'The Villainous Roc'

by Phineas Redux

—OOO—

Summary:— Joanna Clayton is Captain of her own pirate ship the 'Amazon', accompanied by her sweetheart Sandy Parker. Time, 171-; Place, the Caribbean. The Pirate Queen and partner encounter Roc the Barbarian, a pirate renowned for being mad, bad, and dangerous to know,—mayhem ensues.

Disclaimer:— All characters are copyright ©2021 to Phineas Redux. All characters in this story are fictional, and any resemblance to real persons living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Caution:— There is some extensive swearing in this story; they are pitiless pirates, y'know.

—O—

The afternoon was, as most others tended to be here in the Tropics, sunny bright and dam'med warm. So much so that sitting at a table outside a grog-shop in Cayona on the island of Tortuga in the Caribbean watching the crowds pass by as you cooled-off with a drink of choice which hit the spot just right was highly comforting. On this day of June, 171- Joanna Clayton, captain of her own pirate ship, sat beside her constant companion and lover Sandy Parker enjoying this simple pleasure to the full.

"How's the provisionin' comin' along?"

Sandy, so addressed, considered the subject seriously, as she did most other things.

"Casks o'beef an' pork're stored in the hold, complete; ditto the water-butts. Got three kegs o'apples fer the crew ter wet their whistles with, too. What was thet theory o'your'n, doll, agin?"

"About the apples?" Joanna grinning at her lover. "Only that fruit meb'be has some effect on scurvy, is all. Don't quote me on it, not havin' evidence, jes' a thought o'mine I figured worth tryin'."

"Seems t'be doin' fine so far." Sandy nodding in agreement. "Our last v'yage past, no-one came down with it entire; rather than the v'yage a'fore, when seven crew took ill."

"Yeah, might be havin' the required effect, but early days yet." Joanna gazing idly along the long main street of this, the only major town on the island. "Mighty busy t'day—a Fair or holiday, or what?"

"Not that I knows of." Sandy shrugging her shoulders, repositioning the wide brim of her hat with a gloved hand; she always wearing soft chamois gauntlets to cover both hands after a nasty accident with a barrel of gunpowder some years previously. "Why?"

"Oh, nuthin'," Joanna twisting round to examine the other end of the packed street. "Have ye noticed how smelly people are in the mass, young 'un?"

"What brought that singular notion to mind, if'n I may ask?"

"Don't ye smell it, then?" Joanna gazing at her partner with raised brow.

Always ready to back up her lover in whatever she decided or thought Sandy paused to take a loud sniff, turning from side to side to get the full effect.

"Nah, nuthin out'ta the or'nary, far's I sees."

Joanna was up for this weak response.

"Must be all those rancid beef casks ye've been over-seein' recent."

"Har!"

"Likes it fine here; nice wine, friendly crowd passin' by." Joanna reverting to her earlier topic." Warm sun; how's 'bout ye, lover?"

"Finds I ain't unhappy, sure." Sandy pretending a gloomier outlook than she actually felt, just for the fun of it. "This wine goes down nicely, I admits; makes a change from grog all day long, at least."

"Hmmph! Glad yer in a better mood than yestern, anyway."

"Yestern?" Sandy mystified by this reference to a day past like any other as far as she could recall. "What'd I do yestern out'ta the ord'nary, then? Cain't bring ter mind anythin' unusual."

Joanna laughed, taking another sip at her wine.

"We was strolling along thet alley, remember now? On our way ter the Square. A vagabond in rags grabbed yer arm askin' fer two pieces-o'eight t'tide him over a bad ebb tide; an' what'd ye do, lady o'my heart?"

Sandy mused on this query, finally bringing the incident back to mind.

"I remembers now, sure—dam' ingrate—I was deep in converse wi' ye, about the provisionin' of the Amazon, an' this decrepit piece o'crap tries ter drag me sideways wi' a dirty claw—so I pulled out my horse-pistol an' put a ball in his chest! Fell over like a dead log, I recalls! So what, dam' louse interrupted my train o'thought, didn't he? We gon'na cry tears over every dam' diseased beggar thet accosts our rightful passage? Serve the rancid dog right; I ain't losin' any sleep over him!"

"Har! A lady after my own heart—an' circlin' it wi' bands o'steel these several years past, too! Wouldn't have ye any other way, darlin'."

Then Joanna, who had been slouching on her chair, arm on table gripping her glass of wine, suddenly froze in position, facing along the street like a beagle on point—the which Sandy noticed.

"What's away?"

Joanna leaned forward, eyeing something in the far distance before replying.

"How quick can ye climb ter yer feet an' follow me runnin' some fast in that direction?"

Joanna giving a nod in the other direction as she spoke. Sandy, intrigued, turned round to rake the further end of the street, without seeing anything but the moving crowd.

"What? Why?"

"I see Roc in the distance, that's why."

"Roc? Who?" Sandy not yet on board with this explanation. "Oh, Roc the Brazilian? But didn't he kick the bucket some forty year since, though?"

"No, I knows full well about the ol' Brazilian," Joanna by now looking much less than comfortable. "This's Roc the Barbarian."

Now Sandy was fully compos mentis about the subject of her companion's woes.

"Sh-t! Him?"

"The one an' only." Joanna nodding as she shuffled about on her chair. "So, are we headin' out, or what? Belay that, sis, it's too late, here he comes. Try'n smile through it, baby; we don't want blood on the street, amongst all these revelers, do we?"

"If needful I'll dam' well spill blood in a church, no problem." Sandy making clear her general moral stance; one indeed, that lacked most of that useful and generally necessary ingredient. "Jes' depends on what he sez, is all. Jes' be ready fer anythin', I'll allow, lover."

"Ur-rgh!" Joanna taking this in the only way possible, dubiously.

Before the conversation could continue along these lines the person in question arrived at their table, standing over the seated women like a giant in a fairytale. He was around six feet four in height, heavily built, but in muscle not fat, and thickly bearded, black hair all over his face leaving barely two eyes of startling blue to be seen viewing the world around. His voice, as he now addressed his acquaintances, sounding out across the already noisy crowded street like a bull roaring in the wilderness.

"Holla!" He grasping the back of a chair on his side of the table in what was obviously an iron grip. "So, here ye be, both? Didn't think o'meetin' ye so easy, out an' about, this fair day. So, what're ye both at, if I may ask?"

Joanna and Sandy looked at each other, trying not to make clear their inner feelings, knowing full well they were in the presence of one of the worst most sadistic, indeed wholly mad agents of evil in the whole Caribbean and Spanish Main; his deeds of torture and cruelty a byword throughout the whole region. A circumstance which, in relation to Joanna and Sandy themselves being pirates of note and long experience, said all that was necessary about Roc as a person.

"As we speaks here, takin' our leisure drinkin' comfortably at a grog-shop an' watchin' folks go by." Joanna taking the bull, literally as she well knew, by the horns. "What're ye doin', by way of business, yer'sel'?"

Roc, by this time in the conversation, had seated himself, waved to a passing servant and by hand motions allowed he would take a glass of the nectar his co-pirates were imbibing.

"Ah, white wine! Cools the innards jes' perfec' on a hot mornin' like the present. What may I be doin', ye asks? Wa-al, there's the rub; t'day's t'day, but by Wednesday month I hopes ter be luxuriatin' in my own palace, surrounded by hecatombs o'the juiciest harlots available t'Man, is what. As fer the same appealin' ter yersel's—ah, now I thinks on it, knowin' yer own appetites thet-away, I'll a'course jes' leave the jolly harlots in residence, they appealin' equal t'both sides o'the present coin as it were."

