark adressed his former scribe.
“Yes?”
“I understand why Karsten is leaving”, the privateer started. “I would not sail under a captain who had me dragged by rope under the Errant Eagle´s keel, either. And Eric? A man of so liberal convictions, that he would not even hoist the royals. That´s a kind of sail, by the way, in case you plan to learn semanship now, James. Well, to tell the truth, I´m proud of Eric. He has finally decided between his superstitiuos fear of blue-bloods and his convictions. But you, James Perry, are different. You even tolerated my major-title, as long as I was succesfull and you could fill your purse. Your money is worth so much more to you now than the things you belief in. I remember a different man, one who spoke up in defence of the common seaman and who spit on officers. But that man was killed in Gibraltar, was he not?”
“Get to the point, man, er, woman!”
“Do you know the difference between cause and occasion, James? I say, just like Eric and Keelpig, you´ve got no problem with my gender. You just wish to get elected as captain by the others. You or some idiot whose strings you can pull!”
A small, shortlived change in Perry´s mimic escaped Clark´s notice. But he was sure that Jarundo or Martin could enlighten him later on whether he had hit the mark or not.
“One more thing, before you leave, James: Tell me, what do you see in the stars?”
“Huh? What I believe my future will bring, Clark? Is that supposed to be a threat?”
And thus all was said and done.

“Perry might get lucky with his barque”, Hank Straight remarked. “But we have hardly enough men for the Eagle.”
“I´m kinda used to it, lad”, Clark replied.
While Clark was trying to get some order into his small, still shocked crew, Martin bowed over his friends from Martinique, Gontard and Louis. Doc Harris was already at their side, but the maimed marksman seemed to need his childhood friend´s words of comfort now more than Abe´s healing skills.
The other captain raised his hand up to his breast. “The cursed wound´s twitching again!” he lamented. “I really thought Escobedo would slice off both my breasts…”
“Breasts?” Whipcrack repeated, dumbfounded. “Come on, now, that´s for real? I thought Perry made that up!”
Clark laughed, relieved! Some things never changed and his leutnant was one of those.
“He didn´t make it up. I always was, well, you know what.”
“You fooled even Viviane and Marita!”
“And I even fell in love with the bastard!” the ship´s cook complained, out of her mind.
“I´m not going to discuss women-stuff with you now! Don´t even think of it!” Clark warned the two females.
Viviane could not help herself, she simply had to approach the older one, embrace and hug her in a fit of pity and sympathy. Clark´s life had to have been so different from her own! Viviane wondered, what her captain would have had to endure in her time?
“Clark!” Werner raised his voice. “Hands off my wife!”
“But I´m a woman myself”, the major replied.
“Well, yes”, Whipcrack gave in. “But until I´ve gotten used to the thought, you keep your fingers from her!”
Very slowly Clark backed off. He even raised his hands a little as if to indicate that they’d been nowhere near Viviane’s skin. The answer he had on his tongue (“But she started!”) the captain wisely bit back, saying “Okay…” instead.
The moment felt strangely unreal. Clark wasn’t entirly certain what or who he was.
Eventually Martin raised his voice: “Creed – to the helm! The rest of you – maneuver sails!”
and the men erupted into action.
Clark went over to Martin’s side.
“I did not think I’d ever say this, but: thank you”, he adressed his husband.
Martin wiped the sweat of his brow.
“You’re welcome. But between you and me, for a moment I was afraid they’d shout they’d listen to a woman’s orders only, and it all would begin anew.”

*

In the hours to follow the Errant Eagle followed a northeastern course. Later the galleon would have to tack against the wind to escape the spanish territory, that was, despite the armistice with Escobedo, still hostile to them.
Chat Creed was manning the helm, having nothing to do but keep the ship on the plotted course. He used the time to ponder once again all the events that had taken place in the recent days. First Providence had fallen and then Chien del´Onyx and Captain Martin had turned out to be one and the same person. Afterwards the Errant Eagle´s second captain had been found a woman in disguise. The leutnant believed that the raid in Puerto Bello had been the only break, bringing with it a measure of what he called normality. The shark inside him wanted nothing else than follow his old routines again…
“Tea, Sir?” Ricky asked from the stairs leading up to the quarterdeck.
“No, thanks”, the leutnant replied. “And stuff that ‘Sir’, lad. That´s pointless on a ship where one out of four men enjoys an officer´s rank right now.”
The ensign came up and joined Creed. He emptied the tea cup himself. That wasn´t proper decorum, but what was still proper or normal?
“There´s still a lot to sort out today”, the youth said.
Chat snatched the biscuit that came with the tea, crunched it and answered: “You say!”
“You know what?” Ricky confessed, “I get now why they call pirates enemies of humanity. It’s not the breaking of laws, or all the sinning. The ten commandements were made because the good lord expected humans to sin. As in: knowing it is in our nature, but wanting us to keep our dark notions under firm control. But what happens on this ship, all the time… us creating our own order, disregarding not only the noblemen among us, but the system of nobility and commoners in itself… or Clark defying the most basic of principles by simply deciding he is a man… it’s intimidating.”
“Lad!” Creed interrupted the ensign. “Your skull too small to contain your headache so you have to infect me with it?!” The older man sighed. “Look… stopp overthinking. Sometimes things are just the way they are. And however nicely you can word it, don’t call Clark a pirate when he’s within earshot!”

