'HMS Erinys, 36'
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 and fabled Spanish Main itself. The Pirate Queen and her Consort have some difficulty evading the attentions of a Royal Navy frigate.
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 extensive swearing in this story; they are pitiless pirates, y'realise.
'a fleet of frigates, three twenty-fours and one thirty-six, under the Command of Captain Josiah Tomlinson, be sent to Kingston, Jamaica, without fail within the next three months. He to act independently of the civilian authority of Jamaica; reporting to you, Davis Tierney, Governor, alone. From Their Honours, The Admirals of The Fleet, The Admiralty, London, England. May 22nd, 17-.'
In her attempts to evade the large frigate squadron which seemed to have taken station in line abreast across the Caribbean Sea, just off the Mosquito Coast, with the professed intention of capturing or sinking her, Joanna Clayton, Captain of the pirate barque Amazon, along with her lover and second-in-command Sandy Parker, had been heading almost due east for the last three days, across the wastes of the huge empty Sea. This course bringing her ever closer to the Leeward and Windward Islands, with the Spanish Main to the south and Hispaniola and Jamaica to the nor-west she was just about due to cross the main trading routes and start meeting other vessels; which, this breezy cloudless morning, is what she did; the foremast topsail-top lookout earning his pay.
"Ho there, on deck, sail on the starboard bow horizon. Some sort'a small brigantine. Yellowish long pennant."
"Anybody we know, doll?"
"Nah, not that I can bring t'mind." Joanna, standing by the quarterdeck bulwark with her lover, shrugged listlessly. "We can't know every bloody Captain in the Caribby by name, y'know."
"Only askin', dear. No need t'get het-up." Sandy sneered gracefully, she once having been an actual Lady herself. "So, d'we fall down on her, swipe her cargo, ravage all the women an' castrate all the men, then sink her, jest fer the fun o' the thing; or d'we act like reasonable people, fer once?"
"Sandy, yer imagination is a thing o' mystery t'me." Joanna looked at her partner ruminatively. "We haul up in tandem with whoever it is, speak him in gentle tones, an' find out what's been goin' on in the wide world whiles we've been occupied digging up most o' the Mosquito Coast. How does that grab ye?"
Joanna's last remark had been necessitated by the fact she, and her entire crew, had lately spent weeks on a certain part of the infamous Mosquito Coast searching for a buried hoard another pirate had secreted there, somewhere. Somewhere, being the operative word, as the details Joanna had received as the exact location had proved erroneous. It had eventually taken over a week's hard graft before light dawned and the treasure was located; but, no sooner done and sail set for the open sea with their booty than they had to return to the Coast to re-bury it, harassed by a squadron of Royal Navy frigates, clearly determined to have their, the pirates, blood. Now they were making their second escape attempt, so far successful.
The brigantine, when they had closed with it, turned out to be a very small example of its kind; only around a third the length of Joanna's large barque, and sporting no defensive guns on its maindeck at all.
"God, look-ee there, doll; if'n we'd wanted it'd have been a bloody walk-over." Sandy, standing by the bulwark, disgusted with life.
"Let's hear what the Captain has t'say." Joanna cupped her hands over her mouth and gave a shout across the chain's length of open water between the vessels. "Captain, how're things in the Windward's? I'm Captain Hastings, o' the Curlew, by the way; any news o' Jamaiky or Hispaniola? I haven't been back t'the latter fer some time."
There was a short pause, then the thin reedy tones of an elderly man wavered across the waves.
"Captain Farlowe, o' the Callington, brigantine." His voice sounding a hundred years old in the passing breeze; probably as suspicious as hell of the heavily armed vessel. "The Windward's is jest as they allus was, a dammed hive o' moral depravity an' drunkeness; as fer Hispaniola, may the Good Lord protect ye if ye're bound fer that ante-room t'Hades an' Damnation."
"Oh, f-ckin' hell, a tub-thumper; that's all we need." Sandy, even more disgusted than ever, curling a sneering lip. "That does it, I'll lead a boarding party right now; we can have his balls nailed t'the main yardarm well within the next glass, lover."
"Easy, Sandy, easy." Joanna well-used to her partner's delicately balanced temper. "Live an' let live, y'know."
"Ain't that in straight contrary distinction t'the Rules o' the Brotherhood, my dear?" Spoken with deep sarcasm.
"Give it up, woman, I'm busy here." Joanna pointing her chin in the air and affecting not to notice irritable second's-in-command. "Captain Farlowe, there,—Ye're no doubt right, I'm sure. An' it's happy I am we have the Royal Navy t'protect innocent merchants such as ourselves. Have ye heard any news o' the Navy, by the by? I'd like fine t'know they was in this part o'the world, an' I all the safer, as a result."
"God, when ye lie, ye certainly lie big, lover."
"Curlew, there," Farlowe's voice seeming to lose power and tone with each passing wave between the ships. "I heard there's a new fleet o' Navy frigates t'Port-au-Prince. Three twenty-fours an' a thirty-six, over an' above the four frigates already there—"
"F-ck me." Sandy now interested, against her will.
"—under the command o' Captain Josiah Tomlinson, I hear's." Farlowe regaining his tongue as he went on. "Reporting only t'Davis Tierney, Governor o' Jamaiky; after the Admiralty, in'course. Well, g'bye, an' a happy voyage t'ye, ma'am."
