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!
“Talk about being born on the wrong side of the world!” spat Angus Quaid. “We’re pirates being raided—by pirates! We’re bloody unarmed!”
“If we have to, these will become our weapons,” declared Fan Chang, holding up his fists. While in the cove he and Rynag-tai had taught us some close-action martial skills. While certainly not skilled as either, we did learn much and did acquire some proficiency.
The problem was, muskets and pistols were much deadlier. That’s what the military aboard this vessel had, and almost certainly what the pirates were packing too.
Regarding muskets and pistols, they were bulky, slow to load, slower to reload, and often untrue to their aim. For that reason, we of the Revenge didn’t bother with gunpowder-aided projectile weapons other than brute cannonry, much more accurate given their bulk, to protect our intrepid ship. Oh, we had lockers full of both types, but we believed, and relied upon, stealth, cunning, and speed.
We heard a quick series of shots, followed by screams. Men began yelling incoherently; the deck above sounded like a herd of cattle was scurrying to find cover.
“Captain,” said Rynag-tai. “Let me and Fan go topside. I think I can pick the lock to the armory. The military won’t be watching us. They’re probably all on deck!”
Another round of shots. Like before, they were immediately followed by screams and more thumping about as people sought cover.
“Something’s wrong,” said Crissah, glaring up at the ceiling from the wholly inadequate protection beneath her hammock. “They’re not on deck. Those shots ...”
I had heard what she did. “They’re directly above us—indoors. We should have heard the pirates return fire. We haven’t. Why?”
Captain Montoya glanced at Rynag-tai and his older cousin. “Go. Make no attempt at breaking into the armory if it’s still being guarded. I agree: something very odd is happening. Have you noticed how quiet it’s gotten?”
We listened. It indeed had gone sinisterly silent.
Duncan,” he said, grabbing my wrist. “Go with
them. If you can’t get to the armory, get to Hindy and Stacie.”
“Aye, sir. Where should we meet up with you?”
“I suggest we meet in third class,” Aledar offered after more noise of people moving hurriedly about above quietened. We thought we could hear someone yelling. “Third class is dark. The green sugar is down there. More hiding places. If needed, we could ambush better down there.”
“Agreed,” the group murmured.
“Get moving,” ordered the captain. “Weapons or no weapons, we will be able to protect our own much better down there—particularly if those pirates make us, which they probably will.”
Rynag-tai, Fan, and I inched up the stairs to the topdeck on our hands and knees. I led the way. At the top I glanced around.
The topdeck was eerily empty. I crawled up another step and glanced to port.
The pirate ship was angling closer. It would be close enough for the marauders to board in less than half an hour. It wasn’t using any sort of standard cautionary approach to lower its profile that any decent scalawag captain would while coming up against a ship he was thinking of robbing—especially one as large and heavily armed as this one. Bold as brass, the pirate vessel presented its full starboard side to the Admiral Rolot, as though quite confident that the Rolot’s formidable cannons would not fire on it.
I motioned Rynag-tai and Fan up. They cautiously glanced at the goings-on.
Fan shook his head furiously. “It’s a set-up! We hear shots from above, but no return fire from the pirates? The deck is clear? No cannons? Everyone upstairs is inside? The pirates are on a parallel approach? It’s a set-up! This boat’s crew is compromised!”
There was no other way of interpreting the goings-on. The Rolot was indeed being robbed—but the pirates were already on board!
“If we go up there, they’ll either shoot us or herd us with the others,” I said. “Sneaking out onto that open deck will only endanger us!”
“I wouldn’t doubt if there are snipers watching it,” grumbled Fan. “They’ll kill anyone from belowdecks!”
“From the pirate ship and from above us,” suggested Rynag-tai.
“Thoughts?” I hissed.
“The galley,” whispered Fan. “It’s on the topdeck, behind first class, but it has a back entrance for second- and third-class passengers! They may not have thought of it!”
We passed our comrades on the way back.
“What’s going on?” they demanded, crowding around. We told them, and also told them of our plan to get up to first class via the back galley entrance.
“Go,” said Captain Montoya. “Go!”
