The Happy Couple

It took me a quite a while to locate the Cadabera estate. In fact, a few hours into my search some helpful young men in Cadabera livery turned up to escort me there. I was given to understand that my continued well being was dependent on my going with them.
They led me to a quite charming rose-quartz villa, set in a formal water-garden made from a series of interconnecting fountains and pools, broken up with flower beds and tropical shrubs. my escort marched me past all the splendour and into the house and then demanded that I hand over my sabre and pistols. I didn’t see that I had much choice, at least if I wanted to sort out Jash’s situation, so I unbuckled my belt and handed them over.
“You look after those,” I said with a wink and a grin “we’ve travelled a long way together.”
“Of course, sir. Please go through that door.”
I was shown into a well tended courtyard, where Lord Cadabera was drinking something gold and sparkly from a crystal glass. He was a large, athletic man, handsome, in a severe kind of way. He was dressed in a suit of sky blue silk with detail in yellow, his dark hair tied back in a tight braid. As I approached, his bodyguard withdrew to a discreet distance, but I had no illusions. This man was in no danger from me, at least here and now.
“You are Captain Karl Stormcrow of the Broken Heart, which is incidentally quite safe at the south dock and neither sunk or in flames. My people tell me you were looking for my house. What do you want?” He spoke without any obvious anger, or any emotion at all. I thought this extremely odd, given the passion evident in the damage to Jash’s face.
“I am responsible for Jash, the young man you beat up and dropped in the river this afternoon.”
“In what way are you responsible?”
“I’m his captain.”
“Ah. And you came here because…”
“Jash is concerned for the safety of the Lady Abra,” I said.
“And what business is that of yours?”
“When one’s people fear for their loved ones, one is compelled to act,” I said, trying and failing to find any flicker of recognition in the Lord’s face.
“Really. Forgive me if I am sceptical. What do pirates know of love? Of loyalty? You are cut-throats and thieves, nothing more. What is the scam?”
“There is no scam, sir. If I can simply speak to the lady, so I can convince my crewman she is safe and well, I can be out of your way.”
“Oh you can be gone much quicker than that if I wish it.” He hesitated, making an exaggerated performance of coming to a decision. “No, I don’t think I’ll let you talk to her. She is confined to her rooms and will have no visitors today. You can talk to her tomorrow, when she is placed in the stocks in the town square.”
I was momentarily speechless.
“You mean to do what?”
“That is the prescribed punishment for her crime. It is my right to demand it.”
“But…”
“When one’s people break their sacred promises, one is compelled to act.” His smile reminded me of a cobra I’d seen in the market the day we first saw Lady Abra. “There is one more thing. Jash escaped before I was finished with him. Tell him I will have satisfaction.”
“A duel? No, I will not allow it.”
“Tomorrow at sunset, Jash will come here and we will fight to the death, or I will take your ship. My ships and my soldiers are already in place, believe me you cannot escape. Your crew will be hanged as pirates, and you, Captain, will burn.” For the first time I heard some passion under the practiced control. This was a man who hated to be crossed, and enjoyed killing. He waved me away. “Sunset tomorrow, after he has seen what his antics have earned his lover. Now get out of my house.”

I returned to the Lily and gave Yoko instructions to prepare the Heart to sail, and as darkness fell I returned to the Cadabera villa. I gained entry with judicious use of a blackjack, some silk gags and some lightweight rope. Once all the night-guards were safely out of the way I retrieved my sword and pistols from a cabinet in the study, and began the search for Abra. Two of the guards had been posted outside one particular door, and I’d taken a key from one of them, so I thought it likely that the lady was behind it.
I turned the key and knocked softly before easing the door open. Predictably, she was hiding behind the door, holding something heavy over her head.
“Who are you,” she said in an urgent whisper as I darted out of danger and held up my hands.
“I’m Karl Stormcrow, Jash’s captain,” I said. Even in the darkness, her smile lit up her face.
“Captain Karl, yes, he speaks of you often. I’m sorry I let him get hurt. How is he?”
“He’ll live. You should know you’re not responsible, though.”
“I know,” she closed the door and showed me to a chair. She lit a lamp, turned it down low, and took the seat next to mine. “My Lord’s men?” she asked.
“Unharmed. For the moment they’re tied up in the study.”
Her eyes widened, and her smile returned. “You are a dangerous man, Captain Karl. Why did you come?”
“To offer you a way out.”
“No, sir, I have to stay.”
“I have met your lord, and I know what you and Jash were doing on your barge. You can’t possibly love this man.”
“If I leave he will kill Jash, and all of you as well. I will stay here until you have escaped. Then I will follow you.”
“Actually he’s challenged Jash to a duel.”
“No! Tell Jash he must not!”
“Don’t worry, I will not let him come to harm. Now, I have an important question.”
“Yes?”
“How would you feel about sailing with us?”
“Oh, Captain Karl, I would love to!” she said, almost clapping her hands like a giddy schoolgirl.
“It will be hard work, and dangerous. Life aboard ship is not easy.”
“Do you imagine it is harder than living here?”
“Well, now you put it like that, probably not. The hardships will be different, though. Are you sure you want to do this, for a man you have only known for a few days?”
“I am,” she said, nodding her head and beaming.
“Then we will see you tomorrow. Hang in there, Lady Abra. You’re one of us now.”

