Chapter

Thirty-One

 

After leading Ariana back to the abovedecks closet in which she had hidden so that she might dress in her skirts whilst a room was prepared for her, Jack took Pete belowdecks once again to the bunks. Unlike on most ships, the Barbarians crew slept not en masse, but two or three to a room below decks. Though this meant that he could take on less cargo, the Barbarian firmly believed that privacy was one of those privileges that separated man from the animals. Even a small measure of it bolstered a mans pride and self-respect, and the Barbarian had found that a crew well-fed, well-slept, and self-respecting fared far better in battle than a crew over-worked, half-starved, and with the tar beat out of them in the name of discipline. The number of times he won skirmishes attested to the fact that despite the contrary practice of the times he was most likely right.

Knocking upon one of the doors, Jack announced himself and entered, and Pete saw that two men were lying stretched across taut ropes the manner in which many sailors slept in opposite corners of the room. Rousing at the intrusion, both blearily scratched themselves and stretched. One was older with dark hair and a trim beard, naked except for a dingy pair of slops, with a pleasant round face and a surprisingly innocent look to him. The other, with a strawberry-blond beard and arms liberally freckled, had slept entirely in his clothes. Pete was a bit unnerved to see that this included not only a tawny head scarf, a brown leather eye mask, a rust-colored brocade vest, and a long string of pearls, but also a gun belt and a brace of pistols.

Oo sleeps wearing their pistols? S a fine way to shoot yer own bollocks off!

Morn already? Huzzah! the darker one exclaimed with unexpected cheer as he stood and reached for his shirt. The red-headed fellow rubbed his eyes, got a good look at Pete, and shrieked.

Saints preserve us! Finally invaded, 'ave they? Out, thou scurvy cur! Back to th' dismal sky from whence thou came or swallow lead fer thy breakfast!

Nay, Capn, answered Jack soothingly, as if to a small child. He be one of us, as much of this fair globe as thou art. But he is a very important guest, so First Mate Jarahd wishes to know if he might take his rest in thy quarters whilst he is with us. Have I thy permission, Capn?

Oh, aye, aye. The pirate slid his pistols back into his belt, for he had half-drawn them both as he had shouted at Pete. Welcome aboard, then. I hope you like me ship. Scuse me I shall take me ablutions above deck.

With that, the red-bearded man stumbled off of his hempen bunk and weaved his way out the door.

Mind no' our Drew, Jack told Pete as he moved to tighten a third rope bed near the door. Barmy as the day is long thinks he be the captain of the ship, and tha' most folks he meets are creatures from Jupiter who have invaded to conquer mankind. Absolutely daft. But he is the finest raiding strategist anyone has eer seen, so we humor him.

Raiding strategist?

Aye, spoke the dark-haired man, now dressed and eyeing Pete with a childlike eagerness. “‘E can someow anticipate an opponents move like t' naught yve ever seen!

Thou canst put thy belongings in here, Jack recaptured the conversation, moving past the dark-haired man to shift a wooden crate closer to the ropes, now sufficiently taut. Aye, Capn Drew is like a well, hast thou eer seen a man play at chess?

I ave played it meself a time or two.

Hast thou? Hm! The Barbarian plays it when he can find a partner. I do not play mself, nor do any on the ship, so he must content himself with playing when he is a guest at some court or other. Rumor has it tha' a few years ago he bested King Francis in two games of three, then returned at night to bed his wife.

The Barbarian hath taken Eleanor of Austria? Nay. Pete pursed his mouth skeptically, but Jack just shrugged.

“’Tis the rumor. The Barbarian will nor confirm nor deny. In any event, our Drew is much like a chess master. Absolutely useless at aught else, but he has an ability t' anticipate what our quarry might do several moves ahead, and strategize a counter-plan for th' Moiras best outcome. So good at it tha' we keep him on and ignore the rest.