Would the pirates or the traitors among the military contingent have thought of the galley’s back entrance in their plundering plans? At the stairs up to it, I glanced over my shoulder to see the rest of the Bandileros making their way down the stairs to third class. Crissah gave me a worried smile, which I returned. Then she was gone.
There were eight steps to the door, which was closed. Fan tried opening it.
Movement. Men were suddenly at the stairs we were just at moments earlier as we scoped out the topdeck and the looming pirate vessel. They were heavily armed, several with pistols, the rest with drawn cutlasses. We crowded up against the door and the deeper shadows of the well as they walked quickly towards the stairs that would take them down to third class. Hopefully our comrades heard their approach and got out of sight.
As for the men themselves, it was, unbelievably, the first officer leading the plunderers, two or three more of the Rolot’s crew, and the military. I didn’t count them, but it seemed as though all the so-called military was involved in this nefarious operation.
Fan has a firm grip on the door handle. “C’mon,” he whispered as the men disappeared down the stairs—that is, just before the First Officer threatened everyone: “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll stay exactly where you are! Do that, and no one else has to die!”
Fan pushed the door open three or four inches. It creaked. I nodded for him to continue. He pushed more. The creaking continued, but only for an instant longer. We opened it just wide enough for us to slip through one at a time.
I was last to go through. As carefully as I could, I pushed it closed again. The door, oddly enough, didn’t creak as it clicked closed.
The Rolot’s galley was larger than any I’d ever seen on a tall ship. It gave us more than enough room to crouch and move forward without banging into pans or cabinets. We proceeded on our hands and knees towards what was probably the back entrance to the dining room.
The door that would admit us was, unsurprisingly, locked. The keyhole was wide enough to peer through. I put my eye against it.
Women were crying—I could hear that. Besides that there was nothing—no sounds of movement, no men talking, no babies or children crying, nothing. Likely everyone was under guard.
The view through was sightless. Someone was leaning against the door, but then moved away. He or she wore scarlet.
Stacie was wearing scarlet the last time I saw her!
She was no dummy. Positioning herself next to the door would be, in fact, something she’d do, or at least try to do. She had a nickname, ol’ Stace: “Viper.” She constantly looked for an advantage, whether it be swordfighting or card-playing or just bantering back and forth, and did so often quite sneakily and underhandedly, just like a viper would.
The guards watching her wouldn’t particularly care about someone hanging out next to a back door, especially if that person was a woman. The Rolot was, after all, miles out at sea. Where would some helpless woman go that the pirates wouldn’t eventually find? They had heaps of fear and uncertainty on their side, not to mention a complete lockdown on all weapons!
I turned to my comrades. “It might be Stacie. She might be right next to the door!”
Neither reacted, because there really wasn’t anything to react to. It was, at best, a wild guess. Scarlet was a popular color, especially among women, especially these days. Any one of a dozen could have been wearing it!
If I got the person’s attention and it wasn’t Stacie or Hindy, we could be in big trouble.
At that moment, very quietly, we heard the lock click.
I jammed my eye against the keyhole. It was filled again. Then it wasn’t. The person on the other side withdrew the key, which he or she must have pickpocketed at some earlier point with the deftness ... of a viper.
When would it be safe to open the door? The guards would be watching.
Be it Stacie or Hindy—and it was one of them for sure—she leaned against the door again, blocking the view through the keyhole. Very softly, she began tapping on the wood.
Long ago, the Revenge’s crew came up with a code to communicate with each other called Cummerbund’s Call, or, as we know it, the Call. All crew were required to know it inside and out in the event we were captured and needed a way while behind bars to communicate with each other, should speaking not be possible or advisable, and our compatriots happened to be close enough to hear. The Call had come to our aid on more occasions than we could count.
Stacie or Hindy was using it now. Both Fan and Rynag-tai heard it too.
She tapped the message:
“Two guarding. Lackeys. Pistols. Respond.”
I rapped as softly as I could, but hard enough that, hopefully, she heard.
“Three door. Inside job. Gang third class. Advise.”
The response: “Captain, two bridge dead. Pirates threat. Royals traitors. Rest dead. Kidnap women slavery. Ship be sunk.”
