A brutal fantasy tale of piracy, friendship, romance and revenge on the high seas…
Midnight Runner was stalking a treasure ship from Hispaniola keeping a careful distance and doing nothing to draw attention to herself. But her captain, Tall Jack Stainless, was puzzled. Rey Don Phillipos was a big ugly bitch of a ship, riding low in the water, and seemingly unaware of an imminent tropical storm. If her captain had any sense he would have been crowding on all possible sail and beating for the shelter of the closest of a group of verdant islands – where the hidden teeth of a coral reef would hole his ship and leave it at the mercy of the pirate crew – or dropping the sea anchor and preparing to ride out the storm as best he might. However, he was doing neither, instead the ship held tightly to her course, making her majestic, if slightly wallowing, way across a sea that looked like molten copper.
Gobshite, the talking rat, stood on his hind legs and came as close to a frown as his rodentine physiognomy would permit.
“Whassamatter with the stupid bastards,” he hissed. “Don’t they know that ugly old scow will founder at the least breath of wind?”
“What’s the plan then, boss?”
“As she ain’t gonna sail into Nombre Dios Bay, we have to take her in open water. So we wait for reinforcements.”
“Coming are they?”
“No. We’re just gonna sit here until the old Runner rots under us.”
Gobby scratched his scarred head. “What good’s dat boss?”
Jack clouted him ungently. “Of course they are coming you dimwit. I made the signal two hours since. The wrecker is on her way.”
“Why didn’t you say, Cap?”
“I just did.”
The rat opened his mouth, and Jack braced himself for further stupidity. A low whistle from the crow’s nest rescued his thinly stretched patience.
He hurried to the taffrail and looked windward. A dark-coloured three-master with steeply-raked sides was coming towards them as fast as every sail she could muster would permit. It was the wrecker, a fast clipper with a specially reinforced bow that would cut through most ordinary ships like a knife through butter. It would be crewed by whoever was idling their time away in the waterfront stews of Retiro de Ladrones. This lot looked keen, as the wrecker was already on a collision course with the overloaded treasure ship. As the raked clipper passed the bow of the Runner. Jack caught sight of a head of hair as red as the setting sun and realised who the crew were. He swore briefly before issuing a set of crisp orders.
“Crowd on the sail boys. Bony Mary and her mad girls are on the wrecker.”
The sails unfurled and the pirates armed themselves ready for a fight.
The crash as the wrecking ship hit the side of Phillipos could probably have been heard by the treasure ship’s owners back in Spain and it was quickly followed by the ululating cries of the female pirates as they swarmed onto the deck of the wounded ship. The crack of musket fire could be heard, even above the increasingly loud screams and groans.
Jack recognised the tall, handsome figure that stood on the poop deck of the crippled treasure ship at about the same time as his crew did. It was Don Carlos de Herrera y Corrado, whose cruelty was a byword across the Spanish Main. The Don used fire against crippled ships, castrated captured men with his own hands, and took women and children to be sold in the slave markets of Asia Minor. An angry hiss spread from mouth to mouth aboard the Runner and, as usual, it was Gobby who found his voice first.
“If it ain’t Don Carlos his own self. Nobody better get between me and that one.”
Jack ignored him.
“Grappling hooks ready boys. And boys. Make sure somebody takes out that arrogant bastard on the poop deck.”
The growls of assent suited Jack’s mood, and the instant the Runner rubbed her side against the stricken Spaniard he was over the rail with a pistol in one hand and a hook-bladed knife in the other. The Spanish soldiers guarding the treasure were well-drilled and operated in two ranks. One rank stood and fired muskets while their compatriots crouched to reload. Then they swapped. But for all their experience and discipline, none of them had ever experienced anything like the sheer ferocity of the female pirates under the command of the imposing figure that was Bony Mary. The women swarmed over them like a tidal wave, taking many wounds in the process but completely undeterred by injury to themselves or the screams of the men they got their hands on.
Mary herself led the charge, with a thick stave of ironwood in one massive fist and a wickedly sharp knife in the other. As her girls overran the musketeers by dint of sheer numbers and almost unimaginable savagery, Mary thrust her cudgel into a loop on her belt and bent over the first live musketeer. She cut him open with one swift stroke of her skinning knife. Ignoring his screams, she moved on to the next soldier. She had gutted about a dozen of them when her eye fell on the aristocratic figure of the Spanish Commanding Officer as he duelled with the blood-maddened gremlin that was Gobshite the rat.
Taking a running jump at the railing around the poop she crashed through the woodwork to land behind the hidalgo. Even as he pressed home the advantage his height and reach gave him over the berserk rodent, Mary slashed the tendons behind his right knee with scientific precision. Don Carlos turned his death’s head grin on her.
“Too cowardly to take me one at a time?” he hissed.
Mary laughed and licked the blade of her skinning knife. The Spaniard must have realised what the wall-eyed giantess had in mind, because he redoubled his efforts to disarm, maim or kill Gobby, whilst at the same time trying to keep an eye on the dangerous madwoman. It wasn’t going well for him until Gobby lost his footing momentarily, and the saw-edged poignard slipped from his sweating claw. The Spaniard ran him through neatly and turned to face Mary with his blooded blade moving like a snake’s head in the metallic light. Unfortunately for him, the rat wasn’t that easy to kill and Gobby reared up from the ground, jumping onto his foeman’s shoulders and sinking long, yellow teeth into the pulsing artery in Don Carlos’ throat. Even as the Spaniard desperately tried to dislodge Gobby, Mary attacked.
“Nooo.” The man’s despairing cry was loud enough to stop the fighting around him. “Nooo. You promised me I would be invincible.”
Whatever else he had been going to say was cut short by a scream of mortal agony as Mary slashed open his guts. and Gobby drank his lifeblood. A single pistol shot gave him the mercy of a swift death.
There will be more from Bony Mary and her crew next week…