Calico Jack watched in defeat as Bonny went up the stairs to his captain's quarters and the three of them vanished within.
He looked back across the water at the
for a glimpse of his last remaining hope and saw nothing.
I raced through the dark galley toward the crates packed along the wall. They were sealed and I had to pry them loose with my fingers, ignoring the splinters and rusted nails holding them together as I tore their lids off. Just as I'd figured, they were the cannonball stores. I hoisted the heavy metal balls out of the crate one at a time and unplugged them, turning them upside down to sprinkle their black powder out along the galley floor in long rows.
I lugged the balls back and forth from one end of the ship to the other until I could not walk without kicking up find black clouds of powder dust.
The balls were cast iron, and by the time I reached the stairs, my chest was heaving. I shuffled with one ball under each arm and shook them out on the staircase, stopping just below the light of the deck where I could hear the men manning the cannons talking back and forth. To my horror, one of the men said, "Hand me my pipe."
The sound of his match striking the tinder box was louder than thunder as I pictured him discarding the thing at his feet and it slipping through boards to land below and blow the entire galley to pieces.
I darted down the steps as quickly as I could and grabbed the last two remaining cannonballs, just as the man above me finally got his pipe lit and said, "Nothing like a good smoke to go with a bit of raping an' pillaging, aye?"
His lit match came floating down through the slats, a small glare of light in the darkness as it descended.
The weight of the balls in my arms did not matter.
My aching legs and back did not matter. I took the steps two at a time, desperate to get up from the explosive tomb and burst onto the
deck with a cannonball under each arm.
pipe fell out of the man's jaws when he saw me, "Who the bloody hell are you?"
dropped both cannonballs at his feet and said, "You forgot these!"
By the time h
e realized they were both leaking black powder onto his shoes, it was too late. I turned and sprinted as fast as I could across the deck for the portside and leapt into the air, arms and legs fully extended like a human harpoon as the first explosion blew out the
stern. Burning boards and whole sections of the ship rocketed me over the rail and flung me into the ocean's dark, watery embrace.
Calico Jack drew his cutlass at the first explosion and rammed it through Jerome's back, making him squeal like a wounded animal as he collapsed on the stairs leading up to the captain's perch. Flaming cannonballs blew out the sides of the
, and as its crew turned in horror at the sight of their ship going down, the
Ace of Spades
crew grabbed any weapon they could find and attacked.
drove the larger group back to the to the hull wall with swords and daggers and wooden planks and empty bottles, forcing them to either fight or be tossed backwards into the burning embers of their ship that lay scattered on the sea.
Calico Jack kicked Jerome out of his way and sent him tumbling down the stairs, but stopped midway as Captain Barto Morris threw the door to the captain's quarters and came
out wearing only in a pair of trousers and wielding a long, wickedly curved scimitar. He ignored the sight of his burning ship and said, "That woman is everything they say she is and more."
Calico Jack pointed his
cutlass at Morris's throat, "It is good that you enjoyed your last moments on Earth, old son. Your ship is gone, by the by, and soon you shall join her." As he spoke, there was another explosion, more deafening than before, that cracked the ship's main deck in half and left it sinking in upon itself. He smirked at Morris, "Did you forget to turn anything off before you left? A lantern, perhaps?"
Morris shrugged and said, "I will make better use of this one.
It will remind me of you when you rest at the bottom of the sea."
Calico Jack rushed up the stairs at him, swinging his
cutlass wildly to Morris back from the edge. Their swords sparked as they crashed together, the scimitar's fine Asian steel bouncing off of the cutlass's sturdy cupped hilt made from sturdy English metal. Morris was forced back enough that Calico Jack gained the common ground of the perch with him, but retreated around the steering wheel's podium, keeping it between them.
"You boarded the wrong boat, mate," Calico Jack snarled.
Barto Morris peeked down at where his men were now fighting back and said, "I wouldn't be so sure of that."
Ann Bonny appeared at the doorway of the captain's quarters with a flintlock pistol. She cocked back the hammer and aimed it squarely at Barto Morris's stomach, "I would."