Love Hurts

I spent most of the afternoon relaxing in the Gilded Lily. I thought it a good choice for a number of reasons, the interesting view being quite low down on the list. Higher up was the fact that no-one I saw here would want to share that information with anyone, as doing so would place them here as well. Aramine has always been a relatively safe port for us, but one never knows when a pirate ship will have her welcome withdrawn. Being difficult to find is often useful.
This did not extend to my crew, though, who were all aware of exactly where I would be. This ensured that they did not turn up themselves unless they had urgent business that required my attention, and as evening approached and the rum began to arrive more slowly, one such item arrived at the Lily’s discreet entrance.
Yoko half carried Jash into the room, set him down at a table and looked around until his eyes rested on mine. He mimed the need for a drink and I passed the order to the bar-tender.
“Lots of rum and some food, that table over there,” I said, before making my way carefully across the room. Long before I arrived, Jash was surrounded by the inevitable crowd of sympathetic young ladies. I had to make my way through a cloud of perfume and well-filled lace before I could see what had happened.
Young Jash had apparently been used as a punchbag, and a number of powerful chaps had completed quite a tough workout by the look of him. When Yoko told me the beating had been administered by Lord Cadabera himself, with no help from any of his many minions, my stomach turned over.
“Something of a fighter then, this lord.”
“So it would seem, Captain,” said Yoko.
“Something of a psycho too,” I said, taking another look at Jash’s swollen face. “How did he escape?”
“Fell inna water,” said Yoko. “The lady has a pleasure barge on the river, and Jash was helping her put it to it’s stated purpose, Sir. Lord Cadabera … interrupted them.”
“That would explain why he has no pants on,” I said. “I’m sure the ladies could find him some, though?” This received an enthusiastic response and after much debate one of the girls was sent upstairs in search of appropriate clothing. Despite the gravity of the situation I smiled to myself at the thought of the potential results.
Yoko stepped aside to let the bar-tender set a tray down on the table. The conversation was interrupted while Yoko poured everyone a drink, and then persuaded Jash to take his. He swallowed painfully, then turned his puffy gaze to me.
“Sorry, Captain. We was certain he didn’t know.”
“Quiet, lad. You can rest up here for a few days, then we’ll sail and put it all behi-“
“We gotta take her with us, Cap’n,” he said. “Life with that swine will be unbearable after today.”
“It is not an easy thing, to leave one’s home on a pirate ship.”
He ran a hand through his sodden red mane and muscled his body into a more upright position.
“I know, Sir. Will you at least let me give her the choice?”
“And what use will she be to us, Jash? The Heart is not a pleasure barge.”
“If you are not satisfied by her contribution, Captain, I will pay for her passage out of my share.”
“We’re a pirate ship, Jash…”
“Please, Captain. I love her,” he said, as if that should be reason enough.
All eyes were on me for a several minutes while I considered. The ladies here had hard lives, and few romantic illusions, but from the look of them my continued welcome at the Lily was dependant on my giving the right answer. In the end I decided that if a love story was powerful enough to get through to these women, then it was almost certainly real.
“I will ask her what she wants to do. She may come with us, if she makes an informed choice to do so.” I dropped some gold coins on the table. “Yoko, stay here with Jash until I return. Look after Jash and Yoko, please ladies.” I thought for a second and added some more coins to the pile. “I may be some time.”