*

Back home in Providence, Eduard Anderson had reacted with disappointment to the news that just Ann and not him, too, was a famous privateer´s child. He had taken comfort in the knowledge that he could make Ann his wife when he was older.
But ever since Joshuah´s heroic action in the fortress of Puerto Bello the boy felt ashamed for his feelings. How could one not admire a father like his? And who would wish to exchange him for somebody else? Ed had been wrong! Joshuah Anders was at least as great as Major Clark, if not a good deal better!
For this reason the tailor´s son was busy helping his father and learning all he could from him. No longer was Joshuah wielding an axe, but once again needle, scissors and thread. The man and the growing boy worked on Captain Clark´s new outfit.
“I do not want a drastic change, just be able to move more freely”, the woman warned the tailor. “So don´t turn me into a Redbeard!”
“In my shop the customers gets what they pay for”, Joshuah explained. “And I agree with you. It´ll befit your authority better, if the men get to see as little of your skin as possible.”
“It’s not just that”, Clark confided in his extended family. “I didn’t notice at my wedding, because I was nearly bursting from joy that day. But Santa Catalina made me realize how embarassed I feel in women’s clothing.”
The question “For real?” escaped Eddy’s throat unbidden. The boy’s “punishment” was light: Clark reflexively shrugged, forcing Eddy to start anew on the shoulder.
“I think”, Clark tried to make sense of his feelings, “when a person does something for a long time, and not only that, if they also like it very much and take pride in how well they do it, in this case what one does and what one is blend together.”
Joshua nodded thoughtfully. The tailor defined himself first and foremost as head of his family, not by his craft. But what Clark said was certainly true for his carpenter, Chips. Clark was a naval officer, those tended to me male, so he had become male, too.
Besides, what did Joshuah care! That person was also a pirate, and those were all a little off in the tailor’s opinion. What counted was that he and Clark, despite their radically differing worldviews, would always have each other’s backs when in a tight spot.

Kate and Ann sat nearby while the men were working in Clark´s cabin. They aided their relatives here and there, aware of the fact that something more subtle than the fitting of clothes took place here. The five humans had to get a system into their relationship, one large family that included Martin, Jarundo and wife, too.
At least the two indians were easily defined as uncle and aunt, Ann thought. Giving her surname not with “Clark”, but “of Brackenridge” was more difficult to remember. But Jenny Little and the privateer had been rightfully engaged in the eyes of the populace, after all. There seemed to go all kinds of trouble with her newly aquired name and family history, Ann understood, but she had no choice but to live with it. Asking about her real father would have complicated the case even more, needlessly, and so this aspect was left out for the time being.
“If you are lucky and persuasive”, Kate started carefully, “you can talk the people into believing that everything was nothing more than a scheme of this Don Escobedo, and Captain Perry just made use of it. A case of mistaken identity caused by the existance of your reclusive twin sister…”
“Aunt Jenny!” Ann laughed.
Clark nodded to Kate. “I do hope so.”

