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SALTY ROSES
by Pat McDermott

Pirates!

Treachery leaves Ireland's Princess Talty and her good friend
Major Nick Tomasi marooned on a desert island in an unknown world.
When a dangerous means of escape presents itself, Nick is wary.
A desperate Talty, however, prepares for action.

* * * * *

The aroma of roasting, crackling fish perfumed the air. Nick fixed some chopped seaweed and fruit on our tin plates, and supper was ready.

He stared forlornly at his food. “Too bad we have no pesto sauce. Even ketchup would help.”

“The fish isn’t so bad plain.” Seeking to encourage him, I repeated one of my favorite Irish sayings: “Hunger makes a good sauce.”

As I’d hoped, he smiled. “An Irish proverb? Hey, I love those. But this stuff could still use a little olive oil, a little salt, and a lot of garlic. A mozzarella salad and a good white wine would add just the right touch.” He kissed his fingertips in his Italian-American way.

I laughed, happy to have my buddy back. “Not at this restaurant, but we won’t starve. The sea will keep us supplied with fish and vegetables.”

“Vegetables? It’s seaweed, Talty. Even my secret marinara sauce couldn’t help it.”

“Okay. Tomorrow we’ll add to the menu.”

The next day we made a game of climbing trees and pilfering the birds’ nests. We carefully marked the eggs we left behind so we could continue to remove fresh ones without endangering the species. After a supper of scrambled eggs and roasted something, we tried night fishing. The tide was low, and we found shrimp and crabs near the edge of the water. Nick’s eyes rolled in ecstasy, and I was laughing again.

Survival training had taught us that the tastier deepwater fish fed more heavily before a storm. And so, the following day, when storm clouds blackened the sky, we ventured onto a finger of rocks in hopes of catching a different meal.

A lightning bolt zapped the surface of the ocean. I thought I saw a ship in its light.

“Hey, I saw a boat out there!” Nick shouted over the rising wind.

Another flash of lightning revealed a three-masted ship in full sail tearing for the island. A smaller two-masted schooner with lowered sails followed right behind it. “Oh, Nick!”

He swung me off my feet. “We’re getting off this rock, Major Lady!”

In a fury of howling wind and rain, the storm overtook both ships. The first vessel crashed onto the reef in a thunderous impact that sent bodies and cargo flying. By the time Nick and I reached the trees above the beach, debris and corpses floated in the churning sea.

As lightning flashed like a strobe light, the second ship maneuvered masterfully past the reef to the shelter of the lagoon. Skiffs were lowered and rowed to the shallower water by men who jumped in and waded toward the survivors.

“Let’s help them save those people,” Nick shouted, starting for the beach.

The ship’s flag unfurled in the wind, a black flag sporting a simple white circle of human skulls. Horrified, I grabbed Nick’s sleeve. “Wait, Nick. They’re not saving those people at all!”

They were slaughtering them, drowning them, hacking them with knives and swords. The murderers drove the few survivors to the beach and surrounded them.

Nick slapped his hand against a tree. “Aw, man! We need that boat!”

He’d get no argument from me. I gripped the handle of my tanto knife for reassurance. “Do you have your knife with you?”

He stared wide-eyed at me and sputtered before he spoke. “Are you serious? We can’t attack a bunch of pirates!”

“We know this island upside down and backward. They don’t.”

“You don’t know that! This is nuts, Talty. You can’t—”

“Here’s another Irish proverb, Nick: Row with the boat nearest at hand.”

Hellbent on being aboard that boat when it sailed, I slipped through the trees to better view the activity on the beach.

* * * * *

Secure for the moment behind a stand of trees, Nick and I observed the drama on the storm-littered beach. We were close enough to hear the gang of pirates—they could be nothing else—taunting the half-dozen men in their custody. Several of the murdering buccaneers waved body parts recently detached from their owners.

“Nice guys,” Nick whispered.

“We need that ship, and we have to stop them from killing the rest of those men.”

“Forget it, Major Lady. We’re staying right here. There must be thirty of them, and they’re all nuts. I don’t want to think about what they’d do if they saw a female.”

“You said yourself, I’m too thin. They’ll think I’m a boy.” I felt sure my tied-back hair and tattered clothes would lend credence to the lie.

Nick opened his mouth to speak. No doubt he intended to voice the protest etched on his face, but the best-dressed pirate upstaged him by calling for silence. Happy to oblige, I settled into the cold, calm fighting mode I knew so well and studied the man I’d pegged as my chief adversary.

Blood-spattered lace spilled from the collar and sleeves of his well-cut jacket. Beneath them, silver-buckled shoes and tight blue trousers lent him a foppish air. His dark hair hung to his shoulders in greasy waves topped by a black tricorne that had seen better days.

The big-boned bully pulled at his mustache. “Edmund Archer Brigman am I, Captain o’ the Manatee. You lubberly bilge rats be my prisoners. Who be in charge here?”

The prisoners exchanged frightened glances. After a moment, a man of about thirty-five stepped forward. “I’m Skipton, the first mate. The captain is gone.”

