Monday, January 31, 2005


A Pirate Tale 19

Life aboard the Sea Witch was confusing – and a little scary – for Ol’ Chumbucket and Juan. First there was the matter of the crew, which apparently knew nothing about running a ship and weren’t actually needed to.

They learned this the first day, when they were trying to teach a couple of sailor’s knots to Lusty Liz, the first mate. “It’s a handy thing to know when a line has broken and you don’t have a long enough length to tie it off,” Chumbucket was saying.

“It’s a terrific knot, and you’ve done an awesome job of teaching it,” Liz said, “but we don’t have any trouble with the rigging. It just doesn’t break.”

Chumbucket glanced up. The sails were tattered, and the lines looked frayed and dangerous. When the pirate pointed this out, she just shrugged. “They’ve looked like that since I came on board,” she said.

“But what if you run into bad weather?”

“We don’t. We don’t even run into rain unless we need the water. Jezebel takes care of that.”

“How can she do that?” Juan asked. “Does she know where it’s going to rain and have you steer around it?”

“Something like that,” Liz said matter-of-factly, running her fingers through her short, brown hair. “She’s pretty amazing. We – the whole crew – we talk about where we want to go and then we just go there. I don’t know exactly how she does it.”

“I just do,” Jezebel said from behind them.

“¡Bragas de Maria bendecida!” Juan yelped. “Senorita Jezebel, you have given me the fright again!”

“I’m sorry Juanito,” she said. "I suppose I could wear tap shoes on ship so you’d always hear me coming, but that seems so impractical.”

“So how do you explain this,” Chumbucket asked. “Are you, in fact, a witch?”

“I’ve told you, I’m not a witch, and I meant it,” Jezebel said testily. “Witches belong to covens, and I’m not a joiner. All those meetings. It’s like alcoholics.”

“Alco-what?” Chumbucket asked.

“Sorry. Wrong century. The point is I’m not technically a witch. I think of myself as a power-user. There are things I want to happen, like this ship moving east in time to rendezvous with your various friends on time, and I somehow can make that happen. I can do things I want to do and see things I want to see.”

“Isn’t she incredible?” Liz blurted. “She’s just the most awesome captain ever!”

“Don’t you just love her enthusiasm?” Jezebel said. “That will be all for now, Liz.”

“Can you tell us what’s happening with our friends?” Chumbucket asked quickly.

“Certainly, I’ve been keeping an eye on them. Tell you what; I was on my way to the galley. Meet me in five minutes in my cabin and I’ll catch you up. I just need to get some gin.”

“Is gin part of how you do it?” Juan asked.

“No, I just like to get a buzz on around this time of day.”

Five minutes later the two pirates found themselves in the captain’s cabin of the Sea Witch, visibly nervous but eager to find out what was going on. If they had expected something unusual, something otherworldly, they were disappointed (or relieved, or both.) It was in fact a captain’s cabin, with a few furnishings – bed, desk, a table and several chairs. The walls were lined with books, far more than either man had ever seen at one place in his life. While many were typical looking books, heavy volumes with leather covers, others seemed quite unusual, covered in heavy paper with bright illustrations. Juan glanced at them, saw one with a title that referred to a “Goat Boy,” and quickly averted his eyes. He didn’t want to know about a Goat Boy.

On the table was what the pirates assumed was Jezebel’s version of a crystal for gazing. It wasn’t a ball, more of a cube with a glass face that glowed in the cabin’s dim light.

“Now, let’s see. Oh, Chumbucket, you’ll like this. Your shipmates on the Festering Boil have been busy. Even though they are in a desperate search for you, they stopped to capture a Portuguese slaver.”

“Aye, that would be Cap’n Slappy’s style. He hates slavers. Most pirates treat captured slaves as so much cargo to sell, but Slappy and the mates can’t stand it.”

