Captain Joe Schooner, Part Two
Captain Joe Schooner has brilliantly survived a keelhauling and come out on top, with him and First Mate Joshua Willoughby wielding daggers. The pirate captain Harpoon Chuck advances on Captain Joe with a sword in his hand and brotherly rivalry in his eyes, while Captain Joe challenges him to a sword match for freedom or piracy.
“So be it”.
The two ship captains advanced towards each other with their respective blades held high until the steel met and their cold eyes were a mere hands-breadth away.
“I’m going to regret having to kill you,” Harpoon Chuck stated in a tone which could almost be mistaken for regret. “You would have made a good pirate.”
“Kill me?” An idea formed in Joe’s mind and he grasped at it like a drowning man at a rope. “What purpose would that serve?”
Big Rob looked on with a simpering smile. “Kill him! We need no purpose.”
Joe ignored the bloodthirsty first mate. “We fight to the first blood. If you win, I will sign the Articles.” The Articles of Agreement dictated the rules of pirating on board the ship, and signing them meant life as a pirate until death or capture.
Chuck’s dark eyes sparked. “And if you draw first blood?”
Joe’s eyes took on a spark of their own. “Freedom for me and my men.”
There was dead silence on board the ship as each man awaited Chuck’s reply. “I look forward to having my own brother as second mate.”
With no immediate available retort, Joe drew his dagger down and slashed at Chuck’s chest. Chuck leaped back with an inch to spare, and the battle began in earnest.
At the same time, Joshua Willoughby was not idle. Joshua was a calm-mannered, quick-thinking man whose average height and build belied his extraordinary strength. When Joe tossed him the dagger, he quickly cut his bonds and lunged at a nearby pirate. In Joshua’s haste, he made the unfortunate and uninformed decision to waylay Big Rob, who easily disarmed Joshua by grabbing his knife arm and twisting. With a grunt of pain, the knife dropped from his fingers to the deck, but Joshua rolled with the arm-twist, grabbing the knife with his free hand and pulling Big Rob off balance in one smooth motion. When Rob’s big form crashed to the deck, Joshua, both hands now free, leapt upon him to once again grab his throat. But just as quickly Rob tucked his head, kicked his leg, and rolled over, bringing Joshua’s body with him until he was smashed into the hardwood planks with a jarring thud which embedded Joshua’s upper right incisor in the oak planking.
Below on the orlop deck, just six feet above the hold and the bottom of the ship, Evan McEvan held his breath. He was tiptoeing between two rows of eight swinging hammocks, each filled with a filthy, snoring, stinking pirate.
“Lazy good-for-nothings, sleeping through the afternoon watch,” he thought. One of them twitched and he froze, left foot in midair, and watched as the pirate/sailor rolled over.
“Eight pieces of eight makes... one... piece...” Slowly the drowsy mumblings petered off and Evan allowed himself a breath. After the pirates had boarded the Good Hope, Evan managed to slip onto the Seagull without being noticed. He had stowed away in a barrel for six hours, biding his time until he could free his imprisoned mates, and was now only thirty yards from the brig where he could just make out the dark shapes of his crewmates, their arms sticking out from between the bars and pointing to the single large key hanging from a nearby beam.
“Going somewhere, boy?” came a voice from behind him. Instantly the deck was alive with gleaming swords and hulking, blinking, sleepy pirates - only half of whom managed to exit their hammocks without crashing to the floor.
Startled beyond words, Evan turned to face the unexpected voice behind him. Standing there, swaying with the rhythm of the waves was a six-foot man with a five-foot sword. This sword stretched across the room and hovered just above Evan’s cabin-boy form while the man eyed him head to toe.
Caught off guard, Evan stuttered. “I... Captain asked me to - “
“- Captain didn’t ask you nothin.” The man’s brown eyes narrowed. “You’re cabin boy from the Good Hope.”
Evan said nothing, but several pirates grunted in agreement. A short blond pirate tried to raise himself up from the floor but slipped on the slick hardwood and went down again with a crunch, out cold.
“Going to kills us in our sleep, eh?” a high-pitched pipsqueak asked, emphasizing each word with a stab of his dagger. “Knife us?!” A dark murmur went around the room and several of the men altered their stance as if Evan would rush the lot.
