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Saturday, March 30, 2019

Enjoy Chapter Four of the Second Adventure of The Many Adventures of the Dread Pirate Roberts--a Fan-Fiction Tribute to The Princess Bride!

Having raided the impossible-to-raid Harshtree Prison and freed Fezzik, the intrepid pirates of the Revenge escape into the night, their legend even greater. Captain Montoya promised them that when Fezzik was safely aboard ship, that they all would learn to swim. It wasn't acceptable that half of them, including the captain himself, didn't know! They just need to escape the Florin navy, hot on their heels, and find a friendly, hidden cove somewhere so that the captain can begin lessons. Read on!

The Admiral Rolot

The merchant vessel sailing out of Tortonnal was named the Admiral Rolot (said with a silent t) and was probably eight times the size of the Revenge and heavily laden with green sugar, an expensive emerald-colored commodity confined almost entirely within Bavus-Naguty’s borders, and one discovered only relatively recently and thus ravenously demanded in palaces and castles the world over. The Admiral Rolot was therefore also heavily laden with an armed complement of twenty-six naval sailors, a mix of regular royals and mercenaries. Three royals were responsible for checking identification. We had taken great pains to make our fake ones quite authentic-looking, given of course the pressing time constraints on us.

   We staggered our approach to the queue waiting to board the day we were to depart so that we wouldn’t look like the marauding gang of pirates we were. Captain Montoya had re-cut his moustache and then his hair, paring it down to basically a crew-cut in order to foil detection. Florin’s monarchy had convinced Bavus-Naguty’s, apparently, to post WANTED signs here and there with his likeness on it. On our way into town we spied several. We tore them down.

   We anticipated for the queue and planned for it. The captain would come in the middle. If all hell broke loose, we’d be able to rush to his defense from all sides. As for who accompanied him, it required some fairly fierce debate before the captain, with my help, decided.

   The dozen Bandileros came down to the captain, myself, Rye Morgny and Crissah (of course: Rye was a wonderful rider anyway; and so was Crissah). Domingo, who had relatives in Portugal he was certain would help us should we need it, came along, as well as Chevor Zov, a Russian defector and master carpenter. Aledar Alemore, our gunnery sergeant and a wonderful translator (he could speak nine languages fluently), was in the group, along with Fan Chang, a Mongolian whose family roots apparently included Genghis Khan and who was also a marvel with horses and quite deadly with his fists and feet. Hindy and Stacie, whose skill with the blade were essential, were ready and dressed as high-class passengers (we purchased first-class tickets for them), along with Rynag-tai, Fan’s younger first cousin, who was a master pickpocket and lock-breaker. Finally, Angus Quaid, our ship’s Australian musician, who doubled as a damn fine cooper and cook, was selected, mostly because of his ability to bullshit the most stoic and levelheaded, and because of his superlative card-playing skills (we had all lost plenty of gold to him).

   I was the first of the Bandileros to make it to the front of the queue. Like all of us, I had chosen apparel that was safe, conservative, and ordinary, as opposed to our flashy pirating duds. I too had cut my hair (I had a pony-tail, now gone) and doffed a fine hat Kelale’s wife picked out for me from her husband’s collection—his “traveling hat,” as he put it. It made me look like a responsible citizen, at least to the degree such a thing was possible.

   The three sailors checking identification apparently bought it, too, because the one looking over my fake ID growled and thrust it back at me almost without reading it. (Identification came down to a small scroll of parchment with the official Bavus-Naguty seal and font, and included a description of its owner.) My sword, however, got his attention.

   “You got any other weapons on your person?” he demanded in standard English, which surprised me.

   I smiled congenially. “No, sir.”

   “You’ll need to check that in once you step onboard. It’ll be stored in the ship’s armory. Next!”

   I walked past him, then between the two guards pulling silent duty behind him. Both men looked entirely not in the mood for pleasant conversation. I tipped my hat as I passed them. “Gentlemen ...”

   Once on deck, I handed my sword and sword-belt over to the sailor responsible for checking them. He was a bit nicer, and while he worked I made pleasant conversation with him until Chevor Zov boarded and handed his over. We went together to the cook (of which there were several), who pulled extra duty handing out bunk assignments.

   We were in second class. We got our assignments and made our way below deck. There we nervously waited for Captain Montoya. We had no fears about the rest of our gang save him. Even with a crewcut and no facial hair, his sharp eyes and high cheekbones and strong, pointed chin were dead giveaways.

   The Dread Pirate Roberts was the prize catch no matter which port you stopped the world over. Whether you found yourself in Africa or the Far East, his name and exploits were well known, as well as those of his famed crew. By the time the tales got back to us, of course, they had been blown out of all proportion and even, many times, recognition. We didn’t mind that.

