The NaNoWriMo is the National Novel Writing Month, and takes place every November. All you have to do is write a 50,000+ word novel in a month. These are snippets of my first successful attempt.
|The title Sea Dog and much of the 16th Century storyline comes from the computer game Sea Dogs released by Bethesda Softworks in 2000. It remains their copyright, and the copyright of Sold Out Software, who took over publication of the game in 2004. The filling in of the details, however, and the entirety of the modern storyline is my own. This story is not intended for further publication, and is definitely NOT for profit.|
The Naiad proved to be a good sailor. Unfortunately, the bankers had proved harder bargainers than any of the Persephone’s crew had expected. In order to meet the demanding repayment schedule, Nicolas realised that they must seek Admiralty work. The crew had concurred, seeing that if they did not have the regular income that working for the Admiralty could provide, their new ship would be just as repossessed as their old one. And so, Nicolas Sharp had presented his credentials at the Naval Office in Southampton, and been assigned the task of taking 100 kegs of gunpowder to La Rochelle. It was a short trip, not supposed to be dangerous, and once the cargo was unloaded and a receipt received from the commander of La Rochelle’s garrison, they could return to Southampton and receive payment of two hundred pounds.
They made good time, for the first half-hour, then a thick fog came down and engulfed them. Nicolas determined that they should keep going at their best speed, as the fog would probably lift soon. The fog didn’t lift, and Nicolas navigated by chart and reckoning alone. By the time they rounded the Pointe de Penmarch, a long time after they would have done if the weather had been clear, the lookout shouted that there was something in the fog.
“What sort of something?” called Nicolas back.
“A ship! Not an island, definitely a ship! Off the starboard bow!”
“Could you make it out?”
Nicolas turned to Bosun Shawliff. “Charge the guns, just in case. We’re still near England, I don’t expect any Spaniards to be in the area, but if they are…”
“And what will our pop-guns be able to do against a Spaniard, sir, if there is one?”
“A damn sight more at the range we’ll be able to see them in this fog than if there wasn’t any. Jump to it, Mr Shawliff!”
“Aye sir,” the Bosun said, and turned to give the orders to the crew.
“No loud noises!” Nicolas barked. “No shouting!” He ran up to the quarterdeck and took the wheel from a hand. “Lay a trail from the hold to on deck,” he told him quietly. “If worst comes to worst, I’ll give the order to light it. You do that, then jump for it.”
The man nodded, and went below. Several tense minutes passed. Nicolas kept peering into the fog, as did most of the rest of the crew. Whenever he looked up at the lookout, the man just shook his head – he had seen nothing more.
Then everybody saw it – looming out of the fog, parallel to them, pacing them and slowly overhauling them, not forty yards away, a Spanish pinnace. Nicolas could just make out the name on the bows – Santa Augusto.
“Fire to larboard!” he yelled, hurling his weight against the wheel to starboard, away from the Spaniard. The four small guns on the Naiad’s port side fired almost at the same time as the seven larger guns of the pinnace’s broadside. The Naiad shuddered under Nicolas’ feet as the shot smacked into the hull. “Reload!” he bellowed.
Bosun Shawliff appeared at his side. “They’re too close, sir! They’re too big! They outgun us nearly two-to-one, we cannot fight them!”
“I thought you said you never were much on with reckoning, Mr Shawliff! Reload, we can try and lose them in the fog!”
“Cap’n, we’ve been with the breeze all the way down here. They’re faster than us, we can’t lose them by doubling back!”
Nicolas turned to face the old man. “Reload, I said!” he bellowed into his face. They were now stern-on to the Spaniard, who fired another broadside. The two guns at either end of her deck missed the Naiad, but the three middle ones struck home, sending their balls on a bloody path through the barque’s main deck.
“We have no stern guns, Cap’n,” pleaded Shawliff, “we’ve just lost half the crew and most o’ the guns we do have! We cannot win this Cap’n!”
“Then at least we shan’t lose, Mr Shawliff. Light the trail! Abandon ship, lads! Swim past the Dago, land’s only an hour away!”
“No! Heave to!” Shawliff bawled.
Nicolas span to face him, fist lashing out to strike him in the face. “Mutiny, Shawliff! You’ll hang when we reach shore!”
Shawliff’s hand gripped a length of broken timber. He struggled to his feet as Nicolas turned away to repeat his order to light the gunpowder trail and abandon ship. Shawliff swung, and Nicolas knew no more.
Nicolas awoke in chains, like he had done every day for nearly a year now. He sat up on his straw pallet and pulled on his shirt. He was always the first to wake. The twenty-nine other slaves in the cell, all Europeans, slept as long as they could, but Nicolas was always the first to wake. The others would be up soon enough, anyway, when the jailer came round with the broth that they pretended was breakfast. Sure enough, here came the jailer, escorted as always by two guards, and carrying a huge bucket of breakfast broth. He set the bucket down to unlock the door, and as soon as it was open, he rattled the ladle against the bars and yelled, “Alright pigs! Wake up! Time to work again!”
There was a stirring around the cell as the other slaves woke themselves up. The jailer picked up the bucket and walked between the lines of pallets, doling out one ladleful of broth into each proffered bowl. Nicolas said, “Gracias, Jose,” when he received his portion, as he always did. The jailer just hmmphed, and carried on down the line. Nicolas ate quickly, wanting to be ready early. By the time the jailer had finished doling out breakfast to the room, Nicolas had finished. He stood, waiting.
Jose came over. “Always eager, hey?” he commented. He bent down, with one of the guards covering him, and unlocked Nicolas’ shackle at the wall. He then led Nicolas to the door, where the massive day chain waited, and secured Nicolas’ shackle to the head of the day chain. He then went back into the cell and began unlocking the other slaves as they finished.
Nicolas was pleased. He may be a slave on a Spanish plantation on an island east of the Caribbean, and chained up twenty-four hours a day, but at least he was alive. And you had a lot of freedom at the head of the day chain. You were less likely to be whipped, you were near a guard to talk to, and you could see and do more than if you were in the middle or at the rear.
Five minutes later, all the slaves were on the day chain. They were led out of the barracks, past the other slave cells (all containing natives of either these islands or the New World), to the cess trench, where they were given a bare two minutes to relieve themselves, then out onto the chocolate plantation. This particular plantation was owned by the island’s governor, the most senior Spanish official in the Archipelago, Don Ricardo Ferrer de Mercadal. And today was a good day, because Don Ricardo’s son was coming of age, and there was a big party at the governor’s hacienda tonight, and that meant that they would stop work early, which meant they would have more time to cut their chains and escape, so that was what they were going to do.
Nicolas had first learnt of Fernando de Mercadal’s coming of age during an idle conversation with a guard two weeks ago. He had spent the day planning, and the next day, had allowed himself to finish breakfast later than normal, and be chained near the middle of the day chain. Just before they finished work for the day, he had managed to snap half a link of the day chain against a rock. He had been whipped for his clumsiness, and then they had all been taken to the blacksmith to get the chain mended. Whilst at the blacksmith, four of Nicolas’ fellow slaves had managed to steal files and hacksaws, and when they were taken back to their cell, these were all carefully hidden in the straw pallets. Last week, Nicolas had managed to swipe a candle from the stores, and two days later, had managed to steal a musket cartridge from a guard’s bandolier. Two nights ago, he had tripped and fallen heavily against the jailer as they returned to the barracks. Little did poor Jose know, Nicolas had palmed the slab of wax that had once been a candle, and pressed it against the key to their cell. Last night, he and another slave sat up and used the powder from the cartridge to soften the lead bullet enough to pour it into a wooden mould that he had carved from the wax mould the night before. So tonight, when all the Spaniards would be either partying or distracted thinking about the party, Nicolas would lead the slaves in his cell as they cut their shackles, unlocked their cell door, knocked out the guards in the guardroom, took their weapons, and crept down to the docks to steal a ship off the island. It was a risky plan, but Nicolas was determined it would work.
All the slaves in Nicolas’ cell were there for a reason. They were all Europeans, captured in battle, and sent to the Archipelago as slaves because they had been unusually troublesome in their lives before capture. Nicolas was unique, in that he was the only one who hadn’t actively bothered the Spanish before capture – he was here in the Archipelago because the captain of the Santa Augusto was cousin to Don Ricardo de Mercadal, and he didn’t take kindly to having a prize ship explode minutes after capture. The powder trail to the cargo hold was never lit, despite Nicolas’ order, and the Naiad had been captured more-or-less intact once Bosun Shawliff had knocked Nicolas cold and surrendered. The Spanish prize crew were just herding the crew of the Naiad onto the Santa Augusto, when one of the Naiad’s cannons that had been damaged by the pinnace’s second broadside, fell out of its’ carriage mounting. It caused a spark, which, by pure chance, caught on a trailing hammock line. The hammock had come half un-stowed in the battle, and flopped about even more as the Spaniards turned the Naiad back south. The smoking hammock line caught the powder trail, and two minutes later, the burning powder trail reached the cargo hold, which was full of one hundred kegs of gunpowder. Shawliff caught a yard-long splinter in his throat, and most of the rest of the two crews were badly injured. The Santa Augusto herself was crippled, and it was only an unusually calm period of weather in the Bay of Biscay that allowed her to get back to a Spanish port – from where Nicolas was sentenced to slavery in the Archipelago.