Evan was worried now. Pirates were generally affable folk, just sailors out of work and out of wartime, but in any group setting they could be unpredictable - especially without the Captain. Come to think of it, with or without the Captain.
“I was making for the brig.” Better to distract them with his real purpose, and mentioning the brig gave them a non-deadly alternative to keelhauling.
The tall pirate straightened. “Well! If it’s the brig he wants...,” he chuckled, “we’ll help you find it, eh?” The tension in the room dropped and the pirates put away their weapons.
“Allow me to introduce myself,” the pirate in charge spoke again. “Timothy Arko, Bos’un of the Seagull.”
On deck, the becalmed seas of the past few days had been replaced by rolling waves and booming thunder. A few sailors were high in the rigging, tightening the many lines in preparation for a storm, and several were holding Joshua Willoughby at swordpoint. The rest were watching in silent wonder at the vehement battle of steel going on before them. Step by step, inch by inch the two captains worked their way towards the stern of the vessel, fighting tooth and nail the entire way.
Captain Joe had never fought with such ferocity before, and no pirate had ever dared cross blades with Harpoon Chuck. But the piratical experience and longer blade of the latter was paying off as Joe tired from the conflict. He was down to one dagger, having thrown his last one in a desperate effort to clinch the conflict.
Finally both parties paused in mutual exhaustion. Joe took the opportunity to switch his dagger to his opposite hand, while Chuck grabbed an extra sword from the crowd. For a moment, they eyed each other, panting and chests heaving from the exertion.
Chuck leaned on his sword for a moment. Gone was the evil look in his eye, and when he spoke it was with a warmer tone from bygone days.
“You’ve a fine sword hand.” He eyed Joe’s powerful frame, and lowered his voice. “Between you and me, I need a man I can trust.” Chuck jerked his head back towards where Big Rob stood darkly watching the standoff.
Joe straightened. “No thank you. I’m rather disinclined to piracy.”
Chuck lowered his voice even more. “Joe, I’m only one mistake away from a mutiny. I need you to lose.”
The brig. Stuck in the lowest deck of the ship (minus the hold), the brig of a pirate ship is the nastiest place on earth. Cold, clammy and creepy, its floors are often coated with slime and the walls with seepage from the ocean itself. When the brig is empty it may be used for storing extra rope and tackle, when full it is unbearably cramped due to the short ceilings. Right now, it was full.
Evan tried to find room to stand as Timothy Arko wedged him into the cell. There were four other men crammed into the small space by the door who would not move towards the back.
“Easy now! Make room.” Timothy Arko gently shut the door, pushing Evan’s small form in the last inch. He gave Evan a look. “Pity. Could have made you a real pirate. Start em’ young.” The rest of the now fully-woken pirates nodded and grinned. Then Timothy bent low to Evan’s ear. “Stay clear of Keelhaul Kate!” he whispered, emphasizing this with a nose-jerk towards the back of the cell.
“Who’s Keelhaul Kate?” Evan yelled as the pirates filed back up the steep staircase to the deck above. He turned around and jumped! as he came face to face with Keelhaul Kate herself, staring at him with big blue eyes and an antagonistic toothy grin from ear to ear. She wore a black bandanna around her hair and rag upon rag which draped down to the floor resembling, in some fashion, a black robe.
Without another word, Kate grabbed hold of Evan and began dragging him backwards to the back of the cell. Too old to scream, Evan grunted and writhed, but Kate’s arms were like leathery whips around his shoulders. Evan flung an arm out and grabbed the shirt of the last pirate in line, cowering with his back to the bars.
“Don’t!” the sailor blubbered. He slapped the hand away. “Cabin-boy sacrifice, or something! Crazy pirate-woman, stay away!”
“I came here to rescue you, you miserable sailor!” Evan shouted, but the man backed away into the far corner.
Evan was a stout youngster, but he was no match for Kate’s leathery arms. With a final swift move Kate jerked him to a halt and pointed downwards.
He looked. There, in the hardwood floor, was a roundish hole just his size. It oozed darkness and from below Evan could smell saltwater. With a start he realized he was intended for that small hole, and he twisted and writhed again.
“Now now, in you go!” Kate lifted him off the ground, feet dangling over the dark hole. One second later and he plummeted through the hole five feet to the murky water below.
Joe was nervous. Pirating was dangerous work. The pirates operated on trust and strict obedience to the Articles of Agreement, but the articles only applied to sailors on board and currently employed. Once a pirate captain was deposed, his life was not worth a wooden penny.
