|There will be blood tonight!|
At the end of The Princess Bride, Westley says to Inigo, "You'd make a wonderful Dread Pirate Roberts!" Here are the many adventures of the new captain of the Revenge! Read on!
Preparing for the Assault
Ten years. That’s how long I’ve been a crewmember on the Revenge. I’ve seen some wild things in that time, and have been part of some crazy moments as we plundered and robbed our way to a reputation that echoes today over the Seven Seas.
But nothing like this. I was convinced this mission was suicide and that we were all going to our doom. Captain Montoya must have sensed it (I thought I was hiding it well; I had no intentions of putting a damper on the morale of the crew, which was as high as I’d ever seen), because on the day we were to put our initial plans in play, he stopped me.
“There is no point in hiding it, Paloni,” he said quietly. “I can see it in your eyes.”
“See what, sir?” I asked, trying to act surprised that he’d see anything but steely resolve.
He shook his head. “There is no need to fence with me. All the years of learning to be a swordmaster, one learns one lesson above all others: the strategy of one’s opponent can be found in his eyes, not in his feet or his blade. Tell me what is troubling you.”
But what could I say that would be worthy of a First Mate of the Revenge? This truly was the dawn of this ship’s golden age. If I knew anything, it was that, and so I composed myself and answered, “I want to be worthy of this ship, sir. I do not want to let the men down; and I do not want to let you down.”
He gazed deeply into my eyes. “I am fortunate to have you by my side, Paloni. You have taught me much. Perhaps it is time I teach you something. Come,” he said, putting a hand on my shoulder, “it is time to go.”
If this was suicide, so be it. We are the Revenge, known and feared over the Seven Seas. It was time to increase the sound of that echo, or to die trying.
Here was the plan:
Half of us would crew longboats into the point to retrieve the gold after the Revenge returned from Taurdust, the closest port to Harshtree, just twelve miles up the coast. Taurdust (pronounced DOW-er-dust) was, fortunately, friendly to the Revenge, a forgotten little enclave popular with retired pirates and thieves. One would think that such a populace would raise hell day in and day out, but that would be incorrect. Taurdust was as sleepy a hamlet as existed anywhere. Retired pirates and thieves tend to be very picky about their quiet.
That was Marcell’s contribution to the plan, because he was best buddies with one such retired pirate up there, a chap named Sam Racer, who he said could hook us up with horses and a cart and someone to modify it to look like a prison paddywagon.
We argued spiritedly about who should take it to Harshtree, and how many should go. It was one of the women—Hindy is her name—who got us to agree that more than five would rouse suspicion. Two would drive the wagon, and three would be “prisoners” in the back. Dangerous didn’t begin to describe it. We would need our five best swordsmen and –women. Another argument ensued over who qualified. The captain quelled it by announcing that he would test everyone’s skill to determine who should go. And then he caused the biggest uproar of all by telling us that he would be one of the five.
Try as we might, we couldn’t budge him. Westley had warned me: Give that man a Purpose and the drink will be forgotten until that Purpose is fulfilled. That’s what his letter had said. I hadn’t taken it as a warning. Perhaps I should’ve.
“Your face is famous all over
Florin, Captain, and probably
Gilder, too,” I’d tried as a last-ditch effort to talk him out of going. “The
guards at Harshtree will take one look at you and know who you are.”
Hindy had the answer for that. “Not if he looks like a hooker he won’t.”
All heads snapped around. There were shouts of outrage: “The captain of the Revenge dressed as a hooker?” “In all my years of piratin’, I have never—” “Twenty lashes! That’s what they used to give suggestions like that in the olden days!” Hindy shrank in her seat—until she glanced at Captain Montoya, who was grinning approvingly. He held his hand up to quiet the commotion, then said, “Please let her speak. What is your name again?”
“Hindy,” said Hindy. She shook her head emphatically, “No disrespect offered, sir. None, I promise you …”
The captain shook his head. “None taken. Please, expound on your idea.”
“Hookers are sometimes brought into Harshtree for prisoners who display good behavior. They’re called ‘carrots.’ Sometimes carrots are brought in for condemned men—men who are to be hanged the next day. There’s a private room with a bed.”