“It was a desperate fight. I’m afraid several of your comrades are now wearing the scars of their bravery. They were heavily outnumbered and lost the element of surprise just moments after swarming over the deck. The hand-to-hand fighting was intense. Cementhands was picking up slavers, swinging them over his head and sending them flying over the rails. And Slappy was a demon with his cutlass, while Lieutenant Keeling – Oh, you pronounce that LEF-ten-ant? – darted nimbly about with his rapier. He’s really quite good with a blade, isn’t he?”

“But what happened?” Chumbucket asked anxiously.

“Well, at first their onslaught had the slavers reeling, but then their sheer numbers started turning the tide. Things looked bad for your fellows, and their backs were to the rail. But Slappy’s cabin boy – A youngster named Spencer? – had the foresight to nip below while the battle was seething. He was able to free most of the human cargo, and they surged up from the hold and assaulted the crew from the rear. Even then battle was nip and tuck, but Slappy carved his way through to the captain and split him from the top of his head to his rectum. The slavers rather lost heart after that, and the battle took just a few minutes more.

“Now Slappy has two ships, and he’s divided his crew between the two, using the former slaves to augment both ships. With just a little bit of training they should do fine, although they don’t have much time. He’ll be meeting up with his prey in just two days, and there are a few surprises for him,” Jezebel said, staring intently into her crystal.

“What’s wrong?” Chumbucket asked.

“Well, first of all, Fanny has gone quite mad, but that’s actually working in your favor. In an orgy of bloodletting she killed several of the men who were imprisoned with you. If she had tortured them she might have learned that Mad Sally was the one who helped you escape. Instead, some are dead and the rest too frightened to volunteer anything. In fact, the whole crew are so terrorized by her bloodlust that I can’t imagine they’ll fight for her now.”

“Good,” Chumbucket said with resolve. “Then we should have no problem overcoming her and rescuing the ladies.”

“Well, it’s not as easy as that. You see, Slappy thinks now that he’s got two ships and an expanded crew, he’ll have the edge. He doesn’t know who his foe is, of course, and he doesn’t know that she’s been joined by three other ships manned by a bloodthirsty crew. Slappy thinks he’s got a 2-1 edge, but he’s actually sailing into a trap, which will be sprung in two days time.”

“We have to get to them, we have to help!” Chumbucket said.

“We’ll be there in plenty of time,” Jezebel reassured him. “But you have to understand, the Sea Witch won’t be joining the fight. No cannons, remember? But don’t worry,” she quickly added. “There are things that we can do. The wind that’s speeding us on our way, for one thing, may give Fanny’s fleet a little difficulty. Let’s see ...”

Jezebel stared at the crystal, then her eyes briefly rolled back in her head. A moment later she glanced at the screen again, a smile breaking over her face.

“Oh look! What a dreadful accident. It seems a stiff wind suddenly came in from an unexpected quarter just as the cook on the Duckier than Thou was serving his specialty, Flaming Spears of Chum.” Chumbucket winced at this news, but Jezebel ignored him and went on. “The wind caught one of the smaller pieces of burning fish and blew it into the hold, where it ignited some bedding. The fire quickly spread to the powder hold, and the ship vaporized in a rather spectacular fireball. Fanny won’t have to worry about renaming it now. So that narrows the odds a little. Unfortunately, I can’t do that sort of thing too often.”

“But what of MY captitan, Juan Diego de la Mercada y Slappista con Carne?” Juan asked.

“Let’s just say he’s not currently in the picture at leave it at that, shall we?” Jezebel said softly.

Juan’s eyes welled. Slappista may have been a dread pirate of horrifying manner, but he was able to inspire a fierce loyalty in his crew. The little Spaniard’s voice took on an edge Chumbucket had not yet heard from him, as he said, “Then we must catch up with La Herida que Filtra de la Cabeza, for I have a date with Lady Fanny, and a score to settle.”

“Not to worry, young man,” Jezebel reassured him. “We’ll all be arriving at the site I’ve chosen in two days time. Then we’ll see what happens.”

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