Chapter

Twenty Eight
 

Edward the Redbeard, nicknamed the “Galley Dog”, hesitantly approached the Barbarian’s chamber. The ship’s cook knew that this early in the morning – for it was now barely four and thirty of the clock - the Barbarian liked to study his maps, chart courses, and strategize. Under pain of the Barbarian’s wrath, no one was to disturb him before sunrise save his lieutenant, Jack Finch. If any other dared to approach him at this hour, some life or death issue had better be at hand.

Edward gulped. He was well-liked by both the crew and his captain, and was not prone to make trouble without good reason, which he hoped would be remembered. Ordinarily he concerned himself with naught but creating new recipes to keep the crew happy and well-nourished. Indeed, he had never had reason to approach the Barbarian’s chambers until now. But an unidentified stowaway seemed the sort of thing the Barbarian would want to know about sooner rather than later. Moreover, Edward had indeed gone down to the cargo hold, and had seen by the light of his glass lantern the guitar, the rope, and the blood, all where the man locked in his galley had said it would be.

Of course, he might have planted all of that in the event that he was caught, but the guitar was a strange addition. A guitar was bulky and noisy – much more difficult to sneak aboard a ship than other objects might have been. It seemed out of place as an item chosen to corroborate a story, and forced Edward to at least consider the possibility that the man was telling the truth. There were also the man’s clearly abraded wrists – although once again, his wounds might have been self-inflicted to evoke pity.

Edward scoffed.

Pity from a pirate at th sight of blood? If that was th mans aim, he didna know very much of piracy.

But something in his gut told Edward that the man was being truthful, and that he had indeed been brought aboard involuntarily.

Yet, if that were the case, then someone else on board had broken with the Barbarian’s Articles, the rules and regulations specific to the Moira and her crew that each man signed as he knelt before the Barbarian ere he was officially put on the Moira’s account. Aye, and no one was forced to sign; those aboard were crewmembers because they wished to be so. Any man who changed his mind would forfeit his share in the booty they amassed, but was otherwise free to go without let or hindrance. Never in the Barbarian’s career had the captain pressed a man into his service, and he made very clear to his crew that to do so was punishable by keelhauling. It was a consequence reserved for the most heinous of infractions, and the Barbarian had made plain that, at least on his ship, stealing an innocent man’s liberty was chief among those.

For all he was called “the Barbarian” – and in some cases, mayhap he could be considered one – he also had a strange dignity and sense of justice that Edward much admired. But the Galley Dog suspected that the Barbarian loathed the pressing of sailors not merely for its ‘unjustness’, but also because such unwillingly-worked men were a liability: any man more concerned for his own skin than the mission of the crew was likely to make a careless mistake at an inopportune moment… or even outright betray the crew and captain by letting those who wished to challenge the Moira succeed in exchange for his freedom. Nay, a man who had not joined willingly was a severe liability to the efficiency and safety of the crew.

Whatever his reasons were for making the pressing of service a punishable offence, Edward reasoned that the Barbarian would want to know with all haste about this new development. Since the man was safely locked in the galley, Edward had waited patiently on the fo’c’sle, not daring to disturb the Captain’s sleep afore now. But the faint lightening of the sky told Edward that it was now past the Barbarian’s customary rising hour, so there could be no more stalling. Indeed, the captain’s lieutenant had crossed the maindeck and entered his captain’s chamber some fifteen minutes ago, though the man had not seen Edward as he waited on the fo’c’sle above. Edward descended turned to the Barbarian’s chambers. With a deep breath, he knocked upon the door. From inside he heard a growl:

“Thou hadst best have an emergency, else -”

It was answered by Lieutenant Jack Finch, who looked deeply annoyed at the intrusion until he saw it was Edward. Immediately his face softened to one of concern. Edward was not the sort to go barging into places and breaking rules without good reason.

“Galley Dog, is all well? What be the matter?”

“Please ye, Lieutenant Finch, I needs must speak with th’ Captain. I believe it tae be urgent.”

