the price of piracy
This is the second story in the series. The first was called The Vengeance Legend: The Beginning. That introduces the AU and the characters. It might be helpful to read that one first, but you can probably figure it out. We've taken some artistic license with some canon characters background, and created backgrounds for others.
Disclaimer: The usual. A work of fiction based on the characters created for the television show "The Magnificent Seven". No copyright infringement intended to Mirisch, Trilogy, MGM, CBS, TNN, and all those others who own the rights to the show. No profit will be made from this work.
Warnings: Violence. These were violent times, and no battle – no matter where or when, is ever pretty. A few bad words, and off-screen implied assault on two women based on the actions of true pirates. Pirates are not the things of romance and imagination as they are portrayed now; they could be bloodthirsty, cruel, and totally devoid of morals.
Heidi: Many thanks to our readers who kept us pounding away at the keys, and our story beta Brate who rips us apart in order to make sure we have it right. Many thanks to WILDCARD for her technical assistance and visual aids. Any historical inaccuracies are our own, and we've tried to correct the few we had in the first. Hopefully, we fixed them. Cin, pard, you're the best. BTW, don't get stuck on the visuals <g>.
Cin: Thanks to everyone who sent such kind words after the first story. Don't let her fool you; the majority of this is thanks to Heidi. I may have filled in a bit here and there, but like she said I get stuck in the visuals <g>. And special thanks to Heidi and Brate for taking care of the technical stuff I hate. Oh, and yes we know it sounds like a comic book hero, but don't we all want a hero sometimes.
Who's Who Shipboard Names:
Chris Larabee = Captain Vengeance
Vin Tanner = Hunter, the Ship's Master
Buck Wilmington = Rake, or Rakehell, the First Lieutenant
Raphael Cordova de Martinez = Caballero, the Second Lieutenant
Ezra Standish = Morgan Ambrose Roth, the Prize Master
Josiah Sanchez = Barrel, Officer of the Marines
Nathan Jackson = Raven, Cook and Ship's Surgeon
John "JD" Dunne = Rascal, the Boatswain, or bos'n
Rafe Mosely = Peacock, Aide to the Prize Master
Vengeance = Schooner and Mistress of them All <G>
"We're dead in the water, Cap'n," the first mate reported. "Until the pump's fixed, moving only brings in more water."
"How long?" Staring out across the ocean's wide expanse and not a speck of land in sight, the captain continually scanned for trouble. His hands unconsciously gripped the ship's rail tight.
"Quarter hour for the pump, but then we wait until the hold clears. Still fixing the gundeck where one cannon broke loose. We were lucky it didn't go through the side."
"Tell me the status of the rigging and masts."
"Fouled some lines because of the storm, but the masts are in good shape. We'll have the lines fixed straightaway."
"Make it quick. I don't like sitting still." Casting a glance around at the miles of emptiness, the Captain said, "We're too close to pirate waters."
The first mate took a breath, blowing it out his mouth. "You're not alone, Cap'n. The boys are putting everything into getting us repaired right quick, and the gun crews are ready. We've got two lookouts, one for each side."
"How long before we get underway, Captain?" A feminine voice called across the deck, interrupting the private conversation.
The captain turned slightly to face the two women passengers. "Soon as repairs are done, Ladies."
They nodded, and the other spoke. "Thank you for allowing us on deck. The fresh air is quite lovely after the brutal storm."
"You are most welcome." He smiled. "Enjoy the air while you can." Returning his attention to his first mate, false smile still planted on his lips, he said, "I give you leave to keelhaul me if I ever take on unchaperoned female passengers again. Too much trouble."
The first mate grinned. "Aye aye, sir."
"Sail ho! Port!" High above, one of the lookouts bellowed, the sharp voice clear and reaching all parts of the vessel.
"The Jolly Roger!" The other lookout hollered, having turned his spyglass on the approaching vessel. No one could mistake the black flag with off-white skull and crossbones centered on it for anything else but a pirate. The flying of the Jolly Roger meant that if fired upon, the pirate vessel would show no quarter or compassion.
"God have mercy," muttered the first mate.
"Get the women below, and stuff them in casks. Mix them with our empties. They can't be found aboard." He called out to his crew. "Signal our surrender, and give them no resistance. We are not in fighting form, and I'd rather not have any useless deaths. Let them take the cargo and spare our lives!"
All around the barkentine merchant ship, men prepared for a hostile boarding. The ship's colors lowered – the sign of surrender – and the crew prayed. They prayed these pirates respected the current method of piracy – take all cargo, leaving the ship and crew behind unscathed.
Belowdecks, the two young women were dropped into large empty casks, the lids left slightly ajar to allow them air. Crewmen piled other empties around them, hoping to conceal the presence of the women. The final orders were to remain silent and still, no matter what they heard. Terrified, the pair obeyed.
Abovedecks, the boarding began. Masked pirates swarmed the merchant Clara, forcing the crew into a tightly controlled clump, stripping personal weapons before placing them in a group. As expected, the pirates wanted the cargo, and not the already crippled barkentine.
Everything ran smoothly until one of the pirate's masks accidentally ripped off to reveal his face, the scrap of fabric caught on a fouled, dangling line.
A sailor standing nearby recognized the man unthinkingly blurting out, "I know you! You work for – "
His words cut off abruptly when his throat was slit. He fell gurgling to the deck, his hands clenching his throat, his lifeblood running out between his fingers. It was the beginning of a massacre, because living witnesses to a murder could testify, and cause the hanging of the pirate crew. That was not allowed to happen, and therefore everyone alive must die.
