'The Tortuga Council'
by Phineas Redux
Summary:— Joanna Clayton is Captain of her own pirate ship the 'Amazon', accompanied by her sweetheart Sandy Parker. Time, 171—and something; Place, the Caribbean Sea. Joanna voyages to a Pirate Council, but finds difficulties placed in her course on the way there.
Disclaimer:— All characters are copyright ©2018 to the author. All characters in this story are fictional, and any resemblance to real persons living or dead, as well as being purely coincidental would also be absolutely mind-blowing.
Caution:— There is some swearing in this story; they are pitiless pirates, y'know.
Sandy Parker sat in the stern cabin of the pirate barque Amazon,—Captain, Joanna Clayton,—reading the lately delivered Post. Presently anchored in the bay off Port-au-Prince, Hispaniola, the longboat which had been sent for the purpose to the town had only returned half a glass since. Now Sandy was deep in the variety of missives which had collected under the hand of the merchant who acted as their locum in the town.
"What's this? Dear Sirs, huh, do you wish to start a small business, but do not have the necessary funds to hand? Take out a small loan with us, the Havana Credit Company, and be assured of professional help and assistance in all aspects of your business; see attached seals of approval from earlier satisfied customers, our rates 1,300% per month, no extras, no credit extensions, we collect personally using professionals. F-ckin' swine, like t'see 'em try'n collect from me; love t'keel-haul the b-st-rds." She paused to drink deep from a silver tankard of double-watered grog, with just that touch of lime which makes all the difference—especially if you are attached in any meaningfully long-term way to your teeth. "Next—Dear Sirs, g-dd-m it, my name is Charlotte Graham, I have three children, Donald, four years old, Jane, seven years old, and James, eleven years old. Recently I fell into debt through no fault of my own; referring to you because of your widely known phil-phila—phil-an-thro-py, may I ask for a short-term loan of one thousand pieces-of-eight, to be repaid this day six months, send payment to—f-ck me, one thousand pieces-o'-eight? I'd give the b-tch a kick up the backside, dam' her. Collins? Collins, get yer butt in here."
The door opened to reveal a swarthy, short bullet-headed middle-aged man with scruffy grey locks hanging to his shoulders, his attire leaving much to be desired as well.
"Cut along t'the galley, an' grab whatever's left o'that chicken I had fer supper last night. Bring it back pronto, too. Well, shift yersel'."
"But it's only been a glass since yer had yer mornin'—"
"So, I'm feelin' peckish; move it, Collins."
"Aye, aye, ma'am." In a resigned manner, he being well acclimatized to his leader's vast appetite. "Comin' right along, ma'am."
The second-in-command on board the barque returned, satisfied, to her task.
"Dear Sirs, f-ck me, don't anybody who writes letters know there's women in the world, too? Apparently not." She growled some more, then hunched over the latest sheet of folded paper. "Written with a blunt quill, blots everywhere. Ink stains tending t'flow t'port on the sheet; lines uneven, tendin' upwards t'starboard. Words, some thickly inked, some with fine scratchy lines. Assumption—letter written at sea, in a fair t'gallant breeze, ship on the port tack in medium choppy seas; author middle-aged, with a tremor, probably delirium, in his right hand; hair long, brown, strand stuck in the ink here; skin on his hand, judging from this clear inky fingerprint in the corner, unused t'hard labour. Supposition, written by the Captain, probably of a brig heading somewhere east of south between Jamaica and Havana this day a fortnight since—elementary. Collins, at dam' last, where's that bloody chicken?"
"What's that y'say, doll?"
"Oh, Jo, y'startled me." Sandy grinned in greeting. "Jest goin' through the dam' mail; nuthin' but advertising from land-sharks an' debt-letter writers. Jo, d'ye ever believe any o' what these dam' beggin'-letter writers say?"
"Nary a word, lover, an' neither should ye, neither."
"—'course not, d'ye take me fer a fool?" Sandy flung an annoyed glance towards the woman she so deeply loved it hurt. "An' kindly don't look at me that way, as if y're considerin' the matter."
"Sorry. What's in the mail, then? Anything interestin'?"
Sandy raised the sheet of paper in her hand, waving it in the air like a signal flag flapping in the breeze.
"Dispatch from Captain Hartley, of the Helensburgh." She lowered the missive to the table again, to read from it. "He sends greetings t'both you an' I; then asks if Mr Braithewaite, in Kingston, ever did get those seeds to grow. What seeds would they be, darlin'? After which he kindly asks after that boil ye had on yer bum, the last time he visited three months since.—"
"Hey, who told him about that?" Joanna, affronted.
"Ho-oh, these things gets about, ye knows; small ship, an' all that." Sandy, keeping her head down, hurriedly returned to the topic under discussion. "Hartley then gets t'business; there's a Council o' the Brotherhood been called in Tortuga, ten days since; set fer Monday fortnight from t'day, he tells me—us, that is."
"Council?" Joanna scratched her chin as she sat beside her paramour. "I wonder—what the devil d'ye want, Collins, we're busy?"
"Ah, my, er, snack. Thanks Collins, that'll be all; on yer way."
"Snack? Snack?" Joanna considered her better half, now bending over the silver platter Collins had placed before the ravening she-pirate. "There's half a bloody chicken there, are ye intendin' t'demolish the whole thing yerself? Jeez, ye must be starved, an' no mistake. Breakfast, a glass since, lost in the shades o' past History already, is it?"
"Put yer sock in it, darlin'." Sandy, wholly indifferent to carping criticism. "Want some?"
"No, I doesn't." Joanna, disapprovingly. "I can reign-in my lower appetites, unlike some. What does Hartley say? Come on, get on with it. An' eat slower, lady, ye looks like a starved scarecrow beltin' in'ta the vittles as if they're gon'na vanish in a trice."
