Chapter Eight: A Narrow Escape
Elizabeth's eyelashes fluttered as she slowly swam up into the light.
She'd passed from nightmares to eventual nothingness,
floating bonelessly, without thought or care, in a warm,
oily pool of calm. Now, however, thought returned, however confused, and she was drawn up out of her contented
state as life and reason reasserted themselves and she became conscious once more.
Her eyes opened carefully, blinking rapidly as light stabbed into her fuzzy vision. Elizabeth struggled to focus as a face came into view. Then, as she recognized it, she flinched back with a terrified gasp.
Miguel, the one-eyed first mate, grinned down at her. "Feeling better, pretty?," he asked.
Elizabeth suddenly realized she was naked beneath the
quilt. She grabbed the edges of the covering and held
tight, knuckles whitening with the force of her grip. "Who...? What...?," she stuttered.
Miguel's grin grew wider; his good eye twinkled with
amusement. "You've been a very sick girl," he said. "Oh,
nobody's hurted you, girl. You caught the ague after your little dip. Cap'n was furious; she kept after the crew for
hours, tryin' to pry out the name of the motherless bastard that left the window open."
Elizabeth blushed slightly. She still felt weak as a
day old kitten and her memory was far from clear, but it
seemed that she recalled... "It was me," she said. "I remember feeling so hot..."
"Ah." Miguel turned his head and the maid stared at
the ruby that winked from the ruined socket of his other
eye. "Well, I'll go tell Cap'n that you're feelin' better. She was in a rare state; stayed with you all day and night,
nursin' you right proper. Only reason she'd up on deck now is 'cause we're near to Port Royale with the Brimstone
nippin' at our heels."
"I don't... I'm not sure I understand..."
"Don't worry your pretty head," Miguel said, rising
and going to the door. "It may be a while before Cap'n can
come down to see you. In the meantime, I'll have the ship's cook bring you some broth. No wanderin' about, aye?
Else I'll have to tie you to the bunk."
Elizabeth nodded. She wasn't sure she could get up without help anyway.
Miguel left, chuckling to
To say that the Captain had been in a rare state had been an understatement. She'd come mighty close to killing Beecham Walker when he'd volunteered for what he called "squeeze titty duty." A half dozen lashes on his bare
back had convinced the rest of the crew that the subject of the tall red-head was off limits as far as the Captain
It had taken all of Miguel's powers of persuasion to
convince Graciela to get some rest, however brief. She'd
not wanted to leave the girl's side; washing her, cleaning up the inevitable waste and vomit, feeding her, even
singing to her, by God, when she thought no one was about who might overhear.
Oh, yes... Miguel knew there was something
special about this Lizzybet of the Captain's. The girl had
he could sense it in his bones. There was something iron in her blood, steel in her spine, just waiting for an
opportunity to emerge.
Well, he thought as he swung out on deck.
We'll see what we can do to turn the little mouse into a
worthy of the She-Wolf.
For he had a feeling that the shy maid would somehow
become important, not only to the Captain... but to all of
Graciela gripped the ship's wheel, eyes narrowed against the spray as the ship heeled over, water slopping up over the wooden decks and making footing treacherous.
"Wind's from the south!," the second mate shouted.
"Brace 'em sharp!," came Graciela's command, pitched
to be heard over the wind and the crashing roar of the
Down on the deck, a bosun's mate yelled, "Ease starboard, haul port and make it lively, lads!"
"Heave!," called the linesman.
"Ho!," answered the crew as they surged back on the line.
Crewmen scampered up the ratlines, hauling the heavy
canvas sails. The sails bloomed with a sharp crack and
became drumhead tight, filled with wind that pushed the heavy ship at top speed. They were coming close to the
entrance of the harbor and everyone was on pins and needles.
The Brimstone had drawn alongside and was
racing with them, the bowsprits almost neck and neck. Jack
Splitfoot himself was piloting, ruined face barely visible through the spray.
It was the law that whichever ship reached the harbor first, the other had to give way.
Graciela was damned if she'd yield to the man she hated most in the world.
"Ease that damned t'gallant buntline!," Graciela shouted.
She held tightly to the ship's wheel, feeling the
humming strain pass through the ship. They'd poured on all
in an effort to get ahead of the Brimstone, but Splitfoot's ship was still easily maintaining her close distance. For a moment, the captain considered loosing a broadside that would've blown the Brimstone's lower decks to splinters, but decided against it. This wasn't the time or place to start a private vendetta; they had a bellyful of booty and profit to be made. Once out in the open sea again, however... that would be a different story.
Both ships made for the harbor entrance, a narrow
pass in the encircling coral reefs that would allow only
ship to pass at the time. From the look of things, the Brimstone and the Quartier would get there simultaneously; a
certain recipe for disaster.
"Make way, you scurvy whore's-get!," Splitfoot
shouted, his voice carrying clearly. "That wallowing pig of
won't make it! Yield, I say! Yield to the better man!"
Graciela shouted back, "I piss in your mother's milk, cabron! I'll kiss the devil's arse before I yield to you!"
The crewmen of both ships viewed their captains with
alarm. The reefs here were treacherous; precise navigation
was necessary to
avoid wrecking on the razor sharp coral. These waters also contained sharks,
who could swallow a foundering seaman whole.
Graciela laughed, wind whipping her short black hair
into an aureole around her head. Her eyes seemed
electrified, glowing like blue coals, and her face reflected not fear but devilish glee.