“Well”, Joshuah said, when he finally stepped back from his customer, looking at his handywork from a distance. Clark was now wearing a fencing shirt of the same cut Joshuah had made for Viviane several years ago. Fashionable black balloon trousers and boots hid the shape of his legs, the upper torso was covered by a red vest. Over his shirt the major had slung a sash, a trick he had already used during the first mission together with Captain La Mancha.
No longer was Clark looking like a young man in his attire. His life experience was showing now, as was his sex – to all who knew about it, but nobody else. Not even his shorter now, but still almost shoulderlong, hair gave away too much, because it was in keeping with men´s hairstyle of the time.
“At least ten years older, the gentleman”, Eddy grinned.
Clark studied himself in the mirror. He nodded, satsified, then slipped out of the half-finished garments. “You´ve done wonders, Josh! Can’t wait for it to get finished!”
What seemed like a stitch here and there, easily applied within a few minutes, to the untrained eye, provided the tailor with work for several hours in truth.
For the time being, Clark donned his old coat again, dropping a casual remark that it was better suited for the upcoming trial anyway.
“So you are going through with executing the poor chap, Hunter?” Kate inquired.
“We´ve been through hard times, and often in times of trouble a stern order is what people need most”, Joshuah mused.
“Order, yes, not tyranny”, Clark said. “I´ve learned the difference the hard way last year.”
Halfway across the room the captain turned around. “Will you accompany me, Ann?”
The girl rose, then hesitated. There was something in her father’s tone that she could not quite name. Up until today Ann had assumed that the everpresent authority of her parents would just be replaced by the equally everpresent authority of her birth parent, just like in between Don Escobedo had decided what boundaries were not to be overstepped. But Clark had not issued a command, Ann realized. His words had been an invitation she was free to accept or decline. Clark might have a prefered answer, but he seemed to be ready to go with either yes or no. Instead of going under a new guardian’s supervision, Ann was setting out into adulthood. The prospect was enticing, though also a bit intimidating. But Kate’s re-assuring smile told the girl all she needed to know: Whereever her path in life would lead Kate’s daughter, she would not have to go alone.
“I’m coming!”

*

Louis did not even look up when the captain left his cabin. The mutineer had not been confined in a cell. Where would he run, after all, and in his condition to boot?
“Seaman Louis Hunter!” Leutnant Riet´s voice rang out. “Come over here!”
The marksman wiped his reddened, tear-stained eyes with the sleeve of his shirt.
“Forget the hunter-part!” he rejected the surname the eagles had given him after he had joined them. The well known poacher had never needed a second name, neither in Martinique nor later, when Francois de Monet had put in a good word for him with his father and Louis had been allowed to serve as a seaman on the Prince Paris. But all that was over now, everything was over. The mighty hunter would die like the scum the townspeople had always treated him as. This wasn’t how the man had wanted go at all and his undignified end pained him almost more than the prospect of death. Or rather: worrying about his dignity served to distract Louis from thinking about death and oblivion.
Whipcrack grabbed the man by his healthy arm to drag him before the main mast. Down here, not removed from the crew on the quarterdeck, the ship´s leaders had lined up behind a table. They had readied two leather bags and one of Abe Harris´ jam pots on the table for purposes yet to be revealed.
“Louis the hunter!” Leutnant Jarundo adressed the defendant. “In the port of Puerto Bello you deserted the eagles and raised your hand against your shipmates as well as our captains. Knowing that your rebellion was punishable by death, you still stayed by the treacherous scribe Perry´s side till the end – and beyond it. By right we ought to enforce that sentence now, but the gentlemen Martin and Gontard pleaded mercy for you. This constitutes a case of disagreement between our captains and in this case, according to our code, the majority vote must be called. Your final fate rests now in the hand of the crew, mutineer.”
The leutnant snapped his fingers.
“The bag, Ricky!”

Ensign Goodrick walked through the assembled sailors. Each crewmember eligible to vote recieved two colored stones of the size of a walnut. Captain Grangerford and the remaining loyal men from the Bristol were not among them. Neither was the eagles´ fast ally, Captain La Mancha, who stood several steps apart from the privateers like the outsider he was. But Joshuah Anders had been part of Clark´s crew for a short time and thus was included in the ceremony.
“Voting is by ballot, that is: secret. Your decision will be known only to yourself”, Jarundo explained to the men. “You´ll be walking by our table and hold your hands over the clay pot. If you think the mutineer Louis ought to live, put the red stone into the pot. If you say the bastard needs a rope around his neck, put in the white one – white as a deadman´s skull. And if you should find yourself unable to decide, toss in both your stones.”
The men started murmuring amongst themselves. Jarundo had to repeat his instructions twice, using different words each time, then the voting could start. First the captains Clark and Martin put their stones into the pot, then Jarundo and Ricky, followed by everyone else, the only order being how fast the pirates could reach the table.

When all the voters had passed the table and stepped back from it, the ensign emptied the pot for all to watch. At first glance there were less white than red stones by far, but Goodrick counted them accurately nonetheless.
“We´ve got ten white and thirty-six red stones, Sirs and Madames”, the youth announced. “That means thirty-three votes for acquittal, seven for death and three abstentions.”
“Looks like the rat has friends”, Clark snorted.
“Some of the meanest persons I know have”, Martin replied nicely.
“We respect the crew´s wishes and decide”, Clark proclaimed, “that seaman Louis Hunter loses all his shares earned till this day, will receive only half a share for the next three months…”
At these words Hank Straight, standing in the crowd, folded his arms reflexively. The former mutineer from the Aquila, too, had to relinqhish half his income in favour of the ship´s treasury. Rescueing Ann had at least spared him a similar trial to Hunter’s.
“…and will be punished by twenty whiplashes to the naked back.”
Doc Harris shook his head. “Next week I would not say no, Captain, but not one day earlier! In his condition Louis belongs into bed anyway and now that he´s going to live, I´ll make sure he stays there!”
“Granted”, Clark gave in. “After his recovery the convict needs not stay the full three months. He may continue sailing with us or leave in a port of his choice.”
Lipnail Tom, Perry´s sucessor as the ship´s treasurer, put down the changes to his papers.
The crowd dispersed slowly.

