Wednesday, February 02, 2005

 

A Pirate Tale - 21

Ol’ Chumbucket leaned forward intently at the bow of the Sea Witch, as if he could somehow will the ship to go faster.

Not that there was anything wrong with the ship’s speed. Whatever was propelling it, a freakish wind or Jezebel’s wishes, the ship was making very good time. And he had to admit everything ran well enough aboard, despite the haphazard way the crew seemed to go about their business.

Could all this be real, or was it all a feverish dream while he lay in a coma down in the fetid brig of La Herida que Filtra de la Cabeza? Chumbucket was a man not given to flights of fancy or belief in the supernatural. He liked facts, and preferred things that worked in a logical way. His hand gripped the railing a bit tighter. That certainly felt real. And Jezebel seemed to know things. She had even told him offhandedly something about Mad Sally that he thought was known only to himself.

He heard footsteps behind him and turned, expecting to see his companion, Juan. It was Liz, the first mate.

“Are you alright?” she asked.

“I’m fine, just a little anxious.”

“Tomorrow we should see your friends again,” she said.

“And those others. And I don’t see what good I’ll be doing here, if you don’t mind my saying. Your captain made it clear the Sea Witch won’t be taking part in the fight – can’t take part in the fight. It seems all I’ll have accomplished is to come the long way around to witness my friends’ victory, or their destruction.”

“Well, if that’s what you end up doing, I’m sure you’ll do it extremely well. But why do you assume there will be a fight?” she asked.

“Well, let’s see. Pirates. Bitter antagonists. Ships armed with many cannon. A mad sea chase to rescue some stolen girls. And a trio of ships commanded by an insane woman who loves nothing more than a good blood-spilling. Sounds like a pretty good recipe for a battle to me.”

Liz laughed, and brushed her blonde hair out of her face. “Well, it certainly sounds terrible the way you say it. But nothing is certain until it actually happens, right? Jezebel probably wouldn’t have bothered going through all this unless there was some difference we could make. So I’d wait and see. Things usually work out.”

“That’s what I’m doing, waiting, “Ol’ Chumbucket said.

“And you’re doing a very good job of it,” Liz encouraged him before heading below.

“But it sure sounds to me like there’ll be a battle tomorrow, and I’ll be stuck watching,” Chumbucket said to himself.

The ships at the center of Chumbucket’s concern were not all that far from each other now, not that anyone aboard either knew the others were nearby. On the Festering Boil, Cap’n Slappy had just set the second dog watch and had retired to his cabin with Sawbones Burgess and Cementhands. They poured themselves rum, then pored over the charts on the table.

“Well, we’re almost to Africa, but I’m not sure what good it’s done us,” Slappy said. “It’s a big place, and we don’t know precisely where Slappista was headed. We’ll have to start hailing ships and stopping at ports to see if we can get any wind of him.”

“That’s IF you’re right about that British officer trying to gull you into sailing the wrong way,” Burgess said. “I don’t like to be a pessimist ...”

“Yes you do,” Slappy shot back with a smile. “You LOVE being a pessimist. That’s what you do best. That’s why I signed you on as ship’s doctor, even though I’m STILL not sure what your qualifications are.”

“He’s right,” Cementhands added. “You’re the guy who points out the problems and says things’ll never work. I don’t know about anyone else, but I count on that before going into battle. Gives me confidence.”

“I like to think I possess qualities that make me a valued member of this crew,” the doc protested with offended dignity.

“You do! You’re my crusty old naysayer,” Slappy said. “That’s exactly what I need, especially since we’ve been missing Chumbucket.”

The mention of his missing friend brought them all back to the moment. “As I was saying, we only THINK the admiral showed you the map to get you out of the way, and you never told us why you think that. You have your reasons, I don’t doubt. But even if that’s right – and I’d point out that we haven’t seen any trace of that British ship – all we have is 'Africa.' And Africa is rather a large place. It’ll be a miracle if we just run into your cousin somewhere.”

“Then we’ll just have to have a miracle, won’t we,” Slappy said with resolve. “Anyway, for now we’ll use our time to train up the crews of both ships so that when that miracle happens we’re ready. Then we’ll have a little surprise for him, with two ships ready to take him on.”

A cry from the lookout on the bow brought all three men to their feet. Dogwatch burst into the cabin with an excited look on his face.

“Beggin’ the captain’s pardon,” he said. “But we’ve spotted a man in the water.”

“A man?” Slappy asked.

“Aye, floating on a bit of planking. It’s a miracle we spotted him at all.”

At the word miracle, Sawbones shot the captain a look that Slappy ignored.

“Well, let’s get a crew together and fish him out,” the captain said. He and Sawbones dashed from the cabin to the deck.

Cementhands still sat at the table. He saw the the captain’s and doctor’s nearly full mugs of rum in front of him and smiled contendedly. "It's a miracle," he said.

There was also contentment on board La Herida que Filtra de la Cabeza, but of a different sort. Lady Fanny – or as she now styled herself, Captain Fanny – nestled comfortably in the arms of her paramour, Bastiaan Slotemaker, the Dutch pirate.

“There’s nothing like torturing some missionaries to round out a nice evening’s entertainment,” she cooed. “And tomorrow will be even better.”

“My love,” he said with caution, for he knew her temper, “I'd like you to think about this very carefully. Burning a man at the stake may be entertaining, as you say, but certainly that’s a sport better pursued on land. We’re on a wooden ship. You saw what happened to the Duckier than Thou, and that was just a bit of burning fish.”

“Oh, don’t be a spoilsport, my lubba lubba petit pain,” Fanny said. “The man said he was a friar, so I think it’s only right that we fry him. I’m sure we’ll think of something to make it all safe and everything, just the way you like it.”

She growled in the back of her throat and let her hands find some other things that he liked. The look of worry on his face was replaced by a very different look.

“I’m sure we can rig something up,” he said. “It may involve slowing the ship and getting all the lines and rigging cleared. But we’re in open waters and we’ve seen no sign of any other ships for days. We have the other ships to guard as well, so it should be ... Yeewwooogrrrr,” he said, as her hand did something very creative to him. “Do that again.”

“What, this?”

“No. That other thing … Yeewwooogrrrr!!” he said.

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