Splitfoot considered; he knew Graciela was a stubborn
bitch. Drawing a flintlock from his sash, he aimed as
carefully at the Quartier as he could and fired.
The bullet whined past Graciela's ear. She ducked out of habit, then stood up straighter than before. Grasping
the wheel tightly, she shouted, "Make way, goddammit! Or I'll ram you straight to hell!"
At the last possible moment, the Brimstone sheered away, Splitfoot shouting orders and curses in equal measure.
Graciela sailed into Port Royale harbor proudly and chose a discreet anchorage; close enough to the dock to make going ashore an easy task, but also close enough to the entrance to make a quick escape if necessary.
As the crewmen scrambled about, taking down sails and
preparing the ship for rest, Miguel appeared on the
"Well, my friend!," Graciela said expansively,
clapping her first mate on the back. "Did you see the way
poxy son of a sow turned tail and ran? Hah! And he's a damned poor shot, to boot!"
"Aye, Cap'n, that he is." Miguel pressed a hand to
his heart; that bullet had come far too close for his
"Nice bit of piloting; I haven't seen the like since..." He stopped, immediately wishing he could take back those last few words.
Graciela said bitterly, "Since my father. Aye, I
suppose I got my sailin' blood from him, though the bastard
gave me little else to remember him by save scars." Her eyes darkened for a moment and she shook her head.
"How's the mouse?," she asked, changing the subject.
"Awake and wondering," he replied.
Graciela considered. Elizabeth had been ill for two
days; the ship's doctor had been convinced that she'd die
of the fever. The pirate had stayed by the girl's side until her fever had
broken, leaving her drenched in sweat but
blessedly cool once again.
Then the lookout had spotted Port Royale and she'd gone up on deck to pilot them into the harbor.
She'd come so close to losing Lizzybet... and why
that thought frightened her she couldn't pretend to
understand. She still planned on seducing, breaking and abandoning her... maybe. The subject of the tall redhead
was a confusing one for Graciela.
She'd never been in love although she'd experienced
the heat of lust. Why did she feel so attracted to this
girl? She certainly wasn't her usual type. Graciela had more experience with harbor town whores than well bred
Best perhaps to forget the girl for awhile. She'd go
ashore, find some willing company and drink herself
senseless. Then she'd puke it up and start over again. After that, there was business to attend to... and a secret
portion of that business which dealt with Splitfoot and his gang.
Miguel was surprised when Graciela said abruptly,
"Get her some clothes. Keep an eye on her. We'll be in port
for a few days, arranging for the sale of the cargo and some shore leave for the men. After that... we'll see."
Graciela turned away and went down on deck, calling for the second mate.
Miguel scratched his head and sighed. He felt sorry
for the scared little mouse; perhaps there was something he
could do to change the Captain's mind about her.
Suddenly, a smile lighted up his swarthy features as
a plan came into focus. Dangerous, yes... but worth a try!
He'd be willing to wager his jewels that once he was through with Lizzybet, she'd be a woman who'd not only turn
the Captain's head but everyone else's, besides.
Whistling through his teeth, the Spaniard went back
belowdecks to put his plan into action.
John Fitzgerald, first mate on the Brimstone, knew when to tread lightly around his captain. Jack Splitfoot had
a notorious temper with a dangerous streak of unbridled sadism that made him as unpredictable as old gunpowder.
The slightest spark could set him off.
Right now, Splitfoot stood like a statue on the
quarterdeck. His brown eyes stared out at the world from
horrifyingly scarred mask that was once his face. Thickened weals criss-crossed his cheeks and chin, and his lips
were puffy, scabrous wounds that had never healed properly. The hot nails that Graciela had flung at him had done
only half the damage; the rest had been caused when his wounds had festered and the ship's surgeon had sliced and cauterized the rotting flesh in an effort to save the captain's life.
When Splitfoot was well enough to see what had been
done to him, he'd keel-hauled the surgeon and had what
was left of the man's body nailed to the mast.
Now Fitzgerald cautiously approached the captain;
even over the rush of wind and the creaking of the ship's
timbers, he could hear an ominous sound that sent chills down his spine. Splitfoot was grinding his teeth, a sure sign that an eruption was soon to follow.
"Cap'n?," Fitzgerald said. "Where d'ye want us to anchor, sir?"
Splitfoot slowly turned a burning gaze on his first
mate. Those nightmarish lips parted just barely enough for
him to say, "Anywhere."
The tone of Splitfoot's voice made the small hairs on
the back of Fitzgerald's neck stand up. When the captain
spoke like that, somebody was bound to die.
Fitzgerald only hoped it wasn't him.
Splitfoot dismissed the first mate with a waved hand
and turned his gaze to the outline of the Sans Quartier.
He knew why Graciela had wanted to beat him to Port Royale and it had nothing to do with the usual rivalry between ship's captains. The Bitch had wanted her choice of strategic mooring.
She was after the other piece of the map. The
treasure map. Once he'd had two parts, both stolen from
seamen. But when The Bitch had fled, she'd taken one piece with her; the other he'd hidden too well for her to
find. He didn't know if she'd managed to find the other two missing pieces over the years but he knew she wanted
his. Without all four pieces of the map, the treasure would remain hidden and beyond reach.
Let her come and take it, he thought. Let her try.
His mouth watered at the thought of getting his hands on Graciela one more time... one last time.
He'd make sure she was a long time in dying... if he allowed her to die, that is.
Jack Splitfoot tried to smile at the