I rapped back. “Paloni. Order: disarm lackeys.”
“Moment,” came the response.
It was quiet for a half-minute, and then a very brief burst of sound, like someone was moving large pieces of furniture. Several women screamed.
The door opened. We scrambled to our feet.
Stacie’s grin was momentary. “I’d complain to the captain about the poor service, but ...”
She stepped aside so we could look. A pile of three bodies lay in a pool of blood in the center of the floor. The captain’s was one of them.
There were two more bodies, these by the front entrance, their mortal faces frozen with surprise. Hindy stood over them, the sword she was gripping dripping almost to the hilt. Fan and Rynag-tai went to her while Stacie and I hurried to the captain. Two of his crew had joined him in death. All had been shot in the head execution-style and for some gruesome reason stacked on each other.
The dining tables had been moved to the side. Several had been turned over, the fine china shattered near them on the floor.
“If the pirates suspect any trouble,” hissed a portly man in a fine dinner jacket, “they will kill us! They told us!”
“I hate to inform you, my good man,” I murmured, going through the captain’s pockets and finding a set of keys in a hidden one (experienced captains often had hidden pockets sewn into their clothing), “but they’re going to kill us anyway as soon as they finish loading the green sugar onto the scalawag just off port.”
A woman screamed. Another fainted.
Hindy scowled. Stacie shook her head.
“Were we not up here,” she said, “we’d be completely helpless.”
It was the captain who had thought of putting a couple of Revenge’s crew in first class. “Just as a precaution,” he had told me.
“Against what?” I had asked.
“Against our discovery, for one,” he replied. “And because something is telling me to be careful. Maybe it’s because I’m finally getting used to this captain business.”
“Merchant ships are usually well-armed,” I said. “So are some modern passenger ships. Do you suspect trouble, Captain?”
He gave me a hard grin. “We’re trouble, Paloni. I don’t need to suspect any.”
Hindy joined us. She had the swords from the fallen marauders and handed one to me. I gave it to Stacie. Fan and Rynag-tai were going through the marauders’ pockets. The crowd was getting antsy. Several more women were crying. Two were praying. The men were grumbling. The one I’d addressed earlier groused, “Whoever you people are, you’re going to get us all killed! We were told that if we behaved and caused no trouble, we’d not be harmed!”
I stood and got up against him, nose to nose. “Didn’t you hear what I just said? The pirates are going to kill all of us as soon as they’ve offloaded the green sugar to the scalawag!”
The man was clearly intimidated, but to his credit didn’t waver save to take a step back. “You don’t know that!”
“Indeed I do,” I retorted. “It takes great skill to rob a ship like this while harming no one. In fact, only one pirate ship can pull it off—and that ship out there—” I pointed—“is not the Revenge. Which means, good sir, that these brutes have no intentions of leaving this tub intact once they’ve got their prize. They aren’t skilled enough. Do you understand now?”
He must have been the president of a big company or some such, because such insolence and bravado was something that, judging by the prideful anger that flashed in his eyes, he surely enjoyed crushing in his employees. It certainly wasn’t the anger stoked by the desire to listen and be a part of the solution, and in fact was confirmed a moment later with: “And how would you know it is not the Revenge out there? Word is out in these parts that the Revenge is in fact sailing these very waters!”
The crowd had quietened to listen to our exchange.
I grinned. “I know that isn’t the Revenge out there, sir, because I’m the First Mate of the Revenge!”
The same women who had screamed before screamed again. One of the fainters, having woken, fainted again. The rest—men and women, all dressed in the finery of the age—all blinked eyes to their widest and backed away from us as though choreographed, including the man, who hissed, “More pirate scum? I knew it!”
Both Hindy and Stacie, armed now, advanced on him.
“Halt!” I ordered.
They stopped, but didn’t lower their weapons.
“Someday you’ll look back on this day and thank God that the rogues of the Revenge were here.” I glanced down his person, back up into his eyes. “Or not. I can tell you’re going to be trouble. Fan ...”
Fan stepped forward.
“See to it that this finely dressed captain of industry is properly muted, won’t you?”