An hour later the brig had disappeared over the horizon once more, and Joanna and Sandy were again supporting the port bulwark in its efforts to keep the barque afloat and quarterdeck reasonably dry.
"Four more Navy frigates?" Sandy was contemptuous, nearly dribbling at the mouth in her anger. "An' one a bloody great thirty-six? Why in hell'd they send a f-ckin' monster like that? D'they want our carcasses hangin' on a rope's end so much?"
"Seems the answer t'that silly question is a resoundin' Aye, ma'am, aye."
"Oh, very funny—who's laughin' lady, not me?"
"Get a grip, Sandy." Joanna shrugged dismissively. "After all, they have t'find us first, don't they—an' is this here a bloody big Sea t'lose yerself in, or ain't it?"
"Not so easy as it used ter be, ducks; not with half the bloody Royal Navy on our heels now." Sandy, refusing outright to be bucked-up.
"Wonder how this Tomlinson character came t'know we was on the Mosquito Coast, scraping around in the dirt, lookin' fer that idiot Mathews' hoard?" Joanna mused on this topic of interest for a while, oblivious of her surroundings.
"Penny fer 'em, lover."
"Oh, only considerin' the scend o' the sea, is all." Joanna straightened, turning to the quartermaster by the double-wheel. "Thomson, what's the set o' the sail?"
"Main's an' lower top'sl's, ma'am."
"Have the men run up the upper top'sl's, an' main stay'sl's. The faster we reach Tortuga the better."
"Aye, aye, ma'am."
"There's somethin' other than a desire t'reach Home an' Hearth agin', eatin' at yer vitals', lover." Sandy, reading her loved partner like an open book. "Wan'na tell me?"
"Come on down t'the stern cabin." Joanna put out a hand to grasp her lover's arm. "Things t'think on, baby, things t'think on."
"Right beside ye, m'dear, right here."
The stern windows, stretching the width of the aft part of the cabin, let in a flood of green-tinted light, reflections from the waves flickering on bulkheads and ceiling. The long table in the centre had been cleared and the women were sitting on chairs, elbows on the table, thinking deep and gloomy thoughts.
"A spy, ye thinks?"
"Aye, seems the likely answer." Joanna nodded decisively. "There's no way the Navy would'a gotten word of our plans, otherwise."
Sandy had thrown her three-cornered hat, miserably mis-shapen and greasy as it was, onto a chest in the corner. Of a petite size, she was wearing an almost white cotton shirt done up with little bows in front; leather leggings and calf-length leather boots; along with the usual chamois leather gauntlets she always wore in public, to hide her badly scarred hands, burnt when a keg of gunpowder had exploded near her several years previously.
Joanna, slighty taller and a trifle more powerfully-built than her lover, had her long black hair in a ribbon falling down her back; a green silk shirt with buttons, leather leggings like her companion; and boots to match. Joanna's skin tone, outcome of a lady of colour some grandparent or so previous having appeared in her lineal ancestry, was of a mid-olive shade; considerably darker than her paramour's clear ivory skin. This rather obvious detail of her physique having created problems in the past when a certain minority of those who, meeting her, had felt the need to express derogatory opinions on the matter—out loud, in front of her. These significantly impolite statements having often ended with the speaker, of either sex, swiftly quitting this world in agony and torment; Joanna, being a lady of determined and definite opinions herself, never allowing such disparaging arrogance to go unremarked in her hearing.
"Anyone in particular ye suspects, dear?"
"I've got my eye on that new Brotherhood Secretary, back in Tortuga." Joanna frowned darkly. "What was his name, agin'?"
This time it was Sandy who had to think constructively.
"—er, er,—no, can't bring his monicker t'mind, dear." She glanced, however, at her partner with a grumpy expression. "Though I does know who yer mean, certainly. Around six foot tall, thin-built, narrow face, looks like a Scots Presbyterian minister about t'lay waste t'his congregation with fire an' brimstone. The sort'a feller who'd sell his grand-daughter t'a Mexique brothel fer five pieces-o'-eight, an' the promise of a keg o' rum when the deal's done."
"That's him, t'the life." Joanna agreed wholeheartedly with her companion's description. "Wouldn't trust the sunn'uva b-tch as far as I could throw him; first thought crossed my mind when first I saw him."
"Well, can't do anything till we reaches Tortuga." Sandy allowing for the realities of life. "Even then it'd take some delving t'come up with evidence."
Here Joanna laughed, slapping her lover on the arm.
"Ha, evidence, that's a fine lay, comin' from a deep-dyed Pirate Queen."
Sandy was non-plussed for a few seconds, before realising what her lover was getting at.
"Very funny; I get's yer drift, doll." Sandy sniggered in her turn. "Ye means, all we needs is enough suspicious goings-on, on his part. We tells the other members o'the Council; then takes the Law in'ta our own hands?"
"Jest that, love o' my life." Joanna grinned in reply. "Though, o'course, by Law we means nuthin' o' the sort."
"Jest cold hard vengeance, lady, cold vengeance."
"Jest that, lover, jest that."
"Figure we're as near the sixty-seventh degree o' Longitude as makes no difference, ma'am."