Jack wiped his hands on his breeches and gestured to the dark-haired man, who was still looking at Pete and smiling with a sort of dopey innocence.

This here be Dave, but we all calls him Casanova. David, this here be Pete. I shall need both of thee t' come presently and prepare a room for Petes two friends. They are t' be special guests of the Barbarians, and they shall need proper sleeping berths and blankets, and a sitting chair if we have one in the hold. After mess, the captain will make introductions and we shall show the women t' their quarters.

Casanova blinked excitedly at the lieutenant.

There be women aboard?

Aye, and these are no tavern stales, they be ladies. So if thou dost so much as think about touching one of them -

Casanovas round face fell, his eyes moistening.

Of course no! Lieutenant, I wd never! I just I avent seen a womans face since…” His voice grew small. Since I said fare-thee-well to me mum.

All right, sailor, all right. Wipe thy nose. We are due at mess in just an hour, so let us get started on tha' room, shall we?

Jack turned towards the door, rolling his eyes as he passed Pete. Casanova followed, smearing his nose across his sleeve. Pete merely looked about the sparse, dim room.

If th rest of the crew are as barmy as these, G-d help us.

Glumly, he headed out of the room to follow Jack.

 

 

Ariana squirmed under the amazed scrutiny of the men and boys aboard, but Petes gentle, protective hand on Rosemarys back kept her own discomfort at bay. As the Barbarian had ordered, the crew had amassed abovedecks following mess to be introduced to their three new ship mates.

Long of Casanova, most of them had already heard that there were women aboard, and the news had been met with varied responses. Some expressed shock; after all, to bring a woman aboard a pirate ship was generally a crime met with steep punishment, and their own Articles forbid it. Others argued that it was the Barbarians ship, and if he wanted concubines aboard it was his freedom to have some. Rumor had also gotten out of a man having been pressed aboard, and that story was met with even greater surprise and exclamation. So it was that, having finally assembled abovedecks and laid eyes upon the three guests in question, there was a great deal of whispering and pointing of fingers, which was distressing to the women.

Arianas small dagger had been returned to her, and she subconsciously clasped a hand over it at her waist. But Rosemary had no weapon to hold for comfort, so Pete had quietly stepped closer to her and rested his warm hand upon the middle of her back. At first, Rosemary had been taken aback by the familiarity of the gesture, made as it was in public. But when she looked questioningly at Pete, he had merely nodded once at her and left his hand where it was. For that, Rosemary was grateful, for now that she had accustomed herself to it, she was indeed taking great comfort from his touch.

For his part, Jack had noticed the tightness in Arianas stance and had inched closer to her as well - not actually close enough that she would notice, but close enough that he might fool himself into thinking that his proximity brought her a measure of ease.

Abruptly the whispering ceased as the Barbarian climbed through the hatch onto the maindeck, once again wearing his turban and scimitar and having added to his adornment a thickly-chained necklace with a massive pendant: that of a lions head all done in gold, with two gleaming sapphires for its eyes. The ensemble made the Barbarian appear a fearsome giant, and by the deferential respect his men immediately showed upon his arrival, it was clear that he dressed so apurpose for the effect.

Well met, lads, the Barbarian addressed the crew, coming to stand next to Ariana. As thou canst see, we have been blessed with a most extraordinary visitation. This fair creature to my right be called Ariana, and her companion be called Rosemary.

Let there be no mistaking, he glowered at his crew. Despite the customary restrictions, these brave women are my personal guests. They are neither sporting women nor any mans leman. They are to be treated with the reverence one would show an angel. To disturb one hair upon either of their lovely heads or even to speak to them with language unmannerly - is to invite me to meet thee on the foredeck for a trial by combat. Any man who dares will feel my cutlass run him through within the hour, and his head shall be thrown into the sea, and his entrails will feed the livestock in the hold. Have I made myself clear?

The men as one nodded and answered, Aye, Aye, Captain! or Arr, which Rosemary assumed was an affirmation of sorts.

