Wednesday, March 02, 2005


A Pirate Tale - 45

Madagascar hung on the horizon like an ugly purple bruise. Fanny gazed at it through her spyglass for a long moment before she closed the case and turned to Sally.

“We are in time. Keep us on this heading until we are off St. Mary’s but don’t put into the port. Then come down to my cabin.”

Sally was able to make all the arrangements she needed to in just a few minutes and was tapping on Fanny’s door. Uncharacteristically, Fanny greeted her with a genuine smile, motioned her to a seat and offered her tea. Sally took the seat but declined the tea. She had seen enough in the last three months to not drop her guard for a second.

“Suit yourself. We come now to the end of the first leg. Things will begin moving rather more quickly now. And it’s time you know what’s going on,” Fanny said.

“That would be a pleasant change,” Sally said ruefully. “I haven’t felt like I knew what was going on since Tortuga.”

“Let me fill you in then. It’s really quite exciting, but first I want to thank you again for helping me deal with Bastiaan. He was growing tiresome. It’s not at all fitting for a woman who will soon wear a crown to be behaving like that.”

“But now, on to the plan. You may or may not realize that two characteristics distinguish the royal family of Spain. One is that it’s rather large, with tendrils spread all over Spanish society. It seems every third person you run into can claim a connection to the throne. The second is that the Spanish royal family is broke, so deeply in debt that it totters at every financial catastrophe. In Spain today, almost all the financial news is a catastrophe. The slightest push will topple it.”

“This is all very interesting, but I hardly see what it has to do with us,” Sally said.

“Simple, my dear, I am that push. Don’t act so surprised! You’ve known for weeks that this is my goal. Here it is in a nutshell. A ship will be crossing the ocean from Manila heading towards the cape for its homeport in Spain. This ship is carrying a treasure that is meant to keep the Spanish government solvent. Pirates have so choked off the trade routes from the Caribbean that they are trying a new route, from Peru to Manila and so home around Africa. This ship, a giant carrack, is the first to try the route. It carries gold from the new world, jewels the size of your fist, pearls the size of your eyeballs, silks and spices from Asia. It’s the most fabulous treasure ever to sail.”

“And it must be heavily guarded.”

“Not yet. Secrecy, its size and the ship’s soldiers protected it across the Pacific and protect it now. But when it reaches Capetown it will be met by a Spanish fleet to protect it on the final leg. Fortunately, thanks to my contacts in Spain, I know it’s route, and know where we can intercept it before it gets there.”

And how will we do that with a crew of 40 some odd girls?” Sally asked.

“We’ll be more heavily armed than that. I may have mentioned that I was quite eager to arrive here in time. It’s because we are being met by ships commanded by my Spanish associate carrying a complement of mercenaries. Our combined might will be more than enough to take the ship when, as our informants tell us, it stops at Diego Garcia. Then we will return to Spain.”

“Sailing directly into the path of the Spanish fleet?” Sally asked.

“No, we’re taking a different route, up the Red Sea to Egypt.”

Sally reached for the map on the table and pointed to the isthmus connecting Africa to the Arabian Peninsula. “But surely you won’t be able to sail through there,” she said.

“Of course not. We will be met there by a caravan that will carry us up the Nile to Alexandria, where we will embark across the Mediterranean for Spain. We should arrive there at about the same time as news of the latest disaster, the loss of the treasure ship. With my new wealth my well-placed supporters and my connection to the royal family, I will be on the throne within a year of my landing. And then we’ll see what happens when I spread my influence across Europe.”

Sally’s head spun. She had seen enough of Fanny’s “influence” over the last few months to know that if it spread over Europe, the continent would be awash in blood. The woman she had watched butcher helpless captives now spoke calmly and apparently rationally about ascending to one of Europe’s more prestigious thrones.

“What do you mean, your connections to the royal family?” Sally asked. “I’ve known you 10 years and this is the first I’ve heard of it. You said your family was from Bristol.”

“Well, we’ll keep that information between us, if you don’t mind,” Fanny said stiffly. “My past has been carefully erased and there’s little anyone could prove. But more to the point, there’s my husband’s side of the family. He had a distant but direct link to the current Spanish monarch.”

“Your husband? When were you ever married?”

“Alas, he passed away recently, so I’m a widow, and I suppose I should find myself some black lace thing for my return to the old country. But you’ve met him,” Fanny said with a sly, growing smile. His name was Don Juan Diego de la Mercada y Slappista con Carne – Capitan Slappista.”

“Slappista was your husband?” Sally was beyond the point where she could be shocked. “Did he know what you planned?”

“Know? The idea was mine, but most of the planning was his. He put me in touch the disaffected royals, he found the route of the treasure ship, he made the arrangements for us to be joined here by our confederates. He knew everything. That’s why it was best to have him eliminated.”

“This is madness!” Sally said. “You can’t do this, and you certainly can’t drag these poor girls along on this rash adventure.”