Jake Thomson, long-time quartermaster of the Amazon, had sweated over his mathematical workings, and lists of previous compass points and bearings; his dead-reckoning finally coming up with as near, though still approximate, an answer to the question—where were they?—as would have to do; there being as yet—in the present year 171-and something,—no more certain or scientific a method of answering this knotty problem with any true accuracy.
It was the day after they had spoken with Farlowe's brigantine, and the wide expanse of deep blue sea all round was still barren of any other vessel but the Amazon. It was at this geographical point Joanna meant to turn and head nor-west for the Mona Channel between Puerto Rico and Hispaniola; final destination, Tortuga.
"All hands t'the sails, three points t'port, if yer please, Mr Thomson." Joanna's voice full of the relief everyone on board felt at this moral as well as merely physical turning-point. "Let's have the t'gallant's up, an' the fore stay'sl's. Time's awastin'."
A bare two glasses later, as if Fortune had decided to finally take cognisance of the small party of pirates at long last, the fore topmast-top lookout began to earn his bread.
"Sail on the port bow, horizon, top'sl's high. Blue pennant."
"Huumph, might be bloody anything."
"Foretop there, what kind'a vessel?" Joanna taking her stance from Sandy's hint.
"It's a brig, around half our size, I'm thinkin'." The lookout, with only a medium spyglass to hand, doing his best.
"Doesn't do fer lookout's ter think." Sandy waxing critical and mean-minded, as was her wont in trying circumstances.
"Any sign o' a Royal Navy Ensign?" Joanna, being careful, ready to turn tail and run at a moment's notice.
A long pause, whilst the lookout tried to decipher distant white points on the far horizon, wishing he'd left announcing his sighting till he'd been surer of it.
"It's a brig, smaller'n us, merchantman, not Navy. Main an' fore top'sl's grey, dirty, an' beaten about somethin' awful."
"Thank God fer that." Sandy, relieved.
"Thomson, beat t' quarters."
"Aye, aye, ma'am."
"We goin' ter take her, then?" Sandy, asking a stupid question, as was another of her wonts when agitated.
"Nah, jest bein' sensible, is all." Joanna already having her plan cut and dried. "We'll fall down on him, like the ghost o' Christmas past; give him such a fright he'll crap his pants; then, when we've caught him short, ask fer news o' the bloody Navy, agin'."
"An' sail off, after, leavin' him be?"
"Why not, we got ourselves enough treasure as it is ter keep us in grog fer months."
"Oh, alright; but we're missin' the chance o' a good fight, lassie." Sandy, always gloomy at having to pass up a decent set-to.
The brig, close-up, proved to be as the foretop lookout had surmised; half the length and weight of the Amazon, and in a decrepid state of cleanliness and repair.
"Ye're right, lover, waste o' our time takin' a wreck like that."
"Thanks, I'm sure." Joanna turning up her nose at this faint praise; then shouting across the chain's length of open ocean between the two vessels. "Captain, we wants news o' the Royal Navy, if ye has such at yer disposal. What's happenin' ter Port-au-Prince, that way?"
"Captain Nairn, Colossus, ma'am." Nairn perfectly aware who his unwanted companion was, but also fairly sure they would ignore his ignoble vessel. "A new squadron o' frigates arrived to Port-au-Prince some six weeks since. Three twenty-fours', an' a bloody great thirty-six; under the command o' Captain Josiah Tomlinson—an' a regular firebrand he's reckoned t'be, too; from what I've heard tell o' him. I believe he comes with outright authority from the Admiralty t'clear the Caribby o' pirates, buccaneers, an' wastrel's o' all sorts; no mercy t'be shown under any circumstances, hangin's' the order o' the day, apparently."
"Oh, jest f-ckin' beautiful." Sandy, morose as all hell.
"Thank-ee, Captain; we'll let ye get on yer way, then. Happy v'yage t' ye."
A few minutes later the women again sat at the table in their stern cabin, even gloomier than before.
"So, this Tomlinson b-st-rd's out ter get us, come what may, eh?"
"That, seemingly, is the gist o' the thing, baby."
"What exactly could we do, in a fight with a thirty-six, Jo?"
"Dam' all, but run fer it; or, get down on our knees an' beg fer mercy, sayin' we'd only been behavin' this way out'ta a sense o' friendly jollity, or childhood deprivation, or somthin' equally probable."
Another few minutes passed quietly; Joanna concerned with thinking out new plans; Sandy in filling two silver goblets with dark rum, half draining hers in a couple of gulps.
"Seems t'me we got two problems." Joanna, coming out of her reverie.
"Two, huumph, glad there ain't more." Sandy, weary of the whole thing, gazing into her goblet like a hardened drunk.
"One, find out if this Secretary character, back in Tortuga, really is the traitor we're after." Joanna ignoring the negative attitude emanating from across the table. "Second, how t' disable this bloody Naval Captain."
"With a thirty-six gun frigate under his feet?" Sandy condescended to laugh mirthlessly. "No chance, lady."
"Don't be so bloody defeatist, dear." Joanna, bravely instilling moral fibre where it wasn't wanted. "Ye makes yer own chances, in this world; my old nanny told me that, times she used ter read bedtime stories t'me out'ta Exquemelin's Buccaneers o' America. Now, that was a book worth reading,—where was I?"
"In a dreamworld o' yer own makin', from what I can comprehend, lover."
"Har-har, now, listen up."
"I'm listenin', I'm listenin'."