   It was fortunate that for most of the world the Dread Pirate Roberts didn’t look like Captain Montoya, but Captain Westley.

   We did mind that it was “known,” as we heard one woman breathlessly share with her bunkmate as she settled in, that the Revenge was “somewhere nearby,” and that she hoped the pirates would spare this vessel.

   Of course, we had no plans to plunder this vessel, heavy as it was with expensive green sugar. The only thing on our collective mind was going to the aid of Crissah and Rye’s relatives and the imminent danger they faced from Dynatis Rugen and the Florin monarchy.

   When Captain Montoya made it aboard safely and got down to us, those of us who were already waiting gave visible sighs of relief.

   “Any problems, sir?” I asked.

   He shook his head. “One of them commented on the craftsmanship of my sword, to which I thanked him. A Spanish woman wished me a good day and a happy voyage in our native tongue, to which I returned the salutation. Other than that, all has proceeded smoothly.”

   “For once,” Chevor and I said together.

When the rest of the Bandileros made it safely aboard, we allowed ourselves to relax. It was, of course, impossible to do, at least fully. We felt split, sundered. Half our comrades were back aboard the Revenge sailing north, and Hindy and Stacie were up in first class. For them to mingle with the unwashed below decks would be seen as socially unacceptable and would bring unwanted attention down upon us.

   As for our comrades aboard the Revenge, it would be a perilous voyage for them, especially as they approached Florin. The Florin navy would be out in force looking for them. We had to consider the possibility that our suspected presence in this part of the world had become widespread news. Anything was possible, we reasoned, and so we reminded ourselves to be prepared for anything.

   Marcell Shya, our crusty bosun, was acting captain. Even I, the always cautious First Mate, had little to worry about there. Shya was as seasoned and respected a sailor as existed. It was noteworthy to me how the British Royal Navy, which had shafted me, also thought that he was unworthy. Shya’s smarts, cunning, and toughness had saved the Revenge’s bacon countless times. He commanded respect not through his gruffness, but because he gave that respect back in spades provided you worked your ass off for him.

   Those under his command would make any pirate ship proud. They included Fezzik, whom we (and he) decided would, with his massive strength, be utilized best aboard ship; Emeri, who recently had been understudying Kay Ruhdsami, whose tactical brilliance was essential; Niltia Chadra, our brilliant lookout, scout, and cartographer; Olive, whom Marcell would surely employ as firing specialist in lieu of Ruhdsami; Liliana, whose sword-fighting skills had taken a quantum leap forward these past months, and would surely serve Acting Captain Shya well; Kalvban, our burly boatswain, who would be assisted by the steady and quiet Ryan Ymoro; Warren Morarda, our Florinian fugitive from justice, who killed a Florin guard trying to rape his mother, and who therefore had to flee for his life (he’s a marvelous sailor and sheet-handler); Anakoni Arpolo, our quiet Pacific Islander and probably second only to Fezzik in terms of sheer strength; and finally, the inimitable and irreplaceable Theodore Dauchkin, whose quick eye and relentless work ethic would serve Captain Shya well.

   We said our good-byes with handshakes, hugs, and a tear or two. As the Bandileros climbed up the walls of the cove and began our trek toward Kelale’s farm, we turned and glanced back at our ship. Shya had already gotten them into the longboats, which were making their way back towards it. By the time we got to Tortonnal later that day, it would already be on the high seas on a heading towards danger. We wouldn’t see them pass.

   The captain of the Admiral Rolot was a thin, bearded (but no moustache) man maybe a few years younger than me by the name of Granyv Sloen. He came below decks once with his First to make the general pre-launch inspection, grunting as he looked things over. They continued on below, ostensibly to check on the security of the green sugar stores, and on the disposition of the third-class passengers, which made up the bulk of the travelers. About half an hour after that we heard the bell announcing cast-off, and then the bosun shouting orders to his crew.

   Thankfully these second-class passenger bunks hadn’t been completely claimed. There were probably ten that were left empty near the back. It was there we gathered to talk.

   “Captain,” said Fan quietly, “how many days to Porto?”

   Domingo answered. “Three, according to Kelale.”

   “No,” said Chevor, shaking his head. “That’s how many days it’s going to take to get to High Tanes, Bavus-Naguty’s capital.”

   “That’s right,” I confirmed, remembering Kelale’s maps, and our own back aboard the Revenge. “We’ve got three days’ ride to High Tanes, then another ... how far from there to Porto?”

   “I believe it’s another two or three days,” answered Angus Quaid. “Given good weather.”

   “You said you’ve been there,” said the captain, recalling our conversation last night in the inn.

   Quaid nodded. “Quiet little port village. Doesn’t have much in the way of strategic importance to Portugal’s navy, so we shouldn’t be harassed.”