A Shortage of Watermelons

As promised, I kept the Heart in port for the next few days, but this wasn’t just so that Jash could follow his little head into trouble. I decided that the whole crew could do with a chance to spend some of our hard-won booty on … well I’m sure you get the idea. This was exactly the kind of place a pirate crew dreams of arriving at, especially if their pockets have been heavy and jingling for altogether too long. And, of course, now our business was complete, there was an acquaintance I was looking forward to renewing.
Unlike our chaotic and beautiful home, Aramine has no watermelons, which would be a terrible tragedy if they didn’t have lilies instead. And so it was that I found myself propping up the private bar at the Gilded Lily, where the rum is, legend has it, never, ever gone.
It didn’t take the news very long to reach her. Soon the rustle of silks and the scent of jasmine and sandalwood told me she had descended from her ivory tower.
“Oh my, look what the wind blew in,” said Andi, the owner and proprietor of this particular carefully crafted cliche.
“You always say that,” I said, taking another leisurely pull on the rum bottle in my hand.
“You want original lines, you gotta buy something,” she said, taking the stool next to mine and lifting an eyebrow at the bartender, who began the manufacture of some mysterious cocktail.
“I bought a bottle of rum and a plate full of oysters,” I said.
“You know what I mean, Karl.”
“I like things a little more … complicated. It’s more than a simple transaction for me, as you will remember.”
“So why come here? The drink and the food are not our speciality. Other places do them better.”
“As I tell you every time, I like the atmosphere.”
“Yes, you do say that every time. But, and I’m allowed to say this because I own the place and I did it on purpose, the atmosphere is cheap, tacky …”
“And discreet. Also you always do a bang-up job on my boots.”
“Ah, then you may be disappointed. The boy left a few weeks ago, took ship with one of your lot as it happens, and we’ve had some trouble training his replacement. I’d keep your boots to yourself and have that cute little urchin of yours clean them instead.”
“Roger has better things to do these days.”
“I’m sure he does. Quick boy that one. Now, much as I’d love to spend all evening sparring with you, old friend, you never come here unless you need something, atmosphere or no.”
“Well I did hope you could tell me something about a Lord and Lady Cadabera.”
“Not so much, I’m afraid.”
“Odd, from what I’d heard he likes things simple.”
“He came here once. He was … impolite.” I was wincing inwardly at all the connotations of that word, especially here among the Sisters and at the heart of their covert web of power, when her cocktail arrived. It was pink, and bubbling. Little wisps of steam blew around the surface, and it smelled of cherries.
“I’m not going to ask you what it’s called,” I said.
“Why not?” she said, with a chuckle.
“Because it’s one of those drinks. The kind people only order because they want to say the rude name.”
“Aw go on,” she said, nudging me with her elbow.
I chuckled myself. “No. So he’s a bit of a heel?”
“Nasty is how I’d put it. Lucky for everyone he never came back. You’d be surprised how many of them think they hold all the cards, but not him.”
“Which makes him clever as well.”
“Guess so.” She shrugged. “So what did he do to you?”
“Absolutely nothing.”
“Pull the other one. You’re working up to ruin his day, I can tell. You don’t do that for shits and giggles, Karl.”
“One of my lads has fallen for his lady.”
“How hard?”
“Like a concrete unicorn.”
“Ouch. OK, I’ll see what I can find out. You ok for the hard stuff?”
“Just tell the kid to keep it coming,” I said, setting the empty bottle on the bar. “And keep your eye out for a green and blue parrot.She seems to get lost every time we come here.”
“I remember. Don’t worry, you’re among friends here.”

