The HMS Son of Thunder cut through the clear water easily, despite the waves from a storm somewhere to the south, as was evidenced by the block of dark clouds in that direction. Unfortunately, storm clouds weren't the only thing darkening the sky this particular day.
"Smoke, ho!" the young man yelled from the crow's nest.
Addison Harcourt pulled his spyglass from his jacket pocket with a low curse. "Where away, Harry?" he called, scanning the horizon.
"Twenty degrees off the starboard," the mate shouted back, pointing to a thick column of black smoke ascending from the sea like a great serpent assaulting the very Gates of Heaven.
"Full speed, Sawyer," Harcourt ordered. "And let's pray to God we're not too late this time, too."
Sawyer Williams nodded his grizzled head and gave the order to come about and raise full sails and the great ship practically jumped out of the water as wind billowed her sheets.
Addison's fingers dug into the railing as he surveyed the destruction before him. Pieces of both the ship and her valiant crew littered the sea, filling the air with not only the smell of burning wood, but of flesh as well. A smell that Harcourt had experienced far too many times of late and one which never failed to sicken him. "We're too late again," he said quietly, turning to go below to his cabin and enter the unpleasant news in his log. "Let me know if the salvagers find anything to indicate who's behind these atrocities, Sawyer."
"Aye, captain," the old mate replied, shaking his head sadly and making his way over to the railing himself to oversee the unpleasant operation.
Suddenly, a cry from one of the skiffs salvaging what they could from the wreckage stopped both men in their tracks. "A survivor!"
With a single bound, Addison was beside Sawyer at the rail. "How bad is he hurt?" the captain asked, watching as the burn-ravaged body of a young man was gently brought on board and laid on the deck.
The ship's doctor, Cephas Farmer, quickly examined the man and discreetly shook his head. "Drink this, son," he said, offering the dying man a sip of rum.
"Who did this to you and your mates, boy?" Addison asked, kneeling beside him and looking into his red, tired eyes.
"She came out of nowhere," he said, coughing on the whisky. "When we saw the black flag we tried to run, but it was no use. She was too fast for us, especially loaded down as we were with cargo. Having no choice, the captain raised our white flag and she came alongside and took every crate from our holds. Then, instead of leaving, she sailed a little ways off and blew us out of the water with a full broadside." He paused, recalling the terror he'd felt as his mates were literally blown to pieces all around him. "Why would she do that, cap'n? We gave her what she wanted."
"I don't know, but I swear to God they'll pay for this. What was the ship called, boy?" Addison pressed, seeing the fire dim in the sailor's eyes and knowing he didn't have much time left. "Who was the captain?"
"Funny thing, that, sir," he replied, his voice sounding very sleepy as he smiled for the last time. "I could have sworn the captain was a woman. I can still hear her voice barking out orders. Harsh, it was, but it had a sort of sweetness to it as well. Still, it must have been my imagination, right, sir?" he asked as his eyes glazed over with death.
"I wish to God it had been, son," Addison whispered, passing his hand over the youth's eyes and closing them. "I wish to God it had been." His other hand clenched tightly around the handle of his cutlass as he slowly stood up.
Elizabeth "Bloody Beth" Sable stood on the forecastle of her ship, the Argo, and nodded her approval as her crew laughed and celebrated their latest plunder. It was a good haul and it would fill her purse with much needed gold when they sold it at the port of Tortuga, their present destination. After her defeat at the hands of Harcourt and Smithers, which had not only resulted in her near capture but the loss of many of her crew besides, she had spent several months lying low and acquiring men and supplies by attacking only those ships small enough to pose no real threat to her barque. And, to prevent the determined pirate hunters from picking up her trail before she was ready to reveal herself and confront them again, she had made sure to destroy the ships and any men who refused to join her crew.
But, her crew was back up to full strength and it would soon be time to let Harcourt know she was in the area, so she could finish what she started and destroy him once and for all. She smiled at the thought of him kneeling before her, defeated and begging for mercy that would never be granted, unless he counted a quick death as merciful. But, no, not a quick death. First, she would break him. A flogging would do that nicely, she decided, picturing his back quivering from the lashes she administered. In her mind's eye she saw him bloodied and bent over the railing, his powerful back a mosaic of crisscrossing rips and tears, and, in spite of herself, she began to squirm with perverse pleasure at the image.
Her daydreaming was cut short when the man in the crow's nest called out, "Sail, ho! Forty degrees off the port and making for the mainland as if the Devil was after her."
"And so she is," said Beth, fixing her spyglass on the fleeing ship. "A pinnace, and she doesn't look like she's carrying much, riding too high in the water." The captain suddenly grinned. "But, she is flying Turkish colors, boys, and the only people I hate more than the English are the Turks. Full sail and best speed, Matelas!" she ordered her First Mate. "We've got to catch her before she loses us in the shallows off the coastline."
"Aye, captain," the sailor replied, but the look on his face revealed that he wasn't in favor of pursuing the small ship.
The little ship made a valiant effort, and it almost succeeded, but the Pirate Queen's crew was the best in the Caribbean and they fairly made the barque fly across the waves towards her. A perfectly aimed cannonball sheared the smaller ship's main mast and stopped her dead in the water as the pirate vessel approached. Beth smiled when the turbaned captain began frantically waving a white flag.
She lightly jumped to the railing of her ship and then, grabbing a line, swung herself over to her new prize.
Upon seeing that his captor was a woman, the Turkish commander threw down his white flag and drew his scimitar. "Woman will no take me alive," he snarled in broken English.
"I've no intention of taking you alive, pig," replied Beth, drawing her cutlass.
With no other formalities, the two captains closed with one another and the sound of steel ringing against steel filled the air as their weapons clashed together. As they strained against each other, the lady buccaneer suddenly punched the Turk full in the face, knocking the startled man backwards. Fortunately for him, he was able to raise his scimitar just in time to block a thrust to his throat and he countered with a vicious slash at his opponent's bare midriff.
Beth grinned like a wolf and danced back, avoiding the blow. Then, as the two closed once more she suddenly jumped up and kicked out, her booted foot catching the stunned Turk in the chest and sending him stumbling back against the railing of his doomed ship.
While he was thus off-balance, she rushed in and drove the whole of her blade through his midsection. She then looked him straight in the eyes and spit in his face as she jerked the cutlass up, opening him like a Christmas hog from gullet to gizzard before withdrawing her sword.
