Tales of the Black Scorpion
by Christine Morgan
A City of Heroes fanfiction
"For gold and for glory!"
Jamie Tremayne called, raising the slim deadly length of his sword high
overhead. It flashed in the tropical sun, winking with steel's promise.
The full-throated roar of his
crew answered him. As one, the hardy pirates surged over the rail of the Black Scorpion to board the Ella
Marie. Some swung on ropes, daggers gripped in their teeth. Others
leapt with pistols already spitting gouts of black-powder smoke. The Bosun,
a dark-skinned giant whose body was covered with pale tribal tattoos,
simply dropped boots-first from the yardarm and struck the deck of the Ella
Marie with such force that it was a wonder he did not smash clear
through the planking and scuttle her straight to the bottom. No sooner had
he landed than did his massive fists descend, flattening three hapless
sailors who'd had the ill luck to be within reach.
Tremayne himself sprang lightly
across a six-foot gap as the churning sea heaved the two ships apart. He
landed agile as a cat, his blade held before him. His one good eye scanned
the scene. The other, sightless beneath its black patch, had been lost to
a shrapnel splinter years before.
Two of his foes charged into the
path of his first stroke. Both reeled back, blood spraying. One of them
managed to raise his pistol, but before he could fire, Tremayne brought
the hilt of his sword down in a solid blow to the man's brow and crumpled
him like a rag.
All around him was the thunder
and chaos of battle. Guns belched a pall of choking smoke that turned the
combatants into half-seen wraiths. The deck was already slick with blood
and littered with groaning bodies. The air rang with the clash of steel,
and with screams of pain, pleas for mercy, and victorious shouts.
On he went, slashing through the Ella
Marie's crew. He felt no remorse, and only a small measure of pity.
They had been given every chance to surrender, and they had chosen to
resist. Thus, the Black Scorpion would punish them harshly, and make an
example of them so that all others might learn the folly of fighting back.
At the mainmast, the Bosun had
cornered a group of five merchant marines. They huddled in their red
coats, their muskets held across their bodies like imperfect shields. None
dared confront the hulking enormous man looming over them, not until with
jeers and curses the Bosun inflamed sudden, fatal anger in them.
"Yahhh!" one cried, and
lunged as if he meant to belt the Bosun over the head with the long barrel
of his gun.
His fellows, spurred on by this
suicidally brave action, rushed as a mob. They were so intent on their
target that they did not see until too late that Tremayne had slipped up
Even as the Bosun pummeled them,
Tremayne cut them down. Within moments, the captain grinned up into the
snarling face of his largest crewman and clapped him on the shoulder.
"More killing," the
Bosun said hungrily, his gaze happening upon a group of sailors who'd
rallied to defend themselves against others of the Black
"Go to it, my friend,"
Tremayne said. He dashed sweat from his brow and scanned the cluttered,
There. In the confusion, the
enemy captain and some of his officers were seeking to lower a longboat
"Why, the cowardly
bilge-rats," Tremayne said, and ran for them, weaving through the
maze of ropes and rigging with the ease born of long practice.
A wounded man staggered toward
him. Barely breaking stride, Tremayne dove onto his hands, flipped his
body, and kicked the heels of his folded black boots squarely into the
man's face. The violent crunching impact sent the man flying backward over
the rail. Even before he had splashed into the sea, Tremayne was running
again, closing on the group at the rear of the ship.
He saw that they had a small,
slender figure in their midst, and understood in a flash. Mere gold and
silver were not the only prizes to be had this day.
A body was sprawled in his path.
Tremayne jumped over it. He realized even in mid-air the mistake he had
made. The man was shamming, already bringing up a pistol.
Tremayne spun to this threat a
split-second too late. Fire spat from the gun barrel. Searing agony lanced
through him. He was knocked against a cannon, already feeling hot blood
coursing down his bare chest.
At this, as if they had been
waiting for just such a chance, the enemy captain ordered his officers to
The man with the pistol cast it
aside and unhurriedly plucked another from his belt as he got to his feet.
Tremayne gritted his teeth, reached deep into himself for renewed
strength, and swung his blade. It sheared the air like a scythe, chopping
halfway through the man's torso.
But the officers had been given
time to close with him. Tremayne could hear the Boson's furious bellow.
Half the length of a ship separated them and there was no way the giant
could reach him in time. Nor would these men be subject to his taunts, not
with their captain crying out that whoever slew the notorious rogue
Tremayne would have a chest of silver as his reward.
Tremayne's blade whistled through
the smoke, its razor edge splitting two brass-buttoned uniform coats and
slicing into the flesh beneath. But he missed the third man, and uttered a
stifled shout of pain as he was shot again.
Then, just as all was surely lost
for him, he was bathed in a cool and wondrous glow that washed away his
pain and revitalized his weakening limbs. Tremayne sucked in a deep breath
and plunged his sword into his attacker.
The man stiffened on tip-toe,
eyes widening as the steel tore through him and emerged, dripping, from
his back. He was dead by the time Tremayne could plant one boot against
his body and yank out the blade.
As he did, he spared a quick
glance over his shoulder, and his white teeth flashed in a smile.
"Timely as ever, dear
Witch," he said.
Her dark veil and hood concealed
all of her features but for a pair of exotic, wine-dark eyes. By contrast,
the shapely curves of her body were well-displayed in a snug corset, her
arms and shoulders so milky-pale they seemed never to have been kissed by
"Fight on, my captain,"
she said in a sweetly husky voice, fanning her fingers toward him. Again,
he was enveloped in her healing magic, his injuries erased.
The deck shook as the Bosun
rushed past, head lowered, charging at the last desperate men clustered
around the longboat with the snorting frenzy of an angered bull. Tremayne
sprang after him, seizing a rope and letting its momentum carry him out
and around in an arc that deposited him directly in front of his chosen
Marie's captain was an older man, canny and not unskilled, and within
the first few passes of their blades Tremayne had to acknowledge that he
had met his match. Again and again they thrust and parried and slashed and
dodged, scoring only the merest nicks to draw blood from each other's
Then, behind his adversary,
Tremayne saw the Bosun rise up with fists doubled, and bring them down
with more force than a blacksmith's hammer. The captain was thrown
forward. His blade ran into Tremayne's thigh, grating against bone. But
Tremayne's, angled up, pierced his Adam's apple, transfixed his gullet,
and skewered deep into his brain.
Heaving for breath, Tremayne
stepped back. His leg buckled beneath him and he nearly fell, but then the
Witch was there, supporting him with her body while her magic flowed into
him. She led him to a barrel and bade him sit. He protested, but the rest
of his crew, led by the Bosun, had already overpowered the last few enemy
sailors and prevented the longboat from being lowered over the side.
"Sit. Rest. The ship is
yours." The Witch placed her hands on his shoulders to prevent him
"Once again and as always,
my thanks," he said. "Although many's been the occasion some in
my crew have cautioned me against you, I'd not trade you for all the
treasures of the Barbary Coast."
"I am pleased to know
it," she said. "And pleased that you do not bow to such foolish
Her fingertips traced the line of
his jaw, brushing through the wiry hair of his short blue-black beard.
Tremayne looked up at her, into those eyes that were deeper and more
compellingly mysterious than the sea itself.
From the direction of the
longboat, one of his men gave a sudden cry of terror. Tremayne bolted up,
sweeping the Witch behind him and drawing his sword in a single smooth
The screaming man Bloody
Pete, he was called, and in five years of sailing together Tremayne had
never before heard him scream thrashed and blundered back from the
At the sight of him, Tremayne
could only stare, momentarily stunned. Bloody Pete was wrapped in a cloud
of misty light that seethed and swarmed like howling, biting devil's
mouths. His arms flailed in panic. The others recoiled from him,
As they parted, they revealed the
slim figure Tremayne had seen before. She stood desperate and defiant, a
girl-child in a long and clinging green gown, short auburn hair shining
like new-minted copper around her face. It was clear to all that she was
the source, the cause of the nightmare madness that had gripped one of
their own. But the very pirates who had gone into life-or-death battle
without a second thought, facing swords and pistols as brave as any man,
looked ready to flee from this small sprite-woman.
If not for the Bosun, they may
well have done it. Though clearly as unnerved as the rest, he was never
one to let fear stand in his way. A swing of one huge fist, and the girl
collapsed. The Bosun slung her over his arm as if she weighed nothing.
"Hold him," Tremayne
commanded the men nearest to Bloody Pete, who was still waving his arms
It took four of them to wrestle
him down, and they were loathe to reach into that horrible misty cloud to
touch him. But by the time they'd pinned him to the deck, the strange
smoke-light devil's heads had begun to dissolve.
The Witch hurried to Bloody Pete.
Most of the crew were still leery of her, this dark woman whose face they
had never seen and whose powers, however beneficial, still struck dread
into their superstitious hearts. Under other circumstances they might have
shied from her. Now, though, they seemed almost glad to have her pass
among them, her clear green aura cleansing them and healing their wounds.
She bent over Pete, who had gone
limp. Tremayne was braced for the worst, but when the Witch turned back to
him, she nodded. "He will live, my captain."
"What did she do to
him?" Tremayne studied the girl, draped unconscious over the Bosun's
big arm. He lifted her head and turned her face this way and that. Creamy
skin, dusted with a spray of freckles. A pert little chin, a pert little
"Clearly," said the
Witch in an unfamiliarly tight tone, "she is no ordinary girl, and
you'd be well rid of her, Captain."
"A talent like that could be
useful to us," Tremayne said.
"She's an enemy,"
argued the Witch.
The Bosun chuffed laughter.
"Captain's a fair hand at persuading the ladies."
Several others of the crew
chuckled. Tremayne gave them all a sharp look.
"Step lively now,
lads," he said. "We've just taken this ship, but if we're to
keep her she must be secured. Take any surrendered survivors aboard the Black
Scorpion. Mr. Trask, see to it that our new prize is fit to sail. I'll
want a full report of her cargo and valuables within the hour."
They scrambled to do his bidding.
The Witch folded her arms and took a deep, angry breath, the effect of
this causing her curves to swell impressively above the taut confines of
"And what of her?" she
asked, glaring from Tremayne to the girl and back again.
The Bosun cleared his throat and
shuffled his feet, looking suddenly uncomfortable. It was a disconcerting
sight on a man so enormous and fierce.
"Mr. Bosun, bind up our
captive and place her in my cabin," Tremayne said. "I'll deal
with her myself."
"Aye, sir," he rumbled.
Avoiding the Witch's baleful look, he tromped off through the aftermath
with the girl no bigger than a child in his grasp over his
"Is there something you're
wishing to say to me, Witch?" Tremayne asked once the Bosun had gone.
"We don't need her,"
the Witch said.
"You saw what she did. If
she can be convinced to lend her efforts to our cause "
"And if she can't?"
The Witch came to him, eyes
burning like embers in the shadow of her hood. Tremayne could just see the
hint of the fullness of her lips beneath the silken veil, and wondered
again what it was that she hid from the world, and why.