Sandy, in defence against this indelicate reference to Joanna's and her own tastes in the matter, suddenly became deeply attentive to her wine-glass leaving Joanna to take the strain of replying to their visitor's opening conversational gambit.

"Thanks mightily fer yer offer, Roc." She sighing deeply as she sought for an intellectually logical reply. "Now, apart from dreams, what d'ya have in mind ter get ye t'this Palace seeming set in the asphodel fields o'Paradise?"

Roc took a long draught from his own glass, enjoying the sweet wine to the full, before setting it back on the table and facing his companions again.

"Oh, I don't expec' it t'come jes' out'ta the blue—no! There'll be work in volumes a'fore we see's the profit of our actions—but profit there'll be, don't doubt it. How, ye asks? All along of a Spanish silver galleon, is how."

Joanna and Sandy exchanged glances of equal dubiousness, there being a lot of questions hanging over this topic.

"Roc, a Spanish silver galleon is a joy t'behold, I agree's wholesale." Joanna shifting to a more comfortable position. "Though there're dam' few o'them t'go round. Which are ye presently eyein' as yer prey? Far's I knows it ain't yet the galleon sailin' season, so where's this 'un comin' from?"

Roc had the answer to hand; this angle being close to his heart.

"Maracaibo! That, as all we pirates knows, is the capital of the gold an' silver trade, comin' from the local natives—they Aztecs an' what-all. Jus' natives livin' in the never-endin' jungle down thet-away, sure, but artists in gold an' silver items. So much, in fac', boiled down in'ta ingots there's enough t'make us all Kings an' Queens of our own lands."

"But what galleon?" Sandy focusing on the important point. "They usual are regulated by the Spanish Government, sailing at pre-set times o'the year, well out'ta the storm season. Right now we're comin' up on the near edge o'same; don't seem a likely time fer a heavy laden galleon t'sail across the Atlantic?"

Again Roc was up for the question.

"Exactly!" He nodding with powerful nods of his head. "This pertikler one's out'ta line with the usual schedule jes' 'cause it's one of a kind; a whole treasure taken from a new-found Aztec town, or village, or whatever communities they lives in. The Spanish Conquistadors stumbled over it some months since; went through it like a dose o'the dysentery, along'a several other diseases unknown t'the poor natives up t'then; an' came out on the other side, via hecatombs o'bodies, with treasure t'equal Croesus's own. That point bein' where I comes in, my spies bein' knowledgeable, sound o'mind, an' trustworthy given their cut o'the whole. The Spanish officials down in Maracaibo allowin' there was so much of it they had no choice but t'send a special galleon out'ta season t'get the loot safely an' quickly back t'the Old Land. Which is where, given yer agreement, you an' I comes t'a mutual understandin' about same. What d'ye think, ladies?"

Having been in the piratical trade for several years both Joanna and Sandy knew well enough when they were being proposed a plan of rocky foundation hardly likely of ultimate success. Sure, this one, a Spanish treasure galleon, suggested boundless possibilities, but it would also be one of the most dangerous to carry through effectively, as both also realised full well.

"Roc, the galleon may be sailin' as ye says; but it'll be protected by at least two Spanish warships." Joanna bringing her own expertise to bear on the problem. "Those huge giant ships with guns in the hundreds; we attack such we get blown out'ta the water within seconds. That bein' why ye hardly ever hear o'such galleons bein' taken on the high seas these days, sad t'say."

"Think the last successful capture was in the days of Sir Francis Drake, as I recalls." Sandy furrowing her brow over the subject. "Say this galleon ye talks of really is goin' t'sail some time in the near future; what makes ye think you, along'a Jo an' I, can take it successfully?"

Roc had been studying the women through his piercing eyes this whole while, taking note of their likely view of the matter; now satisfied as to their interest in the topic at least he sat back and elaborated the details of his own position.

"Not I alone could do it, sure. Not even me allied wi' you two could do it; but both of us, accompanied by several other Captains could do it."

"Several others?" Sandy beginning to see light through the fog. "Ye thinkin' of making-up a fleet, or what?"

"Jes' so, ma'am." Roc, brought to the needlepoint of his argument, supplied the requested details. "My ship, the Raven; your ship, the Amazon; Captain Mallows' vessel, the Thresher; Captain Halliday's ship, the Roaring Girl; an' Mistress Merry Aveling's brigantine, the Cinnabar: altogether we can roundly thrash the dam' Spaniards, I'm certin."

It didn't take Joanna long to disagree with this plan.

"A pirate fleet?" She shrugging her shoulders at the possibility. "Hardly likely; you been reading Captain Morgan's history, perhaps? The days o'the Brotherhood actually operatin' as a complete Brotherhood are quickly comin' to an end; no-one of us trustin' the other further than they can be seen above the horizon on a foggy day."

"And," Sandy here bringing-up a personal detail. "We, Joanna an' I, don't take kindly t'the great B-tch o'the World, Merry Aveling! What I'd verily like about her is seein' her dead body floatin' past on an ebb tide, is all."

Roc raised his eyebrows at this cold aside.

"Ah! Personal animosity comin' t'the fore? Takes some thinkin' over, I allows. This contretemps a'tween ye both, Merry an' ye two t'gether; I've heerd o't, sure, but is there no way o'overcomin' same, d'ye think? Would riches a'yond anyone's dreams o'avarice sway yer way o'thinkin'? Because thet's what I'm offerin' here, nuthin' less."

Joanna shifted uncomfortably on her chair; she having had to sit through arguments like the present one several times on other occasions over the last few years.

"Ye says a silver galleon; ye says yer spies is wholly reliable—a pint I begs t'query some; ye says ye've already got a passel o'other Captains o'the Brotherhood standin' beside ye; ye're now offerin' a cut o'the profits t'Sandy an' I; question is, how much treasure precisely, in golden guinea's, will come our, Sandy here an' I's, way after the battle?"

Here Roc seemed to be on safe home ground.

"My spies, reliable as I believes an' ye don't, tells me there's silver ornaments an' vessels t'the order of some three hundred thousand guineas, at the least. At the least! Sich, surely, bein' a mighty fine argy'ment t'wards takin' a offered cut o'same. What say ye?"

Faced with a definite decision Sandy knew the safest course away from a rocky storm-bound lee shore.

"We'll take thought on same, Roc, if ye will." She, as she well knew, speaking for her lover too. "Takes a mite o'surmisin'; ship's capability, crew's agreement t'same, stockin'-up on vittals an' powder'n ball; specially agreein' a sound plan o'attack with ye an' the other Captains, so's we don't all go askew on the day an' the hour: all these needin' calm thinkin' through. Ye got a deadline, or what?"

Roc, apparently well pleased with the outcome of his offer, drained his glass to the last dregs, smacked satisfied lips, though unseen beneath his beard, and grinned widely, again unseen to public view.

"What day's t'day?"

"Friday." Joanna supplying the needed.

"Right! Well, shall we say this time next comin' Tuesday? Same place, same time? Or, indeed, wherever's ye sees fit t'meet or send yer agreement or otherwise. Thet do ye both?"

Hardly seeing any useful extension to the conversation Joanna and Sandy nodded silently. Roc, in his turn tipped the edge of his hat with a dirty finger and rose from his chair.

"Next Tuesday; hopes ter hear good news from ye—g'bye an' good luck!"