The smell of death permeated the air. Moans of the dying added to the cacophony of sounds, and light layers of acrid smoke coated everything, seeping into the pores, mouth, and hair. Yet, there was a certain order among the chaos, while the pirates scrambled to complete their tasks, all well groomed in the art of thievery and mayhem. After the adrenaline rush of battle, leaving the area almost seemed a letdown, until their Prize Master informed them of the value of the cargo they took by force.
Gleefully, the pirates stored and tallied the loot taken from their prize, the stripped and now worthless merchant. They would sell the barrels of sugar, cotton, ginger, and allspice for a handsome profit, and be in rum for some time.
The greatest prize was finding two female passengers on the barkentine. They could hardly wait to celebrate their discovery. These pirates, a boisterous lot, did not see the women as people nor cared to respect them; they only saw them as spoils. These pirates lacked conscience and decency, having lost their souls long ago as their greed and lust for power grew with each victory over their hapless victims.
This pirate crew cared naught for the revised rules of the seas. Their Articles of Agreement with their Captain, the Code of Conduct, did not have the clause reading, 'If at any time you meet with a Prudent Woman, that man that offers to meddle with her, without her Consent, shall suffer present Death.' Most vessels, especially pirate and privateer, carried with them a Code of Conduct signed by all members of the crew regarding their behavior. It spelled out exactly what type of actions were and were not allowed, and what discipline would be doled out for each infraction. The Captains were quick to ruthlessly dole out those punishments.
This vessel's Articles were short and cutthroat – beyond defending the ship, obeying orders, no stealing, no fighting, and honesty with shipmates, anything went. Wrecking havoc and stealing from others was expected, but not from their own shipmates, hence, the no stealing clause. They were most serious about the division of prizes, and once the shares were split, whatever could not be divided was considered community property: like women.
Not one pirate spared a thought for the crew of the merchant that fought valiantly for their lives, nor did they think about the pain and suffering they inflicted on the families of those men. The pirate crew chose not to dwell on the fact the surprised and storm-damaged merchant surrendered immediately with the expectation of being boarded, their cargo taken, and then set adrift, the crew alive and unharmed. Most merchants started to believe that cargo was not worth the loss of ships and life. They instructed their captains to surrender, losing the cargo, but saving their lives and vessels to sail another day.
The pirates then left the area with nary a backward glance. The dead were dead, and required no more thought. Only the living counted. In that spirit, the pirates indulged themselves on rum and their added bonus . . . the women.
The next morning, the pirates hauled themselves on deck, cleaning up the dregs of their bacchanal. The women were safely tied up and suffering from exhaustion, among other things, in the captain's cabin. For the entertainment they were providing, it was not a hard decision to keep them there for the duration of the sail. As final witnesses, they could be taken care of when their usefulness ended.
All in all, it was a good take. The pirate ship sailed south toward Beaufort, North Carolina, and Blackbeard's legendary home, figuring to take their rest there. First, they needed to navigate the treacherous waters and islands comprising the Outer Banks. The Banks lined the coast of North Carolina from Virginia almost to South Carolina. It took most of the day to sail down to the top of the strip of rocky Banks, and they dropped anchor where they thought it was safe. By the beginning of mid-afternoon, one of the women had fallen ill. They kept her with her friend in the captain's cabin, but offered no medical treatment. They would be dead soon, so why waste the supplies?
The sun was just starting to set when the lookout spotted a sail. Their ship was situated so the lookout on watch could see the horizons, having the port, or left side, facing north, and the starboard, or right side, facing south.
A single voice cried out. "Sail, ho. Starboard, and comin' fast."
The approaching ship originated in the southern dusk, making their pirate vessel backlit by the sun, the sails wreathed in reddish-orange.
Across the deck, the pirates moved fast to arm themselves and prepare a subterfuge. They lifted high the stolen flag of the barkentine merchant ship. The Master Gunner prepared the cannons, hoping by the time the approaching ship realized they were not nearing a merchant, it would be too late. It would be another easy prize to be had, or the crew would be entertaining the fish at the bottom of the sea.
"What's her colors?" The captain called to the lookout.
The men exchanged glances, thinking it might be a fellow pirate hired by their employer.
"Who are they?"
High above, the lookout cursed roundly, crossed himself and started to pray.
The first mate cussed fluently, staring through the spyglass at the newly revealed flying jib. The distinctive design painted in huge detail was evident on the just-raised colors hanging from the masts.
"Give me that." The Captain snatched the spyglass, peering through it himself. His stomach dropped to his feet, and his throat closed. "Vengeance."
"Are they in range?"
"No maybes about it. Are you sure?"
"Then fire." The pirate ship's captain gave the order for the sloop's long-range cannons to thunder.
The metallic taste of burnt gunpowder filled the nostrils of the crew while the smoke quickly dissipated above their heads.
A lead ball flew from the pirate ship toward the Vengeance. The Master of that vessel dropped her out of the wind, slowing the forward momentum enough to neatly dodge the missile.
A second gun fired.
Vengeance's rudder shifted to starboard, turning the ship, enough to let another ball fall harmlessly into the water, well short of its mark.
"You fools! They weren't in range! Reload! Reload! Reload!"
"Not a merchant for sure, Cap'n." Rake, the notorious ladies' man, Buck Wilmington, grinned broadly. "They've started the fight."