Jack said nothing more, but opened the door to receive his captain’s visitor.

The Barbarian was seated at a sturdy oak table in the back of his room, his feet propped upon it beside a glass lantern. A long, rectangular map lay unfurled in his hands. Looking up at Edward, he spoke briefly but gently.

“What is it, my friend?”

Edward had never actually stepped inside of his captain’s quarters, and for a moment he simply stood in awe. The Barbarian’s quarters were at once richly furnished and yet avoided ostentation. Whilst the furnishings would not look out of place in a palace, here they were used for the vital chores of navigation and quarter mastery. A Traverse Board, its simple wooden pegs inserted into tiny holes about its face, stood upright against the leg of the oak table upon which lay several well-preserved maps. Above the desk and stretching all the way back to the captain's sleeping berth - which was luxuriously draped with ermine pelts for his comfort - were racks bolted into the walls displaying a vast collection of gleaming weapons. Well-sharpened and perfectly primed, the array of weaponry was quite what one would expect of a man whose own crew quaked at the mention of his name. 

Somehow, though, the weapon racks had been so artfully arranged that they not only provided the Barbarian with easy access to them but made their presence complement – even enhance – the elegance of the room. The room as a whole also bore testament to the Barbarian’s eye for beauty and sensory pleasure. A massive, strikingly beautiful rug which looked Persian in origin lay at the foot of his berth, a lion-skin rug lay beside the writing desk where the Barbarian now sat, and a magnificent mahogany dining table laden with a platter of cold pork lay in wait for when the Barbarian chose to break his fast.

“Galley Dog?” the Barbarian prompted, bringing Edward back to the present, and he quickly stood at attention.

“Please ye, sir, and forgive me for intruding, for I know thou art not tae be disturbed at such an hour, but I thought -”

“Belay, there, Galley Dog. Just tell me what is at issue.”

“Captain, it is a man. I found him stealing food from th’ galley nigh tae four hours ago, long after th’ rest of th’ crew were meant tae be abed. I would hae been in bed myself but thought I left a flame open, and o'course that wouldna do-"

"Edward..."

"I took him for a new Able-Bodied who thought he could sneak about an’ flaunt the rules. Thought mayhap he had not yet signed th’ Articles and been introduced tae th’ crew, which was why I didna recognize his face. But he claims tae have been pressed. He is safely locked in th’ galley, for I didna wish tae disturb ye afore ye woke. But… I thought ye ought tae know as soon as possible.”

Though the Barbarian did not move, his energy changed, like a lion sensing prey nearby.

“Be he a spy, thinkest thou?”

“In sooth, Cap’n, I think no’. He is either a very skilled player or a very incompetent spy, for he were easily caught, an’ more afraid of me than I of him, if I might say so.”

“Then how did he come to be aboard?”

“He says, Cap’n, that he was abducted; that he was bound in th’ cargo hold an’ managed tae get himself free. I dinna know if it be true, sir, but I checked th’ cargo hold and things were as he did say they would be. Blood and ropes an’ th’ like.”

The Barbarian considered this. His eyes narrowed and he tossed the map upon the table in a swift, vicious gesture.

“Bring the man to my chambers. I wish to question him.”

 

 

 

 

Edward quickly went to find the Coxswain, Thomas O’Mallie. Nicknamed “the Commodore” because of the fancy raiment he chose, O’Mallie did his best work under cover of darkness, and this unusual skill had not escaped the notice of his captain. Thus it was he who patrolled the ship at night to give the Boatswain the chance to rest. It made for an excellent arrangement all ways around: rather than having to assign such duties to each sailor in turn, this was O’Mallie’s regular duty, and he knew every nook and cranny of the ship without the need of lantern or moonlight.