—O—

The Three Tuns Inn in Cayona, the only significant town on the island of Tortuga, this pleasant Tuesday morning played host to a disparate group of conspirators in the form of some of the most powerful and relentless pirates presently available to wreak consign destruction and rapine across the civilised world; to wit Captains' Mallows, Halliday, and Aveling, supported by their erstwhile leader Roc the Barbarian; an epithet which, in truth, hardly did him full credit—he being in reality much worse than anyone, even his fellow ruthless pirates, could possibly imagine. Only one ship's leader was missing, Joanna Clayton along with her ever-partner Sandy Parker.

"Captain Clayton sends her apologies, sayin' she's presently at sea on the tail of a mighty fine brigantine transporting a Jamaiky' plantation's yearly profits up t'Ameriky." Roc explaining to his audience in the private room on the second floor of the Public House why she was absent. "But sez she's in fer the long haul apropos the galleon. She'll come round sometime this week ter get the details from me."

"Dam'," Merry Aveling, tall, brunette under her wide-brimmed hat, and with a personality that would make any self-respecting rattlesnake jealous, thumped her hand on the table. "Seems I've brought m'double horse-pistol fer naught!"

"M'Lady!" Roc now realising he was really going to have trouble between these women. "Yer castin' aspirations even when they bein' aspired aginst ain't here t'hear same. What fer the anger an' spite? Ain't we all members o'the Brethren? Cain't we all get along, even jes' fer one battle?"

"Thet god-fersaken b-tch an' I has a long history o'hatin' the guts o'each, pre'miscus. We got scores long needin' settlin'—with belayin'-pin, long knife, or pistols wholesale." Merry clearly not in any forgiving frame of mind. "What I most wantin' in life is Captain Clayton tied t'the muzzle of a twenty-four pounder with me standin' by the breech with a slow-match ready smokin'. T'ain't too much ter ask, I allows."

A somewhat embarrassed silence echoed loudly in the room while everyone digested the depth of hatred Merry actually had for her opponents. Roc, incongruously, finally trying to bring some measure of sanity to the proceedings.

"Take a deal o'holystonin' t'wash the deck clean after thet, fer sure! Anyways, we'll all be along'a our own vessels; safe distanced from sich pes'nal an' over-ridin' temptations; what say we concentrates on our prime goal—the Spanish silver galleon—an' keeps t'wind'ard o'any ship o'ours thet may harbor acquaintances o'dubious, if any, rapport, eh? The silver bein' what we wants ter get hands on, not the blood o'some adversary sailin' under our own flag."

Another uncomfortable silence was all that greeted this, clearly only mildly successful, attempt at soothing angry natures and bringing calm to too stormy waters.

—O—

The servants had left the room, leaving the two remaining occupants alone with their midday meal; Merry Aveling picking at her chicken stew with seeming little appetite while Roc tucked into his beef sirloin as if having just returned from six months marooned on Dead Man's Chest.

"So, here we is alone an' by oursel's." Merry making conversation as best she could, which was to say hardly at all. "What fer ye wants ter speak me alone, then? Ye got some devious plan ter haul-off an' take the treasure all fer yersel'? An' me, in course! Feels thet'd be pretty like the way yer mind'd work, given present circumstances. Al'tho taking the wind out'ta dam' Clayton's sails thereby appeals some strong t'my cheerful natur', I allows!"

"Merry, ye has a propensity ter speak yer mind out loud thet'd get anyone else short shrift with a thin blade, is all." Roc shaking his head sorrowfully between mouthfuls. "Take another swig o'yer Madeira an' think o'happy thoughts, or whatever; me bein' some fed-up t'the gills with yer constant unendin' harpin' over Clayton an' Parker. So, they tried ter send yer t'feed the sharks thet time up ter Mayaguana, an' thet other time ye escorted thet slaver—nasty business thet. No criticism, mind; what yer does by way o'career choices is all on yersel', sure—don't mind me. All I'm sayin' is, there comes times when mere personal argy'ments has ter be put aside fer greater ends—which is what's needed now. You wants most ter hit Captain Clayton over her head with a twenty-four pound ball; we in this proposed fleet only lusts after the cargo of a heavy-laden Spanish silver galleon. This latter, seems t'me an' the rest of our gang, far outweighin' any slight personal objections thet might otherwise rear their ugly heads, is all."

Merry, however, hardly seemed in any forgiving frame of mind, a dark scowl spreading over her features.

"I still got the scars o'her attentions ter shufflin' me off this mortal earth! We ain't, takin' in'ta account her pes'nal propensities thet way, sweethearts in any form o'the term; what I wantin' overbearin' some powerful any thought o'workin' with the b-tch! Fancies I may have ter step aside from this proposal o'yours, after all."

Roc, on his part, had seen this stance coming from several leagues off and, rough visaged as he was, his intellect was stronger than most took for granted; he here bringing to bear the devious part of the latter.

"Merry, it'll need all the fleet I proposes ter take the galleon, includin' you; but what of after, eh?"

At the curious tone in his voice Merry ceased idly fiddling with her stew to pin Roc with a cold steely glance.

"What yer got in mind? I'm listenin'."

"It's thisaway, my vessel's a brig; your'n be a brigantine; Halliday's a topsail schooner; Mallow's Thresher's a barquentine; while's Clayton's a brig agin'."

Merry frowned suspiciously over this listing of their assets; her temper no way improved, apparently.

"So's—?"

"It be like this, see—after, or God willin' even durin', the comin' battle Halliday's schooner'll be of no use whatever; too small an' under-gunned, never mind it's sailin' qualities." Roc going over each vessel's attributes with the eye of an expert. "Mallow's barquentine's slow an' heavy in a bow sea; the only ships o'worth bein' mine, your'n, an' Clayton's."

Merry continued wary of the huge man's drift, frowning still.

"Where ye goin' with this essay on the fleet t'be's qualities? We all fall on the galleon, some first standin'-off ter kick the pants o'the escorts, then take the galleon prize—job done, seems ter me."

"Ah, so ye'd surmise, in a perfec' world, wouldn't ye." Roc grinning widely, his beard thankfully hiding most of the gruesome sight. "But my plan has a part two ter it I ain't told no-one of yet, exceptin' yer good self right now."

Merry sat back on her chair showing no surprise at this change of course to their plan; she being a pirate of some years standing and so used to betrayal in all its practical, and many impractical, forms.

"I'm listenin', let me have it."

Roc, seeing he had excited the interest of his fellow buccaneer, relaxed.

"When we've done fer the escorts an' taken the galleon prize, we should by rights haul-off an' transfer the treasure a'tween all our vessels. That stands as it is; but, the majority of it, simply by way of the other ships' sizes, will go to us, you an' me. Perhaps, oh, seventy per cent of the silver, whatever shape it's in'll fall in'ta the holds of our respective vessels: me, the Raven; you, the Cinnabar; the nex' largest amount, aroun' twenty percent, goin' ter the Amazon fer safe-keepijn' till we all hits, accordin' ter the plan as set-out earlier to one an' all, St Kitts an' Nevis fer rightful distribution: it bein' a proper quiet little island wishin' no harm on any, even pirates. But what's likely we does next, oursel's, I asks yer, lady?"

Merry frowned once more, running over in her mind the plan as previously laid out for the edification of the other Captains.

"We were supposed t'sail in convoy fer St Kitts an' Nevis as ye've jes' laid out, to an uninhabited bay on the west coast o'Nevis where we'd split the takings equal then sail our separate ways. What ye got in mind, instead?"

"After we've hauled most o'the treasure in'ta our respective holds we sails off, breakin' with the rest o'our fleet without so much as a pleasant g'bye; my destination of choice bein' the Turks an' Caicos; lots o'prime islands thereaways t'choose from ter hide away without worry o'bein' found-out. We can split our whole treasure more equal a'tween jes' the both of us then sail off ter pastures new o'our choice thereafter. How's thet suit ye, lady?"