"Wheerph." Sandy being sarcastic, trying to swallow without choking. "Alright, he says Captain Rackham—"
"Personalities, dearest." Sandy smirked self-righteously. "I don't like the rat either, but is that any reason not t'call him a friend?"
"Lem'me get on." Sandy, ignoring these snarky calls from the balcony. "Hartley tells me—us, here, that Rackham wants t'talk about what's in the future fer the Brotherhood, an' any other buccaneers, privateers, or similar low scum presently infestin' the seas o' the Caribbean or Spanish Main."
"So, he don't want t'discuss much, then?"
"Fool." Sandy peering closely over the letter, ignoring her partner. "Items t'be discussed, one—What about the Governor o' Hispaniola? Item two—What about the Governor of Jamaiky? Item three—"
"Don't tell me." Joanna at her most facetious. "Item three—What about the Governor o' Cuba?"
Sandy paused in her reporting of the letter, both to swallow a piece of chicken and shake her head disapprovingly in Joanna's direction.
"Idiot." She bent over the letter again. "Item four—what's in the future fer pirates in general, an' particular ones in particular. He bringing up the subject of himself, closely followed by the likely notions Ann Bonny an' Mary Read will both have about their individual futures."
"F-ck both o' the sl-ts."
"Jo, will ye, fer God's sake, stop bein' so bloody antagonistic?" Sandy shook her head, like a saddened schoolmaster. "Final item Rackham wants t'discuss,—What about all the accumulated treasure everyone's so far collected, and are at present sittin' on in divers places o' concealment, known only t'themselves?"
Here Sandy and Joanna glanced embarrassedly at each other; they both having done just that in the recent past.
"What, Captain Hartley declares Rackham wants t'know, about us all pilin' all our treasure in'ta one vast mountain o' loot, sendin' it t'him, Rackham, an' he then buryin' it in a place o' concealment t'be henceforth known only t'him, Ann Bonny, an' Mary Read? This latter fer the purposes o' simple security, he says."
A much longer pause ensued, wherein the women considered the utter perfidy of the Human race, and Captain Calico Jack Rackham in particular.
"Me too." Sandy raised her head from the letter, frowning angrily at her partner, the chicken entirely forgotten in the heat of her anger. "We better get our butts in motion an' get across t'Tortuga, pronto. There's things I wan'na tell Rackham, an' those bloody women hangers-on o' his, that can't wait; I, at least, ain't scared o' Ann Bonny. I'll go on deck right now, an' get Thomson t'haul the wheel round an' set the t'gallants."
Joanna considered this plan, then added her own thoughts in the matter.
"Better set the royals, an' staysails too, dear; don't wan'na drag our heels, do we?"
"Har. I'll get right on it."
The trouble with sailing from Port-au-Prince, Hispaniola, to Tortuga is the complexity of the route. On the map it seems merely a short arm out into the approaches to the Windward Passage, between Cuba and Hispaniola; then a sharp turn o' the wheel to starboard and you're there. But all is not that simple, especially for any pirate of worth. It all depending on whom you meet on your journey; some you are happy, even overjoyed, to meet; others you have to run from as if the Devil himself were on your heels.
Hardly had the Amazon reached deep water when the foremast topsail lookout started earning his pay.
"Deck there, d'ye hear? Two sail on the starboard quarter, royals high, both flyin' the white Ensign."
"Oh f-ck an' b-gg-ry."
"Stand easy there, Sandy." Joanna always being calmer in a storm than her beloved but edgy partner. "We'll jest have t'take evasive action. Thomson, turn the wheel three degrees t'port, an' set the upper topsails an' lower staysails."
"What're we gon'na do?"
"Run fer Negril Point, on the tip o' Jamaiky."
"Jeesus, what d'ye intend doin'?"
"Roundin' Jamaiky, runnin' south, then headin' fer the Mona Channel."
"Between Hispaniola and Puerto Rico?"
"Yeah, we'll have'ta beat south o' Hispaniola all the way back ter the Mona Channel." Joanna nodded, with a short scowl. "Then beat t'port; north o' Hispaniola, back up to Tortuga."
"Jeesus, that'll take three, maybe four, days."
"Can't be helped." Joanna met this grumble with cold logic. "Wan'na stay, an' engage two British Naval frigates, one o' them maybe a thirty-two?"
The journey round Jamaica had its ups and its downs, as Montego Bay on the north coast and Kingston on the south coast both were busy mercantile sea-ports with a large regular trade. This meant there was much traffic coming and going all along both coasts of the large island. At normal times a perfect honey-pot for hungry pirates, but on the present occasion just an occasion for misery and worry for Joanna.
"I figures it's more likely t'be sittin' outside Kingston." This from Sandy, who had her own pre-determined view of the matter.
The ladies presently standing by the quarterdeck bulwark, considering the intricacies of their course.
"Nah, no way." Joanna countermanded this with an assured air. "There's bound t'be, as we've agreed, at least one other frigate hidin' in wait somewhere's, an' Montego's the place, believe me, darlin'. Makes sense, ye see, 'cause they'll be able t'join up quicker with those other two frigates we left in our wake, a day since."
"Yeah, well, I suppose."
"All we got'ta do is steer wide o' Montego, an' round Negril with a deal o' sea-room, an' we'll be clear for a fast run along the south coast o' the island." Joanna was adamant. "We'll be steerin' our way through the Mona Passage before ye knows it, dear."
But here, again, the foremast topsail lookout—a man the ladies were coming to detest—jumped in with his piece-o'-eight's-worth.
"On deck there, sail on the port horizon. Three vessels, topmasts high. Two brigs an' a brigantine sailin' close t'gether."
