An Unexpected Party
The Doc was the man who built the Broken Heart and brought her to life. He was the ship’s chief engineer and doctor rolled into one, but he was also a rogue sorcerer who sailed with a buccaneer crew and lived his life just the wrong side of the line between genius and mental. He was a short, almost round bald man with swirly tattoos on his arms and mysterious stains on his beaten-up leathers, and at that moment he was really quite cross. He planted his booted feet on the boards of my cabin floor, going red in the cheeks as he tried to calm himself. Eventually he regained the power of speech.
“How dare you,” he snarled at Yoko. “Outmatched? My ship? By that drifting pile of dead wood out there?” He took another deep breath and was visibly calmer when he addressed his next comment to me. “I assure you, Captain, that the Heart will sail rings around that heap of sticks. She’s faster, more responsive and better equipped.”
“But that doesn’t change the fact that the Scorpion’s guns is bigger than ours,” said Yoko, “and have a longer range. We’ll be vulnerable until we close the distance. I still think we should sail away, lose ‘em, ‘an go looking for the treasure when we’ve given ‘em the slip.” Even as he said it he clearly knew already that it wasn’t going to happen.
The Doc piped up again, “If you’d let me take a look at the powder I’m sure I could increase the range…”
I held my hand up for silence. “Things are not that desperate yet, Doc. I don’t expect the Scorpion to attack us, at least until after Captain Red finds out what we’re looking for,” I said, “but they are approaching and we should be prepared. Red will try to get the drop on us again, and we must do better than last time. Yoko, the crew must know who’s out there by now. How do they feel about it?”
“Still smartin’, sir. They won’t be so easily sucked in this time.”
“Good. And Doc, you are sure we can out sail the Scorpion if it comes to it?”
“I am, sir. No deadwood ship can match my girl,” he said, laying his rough carpenter’s hand on the cabin wall.
“Good. We need an edge, gentlemen. Doc, make sure the ship is ready to sail and to fight. Yoko, I need the same from the crew. Eyes peeled, and keep talking to me, ok?”
“Understood, sir,” said the Doc.
“Aye, Cap’n” said Yoko. Dismissed, they made their way out. A few minutes later I heard Yoko bellowing orders on the main deck and I decided to make my presence felt.
As I stepped out into the sunshine, the Scorpion’s pink sails could be clearly seen beyond the bow. I judged we were now well within the range of their long guns. Despite Roger’s understandable caution, the mood on deck was dour and serious. Sailors toiled in grim silence, occasionally casting dark looks at the approaching ship. My crew were angry, which presented dangers of its own, however preferable it might be to the giddy anticipation that preceded our last encounter with the lady pirates.
Half a mile out, the Scorpion signalled her intention to come along side us. By now we could see the red and black “sting tail” flag snapping in the wind and my own complex feelings resurfaced.
“Steady as you go, Mr. Simpkins,” I said softly, clapping a hand on Sparky’s shoulder. He had an iron-hard grip on the wheel. Ahead of us the figurehead froze in place, as was her habit; our secrets were important to us.
“Signal our assent, Yoko,” I shouted “and roll out the starboard guns. Let them know we remember.”
“Say what you like,” muttered Sparky beside me, “them pirate chicks sure can scramble.” And he was right. As the Scorpion came alongside us, her crew moved as one to the commands of their mistress, the jet-haired goddess of chaos and mayhem I could see standing under the main mast. My stomach turned over at the first sight of her and I didn’t bother hiding my grin this time.
“Indeed they can, Mr. Simpkins. Indeed they can.”
As the Scorpion passed close to us, an arrow scythed down from her rigging and embedded itself in our deck. I winced at the thought of it stabbing the Heart, but the figurehead remained obstinately still. From my position beside the helm I could tell there was a note attached to the arrow. Roger spotted it too and scrambled to retrieve it and bring it to me. I detached it, unfolded it and read the words,
I was so sad to part in such circumstances and I’m very happy to have the chance to make it up to you.
Dinner at my place? You can bring some friends if you like.
“Sparky, you can shoot a bow, can’t you?”
“It’s been known, sir,” said Sparky.
“Good. Come about and make another pass,” I turned away and raised my voice, “Roger! Fetch a pen and ink, double time now, boy!”
It was with some satisfaction that I watched my reply slice into the Scorpion’s main sail.
“Oops,” said Sparky, completely deadpan. “Sorry, Captain. Must be a bit rusty.”
“That’s what we’ll tell them anyway. Yoko, the Heart is yours. Roger, Agro, Joe - you’re with me.”
“How is we dressin’ fer dinner, sir?” asked Joe.
“Armed and dangerous.”
“Very good, sir,” he growled.
An hour later we were rowing across to the Scorpion, and once again the mood was grim. I couldn’t blame them, really, and I began to wonder why I’d agreed to this. I knew we were rowing into danger and we had little to gain, except maybe a chance to find out what Captain Red knew. She presented a challenge I couldn’t help but rise to, though. She had me by the ego and she knew it. A rope was hurled down from the Scorpion’s deck and before long we were climbing aboard.
Once on deck we were faced with a crowd of dangerous-looking women, and we had reason to know exactly how deadly they could be. They displayed the same eclectic approach to clothing and weaponry shown by my own crew, with perhaps slightly more genteel tattoos and slightly fewer ragged patches of stubble.
“Captain Stormcrow, welcome!” said a young blonde, wearing a warm smile, various mismatched pieces of leather and about a hundred knives. “The captain was very pleased you could come, and I’m very pleased you brought Joe with you.”
“Evenin’ Ronnie,” said Joe, colouring a little as the lady’s smile broadened and a bawdy chuckle erupted from her comrades. “I’s just accompanyin’ me cap’n, you understand.”
“Oh, it’s ok, Joey. I know you didn’t come for me. Shame though. This way, gentlemen, we’ll be dining with the Captain, of course.”
As if at some predetermined signal, the Scorpion’s crew parted, revealing a path to her cabin door. And there she was, framed in the doorway with the warm glow of candle-light behind her.
“Hey baby,” said Captain Red. “You ready for round two?”