Good. That being said, the lasses shall likely be with us until we return to London, so please do all within thy power to make them comfortable. As thou seest, we also have aboard a landsman, friend and protector to these two women. Though I shall not do any of thee the disservice of placing an untrained man above thee in station, thou wilt treat Pete with the respect I demand that thou showst to any other crew member whilst he learns to hand, reef, and steer. If he should ask any man to show him how to do any task, I expect thy cooperation in teaching him. Rosemary, Pete, Ariana meet the crew.

Jack stepped forward, and motioned for the men to form a horizontal line according to rank. Stepping to the far left, he began the introductions.

This here be Tommy, he said of a slender man with long, light brown hair which was tied back at his nape with a blue velvet ribbon. The man also wore an elegantly-tailored, powder-blue frock coat over fawn-colored knee breeches and quite the whitest stockings Rosemary had eer seen. His calves were slender but shapely, and though most of the other sailors were barefoot, he wore black leather shoes in the French style, with a great silver buckle and at least a two inch heel on each. Tommy be the Ships Master, in charge of navigation and steering the Moira. Best keep thy silks close, ladies, or our Tommy will surely nick them for himself.

Tommy smirked elegantly and carefully turned out one calf, the better for the women to admire his fine raiment. Jack moved on to the next man in line.

Esteban Diego, ships Boatswain. Thou three have had occasion to meet already, so thou knowest tha' tis his job t' keep order upon the Moira.

Diego, his brown skin gleaming like copper in the morning sun, did not so much as nod to acknowledge them. But Jack smiled at him as he passed, and it seemed to Rosemary that mayhap Diegos forbidding demeanor was the only way he knew how to maintain the proper level of dread in the men he was assigned to discipline.

This here is Edward the Redbeard, ships cook. Twas his good roast pork thou didst sample this morning. We hold him in higher esteem than a cook commands on most vessels.

He be a better cook than one generally finds on land or sea, the Barbarian allowed, and Edward bowed his head in thanks.

OMallie thou hast met as well, also known as the Commodore. Coxswain, he is, in charge of th' ship's boats when we go ashore and also of maintaining order at night.

Myne apologies, lasses, that I had to bynde thee, the Commodore spoke, bowing, and Rosemary curtsied in reply.

Neer let me fault a man for doing his job and well, she said, and the Barbarian applauded her softly for her gallantry. Thou hadst no way of knowing we meant no harm, and thou didst treat us with more gentleness than is customary, I am sure.

Once again, the Commodore bowed.

Next be our Terry Wyvern, First Gunner. An absolute magician with gunpowder, our Wyvern.

A bearded man with long, silvery-blond hair and a double gunbelt slung across his chest, Wyvern was older than most of the crew. He had a strange quietude about him that Rosemary found oddly soothing, until he shouted,

WELL MET, MATES!

Ariana made an eep! of surprise and Rosemary stepped back, landing on Petes foot. Jack looked crossly at Wyvern, then explained that the first gunner was mostly deaf from his lifelong experimentations with gunpowder.

He can hear a bit, but thou shalt have t' speak up if thou needest his attention. And brace thyselves to be shouted at.

Er, WELL MET, WYVERN! Ariana shouted, but Rosemary simply settled for waving politely at him. Pete was too busy rubbing his foot to make any sort of greeting. Wyvern nodded as Jack introduced the next sailor.

 And this here is Muireadach, Jack continued, moving on to a tall man in red and black with thick black hair secured by a red kerchief and flowing to his waist. Ships carpenter in charge of maintaining th' hull, decks, bulkheads and th' like. Also keeps all ropes and sails mended and in best order. Related to me, albeit distantly. His father, kin to my mother, was a high officer in King Henry VIIs navy. Our Muireadach was meant to follow in his fathers footsteps, but when th' King refused to acknowledge the mans years of service and the poor fellow died in penury, Muireadach here came to us and begged a job. Lucky to have thee, coz.