Sandy grabbed the spyglass from its rack and leaned on the bulwark, aiming the long brass barrel.
"Yeah, I see 'em." Her tone becoming acid in nature. "Jest what we wants, right now; three juicy victims, askin' t'be run down an' captured. Think o' the plunder they'll probably have on board."
"Thinkin' about it's all we'll be doin', baby." Joanna cast a cold eye across the waves. "We got more important things t'do. Like stompin' on that rat Rackham afore he uses that gilded tongue o' his on the other pirate Captains."
"Yeah," Sandy contemplated this necessity of life, then snarled. "But, all the same, three bloody ships. Imagine their bloody cargoes? I mean?"
"Give it up, Sandy." Joanna laid a comforting arm on her partner's shoulder. "There'll be a next time; an' this dam' Council needs our presence more, don't it?"
All the same, when the Amazon sailed past the convoy of three merchant ships, crossing their bows with majestical ease, they being no more than four cables to starboard, Sandy started swearing with an intensity and range of language which, if nothing else, impressed her paramour with her fluency. The only good thing about the whole sorry incident being that the three merchant Captains, easily recognising the famous pirate ship, probably spent the rest of the day locked in their respective head's recovering from the fright.
Running on a course south of Jamaica, and much further south of Hispaniola, was relatively safe; there being not many islands to steer clear of. But what these wide deep seas did represent was the main sea-lanes between Central and South America to and fro the two islands, not to mention all the other island chains in the Caribbean Sea. And this resulted in yet another source of indignity for the pirates.
The dam'med foremast topsail lookout, yet again.—
"Three sail on the starboard beam, far distant on the horizon. One brig, an' two brigantines. Flyin' the Spanish flag, I fancy's."
Joanna, mistress of the spyglass this time, studied the ships through the lens for a considerable time before reaching a conclusion.
"It's the quarterly Spanish silver fleet, from Cartagena."
"Oh my God." Sandy was ecstatic, jumping up and down like a little girl. "We've been waitin' fer this chance fer years, lover. The dam' silver fleet; we'll be rich fer bloody life. What's the plan, then?"
For answer Joana leaned on the bulwark, frowning deeply; then glanced across at her partner with a tight-lipped determination. Sandy returned this for a few seconds, before the message finally penetrated her exuberance.
"Oh God, no." She shook her head in horror. "You can't possibly give up a chance like this, Jo. It's the bloody silver fleet. Two brigantines loaded with raw silver ingots, an' a single brig actin' as escort fer speed. Everyone in the Caribbean knows this. Yeah, the brig's got about thirty bloody twenty-fours, probably double-loaded with chain-shot an' cannister; but they won't fight with the—the need, we will. We can take 'em easy."
Joanna turned to face her partner, laying a hand on her shoulder and shaking her head, meanwhile.
"All ye say's true." Joanna shook her head again. "But we got'ta decide what the essential point is, don't ye see? We can fight, an' probably take, the silver fleet; but, at the moment, where'll that leave us?"
"Bloody rich beyond the dreams of Croesus, that's dam' where, lady."
"Maybe, maybe; but what about Rackham an' the Council?" Joanna leaned close to stare into her lover's eyes. "We take the silver fleet, fine. We then have'ta take the loot somewhere we can hide the dam' stuff fer months, maybe years. We have t'take time off t'divide shares with the crew; then give 'em some small part o'the loot to keep 'em sweet. Then we has t'decide, right now, what our long-term plan fer it is. We can't do that, an' reach the Council, too. It's one or the other, not both."
"What if we ignore the Council, then? What can Rackham actually do?"
"He can persuade the other pirate Captains, the vast majority, I'm thinkin', t'follow his lead in some hare-brained scheme he's sittin' on, that'll finally enrich him, Ann Bonny, and Mary Read, but'll do dam' all fer anyone else in the long run, I fancy." Joanna patted Sandy's shoulder, talking quietly but confidently. "If we let that happen we'll find a whole group o'the Brotherhood have turned against us, t'follow Rackham's idiot plans, instead. Our standin' will be enormously undermined; we wouldn't be able t'trust any o'our pirate partners ever again; surely with good reason, them bein' given any kind'a fair chance against us."
"Yeah." Joanna stepped back to glance across to the horizon once more. "But right now what it means—what it requires, is fer us t'put the standin' o'the Brotherhood ahead of our own needs an' wants, jest this once."
"But, my God, the bloody silver fleet—there it is, jest awaitin' fer us t'go an' put it in our pockets."
"It'll have t'wait on another day, darlin'. I think, deep down, ye knows that, really."
The seas the Amazon was now crossing, north of the Spanish Main along the head of South America, constituted a vast empty waste, no islands to speak of anywhere, just open ocean. However, this created problems; many people, unacquainted with the region, did not realise that in this vicinity, more than anywhere else in the Caribbean Sea, the Spanish held sway. They had major sea-routes from the Spanish Main across the empty wastes to Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, and the Lesser and Windward Islands. And to protect these they also had their own naval ships scattered wholesale across the blue seas.
After a full previous day's peaceful sailing, meeting no-one from horizon to horizon, the crew and Joanna and Sandy were basking in the blue sky and steady strong morning breezes of a new day—
"On deck there, d'ye hear? Sail on the starboard beam. Main-royal high, flyin' the Spanish Ensign."
"That foremast topsail lookout's gettin' on my t-ts. Talk about earnin' his bloody pay."
"An' so will the rest o' the crew, especially the gun-crews, if we let the dam' dog catch us." Joanna, making a series of fast decisions. "He's comin' off the Main, probably from their base at Maracaibo. What rating are those Spaniards, again?"
"Their usual galleons carry, lem'me think, yeah, anywhere between thirty or forty—perhaps even more,—maybe, if it's big, sixty or seventy cannon."