He collapsed onto the deck in a puddle of blood and entrails as Beth raised her gore-covered weapon in victory and voiced a fierce war cry.
As one, her howling men fell on the horrified Turks and made short work of them as she wandered down into the late captain's cabin to see what valuables she could find.
Beneath the overstuffed bed she found a small chest containing gems and jewelry and placed it on a low desk as she examined the charts and other papers. As she casually flipped through the ship's log, cursing her inability to read the picturesque scrawls, Beth heard a slight noise coming from an intricately carved wardrobe.
She silently made her way over to it and, drawing one of her pistols, threw the door open.
A fat figure in brightly colored silks stood cowering before her, its round face partially obscured by a flimsy veil. The woman stumbled from the closet and fell to her knees, sobbing and pleading in a squeaky voice in a language the pirate couldn't understand.
Beth quickly put her gun back in her belt and knelt down next to the terrified woman. "Don't worry. I won't hurt you," she said, reaching out to help the Turk to her feet. With an effort, the pirate managed to get the shaking figure to a standing position, but she kept her face lowered, refusing to look at her captor.
Beth scowled as she got a better look at the quaking Turk, noting in particular the definitely unfeminine hands that twisted and pulled at the fabric of her clothing. With a cry, she reached up and yanked the veil from "her" face, revealing a thin mustache and beard beneath. With a low growl she drew her dagger. "You're a man!"
"Wait!" yelped the Turk, holding his hands up to protect himself. "You said you wouldn't hurt me!"
"That's when I thought you were a woman," Beth snapped. "Did you really think you could fool me with that outfit?"
"I figured I had nothing to lose," the man shrugged, keeping a wary eye on the pirate. "Do you mind?" he asked, gesturing to the blade. "Weapons make me nervous."
"Give me one reason why I shouldn't kill you?" Beth demanded, poking his gut with the tip of her dagger.
"One? I'll give you more than that, my lady. First, we haven't been properly introduced and it is written that a man should know his killer if he is to gain respite in paradise. Would you send me to my eternal rewards without at least telling me who you are?" he asked, carefully removing the blade from his stomach.
"Fine. My name is Elizabeth Sable," she sighed, placing her hands on her hips.
"And I am Kamil Yesilirmak, merchant and world traveler," he said with a hopeful smile.
"A pleasure to meet you, Kamil. Give my regards to Allah," she nodded, pulling back her arm.
"Wait! Aren't you curious about the other reasons you shouldn't kill me?" he yelped.
"Not really, but, since I'm in a good mood, go ahead and tell me anyway."
"I knew you were a gracious lady the moment I saw you," he said smoothly. Beth merely frowned. "But to continue...Second, I can be useful to you."
"I doubt that," she grunted, folding her arms across her chest as she scanned his unimpressive body.
"It is written that the most spectacular treasures are often found in the most unlikely of packages," he said defensively, drawing himself up and attempting to suck in his ponderous gut with little success. "But, I was not referring to my physical attributes, rather, I meant my mental skills. As you may have noticed, my command of your tongue is excellent, thus, I offer my services as interpreter and translator."
"What makes you think I can't read and speak your language?" she demanded, whipping the dagger to his throat.
"Forgive me, my lady, but I couldn't help but notice your frustration as you sought to understand the ship's log," he said, carefully swallowing. "I would be happy to translate it for you, if you wish."
Beth chuckled and sheathed her blade. "You amuse me, Turk."
"And that, if I may be so bold, is the third reason you shouldn't kill me. I sense that you have no humor in your life. I could fill that void."
"Yeah, but don't get any ideas, Kamil. That's the only void you'll get the chance to fill."
"Of course, my lady," he said with a nervous smile as he bowed low. "I suppose there's no need to mention the fourth reason not to kill me now..."
"My poor mother deserves more than to have her only son killed in a God forsaken land," he said.
Beth paused, her hand resting thoughtfully on the open lid of the jewel-filled chest. "I suppose that's true of mothers everywhere," she said softly.
Kamil blinked slowly.
"What?" Beth demanded.
"Nothing, my lady. Forgive me."
"Fine. Now, get out of those ridiculous clothes and grab the logbook and those charts and follow me," she instructed, closing the lid of the small chest and placing it under her arm. Shaking her head at her uncharacteristic weakness, she left the cabin.
"Is that the only thing of value aboard this scow?" Matelas inquired, wiping the blood from his sword on the clothes of one of the dozens of corpses littering the deck.
"Not quite," said Beth as Kamil emerged from below with his arms full.
"What's going on here?" the First Mate demanded, glaring at the portly Turk.
"Careful with your tone, Matelas. This is Kamil...something or other and he'll be joining us as my personal attendant and translator. He is not to be harmed. Do I make myself clear?" she said softly, fixing her blue eyes on the mate.
"Aye, captain, you make yourself loud and clear," he replied, scowling and saluting before jumping back over to the Argo.
"I don't like the looks of that one, my lady," Kamil muttered as Beth helped him across to her ship.
"Matelas? You've nothing to fear from him. He wouldn't dare cross me," she assured him as she landed next to him on the deck.
Kamil said quietly, "I hope you're right about that, my lady."
"Cast off and prepare to come about and fire all port guns!" she suddenly cried, leaping up the stairs to the bridge. "I'm not ready to show my hand to Harcourt just yet."
Kamil's ears pricked up at the name, but he said nothing as he watched the Turkish ship burst into flames and sink below the waves.
Addison let out a frustrated sigh as he looked down at the wreckage of yet another ship he'd been unable to save. Even though he bore no great love for the Turks--Having been captured and tortured by them early in his career, he likely would have died at their hands had it not been for the timely intervention of Ralston Smithers--the sight of so many needless murders anguished him. Besides, in a strange way, he owed his life to a Turk.
Or at least his sanity.
For, while a captive in their stronghold, a fellow prisoner had kept him entertained with tales of his past business exploits and plans for his future ventures. This despite the fact that he was scheduled to be executed for, in his words, "A failed monetary enterprise with the Sultan." It turned out that he'd convinced the Sultan to invest in some carpets that had the unfortunate tendency to unravel. The man spoke incredibly good English and only his accent and odd way of stating things had betrayed his Turkish blood.