Jack clapped Muireadach on the shoulder and passed to the next man.

Watch you out for this one, lasses. This be Michael, ships cooper, but we calls him Easy Eyes. Jack looked pointedly at Ariana. Do not let tha' smile fool thee this un is a scoundrel if eer there was one. Handy with a sword and just about any musical instrument ycan offer him, but he hath left a broken heart or twelve in every port. Steer clear, if thou dost value thy maidenhead.

Michael grinned lazily and bowed deeply, showing a well-turned, muscular calf beneath his kilt. Despite the lieutenants warnings, Rosemary saw a glint of self-deprecating amusement in the mans twinkling eyes as he winked at her, and she worked to repress a smile of amusement at his shameless flirtation.

Jack, howeer, was less than impressed, and he smacked Easy Eyes smartly on the top of his head before introducing the next Able-Bodied.

Andrew Leach, known as Smoke. Ship's Bursar, in charge of rations and th' like. Spends most of his loot on exotic tobaccos, fool man. Cannot smoke a pipe or aught else on board, but he buys crates of it just th' same.

Ariana furrowed her brow and asked in quiet undertone, Why cannot he smoke aboard, then?

Pete leaned in and whispered in her ear, Wooden ship. No open fire allowed.

Ah. Ariana nodded, and Jack, guessing that Pete had answered her question sufficiently, moved down the line.

This here is Fett joined just this trip for to run the rigging, though such a dab hand at it, we may make him a regular. Always prefer to have a steady crew when we can.

The blond man with a sweet face nodded and smiled widely.

“…and next here is John Broadfoot, Second Gunner, also new to us this trip, though he served with us four or five years back for a spell.

The husky man with a graying- brownish beard and a red kerchief about his head smiled and bowed his head. Ariana returned his smile, which did not escape the lieutenant's notice.

Next here, Jack continued, after casting a disgruntled glance at Broadfoot, is Rowland. In charge of amassing the crew, he is. Aye, he looks a lady-killer, but his heart belongs to one Mercie, so you shall get naught of him despite the roguish air.

Rowland was indeed handsome in a rough, sea-weathered way, and Rosemary dipped her head in greeting. Rowland rewarded her with a smile that was masculine and broad but absolutely devoid of heat or speculation.

Tis something marvelous, she thought, about being able to smile at a handsome man who is so thoroughly devoted to another that one has naught to fear from such an overture.

Wicked Pete, thou hast already met thy bunkmate Capn Drew, ships Raiding Strategist, Jack was saying as Rosemarys private musings waned. She was startled to see that, unlike the other attentive crew members, this one seemed to be more intent upon using his spyglass to stare distractedly into space than in meeting his new shipmates. He kept poking the spyglass in his eye, thrusting it heavenward, mumbling, and then wiping the eyepiece on his rust-colored vest before repeating the whole process over again.

Rosemary craned her head around to look to Pete for some explanation, but he merely shook his head and made an unconcerned moue. Apparently there was naught about which to worry, so Rosemary gave her attention once more to Jack.

This here is Joseph, and this one Burr, two Able-Bodieds. Joseph sailed with Mad Martin for a while before joining us last year, and twas he who recommended Burr to us when Martins ship was captured not a month ago.

Joseph was a dirt-covered, spherical sailor, round everywhere, with a scruffy, graying beard. He wore a short fearnought jacket of light blue liberally brushed with tar, a thrumm cap, and tattered gray trousers. His companion Burr was tall with long, straggly brown locks, a bare brown chest, and a well-tanned, angular face which was as dirty as his friends. Joseph made a point of bowing low before the ladies, but Arianas brow furrowed when she thought she saw him dart a look of undisguised hatred at Wicked Pete. Howeer, it was gone so quickly that she though mayhap she had merely imagined it, and inclined her head to him politely. Burr, too, nodded in greeting, and despite the grime, both men seemed reasonably pleasant.