"I think the safest bet, darlin', is to beat a hasty retreat over the horizon before they see us." Sandy, for once, listening to her logical mind.
"Too true." Joanna nodded, happy to oblige. "Thomson, haul her round t'port three degrees; set the main upper-t'gallants, an' all the staysails an' stu'nsails ye possibly can."
In a few hard-pressed moments for the crew the Amazon took on the appearance of a greyhound racing at full speed. Pressed hard over to port by the prevailing wind, the extra sails between the masts and to either side of the mainsails and topsails made the barque look as if it were built more of white canvas than wood. But what this achieved was speed. From a steady unassuming 3½ knots she suddenly, in quite a literal manner, developed wings, finally reaching some 6 knots, with her port scuppers and bulwarks dangerously close to the dark-blue seas ripping past.
Two full glasses later Joanna leaned on the quarterdeck bulwark again, satisfied they had outrun their pursuer.
"If he ever caught sight o'us in the first place." Sandy, sticking to plain fact, trying not to romanticise the situation.
"Maybe, maybe not." Joanna snorted contemptuously. "Anyway, his royals have disappeared, so I think we can breathe easy again. But we'll keep this course, an' the sails already set, fer a while—jest t'be safe."
The next morning again, the Amazon sailed across a blue sea edged with whitecaps, a fine topsail breeze catching the sails in rounded curves which had a curiously erotic character to them, if looked at in a certain light and frame of mind.
"A farthing fer yer thoughts, lady?"
"Huh, that all ye think o' them?" Sandy made a prurient noise between her lips, smiling at her partner as they both annoyed the port bulwark once more. "I was jest lookin' at this here spread o' sail, an' thinkin' they were, er, rather beautiful, y'know."
"Knows what yer mean, dear." Joanna had been studying the sails in more of a professional manner, but came round to this artistic viewpoint easily. "Like a bird sailin' high on an air current."
"Yeah, jest that, lover."
"So, what's the plan, at this particular point in time?" Sandy regarded her partner from under lowered eyelids. "We must be pretty near approachin' the Mona Passage by now."
"Reckon we'll be there by nightfall." Joanna nodded, gazing again over the waves. "Which is the problem, y'see."
"We'll have'ta hove-to, on a sea-anchor." Sandy wasn't surprised, having had far more than enough experience to have reached this decision on her own account. "Can't traverse the Passage at night—not with Mona Island slap bang in the centre of the channel, jest waitin' fer us to wreck ourselves on it."
"You got it, baby."
"Y'gon'na take the Hispaniola side?"
"Nah, the Puerto Rico side; the further away from Hispaniola the better." Joanna gazed at Sandy with a gentle smile. "The Hispaniola side has most o' the sea traffic, y'know. An' right now the less ships we speak on our way through the better, I'm thinkin'."
"When we weathers the Passage, an' turns t'port on, what, a nor'west course, won't there be any chance that one at least o' they British frigates'll already have taken the Windward Passage an' be waitin' our arrival, off Tortuga?"
"Allowin' us t'have wasted the best part of a week chasin' round Hispaniola?" Joanna grinned, clearly unworried by this possibility. "Nah, if he did try it he'd come up against a bloody fleet o' pirate ships. Even a thirty-six couldn't hope to withstand say, four fair-sized pirate ships armed with all-sorts, eighteen's, twenty-four's, even the odd thirty-two. Nah, he'll stay well away from Tortuga, an' the port o'Cayona in particular."
"Thank God fer that." Sandy sighed happily. "The less we have t'do with bloody British frigates the better. Why can't they jest leave us alone, t'make our livin' peacefully?"
"Hah, peacefully, that's a good 'un, darlin'." Joanna laughed softly at this query. "It's all down t'trade, dear. That's Trade with a capital T. The amount o' goods, fruit, food, wood, and expensive spices movin' from the Spanish Main an' the Caribbean area as a whole t'Britain, an' Europe, is—is jest stupendous."
"An' the British Government wants it all t'themselves, eh?"
"In short, yeah." Joanna agreed with a grimace. "Which puts us, as it always will, on the debit side o' the ledger as far as Britain goes. We're dam' pirates, an' dam' pirates we'll stay; till the British Navy finally hangs the last o' us, anyways."
"Gawd, let's change the subject." Sandy gave a melodramatic shiver. "Say, what's fer dinner this evening? The cook turnin' out that chicken an' bacon hash, with peppers, tonight? Y'know's I jest loves that hash."
"God, what an appetite." Joanna groaned, trying to sound disapproving. "Yeah, it's the hash, so he told me half a glass since."
The coast of Hispaniola was once more visible on the north-western horizon, the next day. As usual in these temperate months the sky was blue, the sea relatively calm and the breeze steady and strong. Joanna could even see the approaches to the Mona Passage cutting the horizon when the latest in the series of unwanted interruptions to their journey took place.
"Ho, deck there, d'ye hear?—"
"Oh, f-ck it, what the hell now?"
"Only doin' his job, Sandy."
"Wish he'd give it up, an' retire t'a pub in Wapping." Sandy no way placated by the latest announcement from the foremast topsail lookout.
"—sail dead ahead, brigantine, headin' straight fer us, a league off."
"Half a point t'port, Thomson, I wan'na speak the brigantine." Joanna made a snap decision; she knew not why, but something itched in her mind. "We'll lay across his bows."
Half a glass later only twenty yards separated the two stationary vessels; the large pirate barque and the small brigantine.
"Sandy, yer voice carries further than mine." Joanna nudged her paramour in her ribs, these only being protected by her loose white cotton shirt. "Ask him who he's spoke with comin' through the Passage; bloody British frigates, most of all."