She stopped talking and lowered her eyes. No one asked how she knew this information.
An uncomfortable silence pervaded the proceedings. She broke it with: “You’ll need to shave your moustache, Captain, of course …”
“Of course,” said the captain, grinning. He twisted one end of it. “I’ve had this since I was a young man …”
“Captain, I’m sure we can think of another plan—” offered Marcell.
But Captain Montoya shook his head. “No. This is perfect, provided you can make me look like a ‘carrot.’ ” He stared at Hindy. “Can you do that?”
Her smile was one of relief. “I think so, sir.”
Several of the other women spoke up. “We can help,” they said.
“Very good,” said the captain. “Now: let’s talk about weapons. At some point we’re going to need them. Can we sneak our swords in there somehow?”
And we were off and planning some more.
The captain of the Revenge—dressed as a hooker, a “carrot”!
That was five with the paddywagon and thirteen digging up the gold on the point. We were fortunate: low tide would come just after midnight the night the assault was to take place, which meant the diggers would have access to the bit of beach where the first coins were discovered. That left six to crew the Revenge. Those were hardly the castoffs with no real role to play; we’d need crewmen and -women with superb sailing skills who could get our beloved ship out of harm’s way if it came to that, or fight if need be.
But that would have to wait. On the morning of the third day of planning we gathered on the main deck in a large circle around the captain. He held wooden training swords.
I was the first to be motioned into the circle. He handed me the trainer. “On your mark, Paloni,” he said, assuming a fighter’s stance. “You say when.”
One of the crew off to the left held a stopwatch; another next to him readied a clipboard and quill and served as the referee. I glanced at them, then back at the captain. I took a deep breath.
“Ready,” I said. I heard the stopwatch click.
According to the crewmember holding it, I lasted four and a quarter seconds. That’s how long it took Captain Montoya to disarm me.
The crew’s mouths all hung open.
Four and a quarter bloody seconds! I picked up the trainer from the deck, my own mouth hanging open, and handed it to Marcell, who shut his and took it nervously.
Marcell did nothing nervously.
He lasted two seconds flat. He hadn’t been disarmed, but “stabbed” in the chest. He stared down at the wooden blade poking perfectly into his sternum. “Son of a bitch,” he grunted.
He gave the captain a bow and, smiling and shaking his head, handed the trainer to Domingo, who didn’t even lift the damn thing before it flew out of his hand.
Captain Montoya gave the boy an understanding pat on the shoulder as he slunk back to the circle.
The crew eventually stopped being silent with astonishment and started cheering each who stepped in, giving them encouragement. We tried to distract the captain with lighthearted teasing: “Spaniard on deck! Hide the booze!” “Think you’ll get a boyfriend at Harshtree, Captain? He’ll look pretty!” “Who’s green and mean and jumps like a bean?” (Referring, of course, to his spate of seasickness and Mexican jumping beans, which made him chuckle and shake his head. It didn’t help.)
Now here’s the surprising thing. My time—four and quarter seconds, was fourth best out of everybody, which meant I was going to accompany the paddywagon strike team.
What was most surprising, though, was that the three ahead of me were women, including Hindy, whose full half minute in the circle brought a loud round of applause from everyone, including the captain, who, after his bow to her, said, “Where did you learn to use a sword? You are marvelous!”
“My father taught me,” she replied. “I would love to watch you two spar.”
“He is obviously of the first caliber,” said Captain Montoya. “I applaud him that he went against tradition and trained his daughter.”
“Daughters were all he had,” she said with a pride-filled grin.
The two other women who bested my time also had training by their fathers—one a Florinian miller and another an ex-pirate whose wife had died giving birth to her. The crew gave us a hearty round of applause.
“Well, that takes care of making the captain look like a carrot,” grunted Marcell, “but it leaves us with the problem of making two women look like men!”
“There’s another problem,” I observed. “What if those on the strike team are needed here to protect the ship?”
