Grace stood on the deck of her ship, pondering her next move. The English frigate sat in the cove of Clew Bay like a beckoning gift, laden with treasures, just waiting to be unwrapped. It was the moonlight that would betray her. She tapped her bottom lip, thinking. “Mulligan!” She called for her first mate. She still had a few tricks left to her and the fog, beautiful and pearly, floating on the water like a delicate obscuring miasma – the fog would grant her enough cover to get to the much larger, more difficult to maneuver ship and give her and her men enough time to harvest the bounty within its groaning hold.
With any luck, it was one of a group of Barks coming back from the Straits of Magellan, laden with goods stolen from the Spanish Main. She grinned a catlike grin as Mulligan strode up to her, bowlegged and quick.
“How do the winds blow tonight, my lady?”
“They blow fair, my Mulligan. Tonight let’s use the shallow draft pinnace. Take Weasel and Sweaty Sean, the Albatross, La Faye, McKee and the cimarrone Leone. And six more, the stronger ones, good with a harquebus. Make sure Leone has his blowgun, but not too much curare! I want no killing! Just enough to paralyze, do you understand?”
“Aye, my lady. I’ll let him know. You’ll be coming, then?”
“Of course. I’ll leave Ian in charge of the Seahorse.”
Mulligan rolled his eyes.
“I know, I know. And take the signaling lantern. I’ll let Cliff the watch know what the signals are. He’ll make the Seahorse ready in case the English frigate has her dander up and wants to use the brass cannon at night, the moon and all – and wrap the oars in worn cloth – the old stuff cook uses for rags, yes? And wear dark clothing. Tell Weasel to take off all his dainty finery. Those earrings, pretty as they are, they’ll catch in the light.”
“Oh, aye. I’ll get the lads ready.”
“And bring the boarding kit, the ladder, pikes, the lot.”
“Already in the pinnace, my lady.”
Grace smiled, and secured her long red hair into a bun behind her head. “Then let’s go lighten the load of our English friends’ pretty cradle.”
It was very late. They had waited until the moon had sunk almost below the edge of the cove’s wall. Grace smelled low tide, the fishy reek of seaweed, the mineral smell of muck and mud and oysters. The smell of home. She stood hunched at the prow of the pinnace and slowly, slowly and quietly, the men rowed silently around the cove wall and there in front of them, its dark shape outlined against the shore, was the English vessel, running at anchor, still in the night. There was no wind, only the creak of the pinnace and the smooth rippling sound as the low sleek boat cut the water towards their prey.
“Quietly now boys, quietly…” Grace whispered.
“Mulligan, the watch! Do you see the watch?”
Mulligan already had the telescope out and was searching the aft of the English frigate. “No, don’t see him yet…wait…there he is.”
“Leone! Are we close enough?
“My lady, he’s too far away. A little closer.”
“Row boys, row to her starboard side. We’ll use the shadows of the cliff wall to help hide us!” She thanked the gods the moon’s crescent light had sunk below the cliff line.
Grace held her breath. Her skin was flushed, her heart was beating fast and never before had she felt more alive, with the marine air teasing along her bare forearms and the feel of her blood hot in her body, her eyes, the lust for gold singing her name. If they could just stay low and quiet and dark, so that the watch didn’t see them. With any luck the watch would get careless. With any luck, Leone’s dart would strike cleanly and Weasel could scamper up the side first to secure the English decks.
Mulligan hissed for the men to stop rowing. Leone was signaling that he had a clear shot. Grace held her breath, watching the enormous cimarrone stand up and take aim at the small dark shape that was standing, stretching….she heard the intake of breath from Leone, then the forceful explosion of air and the punk! of the dart as it flew its invisible needle-like path towards the watch. For a moment there was no sound but the sea slapping against the sides of the low pinnace. Then they all heard it…the sound of a man crumpling to his knees, then the final thud. Grace turned to her men, smiling a wolfish grin.
“Well done, Leone! Now let’s go get our share, boys!”
They brought the pinnace up alongside the great ship and Weasel and Mulligan took pikes and lifted the rope ladder up and onto the railing of the ship. Weasel went first, small and light, quick as his namesake. Grace went second, then Mulligan with the signal lamp. The rest of the crew followed.
Grace peered through the darkness. There was only one lamp left alight for the watch on the port bow; she walked slowly, a harquebus in one hand, brought up by the crew, and in her other hand, her broadsword.
When all her men were armed and ready, they got in order; Weasel first, the quickest to find the captain’s quarters; then Mulligan to secure below decks, to keep the enlisted men from interfering for as long as possible; the rest of the men to threaten the other officers, and Grace to parlay with the captain to let him know he was being relieved of his burden of goods.
The captain and his officers must have had an officers’ party that night. Hard to wake and dulled by drink, Mulligan, Grace and Weasel locked them in their quarters without much fuss and the rest of her crew detained the enlisted men, who shuffled their feet and looked sullen and angry, but impotent the lot of them without the officers’ direction.
Grace took Mulligan down into the hold to take stock of the goods. In the glow of the lantern’s light, they found small barrels of honey, bundles of sarsaparilla, and bags of dried maize. There was colorful woven cloth, sacks of cocoa, and barrels of Spanish sherry and two of Scottish whiskey,
Mulligan let out a shout. She left off counting the casks of honey and came where he stood. He lifted the edge of a canvas cloth back to reveal the bars of gold and silver beneath. He whistled low and Grace raised her eyebrows. “I’ll drink to this,” she whispered.
There were two crates of cotton in which were hidden two large sacks of rough cut emeralds and diamonds, and several small sacks of raw pearls that caught the lantern light and gleamed with a lustre like moonlight.
There was also ambergris, several gilt scimitars with rubies encrusted in their pommels, salted duck and two barrels of dried tobacco leaves.
“Well, Mulligan. I think we found one of the fattest oysters yet,” she breathed.
“My lady, we have indeed.”
H. M. Sanders
Helen MacKay Sanders is the author of The Widowed Warlock and The Ring Maker series for Laughing Tiger Publishing. Visit hmsanders.com to read more stories. She lives on the San Juan Islands of the Pacific Northwest. When she isn’t writing fantasy novels, she can be heard playing the bagpipes.
Pirate Party: Women of the High Seas
Grace O’Malley is one of six powerful women pirates in the game, inspired by real historical women pirates.
Race to collect sets of cards and score the most pirate booty to win. There’s plenty of adventure, period ships, treasure, and mermaid wildcards. Just beware the Kraken!
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