When Addison had been rescued by Ralston, he had taken the time to free the hapless merchant as well and the man had accompanied them as far as Crete before leaving to embark on yet another scheme to make his fortune.
Lost in his memories, he was slightly startled when Sawyer tapped him on the shoulder and said, "Begging your pardon, captain, but I said the lads have salvaged all they could from this wreckage. Should we make sail for Port Royale and our rendezvous with Mr. Smithers, sir?"
"No, Sawyer, I'm afraid our meeting with Rally will have to wait. We're far too close to her to let her get away now. I know the lads are looking forward to kicking their heels up in Jamaica, but stopping this murdering bitch before she sends any more poor sailors to the bottom is more important than a bit of R & R, isn't it, old friend?" he asked, placing his hand gently on the man's shoulder.
"Aye, captain, that it is," nodded Williams. "But sport wasn't the only reason for our hooking up with the Golden Hunter, sir. I hardly think I need to remind you that our food supplies are dangerously low and we've only enough fresh water for a week at most."
Addison let out a deep breath. "Put the men on half rations, Sawyer," he said quietly, looking out to sea to avoid the other man's eyes.
Williams paused, waiting for Harcourt to meet his questioning gaze, but the captain continued to stare at the waves. "Aye, captain," the First Mate finally replied. "What course shall we set, sir?"
"North, northeast. I'm sure she's making for Tortuga."
"Aye, captain," Williams said and walked away, shaking his head sadly.
"Sail, ho!" shouted the young sailor from the crow's nest of the Argo. "Ten degrees off the starboard and sitting like a goose ready for roasting."
Beth, with Kamil by her side, instantly fixed her spyglass on the ship and grinned broadly. "Old Neptune must be in a generous mood, boys!" she called out. "It's a fat English galleon just begging to be plundered. Raise the black flag and make for her with our best speed and we'll still reach Tortuga by sunset."
"Captain, the men are tired and hungry. Besides, our holds are full to bursting with sugar and goods as it is. Can't we just let this one ship go?" Brett Matelas asked as the men unenthusiastically followed Beth's orders.
"I don't like my orders questioned, Matelas. You know that. And I don't need to be reminded by the likes of you how successful this voyage has been," she added with a smirk. "So kindly do as I ordered and save your whining for another time or draw your steel and let's settle once and for all who the captain of this ship is."
The First Mate swallowed loudly and looked cautiously around to see how many of the crew had heard the captain's challenge. Thankfully, they were too preoccupied with their own duties to pay any attention to the incident. "Now, captain, it was just a suggestion," he said with an oily smile. "Let's not blow things out of proportion."
Beth smiled and turned her back to him and he stalked angrily away.
Kamil cautiously cleared his throat.
"What?" snapped Sable impatiently.
"It is written that a leader is judged not by the quantity of his followers, but by their loyalty," he said quietly.
"Matelas is loyal enough," she replied with a harsh laugh. "He's too afraid of me not to be."
"It is also written that while a lone jackal is no match for even a wounded wolf, a pack of them poses a threat to even the mightiest of tigers."
Beth noted the merchant's eyes had followed the First Mate and she saw him quietly talking with several crewmen. "You just might have to loan me that book of yours, Kamil," she said, looking away before Brett and the others noticed her watching them.
Meanwhile, the English ship, upon seeing the skull and crossbones flying from the main mast of the fast approaching barque, had immediately come about in an effort to make the best speed possible. Unfortunately, the Argo was too quick for her and a cannonball across her bow caused her to lower her sails and raise a white flag.
The pirate vessel pulled alongside and Beth swung over to survey her prize as her crew secured the two ships to each other.
"A woman?!" stammered the captain. He was in his mid- to late-forties and his uniform contained many medals and honors. He was slightly overweight and the powdered wig sat a bit crookedly atop his somewhat pointed head, indicating that he'd put it on in rather a hurry before confronting the pirate captain.
"Do you have a problem with that, captain?" Beth asked, walking up to him and casually resting her hand on the hilt of her cutlass.
"I have a problem with any pirate foolish enough to attack the private ship of his Honor, the Governor of Port Royale," the captain replied.
"Like I said, boys, this is our lucky day," she called out. Behind her, the pirates began to hoot and whistle.
"Even a woman can't be mad enough to plunder the Governor's private ship!" the English captain sputtered.
"Watch me," grinned Beth, raising her arm and waving her men over.
Howling like fiends from the depths of Hell, the pirates swarmed onto the galleon and headed below to see what treasures lay hidden in her holds, completely ignoring the English sailors who stood with their swords ready, awaiting a signal from their captain. Sable leaned against the railing and crossed her legs in front of her. "You're smarter than you look," she observed.
"I'm no fool. I know full well that you've got me outnumbered and outgunned. I won't risk the life of the Governor's son on vain heroics," he replied.
"Well, well, well, that's a pleasant surprise. I'm sure the Governor will pay a healthy sum to get his brat back in one piece, won't he?"
"Indeed he will. And then, my good woman, he will spare no expense to hunt you down and see you destroyed or captured and hung. Mark my words."
"He'll have to wait in line for that," she laughed. "Ah, this must be him now."
"Lookie what we found hiding below, cap'n!" exclaimed several of her crew as they forced a boy of about seven or eight up onto deck. He had light hair and large bright eyes that looked to be on the verge of tears.
Beth’s eyes locked with his for a moment, but she suddenly looked away when something in the pit of her gut kicked her insides about as an unpleasant memory forced its way to the fore. Seth would be just about his age… she said to herself.
“And that’s not all we found!” several others crowed, hauling several women, ranging in age from their late teens to their mid-twenties from the look of them, up from below. They were all dressed in fine gowns and had their hair and make-up done to perfection. One in particular caught her eye, a blonde with brilliant emerald eyes more full of indignation than fear who immediately rushed over and crouched next to the boy, doing her best to comfort him.
"Captain, you didn't tell me you had ladies aboard," Beth mocked, grateful for an excuse to push the unwanted recollection back inside her.
"These are the daughters of Jamaican aristocracy. I was taking them to Leogane on a shopping excursion and young Christopher convinced his father to let him accompany us," the captain explained miserably.
"Well, now they'll be accompanying us," the Pirate Queen smiled. "Until their fathers come up with a generous ransom for their safe returns at least."
"You'll never get away with this!" the blonde suddenly cried, standing up and clenching her fists angrily.
