Friday, March 04, 2005


A pirate Tale - 47

The Yew Anchor was at the end of a long starboard tack as it beat upwind, and the two Spanish interlopers had the weather gauge. Slappista ordered the helm to come about, as if hoping to run from the ships, and that was certainly what the captain on the closer of the two assumed. It’s what he would have done, outnumbered and at a tactical disadvantage. The captain, Reynaldo Malvado, signaled to his partner to cover to port in case the prey tried to turn and get around them to recover the wind, while he turned his ship, Esteban Usted Hombre Repugnante, slightly starboard to cut across the stern of the fleeing Yew Anchor, where he could hammer it with a broadside. He closed the distance quickly.

Slappista watched the maneuver with satisfaction. His opponent was covering his bases perfectly, by the book. It was a good book, but it wasn't the only book. The maneuver had the effect of separating the two ships just enough that Slappista could now deal with them individually.

“I want every cannon on the starboard side angled as far forward as possible,” he shouted. “Chain shot in the first six. Marksmen to the rigging! Don’t waste your time picking off poor sailors. I want you to find the captain and the helmsman of that ship and take them out!”

Instead of turning tail, the Yew Anchor was actually making a complete turn, back into the wind. The pursuing Estaban suddenly found itself bearing down on an almost stationary ship that was prepared to open fire. Reynaldo flinched and ordered a hard turn to port, but that just played into Slappista’s hand. Reynaldo gave the order to fire, but the ship’s turn had been enough to throw most of the broadside into the sea.

“Starboard guns – rolling broadside on my command” Slappista shouted, watching the ship and judging the distances. “Steady – FIRE!”

Starting with the first gun in the bow, the 16 cannon on the starboard side fired one after another at about a second interval. The effect was devastating. The chain shot took out the front two of the ship’s masts. Suddenly relieved of its bracing and bearing tremendous stress from the following wind, the rear mast heaved wildly, then buckled with a groan that was drowned out by the roar of cannon fire. The following rounds from the Yew Anchor almost all found the target, including one lucky shot that hit a gun port squarely, sending the heavy brass piece flying across the deck where it took out two of the port side guns. The gun officer fell to the deck with a sliver of oak the size of a kitchen knife protruding from his throat.

The final four cannon shots of the initial salvo all found their mark on the stern of the ship, crippling the rudder and sending the helmsman reeling.

“Keep coming around,” Slappista ordered his own helmsman. “Bring us up on their port side. Starboard gunners, fine work! But you’d better have your guns ready to fire again in less than three minutes!”

The gun crews leaped to their pieces, aided by members of the port side battery that had yet to fire a shot. They were ready when the ship completed the full 540-degree turn it had begun when the enemy ships first came into sight. They now came along Esteban’s port side at a range of no more than 100 yards.

“Full broadside – FIRE!”

But, though his ship was suddenly disabled, Reynaldo wasn’t ready to quit fighting. His port battery was primed and ready. When the Yew Anchor came alongside he gave the same command.

Both ships exploded in smoke and splinters as a total of 26 cannon – 16 on the Yew Anchor and the remaining 10 on the Estaban – roared. Slappista’s marksmen were also busy, picking off sailors who labored to reload.

Reynaldo looked down to his deck, littered with torn canvas, snarled lines, corpses, smashed masts and blood. He looked back out at the Yew Anchor, which was damaged but obviously about to win the race for a second broadside. He looked back to the stern of the ship and saw the implacable figure standing there. He mouthed the word “Slappy” and might have even been saying it aloud, but the roar of battle drowned out any sound. In either case, it was his last breath, as a half second later a mini ball from the Yew Anchor hit the bridge of his nose and exploded out the back of his head, spattering the stained deck with his brains.

“Once more men Aim for the hull! – FIRE!” Slappista roared over the din. 16 cannons barked once more, and at that range it was fatal. What had been a solid wall of Spanish oak virtually disappeared, and the Esteban Usted Hombre Repugnante began to roll to port as it prepared to slip under the waves.

“Damage report NOW!” Slappista shouted. It took some minutes for the quartermaster and ship’s carpenter to return, but the ship’s sounds told Slappista all he really needed to know.

“The rigging’s all good, but we’ve taken some pretty serious hits along the waterline and we’re shipping water faster than we can pump it,” the quartermaster said.

“It’s more than we can patch while we’re running,” the carpenter added.

“Forget running,” Slappista told them. Turning to the crew, he shouted. “Any of you with portraits of your sainted mothers or other such priceless heirlooms, best get them in the next 10 minutes.” He pointed across the water to the other Spanish ship, now about a mile distant and struggling against the wind to get back into the fight. “There’s your ride home!”