He was also large and well-trained in using his superior size to his advantage, which was just what Edward needed right now. Not that he could not handle one unarmed prisoner on his own, but in all honesty, Galley Dog was the ship’s cook because he far preferred creating a beautifully arranged platter of pickled meats than strong-arming other people. Though he was indeed a pirate, his heart just was not in all the blood and gore and slitting of throats. He had grappled with an unchecked temper in the past, but careful tutelage by the Barbarian had taught him that there were more effective ways of solving his problems. Nay, he would happily inform the Commodore about the suspected spy, and let the Barbarian deal with the man as he may.

Edward found the Commodore on the quarterdeck, standing quite still and looking out to sea. He was wearing his usual plumed hat and faded blue frock coat, with a burgundy shirt belted across his broad waist. O’Mallie turned as Edward approached, and though he was surprised to see Galley Dog up at such an hour, he chose not to comment upon it, but instead sent him a squinty look.

“Something is not ryte,” he said in his thick County Down accent. “I c’n feel it in me bones. Something is… off.”

Edward never ceased to be amazed by the Commodore and his unusually acute senses. During the day he was practically useless; if not sleeping, then filled to the gills with his own homemade rum. And when the Commodore drank rum, he either sang broken songs to “the Lady Eden” – a woman no crewman had e’er seen but who was rumored to be a tempestuous auburn-haired wench of passing beauty -  or he was flopped in his bunk snoring fit to rattle the cannon. But by night, he was more than merely alert: his eyesight was as sharp as a hawk’s, his hearing like that of a cat, and his nose as keen as any foxhound’s. The combination of his heightened awareness and his powerful girth made him a valued asset to the Moiras crew.

“Indeed,” replied Edward, “’tis what I came tae seek thee for. I found a man in th’ galley, mayhaps a stowaway, mayhaps a spy, but in any event th’ Captain wants him brought to chambers for questioning.”

“Mmm.”

Edward was disturbed by the Commodore’s rather preoccupied response.

“He says he was taken captive and bound in th’ cargo hold.”

“Mm?”

“Aye, but ‘tis nae up t’ me whether that be truth or no.”

Silence.

“So… wilt thou take him?”

“Aye, aye…” O’Mallie answered slowly, but still he looked out to sea. “But if I know thee, he is safely locked in thy galley?”

“Indeed, but -”

“There be something else… think ye I myte have a few more minutes to patrol afore I bring him to th’ Captain? If he be a spy, he myte have accomplices, and t’would save me tyme if I c’d bring them all in together.”

“If ye truly feel it necessary tae wait -”

“Mmm,” answered O’Mallie, and turned away from Edward to look once again out to sea.

With no other response forthcoming, Edward took that as an “aye”, and descended the companionway to his sleeping quarters for the few hours remaining before the rising hour whilst O’Mallie did what he did best: sniff out trouble.

Ten minutes later, the Commodore too went down below decks, to the men’s sleeping quarters. He paused beside each doorway, listening for the even sounds of breathing that indicated natural sleep. Nay, there was nothing amiss here. Nor had there been at the cannon level, for all twenty two seemed to be in order and the barrels of powder and shot appeared undisturbed.

O’Mallie lumbered down to the cargo hold, and though no light entered the room, his night vision was keen enough to see the guitar, the frayed ropes, and the blood which had dried upon the corner of a crate and had pooled in a small puddle below. The amount of blood and the frayed ropes did seem to testify to the truth of the prisoner’s tale, yet a sense of unease lingered within him. E’en if this man’s tale was true, it still meant that some man jack aboard had broken with the Articles. And that would have to be dealt with.

The Commodore shook his head and closed the cargo door. He himself was steadfastly loyal to the Barbarian, who had rescued him with only moments to spare from a Spanish hangman’s noose. It was the same for many of the permanent crew. The Barbarian saved lives and treated his crew far better than any other vessel upon the seas. In doing so, he amassed an unshakably loyal crew. In faith, O'Mallie could not - as a pirate - claim to be law-abiding according to any court or magistrate, but as for the Barbarians code, his captain’s word was law absolute. And it angered him greatly that some man or men aboard, someone who had knelt before the Barbarian and pledged his troth to the Moiras captain and crew, should have e’en thought to break one of the crew’s codes of conduct.