Sable walked over to her and, after looking her up and down enough to make the young woman uncomfortable, said, "I already have, blondie. Take them to the Argo."
As her crew happily hoisted the shrieking young ladies over their shoulders and prepared to carry them over to their ship, Beth walked back over to the captain. "This is your lucky day, too, captain. Instead of sinking this tub I'm letting you go so you can return to Port Royale and present the Governor and the other parents with my demands."
Before she could explain any further, however, the young man in the crow's nest of the Argo suddenly cried out, "Sail, ho, captain! Due south and coming up fast!"
"It's Harcourt!" Matelas spat, yanking the glass from his eye and turning to look at Beth.
"Now see what your delay has cost us?"
"We can still make Tortuga before he catches us!" she snarled. "Get the women and that child below deck and cast off!"
"Our only chance is to slow Harcourt down by making him stop to save these English pigs, captain!" Matelas urged, shaking one of the women roughly by the arm. "I say we leave all of them but the boy and sink their ship."
"And I say we stop arguing and clear out of here like I said." She jumped lightly to the railing only to be met by several drawn cutlasses. "We really don't have time for this, Matelas."
"I guess we'll have to make time, Beth," he grinned.
"Do all of you feel the same?" she asked, looking for a friendly face among her crew but finding none.
"How about it, men, will none of you side with our good captain?" Matelas asked mockingly. No one stepped forward or said a word. "I guess not, Beth."
"I'll have your guts as garters for this, Brett!" she promised as the women were brought back aboard the English galleon and the lines holding the two ships together were severed.
"Only if you survive the ship's destruction and manage to avoid Mr. Harcourt and an English rope, my dear!" he laughed. "Oh, and let's not forget your little friend, either." Kamil was suddenly hurled onto the deck of the galleon by several burly crewmembers just as the Argo pulled away.
"Are you all right?" she asked, helping the Turk to his feet.
"It is written that-" he began.
"Save it for another time, Kamil, we've got to get off this tub before she's blown to smithereens!" Beth looked over at the English captain. "Unless you prefer to go down with her, sir, I suggest you give the order to abandon ship and lead us to the lifeboats!"
He nodded and dashed for the bow, where his crew was already lowering the dinghies and helping the frightened women disembark. All except the blonde.
"You, too, blondie," Beth snapped.
"Oh, no, I'm staying with you, to make sure you don't try any tricks to escape justice," the young woman replied, crossing her arms over her chest challengingly.
"Sorry, kid, but I'm gonna be the last to leave. Making sure everyone else is safe is the least I can do," she said, picking the indignant blonde up and tossing her into a lifeboat as it swung out over the railing. "I'll make it up to you by giving you a personal invitation to my hanging if I survive."
"I look forward to it!" the blonde shouted, scrambling to her feet.
"Feisty little thing, isn't she?" Beth remarked, helping the last of the sailors into the final dinghy.
"She's the boy's tutor, and she loves him like a brother," the English captain explained.
Beth nodded and helped he and Kamil into the boat. "You're sure everyone is accounted for?" she asked, swinging the dinghy out over the railing.
Before he could respond a shrill whistle cut through the air and a moment later an explosion rocked the galleon, knocking Beth off her feet and out of the view of the people in the lifeboats.
"My lady!" cried Kamil, standing and looking for some sign of her as the dinghy dropped into the water just as another cannonade struck the galleon, setting it ablaze.
A third broadside penetrated the lower hull, igniting the magazine, which, although small in comparison to that of a warship, was more than enough to literally tear the galleon in two and send it to the bottom.
But not before the force of the blast launched a figure into the sea.
The impact knocked Beth unconscious and she would have joined the galleon, not to mention her countless victims, in Davy Jones' Locker had it not been for the blonde tutor, whose lifeboat she happened to land closest to.
"Why bother saving her for the hangman's waltz?" asked a sailor as she struggled to drag the Pirate Queen aboard while the other sailors shook their heads in confusion.
"Because it's the right thing to do," she replied after only being able to get Beth's head and arms into the dinghy. "I don't suppose any of you strapping young men would care to help me, would you?"
With a grunt of annoyance, one of the men reached down and grabbed hold of the waistband of the pirate's breeches and hauled her aboard. "Waste of time, if you ask me, Miss Abigail," he scowled, sitting back down.
"Thank you," smiled the blonde, patting the dark-haired pirate as she coughed and gagged on the water and smoke in her lungs.
"He was right, you should have let me die, blondie," Beth nodded, looking up into her green eyes.
"Nonsense. No one deserves to die like that, not even a bloodthirsty pirate."
"Hanging is a much better way to go, I suppose?"
Abigail's face twisted into a concerned frown. "No, I dare say it isn't. But it's for the law to decide your fate, not myself or these men."
"My lady! Thank Allah you are alive!" Kamil suddenly cried as the lifeboat bearing himself and the captain pulled alongside hers.
"Yeah, I was just assuring Abby here that I'll live long enough to have my neck stretched at least," she replied with a barking laugh. "Speaking of which, here comes my escort to the gallows now."
They all looked up as the HMS Son of Thunder approached and Harcourt's face appeared over the rail and nodded with satisfaction when he saw the occupants of the lifeboats below. "Good work, captain!" he called out. "I don't know how you managed to capture her, but I assure you that King Charles himself will reward you for it and reimburse you for the loss of your vessel. How many men did you lose, sir?"
"Not a one, Mr. Harcourt, thanks in part to the efforts of Miss Sable herself, I might add," he said, winking discreetly at the astonished pirate.
"Say again? I think I misunderstood you, captain. Did you say that Captain Sable helped you??" he shouted as his crew lowered the jack ladders and helped the women from the other boats aboard.
"That's what he said, my friend," smiled Kamil. "And, what's more, she is also responsible for saving my own worthless hide."
"Kamil! What the Devil are you doing here?" Addison laughed. "Wait...Did you say she saved your life, too???"
"Indeed I did, my friend. Do not look so shocked, Addison. Is it not written that while a leopard may not change his spots, neither can a woman change her nature?"
"Don't lay it on too thick, Kamil," Beth hissed.
"Yes, but it is also written that the female of the species is deadlier than the male," he countered, rubbing his chin thoughtfully as he pondered over what he was hearing about a woman he knew to be a vicious killer.