Another Able-Bodied, here, Cade, is new on th account as well. Just joined during our last pass through th Caribbean. His parents were French, and th man barely speaks a word of English, for he was raised in th islands.

Indeed, Ariana noted that Cades white skin and light blue eyes were the only things European-looking about him. About his person were numerous amulets and carved talismans. He wore heavy kohl liner beneath his eyes, and Ariana grimaced queasily as she spotted several shrunken human heads attached by their hair to his belt.

Dab hand at scrimshandering, our Cade, Jack was continuing. Though Cade spoke little English he clearly recognized the word for his craft and took pride in his work, for he lifted a beautifully-carved sharks tooth and several of the carved bone amulets he wore about his neck for their appreciation.

Last among the grown men here we have Dave, whom we all calls Casanova. No need to worry, gentle creatures, he got th' nickname from wooing a dolphin, not a lady.

Casanova reddened. Thought fer sure it were a mermaid with lovely long silver hair an -

Never mind that, now. I merely wished to reassure the ladies tha' they had naught to fear of thee. Dave is our Deck Swab. He and Pete have set up a room for thee, and if it needs aught else for thy comfort, just ask him for it and it shall be provided for thee if we have it aboard. That reminds me: Rosemary here hath asked for a pitcher and basin for her morning ablutions, so Dave, pray see if we have one in th Lazaretto before ytake Pete off for his instructions. Lasses, your Pete will be bunking with Dave and Drew, shouldst thou need to find him.

Rosemary barely stifled a giggle at Petes muttered, Lucky me, t bunk wi th ships idiot an his best friend, th lunatic.

Jack had moved on to a trio of boys as varying in appearance as they could be. The first was a lad of about fifteen, quite thin but tall for his age, with blondish-brown hair and serious green eyes. He had a quiet, respectful air about him.

Aiden, Jack introduced the lad with an arm around his shoulder. Cabin Boy. Ordinarily he would serve the Barbarian himself -

But I do prefer a grown man and a confidant to serve me, so that I may hear his counsel even as he doth prepare my table, Jarahd interrupted. Jack hath mine ear and my trust, and does me the honor of serving as both Lieutenant and a more exalted sort of Cabin Boy. Howeer, this in no way doth reflect badly on the esteem in which I hold Aiden. Thou dost serve Jack and Tommy well, boy, and we are glad to have thee aboard.

Aiden looked at the ground, too shy to let the Barbarian see how much these words meant to him.

And this here be Gareth, Jack said of a handsome youth of about thirteen years. The lad had black hair, blue eyes, skin browned as a berry from his hours in the sun, and a wiry, small-boned frame. With a speculative interest that far outstripped his tender years, he addressed the women with a grin and with mischievous eyes that implied he could toss a skirt oer a maids head as well as any grown man. Yet there was such impish humor in the look that it came oer without any threat. Despite herself, Ariana liked him immediately.

Gareth be a powder monkey he helps out with the cannons. From Yorkshire, so y cannot understand a bloody word he says, but a dab hand at the fire power, nonetheless. Gareth, quit looking at the lasses as though thou hast a chance.

Gareth looked down with greatly over-acted humility, but raised his eyes once more and winked at Ariana as Jack passed him.

Ariana could not help but grin. Cheeky devil.

An lastly, youngest of the crew is this here Najee, second powder monkey. Orphaned out of India, as was.

Najee, nine years old, was small for his age, but there was a sharp intelligence in his black eyes. He stood perfectly still, as though to prove that his youth would not prevent him from doing his job with absolute focus and dedication.

And now thou hast met the lot, the Barbarian concluded. "Wicked Pete, art thou ready to swear fealty to me and to the crew of the Moira for the duration of the time thou art aboard?"

Pete nodded, although Rosemary sensed in him a certain lingering reluctance.

