On his third night keeping watch, Quinton Mendes wedged himself into a groove on the great spar of rock so that he could watch the moon set. The ocean frothed and boomed against the base of the rock, but the water reflecting the moon was tranquil. Quinton blew out his breath, staring at the moon sink into the sea. Soon the sun would rise, and the crew would ask him again how long they were going to remain anchored here. He didn’t know what he would tell them. The Captain was so sure this was the place.
He shifted, digging his fingers into the ancient seaweed. Then he squeezed his eyes shut and opened them again, staring hard at the trail of silver sparkles across the water. Was one of them moving? He shifted his weight to get a better angle and slid down abruptly. Thrusting a knee out to catch himself, he shook his head, staring at the sparkles again. One had a yellow, flickering heart. Lantern-light.
Quinton dropped another foot and splayed his toes out into holes he’d found earlier. Swiftly, he climbed down and across the rock, clambering around the narrowest point of the outcropping. On the other side were the masts of SPS La Magdalena, and the aroma of coffee cutting across the smell of the sea. He climbed down to a flat area of stone, ran across a long plank to the ship’s rail and hopped down to the deck. Then he clouted a scrawny young woman on the head. “Angelina, run, wake up the Captain. He was right. And stop yawning!”
He looked around in satisfaction. They were done with lingering around this nameless little harbor and its nameless little shanty town, done with hiding like cowards. He caught the attention of two more sailors. “You, rouse the sleepers! And you, get those sails unfurled. Quietly! Gentlemen! Prepare to weigh anchor. The pirate has been sighted!”
Sleepy Jack Darcy leaned against the the rail of the Rosalind and surveyed the night. On a normal day, he’d go off-shift for a nap soon, but not today. The pre-dawn wind was picking up, and the setting moon made a path that seemed to lead them home. He covered a yawn.
“Sleepy Jack,” his Captain teased. “You’ll sleep right through the party again. Anna-Marie will be heartbroken if she doesn’t get her cargo.”
Jack tapped a bare foot on the deck. “Anna-Marie will get her rum, sure enough. And she’ll be chewing my ear off through the whole unloading.” He sighed happily.
Captain Sarrazin grinned at him. “She and my mother are two peas in a pod. I don’t expect Mother’ll be very pleased with me for keeping Danielle out so long.”
Jack yawned again and said, “Double your trouble, then, because you can bet your last doubloon that Danielle doesn’t want to step ashore here.”
Sarrazin grimaced. “She’s been very vocal, hasn’t she.”
Jack smirked. “It’s too boring.”
The lookout called, “Captain…” Elliot sounded uncertain. “Knife Point just came into view and there’s something wrong. I can’t put my finger on it, though.”
The Captain tilted her head up at Elliott. “Hmmm. See if you can figure out what it is.” She looked at the coastline they were following, as if measuring something. Then she said absently, “Jack, go wake up my sister and get her, Armand and the box to the skiff.”
“Yes, sir.” Jack stretched and began to amble across the deck, wondering if the Captain was expecting trouble. It’d been such a calm journey, too.
“Now, Jack!” Sarrazin’s voice snapped like a loose line. He looked over his shoulder long enough to see her looking through her spyglass, even as he picked up his pace.
Quinton watched Captain Santiago Escobeda de Casas survey his men. He was frowning. “Are you sure it’s the Rosalind? If so, she is later than I anticipated.”
Quinton said, “Perhaps she slowed to molest a fat merchant ship, sir.” Then he stepped closer and lowered his voice. “The men are tired of waiting, sir. Who would be coming to this God-forsaken little harbor save for a pirate or a smuggler? Even if it is not your prey, we’ve done well to find this place.” Three days waiting, three nights of knowing that the Rosalind wouldn’t have arrived that day to stop them if they’d taken the little pirate town.
“We must be careful, Quinton,” the Captain rumbled. He was not a tall man, but he was broad in the shoulders, deep in the chest. “But I know you yearn for a ship of your own, just as I yearn to cleanse my family’s honor.”
Quinton dropped his gaze. “Yes, sir.” They’d both had long, hard climbs to where they were today: the captain because of his tainted family name, and Quinton because of his hot temper and big mouth.
Escobeda de Casas clapped him on the shoulder, and looked to the bow of the ship, where Carlos was perched on the figurehead, peeking around the great spar of rock. The ship was drifting gently away from the shelf of stone, into deeper waters. Carlos held up a hand in a waiting gesture. The darkness lightened perceptibly as they waited, and the breeze strengthened.