"Captain," she said,
"I fear that you are making a grave error."
"If so, 'tis mine to
make," he said. He caught up her hand and kissed it. "So fear
not, my lovely Witch. Do you not trust your captain?"
"In most things," she
replied. "But it has been my experience that the judgment of many a
wise man may be clouded when women are involved."
"That, I must agree, is
God's own truth," Tremayne said.
He was called away then, and saw
the Witch going about her own merciful duties of healing those of their
enemies who yet clung to life but had given their surrender. By nightfall,
Tremayne had accepted a full dozen volunteers from the sailors of the
captured ship, and divided them out among his own men to adequately crew
both vessels until they could make port in Madagascar. There, he planned
to sell the Ella Marie and her cargo.
It had been a most profitable
voyage and the crew was looking forward to being paid out in their shares.
Tremayne knew from past experience that the wages of many months would
likely be squandered in a few days of drunken whoring, gambling and
debauchery. Such was the life of a pirate. Why save up good coin against a
future that might stretch no further than the end of a sword
hangman's noose? Better to spend and enjoy while they could.
When he returned to the Black Scorpion, he found the Bosun standing guard at the door to his
cabin. The massive figure's brawny arms were crossed, and he looked as
formidable as the very Rock of Gibraltar.
Captain," he said.
"Oh, is our captive
"No, sir, to my knowledge. 'Tis
the Witch. Ye know, sir, that a woman aboard ship brings bad luck."
"And you know, Mr. Bosun,
that the Witch has sailed with us these many months and only been an asset
to our crew. We've men who fought here today that would have died long ago
if not for her healing solace. You yourself, and I, might be among
"So spare me this nonsense
of how a woman aboard ship brings bad luck."
the Witch proved it wrong
still, I'm thinking that two
women aboard be more than double any bad luck as one. If ye're taking my
"I'm sure the ship is big
enough for the both of them," Tremayne said. "And it's no
certainty that we'll be keeping the one. That hinges on her will. Or on
her ransom, as the case may be."
He let himself past the Bosun and
into his cabin. It was not without risk, and as he stepped inside to the
light of an oil lantern, he tried to brace his mind for whatever Bloody
Pete had experienced.
No such attack came. He saw that
the girl was awake, having abandoned the bed in favor of a perch on the
cabinets under the wide windows. She sat watching him with a set
resolution in her eyes. She must have realized that escape was impossible,
that even if she unleashed her sorcery on him, there was a shipful of men
at the ready.
Tremayne inclined his head.
"Hello, lass. Have you a name?"
She paused before speaking,
evidently deciding whether it would be better to answer or stay silent.
"Keara," she said.
"Yes." Her chin came
an Irish girl,
"Born in Jamaica to Irish
parents," she said. "And you? Dog of a pirate, who are
"Jamie Tremayne, called by
some the Black Scorpion." He touched the large black tattoo that
spread over much of his chest. "Though rightly, that be the name of
my ship, not myself. And where you are now."
"At the moment."
Keara sighed and drew her knees
up, wrapping her arms around her lower legs. "And do I want to ask
your intentions toward me?"
"Now, lass," Tremayne
said, shaking his head ruefully at her. "What manner of scoundrel do
you take me for?"
"I know your kind," she
"Perhaps then you should be
telling me why it's worth my while to keep you alive. Is there some
wealthy father who'd pay a goodly ransom for you? Some husband, perhaps,
"None," Keara said.
"I have no one. My parents are dead. So is
so is my uncle, my
only other kin."
"That is a shame." He
poured two large flagons of wine and offered one to her. She turned up her
nose, so Tremayne shrugged and drank it down. He sat back and crossed his
boots on his desk, which was covered with maps and charts held in place by
weighted brass ornaments.
"You'll kill me, then?"
"Were you a passenger aboard
the Ella Marie?"
The corners of her mouth twitched
down. "I was cargo."
"Oh?" Tremayne raised
the eyebrow not covered by the patch.
"I know that you saw what I
did to that man," she said in a rush, as if she had decided it was
best to go ahead and say it all outright. "You must realize what I
am, and what I can do. Because of that gift, or curse, there are powerful
people who would seek to control me. To use me against their
He nodded. "And would these
powerful people pay for your return?"
She closed her eyes and loosed a
shaky breath. "Yes."
"Well, then!" Tremayne
slapped his thigh. "You have value after all. Unless
"Unless what?" she
"Unless you'd sooner not
become their property."
"And what?" she spat.
"Your venom wounds as much
as a sword cut," he remarked. "It had been in my mind to offer
you a place in my crew. Not my bed."
"A place in your crew? As
as a pirate? Although I'm a woman? Although I'm
what I am?"
"Clearly, you did not make
the acquaintance of our Witch," Tremayne said. "She, too, has
"I would be one of the
"Perhaps not a full-fledged
pirate to begin with," he said. "Unless you already know how to
sail and fight as well as drive men mad with fear. But you'd be one of us,
Keara. Free and independent, as we are. Answering only to your
He could see that she wanted to
believe him, and rather than try further to plead the case, simply sipped
more wine and let her think it out.
He woke to almost absolute silence, a
rare thing aboard a ship, and knew before he so much as opened his eyes
that the air was calm and the sea a sheet of glass.
Tremayne emerged from his cabin,
stretching the lingering ache of yesterday's battle from his limbs. He
groomed by dunking his head into a barrel of water, then raking the lush
blue-black hair back from his brow. Cool rivulets coursed down his body,
sluicing the last of sleep from his wits.
Not so much as a breath of wind stirred
the morning fog. The sun was lost in that silvery mist. It was so thick
that all he could see of the Ella
Marie, anchored nearby, was a bulking and indistinct shadow. The only
sounds were the low creak and groan of the ships, the muffled voices from
the men at the end of their night's watch, and the occasional leaping
splash of a fish disturbing the placid sea.
Fortified by a cup of coffee strong
enough to make even the Bosun grimace, Tremayne went to the helm. After
finding that all was well in hand, and giving orders to have the crew
gathered, he leaned on the stern rail looking out at the rippling blue-grey
He soaked a hard biscuit in the dregs
of the coffee, so that he could chew it without cracking the very teeth
from his head.
"Ah, the Witch greets the new
day," Tremayne said as she came up beside him.
"How fares your prisoner?"
she asked with a touch of acid.
"Does she." This was said
flatly, and he saw how her graceful hands clenched on the rail.
"I offered her a place in the crew
and she accepted."
"Her name is Keara. I hope you two
will become friends."
The Witch turned toward him, an
exasperated exhalation puffing out her veil. "Friends?"
"You are the only two women aboard
"That means nothing."
He raised an eyebrow. "Where is
your spirit of sorority? Of sisterhood? I had four sisters of my own and
it ever seemed to me that they would band together against the men. They
made the lives of my father, brothers and myself a living Hell."
"I assure you, my captain, women
do possess that power," the Witch said. "Some of us need no help
with it, either."
"You don't like her, then?"
"What ever is not to like?"
the Witch retorted. "A pretty young girl, carried off by a handsome
and dashing pirate rogue to spend the night in his cabin? I ask you
what is not to like?"
"So you find me dashing, do
you?" he asked with a grin.
She gave him a look that would have
frozen water. "So you'll not be holding her for ransom?"
"There's none to be had. Her
parents are dead, and she's no wealthy husband to claim her. Besides, with
her gifts, she could profit us more as one of the crew."
"Is she to be your woman?"
"Because she slept in my cabin?
What was I to do with her? Send her to sleep in the hold? Ask you to share
your quarters with her?"
"I'd rather that than
The Witch looked away, her eyes narrowed and angry above her veil.
"I know how you value your
privacy," Tremayne said, reaching to touch a lock of dark hair that
had tumbled into view beneath her hood. He curled it around his fingers.
"Sometimes I wonder what you do
know, and what you don't, my captain," she said.
jealous of Keara,
are you?" he asked, smiling a little at the foolishness of such an
"Do I have reason to be?"
"You tell me."
"It is your ship," the Witch
said. "You are the captain, and you do as you see fit. It's hardly
for me to criticize your decisions. If you want to take that Irish tart
aboard and keep her in your cabin, it's no concern of mine."
"Yet you don't agree." He
stroked her cheek with the backs of his knuckles, feeling the warmth of
her skin beneath the silky fabric of the veil.
The Witch closed her eyes and tipped
her head, the better to lean into his caress. "I want the captain to
be happy," she said, in a softer tone.
"There's a sentiment with which I
won't argue," he said.
Her dusky lashes fluttered as she
looked up at him. "Would you grant me a favor, Captain?"
"May I call you by name, just this
once as we're alone?"
"I should like that," he
Her gaze held his, so dark and
hypnotic. It made his heart race strangely, in a way that not even the
potent coffee could have done. He knew so little about her, his Witch.
Only that she had fled her family when an unwanted marriage was pressed
upon her. How she had learned her arcane arts, or why she had chosen to
lend them to him and his crew, remained a mystery.
Slowly, her hand stole up and covered
his, cupping it against the softness of her cheek. He found himself very
conscious of her nearness, of her corseted curves so close to his bare
chest. She was a witch indeed, bewitching him without recourse to a single
spell. Bewitching him solely with those eyes
well, perhaps not solely
with her eyes
"Jamie," she breathed.
A pleasant shiver ran through him.
"You've still not told me your name," he said.
"Ahem, ah, Captain?"
At the voice, the Witch quickly drew
herself up and stepped back from Tremayne, letting go of his hand and
tucking her errant lock up into the folds of her hood.
The deck trembled as the Bosun
approached through the pearly mist. "The crew's gathered for yer
"Very good, Mr. Bosun,"
Tremayne said, in a voice that did not seem quite his own. He cleared his
throat and strode to the helm, draining the last of his coffee as he went.
Behind him, he heard the Witch's
irritated whisper, "You oaf! You couldn't have waited another
"Sorry," rumbled the Bosun.
Tremayne turned his attention to the
men gathered on the deck. They were a properly motley bunch, his crew,
dressed as they pleased in what clothes they had been able to buy, steal,
or sew from whatever scraps of material came into their possession. Some
were booted while others preferred bare feet for climbing the rigging.
Most favored bright colors, ribbons and flash, the better to cut an
impressive if not always fearful figure in battle.
A few bore the legacy of a sailor's
dangerous life, sporting hooks and peg-legs, or eyepatches like Tremayne's
own. They were so scarred and tattooed, so sun-leathered and
wind-weathered, that it was sometimes hard to guess what hue their skin
might naturally have had.
The pirates bristled with weapons.
Swords and cutlasses and knives, pistols stuck through sashes or into
boot-tops. As the sun began to shred the wispy fog, it glinted on gold
teeth and earrings, on silver belt buckles and shoe buckles, on rings and
The newest men had not been allowed
weapons yet, and most of them still wore their uniforms, though already
efforts had been made to remove the insignia. The volunteers had been made
to sign the Articles, thereby sealing their fates and making it impossible
for them to ever return to a normal seafaring life. Once a pirate, always
He congratulated them again on the
previous day's victory against the Ella
Marie, and reminded them that once they made port in Madagascar, each
man would be paid in full what he was owed. This elicited a lusty cheer,
and in their eyes he could see the fevered anticipation of taverns and
brothels already beckoning.