Kneel, then, and hear the Articles read.

Pete stepped around Rosemary and came to kneel at the Barbarian's feet. As he did so, the entire crew formed a circle around them, with Rosemary and Ariana standing just inside of it, along with Jack. The lieutenant produced a parchment, and Aiden stepped forward to ceremoniously hold an inkwell which held a magnificent black quill. Jack began to recite, though more from memory than by reading.

Article One: By hereby signing, I pledge the thoughts of my minde, the strength of mine armme, and the desires of my heart to the welfare of the Moira, her Captaine and her crewe.

Article Two: By hereby signing, I agree to take no man's libertie save by the expressed and unusual consent of my Captaine, Jarahd the Barbarian.

Article Three: By hereby signing, I agree that any man that shall offer to runne away, or keep any Secret from the Company, shall be marroon'd with one Bottle of Powder, one Bottle of Water, one small Armme and shot.

Article Fourre: By hereby signing, I agree that any manne that shall strike another whilst these Articles are in force, shall receive Mose's Law (that is, 40 stripes lacking one) on the barre Back.

Article Fivve: By hereby signing, I agree that any manne shall be putte to Death that shall bringe, hide, or suffer a Woman to be aboard...

Jack stopped and paled, for Ariana and Rosemary stood not two men's width from him. There was a moment of silence during which not a man breathed.

Save by the expressed and unusual consent of the Captain, the Barbarian concluded, and waved his hand for Jack to finish. Jack resumed his recitation, and continued until all the Articles had been read.

At the end of the recitation, Aiden lowered himself to one knee and offered his thigh as a surface upon which the parchment might be placed and signed. With more than a few misgivings, Pete drew the quill from the inkwell and signed his whole name, Wicked Pete Speakeasy, to the bottom beside a large blue-ribbon seal. He experienced a moment of satisfaction at the Barbarian's raised brow when he actually signed his name, not merely setting his mark to the parchment with an X like most of the illiterate sailors had done.

Having affixed his own signature to the Articles, the Barbarian drew his scimitar from his belt and bid Pete bow his head. Touching the blade to the back of Pete's neck, the Barbarian boomed,

Wicked Pete Speakeasy, thou art hereby placed on account with the Moira, to depart her only by death or with thy Captain's consent. All aboard cry!

Aye! Aye! Aye! shouted the men in unison, and broke their circular ranks to form a line once more.

Good form. Then, with mess in less than an hour, all may return to their duties. Once again, I pray thou wilt welcome mine honored guests with all duty and respect. Esteban, a word before thou dost depart?

Diego stepped forward as the men dispersed, looking sideways at Tommy who, before departing, had bowed low over the ladies hands and kissed them with as courtly a manner as the two women had eer seen. Pete followed Casanova, who was under instructions to teach Pete the fine art of mopping the maindeck.

The Barbarian drew his boatswain aside.

Aye, Captain?

As thou didst hear, Esteban, these three are indeed mine honored guests, though Pete will be working as part of the crew. He was offered the opportunity to be put out at the next port but chose instead to stay on for the womens sakes, and I am glad of it. Howeer, there is still the matter of his arrival; some man or men aboard, or one connected with one of my crew, disobeyed the Articles and pressed him aboard. Find out who it was, and soon.

Aye, Captain. Diego gripped the hilt of his sword and took his leave.

The Barbarian turned to go, but not before he spotted Najee hiding behind the mast, evidently having listened in on his conversation with Diego. For a moment he thought to upbraid the youth, then decided against it. Najee was a good lad; resourceful, intelligent, and willing to turn himself inside out to please his captain.

What would it hurt for the boy to know that Pete had been pressed? Mayhap one of his men, loathe to speak freely before the Boatswain even when in his cups, would forget himself around a mere powder monkey.

Aye, one more set of eyes and ears shall do no harm, he decided, and motioned for Jack to show the women to their sleeping quarters.