Nothing loath with the general theme of the reconsidered plan Merry pondered on its ramifications, idly scratching a spoon over the pewter plate before her.

"They, the other Captains, they'll follow us fer sure—they ain't jes' goin' ter kiss the majority o'the spoils g'bye with a light heart an' a jolly jig. What about thet?"

Roc, cunning as he certainly was, had the answer to this difficulty ready.

"Our vessels is the fastest an' most seaworthy a'fore a followin' wind; Halliday's schooner'll be left leagues abaft us even a'fore we crosses the horizon never t'be seen by him agin'. Mallows' barquentine'll sail like a dead porpoise when tryin' ter keep up a pursuit at high speed; we'll lose him within three glasses fer sure. The only one we need worry over's dam' Clayton an' her Amazon brig; she's a racer, an' heavy armed t'boot. She may well chase an', even, come up on us. We'll need a design o'worth fer her fer sure."

Having listened to Roc's whole plan with all its evil parentheses Merry now sat straight, a grin devoid of all charm spreading over her features.

"Let her. Let her, I sez! There be two things I most covets in Life—treasure beyond compare, and the weather-gauge of Joanna Clayton anywhere on the wide blue sea! Looks like this here plan o'your'n covers both eventualities. I'm in fer the whole v'yage, sure; ye can rely on me—fer this, at least. Here, shake on it."

And they did.

—O—

"The great thing about a galleon castin'-off from Maracaibo's the fac' there be only one place it can head." Captain Mallows in cheerful strain aboard his solidly built, if hardly fast, barquentine Thresher somewhere in the wild centre of the Caribbean Sea, they heading sou'-west at a reasonable clip. "The Leeward an' Windward Isles; probably aimin' fer the Guadeloupe Passage an' from there the open ocean over t'Ol Spain itsel'."

Barton, his Quartermaster, shrugged shoulders firm and solid themselves as an old oak.

"Thar be other Passages, sure, but as ye sez the Guadeloupe's the mos' likely. But we're gon'na clip her heels long a'fore she reaches thet haven, I takes it?"

"Thet we are, Barton, thet we are." Mallows happy as an albatross in the Roaring Forties. "We let her, the galleon, take leave o'Maracaibo then hit her when she stops-off at Curaçao fer waterin'. Dutch, sure enuff, but they has a agreement fer the vitalin' o'the galleons thet rakes in a fair barrel o'guineas year by year."

"Ah, I see's." Barton shaking a knowing head. "They'll all be peacefully at anchor and so sittin' ducks fer an attackin' fleet. Half the escort's strength'll be cast adrift by their bein' motionless an' so unable t'maneouvre at will in face of our rapid skirmish. I dearly lovin' a bloody debacle; I likes it."

Mallows cast an appreciative glance at his subordinate, once more congratulating himself on his acumen in finding such a man of parts each after his own heart.

—O—

The Roaring Girl, schooner under the command of Captain James Halliday, ran smoothly as a greyhound over the bright blue sea, cutting the light whitecaps like a hot sword through butter; its sails spread even to the moonrakers on such a breezy day.

"A fine vessel; small but dam' fast given the right wind."

Halliday here expounding the virtues of his command for the umpteenth time to his ever patiently listening First Mate Caleb McAndrews, a man of infinite patience sprung from long familiarity with his leader's ways.

"We're gon'na meet the rest o'Roc's fleet at the Fifteenth parallel an' Seventy-Fifth Longitude, I believes?" Caleb already long appraised of this fact but wanting, as always, to make certainty double sure, he being a canny Scotsman by birth.

"Aye, true." Halliday nodding abstractedly, his mind on other things. "Platters o'solid gold so heavy it'll take two men ter lift 'em; plates o'silver shinin' so bright ye'll be blinded fer days after seein' 'em; base native ornaments o'both thet'll bile down ter beautiful ingots by the score. Caleb, we're final gon'na be as rich as our former dreams over the years've foreshadowed. Think o'thet! Retire t'a estate near Stirling in the ol' country; set down fer life in a fancy mansion with servants an' ladies' by the score comin' ter fawn over yer riches an' power. I means ter enjoy every dam' minute o't, dam' my eyes if I don't!"

Caleb, knowing his Captain's tendency to throw caution and all human feeling to the wind in a bloodthirsty fight against a weak opponent, raised his eyebrows slightly but prudently kept his own inner feelings to himself.

—O—

Roc the Barbarian stood firm on the quarterdeck of his brig the Raven, casting a sharp eye over the hustle and bustle going forward on the main deck under the billowing mass of the mainsail.

"She's racin' along like a gull on the wing." He speaking to his second-in-command Charles Haverley standing by his side. "Always was sharp with a followin' wind. How long till we make contact with the others?"

"We've been out a day now," Haverley with these navigational details at his fingertips. "should make our rendezvous around four bells in the forenoon watch t'morrow."

"The which'll do nicely." Roc nodding in glee, his thoughts already focused on the next day's activities before all else. "Gun-crews' sharp an' attentive?"

"Aye, sir." Haverley sure on this point too. "Been practicing these last three weeks; give 'em a twelve-foot target at four cables' an' they'll hit it four out'ta six balls fer sure."

"Thet'll do fine, Haverley; fancy some, Clayton an' the others'll be some shook by the scend o'the sea as it affects 'em ter'morrer, ha-ha!—; them not no-way knowin', an' us, as we've discussed previous t'our mutual agreement, fully cognizant o'the actil opposite—ha-ha! Finds I has a growlin' appetite, meanwhile; send a powder-monkey ter the cook fer a tankard o'ale an' half a roast chicken will ye—do me ter lunch, mayhap."

—O—

Next day the brigantine Cinnabar, Captain Merry Aveling, ran free and fast before a following wind, bowsprit aimed precisely at the as yet unseen coast of South America; she standing under the shadow of the gaff mainsail over her head.

"Gobbons!"

"Aye, ma'am?"

"Unreef the upper t'sail, if ye pleases." Merry having an eye to the fair sailing of her vessel. "Where away's our meetin' pint with the fleet?"

"Jes' comin' on four bells, forenoon watch now, ma'am. Should see their sail over the horizon anytime from aroun' six bells. Shall I send Jenkins t'the foretop, he havin' eyes like ter a falcon?"

"Make it so, Gobbons. An' if one o'they potential sail's is runnin' a red an' yeller broad pennant free let me know; I always wantin' t'know precise where thet dam' Clayton is when close-by."

"Aye-aye, ma'am."

—O—

The Amazon brig ran before the wind like a swallow in flight, Joanna and Sandy standing on the quarterdeck beneath the shadow of the gaff-rigged spanker.

"Fine day fer a sail!"

"Ha, 'special when there's treasure beyond the gloatin's of a Scots miser at the end o'the rainbow." Sandy putting forth her view of their latest voyage.

"Feels yer need, lady, I does sure." Joanna grinning with unashamed pleasure. "Beautiful morn, easy pickin's t'come, only lackin' the delightful thought o'doin' thet dam' b-tch brown fer sweet afters. A full an' rich day though, without a doubt."