As he addressed them, Tremayne saw
Keara sidle into view. Her look of uncertainty grew into apprehension as
she surveyed the pirates. She had made use of the brush he'd left sitting
by the washstand, her coppery hair brushed sleek. The long green gown
hugged her slender shape, though by now it was wrinkled and dispirited
from the moisture in the air.
"And we've one other to welcome to
the crew," Tremayne said, gesturing. "This fair lass be Keara."
The men jostled each other, elbowing
and leering. A few made speculations as to what Keara's shipboard duties
might be. Out of the corner of his eye, Tremayne saw the Witch sweep them
all with a scornful glare.
Through this, Keara held her head high
and gave little outward sign of the nervousness that had to be consuming
her. She was an admirably brave creature, Tremayne had to credit her with
"In what capacity does she join
us, Cap'n?" asked Mr. Trask.
"As my cabin girl, for now,"
Tremayne said, ignoring the second round of elbowing and snickering that
passed among the crew as he said it. "Until she learns our
"But Captain!" protested
Bloody Pete. "She be a devil-woman, that one! Ye saw what she did
"And she'll not do it again, now
she's one of us," Tremayne said. "You have my word on
Pete did not look wholly convinced, but
neither did he seem to wish to press the matter. A swift fate befell any
man who presumed to question the word of Jamie Tremayne, and his crew knew
An hour later, with the sun high and
already blazing-hot, the morning's fog was a distant memory. Sadly, a good
strong wind was an even more distant one, as the sails of the Black Scorpion and the Ella
Marie hung lifeless and slack.
The new additions to the crew were
finding that life aboard a pirate vessel differed greatly from the strict
regiment of life aboard a merchant ship. There was
discipline with such men, there had to be but punishment was often
meted out with harsh words or quick fists rather than the public humility
of being taken before the mast and flogged.
By the following day, the majority of
the sailors had taken well to their new routine. It still remained to be
seen how well they would perform once the ships were underway, for there
was not so much as a breath of a breeze.
Tremayne had hung a blanket
partitioning off a corner of his cabin, where he'd had a hammock hung for
Keara. The crew seemed to find these arrangements an object of high
hilarity. As for Keara herself, she adapted to her new situation and by
noontime on her third day on the Black
Scorpion, had coaxed the Bosun into giving her amidships lessons in
When there was no wind, boredom became
a sailor's worst enemy. Every garment that could be patched or mended had
been, every blade had been honed and pistol cleaned, and the crews of both
ships turned out in full numbers, glad for the diversion.
Even had they been busy with a hundred
tasks, Tremayne thought they'd have taken time to watch this.
The huge brute with his dark,
tattoo-covered skin and arms that could snap a mast hulked over the tiny
girl with the elfin features and cutely freckled nose. Watching her drive
her little fists into the meaty palms of his hand, making a series of
somehow ladylike smacks, sent the crews into gales of laughter.
"No, lass, no, this be no good at
all," Tremayne remarked after a while. "You'll swelter yourself
to death, even if that skirt doesn't trip you up. Hold still. Move not a
With a series of judicious swipes of
his sword, he sliced away the long skirt of her gown. It puddled around
her feet, showing trim legs to mid-thigh. The crew hooted and whistled.
Keara sputtered indignantly. But
Tremayne wasn't through. As she stood, motionless as much from
astonishment as from following his order, he deftly cut the sleeves and
upper blouse. His skill with the blade was such that he did not scratch
her skin, and moments later Keara stood with both hands pressed to her
pert bosom, now only barely covered by her bodice.
"That be better," Tremayne
announced. "We'll have some boots for you, high ones I think, and
'tis a proper pirate lass you'll be."
He glanced around, thinking that he
might ask the Witch to help in this endeavor he had seen from his four
sisters that nothing formed a friendship between women so fast as
shopping, and thought that this might thaw the Witch's still-chilly
demeanor toward Keara. The Witch, however, was nowhere to be seen.
The Bosun bared his teeth at Keara.
"Come on, then, Cabin-Girl," he said, beckoning. "Come on
then and let's see what ye can do unhampered by that dress."
He held up his big mitts again. Keara
screwed up her face in furious determination and threw herself at him,
striking a quick little punch into his palm.
"That wouldn't swat ye a
fly," the Bosun said.
"Ooh!" she cried, and then
flung out her arm.
At once, demonic forms of smoke-light
whirled into being around the Bosun, cloaking him in their eerie glow. His
countenance underwent a drastic transfiguration, stark with a horror that
no man present had ever witnessed before. Backpedaling, the Bosun let out
a thick and glottal scream. He sat down hard, shaking the deck.
Tremayne jumped between them and put a
steadying hand on Keara. "That be enough, lass," he said.
She dropped her arm at once and looked
contrite. "I'm so sorry!" she gasped. "He just
made me so mad
I couldn't help myself."
The others, Bloody Pete chief among
them, were now eyeing her and muttering to their neighbors. The Bosun,
freed of the spectral menace, got to his feet like a sleepwalker and
dusted off the seat of his rough homespun pants. No one dared laugh, for
fear of being bodily hurled overboard.
"No harm done, eh, Mr. Bosun?"
Tremayne asked heartily.
"No, sir," growled the Bosun.
"Yon lass might not pack much of a punch, but she packs a hell of a
punch, sir, if ye take my meaning."
"Aye, that I do," Tremayne
He looked up as a freshening breeze
blew welcome against his face. Above, the limp pennants began to flap, and
the sails belled out in a white curve as comely as the line of a woman's
hip. At once the men were reinvigorated, rushing to their posts aboard the
Black Scorpion or hastening to return to the Ella Marie.
They were underway in a quarter of an
hour, a good strong wind bearing them briskly toward Madagascar. The sea
was indigo-green with frothy whitecapped crests, and as if all life was
inspired by the turn in the weather, flying fish and dolphins skimmed and
cavorted off the bow.
They made good time, the two ships
racing in tandem toward the distant hazy bulk of the island nation.
Tremayne's colors flew proudly from both topmasts, and the rough but merry
voices of the crews were raised in competing shouts and singing.
Then, above them, rose Keara's high,
clear voice. "Look! Look there! Something in the water! A barrel, I
Tremayne turned the helm over to Mr.
Trask and joined her at the rail. She was leaning far out, unconcerned how
her posture made what was left of her skirt ride up high on the backs of
her thighs. Her hair blew around her head and she shook it out of her
"There, Captain, do you see?"
A barrel might be nothing to get
excited over, as ships sometimes jettisoned their empties. Then again, it
might be flotsam from a wreck, containing edibles or valuable trade goods.
And this one, Tremayne saw, was floating low with the waves halfway up its
rounded sides, rather than bobbing atop them like a cork.
He shouted orders, and grapnels on drag
lines were hurled out as the Black
Scorpion closed on the barrel. Soon it was snared, and netted, and
hauled aboard. It was heavy, water-tight, and a solid weight shifted with
a fleshy thump within it as they lowered it onto the deck.
All the crew not occupied with their
duties gathered curiously around, exclaiming over the unfamiliar markings.
The lid was nailed down, and not a neat job had been made of it.
"What does it say?" Keara
asked Tremayne. "What's in it?"
"One way to find out. Mr. Bosun,
if you please?"
The Bosun pried at the lid. Nails
squealed against wood, making them all wince. Finally, the lid simply
split down the middle with a crack like a gunshot. The barrel rocked over
and fell onto its side. Tremayne planted a boot against it before it could
Something flopped out onto the deck and
lay there, inert. It was a man-sized creature covered with coarse brown
fur, sprawled face-down.
"Is it dead?" Keara bent to
prod it with her fingertip.
"Send for the Witch," ordered
Tremayne. He lifted the barrel away, letting the rest of the creature
slide out onto the planking.
It had a tail, but was like no monkey
he had ever seen or heard of. It was too big by far, and the shape of it
resembled nothing so much as a man
an extremely hairy man with a long
tail protruding from the seat of a pair of ragged red pants.
"That there be a Wild Man of
Madagascar," Mr. Trask said. "Half man, and half ape. Fearsome
quick and strong, they are, bloodthirsty little devils."
The Witch appeared in the wake of the
sailor who'd gone to fetch her. "You called, my captain?"
man, if man he be,"
Tremayne said. "Does he live? Can you aid him?"
By the lines that furrowed between her
eyes, he thought she might be wrinkling her nose, but she came closer and
spread her hands over the seemingly lifeless creature. A dazzling emerald
radiance issued from those hands. It formed a shimmering cocoon around the
man-thing. Then, as the crew fell back gasping in amazement, the body was
lifted from the deck. It revolved, arms and legs and tail dangling, head
And then, as if life force surged into
it, the creature straightened up and whipped its head this way and that.
Its eyes bulged. Its lips skinned back from strong teeth. It had such a
maniacal look that the Witch started, and drew against Tremayne for
He put his left arm around her while
holding his sword in his right hand. He leveled the blade at the creature.
"Who are you?" he demanded.
"Do you speak?"
The green healing-light faded, and the
man-monkey landed in a limber crouch on the deck. He did not seem at all
concerned by the fact that he was surrounded on all sides by men armed
with pistols and cutlasses.
"I am the Sea-Monkey!" he
With a sudden bound, he cleared the
entirety of the wide gap they had left around him, and swept a pirate's
legs from under him in a roundhouse kick. He snatched a piece of fruit
from another man's hand, then scrambled into the rigging and swung
upside-down from his tail.
"Hold your fire!" Tremayne
saw that several of his crew were waving their pistols around, trying to
follow the creature's wild path.
"I'll be getting him down from
there," said the Bosun, cocking one boulder-sized fist as if he meant
to bring down the entire mast with one punch.
"Wait," Tremayne said. He
craned his neck to look up. "You, there "
With a wet splat, the peel of the fruit
slapped into his face. He cursed and wiped it away, and went up the
rigging himself like a shot. The man-monkey saw him coming and immediately
led him a lunatic chase. He hurtled himself heedlessly into space, leaping
from one yardarm to the next, weaving in and out through the ropes.
Tremayne pursued, but as agile as he was, even he was outmatched.
Below, the crew shouted encouragement
and voiced their opinions of what Tremayne should do to the furry imp when
at last he caught up with him. No one fired, for which he was grateful,
but the Bosun did hurl the empty barrel that had until recently held the
Sea-Monkey who had, Tremayne didn't doubt, been deliberately nailed
into that barrel and cast overboard to get rid of him.
The barrel missed the Sea-Monkey by six
feet and Tremayne by six inches. He paused, clinging to ropes, to throw a
what-did-you-think-you-were-doing look back down, and the Bosun raised his
big hands palms-up and shrugged.
