By Barbara Weitbrecht
Bo was released from his bonds once the pirate craft was out of swimming range of shore. The pirates, who up to then had been ignoring him, helped him dress his wounded arm. Then they broke out a cask of ale and performed introductions.
The pirate captain styled himself Fiero the Proud. (Bo thereafter thought of him as Fiero the Redundant.) The crew, lacking the status for full binominal titles, had all adopted nicknames. Shark was the first mate, Barnacle was the cook, and the two pirates Bo had injured were Spike and Baldie. The dead man had been named Grampus. The pirates and Bo solemnly toasted his memory in ale and spat in the sea to still his vengeful spirit.
Discussion then revolved around what name they should give their new recruit. Bo helpfully suggested Sperm Whale, which was vetoed. After some debate, he was doused with ale and christened Hulk.
By then it was full dark. The night watch took their posts as the day watch rolled up in rough wool blankets on the deck. Bo inherited Grampus's blanket, which covered him from armpits to knees.
Elerde and Josephine had long since retired to the tiny cabin at the stern, no doubt thorougly disgusted with the pirates' colorful antics. Bo lay on his back on the rocking deck and watched the masthead lantern swinging among the stars.
The next morning, he was set to work. The pirates, sure that he was an arrant lubber, would hand him something (a boarding-hook, for instance) and ask if he knew what it was. Every time he gave a halfway correct answer they would punch each others' shoulders in amazement and hoot with delighted laughter. "We has got a prize, a real scholar!" they assured each other. "Imagine knowin' that was the 'mizzen', and not the 'wee mast to the rear o' the boat'! That's better'n old Grampus ever done!"
Bo had done a bit of recreational sailing on the Potomac, and he found much on "Bella's Dream" familiar. The sails were simple triangles, but they allowed the craft to tack and wear, luff off and head up closer to the wind than a square-sailed craft could have done. They were slipping south along the English coast now, heading for the narrowest part of the Channel before they turned their bow toward France. The wind lay steady from the west, so there was no danger of ending up wrecked on a lee shore in the middle of the night. If they drifted out of sight of land, it was a simple matter to head back as west of south as the craft allowed until it was visible again.
It was about noon their third day out. Bo sat on the roof of the tiny cabin, his arm hitched over the tiller. The sails were half-taut, and the ropes creaked pleasantly. To the right, the coast was rising into white chalk cliffs.
The ladder to the tiny quarterdeck creaked. Bo looked up to see Josephine climbing delicately onto his perch. Elerde, usually only half a pace behind her, was nowhere to be seen.
The Queen sat against the rail beside him, ignoring the stares of Shark and Spike, who had the watch. "Are they treating thee well, Bo?" she asked gravely.
"Quite well, milady. These are the sort of people I know, rough but honorable in their own fashion. And you, how do you fare?"
"As well as I deserve, I suppose," she said quietly, turning her face away.
It was not the answer he expected, but it made sense. She had seen what Elerde had done to Rory. And she might be thinking that she had trusted her own emotions and the words of others a little too well in recent weeks. Bo took a flying leap into the unknown. "If you ever need a protector, milady, I'm here for you. On this boat, or in France."
She thought about it. "Elerde is my protector now," she stated. "At least... for the present." A small smile played about her lips, and she gazed to the west, where the English coastline was slipping by.
"The offer stands," said Bo. He leaned against the tiller and pointed the boat's nose a bit further out to sea. They sat for a while together, silent.
"So thou dost not plan to remain a pirate?" Josephine asked playfully. "If thou art my knight protector, thou canst can hardly be a pirate too. It would not be seemly."
Bo chuckled. "Oh, I don't mind the sailing-around part of it. In fact, I rather like it. But we haven't done any actual piracy yet. When it comes to the point, I don't think I'll be able to rape and kill the innocent. That's when Bella and I part company." Bo patted the deck as a man might pat a horse's flank.
"I am pleased to hear it, Bo. I am often wrong about men's characters, but I did not think I was wrong about thine. I can see thee as a warrior, but not a brigand."
Bo's answer was forever unspoken. Spike was clinging to the forward rigging, pointing wildly to starboard. "Sail ho!" he cried again. "And they're intercepting us!"
(to be continued)
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