   “Famous last words,” grunted Emeri.

As a First Mate, it was impossible for me not to watch the Admiral Rolot’s crew, and its First Mate in particular, as they, and he, worked around the ship. It was impossible for me not to compare them to the intrepid scalawags of the Revenge.

   Pirate ships commonly fail because their crews never find that “sweet spot” of efficiency, discipline, smarts, and camaraderie. It is, admittedly, very difficult to achieve. Pirates aren’t typically known as disciplined men or women. That’s kind of the point!

   Pirates, too, have reputations for greed and selfishness. Rightly so. Both mitigate against efficiency, discipline, smarts, and especially camaraderie. The former captains of the Revenge had long ago figured that out, and so guarded against crewmembers who displayed both to too great a degree. It turned out, perhaps surprisingly to those early captains, that crew who worked for the common good, who weren’t too selfish or greedy, who didn’t mind a little discipline, who got along, were those crew who became very rich in the end.

   It was why, when we needed a new captain and couldn’t choose one from among the crew, that we didn’t necessarily scout for one with years of high seas experience, or one who had a reputation for plundering and robbing, or one who fit some preconceived notion of what a captain looked like. What we looked for was, in the end, undefinable. Not just leadership; not just efficiency; not just discipline; not just the ability to get along with others; not just selflessness and modesty.

   Captain Westley had given us the highest recommendation for Inigo Montoya. But Inigo Montoya could have easily failed. What wasn’t known about the Revenge was that we have had our share of failures in the captaincy, not to mention the crew (Bacco, anyone?). The captain of the Revenge was not given absolute power. We had a system, one we considered sacred, for replacing a captain should it become necessary. That too was completely unheard of.

   We busied ourselves the rest of the day with various games we’d brought aboard, and with catching up on rest, which had come in short supply with all of the furious planning the past several days. We were all quite tired. At one point several of us went topside to check on Hindy and Stacie, to see if they were around and securely installed in their first-class accommodations.

   Both were near the port bow. They saw us and smiled.

   Classism was as prevalent throughout Europe as it was in Florin. First-class passengers did not generally mingle with anyone not in first class, but as long as they were already in the presence of other “lower” passengers, which they and several other first-classers were, folks didn’t care as much. The ship had launched, and the military and their paid mercs were clearly concerned with the green sugar in the Rolot’s belly, not with the social niceties of its passengers.

   Crissah had come with me. Hindy and Stacie both gave her a big hug. “How are you holding up?” asked Stacie.

   Crissah’s grief had solidified into stony resolve, even more so as we got underway. The fact that the boat was moving seemed to have picked her spirits up.

   “Hanging in there,” she replied. “It feels like we’re a million miles away. I keep praying for a stronger tailwind.” She glanced up with frustration. “But we’re in beautiful, temperate, calm Bavus-Naguty waters. I wish I could see the Revenge, but it’s probably miles ahead of us by now.”

   “I spoke to one of the crew earlier,” said Hindy. “There isn’t much of a wind, that much is true,” she went on, “but just a half-day out is ...”

   “That’s right!” I cut in. “I’d forgotten! Baby Irminger!”

   Baby Irminger was a short but very powerful north-bearing ocean current that was found fifty or so miles off the Bavus-Naguty and Portuguese coasts. We had avoided it as we fled Florin, for it would have slowed us down—as in considerably. North-traveling ships coming through these waters sought it out because it cut all sorts of time, sometimes days, off trip time, especially during the spring. The Rolot was making directly for it, sailing west-northwest.

   Crissah, knowledgeable and smart sailor she was, knew instantly what we were talking about. A slight but lasting smile creased her lips. She seemed, at least a little, relieved.

   “How are your accommodations?” grinned Angus Quaid. “They treatin’ ya right up there?”

   Both Hindy and Stacie gave guilty smiles. “We have servers—crew in fancy clothes like butlers. They knock on our door and ask if we want anything from the galley. Apparently they even turn down our beds at night and leave mints on our pillows, and for a fee they’ll play a sweet fiddle for us!”

   I shook my head disdainfully.

   “I saw a family heading to third class,” commented Angus. “Basically a wet corner in the bowels. Father seemed like a good bloke, just lookin’ for work, somethin’ to help out his family.”

   “It really doesn’t change, does it?” said Stacie. “In the end, everyone’s like Florin, some less so, maybe, but really, does it matter in the end?”

   “Bavus-Naguty, I’m certain, has their own version of the Pit of Despair,” I mused. “Governments are never about the people. They’re always about maintaining power for a tiny elite at the expense of everyone else.”