Brigman’s explosive laugh fizzled to wheezing. “Arrrrr, gone indeed. Well, Skipton, our Articles sez ye may challenge me for command o’ the Manatee.” Smiling wickedly, Brigman snapped his fingers. A ratty looking pirate produced and opened a leather case to reveal four glittering dueling knives.

Confusion twisted Skipton’s face. “Articles?”

“Blind me, have ye lugholes for ears? Our Articles o’ the Sea. Any cockerel can challenge the captain for command o’ the ship. If ye can kill me, ye can have it.” Brigman wheezed again. “What’s your mind, Skipton? I could do with a bit o’ sport.”

Skipton agreed. His trembling hands drew two knives from the proffered case. Brigman doffed his jacket and hat, handed them to an underling, and snatched up the other two knives.

The pirates shoved the remaining prisoners into the circle of men surrounding the duelers. Skipton crouched in a defensive stance. He appeared to have some knowledge of knife fighting, and I believed he might have a chance. Then, with an obscene hoot, Brigman kicked his legs out from under him and drove both knives into his back. The poor man died gasping and twitching. A grinning pirate retrieved the knives and wiped them on Skipton’s shirt before returning them to the case.

Brigman’s cowardly ambush unlocked hideous memories of the knife attack I’d suffered years ago. Gruesome images of my blood-soaked wedding dress and my disfigured face enraged me. I nearly screamed “Coward!” but caught myself in time. But I couldn’t allow Brigman to murder the remaining prisoners, and Nick and I had to get off this island.

I banished the gory wedding dress and focused. “Stay here, Nick. If I don’t succeed, do what you can.”

“Hey, come back here! Aw, man!”

Parting the branches, I swaggered toward the pirates, grateful that Nick followed close behind. We stopped when we reached them. Their faces froze in surprise, but they stepped aside. Nick remained where he was.

I strode over to Brigman. “I’ll bet an old man like you is too tired to try that again.”

“How’s this?” He eyed me up and down and laughed. “Sink me and drown me! Ye fancy my ship, pretty boy?”

“I do.”

“Do ye now? Ye needn’t commit suicide. I’d gladly share my cabin with such a pretty boy. What say ye to that?”

“Share a cabin with the devil, old man. I’ll have your ship.”

Brigman’s leer vanished. “Damn your eyes, ye scurvy rogueling. Think ye can fight better than yon bucket o’ bones?” He tossed his head toward Skipton’s remains.

Oh, yes
. “I think you talk too much.”

Brigman scowled and kicked the corpse. “Get him out o’ the way. Bring the box!”

The leather case reappeared. I had to admire the knives, fine weapons, well made. Their elegant ivory handles, stained with both new and old blood, had just enough carving to provide a good grip. They were stabbing weapons: the tapered points of their seven-inch blades would pierce the toughest leather, yet the edges were rounded and dull, an observation I tucked away.


Brigman again chose two knives from the case. Locking my gaze on him, I drew the other two and tossed them neatly from hand to hand. “These daggers tell me they don’t want your pox-ridden blood tainting them, Brigman.” I twisted and flung the knives through the air. The first hit the nearest tree with a vibrating twang. The second landed directly beneath it, a sight that set the men murmuring. Relieved that I hadn’t missed, I turned back to Brigman. “I’ll kill you with my bare hands.”

Brigman roared and attacked. Ever aware of his knives, I seized his right arm and spun, snapping it over my shoulder. He screamed and dropped the first knife.

I scampered back, seeing nothing and everything. Circling now, I made his hate-filled gaze follow me, and all the while I watched his eyes for a signal.

He’ll attack now.


He did, growling and hacking the air with the second knife. I timed his moves as if I were going to dance with him, but this was no waltz. As Kiyoshi had taught me, I joined my fists and kept circling. Waiting. Timing.

Brigman’s arm swung down. I slammed his wrist with a gorgeous double-fisted punch. The dagger dangled from his fingers. I snatched the blade with both hands and twisted the knife so the point was toward him. One good thrust rammed it up and under his sternum.

The momentum of my attack downed us both. I fell on top of him but quickly rolled away and regained my stance, knowing he couldn’t rise, yet fearing he might.

He didn’t. My heartbeat raced. I dreaded what would happen next.

The nearest pirate sauntered over and kicked him. “’E’s dead.”

“And I’m your new captain!” I shouted. “Isn’t that so?”

A round of muttering worried me until an earringed pirate spat and said, “’Tis so. ’Tis in the Articles. Ye’re the captain o’ the Manatee, so sez we all.”

Silence. The pirate repeated the shout: “So sez we all!”

The other pirates grumbled their assent. They might be unhappy about my captaincy, but they accepted it. It was, after all, in the Articles.

Striving to appear cool, I raised my chin and rested a hand imperiously on my hip. “I am Captain Talty, and you are my crew. And the Manatee is now the Peregrine.”

Nick’s open-mouthed astonishment dissolved into a grin. His fingers tapped his forehead in a casual salute. “At your service, Captain Talty.” He pulled the knives from the tree and tucked them into his belt. The surviving prisoners cheered.

Time to take command. I ransacked my memory to retrieve a few key phrases from all the pirates stories I’d read. “Listen up, my bold adventurers! Salvage what you can from that wreck before she goes down. Once we stow fresh provisions and bury the dead, we’ll hoist the sails.”


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