By Barbara Weitbrecht
"So they're hostile?" Bo asked, peering at the approaching sail.
"Most likely. Help the dame down the ladder, if ye don't mind. Dames! Bloody useless critters..."
Bo moved to help Josephine, but Elerde had emerged from the cabin and had taken charge of his lady. Bo headed forward and selected a cutlass and dirk from the weapons chests. He had never used a cutlass in his life, but he knew a fair amount about knife-fighting. The sword would serve for intimidation, and the dirk would do the damage. He was glad now that he had let Barnacle braid a few beads into his hair, which had grown to shoulder length since his arrival in Lawrencium. It made him look more like a pirate and less like Friar Tuck on holiday.
By now all the pirates except Fiero were hanging over the starboard rail, staring at the strange boat. It was a long, low craft much like their own, painted black, with a brown-and-tan striped sail.
"Blast!" said Baldie. "It's the Black Dragon for sure! Her captain's Avarico the Hard-handed. Nasty piece of work."
Elerde had reappeared on deck in full mail and weapons. "Fiero!" he called to the quarterdeck. "We need not fight the fellow. Just outrun him!"
"That's the Black Dragon, it is!" Fiero spat.
"So? Thou toldest me thou couldst outsail any boat in French or British waters. 'Tis why I am paying thee a fortune for transport."
"Any boat but the Black Dragon," said Fiero, leaning on the tiller. "I thought not that we would be meeting Avarico."
The other boat was now entering hailing range. A tall, red-bearded man with elaborate braids stood on its quarterdeck. "Proud Fiero!" he bellowed. "'Tis thy only chance to surrender!"
"Hard-handed Avarico!" Fiero bellowed back. "Thy mother wast a strumpet and thy father wast a pack-ass! Fiero surrenders to no whoreson coaster! And thy vessel stinketh!"
Fiero turned to Elerde and remarked conversationally, "That'll make him mad. Lose his concentration, he will."
"Dog-turd Fiero!" Avarico bellowed. "Give us the lady and we shall leave thy crew alive and with all their manly equipment!"
"What lady?" Fiero countered. "That wast no lady, that wast my whore!"
"Thou knowest well enough what lady, prick-for-brains! The Queen Josephine! She who will bring us a queen's full ransom, from her poor grieving husband!"
"How the hell did he find that out?" Fiero mused. "Was I really that drunk in Calais that I spilled it?"
"Seems so, boss," sighed Shark.
"Oh well. I guess we fight."
The two boats were nearly touching now. Men on both sides readied boarding hooks. Bo gripped his unfamiliar cutlass and tried to look fierce. The other boat had ten men on it, and they all looked quite experienced.
"Now!" Fiero cried. He released the tiller and grabbed a loose rope, his cutlass gripped in his teeth. A moment later he had swung to the opposing quarterdeck and was sword-to-sword with Avarico.
Grappling-hooks crunched in wood. Bo was caught up in the rush to board the other boat. He landed heavily on the enemy deck and swung his cutlass around in what he hoped was a ferocious manner. After a moment's reflection, he tossed his weapons to opposite hands and headed out with the dirk foremost. He managed to wound an enemy pirate who was aiming his blade at Spike's head. First blood!
Fighting was hot and heavy, and quite disorienting. There was blood on the deck now, and bodies to stumble over. Bo looked up to see Elerde cleave one of Avarico's men from skull to sternum. He was impressed, but he suddenly wondered who was looking after Josephine.
A glance at the Bella's deck confirmed his worst fear. Two nasty- looking coves had hacked open the cabin door and were dragging a fainting Josephine onto the deck. "We've got 'er, Cap'n!" shouted the nastier of the two, who had just hoisted the Queen over his shoulder like a sack of grain. He patted her bottom lasciviously.
"I don't THINK so!" Bo roared. He cleared both ships' rails in a leap, and a moment later he had buried his cutlass in the rotter's back, right though the kidneys. He died with a gratifying scream as Bo caught Josephine and supported her.
"Bitch!" yelled the other pirate. He swung his cutlass in an arc that would have decapitated a shorter man, but would likely catch Bo full in the chest. A moment later he was headless, as Elerde's broadsword spun past his spouting neck.
"Thanks, man!" Bo gasped. He realized that Josephine was still clinging to him like terrified ivy. Gallantly, he handed the lady over to her rightful owner.
The pirates were returning now, bloody and triumphant. Avarico had lost half his crew, and the captain himself had been wounded. Of Fiero's band, Baldie was dead and Barnacle would probably die before sunrise. Bo helped scrub the blood from the deck as Josephine tended Barnacle's wounds. As the sun sank behind the Dover hills, the pirates toasted Baldie in solemnly spat ale.
Not bad for a first sea-battle, Bo mused, taking his old place at the tiller. He had a few nicks and scratches, but nothing to write home about. He had done his fair share of the butchery, and it was all in the good cause of protecting a lady's honor. His life as a pirate had probably reached its zenith.
Come what might, when they reached Calais he was leaving. He thought again of what Josephine had whispered as she clung to him, half- fainting, among the blood and horror:
"Don't leave me!"
Next: Calsis: For a Day or Until the Smell Gets to YOu
Before there was the novel, there were the stories...
by Nan Hawthorne, who also writes under Christopher Hawthorne Moss, Books and Stories b ChristopherHawthorne Moss at http://authorchristophermoss.vlogspot.com