But that was an empty problem. Marcell was as good as a sailor as lived; it was a simple matter for him to point out five others to help him crew. “I’ll map out the approach to the point to those going in to retrieve the gold,” he announced. “It isn’t as difficult as legends would have it. A little care and attention and calm seas will see you all safely to shore. Now back to the original problem. Those men sitting in that infernal prison will smell a woman from half a mile off! We’ve got our work cut out for us.”
We did. Our women crew did not look mannish, not one of them. As tough as they were, all of them had lovely feminine features. They defied conventions and expectations, and for that had been rejected by their communities. They had found a home on the Revenge; and all of them were invaluable in their own way.
“Trifles,” said Captain Montoya with a determined smile. “We have our assignments, and we have our plan. It is time to put flesh on it! Let’s go!”
We sailed into
the following afternoon.
Sam Racer met us at the dock, his sons in tow. They were large, burly men who later
helped stock the ship, and who helped us find a suitable paddywagon in a
neighboring junkyard. Taurdust
The following morning we spoke to Racer’s neighbor, an ex-guard at Harshtree, unbelievably, who was more than happy to help us out.
“Thirty-seven years on the job at that shithole, and they take my pension away on some trumped-up charge! You bet I’ll help you!”
It took four days of back-breaking sunup-to-sundown work, but as the last light of the fourth day drained away, we stood and stared at Harshtree’s newest prison paddywagon, along with twenty-two brand new wooden training swords.
“After we learn to swim, we will learn to fight!” declared the captain, who thanked the ex-guard for making them before paying him handsomely.
The crew, Sam Racer, his sons, and the ex-guard celebrated at the local tavern, where our boisterousness was met with disapproving frowns from the locals; but the tavern owner loved us and didn’t interrupt. By the time we stumbled out of there well after midnight, he’d probably made an entire season’s worth of tips. We’re not rich, certainly, those proud lot of us of the Revenge, but we’re not poor either. Besides, it had been a long time since we’d let loose.
We of the strike team waved the Revenge off the following morning—the day we would rescue Fezzik from Harshtree. We watched as her sails unfurled and she sailed out of sight.
We had all day to get ready and to recover from our hangovers. Our planned assault would take place at precisely eleven-thirty P.M.; that’s when our paddywagon would pull up to the prison’s imposing gates. Eleven o’clock was when the guards changed shifts and the skeleton crew showed up, cutting the guard presence in half. We figured we had less than that—half an hour—to rescue Fezzik and be a good, safe distance back along the road before Florin’s authorities were alerted to what was happening and overwhelmed us. At the very minimum, we’d need to be out of the impassable forest. It seemed doable since we would have the four horses drawing the paddywagon, which we’d set free to find their way back to Taurdust, and perhaps more from the prison stables, though it would be foolish to count on them.
Eleven-thirty was also when the team of golddiggers were to land and begin their work. Once we struck, the retired guard informed us, those manning the parapets would almost certainly come to the rescue of their comrades and try to stop us, even though their orders required them to remain at their posts. If that happened, and if the night was as dark as it had been the previous week, they’d not spot the diggers. Boredom was rampant among the guards at Harshtree, he told us, and so lax discipline had set in, not to mention corruption and other helpful problems. Inspections of Harshtree by
were rare, fewer than twice a year, and always on the same dates. Harshtree’s
administrators had grown as soft as their guards. All of these things would hopefully
work in our favor.
As would Bacco. That is, again, hopefully. Very hopefully. Bacco, I had to admit, was a wild card. His interests and ours very well might conflict.
“Profit,” I told the captain as Crissah, one of the women on the strike team, shaved his moustache. (We’d decided to shave it anyway to alter his appearance.) “That’s his interest. That’s his only interest. What profits him, what gets him ahead, what serves his purpose, what enriches him. If he thinks he can become richer by having us captured or killed than by helping us free Fezzik, he’ll do it without blinking an eye.”
Captain Montoya frowned. “He was once a crewmember?”
“He seems more trouble than he’s worth.”
I nodded again, this time unsurely. “The real problem with Bacco is that for every negative you can find with him, you also get an equal and opposite positive. He has proven invaluable to the crew in the past, which was why previous captains didn’t hang him from the mainmast or cast him overboard. If he once again proves useful, I’d advise strong caution in dealing with him. He is smart and cunning. Very smart. Don’t be afraid to use your blade, if for no other reason than to establish who’s boss. He’s an opportunist. He can spot weakness and indecision a mile off.”