"When we makes our break fer freedom, after loadin'-up with gold an' silver beyond compute at Curaçao," Sandy harping on a point that had engaged her thoughts over the last few hours. "what of her,—Merry? Seems a waste o'opportunity not ter take the time ter do fer her once fer all, surely? Meb'be, when we all split-up after the attack on the galleon, we could, oh, somehow entice Merry t'follow in our wake? Send a shot across her bow or somethin' like; take her jibboom out mayhap, jes' out'ta pure spite aginst her, sort'a thing? Wi' that incentive her brig'll still certin sure catch us som'mer's out in the wild open Sea; jes' a reality o'Life. What then?"

Joanna nodded thoughtfully, well up for this merciless plan from her loved partner.

"She's got eighteen's on her upper deck, an' a few twenty-four's on the lower; we have a wider spread o'twenty-four's an' a thirty-two to wit!

"What of the treasure she'll be carryin' by then, though?" Sandy looking to the pragmatic side of the likely outcome. "About thirty percent o'the whole, by my reckoning."

"Aye, a sad outlook indeed!" Joanna acknowledging the more distressing details of a pirate's Life under pressure. "It'll be a direful loss, right enough; but look on the bright side—no-one else o'the fleet'll be gettin' their dam' paws on it! And we'll still have our own cut o'the whole, enough ter see us through in the positions an' status we've only previous dreamt of! What then, ye asks? What then's the simple fact we blows the b-tch, an' all pertainin' t'her, t'Kingdom Come. O'course, me hopin' some substantial it's actil the Other Place she ends up in, free o'charge an' with my heartiest congratulations echoin' in her ears the whiles!"

Sandy was mightily impressed by this heartfelt diatribe.

"Jo, yer has a capability o'wrath, cold ire, an' bloody vengeance thet warms the cockles o'my heart."

"Rr-rr!"

—O—

The meeting of great minds can be the trigger for great events and actions; the meeting of lesser but more menacing minds can, in juxtaposition, create devilry and chaos unbounded and unknown outside the borders of Hades itself: the latter being the outcome taking place at the established meeting-point somewhere in the wild centre of the Caribbean Sea this breezy morn.

First to hove above the otherwise empty horizon somewhere around six bells in the morning-watch and reach the precisely defined location, by way of tricky work with a sextant, watch, and some fancy mathematics scribbled with a steel-nibbed pen on the rear blank pages of a battered copy of the History of Religion in the Western World by Monsignor Villiers D'Ganville, was Captain Halliday's Roaring Girl; her light schooner lines coupled with an early departure from Kingston, Jamaica giving her a head start over her companions in the slowly but surely assembling fleet.

"Here we be, Captain." Caleb McAndrews, sweating under the strain of so much unaccustomed mental activity, giving his Captain the benefit of his calculations. "Fifteenth an' Seventy-fifth on the farthing's face, dam'me!"

"Well done, Caleb," Halliday just as happy himself. "An' no-one yet here t'mock us as sluggards, hah! I surely does enj'y bein' first in anythin' goin'; peace o'mind, Caleb, peace o'mind—nuthin' puts me in a better mood nor stickin' a victim in the belly wi' my cutlass! The which, given any luck at all'll itself be on the cards t'morrow, eh, ha-ha!"

A pirate Captain in a good mood was in some ways even more terrifying than the same in a fighting mood; he being so tensed up with overflowing energy and the will to wreak consign horror and distress on whoever came within his scope that anyone might, friend or foe, fall victim to his ungovernable desires. Caleb, knowing when to do so was the right and safer course, kept a politic silence.

Suffice it to say that by two bells in the afternoon-watch all the other ships comprising the fleet had joined the Roaring Girl to actually, for the first time, make the group of disparate vessels a physical reality rather than a mere castle in the air. They heaving-to more or less close-by each other by way of releasing their mainsail sheets, thus allowing the sails to fall-off the wind; the five vessels thus laying-to on the calm sea within longboat distance of each other. Following their prepared instructions the various captains then immediately making a bee-line for Roc's Raven where a preliminary Council of War was to take place, everyone eagerly climbing the brig's tumblehome with the experience of years' practice.

—O—

The rear cabin of the Raven, Roc's private suite and place of business, was wide long and set-off by a run of windows across the stern that gave substantial light to the room. A long rectangular table took up the centre with chairs all round; a couple of the crew acting as servants serving wine and fruit to the assembled Captains; Roc taking the end chair by the slanting windows, the incoming light almost silhouetting him and shadowing his face, a fact he deliberately liked to take advantage of when in conversation with anyone.

"Right then, here we all be, mates t'gether." He starting-off with a light touch, voice booming remarkably in the enclosed space. "Y'all got yer rum? Right, first off, are all yer vessels well provided fer, an' I don't mean barrels o'salted herring?"

"I got enough ball an' powder ter face-off the whole o'the Spanish Navy, sure!" Halliday coming off unrestrainedly portentous, as was his nature.

"One more barrel o'powder or one more rack o'ball an' the Cinnabar'll sink under its own weight." Merry knowing her own worth and keen to let her compatriots know too.

"I've taken on as much powder as I could find out'ta Port-au-Prince, but there's still room fer more." Captain Mallows allowing his shortcomings in the munitions line. "Anyone happy t'share a'tween them an' I'll be looked on mighty cheerful."

The deafening silence that followed this plea for help said about all needing to be said about the prospect of anyone there present sharing anything with their co-conspirators.

"I'm well supplied, no worries in that corner." Joanna, already sad Sandy had by need stayed behind on the Amazon, sitting opposite Merry and keeping a wary eye on her Nemesis.

"Right, thet's good." Roc happy with this result. "Nuthin' more embarrassin' than ter run out'ta shot after the first broadside when takin' a likely victim, ha-ha!"

"What's t'do now?" Merry keen to take care of the practicalities. "We sail in line till sundown, then heave-to agin? Or sail on through the night with stern lights, or what?"

"Stern-lights." Roc sure of this facet of the ongoing plan. "We needs ter take advantage of every minute allowed us. But first we stays here where we is fer a while; I said a'fore I had spies, an' spies I got, one o'which's sailin' from Maracaibo in a small cutter ter join us here sometime in the afternoon watch. He'll have news o'the galleon hot an' fresh from yesterday evenin'. If he ain't arrived by first dog watch we'll sail on oursel's, through the night. I aims ter reach the galleon sittin' pretty at anchor in Curaçao somewhere around midday t'morrow—it havin' already sailed from Maracaibo yestern morn. There'll be two Spanish escorts, both smaller vessels o'their type, so there shouldn't be any worries about takin' them down. Halliday an' Merry, you'll take the off-shore one as we comes in; Mallows, you harass some spiteful the one nearer the beach till Halliday or Mistresss Merry comes ter give ye a hand doin' so, while Captain Clayton an' I attacks the galleon itself. O'course, when ye've each done with the escorts ye'll belay an' join us aginst the galleon too. There'll be some hard fightin' ter begin with, but they'll soon throw down their flag an' surrender like the cowardly dogs they is. Y'all got thet straight?"

A dull murmur ran round the cabin, each Captain growling to their neighbour with varying tones; but finally they all nodded agreement.

"Right, thet's fine." Roc rising from his seat like the chairman of a bustling Bristol slaving Company. "Each ter yer own vessels, then, an' let's get ter makin' shipshape fer the comin' encounter. Good Luck t'ye all, an' a fine end ter our proceedings t'morrow, by God!"

—O—

Three bells in the first dog watch had just rung out across the Amazon's decks, ringing in the ears of Joanna and Sandy standing by the port bulwark on the quarterdeck under the shade of the wide-spreading gaff-rigged fore and aft sail.

"Evenin' comin' on." This from Joanna for something to say more than anything else.