And so, after a hard day working on the chocolate plantation, with barely a break for lunch and no rest, the slaves were led back to their cells for a bowl of stew for supper, and a night chained to the wall. Ten minutes after they had been locked in, though, the one cell of European slaves was a hive of activity. The slave nearest the door was busy smearing grease from his stew into the lock of the door, while four others busied themselves with cutting their shackles. The rest were unpacking the straw from their pallets, so they could use the straw to make torches to light their way to the docks along the dark hillside away from the town. At last all the shackles were cut, the copied key was eased into the lock and gently turned, and they were free.
Nicolas lead them down the corridor silently as the noise of the party at the hacienda penetrated the thin walls of the barracks. They reached the door to the guardroom, and could hear the two guards on duty talking desultorily about the fact they weren’t at the party. Nicolas pointed to himself and three others, indicating that they should deal with the guards. He selected one man to pull the door open as quickly as possible, and divided the rest into two – one group would go through the door on the right to the jailers’ barracks, the others would force the door on the left to the armoury. There were never more than half a dozen guards at the slave barracks, and weapons enough for all of them plus short clubs and whips for the four jailers.
Nicolas took a few paces back, readying himself. He held up three fingers and folded them down one by one. As the last finger went down, the man at the door pulled it open, and Nicolas yelled and led the charge through it. The two guards were taken completely by surprise – they didn’t even have their armour on. Nicolas’ fist broke the nose of the nearer guard and sent him flying. The other guard was jumped on by the three directly behind Nicolas, who forced him to the ground and pummelled him senseless. Nicolas’ guard was unconscious already, so, kicking him in the ribs for good measure, he went left to see to the armoury. A crash told him that the combined weight of three men had been able to charge it down just as he heard several thumps and yells as the jailers were subdued. Nicolas forced his way into the armoury and grabbed a shortsword and scabbard from the rack there. There were three more swords, and half a dozen pikes, as well as the jailers’ clubs and whips. Nicolas forced his way back into the guardroom, where the unconscious guards were being tied up with the sacking from the pallets – presumably the jailers were undergoing the same treatment. The two guards’ swords had already been taken, so as soon as everybody was back in the room, Nicolas poked his head out of the door to the outside. No one was in sight, and the other guards didn’t seem to have been alerted by the noise of the breakout – probably hadn’t heard it over the noise of the party. Motioning for someone to bring the lantern, he led the way outside, across the courtyard, under the gate arch. He signalled two men to lift the bar, and pulled it open a few inches. He put his eye to the crack and peered out – as expected, there was a guard lounging against the wall to the side of the gate, and there was probably another one at the other side as well.
“Time for the first deaths of the night,” he though grimly. He sheathed his sword and beckoned to one of the men with pikes. Carefully, he lowered the point to neck height with the shaft along the width of the door. Sighting carefully, he rammed it forward, and the point caught the guard outside just under the ear. With a startled groan, the guard fell, dead, as Nicolas heaved the gate open and burst out. The other guard was staring in shock at his dead companion, and was still staring when Nicolas drew his sword and plunged it into his throat.
He beckoned the others out of the gate, and stooped to clean his sword on the dead guard’s uniform. Four of the men picked up the dead guards’ weapons, and then Nicolas led them away from the compound, across the field, over the low wall, and down the hillside to the docks. Once over the wall, he paused long enough for the torches to be lit from the lantern, then they were away, going as fast as they could. It was nearly midnight, it had taken so long to cut through everyone’s shackles, but from the moment they had got the cell door open to now, had barely been ten minutes.
They had to circle the town to avoid the fort and its’ garrison, so it took them thirty minutes to arrive at the docks from the east. It was packed with boats. Not just the usual merchant vessels, but also the ships of the visiting dignitaries who had been invited to the party. Nicolas could make out a warship, the San Isidro, next to Don Ricardo’s battleship, the Osado. He reasoned it must belong to the governor of Isla Ballena, and the two fast galleons berthed alongside must belong to the alcaldes of the two smaller Spanish islands, Costa Sinistra and El Caimano. There were plenty of other ships – a pinnace, two caravels, a galleon, and a pink, tiny in comparison with the others. It was also the only one that could be sailed by thirty men.
“That’s our ship, there,” Nicolas pointed it out.
“That thing? It won’t last five minutes agin the Dagoes.”
“It won’t have to. They won’t send the big ships out after us, and I’ll lay odds it can outrun the other ships in port.”
“De Mercadal’s not stupid – he’ll have a couple of fast ships on harbour patrol. Sloops or somesuch.”
“Can you see them? No – so they may not be there at all. Come on, follow me,” he ordered, and led the way over the last hundred yards to the docks. The men followed him, as to do otherwise would be pointless now.
There were four guards patrolling the docks, when normally there would have been a dozen at night. The rest were probably skiving off, drinking, or were assigned as extra security to the governor’s hacienda tonight. They were heavily armed, though, with muskets and pistols as well as their swords and pikes. Nicolas led the way toward the closest. Signalling for the others to wait there, he crept up behind the man, and pressed the point of his sword under the man’s left ear. “You’ll be the second man I’ve killed like this tonight if you make a sound,” he said in Spanish. A year’s captivity and conversation with your guards can work wonders for learning a new language. The guard slowly raised his free hand. Nicolas beckoned with his own, and two men came forward. “That’s it. Now, some friends of mine are going to relieve you of your burdens, then you can go to sleep, comprendez?” The guard nodded as hands grabbed his sword, pike, musket and pistol. Nicolas held out his hand for the pistol, and it was pressed into his palm. He tossed it in the air so he could hold it by the barrel, then brought it round sideways so that the hard wooden handle smashed into the side of the guard’s head, knocking him cold. He clattered as he went down, his cuirass and helmet knocking against the flagstones. Nicolas silently cursed, and hoped the noise would go unnoticed. Quickly, he stooped and stripped the guard of his bandolier and cartridge pouch. He stuffed the pistol into his belt, tied the cartridge pouch onto his belt, and handed the bandolier to the man who had taken the musket.
Nicolas led the way along the dockside, encountering only one more guard and disposing of him just as quickly and quietly as the first had been. They reached the pink, moored stern-to-stern with the pinnace. They quietly boarded it, leaving the two men with muskets and the ten with pikes to guard the quay. The small watch-crew, who were doing nothing like as strenuous as actually watching, were quickly and quietly rounded up, bound and gagged, and bundled ashore, where the butts of the pikes stunned them.
The pink, called Principio, was moored very close to the pinnace – their sterns were barely six feet apart. Nicolas had an idea, and with two men, quickly searched the Principio for a line and grapnel. Having found one, Nicolas threw it carefully, and hooked it round the pinnace’s flagstaff. He swung across and shinned up the line until he could open the aft cabin’s window and climb in. The captain of the pinnace was asleep, snoring his head off in his hammock. Quietly, Nicolas uncoiled another line of rope from over his shoulder. He found a cloth, and waited for his moment. The captain of the pinnace breathed in, and Nicolas stuffed the cloth in his mouth, looped the line around his wrists, and hog-tied the man. He then proceeded to strip the cabin of anything that looked valuable, and passed it out the window to the men waiting below, who placed it in the Principio’s cabin. Nicolas then climbed back out the window, shinned down the line, and spent five minutes cutting the tiller rope with his sword. He kicked away from the pinnace, scrambled aboard the Principio, and passed the word for all aboard, and cast off. Within minutes, the Principio was gliding out of her berth, and heading up the northeast channel, away from the guns of Granda Avilia’s fort, the garrison of which would surely find a vessel sailing away at this time of night suspicious.
Half an hour later, they were five miles from the island, and no sign of any pursuit or patrol vessels. Nicolas told the men to stand down for now, then went to the Principio’s cabin – his cabin. He found the charts, and saw that the nearest island with an English flag marked on it was ninety miles away – maybe half a day’s sail away. He ordered a course of east-sou’east, and told the men that they were going to Highrock to take a Letter of Marque.
Jacqueline had changed out of her bank manager’s outfit into a more comfortable T-shirt and trousers while Nick had unpacked and changed his shirt. They spent twenty minutes going over some of the documents from Nick’s box, then Jacqueline told him it was time to go to the pub. They walked the short distance to the main square where the bank and the Shipbuilder’s Arms were.
It being mid-afternoon of a Monday, the place was quite empty. It was only a small bar anyway, but it looked like it had the capacity to be lively. The walls were covered in paintings (reproduction prints, mostly) of tall ships and sea battles. The biggest was behind the bar, and was of an English 46-gun warship firing all its guns at once to demolish the three small ships around it flying the Spanish flag. It was mostly a huge mass of smoke with some masts rising above it.
The bar was being tended by a tall, light-haired man in his forties, who greeted Jacqueline as she came in. “Wotcher, Jackie! Who’s your friend?”
“Someone you should talk to, David. And stop calling me Jackie!”
“Sorry,” he grinned. “The usual?”
“And for you?” he asked Nick.
“Pint of lager,” Nick replied. Jacqueline sat at the end of the bar, in the corner, giving a good view of the door, and no possibility of being eavesdropped. Nick sat next to her, and a rum-and-coke and a pint of lager were placed in front of them. “Thanks.”
“So,” said the barman, “who are you?”
Jacqueline swallowed. “Dave Brin, this is Nick Sharp. Nick, Dave. You are both descendants of your ancestors.”
Dave seemed to understand, and a wide grin split his face. Nick didn’t, however. “That little piece of tautology meant nothing to me, I’m afraid,” he said.