“Madness? Perhaps,” Fanny said reflectively. “But it will work nonetheless, and that’s all that matters. Those girls are about to become handmaidens to the next queen of Spain.”

“What if we don’t let you? With Bastiaan gone, what’s to prevent us from taking over the ship and running for the nearest English port?”

“Oh, don’t be troublesome. Why would you turn down a chance for fabulous wealth such as you’ve never even dreamed, not to mention a title. How does Contessa Sally sound?”

There was a knock on the cabin door.

“Besides, I’m afraid it’s too late for such heroics. Come in!”

The door opened and in came a grinning Genevieve, who Sally had thought was in chains below.

“All’s in order on deck, ma’am,” the girl said. “And those ships you said to look out for are approaching and should be with us inside an hour.”

“Thank you dear. Now go,” Fanny said. She chuckled as she saw Sally’s surprise. “You didn’t think I’d allow you to cripple my supporters, did you? Now, be a love and get topside. We want to make a good impression on my friend and countryman, Don Alvarado Diamonte, or as his friends know him, Don Taco.”


In Toamasina, Lord Sir Admiral Percival Winthorpe Mandrake Tharp had completed final preparations and HMS Susan’s Doily was warping away from the dock. He would soon be joined at sea by the rest of his squadron – the men o’ war HMS Dauntlessly Brave, HMS Dangerously Reckless and HMS Suicidally Insane.

As his ship left the harbor, it passed a small but expensive and well-armed yacht just coming in. On the bridge of that ship, a dowdy woman with a crown on her head and a small, yapping dog under one arm asked the captain, “Are we almost there? I hope the Excelsior remembered to reserve the entire wing for the Swedish delegation. I look forward to the symposium.”


“I did what?” Cap’n Slappy roared.

“You let Slappista go free. He’s first mate of the Yew Anchor now, serving under Sir Nigel,” Leftenant Keeling said.

“Why didn’t somebody stop me? That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever done, or at least the craziest thing I’ve done in weeks.”

“Sir, when you get like that, there’s no reasoning with you. We just let him out of his chains and off he went with Sir Nigel.”

“Damn, what was I thinking? I must have had a plan?” Slappy mused. “By the way Keeling, enjoy the honeymoon?”

A slight blush crept across the countenance of the discipline officer as he said, “Yes sir.”

“But you’re not actually married, right? I mean, we had the bachelor’s party, then this morning we bid goodbye to Nigel, so there hasn’t been time for the actual wedding yet. Or have I forgotten something?”

“No sir, but waste not, want not, as the saying goes. We figured around here it’s best to take care of the niceties whenever you can get around to it.”

“Very good, we’ll do it up right first chance we get,” Slappy concurred. “Now, Slappista’s gone? Okay, there’s no point in crying over spilled rum. I just hope Nigel keeps a close eye on him, because he’s a slippery bastard.”

“Which one,” Chumbucket asked, “Slappista or Nigel?”

“Oh stop now,” Slappy remonstrated. “Nigel’s gone, and I guess he’s more than pirate enough to handle Slappista. Whatever the problem was, you can let it go.”

“No problem,” Chumbucket said noncommitally. “Let’s finish charting our course and get going. We must be close.”

Slappy, Chumbucket, The Drip and Dogwatch were gathered around the chart with the results of their latest sightings in front of them. If the figures were right, they should hail Madagascar by mid-afternoon.

“Excellent, we’ve made very good time. Well done, Dogwatch,” Slappy said.

“Thank you sir. I have to admit, I’ve learned a lot from Prof. Droppingham.”

“Considering where ye started, ye could have learned from a box of matches,” the old teacher muttered, but he said it without conviction, as if he hated admitting he was pleased with Dogwatch’s praise.

“Well, let’s get some crew up in the rigging,” Chumbucket said. “A gold piece to whoever is first to spot land!”

All available hands scrambled to the highest vantage points. But when word came down an hour later, it wasn’t land that had been spotted.

“There’s a boat in the water, sir!” Greta Olsen called down.

“A ship?” George the Greek called.

“Not a ship, a boat, a dinghy. It’s off our starboard bow, maybe two miles.”

“Bring us about and let’s see what this is,” Slappy ordered.

The Festering Boil closed quickly on the small craft. There was only one form in it, slumped across the bottom. The pirate crew quickly brought the small craft alongside. Cementhands McCormack hopped aboard, then returned with the figure, which Sawbones Burgess immediately began treating. Quickly the man revived.

“Sir Nigel?” Slappy said in shock. “What happened?”

“We had barely gotten under way when Slappista talked the crew into tossing me overboard. He promised them untold wealth if they’d join him. I was loath to relinquish command, so they asked me to leave. Forcefully.”

“This has got to be some kind of record,” Chumbucket said. “You lost your ship in less than half a day?”

“This time even my personal retinue sided with the mutineers,” Nigel said. “Slappista painted a picture of the sailors swimming in gold, jewels and pearls. My own powers of persuasion couldn’t match him. I don’t think it’s just about the treasure, although lord knows it has my mouth watering. I think this is personal.”

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