Sandy cupped her hands over her mouth and went to it with a will.
"Ho there, Captain, did ye pass any British frigates on yer way in'ta the Passage?"
A short pause, while the distant Captain wondered what the proper etiquette for speaking kindly to a pirate was, in the hopes of him not being sent to Davy Jones'.
"Nary anythin' o' worth in the Passage, Captain." He trying desperately to sound full of bonhomie to one and all. "But a day since, off Nagua, a thirty-two' spoke me. Seemed t'be waitin' off the coast there, as if expectin' someone."
An hour later the Amazon began its traverse of the Passage, to starboard of Mona Island; keeping so close to land on the starboard beam Joanna was in danger of scraping the barnacles off the barque's bottom on the coast of Puerto Rico.
"Any closer, an' I could step over the bulwark onto dry land, dear."
"What's with these complaints?" Joanna being engaged in other important matters. "Ye wan'na lean over the port bulwark, then, an' shake hands with the Captain o' that bloody frigate awaitin' us between here an' Tortuga?"
"Nah, nah, stand easy, lover. He must'a smoked our intentions, readin' yer mind, baby, an' run round past Tortuga t'intercept us unexpectedly; nasty-minded son'uvva b-tch that he is." Sandy poured oil on disturbed waters, or so she hoped. "So what's the plan, when we've opened the sea on the other side o' the Passage?"
"Dam' it, will ye fer Chr-st's sake stop forever askin' me what my bloody plans is?" Joanna snapping under the strain. "Every bloody day, 'What's my plan?'—'What's my plan?—'Wha—"
"Easy lover, deep breaths." Sandy knowing perfectly well how to handle this domestic crisis, from long experience; putting a gloved hand on her partner's arm. "Someone's here who loves ye, don't worry."
There was a short silence, then Joanna took Sandy in her arms there and then, on the quarterdeck, leaning down to kiss her amour's lips with loving gentleness.
"Sandy, if'n it weren't fer yer bein' here all the time I don't know what I'd do. Sorry I snapped at yer."
"No trouble, lover." Sandy responding to the kiss in kind; after all, she thinking, never miss a chance when offered. "So, we gon'na head, what, nor-west?"
"Yeah." Joanna regaining her composure. "Straight in the opposite direction from the frigate. We'll head some ways out in'ta the Atlantic, then turn t'port an' reach fer the Turks an' Caicos Islands; turnin' sou-west again eventually, t' gain Tortuga behind the dam' frigate's back."
"Hmm, that works fer me." Sandy nodding contentedly, still holding her lover's hand in her own soft-leather gauntlet. "We'll make landfall in Tortuga yet, I'm thinkin'."
"Har, eventually; an' find all our friends have grown old an' grey meantime, waitin' fer us."
The difference between the seas of the Caribbean and the raw unfettered Atlantic Ocean soon became obvious to the crew of the Amazon as they sailed out into deep water. The broad rollers of the ocean ran swift and powerful, at a slight but perceptible angle to the course Joanna wished to follow; this meaning a deal of rolling and heaving as the waves crashed into the barque's port beam. Even in what were relatively moderate seas and wind conditions the ship's bowsprit sank into the dark green seas, to emerge again spraying sheets of cold water across the fo'c'sle and foredeck; the incoming seas, meanwhile, pounding forcefully against the starboard beam, sending spray across the width of the maindeck. The masts, by necessity, swung through wide circular arcs from side to side, making it impossible for the lookouts to stay at their high positions; The watch on deck also finding it hard climbing the rigging; and going out on the yardarms to haul in reefs, nearly suicidal.
"This ain't any fun, at all." Joanna staggering, soaked to the skin, onto the quarterdeck after helping to double-reef the mainsail; having spent half an hour precariously out on the main yardarm along with the normally assigned crew.
"Glad t'see ye back in one piece." Sandy heaving a long heartfelt sigh of relief; the past few minutes as she watched her lover high on the swaying yardarm having put years on her. "Leave the rest o' the reefing t'the crew, dear. You're needed here, t'give orders an' whatnot."
"Yeah, sure." Joanna's voice cracked with effort and tension. "Think I'll go below an' change in'ta dry clothes. Any sign o' sail anywhere?"
"Huh, there could be a whole bloody squadron within a mile." Sandy grunted, disgustedly. "Or every caravel, galleon, brigantine an' cutter from the Caribbean could be within hailing distance near enough, an' we wouldn't know—not without lookouts. God, I even regret the foremast topsail lookout—jest when ye really need him."
"That's bloody life, lover." Joanna turned to the ladder leading below deck with a shrug of her soaked shoulders under her short jacket. "See ye in a while."
Left to herself Sandy took the spyglass from its clip under the bulwark, putting the lens to her eye and trying to focus on the distant horizon. There was no mist, or heavy storm cloud to obscure the view, just the wildly swaying and rolling ship never at rest long enough to let her catch a clear steady view of any point she aimed the long brass cylinder towards. Finally, defeated, she clapped the spyglass to.
"F-ck it." She returned the instrument to its place, then took a look down the length of the ship. "Jeesus, bowsprit's under water more'n it's above, dam' it. Thomson?"
Thomson stood by the port side of the double-wheel, another sailor on the starboard side; they both finding it all they could manage to keep the ship steady on any kind of a heading.
"How's the course?"
"Bloody awful, ma'am." Thomson was a grizzled old sea-dog with years of experience, so knew what he was talking about. "If'n Tom here an' I can keep the ol' gal within three degrees either way o' the Captain's course we're doin' dam' well, ma'am."
"Good enough, Thomson." Sandy tried to sound encouraging. "Dam' heavy goin', all the same, considerin' there ain't anythin' in the way o' a true storm about."