"Aye, leddy, aye." Sandy involved with her spy-glass, extended to its fullest length. "Aye, an' here's the cutter Roc spoke of, comin' up like a leopard over the savannah—makin' a mighty fine line through the whitecaps."

The Amazon lying furthest from the Raven, it closely surrounded by the other ships in the pirate fleet, Joanna shaded her eyes under her wide-brimmed hat, seeing only a white point nearing the higher bulk of Roc's ship.

"Yeah, just about make it out. Dam', should'a hove-to much nearer thet sun'na-a-b-tch, fer sure. Couldn't a'been thinkin' quite straight; won't happen agin'."

"Jo?"

"Yeah, babe?"

"Jo?"

"I believes yer has my name dead t'rights, an' mighty happy I is ter know same as a result." Joanna coming it the sarcastic when offered the choice. "Are ye goin' ter tell me my name agin', or what?"

Sandy had meanwhile remained transfixed to her glass, peering through it with the perseverance of a bear hunting salmon at a river rapid.

"Take the spare glass, lover; it's there by the belaying-pins." Sandy's voice flat and suspicious. "Train yer eye some sharp on thet there cutter jes' runnin' up ter Roc's ship. See't?"

Suddenly calm as an ice-field in the Arctic Joanna quickly took up her lover's suggestion; raising the spy-glass to her left eye, taking stock of the activity going forward by the distant pirate's vessel while Sandy continued with her description of the view through her own glass.

"Jes' set-to on the Raven's starboard side, clean as a whistle, mighty fine sailin'; didn't drop-off till nearly scrapin' the brig's paintwork. Cutter look's like it's bran' new off the stocks; white paintwork all along an' a bright red stripe lining the bulwark edge; Sail as white's the virgin snow, crew looks like they're wearin' uniform: they ain't but there's a curious sameness about 'em all the same. Jee-sus, look at the way they're standin'-to lettin' what must be their Captain or officer climb the tumblehome? They sure could pass fer the Royal Navy any day o'the week."

Sandy, having so expressed her opinion of the distant spectacle, lowered her glass to stare round at her lover.

"Jo, ye're either in the Royal Navy or ye're not. What say ye?"

Joanna, so questioned, took stock of her prey once more using the spy-glass to its full capability.

"Jee-sus Chr-st! Are ye tellin' me thet there cutter's fresh from some Navy frigate? Why? What in Hell's goin' on?"

"What in Hell's goin' on is Roc's done us brown, fer sure. He's in cahoots with the Navy an's settin' us all up fer a trap, is what." Sandy sure of her footing in face of unfolding events. "He's come ter some conclusion with the Navy authorities behind our backs; probable fer one o'they official pardons. Means ter give us all in charge, t'be summarily hanged at Kingston Dock, in exchange fer a mess o'potage an' his pes'nal freedom from past iniquities, dam' his eyes!"

Joanna was still literally somewhat all at sea with this unexpected revelation concerning their expedition's supposed climax.

"What the hell does this cutter mean? What's it foreshadowin', I wonders? D'ye think so—he's actil sold us out?"

Sandy was up for this.

"It means, lady o'my life, there's at least two, meb'be three, frigates lurkin' somewhere jes' a'yond the horizon waitin' ter fall down on us like cormorants on a shoal o'herring. An'll do jes' thet som'mers in the next three glasses or so, or meb'be later this comin' night when we're runnin' blind with only stern-lights, if'n we don't watch our tails."

"What about the dam' Spanish silver galleon?"

"Jo," Sandy now skipping from boot to boot in her growing nervousness. "there never was a galleon; all a figment o'Roc's depraved imagination. He's taken us fer fools, an' we've walked right in'ta his trap. We got'ta get out'ta here, fast's we can spread every sail we has, baby."

Joanna took a last glance through her spy-glass, turning to her companion with a worried frown.

"Cain't hardly believe it; why'd he do sich a contrairy thing? Ain't we all members o'the Brethren, or what?"

"Baby, the Brethren don't mean a dam' thing anymore." Sandy turning to face the main deck. "The truth o'it's simply each an' everyone o'us'd do the dirty on the other fer a jug o'honey t'pour on our breakfast porage's all. Thomson! Thomson!; here, at the double, if ye pleases."

A minute later, joined by their trustworthy Quartermaster, the trio stood looking-out over the gentle waves to the distant source of their growing fears.

"Aye, leddies, now ye points sich out it's certin'—they's a Navy cutter or I'm a biled crow." Thomson agreeing, somewhat luridly, with his commanders. "What's ter be done, thereby?"

Thinking on her feet, one of the most important attributes of any self-respecting pirate, Joanna came to a rapid decision.

"Sometimes, when things're at their bleakest, yer enemy becomes yer friend, even if only fer the duration o'said troublesome moment. Thomson, ye recalls the private code we has a'tween oursel's an' Merry Aveling? Thet flag code she allowed t'share with us thet time down ter the Isle de San Andrés?"

"When we were all taken up wi' gettin' rid o'thet pile o'golden ornaments from the Nicaraguan church?"

"Jes' so, Thomson."

"Aye, recalls the code fine, ma'am."

"Well, break it out now, in yer own time but fast's ye likes." Joanna already hatching plans of retaliation against her erstwhile male companion pirate's subtle treachery. "Send a message over t'Merry, there on our port offing, tellin' her the lie o'the land in as few words as possible. Ye got thet?"

"I'm on it, ma'am, give me five minutes."

With which request Thomson slid down the steps to the main deck like a young powder-monkey, already shouting for the flag chest to be opened like wildfire, dam' yer eyes!

"So, what now, dear?"

"What now, Sandy, is we prepare fer Armaggedon, is what." Joanna sending a glance of pure fire and hatred across the waves towards the Raven. "Roc soon findin' out what it behooves t'betray a pirate merely ter save his own skin. Give orders ter break out the cutlasses fer the crew an' the gun-crews ter stand by their cannon."

"Yo-ho-ho, an' a bottle o'rum, eh, lover?" Sandy nothing loath to face the coming battle. "Ho, thar! Break open the armoury chests at the double! Sloane? Sloane, where the devil are ye? Oh, thar ye be! Beat t'quarters, wi' a will! I smellin' blood in the wind, fer sure!"

—O—

The huge gaff sail on the mainmast of the Cinnabar shaded the quarterdeck handsomely allowing Merry Aveling to benefit from the coolness so provided, though she was presently more taken up with examining the distant Raven through her spy-glass.

"Gobbons? Ye see thet cutter? There's somethin' not right about it, thet gives me the willies. What sez ye?"

Gobbons, her sturdy Quartermaster, standing by her side, raised his own glass to take stock of the distant prospect.

"Aye, seems mighty fine an' fair fer a dusty ol' cutter from some Maracaibo backwater. Looks a mighty sleek vessel, sure enuff."

"Too much so, t'my likin'." Merry, as her nature commanded, ordinarily suspicious of the larks at break of day arising.

"Flags run-out on the Amazon, speakin' us!" The foretop look-out showing he wasn't napping at this particular point of his watch.

Swiveling round Merry aimed her glass at the far brig with a deal of suspicion as well as interest.

"Now what the De'il's she after this late in the day? Read it out, fast an' clear!"

There was a pause while the look-out grappled with the coded message then—

"Royal Navy Cutter-Roc betraying us-haul-off fer defensive attack on Raven. Thet's it!"

"F-ck me!" Merry caught wholly unawares by this change to her evening's schedule. "What the f-ck? Jee-sus! Gobbons? Clear fer action an' spread all sail, fast's ye dam' well likes; we've been caught short like little kids, dam'mit!"