“Ah, right,” Dave began, “well, you are Nick Sharp, descendant of the famous privateer Nicolas Sharp, whose ship the Revenge is portrayed kicking the shit out of the Spanish behind the bar there. And I, am David Brin, descendant of Sir John Clifford Brin, governor of Tendales during your whatever-great-grandfather’s service in these parts.”
”Yep. Can trace my line right back to when Sir John was first posted out here.”
“But, you’re not titled.”
“I know. Sir John was returned to the ranks of the commoners in 1612, when it became public knowledge that he had links with pirates.”
“Yes, have you seen Ulsson at all?” asked Jacqueline.
“Not for more than a week, I’m afraid,” Dave replied. “He’s another person you should speak to,” he added, to Nick.
“Hang on, hang on,” Nick said. “There seem to be an awful lot of people round here who just happen to be descendants of some of the most important people in my family’s letters! More than coincidence should allow for, really.”
“Not really,” explained Jacqueline. “You see, these islands may have a small population, but four hundred years ago, it was smaller still. People don’t move around much in small populations. I’ve told you my family history, the Brins stayed on Tendales until the Napoleonic wars, then came here as military attaché after service in Europe, lots of other families have done the same. de Mercadal stayed with his plantations, most of the taverns have been in the same family since they were built, and as for Ulsson!”
“What about Ulsson?”
“Which one?” asked Dave.
“I’m presuming there’s an Ulsson hanging around now who’s related to someone important four hundred years ago?”
“You’d be right. Piotr, his name is. Olaf’s grandson and Peter’s daughter married, they founded a whole dynasty of mercenary fortune-hunters in the Caribbean and Archipelago. They started out Swedish, added a little English, mixed in some French, joined up with the Dutch, and last generation, sprinkled some Russian on top, of all things!”
“I’m guessing Peter is Peter Ordo, but who’s Olaf?”
“Olaf Ulsson,” explained Jacqueline, “was the pirate king of Shark Island four hundred years ago.”
“So does that mean Ordo was a pirate?”
“Yes,” Dave confirmed, “he was the pirate my ancestor had links with.”
“I’ve never heard of Shark Island, though.”
“Shark Island was one of two pirate settlements,” Jacqueline told him, “the other was called Grey Sails, and was considerably the greater of the two evils. The islands were so close together, they’re usually referred to as Skullshores in old documents.”
“But I haven’t heard of either of those islands,” Nick protested.
“You won’t have. The documents you’ve got refer only to Skullshores, and in 1620, the Portuguese arrived in the Archipelago and wiped out the pirate settlements, founding their own colonies – they’re called Console Do Tubarao and Sails Cinzentos these days.”
”I’ve heard of them!”
“Direct translation,” Dave explained. “Why bother thinking of a new name when there’s one ready to hand?”
“Four hundred years ago,” Jacqueline went on, “each of the islands was under its’ own rule – proper crown colonies, or colonial dependencies, depending on how big they were. But over the years, with wars, and the decline of colonialism, and better communications, and so on, things have changed somewhat. The islands are still owned by the same countries as four hundred years ago, but in a somewhat different state. The French islands – Belflor, the Orange Isle, Omory, Chaktcha and Tel Kerrat – we’re all part of French Guyana now. The Spanish Islands of Granda Avilia, Isla Ballena, Costa Sinistra, El Caimano and Inachetla are technically territories of the Dominican Republic. Highrock, Tendales, Dead Isle and Itkal are under Jamaican jurisdiction, and the Portuguese islands are administered by Brazil.”
“That’s all bloody tangled,” Nick said. “I hope relations are good between everyone, ‘cos we’re probably going to be visiting them all at some point.”
“Don’t worry, you’ll only need your passport and proof you’ve leased the boat.”
“That’s good. But, hey, what about the uninhabited islands? I know there are still a couple – and you mentioned Chaktcha and Inachetla, so presumably they were settled on?”
“Chacktcha became French in 1621. Inachetla was settled by the Spanish a year later to try and put a dent in the number of pirate, and French, attacks on their shipping in the area. The others – Aliando and Emuno are far too small to be settled on anyway, but Aliando’s near the Orange Isle so it’s under our jurisdiction. Emuno and Teltak are close enough to Sails Cinzentos for them to fall under Brazilian control, and Tchia Hoa is a native spiritualist retreat, administered by the Spanish.”
Nick dug into his pocket and pulled out a map, copied from the documents in the box. “Point them out?” he asked.
Jacqueline explained it all again, pointing to each island as she named it. “I think you’d be better off with a newer map,” she smiled when she’d finished. “And don’t worry about landing permits for those uninhabited islands, you can just radio it in to the harbourmaster of the nearest controlling authority if you need to land.”
“Except Tchia Hoa,” Dave added, “the Spanish keep a light destroyer patrolling the waters round there, to keep it private. They’ve even got an ack-ack platform and artillery piece on the Tor!”
“It’s just a large, flat-topped pillar of rock a hundred yards off the shore of Tchia Hoa. Got a stairway hacked into the side of it, and a small jetty at the bottom, couple of huts at the top for staff.”
“Radar tower as well,” Jacqueline put in.
“Yes – and they’re not that bothered about ensuring the native’s privacy if you happen to visit when they’re chasing a smuggler or pirate!”
“There are still pirates here?”
“Nothing like four hundred years ago,” said Jacqueline. “Just the occasional yacht with a rocket launcher and a couple of heavy machine guns. They sometimes attack pleasure craft and tourist boats, then just seem to disappear.”
“The smugglers are much more common,” Dave continued, “there’s a lot of drug running goes on here. Hell, the chief export here has always been the cocoa bean, and you only need a few chemicals and a slight change in the production process, hey presto – you’ve got cocaine.”
Nick turned to look at Jacqueline. “We’re going to need bodyguards.”
“No we’re not. Me and an outsider bearing the name of Nick Sharp, hiring bodyguards and popping over to all the islands in a cabin cruiser – they’ll know we’re treasure hunting, and they’ll know that this time there’s something in it. Bodyguards will just make us conspicuous. No, I’ll take you to the police range tomorrow, get them to loan you a Kevlar jacket and a Beretta, and you can get some practice in.”
“With a gun.”
“I – I don’t have a licence. And besides, they’re not going to take us seriously. Are they?”
Jacqueline and Dave both gave him a condescending look. “Nick, hunting for Malcolm Sharp’s treasure in this Archipelago is a regular pastime for ninety per cent of the population. They know it exists, it’s practically a matter of public record on Isla Ballena that it was stolen from there, and they know the names of the people in the story. Now, if two people bearing almost exactly the same names as those of two of the leading characters in the story suddenly disappear off on what can only be a treasure-hunting expedition, it’ll be a matter of hours, probably, before someone starts following us.”
“Don’t worry about the licence,” Dave reassured him, “the mayor’ll give you one in ten seconds when you ask him.”
“He’s not another descendant from the Sharp legend, is he?”
“Who, Paul Montferrat? Whatever gave you that idea?”
“Ship ahoy!” called the lookout.
“Where?” called back Nicolas.
“Dead ahead, Cap’n! She’s just drifting!”
Nicolas ran to the prow of the Osric and put his spyglass to his eye. He could just make out the unmistakable low-slung shape of a brig, about ten miles ahead. He scanned the mastheads and saw no flag.
“No flag. No sails. She’s waiting for us, lads.” Nicolas turned back to look over his boat towards the Bristol sailing along in their wake. He called up to the lookout, “any sign of Tendales?”
“Just on the horizon, Cap’n!”
Nicolas smiled to himself. “Mr Shoo! Load the guns with grape, and prepare to receive boarders. Mr Fickler! Take yourself and two hands in the boat back to the Bristol – my compliments to Captain Humm, there appears to be a pirate in our path, and he’s to heave to as soon as he sees cannon smoke. All hands, full sail! Let’s give him a shock!”
The crew sprang into action, unloading the roundshot from the guns, unshipping the boat, and swarming up the rigging to untie the sails. The Osric fairly leapt forward in the water, for with the wind behind a Shnyava, there were few ships faster on the ocean. Within minutes, the Bristol was a shrinking shape getting closer to the north-western horizon, and the brig was rapidly getting larger. At about five miles distant, she too set full sail and began tacking towards the oncoming Osric.
“Helmsman! Keep us towards her bows!” Nicolas ordered. He snapped open his spyglass again and saw the skull-and-crossbones on the masthead. “A pirate for sure, lads,” he said, and swept his glass down to the bows. He read the name: Cuttlefish. “Keep her steady!” he called out.
He snapped his glass closed and hurried back to the wheel. He checked that his weapon – a backsword taken from a pirate captain last month – was free in its’ scabbard, and that his pistol was loaded and primed. “I’ll take her now,” he told the helmsman, and took the post he always took when he wanted to board an enemy vessel. The helmsman released the wheel to his captain and ran down to the main deck, to take up a boarding pike. “Pikes and lines ready!” Nicolas ordered. “Stay down unless you’ve got a musket or line! Gunners, stand ready – one broadside then grab your cutlasses!”
The few minutes as the ships came closer seemed to pass like an hour, as they always did. Then, the stillness was broken by a lone shot across the Osric’s bow from the Cuttlefish. “Hold your fire, men!” Nicolas ordered. When the smaller ship did not alter course or heave to, the brig wheeled to port and fired the rest of its’ seven-gun broadside. It was at long range, so the two balls that struck didn’t do much damage.