Off the market

It was, as I remember, a beautiful summer evening in Aramine market. The air was alive with exotic music and the scent of spices, it had been weeks since we’d seen any sign of the Scorpion and I was enjoying myself immensely. The same could not be said for Gordo, the cloth trader, whose beard appeared to be trying to strangle him whenever I named a price.
“Karl, please, I have wives and children to feed.”
“I’m asking a fair price and you know it, Gordo,” I said, “And I’ll take my business elsewhere if you don’t stop wasting my time.”
At the entrance to the merchant’s tent, Jash clicked his tongue, indicating that something was happening. Jash was one of the more accomplished and adventurous of the Broken Heart’s crew, and he was here because he had the right balance of level-head and ready-blade. He ducked his head inside the tent, his hair a shock of red, like flames against the sun-bleached canvas.
“Guardsmen, Cap’n. Comin’ this way, all purposeful like.”
“Anything you want to tell me, Gordo?” I asked, dropping my hand casually so it rested close to my pistols and my cutlass.
“It’s just a lady’s escort,” he said, feigning impatience, though I could see the panic in his eyes. “Lady Cadabera is to collect an order this afternoon. She’s a little early, that’s all. However, it would not do for her to find me in conversation with pirates. Her husband is an important man.”
Reluctantly, I left my silks in Gordo’s dubious care and ducked under the back of his tent, so as to avoid embarrassing him in front of the lady. I trusted that Jash would have the good sense to make himself equally scarce, but as I made my way back to the street I discovered that something terrible had happened. Jash had moved away from the guardsmen, like any sensible criminal would, but he had remained close enough to get a look at the lady in question, and now he stood on the other side of the street, a stunned smile plastered onto his young, windburned features.
“Did you see her, Cap’n?” he breathed as I approached.
“I didn’t as it happens,” I said, somewhat concerned.
“All the better for me then, sir.”
“You do understand she’s a married woman?”
“You mean she belongs to someone else, like? Like those silks did?” There was something hard and unreasonable, almost accusatory, in his voice.
“Actually I meant that she’s made promises to another man, presumably on purpose. I don’t expect she’s free to dally with pirates, even if she were inclined.” I watched Jash mentally dismount his high horse and settle down a bit, but I was not reassured. When usually sensible young men started talking like that it was a sign of more nonsense to come. I resolved to get Jash back onboard the Heart as soon as possible, once our business here was concluded.
There was a coffee house a short distance down the crowded lane and we claimed a spot on the benches outside it while we waited for the lady to be on her way. The coffee was a welcome change, spiced with cinnamon and chocolate to counterpoint it’s bite and I was once again in a chipper mood when the Lady Cadabera floated past, surrounded once again by a squad of grimly determined and heavily armed guards. My first impression was that she was a pretty little thing, olive-skinned and dark haired like her countrymen, her painted face and flowing white dress accentuating her birdlike fragility. As she passed close to us I fancied her expression was more thoughtful that I expected, but it was only a fleeting glimpse and I may have been wrong.
Once again, Jash was struck as if by lighting and he stared after her in a most obscene display of romantic frustration. I flatter myself that I can recognise the signs in others, having been struck myself with such predictable regularity.
“Come on, sailor, we have business to conclude.”
“Please, Cap’n,” he said, falling into step with me, “she looks so sad.”
“You can’t possibly know she’s unhappy. You haven’t even spoken to her.”
“Just let me take a closer look. If she’s happily married I’ll walk away without a word. I’ll be happy to, if she’s happy.”
“Ok, Jash, we’ll stay in port for a few days while you poke around. But when you discover, as you inevitably will, that she’s desperately bored and unfulfilled and a virtual prisoner of her wealthy tyrant husband, what do you think you can do about it?”
“I don’t know, sir,” he said, “I’ll just have to think of something.”
And because I had some idea what the kid was going through, I left it at that. It took very little time to finish up with Gordo, who had sold our silks to the lady for roughly double what we’d been asking for them and was in no mood to argue for longer than necessary. I gave him back a little of his gold in return for information about the lady.
“Her name is Abra,” he said, “And she’s a lovely young thing, clever too. I know you, Karl, and she’s a married woman and one of my best customers. I’m telling you now, don’t you go making trouble for her now.”
“Abra?” I said, “Lady Abra Cadabera? Really?”
“Is she happy?” blurted Jash, and Gordo caught up. His wrinkled face softened in sympathy under his shaggy beard.
“Ah, I see. I’d like to tell you she is, kid. I’d like to see you sail away an’ leave her be, but it isn’t my place to make that choice. I can’t see how she could be, since her husband is so terribly bad at serving the drinks, if you know what I mean.”
“Of course he is” I said with a sigh. “And what else can you tell us about this rotten bar-steward?”