I stepped away as Fan replaced me. The man was sweating now. “Now wait just a ...”
Fan’s fist flashed into his jaw. The man’s head snapped obliquely to the left, knocking him instantly unconscious. A collective gasp and more screams sounded out as he crumpled into a heap. Fan, kneeling next to him, tore his expensive jacket and began using the strips to bind him.
Stacie: “The armory is down the hall, second door on the right. There are snipers at the end. They’re keeping an eye on the topdeck. They aren’t concerned about us.”
Rynag-tai snorted. He was helping his cousin bind the loudmouth. “You were right,
Duncan. Had we gone that way, we would’ve
“It’s hard to rob a ship when the passengers are in a wild panic,” I grumbled. “Can we get to the armory without the snipers spotting us?”
“Leave that up to us,” said Fan, who with Rynag-tai stood.
“We should get a move on,” urged Hindy. “As soon as that green sugar is offloaded, this boat is a goner! We need to find the crew and get them involved!”
A couple well-dressed men approached me.
“We’d like to help,” said one. He was young, a few years my junior, I reckoned, and dashingly good-looking and fit, as was his dark friend. His accent was Spanish or Portuguese, very thick. “We served in His Majesty’s navy. Please.”
I motioned impatiently for quiet. Fan and Rynag-tai were at the front door. With great care, they twisted the knob and eased it open. Hindy and Stacie again motioned for everyone to remain completely quiet.
The door, thankfully, only creaked a tiny bit, not enough to alert the lookouts, who faced away as they stood on the landing at the end of the hall, muskets raised and pointing in a steady, sweeping lookout. They appeared quite intent on doing their jobs, and indeed probably didn’t hear the commotion in here. If they did, it was plain they didn’t care. They were royals; or at least were dressed in the uniforms of royals.
With great stealth, Fan and his cousin, hugging opposite walls and low to the ground, made their way towards them.
The one on the right wheeled around at the last instant. He tried to yell and fire, but Rynag-tai was instantly there. With a burst of speed too fast to follow, he grabbed the man’s skull and twisted it violently as Fan reached around and snapped the windpipe of the other. The men crumpled dead at my comrades’ feet, who quickly disarmed them and hurried to the armory. Fan had the keys.
I faced the volunteers. “We need to get everyone armed. Thank you for helping.”
“We’d like to help, too,” said two more men. “What can we do?”
“The women and children need to be protected. Would you be willing to do that?”
“Of course ... of course,” responded one while the other nodded emphatically.
I split the Bandileros into two teams. Fan and Stacie were with me, along with one of the first men who had volunteered. Hindy, Rynag-tai, and the other veteran were in the other team.
I motioned for quiet and with my team slunk down the hall to the second door on the right. Fan fit the key into the lock and opened the door. We hurried into the armory.
I was familiar enough with everyone on the Revenge to recognize their weapons, all of which were personalized. I snatched the captain’s last while Fan, Rynag-tai, Hindy, and Stacie grabbed armfuls of swords, daggers, and even a pistol or two. We scampered as quietly as we could back to the dining galley and handed weapons out to all who would take one. I was surprised when half a dozen very high-class-looking women took daggers. They all had children, and were obviously prepared to fight for their lives.
I gathered all together. “We retake this tub with cunning and quiet—we use pistols and muskets only as a last resort. The pirates will be offloading green sugar up to the topdeck very soon, and then to the scalawag. They’ll also be preparing charges or cannons or both to sink the Rolot as soon as they are done. Time is of the essence. We’ve got maybe ten minutes. We need to free the rest of the crew so that they can man the cannons and canvases after we make our move. I don’t see any way around a fight. We just need to be ready when it comes. Now—where are the rest of the crew?”
“This way,” said one of the men.
Our teams split up. Mine hurried down the hall, nearly to its end. The others would go back the way we had come, weapons bundled, as they worked their way as fast as they could down to third class—all, somehow, without being seen.
On the left were two doors, fairly widely spaced apart. I opened them. The doors opened into what appeared to be a smoking room and a saloon.
The crew of the Rolot stared at us as we entered. They had all been bound and gagged. Three had been shot dead.