"I got'ta plan."
The next morning found them within sight of the long coastline of Hispaniola, but somewhat more westerly than they wished; Thomson's dead reckoning, as dead reckoning always was, turning out to be off by some considerable degree.
"At least we've hit Hispaniola." Sandy looking to the bright side.
"Ha-ha." Joanna curling a sneering lip. "Yeah, could'a been worse. Thomson, a degree t'starboard, an' haul in the royals then set out the fore stay'sl's."
"Aye, aye, ma'am."
"What's yer course now, darlin'?"
"I was wantin' t'hit the Mona Channel straight-off, this mornin'; but it'll be somewheres in mid-afternoon, now." Joanna pressed her lips together, musing on the technical aspects of her ship's course. "We'll stay off the coast like we are right now; no sense in gettin' too close. Jest remember, we're more or less in Home waters now; so we'll lay off boardin' anythin' that might otherwise take our fancy, right?"
"Kindly quit lookin' at me as if I were a bloodthirsty scapegrace, out ter pick a fight with everyone I meets." Sandy's attempt at disappointment sounding much more like a spoilt child being thwarted of its self-centred aims.
"Jest think o' all those sparklin' jewels you an' I've got stashed below, awaitin' yer wishes." Joanna working on her loved partner's well known appetite for such things. "All that new jewellery ye're gon'na have made up."
"Ha, I got plans for those that's fer me t'know of an' fer ye t'whistle between yer lips, when ye sees such, lady." Sandy, waxing mysterious again.
Two glasses later in the morning—
"Ho, deck there, sail t'starboard, top'sl's high. Merchant brig, British, Red Ensign."
"That fore topmast lookout sure has good eyesight." Sandy leaning over the bulwark of the quarterdeck, hands shading her brow under the lip of her wide-brimmed hat.
"Should dam' well hope so." Joanna now otherwise engaged than in idle chat. "Ho there, what headin'?"
"A point or so t'starboard; he'll pass us in a glass, some three or so cables off."
"Thomson, a point t'starboard, if ye please; an' haul in those bloody fore stay'sl's agin'; an' lower the fore top'sl."
"Aye, aye, ma'am."
When the two vessels met half an hour later, Joanna bringing the Amazon round the brig in a sweeping pass to haul up alongside in parallel, some two chains apart and running free over the whitecaps, she had no difficult in engaging the other Captain in converse.
"Ho there, Captain Clayton, Amazon. Have ye come from Santo Domingo, Captain?"
"Captain Mallings, Lady Jane, yeah, headin' fer Port-au-Prince. Can I be o' assistance ter ye, Captain Clayton?" The man's tone, even at this distance, sounding full of misgivings about his ill-renowned visitor's ambitions.
"What news o' the new Navy contingent there, if ye pleases?"
There was a pause while Mallings consulted with his second-in-command, standing by his side.
"Aye, a new squadron, three twenty-fours' an' a thirty-six, HMS Erinys, Captain Tomlinson."
"Any idea o' whereabouts they may be, right now, Captain?"
"Nary an idea, ma'am." Mallings at a loss, but not for long. "Though I does know, having spoke Captain Jordan o' the brig Hamilton a week since, that when Tomlinson engaged the pirate brigantine Solway Sister, Captain Neilson, sometime over a month ago, he captured the survivors after sinkin' it, an' summarily hung Neilson from the Erinys' main yard; sailin' back in'ta Port-au-Prince harbour with the renegado still swingin' in the breeze from said yardarm. A feller with decided opinions, Captain Tomlinson, seemingly."
"F-ck an' bloody b-gg-ry." Sandy in a fury, grinding her teeth.
"Thank-ee, Captain. We'll let ye be on yer way. Many thanks fer yer news. G'bye."
Leaning morosely on the well-used quarterdeck bulwark rail once again Sandy brought up the main issue this news had suggested to the women.
"Jo, I feels a curious ticklin' scratchy feelin' a'encirclin' o' my neck, in a decidedly uncomfortable manner—what for d'ye think it may be?"
"Fer f-ck's sake give over with the childish humour, doll." Joanna sighed deeply, being pretty much fed up to the gills herself with Life in general. "Another plan, that's what's wanted, a better plan. Any suggestions?"
For answer Sandy merely looked sideways at her revered honoured and loved partner, raising one eyebrow in a questioning manner which said more than words.
"Sorry, sorry, jest a mite depressed, darlin'." Joanna grinned, laying a hand on her paramour's shoulder. "What a bloody v'yage; wish I'd stayed in bed on dry land in Tortuga, instead."
"Don't we both, lover; me too." Sandy returning Joanna's gesture by holding her Captain's arm in a tight grip. "But we're both still here, t'gether; though recently it's been a dam' close run thing at times, I allows."
"This Captain Tomlinson, he appears t'have a decided opinion o' where his duty lies, don't he?"
"If what we've heard o' him's true, yeah doll." Sandy shaking her head despondently. "Figure we're gon'na have trouble with this one."
"Shouldn't wonder, lover, shouldn't wonder."
Tortuga, to the returned natives, had the aura of an almost new world, teeming with all the life of a busy metropolis. Most of the business in Cayona being, certainly, aimed around the comings and goings, and general everyday doings of pirates as a whole. Nonetheless there was a high noisy, energetic loud brashness about the town's atmosphere which spoke straight to the hearts of the returned Pirate Queens.