The Cuttlefish reefed sail and continued to wheel, bringing its’ aft guns to bear, which fired on the ever closer Osric, which Nicolas was driving straight at the pirate. One ball ripped through the sails, the other splashed harmlessly off the starboard side. Nicolas made a small turn to port, as the Cuttlefish continued to turn. Its’ port broadside was presented in less than a minute, and as it fired, the crew let out their sails again. The Cuttlefish carried on turning, as Nicolas swung the Osric’s wheel to starboard, taking their bows past the stern of the pirate, by now barely a hundred yards away. He’d felt the deck shudder as the brig’s broadside hit home, but he wasn’t worried too much – he wouldn’t be needing the Osric much longer. He swung the wheel back to port as the brig carried on turning. Fifty yards. The Cuttlefish began to straighten up, and reef sail again.
“Musketmen, fire!” Nicolas ordered, and the two dozen men with muskets fired at the enemy ship, then ducked down behind the gunwales to reload. Nicolas gave the wheel another turn, and the Osric slipped towards the Cuttlefish. Sporadic musket fire was coming from the pirate ship now, but there was a bare twenty yards between the ships. “Gunners, fire!” Nicolas roared, and half a second later the enemy deck was sprayed with leaden death. The Osric’s bows bumped the side of the Cuttlefish’s stern, and Nicolas bellowed the last order he’d give as captain of the Osric. “Reef sail, and board ‘em, lads!” he yelled, leaving the wheel and pulling his sword from its scabbard. The linesmen threw over half a dozen grappling irons, and a dozen came back from the brig. Sailors on both sides hauled in, and the two flanks bumped together. Nicolas jumped onto the rail of the Osric, fired his pistol into the face of a pirate, leaped onto the enemy deck, and began swinging his sword.
When a pirate ship attacks, it tries to do damage to the enemy hull, to make scuttling easier. It then peppers the deck with grapeshot to reduce the victim’s crew, and then they board, killing most, taking a few prisoners for slaves perhaps, then taking anything valuable for themselves, and scuttling the ship as they leave. They don’t expect to come up against a smaller ship that fights back, they don’t expect their own deck to be sprayed with grape at point-blank range, and they definitely don’t expect to be boarded first.
A dozen pirates had made the leap onto the Osric, but by then, twice as many men had leapt onto the Cuttlefish’s deck. The pirates who had made it across were slaughtered, and the pirates still on their ship were shocked to be facing a charging enemy on their own deck, rather than a cowering one on the victim’s deck. They were felled like nine-pins by the first wave of the Osric’s men, and more were coming aboard. After the initial confusion, which lasted about thirty seconds – a very long time in a shipboard melee – the pirate crew began fighting back, but by then there were almost as many men from the Osric on the Cuttlefish as there were pirates. Nicolas had boarded a dozen ships since he’d escaped in the Principio, his first on that first mission to Tendales. He had spotted a pirate sloop, closed in, fired a broadside of grape, and ordered his entire crew to board. They’d taken it within two minutes, and the Swift became Nicolas’ new ship. He had applied the same tactics to every boarding action he’d undertaken since, and his crew knew it well – Nicolas made sure everyone on board practised fighting for at least half an hour every day, including himself and the officers. Every last one of his crew was now pouring aboard the pirate brig, leaving the cannon unloaded, the sails loose in their reef, and the wheel unmanned. One hundred and fifty men fought one hundred and fifty pirates, and the speed and surprise of their attack meant that they were winning.
Nicolas fought his way to quarterdeck with four other hands, where he could see the pirate captain, a huge black man with his own guard of four men. Nicolas killed the last man on the stairs up, hurled himself up them, swung backhandedly at the nearest pirate, waited a few seconds for his men to join him, then shouted, “no quarter!” He charged, his sword low, ready to swing up and across at the first man to get in his way. The black captain stepped forward to meet him, and his cutlass clanged off Nicolas’ blade, but that was as far as he got. Nicolas turned his upswing into the parry, then redoubled into a thrust which caught the man in his thigh. He snarled in pain and brought the cutlass down, but Nicolas dodged and swung, slicing his belly open. He spun out of the way as the pirate doubled over, then brought his blade down on the back of the man’s neck. One of the pirate’s bodyguards swung at him, but Nicolas was in the right position to smash him in the face with his left hand. He turned again, and thrust his sword into the belly of a second guard, and then his guard were around him, and they had dealt with the others of the pirate captain’s guard. Nicolas turned to look at the battle on the main deck. There was no one on board Osric that he could see, and the fight was going badly against the pirates. They were being forced back to the far side of the deck, and belowdecks, where they had to hide to avoid the cannonballs thrown down by a few of the Osric’s men who had taken them from the monkeys where they were waiting to be loaded. This left them open to charges by a dozen or so men at a time, who fairly leapt down the wells between cannonballs. Two pirates threw down their weapons, and were stabbed – no quarter, Nicolas had said. Two more abandoned their cutlasses and dived into the sea, trying to swim for it. No one bothered trying to stop them.
Within five minutes, it was all over. Yet again, Nicolas had successfully counter-boarded a ship, resulting in 150 pirate dead, and only eighteen of his own men lost.
“Well done men!” he called, when they were all done. “Now – how d’ye like your new ship?” This raised a cheer. “Good! Start transferring over our cargo and belongings, then. Grab everything not nailed down, remember. Then pile the bodies in Osric’s hold and scuttle her. They’ll get a decent seaman’s funeral anyway, which is more than they deserve.”
The Destiny was cruising at a steady 18 knots towards Tel Kerrat. Even at this speed, it would still take the better part of a day to get there, so Nick and Jacqueline were making the most of the afternoon sunshine, and sunbathing on the foredeck. They had spent a good few hours in the museum at Highrock, and Tel Kerrat had been mentioned enough times to excite Nick’s interest, although Jacqueline wasn’t convinced it would lead to anything significant. They had had a late lunch at the Fat Boar with Carrie, and departed for Tel Kerrat at three o’clock. They would arrive at their destination at about one in the morning, which wasn’t too late, according to Jacqueline, and as they had done all the useful research they could with the materials they had on board, Jacqueline had shown Nick how to set a course properly, and left it to the autopilot.
Nick looked over at Jacqueline lying face down next to him. She had taken her bikini top off to get a proper tan on her back. “You know, I’ve never really go that.”
Jacqueline turned her head. “Got what?”
Nick took off his shades and pulled the brim of his sun hat down slightly to compensate. “Going topless to get an all-over tan on your back, but being satisfied with tan-lines on your front. I mean, your front’s what people see most of, isn’t it?”
“Ah, but while I never wear strapless dresses, I do sometimes wear backless ones. So tan-lines on my front,” she rolled over to face him, “don’t really matter.”
“Not that you have any, I see,” Nick said, replacing his shades.
Jacqueline laughed. “Am I making you uncomfortable again?”
“What, by flashing me? Come off it!”
Jacqueline leant up on one elbow. “I think this is a bit longer than just a flash.”
Nick pulled his shades down his nose with one finger and looked her up and down. “I gotta admit,” he said, replacing his shades, “that while I have seen bigger tits, I don’t think I’ve seen prettier ones. It’s nice to get that sort of class treatment once in a while.” He grinned widely.
Jacqueline pursed her lips. “So, why aren’t you going for an all-over tan?”
“Me? I’m a bloke, it’s not nearly as important. Besides, I live in boring old rainy Portsmouth, no-one’s ever going to be in a position to notice that my backside’s not as brown as my chest. At least,” he added, “not before it fades, anyway.”
Jacqueline laughed again. “Okay. You get to keep your shorts on.”
Nick lowered his shades again. “And you were gonna get ‘em off, were you?” he asked.
Before she could answer, a huge waterspout appeared out of nowhere a few yards ahead of them. Jacqueline leapt up with a cry of “merde!” and scrambled up to the bridge.
Nick sat up. “What? What is it?”
Jacqueline gunned the throttle and looked over her shoulder. “Shit! I hoped it would take longer than this!”
“Pirates, Nick! On the port quarter, closing fast. They just fired a warning shot with an RPG!”
“Shit!” Nick jumped up, and looked towards where Jacqueline had indicated. About five hundred yards away, closing from the rear three-quarters, was a large motor yacht, much larger than the Destiny. He scrambled up to join her on the bridge. “What do we do? Can we outrun them?”
She shook her head. “I doubt it. They turbocharge their engines, they can probably make 35 knots, we can barely make 25 if we push.”
“Radio for help? Outmanoeuvre them?”
“We’re too far from shore, and a helicopter would be next to useless. And what exactly do we outmanoeuvre them with? There’s no shoals, no reefs, no rocks, no islands. We don’t have weaponry that can halt them, so it’s pointless manoeuvring for a shot!”
“I thought you packed a Bren gun in the weapons locker?”
“Four hundred rounds will do nothing except turn us into mass murderers – get down!” She pulled Nick down as another RPG shot towards them. It exploded as it hit the foredeck, rocking the Destiny and throwing them off course. Jacqueline swept a lock of her auburn hair out of her eyes and stood up. She throttled down and turned the engine off, letting them drift. “Hold her steady, Nick. Don’t try anything stupid, and I really mean that. I’m going to put some clothes on.”
Nick took the wheel and brought the bow back round to the heading they’d been on two minutes earlier as Jacqueline slid down the ladder and went to her cabin. Minutes later, just as the pirate craft was drawing alongside, she re-appeared in T-shirt and combat pants, Boston Red Sox baseball cap, ray-ban shades, and (Nick looked down) army boots. He felt quite exposed in just his swimming shorts and sun hat. “Quite a change of image,” he muttered.