I'm in need of one, and we'll be sure to finish
it!" The captain raked his cold green eyes over
the pirate vessel as he issued orders to his
crew. On land, he was the respected horse
breeder, Chris Larabee, but here he was Captain
Vengeance, and these challenges gave him an outlet
for less-than-gentlemanly behavior. "Tiny! It's
your turn. Fire!" With the port side now angled
toward the mysterious ship, the longer, larger
cannons on Vengeance could work some
"Aye, Cap'n." Tiny, the local blacksmith, Samuel Butler, gave the order to fire to the men on the gun deck. They let two of the cannons thunder a response.
Anchored, the pirate ship Dorsey did not have the freedom of movement the Vengeance did, and consequently took two cannonballs to the side. The gunners' shots were true, striking right at the waterline. The Vengeance's gunners made an art form of hitting right where they needed to, due to the fact that Tiny had trained them hard and long, no matter the expense.
The pirate ship Dorsey started taking on water.
Tiny smiled under his mask, the slit allowing his teeth to be seen. "Look alive, boys. We need 'em reloaded."
"Aye, aye, sir!" Several voices yelled back.
Another Vengeance cannon sounded, the last of the long-range guns on that side, and the operator backed away, waiting for the powder monkey to run up with the new cartridge.
"Direct hit amidships!"
"Good shot!" Captain Vengeance yelled.
From the wheel, Hunter, an enigma named Vin Tanner, called out information. "Cap'n, she's cut her cables and is swinging over." Cable cutting was the emergency procedure of severing the anchor lines to free the ship so it was not a semi-stationary target, and usually not the smartest move, because there was no way to recover the anchor.
"Aye, Hunter. Let's see what she's got left." The captain stood ready near the bow, his mind in the habit of calling his crew by their onboard names, and not their real ones for safety's sake. It was imperative to conceal their identities. Even though the Loyalists were few among their respective towns, those few could inflict great harm to their cause if the true identities of ship's crew and their benefactors were discovered.
They watched as their adversary, the pirate ship, caught her own wind, her sails unfurling, and saw the red flag shoot up the lines.
"Red flag, Cap'n." Hunter nearly smiled beneath his mask. A red flag meant no quarter given, no quarter expected. This would be a fight to the death.
Vengeance's cannons stepped up their fire, sending heavy balls of lead at their enemy.
Dorsey fired back, the gunners finally getting a shot at the Vengeance.
They missed again because of their lack of accuracy, long range, and Hunter's skill. Although Jess Kincaid's experiments with the design of the schooner made the vessel more maneuverable, two people were still required to work the wheel and make the schooner responsive during rough seas or battles, instead of the usual three or four. Hunter, the Master, was primary, and had two mates standing by on either side of him, his best man helping with negotiating the heavy wheel and making it respond properly. The other man was there to assist in the event something happened.
Hunter had put enough distance between them earlier when the pirate ship cut her anchor lines. He moved them into long gun range for Vengeance, but kept them out of the lesser range of the pirate's smaller cannons. The opening shots told him the limits of his opponent's range, and he worked the angles between them. It required skill, a good eye, excellent coordination, and he had all these qualities in abundance as the wooden wheel rested easily between his hands. The last ball hit the water bare inches from the hull, sending a spray of water on deck. Although the mate helped him, it was Hunter's directions that were followed, and the mate continued to learn from watching the Master.
"A little too close, Hunter." Caballero yelled with a sarcastic grin at the primary man manning the wheel. The slight Spanish accent gave away his identity as Raphael Cordova de Martinez. "For shame."
Tiny and his men sent off another lead present, finishing the loading of the other two cannons on that side.
"Direct hit, Cap'n, and she's starting to list!" Rake called from his position next to Hunter. "Another broadside pass will do her in."
"Hunter." Captain Vengeance never raised his voice.
It now became a maneuverability contest between the two ships. Since the Dorsey was a sloop, it was smaller and had a speed advantage over Vengeance, a schooner. However, Vengeance had a Master behind her wheel, a Master who could out sail just about anyone, along with a superior design.
The ships jockeyed for position, the sloop trying to keep her injured side away from the unending blasts coming from the privateer. On board, the sloop pumps worked furiously. During the insanity of battle, men applied patches to the holes in the ship, called fothering, done by taking a large piece of sail and folding it over on itself, sending it under the ship. It was pulled over on the other side, and tied off like a giant bandage. These patches slowed the water coming in because the sails were treated to be water-repellant as much as possible, and it helped to stabilize the ship. However, this took time, and it made the workers completing this task targets on deck.
The two ships passed each other again, and Vengeance hammered more lead into Dorsey's side.
Dorsey's cannons thundered back, landing two shots on the quarterdeck, barely missing a mast. The cannonballs inflicted minor damage on the decks and fouled some rigging, but the Boatswain, Rascal, a.k.a. John 'JD' Dunne, ordered the deckhands to begin repairs to the sails and rigging. Men immediately ran to unfoul the lines, clear the debris, and create workarounds on what they could.
The pirate vessel Dorsey fired another round, preparing to rake the hull of Vengeance, and managed to blow a small hole into the gun deck. They had used all their guns on that side for their last pass though, leaving them vulnerable.
Hunter quickly brought the agile schooner around again under his capable hands, with minimal help. This time, the crew prepared for boarding while the other ship reloaded their cannons.
"Prepare for boarding!" Captain Vengeance yelled across the water at them. "Surrender now!"