The next day after their arrival, the Amazon being left in the tender care of the quartermaster Thomson, Joanna and Sandy,—having repaired to their favourite Inn, the Seven Sisters, run by Mistress Henrietta Warner,—rose from their shared bed that morning with energy and love renewed. It still being early, though the sun shone from a cloudless sky, the two women were first in the large public room where breakfast was served by the servants to the paying guests. Joanna settled for a glass of fresh milk and a couple of slices of buttered bread; Sandy, on the other hand, ordered bacon, eggs, fried bread and tomatoes, and a half-tankard of grog with lime.
"God, woman, where'd ye put it all, every day?" Joanna launched on one of her favourite morning grumbles. "Eat like a bloody pig all week, an' never an ounce o' fat round the midriff, or anywhere else, t'show fer it. How'n hell d'ye do it?"
"Jest my ancestry, an' exercise, ducks, is all." Sandy mumbling this reply through a mouthful of assorted vittles. "Ye should take somethin' more sustainin' fer breakfast, yerself; that mealy bread can't do yer digestion any good, yer know."
"I'm jest fine, lady, don't worry about me."
At this juncture the mistress of the Inn, Henrietta Warner, came up to, unknowingly on her part, ruin the women's morning.
"Good morning t'ye both." Mistress Warner expanding volubly in front of her favourite guests. "So nice to see you back again. Hope you found your usual room up to standard, and the bed-linen in order?"
"Everything's wonderful, Mistress Warner." Joanna smiling broadly at their friend. "It's jest like comin' home, I assures ye. Anythin' much been happenin' in our absence?"
"Nothing of note, ladies." Mistress Warner shook her head sadly, at the lack of interesting gossip to fill the day's conversation. "All but that about the new Royal Navy Squadron lately arrived at Port-au-Prince, so I'm told. Bloody great ship, along with a whole host o' lesser frigates, I believes. Oh, that reminds me, can I leave yer both jest a moment; back in a jiffy."
So saying she turned, like a full-rigged galleon in a stiff breeze, and sailed off to the far end of the room where her private office lay.
"Wonder what caught her attention?" Sandy looked up from her plate just long enough to make this remark before returning to the important work of the day.
"Here she comes back already." Joanna sniffed disinterestedly. "Couldn't have been o' much import. What's that she's got in her hand, mind yer?"
"Sorry t'leave ye so suddenly, ladies." Mistress Warner, beaming from ear to ear as she stood by the table again, holding out something to Joanna. "I jest remembered, about ten days since, Captain Davidson o' the Charioteer, brig, came in with this here package, fer ye. He said Lieutenant Harding, a very respectable gentleman, o' His Majesty's Ship Erinys, 36, when said frigate had spoke him off Montego Bay near a fortnight since, had given him this letter from Captain Tomlinson, directed t'yer attention, Captain Clayton, ma'am, an' no-one else; he, Captain Davidson, having told the Navy man he was headed fer Cayona, Tortuga. I said I'd hold it fer yer return, an' here ye are, bless ye both."
With this last remark she turned and sailed off once more to attend to her other guests, leaving Joanna and Sandy alone at their table, near one of the walls of the room.
Both women sat for an appreciable time, simply staring at the oilcloth-covered rectangular package. Then Sandy looked up at her partner.
"Well, it's addressed t'yer, ducks; better open the dam' thing." She sniffed austerely. "Though I can't imagine what the b-st-rd want's ter communicate t'yer at all; exceptin' with what glee he means ter eventually have us both by our heels."
Joanna remained silent, then reached over to pick up the offending missive. A couple of seconds cutting the string tied around it, and unrolling the length of oilcloth, eventually revealed a paper envelope some seven inches long and four wide. Tearing this open along its edge she took out and unfolded a large sheet of paper covered in longhand script; Sandy taking a quick glance before Joanna began reading from it.
"Written with a well-used nearly blunt goose-quill." Sandy perceiving the important details with the eye of a sparrowhawk. "Lines along the top o' the letter running more or less true, but those underneath takin' on a definite list t'starboard; the weight o' the lines goin' from coarse t' fine an' back in each line. Blots more apparent in the lower half. Signature, almost incomprehensible. Assumption, written partly in a calm an' partly in a strong upper t'gallant breeze, comin' from the nor-west. When signed, the Captain obviously well lit-up himself, probably after a good wine-fed supper onboard. Carry on, my love."
Joanna paused to direct a contemptuous raised eyebrow in her partner's direction, then did as she was told.