A couple of men on the pirate craft threw over grapple lines, and pulled the two craft together. A man jumped over and immediately climbed up to the bridge, as four men covered Nick and Jacqueline, by now with their hands up, with AK-47s. The man turned on the engine and reverse-thrust for a few seconds, to bring them to a halt. He waved, and turned the engine off, and there was complete silence.
A tall, thin, black man with long hair tied back in a ponytail, called out from the upper deck of the pirate craft. “I think we can conduct this interview on their aft-deck! They don’t look like the argumentative type! See to it, Damien, and don’t forget to secure the boat as well. I know how over-excited you can get in moments of action!” He grinned, slid down the ladder to his lower deck, and jumped across onto the Destiny. Half-a dozen pirates followed him across. “Nice boat. I must remember to pay Piotr a visit and thank him for being so considerate to you.” Nick and Jacqueline were manhandled down the ladder. As they came face to face with the pirate captain, he smiled hugely, showing three gold teeth. His men tied their hands behind their backs as he spoke. “Miss Jacqueline! So nice to finally meet you at last! I could have made the effort before, but I didn’t believe it was worth it until now.” He gestured, and they were shoved towards the seats at the back of the open aft-deck. The man turned to face them again as they were sat down. “I don’t believe I have met you either, sir, and I don’t really recognise you, but I can guess your name right enough. Don’t make me guess, though – what is it?”
Nick glanced at Jacqueline and saw her nod slightly. “Nick Sharp,” he said.
“Yes! On the money again! I knew it was you! I knew you’d be turning up! Course, I didn’t know exactly where or when, but I still knew.”
“Who are you?” demanded Jacqueline.
“‘The time has come’,” the man declaimed, turning and raising his arms into a dramatic pose, “the walrus said, ‘to talk of many things. Of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and’… pirate kings.”
“Lewis Carrol,” Nick said.
The pirate spun to face him. “Give the man a biscuit! He knows his literature!”
“I don’t remember the word ‘pirate’ in that passage,” Jacqueline said, as the man closest to Nick pushed a digestive into his mouth.
“You’re not getting a biscuit, Miss Jacqueline, because I know you know your literature. You sometimes spend days buried in a dusty old book about colonial times.”
“I’m sorry, we left them all on Highrock,” she retorted.
“Oh, come now, Miss Jacqueline, do you really think I’m here just to rob you?”
“You’re a pirate, aren’t you? Your boat’s called the Skull and Crossbones, what more hint do I need?”
“Now, did you see that my ship was called the Skull and Crossbones while you were still running around half-nekkid, or did you spot it after you put some clothes on?”
“How dare you!”
“Now now – if you’s gonna run around half-nekkid when you’re under pirate attack – for pirates we are – you gotta expect to be looked at. I must admit – you’ve got the finest set of topsails I ever did see through a telescope.” He turned to Nick. “I hope you’ll let me put some wind on those sails, man, I could really do with a workout.”
“Go jump off a bridge.”
“Don’t mind if I do,” the pirate replied. He climbed up to the Destiny’s bridge, turned to face aft again, and jumped down onto the aft-deck. “That’s quite a drop. I’m surprised Piotr didn’t fit a safety rail for you!”
“We both know how not to fall off a raised deck,” Jacqueline spat.
“Glad to hear it. Glad to hear it.” The man was still smiling widely.
“You still haven’t told us who you are!” Nick demanded.
“That’s right, I haven’t. ‘Cos if I do that, you could just tell the shore patrol my name when you get to Tel Kerrat, and they’d be hunting me down faster than they already are. But – I think I’ll tell you anyway. ‘Cos all we’re doin’ is havin’ a nice friendly little chat, we’re not participatin’ in any piratical activity here, are we?”
“So who are you?” Nick persisted.
“Most people call me Raymond Forge. But you – you. Seeing as how you’re friends, I’ll let you call me,” his smile disappeared completely, “Beltrop.”
“That’s right.” The pirate’s voice was low and dangerous now, not the insanely cheerful Eddie-Murphy-on-adrenaline contralto it had been before.
“As in, the Beltrop?”
“If by that, you mean, the man whose treasure your twelve-times-great-grandfather stole, and whose person your eleven-times-great-grandfather tried to murder, then yes. I am the Beltrop.”
“What’s your lineage?” Jacqueline asked. “I haven’t come across any records of Desmond Ray Beltrop having children, or how he survived Nicolas Sharp’s final mission.”
“That’s ‘cos you didn’t check the records in Madagascar, now, did you?”
“Your ancestor went all the way to Madagascar after mur… killing Sharp?”
“I am very glad you decided to pick your words there, Miss Jacqueline,” Forge replied, his voice returning to its happy register. “Yes, he went to Madagascar – he didn’t have much choice with fifteen warships of all the nations bearing down on his home, and his pride and joy a sunken wreck off Teltak coast. He took a mighty step down and took a sloop across the Atlantic, round the Horn, to the biggest pirate refuge ever known.”
“How did he get off Teltak? We all thought he was stuck there after the fight.”
“He was! But his faithful men came to look for him – not that he had many left, after Sharp Junior had massacred most of them. He was stranded on Teltak for two weeks, looking for his rightful treasure. He never found it, and after those two weeks, his faithful men came to rescue him. But they were worried, oh boy, were they worried. Can you guess why, Miss Jacqueline?”
“I think it would be because all three colonial powers decided round about then that they’d had enough of the pirates, and sent task forces to wipe them out.”
“Correct! The French came first, with a man-o-war, a warship, a corvette, and a shnyava. They got Ulsson out of his hole, and sent him back to Sweden – the rest of the Brothers on the Shark Isle, they pressed into the French navy – or hung, depending on the mood they was in. Then, came the Spanish! Eight frigates, four to each of the Skullshores. Shark Island got the worst of it, but the Grey Sails escaped intact. Do you know why?”
“Because the English came to our rescue! Two lineships and a warship came out of the sunset, blasted the Spanish to smithereens – and kindly allowed my ancestor and his crew in that little bitty sloop, to escape in the confusion. Course, he got chased, but by mid-Atlantic, they’d given up. Even in a nutshell armed with pop-guns, Ol’ Desmond Ray was a match for anyone, if the wind was right. He cut his lights one night, swung back, boarded the lead ship, and stole all her provisions. Then he blew a gunpowder keg in her hold, and that sunk her, as he made a clean getaway.”
“So you’re the result of Desmond Ray Beltrop doing business with a Madagascan whore?”
“No, not even close, Mister Nick Sharp Junior. My ancestor wasn’t dumb enough to put to sea for a month-long voyage without some means to relieve his urges! He brought his own whore with him, from Grey Sails. Her name was Anna Forge, and it is from her that I get my name.”
“You don’t have Beltrop as your family name?” asked Jacqueline.
“That’s right! See, Ol’ Desmond Ray got Anna knocked up on the voyage. She gave birth eight months after reaching Madagascar, to a beautiful bouncing boy. But, Madagascar wasn’t as safe then as it is now, you understand. Ol’ Desmond Ray picked a fight with the natives three months in, and they only ever found his left leg. Anna stayed with his loyal crew, of course, but they weren’t too keen on stayin’ somewhere where a man can disappear but for his leg after a disagreement with the natives. So a few months after young Philip Forge was born, a name to which the crew did not object, because she was a fiery termagant when roused was my twelve-greats-grandmother, they all went off to the Dutch colonies of South Africa. And twenty years later, when young Philip was a grown man, he came back to his ancestral home, and began a fine career that his descendants have been proud to keep up, and always listening out for sniffs of Ol’ Desmond Ray’s treasure.”
“So you boarded us to find out if we’d found the treasure yet?”
“Give the man another biscuit!” Forge ordered happily, and another digestive was forced into Nick’s mouth. “Yes! I have come to enquire into your progress in finding the treasure that was so wrongfully stolen from Ol’ Desmond Ray by one Malcolm Sharp, some four hundred and eighteen years ago.”
“How do you mean, stolen by Malcolm Sharp? It was his treasure in the first place!”
“And what makes you think that, Miss Jacqueline?”
“The records on Isla Ballena – they prove that Sharp led the attack, it was Sharp’s banner that flew from the Alcalde’s mansion, it had Malcolm Sharp’s style all over it! That’s why people call it ‘Malcolm Sharp’s Treasure’ when they talk about it!”
“Uhuh. And do you know what he was going to do with it?”
“No – he was going to use it to set up a free country in the Archipelago. You know his banner? An arm with a cutlass, trailing a broken shackle? The flag of freedom! Now, Ol’ Desmond Ray, being a learn-ed man, he wasn’t too pleased with that notion. He demanded his equal cut of the loot, and didn’t get it. Sharp took all the treasure, and used the excuse of being ambushed by a Spanish squadron to steal it away from Ol’ Desmond Ray. He buried it while Ol’ Desmond Ray was leading the Spanish on a wild goose chase to the Caribbean, and when he came back to claim his share, not a penny was forthcoming! Nat’r’lly, he took a grievance with that, and – well, I’m sure you know what happened next, Miss Jacqueline.”
“I do. And so does he.”
“That’s good. That’s good. You see, half that treasure haul was rightfully Ol’ Desmond Ray’s, by shipboard agreement and pirate’s word – and that’s harder than steel. So, my whole family for four hundred years, have been wonderin’ – where the fucking Hell is it? And whose ass we gonna kick for hiding it?”