"It's jest the bloody scend o' the sea, ma'am." Thomson spat out a mouthful of chewing tobacco with deliberation. "The Atlantic ain't like the Caribby, no way—much more o' a cold-blooded killer, ye might say; even in pretty steady weather like this."
"Dammed if I'd like t'see a real storm blowin' up, then." Sandy growled angrily. "Even a determined squall'd about send us t'the bottom in quick order, I'm thinkin'."
Finally, later on in a hard, soaked busy day, Joanna called for the wheel to be hauled round to port, and they were on their way westwards again, heading somewhere south of the Turks and Caicos, while still a considerable distance north of the coast of Hispaniola.
"Leaving us enough sea-room t' miss that bloody frigate off Nagua, eh?"
"Yeah, that's the plan." Joanna grinned at her partner. "At least we're running with the wind, now; no more rolling."
"Thank God fer that, too." Sandy was much relieved, not least because it meant Joanna wouldn't be returning to the dangerous yardarms. Her own badly scarred hands not allowing Sandy to accompany her lover climbing the masts in these difficult exercises; especially in such sprightly weather. "With the bowsprit out'ta the water we might be able t'set upper topsails."
"Think I'll do jest that, in about half a glass." Joanna took a careful look round at the busy crew stowing equipment and ropes, examining the tied-down guns on the maindeck, and generally putting everything in order again. "Makes yer wonder what'd happen if we were t'meet a real storm."
"Don't think about it, lover." Sandy was eager to change the topic as fast as possible. "What I want's ter know is, when're we gon'na sight bloody Cayona?"
"Another clear day's sailin', I fancy, dear." Joanna managed a wide grin, though dead beat with her day's work. "Course due sou-west; then we beats round the southern tip o' Tortuga, an' Cayona's there, waitin' our arrival."
Sandy, leaning her arms on the bulwark, glanced at her partner, shaking her head in wonder.
"Ye make it sound as if all we've done these last few days is go on a delightful short picnic." She shook her head again. "Then we comes home of an evenin', pulls our boots off, puts our feet up, then have a nice comfortable supper. Has it all been jest a bad dream, then?"
"Ha, if only that were the case." Joanna grunted without much humour. "We've had to sail halfway round the bloody Caribbean Sea this last week, 'cause of those dammed British frigates. Nah, it's all been all too bloody real, lady. But at least we're on the last leg, now—"
"Ho there, on deck, d'ye hear?—"
"Oh, f-ckin' Christ." Sandy taking in a sharp breath. "G-dd-m that bloody foremast topsail loo—"
"—sail on the horizon, due south, royals high, flyin' the White ensign—"
"F-ck it, f-ck it, f—"
"Get a grip, woman." Joanna took command instantly. "Thomson, pipe to quarters; Harrison?"
"All available sail-crew to the masts an' yardarms; I want the upper topsails an' the royals set on the fore an' main. Have the main staysails set, too. Go."
Sandy was now standing by the wheel, alongside the man Thomson had substituted for himself as general quarters were piped. Here Joanna joined her companion, eyes alight with nervous energy.
"It's the bloody British frigate, ain't it?" Sandy answered her own question without pause. "He must be a bloody mind-reader; how in hell'd he manage to chart our exact course right here? D'they have dam' magicians aboard British frigates, now?"
"Jest a stroke o' good luck, on his part, is all." Joanna always subscribing to the ordinary, rather than the extraordinary. "Jest our bad luck, too. He's still only royals up, so we have a fair chance o' runnin' before him, an' still makin' our destination intact."
"Suppose we could haul-off, wait fer him t'run up, an' fight?"
Joanna stopped to glance at the woman standing beside her, frowning slightly.
"Where'd that get us, darlin'? Sunk fer sure's where." She shook her head definitely. "His expert gun-crews an' broadsides o' twenty-fours'—always supposin' he ain't the thirty-two', with heavier still—would do fer us in a jiffy, as ye well know. We got'ta run fer it, no choice."
The next hour saw the Amazon under heavy sail; the huge breadth of sail set making it look more than ever like some giant white-winged bird in flight. Of their pursuer there was never a sign, even the despised foremast topsail lookout being powerless, the intervening sails behind him covering his line of sight.
"Thomson, send a man t'the main royal crosstrees; one o' the young lads." Joanna gave this command just an hour after the first sighting of their enemy. "He'll be light enough t'get up there, an' maybe catch a sighting o'the frigate."
Several minutes later a thin cry from the highest accessible point of the mainmast floated down to the quarterdeck.
"On deck there, sail on the south horizon. Royals-up, White Ensign."
"F-ck, not lost the b-st-rd yet." Sandy curled her lip in disgust at this unwanted news.
"Well, we still got all day." Joanna glanced at the sun, then the compass-binnacle by the double-wheel. "Another six or so hours o' daylight, yet. We should make Tortuga before that, easy. Round the southern tip, an' Cayona an' safety'll be in our grasp."
"Glad ye thinks so, dear." Sandy not at all convinced, looking over the taffrail at their wake with frowning brow. "If that dam' Captain had the luck t'find us, out here in the barren wastes, then he'll probably have the fastest frigate in the Royal Navy, an' be on our heels three glasses from now."
Joanna wasn't having any of this defeatist attitude.
"Get a grip, lover, he's bloody leagues off, yet." She knowing logic always brought her nervous partner round in the end. "With the spread o' sail we've set, as ye can clearly see fer yerself, we're makin' all of maybe seven knots. I'd like t'see the frigate, even a British one, that could equal us, an' still make up the distance t'overhaul us, as well. Can't be done, gal, simply can't be down. Tortuga, here we come."
"Ha-ha." Though Sandy still looked a trifle gloomy and uncertain.