"I've never read that particular book, I'm afraid," Kamil replied as he and the others were finally helped aboard Harcourt's frigate. "I can only go by the evidence of my experiences and tell you that when it was in her power to do so, she chose to save lives rather than end them, including my own."
"That may well be true, Kamil, but she's still going to pay for the crimes she has committed. Hello, Beth. Long time, no see," he said, looking into her eyes as he fastened a pair of manacles on her wrists.
"I wish I could say it's a pleasure, Addison, but, well...How's Rally?"
"Fine. He'll be happy to see you, too, I dare say," the pirate hunter replied.
"I don't doubt it," she said, matching his gaze without flinching.
"I really do hate to break up this touching reunion," the blonde tutor suddenly said, "but the Governor's son is on her ship and headed for Tortuga. If we hurry, maybe we can catch them and rescue him..."
"Not today, Miss..."
"Harmony, Abigail Harmony, Mr. Harcourt. "
"Please, call me Addison," he replied, pleased by the flicker of awe in her eyes. "And, as I was saying, Miss Harmony, I'm afraid the Argo has too great a lead on us to catch her before she reaches the safety of Tortuga. Besides which, my first priority must be to return you and the other ladies to Jamaica and deliver Captain Sable to the proper authorities."
"But you can't leave Christopher in the hands of those cutthroats! God only knows what they'll do to him," she added.
"They won't hurt him, Abby, they're only interested in the money they'll get for ransoming him back to his father," Beth said.
"And I should take your word for that?" Abigail snapped, whirling to face the taller woman. "These are the same men who mutinied against you and gave no thought to killing myself and the other women so they could get away. I really don't think even you can be sure they won't harm or even kill the boy and still try to collect a ransom from his father."
"She might be right, Harcourt. Matelas is drunk with power right now. There's no telling what he'll do," Beth said.
"Even so, we'll never catch them before they reach Tortuga, and that place is a pirate's paradise. It's so well guarded and so heavily defended that it would take a fleet to lay siege to it. And, even then, the loss of life on both sides would be immeasurable," he said, shaking his head sadly.
"What if I knew a way to get us in without getting caught?" Beth said quietly.
"Us?" Harcourt questioned suspiciously.
"I'd have to go with you. There's no other way," she said.
"You're actually suggesting that I allow you to lead me into a den of depraved buccaneers--All of whom want me dead, I might add--in order to rescue a child that you yourself tried to capture?" he demanded, his voice cracking.
"Essentially," Beth nodded. "It's the only chance that kid might have, Addison."
"And I'm just supposed to believe that you suddenly care about this boy?"
"Mr. Harcourt," Abigail suddenly said, "I'm hardly Captain Sable's biggest fan, but even I believe that she's sincere about wanting to save the boy. You see, she has a very good reason for doing so: Revenge on her former crew."
"Is that the real reason you're willing to do this?" Addison snapped.
"I never said I was a saint, Harcourt. Besides, I also plan to get back my ship. I'll stave in her hull and send her to the bottom myself before I let anyone else captain her," she said, her voice dropping to a menacing level.
"Well, sir, what course should we set?" Sawyer asked anxiously.
"Head for Tortuga, old friend," he replied with a deep breath. "I must be insane."
"Actually, make for the north side of the island, away from the port. I know a little cove where we can come ashore without trouble," Beth said.
"I don't doubt you do, captain," grinned the old sailor as he turned and walked away, chuckling to himself.
Harcourt, the English captain, Kamil, and Abigail all stared at her.
"What?" she snapped.
Addison just rolled his eyes and removed her manacles. "This doesn't change anything. No matter the outcome, I'm still bringing you back to stand trial for your crimes, Beth," he said quietly.
She nodded and rubbed her wrists.
Harcourt sat back in his personal chair and put his booted feet up on a small table in his cabin. "So, tell me, my friend, what brings you to the New World?" he asked, lighting a thick cigar. "Last I heard, you were selling classic Greek art in the courts of Europe, and turning quite a profit." He held out a cigar to the Turk.
"Indeed I was, my friend," Kamil answered, declining the offered cigar with a shake of his head, "but it sadly turned out to be the case that the dealers with whom I was partnered were less than honorable."
"I'm guessing the royals didn't appreciate paying top dollar for fakes."
"Alas, no. Despite the superior quality. I've seen actual Golden Age art pieces, and they're quite poor. You can barely tell what the figures are supposed to be on most of them," Kamil said, shaking his head.
Harcourt briefly considered trying to explain the problem with his friend's line of reasoning, but decided against it. Instead he asked, "So, how did you and Elizabeth Sable end up together?"
Kamil took a deep breath and began his tale. "Finding it expedient to leave both the influence of the Ottoman Empire and the whole of Europe itself, I secured passage on a British merchant vessel bound for the New World. After a harrowing Atlantic crossing, I arrived at Barbados where I met up with some expatriates from the land of my birth and we were on our way to Port Royale when we met up with Captain Sable's ship..."
Elizabeth Sable entered the ship's galley, but paused when she saw the only other occupant was the young tutor, who was seated at a table, quietly eating a bowl of soup. Not wanting to be rude and sit at another table, but also not eager to join the blonde, she turned and would have left had Abigail not called out, "Please, come in and join me, captain. I'd appreciate some company."
With a sigh, the Pirate Queen reluctantly came back in, helped herself to some bread and soup, and then joined the tutor. "Thanks," she mumbled, concentrating on her food.
"For inviting you in here?" the blonde questioned.
"Yeah, but also for helping convince Harcourt to trust me," she replied, tearing off a chunk of bread and sopping it.
"I hardly think my words were very effective in that regard. And I wouldn't go so far as to say he trusts you," she added, glancing at the dark haired woman out of the corner of her eye.
"What about you?" Beth asked, a spoon of soup halting halfway to her mouth.
"Me?" inquired the tutor, confused by the question.
"Do you trust me?"
Abigail coughed, gagging on her soup, and looked at the older woman thoughtfully. She saw the compassion, and an incredible loneliness, behind her icy blue eyes and slowly nodded. "I do. I'm not exactly sure why, but I do," she said slowly.
"I will do my best to rescue the boy," Beth assured her after a moment.
"I know," she said, standing up. She placed a hand on the pirate's shoulder. "Good luck...my friend," she added.
Beth shook her head. "Not yet. I don't deserve your friendship yet. Wait until we get back with your charge," she insisted. "I have a habit of disappointing people."