Calico Jack glanced sideways at her and said, "I was hoping you'd decide to join in, love.
I assume the captain here was none too rough with you."
Bonny rolled her eyes, "He got one good squeeze in of me bare bubbies an' finished in his pants before they even came off."
"You lying bitch!" Morris roared. He spun toward the doorway and sliced, the edge of his scimitar whistling as it cut through the air toward Bonny's face faster than she could aim. Her one shot shattered the scimitar's blade to pieces, causing Morris to clutch his bleeding hand and scream.
A second gun barked
and Captain Barto Morris lurched forward as blood spilled out of his mouth and he toppled to the base of the steering column. Calico Jack looked down at Morris's dead form and nodded approvingly, "Excellent shooting, both of you."
Bonny and Read both emerged from his quarters and tossed their smoking guns on the floor.
Together, they drew their swords and raced down the steps to join the fray, the sound of their victorious cries and steel-on-steel ringing out louder than their opponent's screams.
Calico Jack inched toward Morris's body and toed him gently, prodding him to see if he was really and truly dead.
Satisfied, he sighed and said, "I told you, you picked the wrong boat, mate. On the
Ace of Spades,
it's the women who are the deadly ones."
They fished me out of the water a half-mile away, washed up on rocks around the southeastern bend of the island. "You're lucky the sharks didn't feast on you," Fat Matt said as he picked me up and lowered me into the cockboat. He poured fresh water into my mouth and rubbed some into my face to help me awaken. "You done us proud, lad. You done us real, real proud." he said.
It was the first time I'd ever heard him say anything complimentary, and he remained quiet for the rest of the ride back for fear of letting anything else like it slip out.
I saw the remaining crew of the
collecting wooden beams from their destroyed ship out of the water and stacking them along the beach. Our men inspected the pieces for their fitness to serve as material to fix the holes in the
Ace of Spades'
hull. Calico Jack was standing at the water's edge, his hair pulled back under a black scarf and his loose white shirt open to his navel. He looked at me coming toward him in the boat and smiled with relief. "I knew we'd find you eventually, my boy," he said. "Of course, I wasn't sure if you'd be all in the same spot when we did." He walked into the water to help me out of the boat and stood me up to inspect me, "There you are, Mister Fawkes. No worse for the wear as far as I can tell."
"I'm glad to see you as well, captain.
How many men did we lose?"
"Six, all told," he said.
He looked at the
crew and said, "Luckily, this lot had no real loyalty to Morris. I only had to make them a simple offer to obtain their services to us."
I watched the men walking back and forth from the water with heavy armfuls of wet lumber.
"What did you offer them?" I said.
The chance to join our crew and not being tortured to death." He clapped his hand on my shoulder and embraced me, "You saved us all, you know. It was a remarkable thing you did."
"A man fights with his crew.
That's all I did," I said.
"Aye, and you did it remarkably well!
Listen, go up to my quarters and get some rest. Help yourself to anything you like. Tonight, we have important matters to discuss."
Everyone called out in greetings to me as I climbed aboard the
Ace of Spades
, jostling with me playfully to welcome me back. Every firm hug made my bruised body ache, but I smiled as broadly as I could and refused to show how much pain I was in. "That's enough, that's enough," a woman's voice said, cutting through the crowd to pull me away. "Give the poor lad some room to breathe, he's only just been blown up and drowned near to death."
It took me a moment to recognize Read, with large golden hoops in her ears and her shirt tied
above her naval to show off her flat stomach. She was dressed in women's boots and her sword belt and pistol hung low on her lips. For the first time, she actually looked quite pretty.
She led me to the stairs toward the captain's perch and said, "Go on up there and get your rest."
"Thank you, Miss Read.
You nearly look lovely, by the way."
"Piss off," she said.
As I turned away from her she said, "One last thing, Fawkes?"
"Yes, Miss Read?"
"We're all glad you ain't dead. Even me."