Finally luck turned in favour of the Amazon and its weary crew. The coastline of Tortuga being sighted by—yeah, you guessed it—the foremast topsail lookout late in the afternoon. Another hour and, the cliffs of the island clearly in view, Joanna and Sandy saw several sail spreading across the sea ahead of them, as the Amazon approached even nearer to its destination.
"On deck there," From the boy newly at the royal crosstrees for his second watch that day. "Several sail, four, five, six ships, all flyin' the Brotherhood's flag. It's our mates, come t' rescue us, by God."
"Dammed unprofessional discipline fer a bloody lookout, even a youngster." Sandy affected disapproval, then collapsed in happiness. "Still like him better'n the bloody foremast topsail lookout, mind ye. Where's the frigate in our wake, now, Jo?"
"Topsails up, like she's been this last glass or so." Joanna was studying the distant ship with her spyglass. "Reckon though, she's maybe haulin' off t'port, in the last few minutes. Slightly further off than she was, I believes."
"She's sighted the other pirates, an' decided they're too much, even fer her. Hurrah." Sandy was ecstatic, grinning like a schoolchild just offered an unexpected half-holiday. "God, wonder all the same how our friends knew we were comin' this way, at this time?"
Sailing around the southern tip of Tortuga, Cayona just an hour off, the Amazon was running alongside the Happy Peewit, Captain Anstruther.
"A cutter came in'ta Cayona a day after ye had t'run fer yer lives." Captain Anstruther's booming baritone making short work of the intervening racing whitecaps. "From there we figured out what ye're likely course o' action would needs be, then we simply waited the day, ter'day, an' here we bloody are; an' dam' that bloody British frigate Captain fer a yeller-bellied coward an' cuckold, sez I."
"A man of strong humours, Anstruther." Joanna laughed quietly, on her quarterdeck beside Sandy. "Well, that's that, all we needs do now is run into Cayona harbour, anchor like good 'uns, take a short period t'recuperate, then find bloody Rackham an' put him over the rack, as it were."
"Yeah, better late than never, eh?" Sandy recovering some of her spirits at this proposition. "This is what I calls a fine lay, lady o' my heart. We leaves Cayona on our tod, like skulkin' kids cuttin' school; then returns in a bloody fleet, like Queens in state. I could get t' like this sort'a thing, yer knows, dear."
"Oh, hankerin' after your old aristocratic ways, eh?"
"Hell, no." Sandy laughed in her turn, grasping her lover's arm in a tight grip. "That's all behind me, gone fer good. What I now looks ter achievin' is simply teachin' some persons, I shan't embarrass by namin', the in's an' out's o' social etiquette—so's that, some time admittedly in the far future, they may be able t'appear in public, at a soirée or crush, without embarrassing me."
"I'll get ye back, young 'un." Joanna nudged her partner, grinning slyly. "Don't know when, don't know where, don't know how; but I'll make plans, don't yer worry."
"Oo-er, I'm scared."
"So yer should be, gal, so yer should be. Oh, go on, gim'me a kiss,—please."
"Alright, come here, lady; yer knows yer only ever needs ter ask."
Joanna and Sandy, the day after reaching Cayona, had left their room in the 'Four Owls' Inn to head for the 'Terpsichore' Inn where Rackham and the ladies who always accompanied him were, as far as they knew, holed up; preparing for the coming Council. Presently they had collared that Inn's lady landlord and were interrogating her as to the present disposition of their victims.
"Captain Rackham, an' Ann Bonny an' Mary Read, were here some fortnight since." Georgina Hailles was in middle-age, and proportioned accordingly, considering her employment. "But a week since, must'a been the same day ye set-out t'first come here, but were, er, delayed; that's t'say, the Brotherhood Secretary Master Chambers received a missive from Rackham sayin' he'd called-off the Council indefinitely; he, Rackham, having important business, newly turned up, to which he an' his lady-friends had to address themselves. He sailin' out with his lady companions that afternoon, course unknown. The proposed Council t'take place maybe next year, maybe not; maybe the year after, perhaps. No other missive from Rackham since, I believes."
This news was so stunning in its conniving iniquity that both Joanna and Sandy stood transfixed on the sanded floorboards, amongst the crowded comings and goings all round them in the Public Room of the 'Terpsichore', unable to believe their ears.
"He—he—he did what?" Sandy could hardly enumerate her thoughts on the affair, staring at Joanna as if under a spell. "He upped an' b-ggered-off, without so much as a parting word? Jest ran fer it, like a cowardly,—a cowardly,—er, a coward?"
"Where's this Chambers' character, presently?"
"He resides in the green-painted two-storey villa on the road out towards the west, Captain Clayton, ma'am. Jest ten minutes walk away."
"Sandy, pull yerself t'gether, we got a friend t'visit." Joanna looked daggers at no-one in particular. "Thanks fer your trouble, Mistress Hailles."
"You're welcome, I'm sure."
Outside in the street and the hot sunshine, the women turned their heads in the direction indicated, walking through the crowds sightlessly. A few minutes later the easily recognisable house hove in sight, Joanna banging on the closed front door with firm determination.
It opened to reveal a native female servant, who clearly had no idea who the women were.
"We'd like t'see Master Chambers, if ye please." Sandy at her most polite, though with an undertone of ice. "Tell him it's about Rackham. If he ain't at home, tell him t'make it so's he is at home, or there'll be consequences. I'm Sandy Parker, an' this here's the hopelessly insane an' sadistic Pirate Queen, Joanna Clayton. Got that? Good, hurry along, now."