"Especially yourself, I'll wager," Abigail said quietly, squeezing the other woman's shoulder for a moment before leaving Beth to her meal.
It was well past midnight when the HMS Son of Thunder slipped quietly into the obscured inlet on the north side of the island that Beth had told them about. Two figures lowered themselves into a dinghy and slowly rowed ashore while the frigate came about and headed back toward the Windward Passage, the channel between Hispaniola and Cuba.
One of them was almost completely concealed beneath a hooded cloak of thick, dark material, although the well-muscled, sun-bronzed arms were clearly visible as they worked the boat's oars.
The other was a dark-haired woman in the brightly colored clothes of a whore or serving wench. But, as she cautiously scanned the coastline, her demeanor was more like that of a warrior than a harlot.
As soon as the dinghy's hull struck bottom, the woman was in the surf and pulling it ashore. Then, she and the man quickly hid it beneath some bushes and hastily cut branches before making their way inland.
"You may have Kamil and that idiot of a captain fooled, Beth, but I'm not buying your sudden conversion," Harcourt stated as the pair hacked through the underbrush. "So, don't get any ideas."
Beth just kept quiet and tried to stop picturing the broad back in front of her covered with fresh cuts.
After a hard day of travel through dense jungle, the sun was low in the sky as they approached one of the city's gates. From their vantagepoint in the thick bushes, they could see a lone guard sitting on a stool. The man looked half-asleep, or drunk, but he was armed with both a pistol and a rusty cutlass.
"Just follow my lead and try to keep your face covered," Beth hissed. Then, she emerged from the foliage, giggling and dragging Addison behind her, and walked unsteadily up to the startled guard.
"What were you two doing out there?" he asked suspiciously, standing up and peering owlishly at the pair.
"Now, now, my good man, do you really need to ask that?" Beth chuckled, wagging a finger under his nose.
"I suppose not," the guard said with a gruff laugh. "And, given the state of most of the inns, I can't say as I blame you. Still, I don't think I've seen you around before..."
"Just arrived with Brett Matelas and his crew," she said quickly.
"Oh? I wasn't aware that--Urk!" His head suddenly snapped back and he fell heavily back onto his stool.
Beth rubbed her knuckles and shrugged at Harcourt's questioning glance before leading him through the gate.
Before them was a filthy collection of ramshackle huts and hastily constructed buildings resting against a bay of dark water that was filled with ships of every shape and description. Dozens of rough-looking men and cheap-looking women wandered through the dirt streets in various stages of sobriety from tipsy to plastered and laughter and music equally filled the dusk air.
Harcourt took it all in, knowing he'd likely never see it again, especially taking note of the two Spanish War Galleons which guarded the harbor, effectively preventing any unwelcome ships from entering without facing serious opposition. The ships, and the strategically advantageous location of the port itself, were the reasons why no governments had dared to attack, despite the fact that it was well-known to provide sanctuary to the cream of the pirate crop.
He also suspected that the French governors were secretly aiding the pirates, most of whom were either of that nationality or had purchased Letters of Marque, providing them with information and safe ports in which to sell their ill-gotten gains and repair their damaged ships.
His musings were suddenly cut short when Beth tugged at his arm and pointed to a familiar vessel anchored in the bay. "My guess is that Matelas is keeping the kid on the Argo," she whispered, laughing and placing his hands on her waist. "I'd also wager that he hasn't exactly broadcast that he's got a captive. No sense sharing the ransom with anyone else, or risk someone stealing the kid from him."
"Makes sense," Harcourt nodded, chuckling and letting his hands slide down to her ass. "So, all we have to do is steal a skiff and get out to the Argo without being spotted. Piece of cake," he said with obvious sarcasm, surreptitiously glancing at the crowds around the docks.
"Naturally, we'll need a diversion," she said, moving his hands back up to her waist. "That's where you come in, Addison."
Before he could say a word, she stepped back and yanked his cloak off, crying out, "It's Addison Harcourt, the pirate hunter!" and pointing at him.
He suddenly found dozens of swords and pistols aimed at him. "I should have known better than to trust you, Sable!" he snarled as several particularly large pirates approached him.
"A pleasure to meet you at last, Monsieur Harcourt," smiled a man with long, greasy hair as he gestured for two of the brutes to force the Englishman to his knees. "I've been looking forward to this for quite some time."
"Le Grand!" Harcourt spat. "I knew the rumors were true."
"Speaking of rumors...Brett told us that you'd been captured, or possibly killed, by
Monsieur Harcourt, Elizabeth," Le Grand said with a suspicious smile, kissing her hand. "I'm much relieved to learn he was wrong, but, I fear that Brett will hardly share my relief."
"I'd say that's a fair bet, Pierre," she nodded. "Now, what say we string this pig up and celebrate my triumphant return."
"A most excellent idea, Elizabeth. It's about time our English friend does the dance he's condemned so many of our departed brethren to perform," Pierre agreed. "Besides, I can't wait to see Brett's face when he sees that you're not only alive but have brought us this fine prize to boot."
"Neither can I," Beth grinned, glancing back at Harcourt as the two giants dragged him to the edge of the docks where a rickety gallows stood. A badly rotted corpse hung from it, the unfortunate remains of a pirate who'd broken one of the few codes of conduct which even the most bloodthirsty cutthroat adhered to: Thou shalt not steal from a fellow thief.
She nodded with satisfaction when she saw Matelas, on the arm of a fat prostitute, stagger from one of the huts and his eyes light up with surprise when he saw the identity of the victim. Then, almost anxiously, he scanned the crowd, and raw fear leapt into his eyes when he saw Beth on Le Grand's arm.
"Beth?!" he stammered, shaking free of the whore and rushing towards her. "Thank God you escaped! I was so worried!"
But she shook her head and pulled a cutlass from Le Grand's belt, stopping her former First Mate in his tracks. "Draw your steel, Brett," she said, tearing her skirt off and adopting a fencer's pose. "You stole my ship and left me for dead. That's mutiny, you scurvy dog, and you'll either join Harcourt on the gallows or face my sword."
"Then I'll face your sword, Beth, and gladly," he replied, drawing his cutlass and facing off against her. "The truth is, I just don't think you're good enough to best me in a duel."
"That's your second mistake," she said, watching his eyes carefully as they lightly touched the tips of their blades.
"En garde!" cried Le Grand and the fight was on.