The Sea-Monkey laughed and bit his
thumb at the Bosun in a rude, taunting gesture of his own. Tremayne
executed a tricky maneuver, a handspring that became a kick. As the
Sea-Monkey stuck out his tongue and waggled it at the Bosun, Tremayne's
boots met its rear end. The wiry brown creature sailed through the air,
squawking in surprise.
The Bosun caught him by the neck and
held him there at arm's length, throttling him into submission. "Bite
yer thumb at me, will ye?"
He shook the Sea-Monkey.
"Glaaarrcccch!" gagged the
Tremayne jumped down from the rigging,
landing between the Witch and Keara. "Ease up, Mr. Bosun. I'd like to
speak with this Sea-Monkey before you choke the life out of him."
The Bosun relaxed his grip to a degree
that would merely have cracked coconut shells rather than split
cannonballs in half. The Sea-Monkey's eyes, which had been bulging worse
than ever, resumed their former dimensions.
"So you can
speak," Tremayne said, as if their earlier conversation had not been
interrupted by the chase.
"I can," said the Sea-Monkey.
"You're quick and you're strong
and you're hardy," Tremayne said. "You'd make a fine addition to
my crew, if you can follow orders."
The Witch was not the only one to groan
in disbelief, but Tremayne paid no attention. He kept his gaze steady, and
his hand braced in a meaningful pose on the hilt of his sword.
The Sea-Monkey, still locked in the
Bosun's strangling fist, considered this. "And if I can't?"
"We can always nail you into
another barrel and throw you back into the sea. Next time, you might not
be so lucky to have a ship come by and save you."
"Hmm," the Sea-Monkey said.
"You drive a hard bargain, Captain. But it seems I don't have much
A fair wind blew Tremayne's two ships
into the sheltered harbor. Their arrival caused much excitement in the
town, and before the Black Scorpion
and the Ella Marie had even tied
off, the docks were lined with merchants and whores.
Tremayne doled out shares of silver and
gold coins into the eager hands of his crew and waved them ashore. They
went with a riotous good will, leaving him to tend to the business of
selling the Ella Marie and her
His next few hours were busy indeed.
Not only did he get a good price for his prize, but he shared a bottle of
port with Edmund Talbot, captain of the King's
Falcon, a fat-bottomed English merchant ship. Talbot offered to hire
some of his crew away, as the King's
Falcon had lost several due to illness, but Tremayne declined. He knew
that his men would never care to exchange the independent life of a
Dusk found him a weary man, but
wealthier than he had been, and content.
Throughout the negotiations, his cabin
girl had stayed nearby. Although she was at ease among the crew after
several days in their company, Keara was perhaps not quite sure enough of
her status to venture into town.
"You should see something of it at
least," Tremayne said, taking her by the arm and leading her down the
gangplank. "And we'll have those boots for you."
The largest and loudest tavern in town
was the Three Sheets, where Tremayne saw several of his men drinking,
gambling, and singing boorish songs. The Sea-Monkey capered among and
above them, sometimes doing acrobatic leaps and flips in the rafters to
the cheering amusement of the crowd. He proved able to snake that tail of
his around mugs and flagons, lifting them out of the hands of startled
sailors while he hung by his hands and feet from ship's wheel chandeliers.
The Three Sheets had an upstairs
balcony where round tables and chairs sat overlooking the street. The
unmistakable silhouette of the Bosun was up there, and beside him, wrapped
in mystery, was the Witch.
Tremayne and Keara pushed their way
through the masses of drunken sailors. In her short dress and new high
boots, Keara drew ogles from the men and jealous glowers from many of the
women as they passed through the smoky room to the long bar.
Carrying two flagons and a sizeable
bottle of rum, Tremayne led her up the stairs and out onto the balcony.
The Bosun had a feast spread out on the
table: roast fowl, roast pig, green turtle soup, bread and cheese, and a
boiled pudding. His jaws worked like some unstoppable machine and he only
mumbled through mouthfuls and nodded at whatever it was that the Witch was
"Ahoy," Tremayne said.
The Witch turned swiftly, and the look
in her eyes was such that he knew she had been talking about him. Or Keara.
And not, perhaps, favorably.
"My captain," she said.
"Might we join you?"
"Oot mrslf," the Bosun said.
He chewed, swallowed a wad of masticated pork that would have choked a
wolfhound, belched like a cannonshot, and swabbed grease from his face
with a tablecloth-sized red kerchief.
"Thank you, Mr. Bosun,"
Tremayne said, setting his burdens on the table and fetching chairs for
himself and Keara.
"Nice boots," the Witch
observed in a clipped manner.
Keara turned pink and tugged at the hem
of her skirt, which lacked a good six inches from touching the tops of the
boots. And what a six inches it was, Tremayne thought. She smoothed the
cloth around her hips and bottom as she sat down.
"The captain bought them for
me," she said, meeting the Witch's eyes boldly though her cheeks
continued to flame.
With grunts and gestures, the Bosun
made it clear that they were welcome to share in his meal. Tremayne tore a
leg from the fowl and bit into it.
"I'm sure you must be worth
it," said the Witch.
"Well, we can't have her going
about in those silly slippers," Tremayne said.
"Whrr oo ex, cappn?" asked
the Bosun, quickly and with his mouth full, as if eager to change the
"Mozambique, I thought."
Tremayne ripped a chunk of bread and folding it around a slab of cheese.
"Or we might try our luck back 'round the Cape of Good Hope, and bear
for the Caribbean."
"I have heard that there is
strange weather in Mozambique Channel." The Witch folded her fingers
around a glass of wine, though did not lift her veil to drink. "And
lights in the sky, like St. Elmo's Fire."
"Be that so?"
The Bosun frowned. "Look there
d'ye see that great lot of men? The ones be creeping this way in the
Tremayne looked, already feeling a
prickle of alertness at the nape of his neck. Sure enough
on the streets of town reeled about openly, if unsteadily from their rum,
the dark band of men advancing toward the Three Sheets moved with a
"How many do you make of
them?" he asked, as the Bosun's chair was nearest the rail and
afforded the big man the best view of the street below.
"Twenty if there be a one,
The Witch fixed her dark gaze upon
them. "And armed with clubs and coshes, by the look."
"Bloody buggering hell,"
Tremayne said, downing the rest of his rum at a gulp and rising.
"What does that mean?" Keara
He did not need to reply, for in the
next instant the group of men broke into a run and burst upon the cluster
of people outside of the Three Sheets' door. Clubs and coshes swung, the
lengths of wood or heavy sacks filled with shot slamming into skulls and
dropping men where they stood.
"Press gang!" someone
shouted, and the general, panicked cry went up. "Press gang! Press
A rumble of running feet and overturned
furniture sounded below as the men inside made for the back door. Tremayne
heard some of them cry out in surprise, and realized that a second group
must have been waiting there.
"Protect the ladies," he said
to the Bosun, and vaulted over the balcony rail.
He landed behind the rearmost of the
pressers, who was a thickset man in a dark blue coat. The hilt of his
sword made a hollow thunk as it met the back of the man's skull and
measured his length on the dirty cobblestones.
And then, to his shock, he recognized
the man. It was Edmund Talbot, the very one with whom he had drunk port
earlier that day. The wily Englishman sought to replenish his crew by this
means, did he?
All around him was chaos, the drunken
sailors scrambling to evade while the press gang tried to belt them into
senselessness. Any man who fell ran a good risk of waking, with a head
doubly sore from the blow and the hangover, well out to sea aboard the King's Falcon the next day. Impressed into service on a
ship-of-the-line, with no way back to shore bar swimming
a skill that
few seagoing men bothered to learn
they would have little choice but
The next man saw Talbot topple, and
whirled in time for Tremayne's blade to slice open his cheek. He swung his
club, which Tremayne dodged, and fumbled at a pistol stuck through his
sash. Two of his fellows joined the fray. A cosh glanced off Tremayne's
head and hit his shoulder a numbing, bruising blow. Another club cracked
across his ribs. He was driven to one knee and sensed more than saw a
strike being readied that would lay him out.
From above, the Witch called,
"Captain!" and he felt her healing suffuse him. He dove
sideways, the descending club whistling through empty air, and flipped
himself upright. His blade flashed. Two of the men staggered back.
But the last, the one who had now drawn
his pistol, pointed it into Tremayne's face. Blood ran freely from his
split cheek and his eyes were ablaze with hatred. His finger tightened on
Then a long brown tail whipped in,
coiled around the barrel, and yanked. The gun angled up as it went off,
the shot going wild over Tremayne's head and ricocheting off the
wrought-iron signpost of the Three Sheets.
Whooping madly, the Sea-Monkey dropped
onto the man in a tangle of wiry limbs and began punching and biting
everything he could reach. The man shrieked like a schoolgirl. His arms
waved in a futile effort to ward off his vicious attacker.
Yet another of the press gang ran up
and tried to wrestle the Sea-Monkey off. Writhing around, the Sea-Monkey
grabbed him by the ears and head-butted him. Dazed, the man meandered
back, directly into the path of Tremayne's sword.
Crouched on his first victim, whom he
had now rendered unconscious, the Sea-Monkey looked up at Tremayne.
"Well done," Tremayne said.
The attempted press had become a rout.
He saw some of the press gang running back down the dock, while others had
been surrounded and were being smashed over the head with bottles and
chairs, spat on, cursed at, and kicked.
Pistol shots peppered the night.
Tremayne heard one right above him, followed by a scream of pain in a
woman's voice. Without pausing for thought, he leaped high, caught the
railing, and pulled himself back onto the balcony.
The Bosun stood between ten armed men
and the women. The floor around him was heaped with bodies. His skin was
streaked with blood, his own and his enemies', and the haft of a dagger
protruded from his abdomen.
The Witch was behind him, shining like
an emerald with pulse after pulse of healing magic, but she was pale and
flagging, pushed to her limits.
Keara was on her knees, hands clapped
over her face. An eerie blue-green bubble of watery light encircled her.
Tremayne, too far away to do anything but watch, yelled in rage as another
pistol fired at her. But the shot struck the bubble, which rippled, and
the deadly iron ball was deflected or absorbed.
"Sea-Monkey!" he shouted,
jumping over a table. "Up here, more of them!"
One of the ten men was running in
circles, flapping his own hands in front of his face and yelping,
"Blind! I'm blind! Help me!" Another looked to be asleep on his
feet. But the rest were fit and able, and some had cast their clubs and
coshes aside in favor of hot iron and cold steel.
"Come on then ye nancy-boys!"
roared the Bosun. "Come on if ye dare!"
Half of them went for him, including
one huge slab-muscled ruffian nearly as large as the Bosun himself. The
others rushed Tremayne, who did a handspring into their midst, kicked one
into the wall with the heels of his boots, and flipped onto his feet again
in time to plunge his blade hilt-deep in another man's belly.