The galley served everyone; but if you were in second or third class, you had to enter from the back. We bought our dinners, received them, and took them back to our bunks. Captain Montoya stayed behind to talk to the head chef. I waited for him.

   It ended up that he did something that made me gape, both in wonder at his character and also in concern that he might be found out for being something other than a dashing man in second class: he paid for the meals of everyone in third class, and even paid for the kitchen staff to deliver those meals personally.

   “I will check on them later to see if they have been duly served,” he smiled pleasantly at the head chef. “If they have but a single complaint, you and I, sir, will have more words.”

   The chef didn’t seem up to the challenge. He swallowed hard and nodded with the same intensity, his triple chins wobbling.

   “Sir,” I offered, “don’t you think we should uh, kind of maintain a lower, uh, profile—?”

   “Tell me about your family, Duncan,” he interrupted.

   “Uh ...” I began. “Four sisters. I was in the middle—two older, two younger. Mother was the third cousin of a Duchess, so we had a little money from her father’s inheritance. My dad was a glass manufacturer in London. He died in an accident when I was thirteen. We moved into a cottage the Duchess owned shortly after. She gave it to us rent-free. We didn’t suffer financially, but emotionally. My mother never got over Dad’s death.”

   “What happened to her?”

   “She’s in the care of my older sisters. She had a stroke that left her paralyzed a few years ago. I visit her when I can, which isn’t nearly enough.”

   We got back to our bunks and began eating. It was bean soup with ham and bread. Passable and filling. Other Bandileros were returning from the galley; some had already eaten and were reading or napping, or up topside.

   “Please tell me about your family, sir,” I said. “I know about your father. He was a swordmaker killed by Count Rugen, was he not?”

   The captain nodded somberly.

   “You looked for his killer for twenty years ...”

   “Yes,” he said quietly.

   “May I ask how it felt when you finally killed Count Rugen?”

   He thought for a long time. Chevor, Angus, Rye, and Domingo joined us.

   “I went home to see my mother,” he answered quietly. “I told her what I did. She asked me that same question. I’ll tell you what I told her: that it felt really, really good. She’s a deeply religious woman who feels that revenge is wrong. She told me. I knew she would.”

   “What did you say to her?”

   He shrugged. “Revenge isn’t always wrong. That’s what I told her. Sometimes it’s the only right thing to do. I do not regret the twenty years I hunted for Father’s killer; and I do not regret driving my blade into his rib cage. I do not regret watching him gasp his last breaths of air; and I do not regret what I told him just before he died.”

   “What did you tell him?”

   “I told him I wanted my father back. I called him a son of a bitch. And then he died.”

   “Are you close to your mother?”

   He shrugged again. “Some days more than others. She’s very religious, as I said. She has her views; I have mine. Sometimes that means we don’t talk for a long time. I think it will be a while before we talk again. She begged me to go to church to beg for forgiveness for my sinning ways. I told her I was going to captain the Revenge. I could hear her voice half a mile down the road as I rode off.”

   That eventually led to an hours-long discussion between all ten of us (Hindy and Stacie couldn’t come down to second-class without being looked at very suspiciously, as I already mentioned) about our families, devotion, and loyalty, not just to them, but to ourselves.

   “I really miss my family,” said Rye at the end of it. “I would give my life to save any of them, not just my dad or my sis. But this crew feels like family to me, too.” He glanced at us. “Thank you all for doing this for them.”

   Crissah’s eyes had welled up and spilled over. I put my arm around her. “Yes,” she cried. “Me, too. Me, too!”

We spent the night playing Monte Bank (Hindy and Stacie went to the Rolot’s casino—yes, it actually had one, one right above us judging by the laughter and music) until, one by one, we knocked off. Quaid, as happened more than not, won the pot. He gave me, his last challenger, a victorious grin as he took the small pile of gold. “Thanks, mate. Ya gave me a good challenge there.”

   I returned his victorious grin with a frustrated one. “Tomorrow night, then. I’ll win it back.”

   “I’ll be ready.”

   It was tough getting to sleep—and not just because of the din above us. I couldn’t stop thinking of the Revenge. Before I crawled into my bunk, I went and sat next to Crissah and watched her sleep. She was having a rough go of it. I reached and stroked her hair, then went to my bunk, which was two rows down.

   The Rolot’s ponderous movement was difficult to get used to. When I did get to sleep, it was because I forced myself to think of my quarters back on the Revenge, and my bunk, and what it felt like to sleep aboard her.

We woke with alarm bells ringing out and crew scurrying here and there and yelling. We gathered ourselves and hurried to the topdeck to see what was going on.

   To port was another ship. A pirate ship, judging by the black flag it was flying. They were yelling at the Rolot to drop sails and to prepare to be boarded. The armed contingent were taking up arms and readying the ship’s cannons.