I chuckled as I walked past the steering wheel and opened the door to the captain's quarters.
It was dark and smelled vaguely of incense. There were maps and scrolls piled on his table and an assortment of books inside a glass case along the wall. Mementos from Calico Jack's travels filled the room, including oddities such as shrunken heads and raw gemstones larger than my fist. His long brass looking glass and an assortment of weapons were pegged to the opposite wall, including the hilt of a long, curved scimitar that had once belonged to Captain Barto Morris.
I walked over to that wall for a closer look when I heard someone say, "Did the explosion
leave you blinded, Mister Fawkes, or am I simply not worth noticing?"
I spun around to see Ann Bonny lying on the Captain's bed, dressed in nothing but a long golden necklace that draped between her breasts as she leaned on her elbow.
On the island, it had been dark and her body had been cast in shadows, but to see her naked in the daylight, all of her body's curves and delightful crevices in plain view, was enough to bring me to a complete stop.
"You are most certainly worth noticing, Miss Bonny," I finally said.
"The captain said you were to come in here and rest," she said, "but you look somewhat wound up."
She rolled over on her back and folded her hands behind her head, watching my expression as she parted her legs. "I was thinking we might need to tire you out a bit."
I pulled my shirt over my head and dropped my trousers to climb into the bed with her.
She took my face in both hands and kissed me gently on the lips. "I was terrified when you jumped from the mast," she whispered.
"I thought that you'd decided to
spend the rest of your life ignoring me after yesterday," I said.
She kissed me again
and said, "Listen to me. Someday I will have my fill of the sea and disappear in the night to go marry some stuffy old businessman who has no idea where I've been or what I've done. I will change my name and never been seen or heard from again. I cannot afford to show any particular affection for anyone aboard the ships I serve on. That is the price I pay for being free. Do you understand?"
"No," I said.
Bonny laughed lightly and touched her forehead to mine, "Honest to a fault, as usual. It will all make sense eventually, I promise. But trust me when I say that I do notice. And I was terrified."
"I suppose I was luckier than I realize."
"I told you," she said.
"Told me what?"
"That if someone kissed your tackle before you departed, it would bring you luck."
I frowned, "Do you suppose I used up all of that luck?"
Her eyes knitted together mischievously, "Why, Mr. Fawkes, are you suggesting I should kiss it again?"
down on my back and said, "Well, just to be on the safe side, I suppose."
Bonny lowered her head and lifted my
cock with her fingers to brush its tip against her puckered lips. She kissed it up and down along the shaft and just as she opened her mouth to take it within, she said, "Then you are about to be the luckiest pirate who ever sailed these seas."
I looked up at the decorative rafters of the captain's quarters and sighed, feeling quite lucky indeed.
It was sunset and the sea reflected amber and crimson lights that appeared to make everything glow. The ship was lined with small candles that led down the steps from the captain's perch and formed a path toward where the crew was assembled on the deck in ranks. I stood in the middle with the other mates, behind all of the others who were senior to me, but still in front of the men brought over from the
came out of his quarters dressed in his finest attire, a black jacket of crushed velvet and bright silver buttons, boots made of reptile leather, and a fresh white feather stuck in his hat. He'd decorated his left ear with a silver hoop earring and tied a bright red scarf around his neck. All of the crew stood at attention as he descended and came to look over the men and women in the front line for inspection. He stopped in front of Fat Matt and said, "Mister Fat, how stands the ship?"
"Repairs are completed, captain.
We are ready to set sail at your orders."
And how did the new members of our crew perform?"
"Most admirably, sir."
Calico Jack looked past him at the men standing behind me and nodded approvingly. "Before we set sail, I have some orders of business to attend to. Please call forth Mister Read."
The very-female Read stepped forward nervously and said, "I suppose there's no need to add the 'Mister' in front of me name anymore, sir."
"So what is it then?" Calico Jack said.
"Mary," she said, cocking an eyebrow threateningly at the rest of us, in case we were planning on making a joke.