Grappling hooks flew the distance between the ships, and gunfire opened from the Vengeance's topmen perched high in the masts, some under the yards, onto the decks of the Dorsey. Crew fell into bloody heaps on the deck.
Answering fire came from the Dorsey's topmen. They, too, found their targets in several of the Vengeance's crewman, but without the deadly accuracy of the better-trained Vengeance's shooters.
The second barrage went free from Vengeance into the Dorsey's topmen, part of a staggered firing pattern on the privateer. Picked for their accuracy and ruthlessly trained, Vengeance's topmen perched and tucked up out on the yards, using the masts for cover, and took first aim at the Dorsey's snipers. At the same time, Tiny's gunners primed another set of rounds for the pirate ship.
Now mostly secure from the threat above, Vengeance's crew leapt from their deck onto the pirate ship, and the battle heaved fast and furious. Again, the better-trained privateer crew prevailed. There was scattered gunfire from the pirate crew, cowards that tried for the easy fight. The air rang heavily with the sound of steel-on-steel as cutlasses clashed again and again.
The price of battle was high on the sloop. Every pirate on the upper decks died, either by the crew of the Vengeance during the battle, or by taking his own life. The pirates knew they would hang for their numerous illegal actions, and many of them chose their own deaths than swing at the end of a rope on land. Vengeance was infamous for arranging the turning over of pirate to the Magistrate, all without getting themselves caught doing it.
As the battle wound down on deck, Captain Vengeance issued orders to finish securing the ship. "Rake, get back to Vengeance, and see to the repairs. Caballero, take charge of this ship. Keep this hulk afloat until we empty her. I'll be fetching the captain's log and manifest. Raven, tend our crew, see who needs help. Morgan, you know what to do. Barrel, flood her with marines, and gather any prisoners. Peacock, prepare our hold to receive their goods. Rascal, take the wheel of this hulk and hold her steady. You and Hunter work together."
"Aye, Cap'n." Several voices answered at once.
Raven, also known as Nathan Jackson, serving in the dual purpose of Cook and Ship's Surgeon, came on deck with his bandages and tended the cuts, slashes, gashes, bullet wounds, grazes, and various injuries of the crew. Fortunately, there were no deaths on the schooner, and the injured would recover with proper treatment. There were a few serious wounds, and those he felt would be better for it were ordered to their bunks below for rest. He then moved to check with Caballero and see if any survivors were found on the pirate ship that might need his help.
Rake issued orders with confidence from Vengeance's deck, his legs spread wide for balance as the two joined ships listed slightly from the water the pirate ship continued to take on. He was relieved that none of their crew had been killed, having received Raven's verbal report, and from the looks of it, there would be a good haul for their work. That part was made sweeter by the fact they rid the seas of another scourge. Part of his mind made a list of repairs he would have to make sure were completed later on, and another part prepared the damage report for the captain while completing his tasks.
Keeping one eye on the crew as they went about their tasks, he watched his friend and captain move toward the captain's cabin of the pirate ship with a group of marines. This was dirty, dangerous work, and in other times they would not even consider such a venture as they were on now. He could not deny, though, that in the short time this crew had been together, it seemed as if they were truly made for the task. Having Vengeance, along with their new purpose, felt like they were righting the wrong that had shattered their world so drastically several years ago. Finally, he felt things were changing, and it was all for the better.
As he saw Captain Vengeance go below decks, he also thought on how this had been good for his friend. The captain had needed a good outlet for his frustration and his anger. The work they were doing more than provided it. Personally, Rake enjoyed the adrenaline rush that came with these battles. It made him feel alive, which, like Larabee, he hadn't felt in what seemed like a long while. Absently, he stroked the necklace he wore, his fingers tracing the outline of the shell and the small ring attached to the rawhide string. Giving them one final squeeze and setting his memories aside once more, he let go, pitching in to help with the repairs.
Tiny and his men worked on repairing the damaged gun deck, preparing it for another battle. The British could be anywhere, and the Vengeance was on their capture list. It never hurt to be prepared. They were vulnerable where they were right now, hooked together with the slowly sinking pirate vessel, something the whole crew stayed aware of and added speed to their actions. He and his men restocked what they used during this battle. Instead of delving into their own stores, most of the supplies they carried over from the pirate vessel itself. Using their supplies and the less time it would take to move the pirate's armament below deck made sense; the pirates weren't going to need it. It wasn't long before the cannons and weapons had cooled in order to be ready for battle again.
As the crew labored, more than a few were thinking on the actions they had been forced to take lately. Not that they were forced to serve on the Vengeance; they had all readily volunteered for duty, sworn an Oath of Secrecy, and were happy to serve under Captain Vengeance, whom they considered a fair captain even for his sternness. It was as they cleaned out the pirate ship they realized there was a fine line existed between pirate and privateer, mostly dealing with loyalties. Pirates were out for their own gain, while privateers targeted specific enemies. Most privateers carried a letter of marque, but one had not been issued to the Vengeance crew, especially since there was no war. However, they still considered themselves privateers, a step above pirates. Those who served aboard the privateer schooner knew they were serving a greater good in the battle to free the colonies from the mad British king's strangling rule. No matter that some also had another purpose. The pirates and corrupt British ranked as an enemy not only because of the personal pain inflicted on the Vengeance's captain, but also for various injustices perpetrated against the different members of her crew. This crew took care to avoid harassing British citizens; they knew not all British citizens or colonists were bad, but there were enough of them, like their king, who made life nearly intolerable.