—O—

The confusion associated with the unfolding scene as both the Cinnabar and Amazon hauled round their sheets preparatory to catching the wind, so safely getting under way, was reflected by both Halliday's schooner and Mallows' barquentine with their crews standing-to their individual bulwarks obviously wondering what the hell was going forward.

"Flags from the Roaring Gal! Reads 'What's afoot'!" Joanna's foretop look-out now into overtime on his watch.

"Sh-t! Better spread the good news I expec's." Joanna coming to a decision. "Thomson, make to the Roaring Gal, Roc dealin' with the Royal Navy-betraying us—haul-off t'defend yersel'. Got thet?"

"Aye, ma'am—gim'me two minutes."

"Every second counts now." Sandy having kept a provident eye on their prey. "Raven ain't showin' any signs o'settin' sail so far. Reckon they ain't smoked our intent yet."

"All the better!" Joanna gripping the bulwark-rail at the forefront of the quarterdeck looking down on the bustling main deck. "They eighteen's ready?"

"Aye, ma'am; all set fer yer orders." Thomson ahead of the game here too.

"Right, Thomson, haul us some cable t'port, then swing our starboard side round an' send a broadside in'ta the Raven straight an' fine as ye pleases. Hold the lower gundeck in reserve."

"Aye-aye, ma'am!"

—O—

"What the f-ck's the dam' Amazon up ter?" Halliday, on the Roaring Girl, still at sixes and sevens as to the nature of the other vessel's strange maneouvres. "What the f-ck's goin' forward?"

Caleb McAndrews, rueing the day he was ever elected First Mate, trained his spy-glass on the brig in the distance with as sharp an eye as he could muster.

"She's been sendin' signals t'the Cinnabar, but I couldn't read 'em, some sort'a code. But she's speakin' us now, in clear thankfully. Les'see—Raven, what's thet?, a long word— ah, got it, betrayin' us,—cutter Royal Navy, by God!—haul-off t'attack! By God!"

"Jee-sus wept in Bethlehem!" Halliday astonished all the way down to his boot-tops. "What the—!—What the—! Caleb, haul round the main sheets, take wind an' get us movin'. Clear the eighteens an' pay-out the cutlasses an' pistols—an' don't tarry in the doin' so!"

"Aye-aye!"

—O—

"What's thet foolish woman up ter now? What in Hell's she a'doin' with thet dam' brig?" Mallows, on his barquentine, staring in wonder at the sudden goings-on all round. "Is thar a storm a'comin' no-one's thought ter tell me of, or what?"

"Flags from the Amazon, speakin' us!" The foretop look-out sharp as a weasel, using his spy-glass to greatest effect. "She's bin speakin' all an' sundry these last five minutes, but she's after us now. Message reads—'Raven,—wait, a long word, got it, betraying us—cutter Royal Navy—stand-off ter attack Raven—look ter yer guns', thet's it!"

Mallows sucked in a deep breath, looking out across the open waters to the other vessels in the fleet, all now except Raven showing signs of getting under way in a hurry.

"Well, thet's spoiled my evenin', an' no mistake." Mallows taking the whole scenario in the classic Stoic manner. "Barton?"

"Aye, sir?"

"Beat t'quarters—ready the eighteens—pass-out cutlasses an' pistols—haul the sheets an' get us movin' abaft the wind's eye if ye pleases—an' make sich snappy as ye can, thanks!"

"Aye-aye, sir!"

—O—

The ensuing few minutes could only be described as fairly ordered pandemonium; four different vessels of varying types hauling into whatever wind they could find at short notice, arbitrarily getting in each other's way as they sought sea-room to maneouvre. But finally some semblance of order emerged, Amazon in the van heading to cross the Raven's port side while Merry ran along on the prey's starboard beam.

"How're we doin', Thomson?"

"All ahead straight an' true—runnin' before a fine stern wind, ma'am!"

"Good, Sandy—look t'the main deck if ye will."

"Got it, lover; see ye after the battle—kisses."

"An' ye too, lover. Arbogast! Where is he, dam'mit?"

A nearby powder-monkey, dressed in slops from the clothes chest and seeming all of ten years old, tugged a meagre forelock.

"He's on the lower deck, ma'am. Shall I go to him?"

"Yeah, do so, Bates. Tell him t'wake up Jumpin' Jenny an' stand by fer further commands."

"Aye-aye, ma'am." The young boy disappearing down a hatch with a wild grin.

The gun so named being a master-stroke of Joanna's idea's on how best to arm a seaworthy and spritely brig; the weapon in question being no less than a thirty-two pounder, the largest cannon available for naval, or anybody else's, use.

"Thomson, stand by me, OK?"

"Got'cha, ma'am."

"Any sign o'the Raven comin' ter life? She bein' mighty quiet up ter now."

"Think we've bin too sharp fer 'em, ma'am; think they ain't rumbled us so far, Captin Roc likely as not still being taken-up in his stern cabin wi' the Royal Navy officer he's shuffled aboard under false colours; but same cain't last more'n another five minutes, if thet."

Joanna nodded, walking to the front rail of the quarterdeck again to lean over, addressing her next orders to the slim shape of her lover down on the main deck.

"Sandy, make ready the eighteens—a rollin' broadside t'start, then fire as ye pleases as we sails by."

Sandy turned to wave an arm in recognition of the orders then returned to commanding those around her, standing-by the long row of cannon on the vessel's starboard side.

"Right lads, a rollin' broadside first." She shouting at the top of her voice to overcome the all-encompassing noise as the crew settled to their stations or carried out orders appertaining to the sails. "Then as ye pleases; fire low at all times—we not wantin' ter hit the Cinnabar on the other side, nor she us, I sincerely hopes! No dawdlin', an' tighten the gun-ropes!"

—O—

What happened next came swift sure and certain, with no further warning to the still stationary Raven than the approach of the other ships on either beam.

"Roc must be asleep over thar, includin' his blind crew." Joanna making play with the other vessels seeming ignorance of what was unfolding all round her. "Well, all the better!"

The Amazon, flying now under full sail even to a skyscraper on the mainmast, ran up along her opponent's port beam some half a cable distant. Peering intently through her spy-glass Joanna finally saw signs of the crew there coming to life, having smoked the fact something untoward was happening with the rest of the fleet. For an instant Joanna thought she glimpsed Roc himself now standing on the Raven's quarterdeck, then Sandy, on the maindeck started shouting orders.

"Ready, wait till we're abeam her—ready—ready—Fire!"

First to fire, on the Amazon's maindeck was the bow gun, swiftly followed about three seconds apart by the guns in receding order coming back towards the quarterdeck. The clouds of white smoke caused by the huge amounts of powder necessary for this display soon enveloped the brig in a thick cloud all to itself, before the prevailing westerly wind took it away to starboard leaving the deck clear enough to see the results of this first barrage.

Part of the Raven's port bulwark had been beaten into a long jagged opening; at least two of her eighteen-pounder cannon also victims to this attack. Several holes could be seen in the brig's gaff-rigged spanker, many of the Amazon's guns still being aimed too high. On the Raven's starboard side she was again not doing very well, Merry's guns just as sure and deadly as her counterpart. The clouds of thick gunsmoke from the Cinnabar helping in their part to hinder any clear view of what shape the Raven was now suffering under; but again the breeze soon cleared this away to reveal the results of the two ships' first broadsides.

The Raven was a wreck; the gaff spanker had been torn from its rings to collapse partially over the quarterdeck and into the sea on the starboard side. Its port broadside appeared to have been decimated by Joanna's gunfire, there hardly seeming a gunport still whole and clear all along the Raven's side.