“And I thought my life was complicated!” Ann whispered, when she saw how Louis rejected the congratulations of even his closest friends briskly.
“Because you were kept in the dark about your real parentage?” somebody asked. “I could tell you a tale or two from my own childhood!”
Ann of Brackenridge turned around, looked up and into the speaker´s eyes. It was the english captain Joseph Grangerford.
“Is that so?”
The englishman pointed invitingly at some ballast sacks grouped around the beer barrel for the purpose of tale-telling. “Ocean voyages are mostly filled with boredom”, he explained. “But I always managed to put a smirk in the face of even the gloomiest sailor with my family history.”
“Then we should invite Captain La Mancha, too”, Ann decided. “He feels so out place on the Errant Eagle!”
The frenchman, whose heritage was even more colorful than Ann´s and Joseph´s, followed the invitation hesistantly only.
“My father´s going to escort you to Martinique and release you there”, Ann said to comfort the captain who was half ally and half captive. “He needs to fetch a large sum of money from the island anyway, he says.”
“That´s so typical for her!” La Mancha said with a sad smile. “Had I been told earlier that Clark is a woman, I would have noticed that she´s the perfect bride for Francois. The two of them could have settled in Fort-de-France and made the royal director´s life hell.”
“Oh, stepfather Martin will return home”, Ann announced.
“Martin?! Has he told you so? But after all he´s done, he would have to return as a criminal, delivering himself to the court´s mercy! Between you and me, Mademoiselle of Brackenridge, I do not want that! Francois wouldn´t stand a chance…”
“The captain says, he´ll come home soon as Henri marrys Babette and not a day earlier”, Ann stressed the fact. “Then he´ll agree to any sentence the governor may dish out.”
“When Henri marries… her? That means: never”, La Mancha sighed, relieved.

*

At the end of the day Captain Clark could hardly believe that he had left the dungeon of Puerto Bello wearing a dress and crossed blades with James Perry earlier the same day. So much had changed in the span of those few hours… And as if that wasn´t enough already, the major had to plot a course defying common mariner´s sense: from his current position to Eleuthera via Curacao, Martinique and St. Kitts. When he was done, the captain wanted nothing else then a good night´s sleep. But soon as a had flung himself on his bed, a knock at the door foiled Clark’s plans.
“Enter!”
Marianne of Brackenridge stood in the door.
“It´s me… you said you wanted no interruptions…”
“None of my orders to the crew applies to you, Ann! Come in!”
Clark sat up again. He was about to remove his nautical charts from the table, but Ann put her hands onto them.
“We ´ll need them, father! Speaking strictly, I wanted to speak to you not as my dad, but as the captain of the Errant Eagle.”
Expectantly Clark cocked his head, showing a wry smile. He liked to see himself in the grown child, though it could just as well be Kate and Joshuah combined.
“Show me where Aruba is!” Ann asked her father.
“Here! Aruba is the westernmost of the three islands Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire. After we have passed the gulf of Maracaibo, the dutch island is the first one that constitutes secure territory for us.”
“That´s the island we need to attack!” Ann claimed.
“Ann Clark! Have you turned pirate?!”
“Much better!” the girl promised. “See, there was this man of the Westinida Company, Don Escobedo entertained as his guest in Puerto Bello. This Van Eijk is a spy for the spaniards and not without followers. If you clean up his headquarters on Aruba and present to the dutch proof of Van Eijk´s true loyalities, you are doing the company a favour. But raiding a dutch trading port also fulfills the spirit of your agreement with the Don. You´ll bring Escobedo the money taken from his own lapdogs to Puerto Bello!”
Captain Clark said nothing at first. The he held out his hand, grinning, and Ann took it.
“Politica”, the girl said, cracking a smile.
“Yeah. You´ve got that expertise from your grandfather, I guess.”
“I would have liked to know him!”
“Me, too”, Clark answered, averting his eyes.
“What´s the crew doing?” he asked quickly.
“Throwing a party.”
“Sounds like it.” Clark stood up, grabbed his daughter by her hand and walked to the door at her side. For the moment he did not feel how tired he really was. “Then we should not let them wait!”