“But Beltrop came away from Isla Ballena with a new ship!” Nick protested. “A corvette! They were the fastest ships built, they had twenty-six guns, I’ve seen a sale note saying a corvette was sold to the Crown on Tendales in exchange for land worth thirty-five thousand pounds – that’s nearly the whole amount Malcolm Sharp took from the Spanish!”
“If you keep on being so dumb, I might have to take those biscuits back,” Forge told him. “A ship? That don’t mean nothing to a pirate! A ship is a tool of his trade, just as much as his sword or telescope are. Not that I carry a sword, in these enlightened times, of course. If I feel the need to travel armed, I use a nice little piece of Israeli engineering called an Uzi 9mm submachine gun. You’ll notice, I ain’t carrying it today.”
“We did notice, thanks.”
“Glad to hear it. And of course, not being so totally stupid as you sometimes appear to be, you must also have your own weapons of choice.” He turned. “Damien! What toys do they have?”
“Just these, Captain,” the pirate replied, appearing in view clutching the two Beretta 9mms in one hand, and the Bren gun in the other.
“Aww, cute, two little toys. Actually, I find these items quite useful if they’re ever needed. But that?” he indicated the Bren. “That’s a big toy! What are you two children doing, playing with the grown-up stuff?”
“You never know when it might come in handy,” Jacqueline told him.
“And yet you didn’t use it when you noticed the Skull and Crossbones approaching. Were you scared, or were you just too busy making yourself decent?”
“It’s not prepped,” Jacqueline replied.
“She’s right, Captain – no breech block,” Damien said.
“You’ll have that secured somewhere secret no doubt. Oh well, I can’t spare the time to look for it myself. I’ll let you keep your fun toy. What else did you find, Damien?”
“A laptop, some printouts, usual treasure-hunter’s equipment. Nothing we didn’t know about already.”
Forge nodded. “Uhuh. That makes some kind of sense, really. So why was you heading for an out of the way dump like Tel Kerrat? You think the treasure’s there? ‘Cos I can tell you, it most definitely ain’t!”
“There’s hints of a trail there,” Jacqueline told him. Nick glared at her briefly.
“Oh? You weren’t thinking of bumping into Piotr there? I know it’s a habit in your families.”
“No one’s seen Piotr for weeks.”
“He’s a sensible feller, on occasion.” Forge looked round at the non-existent scenery. “Well, I really would love to stop and chat, but, hey, we got nothin’ to talk about. Yet. You ain’t found the treasure, so there’s no point in me being here right now. Course, that don’t mean I’m just gonna let you run off on your own and do some searchin’ without tellin’ anyone. You just go on ahead and work your investigative magic, Miss Jacqueline, I know you do that so well, and me and the Skull and Crossbones will be loitering just on your horizon – so when you do find Ol’ Desmond Ray’s treasure, my rightful inheritance, you won’t have no chance of slipping away with it and doing what your ancestor did to mine. You need any help diggin’ and such like, all you gotta do is ask, I’ll let you borrow some of my boys. Hell, I’ll even pay to get your boat repaired from after our little skirmish. Your port bow looks a little bent and smoke-blackened. Dun’t look like anything to be worried about though.” He fished a bundle of US banknotes out of his pocket and tossed them onto the deck, smiled hugely one last time, then turned and leapt back onto his boat. His crew followed him, and unhitched the two craft.
“Are you just going to leave us tied here like this?” Nick shouted.
“Hell, yes! You ain’t goin’ nowhere without my say-so! It’ll take you a good few hours to loosen them ties, and I’m going to use that time to make myself just a blip on your radar – if you had any radar, that is. I’ll be seeing you – but you sure as Hell won’t be seeing me. At least, not until you find my treasure!”
The Skull and Crossbones’ engines started up, and the boat powered off, leaving the Destiny drifting.
“Well, I’m not sure how quickly I’ll be able to untie this rope what with it being behind my back, but I might be able to find something to cut it against,” Nick told Jacqueline after the pirate ship was at a safe distance.
“Don’t bother,” she replied. “I’ve got a knife under the waistband of my pants. If you can pull it out, I can get my legs through my arms, and cut us loose.”
“Why didn’t you tell me you had a knife? And what if Forge’s men had found it?”
“Because I didn’t want to put any heroic ideas into your head. And they’d expect me to be carrying something. Come on, stand up.”
Nick and Jacqueline sat in low spirits on the jetty, watching the finishing touches being made to the repairs of the Destiny. Their bare feet dangled in the water.
“So – no old-timers.”
“No-one who knows about Peter Ordo.”
“No-one who knows anything about a meeting point for buccaneers and retired governors.”
“Let’s go swimming.”
“Let’s go swimming!”
Jacqueline turned to look at Nick. “You cannot be serious. Why – and where – would we go swimming now?”
Nick gestured with his right hand. “Here. We’ve got kit on the boat. We might cheer ourselves up a bit with a nice swim.”
Jacqueline shook her head. “If you want to go swimming in oily sea water, go ahead – I’ve got other things to do.”
“Put this together,” she replied, indicating the contents of the bag from the general store (Nick was in charge of the fuel can).
“What is it, anyway?”
“Nothing much,” Jacqueline replied, and climbed to her feet. Nick clambered up as well, and, picking up their shoes, they walked towards the Destiny. A brief conversation in French followed, and then the workmen went away, and Jacqueline climbed aboard. “Come on, then,” she beckoned.
”Not swimming, then?” Nick asked.
“Right. I’ll cast off, then, if we’re done?”
“We’re done. Cast off, take us out. Head due west, for now.”
Nick cast off as Jacqueline disappeared into her cabin with the things she’d bought. He stowed the fuel can in the shade of the bridge, then started the engine and steered the Destiny out of the harbour, heading due west. He scanned the horizon carefully, looking for ships. Away on the northern horizon, he saw a small irregular blob of white, which he assumed was the Skull and Crossbones, but other than that, there was no other craft around. He set the autopilot, and headed down to Jacqueline’s cabin. He knocked on the door.
“What is it?”
“What are you doing in there?”
Jacqueline opened the door a few inches and peered out. “Promise not to laugh?”
Nick shrugged. “Sure.”
Jacqueline opened the door fully and stepped out. In her arms were the unmistakable beginnings of a crossbow.
“And that is for..?”
“Grenades,” she replied.
“We don’t have any grenades.”
“Yes, we do.” She lowered the crossbow to her side and led Nick to the forward communal area. On one side, there was a small kitchen – sink, hotplate, microwave, grill – and on the other was an ottoman-style seat that had storage space under one half of it, and a water tank under the other. The arms locker was at the base of the aft bulkhead on one side of the door, on the other side of which was a counter. There was a small TV mounted on the wall above the counter, and an emergency radio above the arms locker. Jacqueline put the crossbow down on the small draining board, and lifted the seat of the ottoman. “What do you see?” she asked.
“Emergency raft, survival kits, first aid kits, pair of shovels.”
She dipped her hand into the small space between the emergency raft and the water tank. There was a click, and the top of the water tank swung up. “Now what do you see?”
“A secret compartment,” he said. “Was that why they didn’t find the Bren’s breechblock yesterday?”
Jacqueline nodded. She delved in with both hands, and brought out the breechblock in her left, and a grenade in her right.
“I was going to tell you about them, but I had hoped I’d get a little more time before the pirates got to us. These are anti-personnel grenades, there’s three dozen of them. I also got a dozen smoke grenades and six flash grenades. Plus one stinger missile and shoulder launcher.”
“Hell’s bloody bells.” Nick was stunned. “You could have told me we had a bomb factory on board!”
“Calm down, it wouldn’t have done much good against Forge and his ship on the open sea. They’re to be used on land, if we got ambushed at the dig site. I figured that’s when we’d need them most.”
“So why the crossbow?”
Jacqueline’s shoulders slumped. “We were hopeless yesterday. I’d hoped we could do something, but – we couldn’t. The crossbow is going to – hopefully – let us return fire with our grenades.” She crossed to her wood and tin crossbow and sighed. “It’s pretty pointless, though. I mean – how far is it going to fire, compared to a rocket-propelled grenade? It’ll need to be timed just right, for them to detonate anywhere useful. And it won’t do much damage anyway. I just thought it would provide a little hope.”
Nick picked the crossbow up. “Tin bow, wooden stock. Are you compounding this with steel, and reinforcing the stock with something, or is this final? What have you got for the string, nylon rope? And what about a crank, or a pin-release? How were you going to do the trigger?”
Jacqueline raised her arms in despair and sighed. “You see? Useless!”
Nick was hefting the bow. “How long’s the fuse on the grenades?”
”How long are the grenades fused for?”
“Uh… Four seconds.”
Nick nodded. He braced the stock against his stomach and pulled back on the bow. “Three hundred yards, not counting for wind. Probably more if you were going to compound it with steel, but that would make it bloody hard to draw. Firing angle, thirty to forty degrees, flight time a little over three-and-a-half seconds at that range, with this bow.”
“What? You’re bullshitting.”
“No, I can show you the maths. Ballistics are just simple trig and physics. It’s easy. Course, I’m not sure how much a grenade weighs exactly, but it can’t be much more than 250 grams, can it, otherwise it’d be a bit impractical.”
Jacqueline looked amazed. “How do you know all that stuff?”
Nick shrugged and looked at her. “I just… Shit!”
He ran out onto deck. “You just shit?” Jacqueline asked. She looked round over her shoulder, out of the window, and saw what Nick had seen. She slammed the secret compartment and the lid of the ottoman closed, cursed, scrabbled for the arms locker key, opened it, and put the grenade and breech block inside, before taking out her Beretta and closing it. She hurried out to the aft-deck as Nick slowed the Destiny in response to calls from the boat not a hundred yards away, with a man on the prow aiming a rifle at them.