Two minutes later they stood together in Master Chambers' study, an open window allowing entrance to a variety of street noises and scents of spice and lemon trees. Chambers himself turning out to be a man in his early forties, dressed in dark green waistcoat and tights with silver buckles at his thighs and on his soft shoes. His hair was dark, though receding like snow before the Summer sun; his face narrow and slightly pale, even with the pervading heat and sunshine. His voice creaky, as if unused to extended use. His attitude reserved, if not actually showing the real fear he undoubtedly ought to have been feeling.
"So, let's hear it about Rackham, an' this dam' Council business." Joanna starting how she meant to continue,—menacingly.
"Yes, well, umm." Chambers struggling to make time for careful thought. "You'll both be one's who were, ah, asked to attend the, er, proposed Council some time since, I'm thinking."
"You think right." Sandy, too, wasn't in the market for taking prisoners; her tone rife with barely restrained fury. "We received a letter makin' an appointment; we've duly rolled up on the day set out, or near enough; an' we find the hound responsible flown, like a fox in the night. Explanations, please."
"An' make it a good excuse." Joanna ostentatiously pulled back the left flap of her longcoat, revealing the butt of a flintlock horse-pistol tightly jammed in her belt. "I has an uncertain temper at best, an' this here ain't one o'the best o' my days, if ye catches my meanin'?"
"Aarh, what ye both have t'realise, ladies, is I've had no control—no control whatsoever,—over recent events." Chambers finally realising the prospect of his still being alive that evening to enjoy his supper was rapidly receding into the distance. "I have no real influence or standing with Captain Rackham, or any other of the Brotherhood Captains, including yourselves, y'see."
"Sounds like yer tryin' t'chicken out, Chambers." Sandy sneered her No1 sneer, making the lawyer step back in horror. "Jo, haul out that piece in yer belt an' hand it over, I've got some vermin I wants t'exterminate from the planet."
Chambers, by now a quivering jelly seeing his life passing before his terrified eyes, made a last appeal for mercy, hands shaking as if a major earthquake was in progress.
"Ladies, let's, er, come to some arrangement, shall we?" He looked from one cold-faced woman to the other, finding relief with neither. "Rackham never confided in me, I assure you. His secrets remained secrets. He told me about the Council he wanted to call. As he was a member in good standing with the Brotherhood I had no course but to follow his request."
"What d'yer think, Jo, is the rat lyin' ter us?" Sandy, scowling like a Dervish.
"Hmm, maybe." Joanna backing-up her lover's ploy. "Let's hear him out, though; might have somethin' concrete t'say."
The lawyer, sensing something akin to an escape route, grabbed at straws.
"He went off without first telling me, I assure you both." He pulled a large silk handkerchief from a pocket and wiped his sweating brow industriously. "First I knew of his absconding was when I received the letter he left behind."
"The one about leavin' on other business, an' maybe openin' the Council next year, maybe or maybe not?" Sandy, still cold as an Ice-Maiden.
"Yes, yes, just that, madam." Chambers taking deep breaths to pull himself together. "What could I do? Nothing, is what. So, there ye have it as it stands today. But—"
"But what?" Sandy, suspicious as all Hell.
"But, I fully understand you're, er, unhappiness in the matter, ladies." Here, faced with a difficult, not to say utterly distasteful, personal decision, Chambers had to pause for a while, to gulp like a beached whale. "I think, in the circumstances, it might be said you both have a decided case at Law for, um, reparations. Would five thousand pieces-of–eight be sufficient? I having just such, as it happens, ready to hand in a couple of strong-boxes in my cellar?"
Joanna looked at Sandy; Sandy looked at Joanna; they both made the same decision in duo.
"Let's see the colour o' yer money, laddie." Sandy, grinning horrifically.
The stern cabin of the Amazon, at anchor in Cayona harbour, was brightly lit with afternoon sun; the windows were open to the varied aromas and scents of the Caribbean, the long teak table was set with a light meal and a jug of dark rum; and Joanna and Sandy sat there, reflecting on their day.
"Well, it's some kind'a reward, I suppose." Sandy sounding, nonetheless, hardly satisfied.
"Makes up fer some tiny fraction of the last few days' annoyances, yeah." Joanna, attempting to appear nonchalant in trying times.
"Five thousand pieces-of eight." Sandy pondered on the topic, frowning lightly the while. "But think o' what might have been, Jo."
"The Spanish silver fleet, y'mean?"
"O'course, the bloody silver fleet." Sandy wasn't having any innocent by-play on her revered partner's side. "Untold bloody wealth; our share might easily have been—oh, I don't know,—somewhere in the hundreds of thousands of pieces-of-eight. Imagine that?"
"That's all y'should do, baby, imagine it, like some sort'a beautiful dream o' things not possible t'happen in the real world." Joanna leant over to lay a gentle hand on the shoulder of her lover. "Otherwise ye'll jest go mad, like a dog in the street. Mustn't have that, must we? I mean, where'd I go lookin' fer my next paramour? Dam' difficult t'find a really well house-trained paramour anywhere, these days. Jest when I was thinkin' I'd about gotten ye jest right, too. Oh, well."
Sandy wasn't so despondent she couldn't respond to this outrageous suggestion on the part of her lover. In less time than it takes to write, she stood up, grabbed the shoulders of her partner, dragged her in turn to her feet; pushed her over to the bed against the port bulkhead, and lay her unresisting victim down on the linen sheets.
"Lady o' my heart, I'm gon'na make you so pay fer that last slander o' your'n." Sandy, sitting on the bed beside her prisoner of Love, started unbuttoning Joanna's white cotton shirt. "Now, where t'start, that's the question? Hmm, how's about this?"
"Oh, that works, does it? Well, let's get to it, lover—Hee-Hee."
"Aauurgh, Oh Gods, don't stop."
"I doesn't intend to, darlin'."
Another 'Captain Clayton, Pirate', story will arrive shortly.