Party's Over

“Agro! Stop!” I shouted from my position behind a pile of overturned furniture. My words cut through the fog of battle this time, and he stopped failing around. He dropped the tattered remains of his chair and his arms went limp.
“Sorry, Cap’n,” he rumbled, shamefaced.
“Not at all,” I said, as everyone else emerged from the wreckage, “looks like you saved us again, Agro.” Roger had the presence of mind to retrieve Captain Red’s pistols, which he handed to me.
“You’re still on my ship, Stormcrow,” said Red, with surprising calm. She looked around the remains of her cabin. “Well, I suppose I should have expected something like this. You understand I had to try,” she said, helping Ronnie back to her feet.
“I’m sorry, Cap’n,” said Agro, more desperately, starting to sway a little, “I’m sorry I spoiled the lovely dinner, but they was trying to get the treasure they was-”
“It’s ok, Agro,” I said, clapping his shoulder and looking him in the eye. “I’m not angry, my friend. You did well.”
“Treasure you say?” said Red, triumphantly.
“Oh please what else would we be looking for?”
“Yes, but this far east, and this close to the Forgotten Isles … you’ve found Green-Beard’s map.”
“And what if we have?”
“Let us join you. We can help you get it,” she said, eyes alight with excitement.
“We’ve been here before. As I remember it doesn’t end well.”
“As I said a moment ago, you’re still on my ship. My crew are right outside. You won’t make it back to the Heart unless I let you go.”
“Roger, I said, tucking her pistols into my belt “tell the nice lady why she’s going to let us go.”
“Do you know what a limpet mine is, Ma’am?” asked Roger with an apologetic smile. “They’re a terrible weapon what we picked up years ago in the far west. They’re a kind of sticky bomb what works under water. Well anyway, while we’ve been eatin’ your marvellous food, Doc and some of the lads have been planting them on the Scorpion’s hull. An’ if I’m not back on board the Heart before sunrise they’ll assume the worst and blow this ship out of the water.”
“Why you?” she asked, suspiciously.
“Because if the cap’n or Joe was late it might be because they got … distracted, an’ Agro sometimes can’t remember his own name. But the only explanation for me not gettin’ back is foul play. That’s why the cap’n brought me, Ma’am.”
“And what if you were imprisoned in my brig when the bombs went off?” she asked, working through the idea.
“We’d survive it and escape,” I said, “We always do.”
She nodded her beautiful head and smiled sadly, defeated. “You’re good, Karl. You’re very good.”
“That’s very nice to hear, my dear, such a shame we have to leave. You were pretty damn special yourself, as I remember.”
“You understand we’ll do all we can to beat you to the treasure.”
“It’ll take you days to find all the mines, and believe me you don’t want to follow me with them still attached to your ship.”
“This is not over, Karl,” she said through her teeth.
“I’d be disappointed if it was. Shall we?”



“But we ain’t got no limpet mines,” said the Doc when I told him the story. “How did young Roger even remember about them?”
“He says he was terrified by the idea of them and he thought they’d scare Captain Red as well. Luckily for us all he was right. Good lad is Roger. Quick under pressure. We should make better use of him, I think.”
“Maybe so,” said the Doc in a distracted tone, “but why are we sailing south?”
I sat behind my desk and opened a large leather tome. “Because the silks we stole from that Senufi trader will sell extremely well in Aramine. We have some other booty that will go well there, as I’m sure you are aware.”
“But the treasure…”
“Will still be there when we’ve finished in Aramine, and by then the Scorpion will be elsewhere causing trouble for someone else.”
“But what if someone else gets there first. There are items in that treasure that I must have, Captain.”
“The treasure has remained hidden for more than a century, and we have the only copy of the map, Doc. I promise you, we have time.”
“I hope you’re right,” he said darkly.
“I am. Now, at what range can the Heart detect another ship?”
That depends on the weather, Captain, Came the Broken Heart’s voice, reverberating up through my boots. But I will look out for the Scorpion. We will not be taken unawares.
“Very good,” I said with a sigh.
Do not worry, Captain. The lady is far from finished with you. Mark my words.