There were many citizens on both sides, though, that felt the privateers were no better than the pirates they hunted. Especially critical were the politicians, at least those with loyalties to the Crown. And while the citizens would complain about the current state of unfair taxes and penalties, even opposed them, they were fearful to cut all ties with their homeland. The new colonies were still too raw and untamed to offer the sense of security contact with their homelands provided, even if many had been forced to relocate to the new world.
So as the crew completed the transfer of goods from the damage ship to theirs, they did so with mixed emotions. If not for the purpose they knew they were working toward, they, too, might be considered no better than those they had just defeated. It was a sobering thought.
Barrel, the ex-monk Josiah Sanchez, disappeared below decks on the pirate ship, taking some of his marines with him. His people now had the most dangerous job of all – taking the pirates prisoner, or clearing the below decks, whichever path of surrender the pirates chose to go. The Vengeance's marines acted as the security force, insuring that nothing from the pirate ship would be overlooked, and any leftover pirate crew would be handled quickly and efficiently. They also kept discipline on the schooner, not that much was needed, but their presence was a comfort and warning to all.
Once aboard the vessel, a marine behind Barrel held a lantern, and the ex-monk led the way through the sloop. His boarding plan was simple and effective – take a large contingent of men on board, and push forward until marines covered every door. The last ones on board waited for a signal to open the first door they came to, opening the doors up the line from the back boarders to those deep within the ship. This insured all backs were protected, and if someone needed assistance, help was only a few steps away. Barrel had carefully screened and selected his marines, training them to avoid distractions and obvious ploys, yet molding them into a cohesive fighting force whose honor and loyalty was unquestioned.
He armed them with their choice of pistols or muskets, some preferring the blunderbuss that fired several small pellets over a large area in an instant. The multi-barreled pistol was equally as popular, allowing two shots before reloading. Muskets were spread among the boarding party for longer range, and usually every third person carried one. Since they opened the doors in sets of three men, one had the rifle, one had a blunderbuss, and one had a pistol. If push came to shove, they were as well trained in using their cutlasses. Usually guns were the second choice because of the damage they inflicted on a vessel, but this one was sinking, so it didn't matter. Lack of time meant quelling resistance quickly and efficiently, and firearms did the job.
Barrel carried a modified blunderbuss in his right hand, a cutlass in his left, and silently prayed while they stormed the passageways. It stank down here, and it was obvious these men cared little for themselves or their ship. The stench of rot, human waste, sweat, fear, and dampness filled the air. The passageways were dark, with the only light coming from the lanterns carried by the marines, which threw eerie shadows on the wooden walls as they made their way through the vessel. No one came out to confront them, signifying the Vengeance boarding party would have to go in after any crew left trying to hide.
He gave the signal, watching it go down the line until it was out of his sight, and the first door fell barely in his hearing. More yells and screams accompanied by the sounds of weapons fire reached his ears. Slowly word traveled to his position beside the main hatch of the hold that any resistance had been quickly subdued. Apparently, the few pirate crew not in the hold had barricaded themselves in cabins, forcing their deaths at the hands of the marines instead of facing justice on land.
All that remained to be checked was the captain's cabin, which was not opened until Captain Vengeance was present – per his orders, and the ship's hold. On Barrel's signal, he and a marine sergeant positioned at the fore hatch used ropes to pull the hatches open, letting the gunfire from below miss living targets. The walls splintered beside and around the marines where the lead balls struck, but they did not seriously harm anyone. Once it ceased, both men lowered their blunderbusses, firing them into the confined space. They pulled back immediately, letting the smallest, fastest, and craziest marines scramble down the ladder to finish subduing those who did not surrender. The rest of the men followed the first wave of marines, Caballero behind them, flooding the compartment with men. They finished their task by securing the loose cargo and checking the bodies.
Topside, Rascal took possession of the pirate ship's wheel, two mates standing by, and exchanged looks with Hunter whenever they needed to change positions of the ships. He was learning a lot from Hunter, and it showed in the fact Captain Vengeance put the youngest officer in charge of the wheel of the pirate ship, and supervising three mates. He worked hard to prove himself to the Captain, whom he knew at first had had reservations about him joining the crew because he was so young, though a few were younger. He admitted to himself his knowledge of the Banks was a plus the captain could not ignore.
Rascal smiled as he thought of Buck "Rake" Wilmington, thankful for the day that saw the gregarious man step into his life as a mentor and friend. It would have been a little embarrassing if his shipmates would have overheard their brief exchange on his way to taking charge of the at the wheel. He knew standing on a foreign deck manning their wheel made him a target, and he could only count on the marines to keep him safe. Rake had admonished him to be careful and dispensed some last minute advice, along with a final declaration to watch his back. He might have been embarrassed, but pleased, too, that now he had someone to care enough about him to worry for his well-being.
He couldn't deny, though, that worry went both ways. As he worked to earn his keep with this crew, he came to care for all them like brothers. Even as he concentrated on his duty, he wished he could join the others knowing the danger was not over. His worry for his crewmates showed on his face, and he couldn't help but flinch when he heard the distinctive sound of gunfire beneath his feet.
At the wheel of the Vengeance, Hunter kept a sharp eye on the pirate vessel, knowing his word could bring the others up and off if need be. The course corrections were not that difficult; he worked to keep both vessels out of the wind, but that sloop would not remain buoyant long. He hoped his friends hurried with their tasks.