“It is a good wind, Captain,” Quinton said, unable to keep reproach from his voice. The Captain’s hand tightened on his shoulder.
Carlos dropped his hand, and scrambled back off the prow. “It is a corvette, sir, with no flag.”
The Captain laughed in satisfaction. “There, you see? And your good wind will stop her from fleeing to the open ocean. Take us out into plain view, gentlemen. Prepare for battle.”
“With this wind, she’ll try to cut around and race for the harbor. There are friendly guns there, and we won’t be able to take the town once it gets reinforcements from the Rosalind,” said Quinton.
“She’ll never make it,” said Escobeda de Casas. “We control the neck, and I doubt she’s as fast as La Magdalena.” He patted the ship’s railing fondly. “But still, I’m glad for your wind, Quinton. I’m tired of chasing Captain Sarrazin around the Carribean. She is almost more work than the glory is worth.”
After Jack cajoled Danielle into the skiff, he instructed Armand, “Row for the close shore and head home overland. If this proves nothing, we’ll signal a return, or send the long boat for you.”
Danielle crossed her arms, looking up at Jack, her red hair tangling in the wind. “You tell Lizzie if this is her idea of a joke, I’ll make sure she regrets it.” Her back was to the wooden crate that Captain Sarrazin insisted go with them.
Armand slipped the oars into the water and said, “Hush, girl. I don’t want to go either but the Captain’s got her priorities and there’s nothing we can do about it.” He unclipped the towing harness and raised a hand in farewell. Jack waved back, smirking at Danielle.
“You tell her!” Danielle called, her voice carrying as the skiff fell behind.
Jack strolled back to Sarrazin, at the bow. She pointed at the light frigate that had emerged from behind Knife Point. “Reckon it’s a jilted lover, Captain?” he asked. “Or the brave young officer?” An ambitious Spaniard had been paying a little too much attention to the lesser pirates of the region, asking questions, mapping their movements. Rumor said he wanted to overcome some stain on his name. Rumor said he was looking for pirates to sink, or hang. Jack suddenly wondered how long they’d been here, and if they’d attacked the town as well. His good humor evaporated.
“It’s the Spaniard.” She looked through her spyglass again.
“Does he have hostages?” When Sleepy Jack stood up straight, he was very tall. He didn’t stand up straight very often, but he did now. The moon had finished setting and the sky was turning grey; he couldn’t make out more than the silhouette of the other ship.
“Not that he’s displaying.” The Captain was always terse when she was thinking hard.
“We can cut in close to the coast. We’ve got the shallower draft. If we can get to the harbor there’s the guns there.” He hesitated. “If there’s anybody left to man them.”
Sarrazin glanced at him, her green eyes shadowed. “He’ll come between us.”
“He’ll try,” Jack agreed. “He might be distracted by the skiff, though.”
Her voice hardened. “No. I won’t let him get Danielle. Who knows what an ambitious naval officer would do with her?”
Jack recognized the look on her face. Carefully, he said, “What are we going to do, then?”
Sarrazin looked through her glass again. “I won’t fly past him to land limping in my own nest. If we must limp home, we’ll make sure he’s in no shape to chase anybody down for a good long while, first. Make sure the guns are loaded with grapeshot. And take us close. Take us really close. Everybody ready for direct fire!”
“Maybe she’s crazy?” Quinton stared at the Rosalind. There was a snap and boom as the wind filled the sails and La Magdalena leaned to port.
“It’s a trick,” said Escobeda de Casas. “She’s trying to convince us to slow down. She’s going to turn and cut to shallower water.”
La Magdalena continued to curve across the neck of the inlet. The Rosalind got closer. She wasn’t turning.
“I’m thinking she’s crazy, Captain.” The Captain shook his head impatiently, and Quinton curled his fingers around the railing and shouted instructions to the crew.
“What is she thinking, Quinton? We’re bigger, we’re better armed. This is madness.” Quinton rolled his eyes and Escobeda de Casas shouted. “Find the distance, men!”
The cannons boomed and Quinton tasted the acrid tang of gunpowder. There were whistles and distant splashes, and he could hear Gonzalo screaming at the gun crews to adjust their aim.