"Then please step forward, Mary Read," the captain said. He waited for her to come in front of him, and he folded his hands behind his back as he looked her in the eyes, "Your deception is unprecedented on any ship I've ever served on, but it ultimately proved to be quite useful. For bravery under duress and self-sacrifice, I am promoting you to Sail Master. Henceforth, you will be in charge of navigating this ship."
opened her mouth to speak but nothing came out. It was clear she was grappling to keep from smiling. "Thank you, Captain," she finally managed.
, Miss Read," he said. He looked at Fat Matt and said, "Call forth Miss Bonny."
Ann Bonny stepped out of line and walked up to stand beside Read.
Calico Jack stood before her and said, "Few in the history of piracy have demonstrated such aptitude with all of the weapons at their disposal, nor such a willingness to use them. For the rest of our journeys, you will be this ship's Master Gunner, responsible not only for ensuring the safety of our crew, but also for blasting the living hell out of any who dare approach us."
Miss Bonny nodded and said, "I look forward to it,
"I am certain you do," he said.
He turned to face the crew and screwed up his face in a look of concern. "Due to recent events, we have been left with several vacancies. Sadly, our ship's Quartermaster did not survive the attacks. As you know, it is the Quartermaster's responsibility to protect the interests of each member of the crew and act as the arbiter of fairness. I can think of no other person better qualified to do so than Mister Fat. What say you, Mister Fat?"
Fat Matt clicked his heels together and puffed out his chest, "I say I'd be glad to do it, captain."
They looked at one another knowingly for a moment before the captain said, "But then who will act as First Mate?" He walked past the crew one by one, looking them up and down, "Who will I trust to be my second-in-command? A man with the courage and spirit to lead my own crew, which I hold so dear. A man willing to risk anything to protect this ship. Where will I ever find such a man?"
Calico Jack scanned the crewmembers faces until finally his eyes fell on me and he said, "Ah, there he is."
He smiled at me, silver-lined teeth flashing as he summoned me to come and stand by his side.
"Will you, Gerard Fawkes, accept the responsibilities I entrust in you as First Mate of the
Ace of Spades
? Will you learn to act as a captain should and remain vigilant to defend her honor and increase her bounty?"
My legs felt numb as I walked and I found that I had no voice with which to speak.
My words came out in a muttered jumble, until I was finally able to nod and say, "Yes, captain, of course."
"Good!" he said briskly, "Everyone is dismissed, then."
His shoulders settled as if he had let go of a great weight and he said, "Now, get us off this bloody island and set a course."
"Set a course for where, exactly, sir?" I said.
He shrugged and said, "Somewhere with wine, women and song, I suppose. And riches. Lots and lots of riches."
I looked at Read and said, "Sail Master, make ready to depart."
"Aye, sir," she said.
She looked at the crew and shouted, "Get to work, you lazy dogs! Man your stations, let's go, look sharp!"
Ann Bonny walked past the captain and said, "If you two will excuse me, I have to go play with
some rather heavy balls and get them ready to shoot if the occasion arises."
We both watched her go down the stairs and I said, "So, what is my first lesson in being a true captain then?
Always treat the crew as you'd expect to be treated? Plunder only the corrupt and show mercy to those who ask for it?"
Calico Jack cocked an eyebrow at me and said, "That all sounds right.
Let's start with that."
haven't any actual lessons for me, do you?" I said.
"I make it up as I go along, mostly," he said.
"It has gotten us this far."
I turned and looked out at the sea in all of its wild, untamed glory.
Who knew what treasures and adventures awaited?
Calico Jack leaned close to me and said, "He'll be proud of you when he sees the man you've become,
lad. Quite proud indeed."
I was about to ask him who as he turned to walk back up to his quarters when I realized he'd meant my father.
That's if he were alive, I decided. Holed up in some unknown port, drinking his fill, waiting for word of his son. Perhaps the best way to bring him that word was to become famous enough that my face would soon appear beside a man such as Calico Jack's. "That's my boy," I pictured my father saying as he proudly displayed the wanted scroll to everyone in the tavern.