The Destiny drew to a halt as the other boat drew alongside. Nick slid down the ladder to join Jacqueline, who was muttering “not again, not again,” over and over. Nick was shaking - he put his arms round Jacqueline’s shoulders to block the view of the gun from the tall blond man who leapt aboard.
“Alright Mick, you can sod off now!” he called in a Danish accent. “Thanks for the ride! And point that pea-shooter somewhere else, for Christ’s sake!” He turned to the two of them as the other boat pulled away. “What the Hell’s the matter with you, Jacqueline? Aren’t you pleased to see me? Come on, give us a smile!”
Jacqueline did. In fact, she laughed, and pushed Nick away to warmly shake the man’s hand. “Piotr! Don’t you ever, ever, and I mean absolutely ever, frighten me like that again!”
Nicolas Sharp looked back over his squadron, and was pleased. He had arrived at Highrock yesterday, and leaving Peter Ordo to watch over the harbour, he had presented Brin’s letter and the accompanying evidence to Rear Admiral Alexander Gritstone that foggy morning. Within the hour, Mortons was arrested for treason, and half an hour later, was hanged from the battlements of Highrock Fort. Ten minutes after that, Nicolas and Peter were despatched nor-nor’eastwards to the island of Chaktcha, to intercept and destroy the pirate flotilla that was awaiting Beltrop’s word to attack Tendales. Four hours out, they had come across a lone heavy war galleon flying the pirate flag. They hauled down their colours (Peter had been given permission to fly an English flag) and pursued. They’d caught the sluggish ship barely an hour later, hoisted colours again, splattered her with grapeshot, and boarded her. The Sweet Flower, a ridiculous name for a pirate ship Nicolas thought, was now under the command of Artois de Moulette, with a hundred and fifty of Nicolas’ and Peter’s men. The extra firepower would come in handy against the pirate flotilla of a sloop, brig, fast galleon and corvette that was visible heading south from the northern horizon. They were about forty miles from Chaktcha.
Nicolas had signalled Peter the moment the flotilla had been spotted. He agreed that it was almost certainly the ships they were looking for, and the squadron had turned due east. The Sweet Flower was so slow and unwieldy, that would be the only way they could hope to intercept the swift ships of the pirate flotilla. They were less then ten miles apart now, and Nicolas had ordered no colours, personal banners only.
The mild mid-morning wind was blowing from the southeast, so both flotillas were currently heading about 45 degrees into the wind. The pirate flotilla, made up of faster ships, seemed to be making a better speed than Nicolas’ squadron. This was not a problem, however, as the pirate ships didn’t seem to be altering course to avoid them. Nicolas made sure that all the guns were loaded with bombs, to be reloaded with roundshot after the first volley. The two sets of ships drew steadily closer, and Nicolas began to wonder whether the pirates were as unsuspecting as they seemed – they had, after all, appeared on the southern horizon several hours ago, and almost immediately altered course to intercept. The flotilla commander must have noticed that!
At a miles’ distance, Nicolas decided he couldn’t stand the suspense any longer. “Hoist colours!” he yelled. He ran to the aft rail and waved to the ships behind him, and saw that they both immediately hoisted their own English flags. He turned to confirm that his own standard and cross of St George were sharing the masthead, and returned to the quarter rail. He snapped out his spyglass and swept it over the lead ship of the pirate flotilla, the brig. There seemed to be no rushing around, no frenzied activity, no changing of sails or preparing of guns. He closed the spyglass and called to his Master Gunner. “Mr Murray – fire on the nearest ship as soon as you are within range!”
“Aye aye, sir!” he replied, and went to the forward-most gun to lay it personally. The range would be a little over a quarter of a mile, and they were not that close yet.
The two flotillas continued unaltering until the Ghost Fire and the pirate brig, Ferret were half a mile apart. Suddenly, the Ferret reefed sail and swung hard to starboard, allowing the corvette behind her to sweep on under full sail. “Hard a larboard!” yelled Nicolas. “Bring us right round!”
The frigate began turning towards the pirate ships, and closer to the wind. The corvette seemed to be leaping ahead, without changing course, but definitely battle ready. The corvette passed the Ghost Fire’s stern as the frigate came parallel to the Ferret, and all three ships fired. One of the Ghost Fire’s bombs must have found its’ way to the Ferret’s powder magazine, as the brig was ripped apart in a fiery explosion that sent its’ masts flying. The heavy shot from the corvette slammed into the Ghost Fire’s stern, sending men staggering, then the corvette wheeled to starboard to come parallel to the frigate. The Sea Wolf and the Sweet Flower were turning north, to engage the final two ships, and as the Sea Wolf was appreciably faster, this left the Sweet Flower a clear shot at the corvette, the Vicious. The heavy war galleon’s broadside thudded home, then the Ghost Fire had come round far enough to fire again, and a second broadside thundered out, smashing into the timbers of the Vicious.
“Back to starboard!” Nicolas ordered. “Reef sail!”
The Ghost Fire swung round to the north, the Vicious following. The Sea Wolf cracked out two broadsides, one at the fast galleon, the other at the corvette, which managed to bring the Vicious’ fore-mast down. Ghost Fire’s aft guns thundered, striking off the corvette’s figurehead, and still the two ships wheeled to starboard.
The Sweet Flower had swung back round to the east, and another broadside thundered out from it, pounding the fast galleon, which replied with its’ own broadside. “Full sail! Take us past the eye of the wind!” Nicolas ordered. The frigate, which had almost slowed to a standstill, lurched ahead, bringing the sloop under its’ port guns, which fired and began to list. The ship’s five pop-guns replied, doing little damage to the Ghost Fire, and then the frigate was heading into the eye of the wind and came to a virtual standstill. The bows crept around, as the sloop veered off, the fast galleon came parallel to the Sea Wolf again, the Vicious swept between the Ghost Fire and the Sea Wolf, and the Sweet Flower coughed twice with her aft guns. Then every other ship fired at once – the sloop and the corvette hitting Nicolas’ ship, the corvette also hitting the Sea Wolf, which had also been fired on by the fast galleon. The Ghost Fire and the Sea Wolf pounded the Vicious from both sides, and it too began to list.
The Ghost Fire came past the eye of the wind, and lurched forward again as the wind caught. The Sweet Flower coughed a broadside at the fast galleon, and then the Ghost Fire was free to fire on the sloop again, and this time it sunk. The Vicious came past the Ghost Fire’s stern again, and the two guns there fired. The Sea Wolf swept round behind the fast galleon and fired into its’ stern at point-blank range, ripping apart the fragile decorative work that covered the main cabin. The fast galleon fired at the Sweet Flower, but the huge ship seemed to ignore the broadside and fired one of her own, pummelling the fast galleon. The Ghost Fire was heading west now, and both the fast galleon and corvette were in sight of her guns. “Fire as you bear!” Nicolas shouted. The starboard guns fired, caving in the side of the fast galleon, and she collapsed. David Murray ran to the other side of the ship, waited half a second, and then the port guns roared out, doing the same thing to the corvette. The Vicious fired one last broadside just as she was hit, and the balls smacked into the water mere yards from her splintered side as it rolled under water. The top of the corvette’s mainmast landed with a crash on the Ghost Fire’s rail, caving it in, and hauling the port side of the ship down.
“Heave to!” yelled Nicolas.
”Get the axes!” ordered Bosun Shoo. Half a dozen men ran to the mast and began hacking at it with axes and boarding pikes, in a desperate effort to cut it loose before the weight dragged the ship over. Men from the gun crews below where the mast struck tried to support the weight with their rammers thrust through the gun ports.
“Mr Fickler!” Nicolas bawled. “All hands to move cargo to starboard – now!” Nicolas knew it would take far too long to move enough cargo over to the starboard side to have any effect against the drag of the corvette’s mast, but he had to try. The top eight feet of the mast were fouling the ship, and dragging it down as the weight of the shattered corvette’s hull went down. Two men were trying to push the tip of the mast up from on deck, but it was too heavy for them to have much effect. The axes that were being wielded with such ferocity were the only hope for the Ghost Fire, which is why they bit down again and again.
There was a thump from starboard, and Nicolas looked round to see the Sea Wolf drawn up alongside. Grappling lines were slung over, catching on the rail, and the Sea Wolf turned away slowly, pulling the Ghost Fire back down to an even keel again. The Ghost Fire’s axemen were now winning the battle, and within a minute the top of the mast broke away, and the last remains of the corvette disappeared beneath the waves. Nicolas ran to the starboard line and hailed the brig. “Heave to, the job’s done! Thank you, Peter!”
“What are allies for?” he called back.
Nicolas turned back to face his men as they hurried over to release the grappling lines. “Three cheers for Peter Ordo and the Sea Wolf! Hip-hip-hip!”
The Ghost Fire and Sea Wolf swept past the final headland into the bay of Grey Sails, and reefed sail and let go anchors at the same time. They jerked to a halt together, barely thirty yards from the beached galleon’s guns. The midday sun was directly behind them, and the wind was blowing westerly, so they were not short of resources to escape with. The Ghost Fire’s boat was lowered in double-quick time, and Nicolas was rowed ashore with six guards. They had barely got through the gates when they were stopped by Pegleg Berquist and a dozen roughnecks.
“What the Hell are you doing back here, sonny?” demanded the old pirate.