Captain Red

I watched the thoughts crawl their way sluggishly across Agro’s craggy features. They were easy to recognise, being simple and basic as the man himself. I saw nothing but the childlike bliss of a hungry man eating good food, so I decided it was probably safe to cut into my own steak. A quick glance at Roger told me he’d had the same idea, waiting for the big guy to eat first. Joe on the other hand was too busy avoiding eye contact with the beautiful and persistent Veronica Blade to worry about whether his food was safe. At the head of the table, Captain Red had also noticed our caution and was, outwardly at least, extremely amused.
“Really, Karl, if I wanted you dead I’d have killed you months ago, when you were tied to my bed,” she said, green eyes sparkling in the candlelight. An image flashed into my mind, of dark hair and pale skin on white satin sheets after too many watermelon cocktails. Then I remembered what came next, and my grin faded away.
I swallowed and reached for my wine, which was also extremely good. I wondered how she managed a meal like this so many weeks’ sailing away from anything resembling a farm.
“There are worse things than dead, my dear,” I said, not quite feeling the nonchalant tone.
“Aw, and you don’t trust me any more?”
“I never did, that was half the fun.”
“Pirates,” she muttered, rolling her eyes. “You imagine a fate worse than death and you still turn up and drink my wine.”
“It’s good wine,” I said with what I hoped was a disarming smile. I drained my glass and reached for the bottle.
“So if you don’t want to play with me anymore, why did you come?”
“Who said I didn’t want to play? No decisions have been made at this point,” I said, ignoring the intake of breath from Roger and Joe. “Right now I’m just trying to find out what the game is.”
“Ah, I see. You’re here to find out what I want. Ok, here it is. You’re into something, Karl, and I want to know what it is.”
I was somewhat taken aback. Even though she was only telling me what I already knew, this kind of honestly, to openly admit what she didn’t know, was almost against the rules. I felt my mind instinctively leap to the obvious conclusion, trying to work out what the real scam was, but I didn’t have enough to go on.
“I’m sorry, Karl, did I say something wrong?”
“He’s wondering what you’re really up to, Ma’am,” said Roger, leaning across the table and helping himself to more potatoes. “Reckon the rest of us are too,” he said, “‘sept maybe Agro. Agro don’t wonder about very much, to be honest.”
“Look I don’t understand why we can’t all be friends. I know Ronnie would like that, wouldn’t you?”
“Yes, Cap’n,” said Veronica, grinning and leaning closer to Joe. “I’d like that very much.”
“I was prepared to, as you say, be friends,” I said, “I was prepared to give you the benefit of whatever doubt a buccaneer flag allows us, and then you betrayed us, took the prize and left us drugged and drifting in the middle of the Eastern Ocean. It was a miracle my ship found us at all. What’s friendly about that?”
“They didn’t kill us, Cap’n,” rumbled Agro between fistfuls of burnt meat, “Left us alive, gave us a chance. S’dangerous wiv a man like you. Gotta count for sumink.”
Red raised a shapely eyebrow at me.
“He does have a point,” she said. “It would certainly have been safer to kill you. And look at you, you did ok. Here you are, no worse for wear, still in command … you have a lot to be thankful for.”
“But if you’d killed me you wouldn’t be able to steal my stuff again, would you? Where’s the fun in that?”
Red leaned forward and looked deep into my eyes. “Why don’t we just skip to the bit where you tell me what you’re here for so we can break out the rum and get the party started?”
“Cap’n they got rum, an’ it ain’t gone!,” said Roger. I could see the same thoughts echoed on the faces of Joe and Agro.
I stood up. “I’m sorry, Red, I really am. But I’m not going to tell you what we came for. You’ll have to work that out for yourself. Come on, lads, while we can still row home.”
“And what makes you think I’ll just let you leave?” said Red, still wearing that infuriating, sultry smile.
“Because my crew isn’t like yours.”
“Hey!” cried Veronica.
“Sorry, Ronnie. What I mean is that my crew won’t abandon me and bugger off with my ship at the first sign of weakness. My crew will stay here and fight to free me, Red, you know they will. And you can’t outfight the Broken Heart. You’ve known that since we met. That’s why you had to trick us.”
“Well, mostly it was more fun to trick you, but I get your point. Thing is, though,” said Captain Red, lifting a pair of pistols from their place under her chair and pointing one at me and the other at Roger, “I also know what your crew is like, and I expect we have several days before their faith in their legendary captain wavers. Long as we don’t sail away they’ll assume the four of you are … entertaining me and my crew. You’ll tell me what I want to know long before they come looking for you.”
Joe was frozen and sitting bolt upright, his posture and stillness left no doubt about where Ronnie’s blade was resting. I nodded slowly, playing for time, watching Agro with my peripheral vision as he caught up, stopped eating and realised no-one had a weapon on him. I dived for cover as he lifted his chair, and a breath later Red fired, narrowly missing both me and my cabin boy, and then the air filled with splinters and screaming as Agro overturned the table and started hitting stuff.