The Sea-Monkey came up and over the
rail, cackling shrill laughter, and catapulted himself into the melee.
Guns popped and spat. Clubs whacked down on flesh and bone. Steel clanged.
The Bosun's rock-hard fists pounded men flat, while the Sea-Monkey kicked
and clawed. Tremayne waded into the last few, and both he and the Bosun
hit the final man in a simultaneous blow that sent him sliding boneless to
Breathing hard, Tremayne threw a quick
look around. The Witch, still pale, was helping Keara to her feet
"Cabin-Girl's hurt," the
Bosun said. "Shot in the face."
"Let me see," Tremayne said.
Keara still had a hand over the side of
her face, and thin tendrils of blood seeping through her fingers. She
tried to twist away but he pulled her arm down, and hissed through
clenched teeth at the red gouge that ran from the outer corner of her eye
up at an angle toward her temple.
"Seized her, he did," the
Bosun said. "She did something to him he be the one squealing how
he be blind and he hit her up the head with his pistol. It went
Just then the man stopped squealing,
and lowered his hands to look around in blinking, thankful amazement. He
barely had time to register the fact that an incensed Tremayne was bearing
down on him. Two strikes with the sword, and the Sea-Monkey finished him
off with a leaping kick that pitched him headfirst over the rail. He hit
the street below with an audible crunch.
Tremayne returned to Keara. "Can
you heal her?" he asked the Witch.
"I can, but I must rest," the
Witch said. She looked about to pass out from exhaustion.
"'Tis all right, lass,"
Tremayne said, putting his arms around the girl. "We'll soon have you
mended good as new."
The deafening blast of a cannon volley
shattered the night. Tremayne threw Keara and the Witch to the floor and
covered them with his body, his head down.
Cannonballs punched into the upper
floors of the Three Sheets and the neighboring buildings. Debris rained
down onto the balcony, wooden splinters and broken glass.
After a hasty check that the women had
sustained no further harm, Tremayne jumped up and looked out into the
Another ship had come in under cover of
darkness. He swore at the sight of her.
"That be the Santiago," the Bosun growled.
"Damnation," Tremayne said.
"I thought we'd seen the last of Vincente."
"Is he an enemy of yours, my
captain?" asked the Witch.
"An enemy of Talbot's, more like,
and our ill luck to be caught in the middle of them."
As he spoke, the Santiago fired another volley, this one at close range into the side
of the King's Falcon. The
Spaniard had forty-eight guns and was not sparing a single one, and
Tremayne knew that Rafael Vincente spent almost as much on the best
gunpowder money could buy as he did on the maintenance of his seven
"Shall we fight them?" The
Sea-Monkey bounced up and down. "Shall we, Captain?"
"Rally the crew," Tremayne
told the Bosun. "This be not our battle, and I'd as soon have none of
it, for there'll be little profit to be had. We'll back to the Black Scorpion, and cast off in the confusion."
"Aye, sir." The Bosun
thundered down the stairs, his voice booming as he called for the crew.
Tremayne scooped Keara into his arms
and grinned at the Witch. "Shall we, ladies?" Without waiting
for a reply, he leaped over the rail carrying his cabin girl. The Witch
and the Sea-Monkey followed.
I can run," Keara
said. The side of her face was swollen, the eye a bare slit in puffed
flesh. Her hair on that side had been singed. But she smiled gamely at
"As you will, lass." He set
her down. "Seems you've more tricks than you've let on, so be ready
to use them."
The four of them ran down the dock,
veering off between buildings when the Santiago
lowered her gangplank and Spanish pirates poured over her sides. Some
swarmed aboard the King's Falcon,
but others no doubt with Vincente's permission and blessing had
decided that so long as they were here, they may as well sack the town.
Three of them happened around a corner
and into Tremayne's path. They never knew what hit them as the captain,
the Sea-Monkey, and the women took them down in a flurry of sword strikes,
kicks, and strange powers.
If the press gang had caused a panic,
the Santiago caused purest
bedlam. Screams, gunshots and explosions rang through the streets. People
ran every which way, fleeing for their lives or fighting the pirates.
Soon Tremayne and the others were on
the deck of the Black Scorpion,
more of his crew streaming aboard every second, and making ready for a
quick departure. He had seen to resupplying the ship earlier in the day,
the casks full of fresh water, the galley stocked with salt pork, salt
beef, soft and hard tack, dried peas, coffee, rum, sugar and other
"Let's fire on them!" cried
the Sea-Monkey, running to the long-nines on the quarterdeck.
Tremayne cuffed him above the ear.
"Not on your life, hear me? The last we need is to draw fire from the
Santiago. She's got us
outgunned, lad, and if you damage my ship, I'll have you keel-hauled by
that tail of yours."
"Aye, Captain," the
Sea-Monkey said, disgruntled.
A cannonball streaked overhead and
sheared through the mainmast of the neighboring Ella
Marie. The mast's upper half tilted and fell, taking sails with it and
"That was either careless of them
or malicious," the Witch said.
"Could be either." Tremayne
glanced around. "Mr. Bosun! What's our status?"
"All but two men aboard,
"Tremayne! Don't tell me you're
leaving the party so soon!" called a mocking voice with a Spanish
accent. It was followed by a cannonball, plunking into the water mere feet
from the Black Scorpion's hull
and sending up a white plume.
"Vincente!" hissed Tremayne.
"Full sails, men. We'll have to leave them."
No one argued, and as all hands went to
work, the Black Scorpion drew
away from the dock. Tremayne ordered the gun crews to their stations, to
return fire if the Santiago
lobbed another cannonball their way or made to pursue. But Vincente must
have felt he had enough on his plate, for he let the smaller ship speed
An hour later, when they had safely
cleared the harbor, he left the Bosun in charge and went to his cabin.
There, he found the Witch just emerging, shaking her hooded head.
"What be the news?" he asked.
"The gunpowder blinded her eye, my
captain. I healed her as best I could, but she may never regain the use of
Tremayne groaned. "The poor
"And you?" The Witch set her
palm on his chest, on the scorpion tattoo. "Are you hurt?"
"Nothing to fret over. I should go
to her. I know what it is she must be going through." He ran his
thumb over his eyepatch, remembering vividly the hail of splinters, the
piercing pain, the darkness.
"I'm sorry I was unkind to
"'Tis good of you to say."
"You do like her, then?" she
"Of course I like her. She's got
Without another word, the Witch started
to turn away. Tremayne stopped her by clasping both her hands in his. She
gave a slight tug, as if to test the strength of his grip, and then looked
up with those breathtaking dark eyes.
"But so do you," Tremayne
said in a low voice. He put her palms on the scorpion tattoo again, over
his heart. "My lovely Witch. You never did tell me your name."
"Sail ho!" came the cry from
the crow's nest.
"And it seems we are again,"
he said wryly. Letting go of her, he called, "Report, Mr. Bosun!"
"It be the Santiago after all, Captain. Seems Vincente wants to play
"Then let's give him a good one,
shall we? Make for the Mozambique Channel, full sail."
Tremayne bowed to the Witch.
"Aye." She slipped away like
a phantom into the night.
He let himself into his cabin, which
was lit by a hanging oil lantern. Keara was in her hammock, holding a
poultice over her eye. Tears sparkled in the other one, and she attempted
to hide this from him as he came in.
"She told you?" the girl
"That she did, lass. How do you
"It does not hurt, if that's what
"In part. Here. Show me."
Reluctantly, she removed the poultice.
The Witch's healing arts were such that no other trace of her injury
remained on her skin, though her hair was still singed away in places. It
was the eye that told the worst tale. Though whole, it was murky and
filmed, and stared vacantly off into space.
She read his features closely, and
Tremayne knew that had he showed any disgust, she would have been crushed
with despair. Her chin quivered.
"Well?" she asked at last.
"Am I horribly ugly?"
"Nay, Keara. Not ugly at
"But my eye "
"Here." He opened a drawer
and gave her a black patch on a length of cord. "Do as I do and wear
Keara tied it around her head.
"Perfect." Tremayne held up a
silver-handled mirror he'd gotten from a Frenchwoman.
"It isn't so bad, I suppose."
She studied her reflection, frowning, and turned her head this way and
that. "My hair is a fright."
"It'll grow back," he said,
"You don't think I'm hideous,
He set two fingers under her quivering
chin and tipped her face up to his. "Here be your answer to that,
lass," he murmured, and kissed her.
The wind was good, but the plain fact
of the matter was that the Santiago
carried more sail than did the Black
Scorpion. The Spaniard gradually closed the distance between them.
Tremayne's crew had come aboard in
disorganized haste, most of them well on their way to being saturated with
rum. The sudden flight from town had interrupted their fun. It was the
first time some of them had left a port with silver still in their
pockets. Though they were glad to be alive, rescued from the press gang,
they did lament their loss.
"Why is Vincente after us, my
captain?" the Witch asked mid-morning, while the Black Scorpion scudded over the waves. "What has he against
The Bosun snorted mirth as Tremayne
scratched fitfully at his beard. "We were friends of a sort
once," he admitted. "Back in Tortuga, this was, when I was
barely more than a lad. Rafael Vincente took me under his wing, taught me
to fight. But then
"There be a matter concerning
Vincente's sister," the Bosun said.
"Oh, I see," said the Witch.
"Thank you, Mr. Bosun,"
Tremayne said. "That will be all."
"Paloma, her name was. The
"I said that'll be all, Mr. Bosun!"
The big man guffawed. Those nearby hid
grins in their hands. The Witch looked frosty. Tremayne scuffed his boot
on the deck.
"Very well, aye," he said.
"There was a matter with
Vincente's sister. But that be long ago, and what's more likely is that he
heard tell of our capture of the Ella
Marie, and knew us to have seen a profitable voyage, and thought to
fill his coffers at our expense."
"Will he catch us?" asked
Keara. She had refused to linger in the cabin, and stood with them now in
her eyepatch, the singed part of her hair trimmed into a short copper bob.
The Witch uttered a ladylike, haughty
huff. "You show precious little faith in my captain."
"I have every faith in our captain," Keara retorted.
Though Tremayne did not see anyone step
back, he found himself at the center of a circle that had suddenly cleared
around the two women. Only the Bosun, whose hands were on the helm, could
though he looked as though he dearly wished to.
"If you did, you would not ask
such questions," the Witch said.
"Now, ladies, I pray you,"
Tremayne said, holding up his hands in a placating gesture. "'Tis a
fair question for one who's not been with us long, fairer even when
Vincente's ship bears down on us under more sail."
Not placated, the Witch crossed her
arms and showed him her back. It was a remarkable back, waist tapering to
a diameter he believed he could span with his hands at any rate, he
wouldn't have minded trying before flaring out into full hips that the
drape of her baggy trousers could not conceal. The proud set of her spine
and shoulders was tantalizing indeed.
"Don't ye worry, Cabin-Girl,"
the Bosun said. "Wind'll shift more in our favor once we round the
isle of Mandisa."
"Aye," Tremayne said.
