Melisande was awoken the next morning by a sound on deck. To her horror, her head was resting on Baltazar’s arm. She shot out of his bed, thankfully still dressed and promptly left his cabin, despirately trying to avoid being seen.
Gilles was standing on deck about to relieve the night watch as he saw her run out of the cabin, franticly trying to fix her hair. He had a shocked look on his face as Melisande emerged. She turned to see him looking at her oddly and flashed him an annoyed look, “Oh don’t look at me like that! I assure you, nothing happened last night.”
Gilles smirked and turned away shaking his head. Melisande groaned as she disappeared below deck. Melchior looked over at Gilles and chuckled. Niether one of them knew what to think. Melisande wasn’t the type to easily fall for Baltazar’s charm, but this wasn’t the first time that a woman came running out of his cabin.
Baltazar began to rouse the moment he noticed that she was gone. He rubbed his eyes and sat up. Suddenly, there was a shout from the deck, “Sail ho!”
Baltazar tore off his shirt and put on a new one. He then ran out on deck with his spyglass in hand and turned to the lookout, “Where away?”
The scout turned and pointed, “Three degrees on the port side, aft.”
Baltazar moved the spyglass to his eye, extended it, and inspected the ship. It was an older vessel with white and red sails. Its design matched that of a caravel that was once favored by the Spanish navy. It had a massive foremast with two large square-rigged sails followed by three more masts with lateens.
Judging by the look of the hull, the ship had been heavily modified to carry more cannon. Even more alarming was that she wasn’t flying any colors. Flying no flag was often indicative of pirate activity.
Baltazar looked for a name on the ship. The lettering on the side read ‘Black Vengeance.’ He strained his vision to see what else he could discover, when a familiar face appeared on the ship’s deck.
Baltazar lowered his looking glass, “Jaspart…”
Melchior looked over at him, “Argh, what be that dog doing here and where did he get that ship?”
“It would seem he’s coming after us,” Baltazar replied, “I’ll bet my brother had something to do with this. He’d been bragging about his service to the king, but I thought it was a lot of hot air. He doesn’t have the brains to treat with royalty.”
Gilles held the ship steady as he looked over, “That thing’s ancient. Why would he want such an old barge?”
Melchior watched the ship as it closed, “That ship may be old, but she’s fast, very fast. There be no way we’ll be able to outrun her.”
“I agree.” Baltazar replied. “Can’t outrun him, completely outgunned… this is going to be interesting.”
Melchior frowned, “What be our plan then?”
“Our ship is a more difficult target.” Baltazar replied. “We’re shallower on the draught. That gives us a little more maneuverability. Plus I know Jaspart. He’s cheap, I’ll bet that he barely has enough men onboard to man those guns.”
Gilles smiled, “So outgunned, but not outnumbered.”
“Aye,” Baltazar agreed. “Boarding her should be our goal.”
Baltazar closed up his spyglass and turned to Melchoir, “All hands on deck, if you would Melchior.”
Melchior nodded called out to the crew, “All hands on deck run up the guns! Move it you slum dogs!”
Yelling could be heard all over the ship as the men rushed to get her ready for combat. Melchior shook his head, “Captain, we be still damaged from the last fight, the ship be not ready for this.”
“I don’t see that we have a choice.” Baltazar replied, “Don’t worry old friend, Jaspart is a dogged strategist. He goes with the thing that works and never deviates from it. I know his tactics and our goal here is to avoid his cannon fire for as long as possible.”
As the men scrambled up the masts, Baltazar called to them, “Full sail, if you please!”
Within moments, the ship was catching every gust of wind that passed over her deck. Melisande came up from the hold and ran to the aft castle, “What’s going on?”
“Your old friend is back,” Baltazar replied.
“Old friend?” Melisande asked. “Who?”
“Jaspart.” He replied.
Melisande shuddered, “You mean the man who attacked me in the alley? I didn’t know he was a pirate!”
“Aye,” Baltazar replied, “and a particularly nasty one too.”
She looked back at his ship as a look of horror appeared on her face, “He’s gaining on us.”
Melchior nodded, “Aye, that be true. Ye best be arming yourself lass. He’ll be on us in a few moments.”