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,

Dearest Karl

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.

Missed you,

Red.


“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?”

The Game is Afoot

After narrowly avoiding involvement in a “three wishes” story, and believe me when I say that granting wishes for a pirate crew is an activity designed to end badly for everyone, we sailed north with all speed. I hoped we were leaving the Forgotten Isles behind, but it’s always perilously difficult to be certain of such things. Storyland’s oceans will take a sailor where they will, and all a captain can really do is set a course and cross his fingers. One never really knows what exotic and deadly entertainment may be about to cross one’s path.
The morning after we left what the crew would forever call “Timbers Island”, I took tea with the figurehead as the sun rose out of the water on our starboard side. I drank with my hands curled around my mug, enjoying its warmth, and the Heart copied me, though I know she doesn’t feel the cold. As she lowered the oversized “world’s best ship” mug the crew had given her, a thought occurred to me.
“If you don’t mind me asking my dear,” I said, “where does the tea go when you drink it?”
She shrugged her naked, wooden shoulders, red hair whipping about in the wind. “You’d have to ask the Doc,” she said in her musical voice. “All I know is it feels nice as it goes down,” she cocked her head as if listening. “Something’s happening.”
“What?” I said, gulping the last of my tea and setting the mug down on the deck.
“Young Roger is scrambling down from the crow’s nest.”
“But he hasn’t called an alarm. Hmmm.” I knew this wasn’t good. My cabin boy was a quick lad, and a capable student. If he’d seen something and failed to call out it was because he wanted me to know before the crew.
I watched with some admiration and amusement as the boy slid down the main mast, landed lightly on the deck, took a deep breath and sauntered nonchalantly towards the bow.
“Morning, Roger,” I said as he approached.
“Mornin’ Cap’n,” he replied, looking around to check for prying ears.
“Can I help you?”
“Sails to the north, sir.”
“And what makes them special, Roger? Why didn’t you just call out?”
He smiled nervously, “Pink sails, sir,” he said, dropping his voice.
“Ah. Very good, Roger. Take an extra ration of rum.”
“The rum’s gone, sir,” he said, a puzzled look on his young face. “The rum’s always gone, sir.”
I nodded. “We must find another way to reward your quick thinking then. Tell Yoko to meet me in my cabin as soon as possible, then you may go about your work.”
“Yes, sir.” He took the two empty mugs from the deck and scrambled away. I turned back to the figurehead. She’d retrieved, from whichever mysterious place she keeps such things, an ornately carved spy-glass. She lifted it to her face and squinted through it.
“He’s right, pink sails, and lots of guns. It’s the Scorpion alright.”
By now I was looking north through my own spy-glass, though all I could make out was a vague pink blur on the horizon.
“You’re sure it’s them?”
“Of course, Captain.”
I felt my stomach turn over at this news. My feelings about the Scorpion, and particularly about her captain, have always been somewhat complicated.
“Yoko is waiting for you, Captain,” said the ship. “He’s quite nervous, I think.”


As I made my way across the main deck, Polly fluttered down from the rigging to take her habitual place on my shoulder.
“You’re grinning,” she said, flapping her green and blue wings as she settled.
“No I’m not.”
“Yes you are. You’ve seen the other ship, haven’t you?”
“Sort of … not really, but luckily both Roger and the Broken Heart have better eyes than me.”
“And you’re going after her?”
“No doubt she is also looking for Green-Beard’s treasure. Why else would two pirate ships be in the same waters?”
“Why indeed,” said Polly, dryly, almost rolling her eyes, “but that isn’t what I meant and you know it. You’re hoping for more watermelon cocktails with Captain Red aren’t you?”
“What will be will be,” I said, allowing my grin to broaden.
“She can’t be trusted, you know,” said Polly, though her heart clearly was’t in it.
“I know,” I deadpanned. “She’s a pirate. I can’t really hold that against her, can I?”
“I’m not doing that joke, Captain,” said Polly, sternly.
“Fair enough.”
“And frankly you should be ashamed of yourself.”
“I frequently am,” I said, still grinning.