"We'll cross the Channel to the Mozambique coast. I know many a cove
and inlet along there, where we can lie up until the Santiago
be long gone."
"My captain," the Witch said,
still facing away from him toward the bow of the ship. "That might
not be the best course."
"Who shows little faith in him
now?" Keara said.
Her barb struck home. The Witch
whirled, and if the Sea-Monkey had not chosen that moment to come capering
on deck, Tremayne did not know what might have happened next. But the
scruffy little man somersaulted between the women, bounded straight up in
the air, landed, and spun in a circle with his arms spread wide.
"Hah! The Sea-Monkey is just like
Captain and the Cabin-Girl!"
He was wearing an eyepatch. Its string
cut a flattened line through his wild, bushy hair. The other eye twinkled
with fiendish humor.
"Oh!" Keara cried, and her
dainty palm lashed out. She slapped the Sea-Monkey. "You make fun of
me, you wretch?"
"Mandisa coming up, Captain,"
the Bosun said.
"And the Santiago continuing to close," Mr. Trask added.
Tremayne grasped Keara and the
Sea-Monkey by the upper arms. "If you two wish to call each other
out, do it later. Monkey, that patch will hamper you in battle."
The Sea-Monkey puffed out his chest.
"I can fight better than any Spaniard with one eye covered and one
hand tied behind my back!"
"Let him prove it," Keara
said, stretching out a length of rope.
"Another time," Tremayne
said. "Mr. Bosun, I'll take the helm."
"But, my captain,"
interrupted the Witch. "As I was trying to say before she
had to open that smart mouth of hers
look there. Look ahead."
Tremayne squinted past the bow of the Black
Scorpion. The lush green island of Mandisa was starboard, and dead
ahead should have been the open waters of the Mozambique Channel. But the
view of the sea was obscured by darkness, a roiling darkness shot with
"Storm front," the Bosun
said. "That be a bad one, sir."
"I see it," Tremayne said.
"Witch, last night you mentioned strange weather. What else did you
"Of lights in the sky, like St.
Elmo's fire," she replied.
"See how green be the sky above
that cloud mass," Mr. Trask said. He shook his head. "That'll be
waterspout weather for sure, Cap'n."
The ship was passing close to Mandisa,
and Tremayne saw an unsettling thing the trees were crowded with
birds. They sat huddled together, silent, with none of the squabbling for
position he might have expected.
"There!" called the Witch,
More birds, a flock of them, wheeled in
disturbed formation. The flock broke apart. Some made for the island.
Others made straight for the Black
Scorpion, settling onto the yards and rigging.
"Prepare for hard-a-starboard, Mr.
Bosun!" Tremayne took the helm. "We'll find a shallow cove and
drop anchor. I like the looks of those clouds not at all."
The crew ran to their duties, which
were hampered by the birds that refused to leave their perches. Not even
when the Sea-Monkey snatched out a double handful of tail feathers would
they budge. When Bloody Pete, unnerved, drew his pistol and shot one, it
should have sent the entire flock into a flapping, panicked exodus. But
the one unlucky bird exploded in a hail of blood and feathers and only the
ones nearest it took frantic wing.
"What should I do?" Keara
"Scale the rigging, lass, and give
a shout if the Santiago keeps
closing on us. Witch, you keep me apprised of the storm. Sing out if
either of you see anything unusual."
"Aye, my captain." The Witch
moved to the rail and leaned far out, holding onto a line.
"They're still following,"
"Within cannon shot?" asked
"I don't think so, captain."
"Warn me when you do think
The ship rounded Mandisa. Then, as the
Bosun had predicted, the wind shifted. It did more than shift
whipping around the promontory made choppy whitecaps out of the waves. A
few birds, still struggling to reach the island, were caught by that gale
and sent soaring backwards, their wings beating uselessly against the
"Make fast!" Tremayne
The sails creaked as the fast-moving
air violently changed direction. The Black
Scorpion heeled over to port, the deck tilting. Men groped for
handholds to keep themselves from being thrown over the side. The helm
wrenched at Tremayne's efforts to keep it under control.
"We'll not make the island in
this!" yelled the Bosun.
"Aye, you're right," said
Tremayne. "The cross-winds will tear us apart."
"They're gaining!" Keara
warned. "I think they're yes, they've fired! It fell short, two
hundred yards, I saw it splash into the sea."
"Vincente, you fool!"
Tremayne bellowed as if the Spaniard could hear him. If the Santiago crippled the Black
Scorpion now, the wind and waves would scuttle her.
"The topsail!" The Sea-Monkey
jabbed an arm up. "The topsail's tearing loose!"
"Secure that sail!" Tremayne
Men rushed up the rigging, but the ship
was tossing so that even the most seasoned of them was making poor
progress. The topsail snapped back and forth, then tore free and flew away
into the wind like a large and clumsy gull. A man plunged, screaming, from
the high mast. He did not go into the turbulent sea but landed on one of
the cannons, bounced off, and was motionless.
There were terrible wooden splintering
sounds, and Tremayne knew that if he kept trying for Mandisa, his ship
would disintegrate under him.
"We've got to turn into the storm
and ride it out!" He shouted his orders. The crew ran to obey, and
the bow of the Black Scorpion
swung back toward the Channel.
"He's firing again!" Keara
called. "That one was closer."
Muttering dark oaths against Vincente,
Vincente's ancestors, Vincente's children, and all Spaniards in general,
Tremayne spun the wheel. He saw the masses of clouds ahead, charcoal and
black beneath a sickly greenish sky. Lightning flickered, and dead ahead
now was a hazy curtain of rain.
He risked a glance back and saw the Santiago
cutting across the sea at an angle, seeking to intercept while staying out
of the dangerous cross-wind. But as the full force of the gale filled the Black
Scorpion's sails, sending the smaller ship skidding over the waves
like a skipped stone, he knew that Vincente would have at most one shot
while they were within range.
"Mr. Trask, ready the port
cannons! I want a broadside volley on my say!"
"You should go below, lass,"
Tremayne said to Keara, who had clambered down and now stood at his side.
"I'll not hide like a child. If she
stays, so do I."
She meant, of course, the Witch, who
was kneeling beside the man who had fallen from the topmast. Tremayne had
no doubts that the Witch could save his life with her healing powers, but
wondered if the injured man would thank her for it. The way he had landed
on the cannon, his backbone must have broken.
"Coming up on the Santiago!" the Bosun announced.
"We'll have one shot at her,
lads," Tremayne said. "Make it a good one."
The curtain of rain was closer now, the
clouds towering over them as the
Black Scorpion raced headlong toward the storm. Now Tremayne could
feel the wind pushing them in a huge spiral, and with grim understanding
knew that they were on the verge of sailing into a hurricane. But it was
all he could do just to hold the ship steady.
"Fire!" he shouted as they
drew even with the Santiago.
The port guns went off almost in
unison, shaking the deck. Gouts of smoke were whisked apart by the wind,
but the cannonballs arced high and true. As they were in mid-air, the Santiago's cannons fired. Vincente had timed it well. Tremayne
winced in anticipation of the damage.
Beside him, Keara flung her arms
straight out to her sides. At once, an enormous revolving bubble of
blue-green force encompassed the two of them, the helm, and the Bosun, who
With the Black
Scorpion pitching and wallowing so severely, it was a wonder that any
of the Santiago's shots found
their mark. Only three did. One went high, splintering the foremast
yardarm. Another went low, punching into the hull just at the waterline.
The third, aimed very true indeed, would have blown Tremayne to bits if
not for Keara. The shot struck the blue-green bubble, which gave a little
as if made of some stretchy fabric, and then was deflected away, harmless,
its killing power spent.
Then they were well past the Santiago,
sweeping wide in a curve that followed the path of the storm.
"Good lass," Tremayne said.
"I don't suppose you can shield the entire ship from the storm?"
She shook her head. "And it'll be
a while before I can do that again. It's
A whispering, hissing noise drowned out
any further conversation as the gale carried them into the downpour. At
one instant, they were wetted only by the wind-borne spray, and the next
they were in the torrent. Tremayne could no longer see the bow of the
ship. The mainmast was a silvery ghost, and everything forward of that was
lost in the sheeting rain.
The reckless Sea-Monkey whooped with
excitement as the Black Scorpion plunged into the storm. The rest of the crew were too well
aware of the danger they were in. The waves swelled high, sometimes
towering over the ship in glassy monoliths. Another sail gave way with a
ripping sound audible even over the relentless hammering of the rain. One
of the cannons broke its moorings, trundling across the deck. A man
shrieked as his foot was crushed beneath its wheels. The Bosun lunged from
Tremayne's side and single-handedly caught the loose cannon.
The ship struggled up a crest, then
sped into the trough between waves at a terrifying speed. The next wave
smashed over the starboard bow. Tremayne saw three men swept over the
side, flailing for purchase. One of them grabbed a line, but the other two
vanished into the sea.
Lightning struck the topmast and
exploded it into smoking shards of wood. Flames sizzled along the ropes
before being doused by the rain. Smoldering splinters pierced the
unprotected flesh of several sailors like grapeshot.
The rest of the rigging tangled,
toppled and fell. Tremayne shoved Keara aside and was caught across the
shoulderblades by a smoking chunk of wood. It knocked the breath from his
lungs and sent him sprawling on the deck.
"Ahead!" he heard someone
yell from the bow. "Rocks ahead port!"
"My captain, you're hurt!"
cried the Witch, running to him. The hurricane winds had thrown back her
hood, freeing long hair that streamed around her face like a dark flag.
"No time." He dragged himself
to the helm again, wrenched at the wheel. He could see nothing forward of
the mast, and could only hope that it was enough.
The rocks appeared out of the rain,
great towering jagged black shapes less than ten yards from the side of
the ship. Just as Tremayne thought they were in the clear, the hull
shuddered with a brutal scraping sound. The deck pitched sharply to
starboard. The Bosun lost his hold on the cannon and it swept two men with
it as it rolled over the side. The wheel yanked itself free of Tremayne's
hands and spun. He was thrown sideways into the women, the three of them
falling in a heap.
From above came a sharp crack like a
gunshot, and the Sea-Monkey landed on the planking, flat on his back and
still clinging to the yardarm that had broken beneath him.
"Oof," he said, his tongue
hanging out of his mouth.
The Bosun fought his way to them.
"We be taking on water badly, sir."
"Aye, Mr. Bosun, I thought we
might." Tremayne got up and helped the Witch and Keara to their feet,
then offered a hand to the Sea-Monkey.
"Clear sky!" came a jubilant
shout. "Clear sky ahead!"
The wheel was still spinning at a
furious pace. Tremayne didn't dare try to catch hold of it; at that rate
it would break both his wrists. The Bosun stepped up and in an
unconventional but effective move punched the center of the wheel,
stopping it cold. Before it could start again, Tremayne seized it and
nodded his approval.
The clouds ahead were thinning.