Clenching his meaty fists, O’Mallie climbed back up to the main decks. He saw naught amiss: furled sails and trio of masts all in order, anchor down, and the ship’s wheel tied perfectly in place as Tommy, the Master in charge of navigation and steering, took his rest. Even the wind was moving gently, indicating a calm if somewhat chilly night. But O’Mallie could not break himself of the sense that something was not as it should be.

Scanning the fo’c’sle he saw nothing stirring, but walked towards it anyhow, determined to be thorough in his search. As he passed by the door of a small storage closet which lay beneath the ship's boats on the maindeck, the hair on his arms stood on end. Thrice he walked quietly to and fro in front of the low door, then paused directly before it and closed his eyes. As he shut out one sense, his others grew more keen, and he heard the unmistakable sound of breathing from behind the door.

Furiously, he grasped the door handle and pulled the door wide – wherein he saw what appeared to be one of the ship’s cabin boys or powder monkeys with his arms around dark-haired lass, both asleep. In the next instant, the eyes of both the closet’s inhabitants flew open. From the woman, who was wrapped from chin to toe in a thick woolen blanket, he heard a frightened, mewling gasp, but the boy had already sprung to a crouch, a dagger from his belt drawn, and was lunging towards him. With the swift skill of years at sea, O’Mallie grasped the youth’s wrist as the dagger was thrust forward and twisted sharply, forcing his assailant to drop the knife.

“How durst thou attack me, scurvy cur?” O’Mallie spat as he twisted the boy’s arm further and brought him to his knees. But to the Commodore’s surprise, the cry of pain that escaped the boy’s lips was too feminine even for a youth of such tender years. With one hand still pinning his captive’s arm, he pulled at the youth’s head cloth with his other, and as it came away, a mane of dark blond waves spilled out.

O’Mallie looked from the young woman he held to the brunette, who had risen to her knees as she watched their tousle. But despite the fear for her companion which shone in her deep-green eyes, she made no move throw off the blanket or emerge from the closet.

“Out o’ there,” O’Mallie ordered, and carefully Rosemary crawled from the closet, keeping the blanket wrapped securely around her neck and shoulders.

What be the meaning of this?” O’Mallie roared at them, and the brunette flinched. In his head, the Lady Eden’s voice came to him.

Tommy, sweeting, look at her face. These are not hardened sailors, but tender young maids! Thou shalt get little information by terrorizing two lassies already frightened past their wits. Gently is the way, my sweet.

O’Mallie loosened his grip on the blonde, still holding her by the wrist but allowing her to relax her arm. He softened his tone as well, hoping to make them talk by bargaining with them for their own safety.

“’Tis an act punishable by death for both parties, usually it is, t’ sneak a woman aboard a pyrate ship. But tell me th’ truth now, lassies, and I shall see that th’ Barbarian goes gently on thee. For thy cooperation, thou shalt remain free of harm. Who wast brought thee aboard?”

The two lasses exchanged a wary glance, but neither spoke.

“Come, then, y’cannot have appeared by witchcraft. Who wast?”

But still the women did not speak, the brunette merely shaking her head slightly as she eyed him with a stricken look.

Edward’s words now came back to the Commodore in a rush, and he gripped the blonde tightly by the wrist.

“The man in the galley, th’ one with the guitar, ‘twas he! Aye or nay?”

The brunette was silent, but the blonde’s eyes flickered, and O’Mallie knew he had struck the nail on the head.

“Conspiracy! ‘Did not know how he came aboard’, indeed. Ye shall all pay for this plot, all three. Prepare yerselves to meet the Barbarian. And y’had best pray, if y’canst.”

The brunette’s face was as white as milk. But as O’Mallie reached for her arm, she stepped back from him and spoke in a voice that did not quaver.

“Prithee, sir, my sister and I shall accompany thee without further fight. But if thou wouldst… that is, if I could have but a moment…”

“Unfetter yer tongue, wench, or I shall drag y’by the hair. What is’t?”