"Thanks awfully fer that expert extrapolation." Joanna grunted in mild disgust. "Ye might do very well as a magistrate, after ye retires in glory an' bucket-loads o' doubloons back t'Blighty; ye havin' the eye an' nature fer such. Now, let's see—
'To the so-called Captain Joanna Clayton, aboard the pirate vessel Amazon, this twelfth day of — 171-. Mistress Clayton, for I suppose I must by necessity at the least address ye so, it were a fine thing if there were no more dammed pirates in the Caribbean Sea—full more to be desired there were no more double-dammed female trash of the same piratical nature. For, though I can promise little yet, I intend in all things in the service my King to hinder your actions, stall your deprivations, avaunt your power, and, in due time, bring you to that so-desired outcome and climax to a depraved career as is only to be expected for one of your disgraced and foul ways. There be a choice of two gallows awaiting your appearance, mistress Clayton; one stands on the wharf at Kingston, Jamaica; the other ready dangling at the port main yardarm-tip of my vessel, HMS Erinys, 36. I may, with little of outright boast or pretention, allow the latter is the place I would most wish and hope to see your foul carcass swinging in the breeze, at not too late a future date. A wished-for outcome for which I fondly believe is not far to look, serving God's wishes the while. For pirates of any ilk there can be no mercy in this world, especially under my hands, fear ye not of that. For profane and coarse ingrates of your own sex, so disgustingly depraved of all aspect of pure Womanhood, look to no mercy either from me. My intentions are, to search the whole width and stretch of the Caribbean Sea and Spanish Main until I lay ye by your heels; there to sink ye're diseased body with your ship, as a most proper climax; or, to swing at a rope's end as you so surely deserve. Given this day of —, 171-, Signed, Josiah Tomlinson, Captain, HMS Erinys, 36.' F-ck me."
"Jee-sus Chr-st, what an assh-le." Sandy, outraged by this impolite missive.
Another quiet period, full of contemplation, ensued; the women wholly unaware of the busy life of the Inn going on all round them. Then Joanna came to life again.
"Well, he certainly said his piece, an' no mistake."
"Didn't leave any room fer, what's it called, ambiguity about his intentions." Sandy sighed heavily, putting her knife back down on her nearly empty plate. "Seems t'have but one intention in his present career, an' I don't need t'tell ye what that is, baby."
"Hiirph." Joanna growled in a nasty tone, idly flicking with a finger at the sheet of paper lying on the table before her. "Good job the present state o' Spanish politics disallows him from simply sailin' in'ta Cayona harbour, an' layin' waste t'all around."
"Yeah, there'd be another British-Spanish War if he tried that lay." Sandy nodding vigorously. "At least we can sleep softly in bed o' nights, whilst here, lover."
Half an hour later, back in the quiet and privacy of their room at the Inn, they sat down to discuss the situation further.
"What's t'be done, lover?"
"Well, it's a big thing, no doubt o' that." Joanna had been thinking fast and furious. "There's, mayhap, two ways o' lookin' at the situation—one, we do nothing out'ta the usual way o' things; in which case, at some point in the near future we'll sail unsuspectin' round a corner, an' there the bloody Erinys'll be, awaitin' us with all of its thirty-six guns primed an' ready."
"Jeez, don't say that." Sandy shivered, as they sat at the table in their room. "Makes cold horrors slither all over my body."
"Or, we can bring the war to him."
"How's that, lover? What?"
"He's in command of a squadron o' British frigates; why can't we, Sandy, get together a similar fleet, made up o' several o' the larger pirate vessels o' the Brotherhood?" Joanna looked at her partner, shrugging meanwhile. "Can't do any harm t'try, anyways. I thinks there's enough Captains', fed up with the deprivations the Navy frigates have been making on our numbers this past year or so. Might be able t'get six or seven brigs or similar together; that'd make a fleet that could face-off Tomlinson, don't yer think?"
At this juncture, overburdened with bad news, Sandy rose and began to pace the room. Acting as if she were on the quarterdeck of the Amazon she peripatated towards the open window, glanced out at the passer's-by below in the street, then came back over to the large bed. Here, she sat down, looking contemplatingly at her partner.
"Jo, I been thinkin'."
"Oh, did it hurt, babe?"
"Idiot." Sandy made a rude sound, shifting her weight slightly on the bed to get more comfortable. "What I thought was—what about Justinian Angel?"
There was a pause while Joanna considered the import of her lover's remark.
"What about him; a nasty piece o' work, Angel."
"Oh, I wouldn't say that, entirely, once yer gets ter know him." Sandy shook her head, as one who knew. "Sure, he likes a bit of torture, now and again, but who doesn't in our line o' trade? He certainly taught me a few things when I sailed with him over four v'yages years since. Great expert with a long knife, is Justinian Angel—lovely swift sure handiwork, a pleasure t'watch, I assures ye."
"Jee-sus, you an' knives; makes me wonder, sometimes."
"Anyways, what I wanted t'bring t'yer attention, lover, is he's the Honorary Commander o' the Brotherhood at the present moment, ain't he?"
"Yes, that's true."
"Well," Sandy stood, crossing in swift strides to the table where her amour sat. "What I thought was, we might get him on our side—about this Captain Tomlinson affair, y'see."
"Yeah." Joanna glanced idly at her partner; then slowly began to realise the significance of her words. "Would be o' some help, I admits. Lem'me think some more about it, lover."
"Not so's, though, ye gets a brain-fever, darlin'." Sandy, incapable of resisting temptation, being gently catty.
Justinian Angel was a man of many parts—some rather large; pirate, merchant, businessman, and Honorary Commander of the Pirate Brotherhood—a purely nominal title with no real power, though giving the holder some amount of fair standing in the eyes of his compatriots. He lived on the outskirts of Cayona, Tortuga in a custom-built Spanish-style hacienda-villa which spread itself across a wide estate. But for purely business purposes he held rein in the Merry Carpenter Inn on the main highway of the town. Here all those with business concerning him came to put their purposes before the renowned pirate.