“Less of the ‘sonny’, old man, or the first thing I do on Granda Avilia is tell them who sunk the Minuette two years ago.”
“How’d ye hear about that?” Berquist demanded.
“Old pal of your boss told me. You might know him – wears a short beard and a yellow bandana.”
“Ordo! He’s with ye? I might have known. Now, unless you’ve got real business here, Cap’n Beltrop’s orders are that you are not welcome for casual visits.”
“And what if I don’t have real business here?”
“We throw you back into your canoe, and give you ten minutes to raise sails and get out of here.”
“And if we don’t go in those ten minutes?”
Berquist smiled, slowly. “Well, normally, we’d just open fire from the whale, but since The Gorgon’s in the area, the boss might decide to let his First Mate have some target practice.”
“I’ve never heard of The Gorgon,” Nicolas told him. “Dangerous, is it?”
”You don’t know the half of it,” Berquist jeered. “Now come on, quit stalling – what’s your business here today?”
“That Dago agent still around? The one in the fancy green coat?” Nicolas asked.
“In the tavern, like where he always is,” Berquist replied. “Why?”
“Well then, my business is in the tavern, and is none of your concern, my friend.” Nicolas stepped forward, his men in step behind him, and shouldered his way between Berquist’s men.
“Hey! You can’t just throw me off like that!” he protested.
“I can, and I have,” Nicolas replied, not looking over his shoulder. He carried on walking, ignoring Berquist and his men, and entered the tavern, leaving four of his men to guard the door against interruptions.
The interior of the tavern was much quieter than when Nicolas had last seen it – maybe it was because it was the middle of the day, and most of the inhabitants of the island were sleeping off the previous night’s debauchery, or they were back aboard ship and out hunting. However, there were still a few hard drinkers lurking in the dimly-lit room, and still a couple of whores draping themselves across the furniture. Nicolas spotted his man almost immediately, and went over to him.
“Beunos dias, senor,” he said.
“Beunos dias, capitan,” the man replied. “What can I do for you?”
“You can let me sail for His Most Catholic Majesty of Spain, is what you can do,” Nicolas told him.
“You have a ship and crew?”
“Yes – a frigate, and an ally with a brig.”
“Bueno, senor, bueno! We are short of Captains who have such resources at their disposal! Now – you understand, senor, that you will be required to sail directly for Granda Avilia to receive your Letter and standard, yes?”
“Can’t you give it to me?”
The agent laughed. “Oh, senor, of course not! Think! If I had Letters of Marque to give out, I would be giving them out every day to those who come back fresh from looting His Most Catholic Majesty’s ships! No, senor, I give you my recommendation, and a banner that tells the guns not to fire, but to keep trained on you, and you go to Governor de Mercadal on Granda Avilia, and he will give you the Marque!”
Nicolas cursed silently. He was going to have to go to Granda Avilia and get a Letter of Marque from the Spanish Governor there, before he would be issued with a flag big enough to fly when he went to Costa Sinistra. Still, if that’s what it took…
“All right – where do I sign?”
“First, senor, your name, and that of your ally, if you please?”
“Nicolas Sharp and Peter Ordo.”
“What?” the agent jumped to his feet, reaching for a short dagger that had been concealed under the hang of his coat. “You, Nicolas Sharp, think to serve Spain? You are mad, senor!”
Nicolas sighed and batted the dagger out of the man’s hand, and with his left hand grabbed the man round his throat and shoved him back against the nearest wall. “Yes, I do want to serve Spain, you ignorant inbred son of a diseased tortoise! I’ve grown tired of serving the selfish ends of the pompous aristocratic idiots that govern the English islands round here, and now I want something with a bit of bite to it, that pays better than the English do. Comprendez?”
The agent scrabbled at the arm across his throat, ignoring Nicolas’ right hand, which seemed to be applying undue pressure to his scrotum. “Senor – please, senor, I cannot breathe,” he managed.
Nicolas relaxed his pressure with both hands a bit. “So, do I get to serve Spain, or do I go back to crushing your balls and your windpipe?”
“Senor – you are a very brave Captain. You are, are, famous, for your exploits. Unfortunately, your exploits – they are mostly at the expense of His Most Catholic Majesty.” The last few words were a choked scream as Nicolas tightened his grip with his right hand again.
“Answer me straight, or I start back with the left hand as well!” he growled.
”Senor!” Nicolas relaxed his grip again. “Gracias, senor, gracias. You understand, Captain, that under normal circumstances, a Captain wanting to join His Most Catholic Majesty’s service would be in receipt of a bounty? But, Captain Sharp, you do not have normal circumstances. I cannot give you the pass to see the Governor without you first making reparation for damages against Spain!” Again, the choked scream.
“Are you saying that if I pay you, you give me the pass and the safe-conduct banner for Granda Avilia harbour?”
Nicolas relaxed again. “How much?”
“It is known you have sunk or captured ten Spanish ships, senor. His Most Catholic Majesty will require a payment of one thousand dollars for each of those ships.”
“How many Spanish dollars to the English pound?”
“Two-and-a-half – for four thousand pounds, senor, you can be a Spanish Captain!”
Nicolas let the man go – he slumped against the wall, massaging his neck. “Francis! Rum, for me and my Spanish friend here!” He helped the man back to his table, and looked at one of his bodyguards. “Tell Fickler four thousand, and to hurry.”
Five hours later, the Ghost Fire and the Sea Wolf limped into Shark Island’s harbour. It had all been going well, Nicolas had handed over the gold, and got the signed recommendation, and two banners to pass under the guns at Granda Avilia, and was just boarding the Ghost Fire, when Berquist’s annoyance was displayed. Having been slighted by a whippersnapper of a captain, Berquist had asked Beltrop’s permission to fire on the two ships. Beltrop, knowing that Berquist was rightly aggrieved, and also knowing that Sharps never did things like that lightly, had ordered him to wait until Nicolas had re-boarded his ship and was about to set sail. The one volley from the whale – the pirates’ name for the beached war galleon – slammed into the flank of the Ghost Fire at thirty yards range, doing heavy damage. Both ships fled as quickly as they could, but the Ghost Fire was taking on water, and so they circled north around Grey Sails, and headed towards Shark Island for repairs. As they did so, they saw a huge ship some miles to the south of Grey Sails, following them. Peter confirmed to Nicolas that it was The Gorgon – Beltrop’s flagship, a ninety-eight gun modern man-o-war, stolen with great audacity from a Portuguese shipyard nine months ago. Rich though Beltrop was, it was too big to operate with a full crew all the time, and so it mostly spent its’ time with a half-crew, sailing in a spiral centred on Grey Sails, out to Itkal. Beltrop had only ever taken it out once with a full battle crew – he’d patrolled to Granda Avilia and back, blowing every ship he saw out of the water, and hammering the fort on the island.
Nicolas landed in the boat and hurried to the tavern to speak to Ulsson.
“Well, what did you expect?” asked the pirate king, when he’d been told what had happened. “If you go round belittling Beltrop’s provost, of course you’re going to get a broadside up your backside.”
“But why the one? And why wait until I’m leaving?”
”Who knows? Beltrops’s a sly old cove, he won’t want to make trouble unless he can see a direct profit to himself in it. Maybe he considered sinking your ship while you were still ashore would have been a bit unfair - after all the trouble you’ve given him, he wants to finish it properly, at sea.”
”Right. But what about the Ghost Fire? Can she be repaired?”
“Of course she can!” Ulsson shrugged. “We’ve got a shipyard here – nothing as big as on the ‘civilised’ islands, of course, we can only build up to corvette size, but we can fix anything brought in. Just ask Biggs, he’s got his office at the far end of the street. He’s a very helpful man, if you ask nicely.”
“Thanks.” Nicolas stood up, then sat back down again. “Actually – did I mention Camentata to you last time?”
“I mentioned him to you, Sharpie!” Ulsson reminded him.
“I know,” Nicolas replied, “but I just wanted to make sure. He was my father’s cook, right?”
Ulsson nodded. “That’s right – he was one of the best sailors’ cooks I’ve ever come across.”
“He was with you on that first voyage you were recruited on?”
”He was – he joined a year or two after me, though. Where’s this heading?”
“Remember that jeweller I told you about – the one who made my medallion?”
“The one who sailed with Malcolm while he carved his likeness into it, yes.”
“You never met him, I know, but he mentioned a fearsome man on my father’s ship, a Bosun or a Mate.”
“You told me before, and I still don’t remember any particular man who matches that description.”
“But Camentata – the jeweller told me the fearsome man cut off two of the cook’s fingers for not giving him what he wanted to eat.”
“So, does Camentata have two fingers missing?”
“No! Who would bother cutting off a cook’s fingers, eh? It would only make the poor man’s job harder. Your jeweller must have made it up!”
“Are you sure? When did you last see him?”
“Of course I’m sure, Nicolas. Maurikio Camentata has all eight fingers and two thumbs of his own, always has had. Unless he’s gotten careless and sliced a couple off himself with a meat cleaver, but I doubt it. He was just as good with a cutlass as he was with a paring knife, no-one ever dared come near him in a melee. So you’d better just watch yourself, Nicolas, and not insult him, or talk down to him, or make him suspicious. He’ll gut you if he can get away with it, and he most likely will.”
“Thanks, Ulsson. You’ve been very helpful.”
“Meh – get out of here and go and see Biggs!”
© Brian Wakeling. Sea Dogs is a computer game © to Bethesda Softworks and Sold Out Software.