Friday, March 11, 2005


A pirate Tale - 53

Lookouts crowded the rigging of Broche de Presión and La Herida que Filtra de la Cabeza as dawn – the second since the typhoon – crept over the horizon and resumed its usual occupation of frying the hide off of sailors foolish enough to be caught out in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

“10 gold pieces to the one who first spots a sail,” Don Taco called out from the quarterdeck of Broche. The ships were approaching Diego Garcia, the bleak, isolated island growing larger as they approached.

“The Sabado Gigante should be here, unless it’s been seriously affected by the storm,” Taco said, drawing on his second cigar of the morning. “I hope to catch it at anchor, but if it’s not here yet, we may have to wait. And I don’t want to be caught by surprise by any passersby who might be in the area seeking refuge.”

He and Leather Nipples looked out across the open space of water to La Herida, sailing along about a cable to their port side. It was an inspiring sight to the two men, as the girls who crewed it wore as little as decency permitted and were acquiring tans that in another age would have made them all princesses of Malibu Beach. With a sullen Fanny now directly running the ship due to Sally’s imprisonment on Broche, the standard of what decency permitted was somewhat laxer.

“It warms the heart, no?” Taco asked Leather Nipples as they surveyed the rigging with 14 golden haired, tanned young women dressed as if expecting a Sports Illustrated photographer at any moment. “Or do you have eyes only for the Mad Sally?” Taco drew a new cigar from his case, bit the end off, then lit it off the butt of his current one.

“She is unlike any woman I’ve known,” Leather Nipples said. “She was so passionate, so forceful, then when we were both satisfied she dismissed me without so much as a cuddle. And she said that, while she liked me, she might have to kill me.” He sighed. “I guess I just don’t understand women.”

“Who does?” Taco said, tossing the butt of the old cigar overboard.

“You seem to understand Lady Fanny well enough,” Leather Nipples observed.

“Si, but she is not a woman. She is the devil, and she wants only one thing, so she is easy to understand. She wants the treasure on Sabado Gigante and what that treasure will bring, a crown. Fools like Slappista, who thought she loved them above the treasure. I have not made that mistake. As long as I have the key to the treasure she will obey me. And before this expedition ends on Spanish soil, she will be my ‘bride,’ and we will both wear crowns.”

An excited cry from the topmast of the ship turned all attention back to the island. A sail had been spotted.

“Excellent,” Taco said with satisfaction. “Now let’s see what we have here.” He turned his spyglass to the island and studied it for a long moment. Then, with a cry, he grabbed his cutlass and swung it towards Leather Nipples, who barely had time to leap out of the way. The blade came down and severed three of the lines holding the yardarm in place.

“Santo de aceite maiz!” he shouted. “Drop the mains’l and get the yard on the deck. NOW!”

The crew scurried to comply with this sudden, unexpected command. Taco turned back to Leather Nipples.

“The large ship in that cove is a British man o’ war, not the Sabado Gigante. I want us to look like a merchantman crippled in the storm that poses no threat until we find out what’s going on. Get the soldiers out of sight. And I want this message taken over to La Herida immediately.” He scribbled a note, which was given to a sailor to row over to the other ship. 15 minutes later he could see the response, as La Herida que Filtra de la Cabeza turned out to sea.

“Now lets limp into that cove and see what those Limeys are up to,” he said.

Ashore, the sailors from HMS Susan’s Doily were busy filling the ship’s water supplies and collecting turtles that abounded in the shallow waters, while Admiral Tharp, accompanied by Jezebel, Lanky Liz and his entire contingent of Royal Marines worked their way through the undergrowth as they explored the island. They hoped to reach the island’s low peak by noon to search the surrounding ocean for any sign of their lost ships. Though the jungle canopy offered some shade, it also kept out any whisper of breeze and the heat was stifling.

“Blast these bugs,” Tharp said, swatting at the insects that seemed to have singled him out for attention. Sweat poured from the admiral, who despite the oppressive conditions refused to so much as unbutton his waistcoat.

“Be sure to hydrate, Mandrake,” Jezebel said.

“Do what?”

“Hydrate – drink water. You’re sweating like the slaves on a Roman galley – all of them at once.”

Tharp accepted a canteen from Jezebel and drank thirstily. Then, mopping his brow, he led the way further in the jungle.

Fifteen minutes later, his face purple from exertion, he slumped to the ground panting.

“We’ll rest here a minute, I think,” he said. “Tell the men to take 5, or 20, we’ll see how it goes.”

“Really Mandrake, you need to take better care of yourself. You’re not a young man, you know,” Jezebel said, as she and Liz helped the admiral to a sitting position, his back resting on a large stone pillar.

“How interesting,” Jezebel said, as she examined the column more closely. “Look at this, dear. This is clearly man made, and very old.”

“What’s this now?” Tharp asked with exhaustion.

“If I were to wager a guess, I’d say this is an archaeological remnant of Limuria,” she said.

Tharp’s head already hurt. He didn’t need additional input at the moment, but Jezebel was in full-on schoolteacher mode and was giving background to Liz, who had whipped out a small notebook and was jotting down the information avidly.

“Diego Garcia is part of the Chagos Archipelago, and is reputed to be one of the remnants of the lost continent of Limuria. Some believe the lost race who lived here used the peak toward which we’re ascending as an observatory, where they unlocked the secrets of the cosmos. It’s quite like the legend of Atlantis in the Atlantic Ocean. It’s fascinating how similar myths spring up throughout the ancient world, no matter where on the globe, don’t you agree?”

Liz scribbled furiously.

“According to legend, when the continent was destroyed by an earthquake, much ancient knowledge that could change life as we know it was lost forever. Of course, nothing is lost forever, if you take my meaning. It just has to be rediscovered.”

Tharp had had enough. He struggled to his feet.

“I don’t know about lost knowledge and I don’t care,” he said firmly. “I care about lost ships, and getting to the top of that peak might shed some light on the matter. So let’s move out, it shouldn’t take more than another hour.”

He took two steps forward and his head swam. The last thing he saw was the look of concern on Jezebel’s face as he fell, and he had just long enough to think, “How sweet, she actually cares for me,” before he toppled to the ground, unconscious.

Lady Fanny impatiently paced the deck of La Herida que Filtra de la Cabeza as the ship turned out to sea. She understood the wisdom of Taco’s message, but bridled under the tone of command he assumed.

“The impertinence,” she muttered. “Ordering me out to sea while he explores the situation. ‘Take a position within sight of the island and cover our approach,’ he says. I’ll cover his approach. I saw that big ship, and if it’s Sabado Gigante and he thinks he’s making off with my treasure, I’ll have his hide!”

The crew of young girls stirred uneasily on the deck. Robbed of Sally’s influence, Fanny had been forced to take a more direct hand in running the ship, forcing her into constant contact with the girls. It had slightly ameliorated her behavior, which wasn’t really saying much. She was now almost as friendly as a crocodile. Morale was not high.

Still, when she let herself think about it, she recognized that Taco was right. So she took position several miles offshore, close enough so that she could see the harbor, but not so close that she could be identified. All the girls who were on duty were sent aloft, half to watch the cove, and half to keep a lookout to sea.

That’s why, when the call “Sail ho!” first came, she wasn’t sure which way to turn. And, of course, that pissed her off.

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