In physical build he stood five feet nine inches; powerfully muscular in a stocky frame; had a large round head and face with well-formed lips and jowls, and eyes of a startling light blue, as of Alpine glaciers in the Spring floods. He was known the Caribbean over as a pirate who got results, often by, er, persuading his captives of what was in their best interests; a hobby he had much experience in. His voice rumbled deeply, like a mountain avalanche heard in the distance, and his general demeanour to one and all was of a bear with a grievance—though manageable, if you stood your ground manfully, or womanfully, before him.
When Joanna and Sandy hove up before him, later that morning, he had just finished a tankard of ale, and was contemplating the pleasurable things in life from his comfortably cushioned chair beside a long mullioned window looking out on the multifarious life in the street.
"What? Ho, if it ain't my old sailin' partner, Sandy Parker." He rose to his feet in a fluid movement, at odds with his apparent bulk, holding out a welcoming hand. "What's with the gauntlets, Sandy dear, feelin' the cold, or what?"
"I had an accident; I keeps my hands covered; thankee, matey." Sandy raising an eyebrow in a significant manner. "So, how've ye been all these years since I last saw yer? Keepin' up with life, are ye?"
"Oh, Life keeps up with me, generally." He sat back down, with a nod in Joanna's direction. "Captain Clayton, your servant, I'm sure."
"Captain Angel, glad ter make yer acquaintance." Joanna taking a seat at his table, though holding herself in reserve the while.
"What can I do fer ye both, then; this fine mornin'?"
It was Sandy, having a personal acquaintance with the man, who took up the gist of the subject.
"Joanna, here, an' I are havin' what might be termed a slight exchange of personalities with HMS Erinys, 36, and its dam' Captain, one Tomlinson by name."
"Heerd o' him, an' his ship, certainly."
"Well, things has come to a head, between us." Sandy allowed herself to sneer, with feeling. "Tomlinson's out t'get us, with a vengeance, an' o'course Joanna an' I is hopin' t'foul his anchor as quick as needs be, in return."
"A fine lookout, by all means; get him afore he gets ye. Aye, that'll work, most times." Angel nodded, contemplating Joanna, across the table from him. "And what be yer plan, Captain Clayton? Involving me, obviously, in some way?"
"There've been four frigates in the Caribby, up till recently." Joanna launched out on her spiel. "Three twenty-fours' an' a thirty-two; operating out'ta Jamaiky. Now they've been bolstered by another four; these bein' three twenty-fours' accompanied by a bloody great thirty-six, HMS Erinys, Captain bloody Tomlinson."
"That makes the full roster so far, aye." Angel regarded Joanna with a sharp eye. "One hopes it'll not increase in number this ten years or so. How were ye thinkin' o' oppposing Tomlinson's new-laid plans against ye, then; an' t'others o' our Company, forsooth?"
Here was the basic keel of her plan about to be laid down; Joanna took a deep breath and spoke up in a determined tone.
"He's got himself a veritable fleet o' frigates. What I wants is fer us, the Brotherhood, t'assemble the same. Another, pirate, fleet made up o' brigs an' large barques an' so forth. Maybe six or seven vessels, with a mass o' twenty-four pounders' o' their own; an' maybe the odd thirty-two pounder thrown in fer good measure. With that sort'a opposition we could take Tomlinson on, an' hope t'come out successful on the other side, d'ye see, Captain Angel?"
Angel did not answer at once; instead he leaned over the table gazing down at a small wine-stain, as if gathering fore-knowledge from it. Finally he looked up to reply.
"That's a plan that hasn't been put in operation since Henry Morgan's day." He rubbed his cheek with an extended finger, musing on the subject under lowered brows. "We'd have t'inform the Captains' available; some bein' at this moment far afield. Then organise the whole thing, with a good plan o' action wholly understood by all Captains involved. We'd need t'figure out what the dangers, an' wounded would come to; then we'd have t'judge our individual chances o' escape. We'd need t'decide what we was goin' ter do with survivors, if any; and what to do with Tomlinson, if captured alive an' kickin'. An' first an' foremost, we'd first have t'calculate what was in it fer each o' the Captains' an' their ships who accepted bein' part o' the whole affair. Could take weeks ter organise, an' bring ter fruition. Have ye got weeks t'spare, ladies?"
Faced with this unexpected list of necessaries both women held their peace for a while. Joanna going over the list presented by Angel, while Sandy waited on her paramour.
"Well, we're here in Cayona, right now." Joanna pursed her lips, looking less than happy. "We could simply stay at anchor in the harbour; there bein' no great necessity fer us t'head out ter sea immediate, as it were. But I don't like bein' laid up, ter no effect; rots the guts, an' softens discipline all round."
"Aye, there's that t'be considered." Angel nodding, understandingly.
"If ye could at least put the word about, concernin' my general plan, it'd get things movin'; that'd be a start." Joanna looked as hopeful as she considered polite. "An', with your backin' it'd tend t'have more chance o' ultimate success, too."
"I'll think on it, an' send ye my decision tomorrow mornin'. How does that sound, ladies?"
"Fine, Captain Angel, fine." Sandy rising and taking the arm of her partner beside her. "We'll look forward t'that, then. Goodbye t'ye."
"Goodbye, ladies; an' don't worry, I'll give yer plan serious consideration; there bein' a good many details t'consider surrounding it. Goodbye."