Yoko Geri, my first mate, was waiting for me in my chart-room, his huge grey beard looking even more bushy than normal, chewing nervously on on apple, no doubt recently purloined from the fruit bowl on my desk. I didn’t mind - we had acquired a great surplus of fruit during our stay on Timbers Island.
“Good morning, Yoko. I trust young Roger filled you in?”
“He did indeed, Captain,” said Yoko.
“The crew will find out shortly,” I said, sitting down at my desk as Polly fluttered over to her perch in the corner of the room. “Someone will recognise the Scorpion from those damnable pink sails. I want you to make sure there is no embarrassing debacle this time.”
“But, sir, it’s a ship of lady pirates! Ladies what get it, sir. Ladies what is strong and tough as the lads is themselves. Ladies what can sail an’ fight an’ drink an’ swear like … like … like pirates, sir! You can’t blame the lads for bein’ a little confused when we’re up against a thing like that.”
“I get it, Yoko, believe me I do,” I said, ignoring Polly’s derisive squark. I really did get it. An image of Captain Nikki “Red” Robertson and her glorious flashing blade came, unbidden, to my mind. Now there was a woman who knew how to buckle her swash… “But it doesn’t matter. We are the Broken Heart, Damn it! We are the best sodding pirate crew Storyland has ever seen and it will take more to beat us than thigh-length boots and a spot of perfume, do you understand me, Yoko?”
“I do, sir. I’ll do what I can, sir.”
“Very good. The Scorpion’s sails are on the northern horizon, which means they’re ahead of us.”
“You think they’re after the treasure as well, sir?”
“I don’t think there can be much doubt about that, do you?”
Yoko thought about it for a few seconds.
“Reckon you’re right, sir. That might help the lads keep their mind on the job.”
“I think that might be a bit optimistic.” I said.
“I don’t know, pirates love gold as much as they love … well y’know, sir.”
“And when pirates get gold, what’s the first thing they spend it on?”
“Rum, sir,” said Yoko without hesitation.
“And when the rum is gone?”
“Ah. I see what you mean, sir. Well, maybe the thought of rum will help.”
“Maybe it will. Get it done, Yoko. I want us close enough to signal before nightfall, and there will be no ridiculous displays, from any of us. This is a deadly rival we are approaching, and the crew will remember that.”
“They will at that, sir,” said Yoko as he left.


A few hours later, when Roger brought in my lunch, I was poring over my charts, such as they were. “Ah thank you, Roger, set it down over there. How is Cook doing with the new supplies?”
“Enjoyin’ himself a little too much as usual, sir, but don’ worry I gave his concoction to the cat. You got my mackerel sandwich, sir.”
“You’re a legend, Roger, thank you. Help yourself to fruit and chocolate if you like. I’m sure he’ll settle down once we’ve been at sea for a few more days. While you’re here, come and take a look at this.” I stepped aside, eager to see if he could put it together.
He went to the treasure map first, noting how I’d folded it so the faded coastline fitted into a gap in the larger chart. Then he looked at where I’d marked our position, and that of the Scorpion.
“They don’t know about the treasure, sir,” he said at length.
“Explain.”
“Well, assuming you’ve charted their position correctly, and I’d be surprised if the Heart let you get that wrong, then they’re headed in the wrong direction. It’s subtle, but if they had a copy of the map they’d be about here,” he said, placing his finger on the chart, a few inches east.
“And what conclusion can you draw from this?”
“Well it’s just a guess, sir, but it’s possible that they knew we was into somethin’ and they was following us. Then we got stuck at Timbers Island and they got ahead of us, and now they’re pokin’ about lookin’ for whatever we was after, sir.”
“Well done, boy,” I said, “That’s what I thought as well.”
Captain. said the voice of the Broken Heart, reverberating through the deck and the walls.
“Yes, my dear?”
I believe the Scorpion has come about.
“Really?”
Yes, Captain. They are sailing towards us. We’ll be in range of their long guns in less than an hour.
“Oh I don’t think they’ll want to sink us, at least not yet. Roger, go fetch Yoko and the Doc, quick now. The game is afoot!”

The Captain's Blog is coming!

The first issue of The Captain’s Blog, written by Captain Karl Stormcrow of the Broken Heart, will be available tomorrow! Watch this space!