Tremayne hauled on the wheel and turned the Black
Scorpion toward the patch of
lighter sky. The rain slowed to a trickle, then stopped but for the drips
from the sodden sails and rigging. He saw that they had lost their escort
of birds, which had either abandoned them without his notice or been
snatched away by the hurricane.
"Aren't we going awfully
fast?" Keara asked. "Faster than the wind should allow?"
"Aye, lass, we are," Tremayne
said, realizing that it was true. A feeling of dread dropped like a lead
sinker through his midsection.
Scorpion was being carried along now not by the wind in her sails, but
by the sea itself, which was no longer rising and falling in waves but
sliding along in a vast, smooth current. It brought them out of the clouds
and a terrible scene opened up before them.
They were caught on the outer edge of a
whirlpool at the eye of the storm. The sky overhead was a swampy green eye
in a wall of seething black. Unnatural purple-orange streaks of lightning
danced around the edges.
The whirlpool sloped down as it spun,
the water moving faster and faster toward the central vortex. There,
rising in a wavering funnel, was a waterspout stretching toward the
Everyone was dumbstruck. Tremayne knew
that they were witnessing a sight no living man had seen
and it did
not matter because they would never live to tell of it.
Scorpion was entirely at the mercy of the hurricane now. Nothing he
could do would steer her away from certain disaster. The ship was being
swept around and around on a tightening inward spiral toward the
waterspout, at an incredible speed.
The air was suddenly still, and had a
flat, metallic taste. A whistling, rushing roar filled the world.
No one called a warning as more rocks
loomed in their path. There was no need. Everyone saw them
not rocks, but cliffs
sheer cliffs. The Black Scorpion
was heading straight for them.
It was useless trying the wheel but
Tremayne tried anyway. He might as well have tried to blow out the sun
like a candle.
"Brace yourselves!" His words
went unheard even by his own ears, but his crew didn't need to be told.
He saw the Bosun gather up the Witch
and Keara, one in each arm, and curl them protectively against his massive
chest. Then the ship smashed directly into the cliffs and shattered as if
made of crystal.
Tremayne was thrown into the air, his
body cartwheeling through a blizzard of debris. The sea and sky swapped
places with dizzying rapidity. Pain lanced his arms, legs, torso. Then he
struck the water with bone-jarring force.
Somehow, he stayed conscious, and
thrashed his way to the surface. He coughed out salt water and blood. The
wreckage of his ship flowed past him, inexorably onward toward the vortex.
Unlike many sailors, Tremayne was a
strong swimmer. But not even the strongest swimmer stood a chance against
such a current. He stroked toward a section of deck planking, caught hold
of it, and hauled himself onto the splintered boards.
A body, face-down, was within reach. He
grabbed a handful of shirt and pulled. Mr. Trask flopped onto the planks.
Tremayne rolled him over, and recoiled. Trask's face was gone, a gored and
mangled crater from hairline to chin.
Arming blood from his brow his
scalp was cut, and bleeding badly Tremayne desperately searched the
His gaze found something shimmering
blue-green, and his heart leaped with hope. It was Keara's bubble,
half-submerged. He thought he could make out crumpled shapes within, one
of them very large. But it was in the quickening spiral of the whirlpool.
A broken crate shot past. Tremayne had
a momentary glimpse of a hairy brown arm clinging to it, and of a
wild-eyed face. The Sea-Monkey saw Tremayne in the same instant. He
scrambled up onto the crate, nearly capsizing it, and then sprang toward
Tremayne's section of planking.
It was a brave leap, but if Tremayne
hadn't managed to catch his tail as he flew by, the Sea-Monkey would have
overshot completely. He bleated as he was jerked to a halt by the tail.
"Did you see anyone else?"
Tremayne yelled above the rushing thunder of the whirlpool.
The Sea-Monkey pointed toward the
bubble. Through its rippling blue-green, Tremayne saw the Witch, staring
urgently back at him.
Had he heard that, or imagined it?
Either way, it didn't matter.
The bubble went into a tight final spin
around the vortex and waterspout. He glimpsed their faces one last time
the Bosun, Keara, the Witch
and then they were sucked under
"No!" Tremayne dove into the
water, swimming hard as he could.
As he felt the vortex pull him down, he
saw the Sea-Monkey paddling frantically after him. Then the whirlpool
closed over his head.
The surging waters dragged him under.
His eyes stung from the salt as he tried to search the swirling darkness
below him for any sign of Keara's protective bubble, any sign of the rest
of his crew.
Tremayne held his breath as long as he
was able, despite the crushing pressure that felt as though a fist of iron
was clamped around his chest, squeezing until it seemed that his lungs
would burst, his ribs snap like twigs. All too soon, even the precious air
turned against him. It burned and ached. His blood pounded in his veins.
His temples throbbed. His heart slammed like a padded mallet.
At last he could bear it no longer and
exhaled. He tried to seal his lips against the sea water that sought to
rush in and fill the void left by that expelled breath. But his agonized
lungs demanded to be filled.
The briny taste flooded his mouth and
nose. It rushed down his windpipe. He had heard others, near-drowning
victims plucked from the bony grasp of death, tell of how resistance
recognized futility, and the feeling of despair turned to one of lassitude
and acceptance. Tremayne waited to feel it overwhelm him, waited for his
cares and his struggles to cease.
They did no such thing. He could not
surrender. Even as he was drowning, even as he was dying, his will to
survive was too strong to let him give in to the false comfort.
Darkness surrounded him. He was alone
in the void, tossed by the maelstrom. In the small part of his mind that
was not so consumed with sheer determination, he wondered whether or not
he might already be dead
whether or not this was the Hell to which a
lifetime of piracy had surely damned him. A Hell that was, rather than an
endless inferno, cold and dark and wet.
He felt his consciousness dwindle like
the rapidly receding light of a lantern, speeding away from him. Shadows
This, then, was dying.
A tumult of memories and regrets
flickered past, too fleeting to hold. All he had done that he wished he
hadn't. All he had never done that he wished he had.
And then only nothingness
An eternity of nothingness.
Followed by a painful, gradual return
A coarse, gritty surface beneath his
body. The chill of the air on his skin.
He heard gulls crying, and the familiar
sound of the sea.
His body was motionless, rocked by no
waves. Pebbles pressed into him, or perhaps shells, each one feeling like
Tremayne sucked in a hoarse breath. His
throat was raw. He might have been drawing tiny shards of glass into his
lungs. His chest heaved involuntarily in a cough that wracked him with
such pain that he lost consciousness again.
When it returned, creeping gingerly
back to him with the wariness of a kitten that had been put to a cruel
scare, he sipped a shallower breath. It was still shards of glass, but he
was able to keep from coughing.
His good eye was raw and red, its lid
caked shut. He pried it open anyway and closed it at once against the
glare of daylight.
Uttering a low groan, he decided to lay
where he was for a while and see if matters improved. He had always been
hardy, a quick healer, resilient. Now was the time to put that to the test
and see if his body's resources had gone soft, if he had become too
dependent on the Witch.
He opened his eye again in sudden
horrified remembrance. Once more, the harsh daylight speared into it,
making it squint and water.
the rest of his crew
Where were they? Had any of them
survived? It seemed that he had, somehow, and surely the fates could not
be so cruel as to let him live but take his friends.
At first, all he could see was a
stretch of sand and gravel. He had washed ashore somehow, thrown by the
storm up onto a beach. It occurred to him that low waves were lapping at
his boots, that the occasional higher one rushed up to soak through his
already sodden trousers.
Tremayne tried to raise his head and
found that it was heavier than a cannonball, heavier than an anchor. The
bones in his neck gave an alarming creak. He looked around.
The sun was fiercely bright but
diffuse, filtered through a high layer of smoky mist. Though he could
smell the sea, it was not the crisp, bracing scent he was used to but
something tinged with unidentifiable foulness.
The beach was, aside from himself and a
few strutting gulls, empty. At his movement, the nearest of the gulls all
squawked and fluttered. Disappointed at these signs of life, he supposed.
Had he not stirred, they might have decided he was carrion and gone to
work on him, first pecking the eye from his head with their dirty beaks
and then nibbling at the softer parts of him.
There was no sign of anyone else. No
sign of the others.
A prolonged deep and honking howl had
him scrabbling on hands and knees up the beach before he knew what he was
doing. He reached a place where the gravel gave way to a strange black
expanse, hard as stone.
No sea monster for such he was sure
that howl must have been snatched him up in vicious toothy jaws.
Tremayne cast a wild glance back toward the sea, expecting there to be a
long-necked sinuous shape gliding through the waves.
Instead, he saw the white outline of a
Relief robbed his limbs of strength and
he collapsed again, onto the hard, flat surface that was like thousands of
tiny rocks mixed with solidified black tar. The brief spate of adrenaline
was gone, leaving him trembling with weakness. He was able to roll onto
his back, but that was the last of his energy. He lay with arms splayed
out to his sides, panting, grimacing at the tainted air.
Had he truly seen a ship? Or a sea
serpent? Or neither? Had the howl and the glimpse of a white hull both
been the products of an overstrained, exhausted mind?
He mustered his will and lifted his
head, looking down the length of his body. He saw in passing that his
sword remained belted to his waist. The toes of his boots framed the ship,
But it was unlike any ship he had ever
seen in his entire life. There were no masts, no sails. And it was somehow
coming toward him against the wind.
The effort of holding his head up was
too much. Tremayne let it fall back, staring blankly at the sky.
Was he dead, then? Was the white ship
some vessel from the next world? A ship of angels, to convey him to
Heaven? He could not fathom how such a thing could be
if there had been a ship to come for him, he would have expected it to be a
wormwood derelict with tattered sails, crewed by grinning corpses and
captained by a demon.
His eye closed. Whatever came, he had
little choice but to accept it. Although he still had his sword, not even
Jamie Tremayne could fight against the hosts of either Heaven or Hell.
He heard a boat putting ashore. The
noises were at once so familiar, and so wrong, that he was not sure what
to make of them.
Voices. Voices that sounded like
neither angels nor demons. Human voices? Yet speaking so strangely
they neared, he thought that the language was English, but some broken and
guttural dialect he had never heard before.
Something was very wrong, and yet
Tremayne could only lie where he was and await the worst. He had not felt
the lassitude that those who had nearly drowned told him of when he was drowning. Here on dry land, he was as helpless and docile as a
"Yep, there he is," one of
the voices said. It was a woman's voice, but neither youthful nor
melodious. An older woman with a tobacco-harshened rasp. "Looks like
he hauled himself out."
"Is he dead?" The second
voice belonged to a young man, excited and nervous. "He looks
"They always do. At least this
one's not flat on his face. Those ones really
Tremayne discovered that he could
at least, he could understand the words, if not their
"You mean this happens a
lot?" the young man asked.
"Kiddo, all the time. You haven't
been in town long, have you?"
"Six weeks," he replied,
"Six weeks?" repeated the
woman, with an incredulous laugh. "And this is your first one? You
must not get out much."
them! Just not
not like this." Footsteps gritted closer, coming
up the gravel beach. A shadow fell over Tremayne and then moved aside.