“Pirates don’t mutiny, they vote you in and vote you out.”
“Point stands. Joe, how’d you like to be my first mate? Old times all over again. You get 2 shares in all plunder, second only to the captain.” Harpoon Chuck was a pirate captain, but he was also Joe’s brother and he wasn’t a bad man, just... a criminal.
“Chuck...” Joe began, then whipped his dagger up and across.
“Ah!” Chuck instinctively flinched backwards, but it was too late. The dagger parted his hair, the daggerline ebbed red, and a neat red line appeared across the side of Chuck’s scalp. Harpoon Chuck had lost.
The crowd gasped. Big Rob smiled. “Captain Chuck bleeds! He has lost!”
Chuck shot a piercing look at Joe. In the background, Big Rob continued. “I declare loss of confidence! Harpoon Chuck is not fit to run this ship!”
Harpoon Chuck snarled. “Fine, vote me out! If any think they a better captain than I, speak!”
Big Rob stepped forward. “I can run this ship. I call for a vote.” His voice rang from the bowsprit to the stern deck, but before the echoes died another man stepped forward.
“Timothy Arko, bosun.” As bosun, Timothy ran the ship during the daylight hours and was the fairest pirate ever seen. “I have not only experience, but can promise far better pay and morale than Big Rob will ever provide because I...” Timothy gestured in Rob’s direction “... am not a greedy murderer.” A collective murmur passed through the crowd once again, and Big Rob swung a dangerous look upon the bosun.
Evan landed with a splash and rolled sputtering to his feet. Above him, Kate’s face appeared over the hole, her eyes full of psychotic sparkles.
“Sprung a leak. Accident in the powder hold.”
He wiped a strand of seaweed out of his eyes. “If you’re looking to drown me, you’d do better throwing me off the ship, not down in the hold.”
“Not looking to drown you - you’ve volunteered for a mission.”
“Volunteered?” He spat.
Kate laughed. “Well - now you’ve no choice.”
He tilted his head. “Spring you from the brig?”
She nodded. “Find the ladder back to the orlop deck, near the bilge pumps. The keys are here, just outside the brig.”
“And what makes you think I’ll let a pirate captain - ahem, former pirate captain out of the brig?”
Kate ignored his pointed remark. “I can help your friends.” A brief pause, then “-Your real friends. You help me take the ship, and Captain Joe and your first mate will be safely set ashore.”
For a long moment neither moved. Former pirate captain and former cabin boy eyed each other with distrust and contempt, then some mutual understanding passed between them. With a sigh, Evan turned to go, then halted at a thought.
“How’d you cut the hole?”
She grinned a toothy grin. “Teeth.”
On deck, the election had rapidly turned into a power play between Harpoon Chuck and his first mate. The main deck was a commotion of swords, pistols and angry shouts from both sides as the two crews fought. Big Rob led the pirate crew with determination though his right arm hung at his side. Captain Joe and Harpoon Chuck fought back to back, steel flashing, and no pirate dared close in. There were angry shouts, bloody screams, but everyone heard the cannon sound off.
The clamor ceased as they all turned to look upon the bow deck. There, wrapped in a black robe billowing in the wind, stood Keelhaul Kate. Behind her was a stubby black cannon with smoke rising out of the barrel, and in her hand she held the long linstock with a flaming matchstick at the end.
“DROP YER WEAPONS, BILGE RATS!”
For a moment, no one moved. Then Harpoon Chuck chuckled.
“Why if it isn’t Keelhaul Kate out of the brig! I’d quote forgotten you.”
“Harpoon Chuck, this ship is mine, and your crew is mine.”
Chuck chuckled again. “You want my crew, they’ll have to vote you in. That’s how pirating works. And as for my ship” - he gestured with his sword - “how do you plan to take that?”
Kate made a gesture of her own with the still-lighted matchstick. “How about the gunpowder your crew stole?” She glanced downwards where the barrels were still strewn about the main deck. “One spark, one lick of flame and we’d be spread over two oceans.”
The crew’s haughty looks disappeared. One bearded fellow turned to Chuck. “She’d do it! That crazy woman!”
Chuck, ever the clever captain, raised his gleaming eyes to Kate. “Aye, drop the torch, see what happens.”