Beth easily parried Brett's initial thrust and drove him back with a powerful slash directed at his gut. He quickly regrouped, however, and lunged at her, aiming a wicked blow to her head which she managed to not only avoid, but also catch him with a hard left to his jaw, momentarily staggering him just long enough to kick him in the chest.
Matelas stumbled backwards, nearly falling on the steps of the gallows where Addison stood with his hands tied behind his back and a thick rope around his neck, waiting for the end of the duel. Beth stepped forward and slashed downward, barely missing him as he scrambled up the stairs.
"You know, all things considered, I'm happy you survived," he smirked, easily defending her thrusts from his superior position. "It gives me the satisfaction of killing you myself."
"Don't count on it," she grinned as an explosion suddenly shook the port and one of the Spanish War Galleons guarding the harbor burst into flame.
Before Matelas realized what was happening, Harcourt had shouldered the two executioners off the platform and kicked him in the backside, sending him hurtling down the steps and right onto the point of Beth's sword that pierced his chest just below his left shoulder. She snatched up his sword and pulled her weapon free and then quickly cut both the rope around Addison's neck and those binding his hands and then tossed Brett's cutlass to him just in time to meet the angry pirates closing in on them.
"I thought for a while there that you might have changed your mind about our partnership," he said, putting his back to the gallows and, with a mighty effort, knocking it over and into the stunned faces of the buccaneers.
"It was tempting," Beth said with a wolfish grin as she grabbed a torch from a stand and set the remains of the gallows ablaze. "I was more worried that your friends wouldn't do their part and attack right at sunset." She then tossed the torch onto the straw roof of one of the buildings and followed Addison down the docks.
"Stop them! Kill them!!!" shrieked Le Grand as he and the others waded into the water to get around the flames and onto the docks.
"I think we've worn out our welcome," Addison remarked, pointing to a half-dozen pirates charging at them from the far end of the docks.
"Definitely time to go," Beth agreed, drawing a pistol from a holster on her thigh and dropping one of the men. "Besides, our escort won't wait around forever." She pointed out to where the HMS Son of Thunder was engaged in a vicious battle with the injured galleon as her sister ship came about and prepared to come to her aid.
"Have you picked out our escape boat?" Addison asked, picking up a spar and rushing the remaining pirates, catching them full in the chest and then turning and driving them into the water.
"This one will do," she replied, jumping into a skiff and cutting the mooring line in two.
"Good choice," Addison nodded, pushing the craft off and leaping in. He grabbed the oars and rowed for the Argo as fast as he could.
"Not to put any more pressure on you, Addison, but here comes Le Grand and the others," Beth remarked, glancing over him and seeing the famed pirate and most of the town piling into anything that floated and heading for them with swords drawn while the rest of the port's denizens frantically tried to contain the fire from spreading with little success as the strong winds blew it from building to building faster than they could douse it.
"They're not our only concern, I'm afraid," he said, gesturing with a jerk of his head toward a dinghy approaching them from one of the ships anchored in the bay.
"Leave him to me," Beth announced, standing up and unwinding her bola from around her waist. She whirled it over her head a couple of times and then let it fly. The three balls attached to thin wires spun through the air and wrapped themselves around the unfortunate man's neck, completely severing it, before speeding back to her hand.
"Neat trick," Addison observed as she wound the deadly weapon back around her waist.
"Years of practice," she grinned as they passed by the headless man's boat and approached the Argo.
As soon as they were close enough, Beth launched herself at her beloved ship, catching the dangling jack ladder and scrambling up and onto the deck before Harcourt had even reached it. By the time he had likewise climbed aboard, Beth had already disemboweled the hapless man left on guard and was making for the anchor.
"Make sure the kid is safe and then get back up here to man the guns," she ordered, turning the wheel that raised the anchor. "I don't think we're getting clear without a fight."
Addison nodded and sprinted down the stairs to the captain's cabin. Inside he found a sleeping pirate that he quickly overpowered and then tossed through the picturesque windows in the ship's bow. With a muttered curse, he raced down to the holds, praying that Beth had been right about Matelas keeping the boy on board.
He kicked in the door to the main hold and called out, "Christopher! Are you here, boy? I've come to rescue you, son!"
He heard a muffled reply coming from the rear of the compartment and rushed through the boxes of goods and bags of spices and sugar until he found the frightened child huddling in a damp corner. He was wearing an iron collar and a thick chain ran from it to the wall.
"Christopher!" Addison sighed, scooping the boy into his arms. "Thank God you're all right. I'll have you free in a minute." He braced his foot against the wall and then pulled at the chain until, with a squeal of objection, it came loose.
Meanwhile, after raising the anchor Beth had managed to bring the ship around and head her bow towards where Addison's ship was coming about after badly crippling one of the galleons and attempting to escape before the other could fire on her.
A cannonball struck the water just off the Argo's stern as Addison came topside with the Governor's son. "It's Le Grand!" he shouted, leaping to the railing. "He's coming up fast in a sloop, guns blazing."
"We can't worry about him! Man the guns and fire a shot to get the galleon's attention or your ship is doomed!" she cried.
Addison nodded and quickly fired a shot at the much larger vessel with one of the rail guns, striking it in the stern. Like a great bear, the galleon slowly swung about, showing her broadside to the barque.
"I think we've got her attention," Addison remarked, reloading the small, but powerful, cannon. "What now?"
"Now, Addison, you'll see why my command ship is a barque," Beth replied, spinning the wheel rapidly and causing the Argo to practically skid across the waves as she veered suddenly to starboard just as the galleon's guns fired.
The cannonballs sailed overhead and landed just in front of Le Grand's sloop, sending up such a spray of hissing water that the smaller vessel was nearly capsized. The pirates aboard her shouted and frantically did their best to not only keep her upright, but also to close in on the barque before she changed course yet again.
"Nicely done, but they're still afloat," Addison observed.
"Not for long," Beth grinned, this time spinning the wheel in the other direction, causing the ship to reverse her course and cross directly in front of both the sloop and the galleon's broadside.
"Um, Beth, do you really think this is a good idea?" Harcourt asked nervously, looking over at the smoking barrels of the over two dozen cannons.