Joanna had the next step in her unexpected attack clear in her mind, stepping to the rail to look down on the maindeck again.

"Sandy! Load canister an' langrage in six o'the guns—aim fer the quarterdeck, fast's ye can—fire as one!"

Jumping from gun to gun as she took stock of her crew's actions Sandy still had time to hear and understand what was wanted.

"Higgins! Guns One ter Six, canister or langrage fer 'em all! Tell me when ye're ready."

"Aye-aye, ma'am."

Canister shot,—long circular tins of metal filled with grapeshot the size of the heaviest pistol balls, were deadly from every angle and any circumstance of their use. The compactness in the tins allowing the mass of pistol balls to remain in a tight group as they hurtled across the intervening space to their destination. Langrage, on the other hand, was simply any old bits of scrap metal or torn iron found about the ship small enough to be thrown into the cannon, securely rammed home, and fired-off uninhibitedly at the enemy. On arrival they both generally laid waste to their target by the simple means of tearing said object to pieces in a spray of shrapnel and body parts. Humble grapeshot itself, loaded loose en-masse into a cannon and tamped home by vigorous use of a rammer, when hitting its target acted in more or less the same way as a wide field of gunfire from a multitude of muskets, tearing into everything within a thirty-foot radius of the target's centre aiming-point. A crewman unlucky enough to be the recipient of such might suffer hits by two, four, or more likely six or more balls; the usual result being instant departure, in a terrible bloody mess, to the next level of existence, if such an honorable outcome could be deemed likely for any pirate of parts.

"Ready, ma'am!"

"Fire!"

The broadside this time seemed a weak sister to its earlier main counterpart, but all the same created almost as much smoke, the tremor from the guns running through the deck underfoot like a wild live thing; each pirate on the Amazon feeling the jolt through their boots.

"Can see the same level o'destruction goin' on over on their starboard side." Sandy keeping a close eye on the mayhem going forward across the intervening sea while still engrossed in giving instructions to her guncrews. "Dam'me, see the fields o'spray an' splashes halfway a'tween them an' us? Merry must be usin' grapeshot on her side; some o'her ball comin' our way too! Keep an' eye out fer balls thet may ricochet across the water ter us!"

The immense cloud of smoke encompassing the stricken Raven brig finally cleared some-way, enough in fact to reveal the latest damage—which was terrifying in its wholesale ravages. The topsail masts on the fore and main masts had collapsed into the surrounding sea, sails hanging over the torn sides of the brig like washing laid out on a grass lawn for drying in the sun. The maindeck gunports of the vessel all seemed to have been destroyed, and what could be seen of the quarterdeck passed all imagination. Torn asunder by fire from both sides, the Amazon's eclectic mix of canister and langrage shot and Merry's grapeshot, the sides of the vessel from quarterdeck down over the tumblehome to sea level ran dark with blood; of activity on the deck itself there was no sign though the main deck seemed a throng of massed crew hustling to find a place of safety from the incoming fire—a place of safety which did not exist.

"Another broadside?" Sandy shouting up from her place beside the maindeck guns.

"Aye, why not, we're well ahead as it is—better t'make doubly sure as not." Joanna's underlying piratical nature tasting the victorious air with divine approval. "A broadside—aim low fer the waterline—let's see if'n we cain't sink the dam' b-st-rd straight-off!"

"Aye, ma'am!" Sandy just as happy to serve cold justice on her betrayer. "Reload with ball, mates; let's give the swine our partin' greetings!"

Two minutes later the surrounding area once more echoed to the combined broadsides of the two ships as they raked the vessel caught between their fire. Rolling together the resulting clouds of smoke took relatively longer to disperse on the breeze; but on doing so the sight revealed was astonishing. The Raven had been decimated not only at gun-and quarterdeck level but also now all along the whole of the port waterline, jagged holes visibly running its entire length, presumbly suffering similar destruction on the starboard beam: the ship even already taking on a definable list to port.

"She's goin', dam'me!" Sandy shouting in glee at the result of her gun-crews' capability in a crisis.

"Nicely done, mates!" Joanna shouting this from her position on the quarterdeck, hardly aware of how many might hear her compliments but entirely happy herself at the outcome.

In the next three minutes the Raven, formerly a fine outstanding brig, sank to its maindeck level, leaning at a distinct angle to port as it did so—sat motionless for half a minute, then swiftly sank below the waves leaving the sea thereabouts covered in a swathe of floating and swirling debris of all sorts and sizes.

Sandy, having accomplished her duties on the gundeck, came racing back to her lover's side.

"Thet's a job well done; be dam'med t'his memory, sez I!"

"What of the cutter?" Joanna still concentrating on the practical details.

"I saw Halliday chasin' it, earlier." Sandy proving she had eyes not just for her guns amongst all the former mayhem. "Think he sank it with one broadside; it won't be reportin' back ter any frigate hidin' below the far horizon, thet's sure!"

"Hah! Nice!" Joanna pleased at this outcome. "Never did hold with loose rope's-ends; al'lus make a deck look so untidy, don't yer find?"

"Well, we've done fer Roc, thet's certin'." Sandy covering the major point of the late skirmish. "No way he survived that maelstrom o'shot an' canister an' grapeshot rakin' his quarterdeck. No loss t'the world, sure."

"There's one bad side remainin' though, lover." Joanna musing over this, scratching her chin with a dirty finger.

"Oh, what may thet be, if'n I may ask? I understandin' full well the while the silver galleon was only ever a pipe-dream, sadly."

"Jes', I suppose at some point in the near future I've got ter face Merry Aveling an', much as the thought makes me sick ter my stomach, congratulate an' thank her for her help's, all!"

Sandy pondered this distressing action herself, running a besmeared gloved hand over her own chin.

"Ah, see's where yer comin' from. A distressin' scene, an' no mistake; but, anyway, it'll be made up fer later this comin' night, fer sure."

Joanna turned from the scene still unfolding around the surviving remnants of the pirate fleet to stare at her lover.

"How so, lady o'my heart?"

"Jes', we'll sidle in'ter our bunk this comin' night an', how's t'say, celebrate our victory, if ye see's where I'm comin' from, dear?"

"Oh-ah! Finds thet's mighty soothin' ter the soul, lover, mighty soothin'. Looks forward to it, with relish."

"Har!"

Thomson chose this moment to appear at their sides with news of the final scenario.

"My 'pologies, ma'am, but we've received flags from the Cinnabar an' Thresher t'the effec' all's well an' ye can sleep well t'night, fer certin'."

"Excellent, well done, Thomson." Joanna happy as a lark on an innocent morning in May. "Let the crew know too, if ye pleases."

"Aye, ma'am—ah, what about the survivors, over ter the Raven? There's quite a number o'heads yet visible bobbin' aroun' in the waves there-away?"

Both women considered this question, looking over the intervening choppy blue water to the scene of the late disaster.

"We'll be settin' sail fer Tortuga an' home in a short while, half a glass at most." Joanna making her orders plain. "Leave 'em t'swim; those who can make it the hundred leagues or so ter the Main, good luck t'them, them as drowns, good riddance."

"If any reach the Amazon's tumblehome, meantime, tell the crew ter pistol 'em in the water t'their hearts' content, each an' every one," Sandy even more cold in her attitude. "Took Roc's golden guineas ter betray us; well, they can take our lead balls ter their watery graves: an' don't think Merry or any other o'the Captains'll be any more merciful. Make it so, Thomson."

"Aye-aye, ma'am!"

The End

—O—

The next Captain Clayton story will arrive shortly.