Melisande turned and ran to the hold. She helped the quartermaster bring the box of pistols on deck before running back down to her old bunk. She tossed her bag out of the way and grabbed the two swords out of her blanket. She placed her forehead against them for a brief moment, “God, hope you have my ancestors watching over me this day… I’ll need it.”
She then ran back up to the deck. Baltazar scoffed at the swords, “You’d be better off using some of ours.”
Melisande shook her head, “These have protected my family for three generations. I would much rather use them, they’re far better than they look.”
Baltazar shrugged, “As you wish.”
Moments later, the Black Vengeance overtook them. Baltazar began screaming out orders, “Ready guns, hard to starboard, tighten the rigging.”
The crew on the masts struggled and pulled at the rigging until the sales began to turn. Within moments, the entire ship began to turn to starboard. The hull groaned under the pressure.
Jaspart saw what the Specter doing and also ordered hard to starboard. The Black Vengeance to her helm a lot faster than Baltazar had anticipated. She turned almost as quickly as the Specter.
Baltazar shook his head, “God… how is that possible…?”
Melchoir had a look of death on his face, “It doesn’t look like we can even outmaneuver them! Who built that ship?”
Baltazar’s breathing increased as he stared at the massive caravel, “I don’t know, but it looks like our only chance now is to close the space between us and try to board her.”
He then quickly turned to Gilles, “Keep her hard over until I say.”
The two ships turned until they were side by side. Baltazar wasted no time, “Gilles, steady as she goes!”
He then turned to his gunmen, “Fire!”
Jaspart heard him and nodded, “Let ‘em have it, boys!”
The guns on both ships erupted with flame. Both ships took damage, but oddly enough, the Black Vengeance didn’t take anywhere near as much as she should have. The shots from the Specter’s guns bounced off the side barely splintering the planks. Only the ones aimed at the deck seemed to do anything.
A second broadside was fired, and a third. Hot lead blasted through the deck of the Specter, causing it to splinter while her cannons did very little damage. Within ten minutes, the Specter began to list to starboard.
Baltazar saw his ship being cut to ribbons. Melchior came up next to him with a frantic expression, “Sir, we be taking on water! We’re sinking.”
“Then we best board the only ship out here that isn’t.” Baltazar replied. “Hard to starboard, ram them.”
Gilles heard the order and turned the wheel hard over. The Specter responded and turned into the Black Vengeance. The decks of both ships shook violently as their hulls collided.
Baltazar nodded, “Outstanding work, Gilles.”
He then turned to his men, “Grapple that ship men. Pull us along side! We’re going to take her!”
The crew grabbed the new pistols out of the crates as the grapples were thrown. Baltazar sighed, “Now let’s see if these pistols were worth it.”
The sailors with pistols lined up as men from the Black Vengeance poured on to the Specter. Baltazar was dismayed to see that his men were outnumbered by almost three to one. My brother must have really spared no expense to have Jaspart hunt me down. He thought to himself.
Baltazar called to him men as the enemy crew boarded, “Line one, fire!”
Smoke poured from the new pistols as they fired at the men from the Black Vengeance. They managed cut down several of the attacking crew, thinning their numbers. Though startled by the pistols, the Black Vengeance’s men kept coming.
Line one dropped to their knees and drew their swords as Baltazar turned to the next group, “Line 2, ready… fire!”
The second volley did the trick and evened out the number of crew attacking. Melisande drew both of her swords and looked at the men on either side of her, “Come on boys, to arms!”
The two crews clashed together. The deck of the Specter became a giant pit of violence and blood. Baltazar tried to rally his men on to the Black Vengeance but they weren’t able to form ranks. Jaspart’s crew was far better trained and they were driving the Specter’s back. Jaspart himself came over and attacked Melchior. He smiled, “Surrender.”
Melchior shook his head, “That’d be the day, but not this one.”
“No?” Jaspart asked. “Then I’ll peel the surrender from your useless hide, old man!”
Melchior did what he could to defend himself, but in the end, he proved to be no match for the stronger captain of the Black Vengeance. Within moments, Jaspart knocked the sword from his hand and stabbed him through the chest.
Baltazar turned to see his friend fall, “No!”