His casual stance belayed his turbulent thoughts. His mind was working ahead, roughly calculating the amount of damage done to the Vengeance, and how that would affect the handling. Knowledge that he would need should they find themselves thrust into battle again, before those repairs were complete. He also kept watch for his friends and crew, halfway counting when heads appeared above decks to fetch something, or transfer back to the schooner. It was strange the idea of worrying about someone else's welfare again, but he found himself doing it more often of late.
Caballero maintained the repair work started by the pirate's crew to help stabilize the ship and off load this soon-to-be wreck before she sank with them on her. They continued pumping water out of the hold, and Caballero's orders were quickly followed by one and all. The work was not to save the ship; she was beyond that. It was just enough to keep her afloat in order to empty her hold, and make sure she didn't sink too fast, taking the schooner crew with her. He stood back and supervised for a moment, once again amazed by the amount of barrels and casks it appeared they would be taking as a prize. This group of privateers he served with was magnificent, and it pleased him to be a part of it.
In the Vengeance's hold, Peacock, the gentleman Rafe Mosely, supervised the shifting of provisions so that the other vessel's cargo could easily be loaded and secured. As low to the water as the pirate ship was, it probably had a full hold. It was important the storage kept the balance even, so as not to upset the ship's handling. His job was the basic provisioning of the ship, and handling the day-to-day issues that came up during a cruise. What he could not handle, or that which required higher intervention, went first to the Prize Master. If the Prize Master could not answer the issue, he would then forward it up to either the Second or First Lieutenant.
Captain Vengeance trusted Peacock with this awesome responsibility, still surprising since they had not seen eye to eye at first. It had been harder to convince him of his loyalty because of his father, whose ties to the mother country were without question and unbreakable. But the father and son rarely agreed on anything, as the others soon found out. His differences with Hunter did not earn him points with the Captain either, but they were working on it. At least not letting them interfere with any Vengeance business. It had taken a lot to earn the trust he found he now had with the captain, and he was determined not to let the man down.
Morgan Ambrose Roth, the Scot, Ezra Standish, entered the hold of the pirate ship to begin his work, once the marines had secured it. Pleased, he saw the water level holding steady as the pumps continued their laborious task, and he rubbed his hands in anticipation. After climbing down, he issued orders to the men with him to check the contents and markings of every barrel, cask, and trunk hidden in the hold. He then opened the largest one closest to him. He smiled, seeing what looked to be a very lucrative haul.
That smile changed to a frown when he saw the blunderbuss damage to some of the crates and barrels. Damaged goods distressed him, but he learned long ago that taking the marines to task only made things worse. The last time he pointed out the damage – when they were still learning about each other and job responsibilities – he received a challenge.
A marine had handed him a blunderbuss and a pistol, telling him to charge into the hold during the next boarding, and see if he wouldn't fire first to clear the path.
Ezra considered, thanked the man for his perspective, and said he respected the marines for their dedication to duty. He then made the rule – with the crew and captain's approval – that the marines got an extra share for the danger of their position, and bonuses for minimizing damages. The deal worked out well since then, and the marines tended to lessen the damage whenever possible. It also kept Ezra from being the first fool into the hold, a position that he didn't want, and clearly wouldn't do, even to save face. He liked all his parts working where they were and his heart continuing to beat, thank you very much.
After making sure the ship was secure, Barrel and his marines assisted the men working on the inventory and moving of the cargo. With the added manpower, quick work was made of checking contents, roughly scribbling what they were, and moving crates and barrels topside for transfer to the Vengeance. This was done as quickly and efficiently as possible. All the men realized the badly damaged ship would not hold for long, plus they knew they were vulnerable to any British patrols in the area.
Captain Vengeance made his way through the vessel to join a few of Barrel's marines at the captain's quarters, the last place not checked by marines because of his standing orders. He felt that the captain and marines should check the captain's cabin personally, just in case there was something the rest of the crew was not meant to see or know, especially in the personal papers. He hated keeping things from his crew, but sometimes, the less they knew, the less they could tell if they were captured and tortured. This cabin was believed to be empty because they all witnessed this sloop's captain die in the battle. He thrust the door open, and the marines charged the room first, as they had with the others to be on the safe side. An unexpected, loud, piercing female scream greeted their entrance.
"Women!" one of the marines yelled. "Unarmed!"
"Of course they're unarmed, you idiot - they're naked!" Another marine lowered his blunderbuss, his mouth wide and gaping.
"Stay back! Please, I beg of you! Don't kill us!" A desperate female voice pleaded for mercy.
"Marines, clear the room," Captain Vengeance ordered immediately, and the marines backed out, still staring at the women. "Close the door." One of them did, leaving the captain alone with the pair, but he knew the men waited and listened in the hallway. "Ladies, you're in no danger from any of my crew," the masked captain stated calmly, keeping his hands away from the weapons at his side. He waited to see what she would do.
"You wear masks. They wore masks. What makes you different?" She stood defiantly before the new intruder, knowing he was in charge from both his tone and the fact the other men obeyed him. Her eyes blazed angrily, but her bottom lip quivered with the fear she tried to hide. She did not try to cover herself, any shame she felt was only because she knew the chaste modesty she should have was ruined after the first man had touched her. At this point, she no longer cared what happened to her. She would rather be dead, but she would stand as bravely as she could to protect her friend. Therefore, the only sheet in the room was wrapped around the woman lying shivering on the bed beside her. "See these bruises?" She pointed at her wrists, arms, legs, and sides.
"Aye, and they anger me. No woman should be so mistreated. The men who caused them are dead. I give you my word we will get you to safety."