*

Marita was dancing close, and to an altogether different music than the eagles played, with her Jarundo. Now that Captain Clark had turned no longer a valid target of her affection at all, the ship´s cook´s final objections against marrying her lifemate had vanished. Very soon they would be bride and groom and Marita would have Jarundo´s child.
The captains La Mancha and Martin seemed to have buried their differences and even Louis sat amongst the privateers, accepting a mug of beer from Gontard.
The teenagers Blake and Cavendish were jumping exuberantly like ship´s boys between the older seamen. They had survived two battles in as many days: the attack on Puerto Bello and the mutiny.
Ricky and one of the younger pirates from the Soaring Seagull brawled for the priviledge of asking Ann to dance. The girl offered one hand to each of the young men.
Clark witnessed all this. He cast a quick glance up to the starlit sky, to make sure that up there everything was going on according to plan, too. As expected, the stars did as the sailors did: dancing in a colorful swirl of light and spirit.
“La Mancha and Grangerford crossed my path again, a pistol exploded during a mutiny and I dueled Escobedo once more”, the Clark thought. “Looks like our life is nothing more than a ring-shaped shark tank that we cross repeatedly without realizing it.”

The captain felt another person´s presence in his back. He turned round and recognized the ship´s carpenter.
“Will you dance with me, Jenny Little? One last time, before you must return to heaven above?”
Jenny nodded. She understood that she had to grant Chips the goodbye he had not been able say to her thirteen years ago. Perhaps he would always love her, regardless of them both tied to partners of their own. Probably Chips’s love would transcend and take on another shape or vanish with time. Or it would lead to yet another confrontation, who was to say? The walls of the circular tank were always the same, but they appeared different each hour as the sun traveled her path across the sky. All one could do was being prepared for each turn of the tides of fate.

Chips seemed to be satisfied with what he received during the party. From one moment to the other, little Jenny transformed back into Clark the privateer.
“It´s been a while, Captain, but we stood together at Jennys grave…” the man started to speak.
“So we did.”
“After I had been with her all those months while we helped the first Aquila out of the nest… Jenny understood the ship, she dreamed together with it, but didn´t live ´till waking time. When her husband appeared out of nowhere and took the eagle-ship for his own, I was more than a bit mad at him!”
“Hehe!”
“Yes, today it is funny. But do you know what? Fourty-two, during the first mutiny, a thought crossed my mind: Jenny would not let us take her ship just like that! She was the eagle, as if her soul lived on in each ship of the same type. She… she would have pursued us forever and would have re-taken the Aquila from Garcia! There was no doubt about it, but when you came back indeed, do you think I would have made the connection? No!”
“Even Martin never managed to look beyond the disguise”, Clark comforted the shipmate. “And in the guise of the Black Dog he had fooled all of us sucessfully.”
The encouraging smile accompanying Clark´s words reminded Chips of the thirteen years younger version of the privateer captain. But time and experience had forged another personality from the same soul. Chips could not imagine falling in love with Clark whom he considered his oldest still living friend.
“Do you reckon Perry will return one day, too?” he mused.
Clark shook his head. “We´ll meet him again, that much is certain. Didn´t I say something like that back in Wilhelmstad? Our shared adventures have forged a bond between us and James Perry, but that does not mean that our common history will unite us in friendship.”
“It doesn´t exclude the possibility, however.”

Clark smiled. He looked out at the ocean. Tonight it was calm, but the privateer knew the sea´s fickleness. Friend and foe, enemy and ally, even one´s own sense of self got mixed and re-assembled anew all the time. Nothing in the New World stayed as it was for a long time, this credo he had learned from childhood.
But was that really true? The waves took on another shape, but they were still made of the same water. Once the thirty-year old had believed that he had seen and done everything already. Now he realized that he had not by a long shot danced all the figures in the dance of life or heard all the notes of the song. And even though his reputation was perhaps ruined forever and the Errant Eagle had to fight against the winds deep within hostile territory, the privateer looked surprisingly optimistically at the future.
For if the worst had already happened to one, what was there still to fear? He could, Captain Clark found, only win now. If he had raided the spanish treasure fleet with seventy greedy human sharks, how much more would he be able to achieve with his fourty-three loyal privateers?

Above the heads of the partying seamen a voice rose. Clark and Chips exchanged knowing glances, when they recognized the old song. Leutnant Creed had added another verse to it:

Captain Clark a new ship he had
The Silver Fleet was on his mind
For the Don had said “okay” to that
And stepped aside in kind.

The End

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