Later in the early evening, back in their room at the Seven Sisters, Joanna and Sandy sat on their table, considering the matter as it stood there and then.
"Any real chance Angel'll take up our case?" Joanna's question was motivated by her partner's better understanding of the man. "Ye did sail with him on four v'yages."
"Yeah, an' a great deal I learned, as a result." Sandy nodded, though with a dark frown. "He kind'a gets under yer skin, given time. Ye starts out by refusin' outright t'partake in some o' his more, er, outrageous activities; then, afore ye knows it, ye're ankle deep in gore yerself, an' wonderin' why he ain't even more ambitious with his imagination, thataways.—havin', as it were, been drawn in against yer better judgement."
"What ways, darlin'?"
"Don't ask, dear; things, lover, jest things."
Sandy rose and paced over to the bed, sitting on its edge facing Joanna. Here, seemingly taken with the wish to change her linen, she sat down on the bed and looked pleadingly at her partner.
"Lend a gal a hand, won't yer." She gave her lover a look replete with hope and the need for help. "Can't get these bloody boots off by myself."
Sighing, Joanna broke-off from her heavy considerations and, stepping over, knelt at her paramour's knees, gripping the offending articles, one by one, by the calves of Sandy's legs. A couple of heaves, some loud grunting on Joanna's part, and squeals of pain from Sandy, and the boots fell to the floorboards with two great thumps. Joanna rising and returning to her chair at the table, satisfied at having performed her duty to the nth degree.
"Ye never answered me, a minute since, dear." Joanna, having regained her seat, gazed down glumly at the stained table-top. "Whether Angel'll approve our plans, or not."
"Well, it's two of a penny, or four fer tuppence, dear." Sandy contemplated the subject under discussion with a heavy frown. "He's as likely t'acquiesce as he is ter give it the thumbs-down. But my belief's he'll come over t'our way o' thinkin', in the long run."
Here Joanna pinpointed the sharp reef below the gentle waves.
"The long run, yeah; probably too long a run fer our good." She shrugged disconsolately. "By the time anything positive comes o' it, we'll likely be at the bottom o' the sea, courtesy o' that pig Tomlinson, an' his bloody thirty-six."
"Well," Sandy pulling aside a long brown lock from her cheek, blown there by the gentle warm breeze coming through the wide-open window nearby. "we can but hope, dear. Bearing in mind the experience I've had with him, I'd say, yeah, we had a good chance o'it turnin' out our way, pretty soon."
A week later, having receieved word from Angel that he was in the process of informing several pirate Captains' of Joanna's dire need for help, the Amazon sailed out from Cayona and made its way through the Windward Passage. The first sighting, a day later out in the open Caribbean, being of a vessel they would rather not have noticed. The foremast topsail-top lookout, as usual, being the bearer of bad news.
"Ho there, on deck, royals high on the starboard horizon. Flyin' the bloody White Ensign. I think it's a frigate, but a bloody big 'un."
"Oh sh-t." Sandy, standing by her lover on the quarterdeck. "What was it old Campbell told us about the Erinys' sail plan, three days since?"
"Fore upper-topsail grey, the others white as white can be." Joanna recalling the details in short order. "Ho, lookout, there, what colour are the upper top'sl's?"
"Can't see, too far off yet. She'll be topmast up in, oh, half a glass."
"F-ck, are we gon'na hang around, waitin' ter make a clear identification?" Sandy, dancing from boot to boot in edgy excitement. "It's certainly a Navy frigate; ain't that all we needs ter know, lover? Tortuga's thataway."
"Fool, stop pointin' in my eye." Joanna stared across the waves to the horizon, but nothing was as yet visible. "Ho there, loo—"
"Ho there, on deck, she's flyin' a long green an' yeller chequered pennant from the mainmast."
"F-ck me, that's what Campbell said the Erinys' wears." Sandy, suddenly standing stock still.
"B-gg-ry." Joanna turned purposefully to the quartermaster stationed by the double-wheel. "Thomson, put another man on the wheel, an' turn three points t'port. Then set the main an' fore upper top'sl's an' the main an' fore stay'sl's. We're gettin' the hell out'ta here."
The deck of the Amazon was suddenly a mass of energetic activity as the crew darted about their individual responsibilities.
"So, it's another flight over the nearest horizon, prayin' the while, lover?" Sandy, being pessimistic as all getout.
"That's about the sum o' the thing, angel,—that's ter say, lover." Joanna glanced at her partner with a gentle smile. "All makes fer an interestin' day, ye got'ta admit."
"Hah, that certainly; though I'd rather be back in our Inn room, safely tucked up in bed wi' ye, if offered the choice." Sandy laughed at the idea she had brought up. "Instead o' runnin' fer our lives here, from that bloody devil Tomlinson?"
"Well, I know which choice I'd go fer, darlin', if asked."
"Oh, ye does? Which, then? Only, havin' made yer choice yer has ter stick with it, y'allows."
"Oh, dear." Joanna affecting to be nonplussed, and of two minds, all at once. "Hey, Thomson, get those bloody stay'sl's out, or it'll be evenin' before we picks up any worthwhile speed."
"Aye, aye, ma'am."
"I'd go for the bed lay, myself, if asked." Sandy smiling gently.
"So would I."
The next 'Captain Clayton, Pirate', story will arrive shortly.