"Your word? What good is the word of a pirate?" She spat on the floor.
"If I were a pirate, then next to nothing. I'm a privateer, Lady, and that makes the difference. I kill those who deserve to be killed, including those who held you captive." He pulled a pistol from his waistband and grimaced when he saw her flinch and back away. Bending to a large chest beside the door, he used the butt end to shatter the lock. Replacing the pistol, the captain rummaged through the contents, pulling out several items of clothing. He threw her an oversized shirt and breeches. "Put those on."
She caught them, and he turned around, presenting his back to her. He gave her the test of whether she would attack him from behind, or play it smart and see if his words matched his actions.
Her voice reached him from what he judged was the same spot. "These are men's clothes belonging to those animals. I refuse to wear them."
"It's unseemly. We had trunks with us. Surely they brought over our trunks from our vessel."
"Based out of Boston?" He and all his men made an effort to know what ships were Colonial and which were British, along with knowing their home ports. Information was valuable, and knowing the vessels was very useful to them.
"If we find your things, they will be brought to you. We lack time to bring them now because this vessel's sinking. Wear those."
She swallowed hard, and then said, "Thank you."
Chris nodded an acknowledgment, and then asked a question in the form of a command. "Tell me the fate of the Clara's crew."
She paused long enough the Captain didn't think she was going to answer. When the answer did come, the voice was not as strong as before, trembling from what he believed to be the remembered horrors. "I'm not sure…from what I saw . . .heard…I don't know . . .I think they all must be dead."
The Captain bit back a curse.
"Might I have your name, sir, to know what to call you?" she timidly asked.
"Captain Vengeance. Yours?"
"Lucy Cartwright, and my friend Barbara Evans. We were traveling to the Islands to visit my uncle. Are there more clothes for my friend?"
"Aye." Captain Vengeance reached over and pulled out the last set of clothing he found. He threw them behind him at the woman and asked, "Ma'am…you and your friend . . . are you well?" The schooner captain knew this question seemed awkward considering their circumstances, but he needed to know if they had any serious injuries that needed tending.
"No," came the soft reply, followed by an even softer comment. "We will never be all right again."
"Your injuries, are they great?"
"I don't know. My friend has a fever. We have been through an Ordeal, Captain."
"Aye. I don't mean to upset you, but I have some more questions for you."
"I'll try to answer if I can when I'm done."
"Yes, ma'am." Two long minutes passed in terse silence.
"You may turn around now."
He wheeled to face her, finding her wiping the forehead of her friend. Both were roughly garbed in clothes too large for them, but what they wore provided adequate coverage. "Would you like my Ship's Surgeon to attend you both?"
"No! We will not allow a man to touch us." Lucy's foot stamped on the deck. "Ever again!"
"Your friend needs care."
"I'll care for her until we get home, providing you will give me supplies."
"Aye, that I can do. Miss Cartwright, we'll take you somewhere safe."
"Just take us to a port, any port, Captain, and we'll manage from there."
"We can't go ashore, Miss Cartwright, because we're privateers. It cannot work that way."
"Are you wanted by the law?" A note of fear deepened in her voice.
"There are many things to consider," Chris hedged the question.
"If you are what you claim to be, nothing will be more important than getting us home," Lucy argued.
"Your safety does concerns me."
"We will be safer at our homes."
"Perhaps," he nodded. "Perhaps not."
"What do you mean?"
"You and your friend are the only survivors of a horrendous crime. You may have knowledge from something you've seen or heard that puts you in danger."
Lucy's stoic demeanor began to crumble a bit. "You have taken the ship responsible. Surely you can keep the crew from causing us further harm?"
The captain did not reveal that the pirate crew had more than likely already answered for their crimes with the highest price, and were paying for these misdeeds in Hell. He did, however, explain some other hard facts to the young women. "These men probably had contacts waiting for their share of their take. It will not arrive as expected. They'll want to know where it is, and what happened."
"How does that affect us?"
"If word got out – when word you two survived got out, for water folk talk, it will reach the ears of those responsible for supplying this vessel. They would come after you for answers, and they would not be gentle."
The young woman remained silent, but paled visibly at the thought of meeting more men worse than those that had held them captive the last few days.
Captain Vengeance spoke again. "I plan to meet up with another vessel captained by a woman. She can make arrangements for you and keep you safe."
"A woman captain? In this age? Surely you jest."
The schooner captain shook his head sadly. "No, there are several female captains. We all do what we must. This one's hatred of pirates probably surpasses even yours right now, and she has the resources to help. Until then, you have nothing to fear from us. My men will treat you with respect, and you will stay in my cabin until we meet up."
She gave him an inquiring, almost mistrustful look, and then glanced pointedly around the cabin.
He stiffened. "You insult me. I'll bunk with my First Lieutenant."
"Please, Lucy." The previously silent female on the bed raised her head to stare at the masked man. Her eyes glittered with a low fever. "On behalf of both of us, we accept. However, I agree with Lucy, no doctor. No one will examine us."
"Even if your life could be saved?"
"No, Captain. I will not have anyone see me." Obviously abused and ill, the young woman's hair hung in lank strings, and most of her face bore a mottled collection of bruises.
He inclined his head, knowing he could not force either of them to accept treatment. They would see it as just another man imposing his will on them as the pirates did. "We'll need you to transfer to our ship. This one's badly damaged and will not stay afloat much longer. A moment." Captain Vengeance went to the door, opened it, and issued orders. "Find the trunks that belong to the ladies and order them taken to my cabin. Tell Rake to gather my things and move them in with his. Then have the decks cleared to transfer the women, and notify me here when this is done."
