Nick and I would never be best buddies with the crew, but after several days at sea, we had at least grown used to each other. The “boys” were a moody lot. My battle exercises and Nick’s inventive meals helped keep them in good spirits, but it seemed that pirates required more amusement than war games and good food provided.
The minute I heard rumblings about plunder, I called a meeting to stem any unrest. For the record, I was also curious. “How do you go about finding booty, anyway?”
“At this time o’ year,” said Chuly Crumm, “the merchant convoys stop at the Central Islands to trade before goin’ ’ome. We can generally break one of ’em away from the fleet.”
“Aye,” agreed a one-eyed rogue named Muxer. “The way youse has been drilling us with them guns, Cap, we won’t be havin’ no trouble.”
Yes, I’d made the men practice their cannon craft, but I’d done so with defense in mind, not aggressive piracy. I glanced at Nick and knew from his bewildered expression that his thoughts mirrored mine: How do we get out of this one?
A call from the crow’s nest put the issue on the back burner for the moment: “Ship dead astern!”
Muxer cupped his hands around his mouth. “What’ve ye got, Cracker?”
Cracker focused his telescope. “Devil dance with my granny! It’s the Golden Swan!”
“Where’s them gods o’ yours, Cap?” Chuly asked. “We’ll be needin’ ’em.”
“Who is he?”
“Blackjack Savage. A mean one, Cap. ’E’s been after Brigman since ’e cheated ’im out of ’is share o’ spoils.”
Only a short time had passed since I’d bested Brigman and taken his ship, yet it seemed like ages. I wasn’t surprised to hear he had swindled a fellow pirate, and he’d left us to deal with the fallout.
“Can’t we just tell him Brigman is dead?” Nick asked.
Muxer guffawed and slapped Nick’s back. “That’s a rich one, Mr. Nick. Old Blackjack won’t stop till ’e gets us all. Said ’e’d ’ave our balls for a midnight snack. Took exception to us sinking ’is favorite ship. Course, ’e’s got a better one now.”
“Aye,” agreed Smitto, the quartermaster. “The Golden Swan. ’E’s got her all painted gold, with that mermaid on the bow sniffin’ her nose down at ye!”
I didn’t like the sound of this one bit. “If we clap on sail, we can outrun her. Smitto, where’s the nearest port?”
“Brigman’s hidey-hole cove is yonder, but Blackjack’s ship is too fast. We’ll never make it.”
“We can if we disable her. A good volley of chain shot will tear her rigging. Let’s see how well you remember your cannon drills, men.”
Before anyone could respond, a huge spray of water soaked the deck. Seconds later a loud boom echoed through the air. The Golden Swan had fired, and she was closing fast.
“Battle stations!” I shouted. “Bring her about, men. Clear the decks for action. Run out the great guns. Port side cannons first! Swivel guns on standby!”
Whooping and cheering, the crew flew to their posts.
Nick ran to his station shaking his head. “Aw, man!”
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