The captain aboard Olor Tremendo de Conchita was tacking back furiously, assuming that Slappista would continue his unorthodox maneuver and try to flee to the southeast. He was confident that he could regain the wind and run her down, and was surprised a moment later to see the ship turning toward him and bearing down with the wind directly at its back. He turned to meet it, planning to turn at the last possible moment and offer a broadside. He didn’t know that’s what Slappista had planned for him as well.

As the two ships approached each other, Slappista had his men wrestle two of the eight-pounds guns into the bow. “Forget the rest,” he muttered. “We don’t want to sink her, we have to take her.” The rest of the cannon were pushed to the ship’s center to offer some cover for the sailors, and the marksmen remained aloft.

“Hunker down to port and take what cover you can,” he ordered the men. “They’ll be putting a few holes in us to starboard. But be ready to rise up when I give the command. And any of you who damage my new ship will pay with a very long swim!”

The two gun crews on the bow opened fire at a range of 200 yards. They didn’t hit their target, but the balls flying toward Conchita’s starboard side made up the mind of the Spanish captain and he turned to port, ready to fire. Still the Yew Anchor came on, holding its course to the last possible second, offering very little target when Conchita’s starboard guns opened fire. The bow of the ship took the brunt, with the two gun crews wiped out and the bowsprit snapping like a twig.

“Hard a port!” Slappy ordered. “The Yew Anchor groaned and slewed dangerously as it came around, The Spanish sailors feverishly reloaded their guns under fire from the Yew Anchor’s riflemen, bracing for the cannon fire that never came. Instead, the two ships lurched towards each other until a few scant yards separated their railings.

“Boarders away! No quarter!” Slappista shouted. With a wild shriek, every man aboard the Yew Anchor leaped up, tossing grappling hooks and planks across the distance, and swarmed over the railing as the rifleman above poured down one last deadly rain of fire before dropping their weapons and swinging into the rigging of Conchita and dropping onto the deck below.

The Spanish sailors were tough veterans of dozens of fights, and they outnumbered their opponents by a slim margin. But they were unprepared for the fury of the crew the Yew Anchor as the pirates leaped onto their ship, Slappista in the vanguard. He bowled over two hapless sailors with the forced of his charge and impaled a third on his cutlass. He had landed near Conchita’s bow, but his destination was the stern, where the captain rallied his men.

Slappista grabbed the blunderbuss he had slung over his shoulder and used it to cut a murderous swath through the men who were trying to counterattack. Then, his eyes red with bloodlust, he dropped it and leaped into the mass of struggling men.

It was an ugly, desperate fight. Men grunted and screamed as they fought, pouring out oaths in a half dozen languages as they struggled for supremacy on the slippery, blood soaked decks. Death didn’t “lurk,” it swooped across the ship like ravens picking at a carcass. Slappista squared off against a sailor who wielded a broadsword in his right hand while his left tried to keep his bowels from spilling onto the deck. “Tough luck, lad,” he shouted as he cut the man down.

The sailors of the Yew Anchor fought their way through the carnage until they stood below the poopdeck, where some two dozen sailors rallied around their stricken captain and prepared for the final onslaught.

Slappista held up his hand. His sailors paused. Speaking in Spanish, he offered the men only one chance – join him now, or die.

The men wavered.

“I should warn you,” Slappista said sternly. “We’re headed to fight your comrades, and we plan to deal with them as we’ve dealt with you.”

One man stepped forward. “My comrades are whoever I sail with, on my ship alone. To hell with the others.” He dropped his weapon and started down the steps to the deck. But another man above, incensed, drew a dagger and threw it, striking his surrendering shipmate between the shoulders and sending him toppling to the deck.

“Kill them all,” Slappista roared. It was the ugliest moment of the fray, as the last contingent of the Conchita’s crew was ruthlessly hacked apart, their torn bodies tossed over the side.

No more than a dozen of the original crew of the ship were alive on the deck or below, mostly wounded. They were quick to accept Slappista’s offer to join him.

“Good, we need all the hands we can get for what’s coming,” Slappista said. “Get this mess cleared up. It’s time to feed the fish,” he ordered his quartermaster. “Let me know when we’re ready to make way. I’m going to check out my new quarters. Maybe there’s something to drink there.”

A sudden sound stopped him and he turned, along with the rest of the crew, to the rail. The Yew anchor groaned like a dying animal and began its death roll. The sailors watched as the ship that had been their home floundered. A few shed tears as the bow of the once proud pirate ship dipped below the waves.

Slappista was not a sentimental sort. “Make sure we’re clear of the wreckage,” he ordered. “This is our new ship, and she’ll serve us well. But she needs a new name.

He thought for a moment, then a grin lit up his visage.

“Gentlemen, welcome aboard Juan Puede Besar Mi Asno.

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