“Thank you, Paloni,” said the captain. “I appreciate the heads-up. I do not fear snakes. Will he be there?”
“As I understand it, he lives in the prison.”
Unfortunately, Captain Montoya didn’t look much different without the moustache as I’d hoped. His strong, dark features were unmistakable. We settled on a tattered scarf to put on his head, and bandages to wrap his neck up to his chin and mouth. We “guards” would report that he’d been injured before his arrest.
The irons and chains for him and I were fake and easily breakable; and as for weapons, they were in a hidden drawer under the paddywagon and easily accessible once the receiving guards had been overcome. Of those, Hindy told us, there would be two. They’d be heavily armed, and that was a problem, and they’d need to be silenced before they got a chance to yell, another problem. A third was Hindy. If she was recognized she might bring the entire assault to a screeching halt. It all depended on who the receiving guards were. For that reason we chose the visiting carrot to be Crissah, who’d be armed with a dagger secured by garter.
I had to admit she looked very alluring. We men, including Sam Racer’s sons, gawked openly when she emerged from the room with her guards, Hindy and Emeri, both who, at least from across the room, looked passably male.
“The carrot rides with the prisoners?” asked the captain.
Hindy nodded darkly. “Yes. If she’s touched the guards can execute the prisoners before they even arrive. It isn’t uncommon for paddywagons to arrive carrying only the carrot. Many condemned line the road into Harshtree. It’s quite gruesome.”
“I doubt the guards bother being judicious,” I snorted. “How many of those dead along the road never touched the carrot, I wonder?”
“A fair few, no doubt,” said Hindy. “You’ll need to prepare yourself. The road into Harshtree is awful.”
We left at nine-thirty. Hindy and Emeri drove the paddywagon; the captain and Crissah and I rode in the back. The going was bumpy at first as we left Taurdust, but then, surprisingly, leveled out. With the sliver of a setting new moon lighting the way, the tangled and impenetrable mass of
loomed higher and higher into the
sky, shutting out the silver light. Half an hour into our journey, the moon had
set and the first dark boughs glided overhead. Soon we were riding in pitch
blackness with only an oil lamp to each side of the paddywagon illuminating the
rutted road ahead. The lead horses were just visible and seemed to know the
way. Harshtree Forest
Crissah pointed. At the side of the road to our left was a pair of skeletons, one partially lying on top of another. Soon more skeletons followed, and corpses too, and the odor of decomposing flesh and stale rot. It was all designed, she told us, to rob prisoners of hope and to terrify them. Harshtree was the end of the line. There would be no escape.
We arrived a few minutes ahead of schedule. The prison’s giant gates towered over us, just visible from torches on the parapets and our own lamps, as well as another paddywagon just ahead.
The ex-guard warned us this might happen. He told us not to interact with other paddywagons’ guards; apparently Harshtree’s guards made a commission for bringing in the condemned, and it wasn’t unheard of for one set of guards to mug another to get it. The best way to avoid a confrontation, he said, was to refuse to talk to them, which we did. They gazed in at the captain, me, and Crissah, looking her over with obvious lust.
“When you’re done, I think I’ll take a piece,” said one, reaching in and giving her thigh a squeeze.
I thought the captain might move; it was obvious he wanted to protect her. Crissah, for her part, played the part marvelously.
“I don’t come cheap, honey,” she said sweetly. “A week’s wage should do it.” She stroked his filthy hand, then gently but firmly removed it from her leg.
Carrots were paid well by the prison admins. That was another invaluable tidbit the ex-guard shared with us. Another was that guards who assault a carrot become condemned prisoners themselves, though due to corruption that happened much less often, which probably accounted for the guard’s smirk. “We’ll see about that,” he said, and removed his arm from between the bars.
There was a loud, low clunking noise, and then the gates of Harshtree opened like the gates into Hell. The guard went to rejoin his paddywagon, which preceded us inside. I watched as the gates behind us closed.
We were inside Harshtree Prison.