“In faith, kind sir, I am not… properly attired. I promise, I shall go with thee willingly, though it cost me my life. But I pray thee, allow me first to dress that I might die with dignity?”

O’Mallie looked more closely at the woman, and now could see that the blanket clung not to the thick folds of a skirt, but to the unmistakable curve of a woman’s hip and thigh. Blushing against his will, the Commodore turned his eyes away.

“Be quick about it.”

From his neck, he took a wooden whistle on a thin leather strip, and twice blew a three-note pattern as Rosemary quickly drew her raiments from Ariana’s sack. She was grateful to see that their captor kept his eyes averted as she hurriedly removed the now-dry chemise from around her calf and dressed in her rumpled clothes. The pressure of the chemise had done the job, and her leg, though still stinging, no longer bled. She attempted to put on her shoes whilst standing but her knees trembled so badly that she was forced to sit back down again. The Commodore looked once in her direction at the movement, but then quickly looked away again when he saw that she plotted no ill.

Her shoes fastened, she began hastily to tie her bodice, when an exceptionally tall and solidly-built man approached. Rosemary had never seen anyone like him. He had skin the color of deeply-burnished walnut wood and ringlets of dark curls liberally streaked with gray, which he had tied in a ponytail at the nape of his neck. His bone structure was thoroughly exotic: high cheekbones, a broad forehead, and slanted eyes more black than ere she had seen. From his wrinkled shirt and sleepy look, it was clear that the whistle blast had woken him from slumber. As he caught sight of the two women, the man’s onyx eyes widened, and his grip tightened on the whip he carried with him.

“Diego,” O’Mallie addressed the ship’s Boatswain, “Go and find th’ Galley Dog and get his keys. Then take th’ man locked in th’ galley directly to th’ Barbarian. But afore, if it please ye, cut us some rope for these fyne white hands.”

Esteban Diego picked up Ariana’s knife from the floor of the deck, tucking it into his own belt. Then, taking a fid from a crate by the foreboom, he cut a section of the coiled rope hanging from the staysails, which he untwisted until he had three lengths of thin woven hemp. As the Commodore securely tied Ariana’s hands behind her back, Diego stepped behind Rosemary and drew her wrists together behind her. He did not, howe’er, grab or shake her, which did not escape Rosemary’s notice.

Our captors, though pirates, at least allow women some quarter, Rosemary thought, grateful that she and Ariana were not being mauled or mishandled, merely bound. In sooth, tis their right to bind us thus. We have snuck aboard their ship uninvited. Pray, let the Barbarian be kinder than his name! And pray that Pete is all right!

As Diego bound the dark-haired woman’s hands, he marveled at the difference in their height, and a small pang of pity pinched at his heart. She was so tiny, hardly taller than a child, and never before had he had to bind a woman. As Boatswain, naturally it was his duty to keep order on the ship, and that meant anything from simply cracking his cat o' nines to keep the crew in line, or hanging a betrayer from the yardarm. He had, in his time on board the Moira, administered dreadful punishments. But each had been well-deserved. Without consequence, there would be anarchy aboard. The Barbarian wanted a tightly-run ship and ‘t’was Diego’s job to make sure that he got one. Yet never in his years at sea had he bound a captive so soft and helpless, and though the expression on his stoic face never changed, inwardly he was sorry that he had been called upon to do so now.

Quickly finishing the job, he could not keep himself from easing the woman’s discomfort by freeing a lock of her long black hair which had become entangled in the ropes at her wrists. He thought he heard a whispered “Gramercy, sir,” as he quickly walked back towards the hatch which led below decks to the galley, taking his whip, Ariana’s dagger, and the third length of cord with him.

Casting the two women a glare that promised dark consequences if they should take it into their heads to run, O’Mallie stooped and reached into the closet for Ariana’s sack. Throwing it over his shoulder, he took each of the lasses by the elbow and led them solemnly to the Barbarian’s lair.