The Pirate Queen said nothing as she held the wheel steady, listening intently. Suddenly, she spun the wheel again, this time bringing the Argo about so that she faced the sloop head on, just as the galleon's cannons fired. Then, with the sound of the cannonade whistling in their ears, she once more spun the wheel until the ship had done a complete 180 degree turn, heading right towards the galleon. Behind her, the sloop was blown clean out of the water and then burst into flame before sinking.
"You do realize that we're headed right for the galleon, don't you?" Addison inquired, readying the cannon just in case.
"Get ready to fire on my command," she ordered, ignoring the question. She slowly turned the wheel until her own broadside was facing that of the larger ship. Again, she strained her ears, listening for something Addison couldn't begin to imagine. "Fire!" she shouted, spinning the wheel as rapidly as she could.
Addison lit the charge and the cannon belched forth its deadly cargo, which sailed directly into the mouth of one of the galleon's cannons. The resultant explosion rocked the huge ship from stem to stern, causing men and equipment to fly overboard as the entire side of the galleon was blown to pieces.
The Argo pitched and tossed in the roiling water, but somehow managed to stay upright and sped around the listing galleon as quickly as possible. Avoiding the badly damaged other galleon as it crashed into a smaller ship, setting it ablaze as well, the barque sailed out of the bay and met up with Harcourt's frigate.
"Do you have the boy?" cried the English captain, leaning over the railing and shouting through cupped hands.
In response, Addison simply held the child aloft, whereupon Christopher waved wildly to the older man. "See you in Port Royale," Harcourt called back.
Then, shifting the child to his shoulders, he made his way to the bridge. "That was a fancy bit of sailing back there," he drawled.
"Years of practice," replied Beth with a quick glance up at the boy. She saw that he was staring at her quite intently and, though she could hardly blame him, it still made her uncomfortable. She did her best to smile at him and it was then that she noticed he wasn't exactly staring at her face.
"Why don't you let me take the helm while you go and get some decent clothes on?" Addison offered, reminding her that she was wearing nothing but stockings, garters, and bloomers below the waist.
With a stiff nod, she quickly, but casually, strode from the bridge and down to her cabin, praying that her face wasn't as red as she was afraid it was.
The two ships docked at Port Royale the next morning, just after sunrise. But, despite the earliness of their arrival, the Governor, his wife, and the parents of the other girls were all there within minutes. As the families reunited and told of their harrowing adventure and miraculous rescue, Kamil and Abigail, after the latter had secured a hug from Christopher, approached Beth, who was standing at the foot of the Argo's gangplank with an almost glad look on her beautiful face as she watched the joyful scene.
"I am most pleased that you survived, my lady," the Turk said, favoring her with a wide smile.
"I am, too," the blonde said, but her smile was much more restrained and tinged with a definite melancholy.
"I pulled out all the stops to get back here in one piece because I knew you were looking forward to my hanging," she replied with a wink.
"Oh! How can you joke about something so dreadful?" Abigail cried, turning away and covering her face with her hands.
"Here now, I've known for years that my ultimate fate lay at the end of a rope," she said, laying her hand on the tutor's shoulder. "I'm just glad I was able to do some good before it happened. Not nearly enough to make up for all the terrible things I've done, but at least my record isn't totally black."
"Perhaps if Mr. Harcourt and the captain and myself explained to the Governor..." the blonde began.
"Explained what, Abby? That I helped rescue the child I put in danger in the first place?" she asked with a gruff laugh. "I'd hang me for that."
"Maybe if you slipped aboard your boat while everyone was busy, you could get away before Mr. Harcourt could catch you?" Abigail suggested.
"And go where? I can't go back to being a pirate, even if I wanted to. The English, French, Dutch, Spanish, and Turks all have a price on my head, so I can't settle down in any of the towns they control. Besides, I'm just not the settling down type, you know what I mean?" Kamil and Abigail both nodded. "And, going back to Europe is out of the question, too, since the Argo would never survive the Atlantic crossing. So, I might as well stick around and face my fate. I've never been one to run from a fight anyway."
"Planning your retirement?" Addison asked, joining them. "I wouldn't bother if I were you. I spoke to the Governor, and, as grateful as he is, there's still the matter of the crimes you've committed against England, so I'm afraid that you're to be taken into custody and stand trial."
"I figured as much. Please, don't cry, Abby. I'm really not worth the tears," Beth said, wiping the blonde's wet face with her index finger.
"No, we're friends now. You didn't disappoint me," the tutor reminded her, struggling to hold back her tears.
The Pirate Queen simply embraced her and held her for a few minutes before Addison led her toward the city's gaol.
"Don't worry, my lady. I shall be happy to testify on your behalf at your trial," Kamil promised her, catching one of her hands as she walked away and squeezing it before she was gone.
"Will they really hang her, Kamil?" the young woman asked as she watched the pirate being led away.
"English law is quite clear about the punishment for acts of piracy against the crown," he replied, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. "But, I'll do what I can to convince Addison to petition for leniency."
"But, that would mean she'd spend the rest of her life as a prison slave on a sugar plantation," Abigail gasped. Kamil nodded. "She'd rather die than endure that."
"I'm afraid you're right," the Turk agreed.
Matelas groaned and opened his eyes, finding himself in what appeared to be a hospital. He gingerly fingered the thick pad of bandages on his upper left chest and grimaced at the stabbing pain.
"Ah, I'm so glad to see you're awake at last, Monsieur Matelas."
Brett jerked his head around and saw a thin, rat-faced man wearing fine clothes beneath a flowing cape of vermilion standing next to his bed. "Who are you?" he stammered.
"An emissary from an admirer," the man replied.
"Admirer?" Brett questioned.
"Your exploits have caught the eye of powerful people, M. Matelas."
"Very powerful people, if you catch my meaning," he said in hushed tones. Brett nodded dumbly. "Excellent. They'd like you to do them a little favor."
"Just a small thing, really. They want you to destroy Addison Harcourt."
"After what he did to Tortuga, my...masters feel that he can no longer be tolerated."
"Why, M. Matelas, you're one of the few to encounter him and survive. Besides, since it was at least partly your fault he practically destroyed Tortuga, those I represent feel this is the least you can do to retain their good graces. Do I make myself clear, M. Matelas?"
Brett nodded, his face paling noticeably.
"I knew we could come to a mutually pleasing agreement. Get well soon, M. Matelas, my, make that our masters are not patient men," he said with a sneer. Then, with a flutter of his long cape, he was gone.
End of Part Two