"Are you sure he is one? He doesn't look like one."
"You're not going to tell me he's
a normal. Not dressed like that." There was an evaluating pause.
"Hmm," the woman said. "Or undressed like that. Nice chest.
Hell of a tattoo."
"But he looks
pirate," the young man said. "The eyepatch, the boots
Tremayne opened his eye. They were
standing over him, and despite the strangeness of their speech and manner,
they looked human enough. No horns and barbed tails, no feathered wings
and halos. The young man had a fresh, open face with a mop of yellow
curls. The woman was tall and rangy, with greying brown hair tied back in
a horsetail. Both wore orange uniforms with white belts and bandoleers and
caps. Letters were sewn onto the fronts of the caps. English letters. PCCG?
"Told you he's alive," the
woman said. "Hey, buddy? Got a name?"
He tried to answer but only coughed
"Take it easy," she said.
"We'll get you fixed right up." She turned and waved back in the
direction of the ship.
"What do you think happened to
him?" the young man asked. "How'd he get way out here?"
"Could be anything. TP gone wrong,
or he was flying and ran out of steam and fell into the water, or he lost
a fight up there somewhere. I'm telling you, Danny, it happens all the
time. You better get used to fishing these guys out of the drink."
"So how come he's alive?"
"Hey, they're not like us. Have
you got any idea what it takes to kill one of these suckers?"
"What about "
"Yeah, yeah, okay, good to see
you're not totally ignorant.
They can die, but it's really rare. Most of the time, boom, down on their
faces they go and there they stay, either until another one comes along
and helps them, or they get carted off to the hospital. Well, okay
I've heard that sometimes they'll drop, but then they'll get up again and
wander around for a while like a sleepwalker. Kind of creepy if you ask
"What, and then they're just fine
"Good as new," the woman
said. She raised her voice. "Hurry it up, would you? We haven't got
"Isn't there anything we can do
for him? He looks like crap."
"You got something in mind?"
She scoffed. "Yeah. Right."
"Well, it feels weird to just
stand here looking at him with our thumbs up our butts."
"Danny-boy, kiddo, I know that
when you signed on with the Paragon City Coast Guard, they made you get
your CPR cert and all that good stuff. But let me tell you, the docs who
work on these guys get years of training. I mean, hey, they've got to.
Never know what's going to roll through the ambulance bay next. Mutants,
cyborgs, aliens, people who've been doused with radiation or chemicals,
hell, you name it. We've got no idea how to even start treating this
shirtless hunk of beefcake here."
The young man looked down at Tremayne
with a perplexed, pitying frown. "So we just haul him out of the
"Off the beach."
"off the beach, and dump him at
the nearest hospital?"
"That's about the size of it,
yeah." She gave him a punch on the arm. "Fun, huh?"
More people, men in similar uniforms,
appeared with a peculiar stretcher made from shining silvery metal and
blinding white padding. They unfolded it onto jointed legs and small
wheels, and set it up next to Tremayne, who still couldn't get off the
He had followed some of the
conversation between Danny and the older woman, but so much of it was
baffling to him that he was no longer sure that it was
English they were speaking. Many of their words were foreign
ambulance, mutants, radiation. Others almost made sense, but still eluded
Even so, he was fairly sure he had
gleaned that they intended to take him to a hospital. That was a word he
knew, though not one he greeted with particular optimism. He envisioned
long filthy wards with beds full of the sick, the mad and the dying.
Still, given that they had evidently
recognized him as a pirate, it could be worse. They could be taking him
straight to prison or the gallows.
He did not fight them as they
surrounded him and prepared to lift him onto the strange stretcher. He
doubted that he could have drawn his sword, let alone swing it. The woman
crouched by his head, Danny at his feet, and another man on either side of
"On three," she said.
The four of them lifted Tremayne, while
a fifth slid the stretcher underneath him. His resignation became alarm as
they strapped him down, but by then it was too late to do anything even
had he been able.
"Hey, Doris, does this really
happen all the time?" asked Danny as they began to roll the stretcher
over the bumpy gravel. "Or were you joking with me?"
"No joke," she said, and
another of the men nodded. "This is my sixth."
"I've done three before him,"
the man who'd nodded said.
"My brother-in-law is a paramedic
assigned to Cherry Hills," another man said. "He must get thirty
calls a day to haul some cape out of the Hollows."
"Only thirty?" scoffed the
third, who had slid the stretcher under Tremayne. "My dad was a
doctor in Perez Park."
They rolled him down the beach, and
Tremayne saw their ship again. His vision was clearer now, but he still
blinked in amazement. There were still no sails, no masts. The hull was
seamless white, not made of wood at all. It rumbled from somewhere deep
"W-wait," he said.
The woman glanced down at him. "He
speaks! How 'bout that. What's your name, pal?"
gaze shifted to his tattoo. "No kidding. Well, don't you worry. We'll
get you to the hospital and they'll fix you right up. Got a team we need
crew," he gasped as
they folded up the wheeled legs of the stretcher to load it onto their
where are they?"
She patted him on the shoulder.
"We'll get in touch with them for you."
"Maybe he means they were out here
with him," Danny said. "His team."
Tremayne looked gratefully at the young
man. "Find them. Help them."
"Oh, damn," the woman said.
"Radio it in, Carl. We might have more of these guys floating around
out here. Meanwhile, we better get him to the hospital."
"My crew first."
"Hey," she said, with a not
unkindly grin. "You may lead your own team, your own supergroup,
whatever, but out here, Doris Biederman calls the shots."
He had no further chance to argue as
they got him onto the white ship. Not that he would presume to contradict
Captain Biederman aboard her own vessel, no matter how bizarre he might
find it. For a woman to become a captain meant she must be strong, and was
no doubt used to overcoming the objections of men.
And once they were underway, Tremayne
was too filled with wonder to do anything but stare. The ship
moved under its own power, in any direction no matter the wind or tide.
Instead of having a bell, it was the source of the long honking cry he had
mistaken for the howl of a sea serpent.
His stretcher was secured on deck,
beneath a forward canopy shelter with clear windows all around. Doris ran
a handheld device that beeped and flashed over him, shook her head, and
muttered something about microchips, whatever those were.
The young man, Danny, solicitously
provided a pillow to prop up Tremayne's head, and the view as the ship
coursed steadily through the harbor was so incredible that he could barely
credit what he was seeing.
He had, he concluded, lost his mind. A
hospital with wards full of raving lunatics was the best place for him
It was impossible. It was enormous.
each bigger than the last
the sky in glittering edifices of glass and stone and steel. Everywhere he
looked were roads and bridges that would have put the ancient Romans to
shame. Rolling along them were enclosed carts and wagons that moved
without benefit of horses. He saw ships a hundred times bigger than even
the largest Spanish galleon or man-of-war.
Then, most impossible of all, a man
flew past, supported unaided in the air. In the brief moment he was in
sight, Tremayne saw a lithe body clad in tight shiny green, with gold
boots and gloves, and a cape rippling in his wake. Next was a woman in
scarlet, bounding along a bridge with gigantic leaps, as if she wore a
pair of seven-league boots from a child's fairy story.
what is this
place?" he asked in a whisper.
Danny, who had stayed nearby, looked
over at him. "Haven't you been here before?"
"Never in this world."
"You mean you're a new one?"
His face lit up with excitement. "Hey, Doris! Guess what? He's a new
one! That's why he's not microchipped!"
"A new what?"
"Hero," Danny said. "You
are, aren't you? I mean, you've got to be, surviving that. And the way
you're dressed, carrying a sword and everything."
More of the city came into view, and
Tremayne was dumbstruck again. He saw walls of shimmering greenish light,
not unlike Keara's shielding bubble but stretching up until they were lost
in the clouds. He saw sculptures that would have dwarfed the legendary
Colossus of Rhodes, all of men and women in fantastic outfits and heroic
And more people
running so fast that their bright costumes formed a streaky blur,
vanishing from one place in a flash of light only to reappear in another a
split second later. The variety of clothing shocked him repeatedly,
particularly that of the women. He thought with a terrible pang of the
Witch and Keara. The Witch, in her hood and veil and loose trousers, might
almost have been considered modestly clad compared to some. And Keara,
with her short, tight dress and high boots, would have drawn no shrieks of
scandal and outrage.
The men, too
Tremayne supposed that
it was no wonder his rescuers found nothing that untoward about his garb.
He saw men in ornate armor, men with horns and spines sprouting from their
skin. Some carried guns that spat bullets faster than he ever would have
believed possible. Some hulked as large and muscular as the Bosun, or were
as small and wiry as the Sea-Monkey.
It hurt him to realize that, as
outlandish as this place was, he and his crew would have fit in among them
and could have walked the streets like any other of these folk. But his
crew was not with him.
As the ship cruised slowly along a
canal, he saw battles taking place right and left. There were people
wreathed in glowing energy, or shooting lightning from their hands, or
wielding flaming swords.
By the time they docked, the unreality
had consumed him to the point that he wished he was dead or dreaming. He
knew that he could not be dreaming
no dream of his, no matter how much
rum he'd been drinking, had ever approached anything even remotely like
Neither was he dead. His vitality was
already coming back to him, though Doris Biederman insisted on having him
delivered to the hospital anyway. He was forced to come to terms with the
fact that he was alive, and that this place was real.
It was not an easy coming-to-terms, as
unreality piled upon unreality. The hospital
had he wakened there
instead of on that deserted beach, he would have thought himself dead and
in a cold, shining-white Heaven for certain. When he left, on his own two
feet, he realized that he had never felt better, nor fitter, in his entire
But there was just too much. Too much
to see. Too much to be asked to believe. He felt something in his mind
simply close like a door. Nothing could surprise him as he followed the
directions he had been given and talked to a succession of stranger and
stranger people. They persisted in calling him a 'hero,' and expected him
to go out into the city like some sort of knight-of-old.
him to fight people. They rewarded him for it. Bemused, Tremayne did as he
was instructed. At last, he was given further directions and sent to the
very heart of the city.
There stood the most majestic statue
yet, so huge that it staggered the imagination. It was of a man bearing a
globe on his shoulders. Tremayne knew something of the legends of the
Greeks, and put a name to him. Atlas.
In the shadow of this titan, surrounded
by outlandish people who unquestioningly accepted him as being of their
own kind, he met a lovely blonde woman in a short blue dress. Something
about her, the purposeful solemnity of her, broke through his abstracted
real. This blonde woman, and the people who charged him with various
tasks, expected him to be not a pirate, but a hero.
He had no ship. He had no crew. He was
alone, lost in this world and this time that were not his own. Fate had
brought him to this strange shore.
While he still had hope of finding
other survivors from the Black
Scorpion, of being reunited with his friends, he understood that it
was time to put his pirating days behind him. His sword would flash for
the cause of good as well as for gold and for glory.
And so, Jamie Tremayne entered Paragon