"Aye, aye, Cap'n." The marine trotted off.
The black-clad Captain went over to the built in locked cabinet. Again using the butt of his pistol, he broke the padlock. He gathered all of the ship's logs, papers, maps, and manifests contained within. Going back to the door, he passed the items to two more of the marines standing guard outside. One he gave the manifest with instructions to take it directly to Morgan. The rest of the papers and logs he passed to another, ordering him to see them back to the Vengeance.
A very short time later, he received notification that all was in readiness. Refusing his aid, Lucy helped her friend move slowly from the room while the Captain escorted the women from the pirate ship to his own quarters on Vengeance. The decks had been cleared previously as much as possible. The men required to remain kept silent, averting their eyes or offering a brief nod when the women passed in silent respect and sympathy, correctly guessing the horrors they must have endured.
The women were settled, and the men on Vengeance accepted the females' presence with anger, enraged with the knowledge of what happened to them at the less-than-tender hands of the now dead pirates. Many a man verbally wished he could kill the pirates all over again, or subject them to the tortures worse than they put the women through. The cargo transfer finished quickly. Finally, once the ship was stripped of all value, the patches were removed and the lines between vessels freed. As the Dorsey -- the crew learned her name from the Captain's telling log -- began to drift away, torches were tossed onto the deck to set it ablaze.
Crews, superstitions, and the sea went hand in hand, and this ship's crew was no different. They believed the pirate ship carried evil on board that deserved to be burned away, and because the vessel was not salvageable, burning it into small pieces prevented it from becoming a hazard to navigation. Before cutting her free, members of the Vengeance crew had chopped up or destroyed as much as possible, coating most of the vessel in oil to make her burn longer and more completely. A few well-placed small bags of gunpowder, set where the fire would eventually light them, insured the ship blew apart, after the Vengeance could move a safe distance away.
From the captain's personal papers, Chris found a letter from Stewart James to the captain of the Dorsey. It warned them that their continued out-of-control behavior would not be tolerated and their protection would be withdrawn, leaving them to the mercies of the British, French, Spanish, or anyone else who cared to sink them, including James' other vessels. The logs detailed the pirates' various attacks on merchant ships, mainly those leaving from the colonies loaded with goods for trade, or those returning with needed supplies. Just before raiding the Clara, this crew also preyed on a British merchant, using Colonial colors to create chaos. It was more nails in the coffin showing the Loyalist Stewart James working against the interests of the Colonists. The Colonists only wanted freedom from what they considered unfair acts by far away King George and Parliament; at the very least, they requested equal representation in England, instead of being considered the coffer-filler for England's depleted economy without a say.
Keeping the Dorsey's information to himself temporarily, Chris ordered the crew to stay in the general area until they were sure the ship blew. They then hightailed it out of there because the blaze would be seen for miles on the water, not to mention the explosions. Sounds carried easily on the winds across the water.
Vengeance found a secluded inlet to drop anchor, settled in for the night, and hid in the darkness. They folded up the painted jib, placing it in storage next to the special embroidered one. The jib had been a special gift presented to the crew before their first sail. It was a symbol that the townspeople and nearby settlers in the know were behind their endeavor, and the entire crew was touched to a man by what the labor-intensive work represented. Until recently, the embroidered jib had been the only one they used to identify themselves, when they wished to be known. As the number of battles grew and intensified, it was getting painfully discouraging to keep taking the year's worth of work by the local women's sewing circle back to them damaged, and asking their crestfallen faces to fix it. The crew decided to have another flying jib painted with the design to use in its stead. It was less costly and less time consuming to replace, if a new one was needed. The embroidered flying jib was kept safely in its special storage compartment, a place of honor, and used only for special occasions.
Though the ship rested in its temporary harbor, the crew did not. Repairs continued throughout the evening into the late watches, until the ship was fully prepared for another battle. Barrel put extra marines on watch to help keep a sharp lookout for British patrols.
The women allowed Barrel and Raven into the captain's cabin when they brought them food, but still refused the services of the ship's surgeon. They did accept the medicines and supplies Raven offered, and listened to Captain Vengeance's careful instructions regarding the rules of their behavior. Though no one would dare cross Larabee or his orders to leave the women alone and only offered them the utmost respect, Barrel assigned a shift of guards to stay outside their quarters throughout the night. The popular reasoning was to prevent the women from getting them killed by signaling anyone who got close. As the captain settled into the extra bunk in Rake's cabin, the two old friends invited Caballero to join them, pouring over the Dorsey's logs and papers. They determined the number of ships destroyed by the pirate crew, as well as the rough location of the Clara's demise. Larabee decided they would go back to the site to see if the pirates left any of the ship afloat. Before they could, though, the women had to be taken care of. Orders were given to set sail for Ocracoke Inlet at first light, where they would signal the Spirit's lookout.
The following evening, slipping by the inlet just after the sun set, the chosen crew removed the cloths covering the signal lanterns. Using quick hand motions, all three deckhands covered and uncovered the lights three times each. They received the answering signal from shore, and Vengeance continued on her path.
Captain Vengeance kept the schooner moving, taking her further south than their normal patrol areas. He found a good spot to anchor, gave orders, and the crew of Vengeance retired for the night. The night watch assumed their positions, keeping another vigilant lookout through the night.