“Well, we’ll rake her and we’ll take her, but it’s not going to be pretty,” Escobeda de Casas said grimly. “She’s right there; we can hardly do anything else. Fire!”
But the Rosalind‘s course was shifting gently, keeping her pointed bow-to-bow with La Magdalena, and the gun crews were having trouble targeting her. One cannonball slammed into the bow and down the length of the ship, and another blew over the prow and carried a sailor through the rail. The rest splashed harmlessly around the narrow breadth of the corvette.
Escobeda de Casas frowned. “Again! And get those grapnels ready! Is the wench trying to ram us?”
“Crazy,” reminded Quinton. The crew scurried over the ship. The Rosalind scarcely seemed to notice the raking she’d recieved, as senseless as a rabid dog. He noticed that the Rosalind‘s deck seemed especially crowded–
“Fire!” shouted Escobeda de Casas, and “Now!” shouted the woman with the short blond hair on the other ship. There was a roar of noise as guns fired and rigging screamed. The sailors on the other deck moved like clockwork and the Rosalind leaned so hard to port that it seemed like she’d fallen over, her own guns firing. The screaming of men joined the moaning of wood and whistle of metal as grapeshot filled the air.
“No!” said Escobeda de Casas, even as he bore himself and Quinton to the deck. “Grapnels! Get her, pull her in!” The Captain rolled to his feet and Quinton could smell the blood staining the Captain’s jacket.
Quinton staggered to his feet and shouted, “Boarding action!”
And a boarding action was happening– the crazy blond pirate was vaulting from her own wounded ship to La Magadelena, followed by a ridiculously tall man and an army of her followers. He added, “Defend yourselves!” And then the melee was joined.
Jack thought the Spaniard fought like a lion. But Captain Sarrazin was a hawk defending her nest, and she was everywhere, with poinard and cutlass. Jack did his best to keep track of her in the madness that was boarding combat, but even wounded by grapeshot, the crew of the enemy ship outnumbered them.
“La Magdalena,” called Sarrazin to him, early in the melee. She had a radiant smile that was so distracting he almost lost an ear.
“What?” he shouted as he ducked.
“La Magdalena,” she repeated, and, “This ship is mine!” She sounded satisfied, even exultant, before combat whirled them away from each other.
She’d claimed it, so Jack did his best to make it true. The naval crew wasn’t as experienced as his own, not in boarding actions. But the Spanish captain fought like a lion, and his first mate, a jaguar, and they rallied their men not once, but twice. In the end, Jack thought if the enemy captain hadn’t been injured by grapeshot, and if Elizabeth Sarrazin hadn’t been there to inspire them, the pirates might have cut their losses and fallen back, fled to shore, every man for himself. If Sleepy Jack had been in command, he was sure he would have called it when the bull-chested enemy captain shook off three pirates and surged to his feet, roaring. Such a beast!
But Sarrazin stepped forward lightly and ducked under his swing, swayed like a flower, and brought her cutlass to his throat. “Stand down,” she shouted, in such a commanding voice that Jack immediately wanted to drop his weapon. He resisted, from long practice.
The enemy captain froze, still holding his weapon, but her true purpose was served all the same. Everybody on the ship looked at the two captains, and when the Spanish sailors saw their own commander at swordspoint, their swords clattered to the deck.
The Spaniard took a deep breath, and Jack wondered if he would curse Elizabeth Sarrazin. Many had before. It never impressed her. But the enemy captain– what was his name? Escobeda de Casas, that’s right. He didn’t. He only blew out his breath and met her gaze. Then, bitterly, he looked away and lowered his sword.
Sarrazin chuckled. “Well done.” She nudged the sword from Escobeda de Casas’ hand and two of her pirates came forward to bind him. Jack looked around, assessing the damage to the crew. They seemed healthier than he’d feared.
“Hey there, Captain Darcy,” called Sarrazin, and it took Jack a heartbeat to realize she was talking to him. “Take the Rosalind into harbor before she sinks, won’t you? Though I’m sure the rum is ruined; you’ll have to decide if it’s worth the pain of Anna-Marie chewing your ear off.” She laughed to herself again.
Jack was startled. “You’re giving up command of the Rosalind?”
She was looking at Escobeda de Casas, delight showing through the sweat and blood on her face. “He couldn’t have known,” she said to Jack. “He couldn’t have known how foolish it was to bring La Magdalena after the daughter of a whore. How could we lose?”