Tears entered Melisande’s eyes when she saw Melchior fall. An intense rage filled her like a volcano with molten rock, ready to explode. She clenched her teeth charged at Jaspart.
Baltazar saw what was happening, but was on the other side of the deck and couldn’t get to them in time to intervene. Jaspart saw her and laughed, “I remember you, from Granville… so you’ve become the ship whore have you?”
“Ship whore…” Melisande scoffed. “I’d prefer that to what you vermin were planning on doing to me.”
She brandished her swords in front of her, signaling that she was challenging him. Jaspart smiled, “All right…”
He drew his sword and attacked. Melisande had practiced with the guards, but they had always taken it easy on her. She wasn’t used to someone attacking her in full force. She was able to parry his jab with her two swords, but she wasn’t prepared for the spin kick that followed.
The sword flew from her left hand as pain shot up her arm. She was surprised, but not finished. It was now her turn. In the short time it took Jaspart to regain his footing from the kick, she countered with a vicious swing of the sword that she still held.
Melisande’s aim was nearly perfect. She struck a blow on Jaspart’s arm, cutting it deeply. Jaspart backed away and placed a hand over his wound, “Well now, it seems that I may have underestimated you. You’re going to pay for this, and I think those pretty eyes will more than cover it.”
Melisande took a step back as Jaspart lunged at her with his sword out in front of him. The impact of the two blades created a high-pitched ringing sound. With Melisande’s sword occupied, Jaspart brought his fist around and hit her in the face.
Jaspart’s fist impacted against her cheek. The force knocked her off balance, sending her flying backwards. She was down, but she was still armed. Blood dripped from her nose as she held her sword up and tried to slowly back away.
Jaspart smiled and raised his sword, ready to deliver a killing blow. As far as he was concerned, it was over. There was nothing that she could do to block his attack.
Baltazar had kept his eyes on the fight as he made his way through the battle and fought as hard as he could to get to Jaspart. When he saw Melisande fall, he began pushing everyone out of the way. It didn’t matter if it was his crew, or Jaspart’s.
Melisande closed her eyes, certain that it was over. She promised herself that, no matter what happened, she would not give Jaspart the pleasure of hearing her scream. At least she would be able to keep that from him.
As Jaspart’s sword came down, Baltazar’s immediately appeared between it and its intended target. Jaspart looked up and smiled, “Finally decided to fight your own battle?”
The two captains crossed swords as Melisande did the best she could to scurry out of the way. Baltazar glared at Jaspart, “That’s it, Jaspart, I’ve let you live this long, but you’ve crossed the line! Now you’re dead!”
Jaspart smiled, “We’ll see whose still living. Your ship is sinking and your crew is losing. It won’t be long now.”
“Why come after us Jaspart?” Baltazar asked. “Are you so desperate for cargo that you’ve taken to stealing it from fellow pirates?”
“Nay,” Jaspart replied as his sword connected with Baltazar’s, “your brother offered a fair penny for your head. He didn’t specify that it had to be attached to anything.”
Baltazar sneered, “Philip… damn you… If I ever see you again…”
Baltazar was almost immediately put on the defensive against Jaspart’s merciless attacks. Jaspart was a well-built man with a strong grip on his sword. He had power, but close to no finesse when he fought. Part of Baltazar was afraid that his sword would shatter under the relentless strikes. The blade was a thinner one intended for dueling.
Melisande got back to her feet, shook off the blow she’d recieved, and stabbed one of the enemy crewmen as he came at her. The man fell to the deck, dead. She then turned to see Melchior’s dead body lying on its side.
Papi had been fighting with his fists, but now he had three men on top of him holding him down. Morgan and Gilles were backed into a corner and Baltazar was being driven to the side of his ship.
Melisande began to breathe heavily as she helplessly watched. No matter how hard she fought, there were just too many. She could not save her friends. After so many years of wanting, she had finally found a place that she belonged with a group of people that accepted her. Now those people were getting cut down.
A strange feeling came over Melisande. Her eyes blinked a couple of times as reality became slightly blurred. She didn’t know how it happened, but it was as though time itself had slowed. Everything was moving at a snails pace, but she still saw the battle unfolding in front of her eyes. She dropped to her knees and screamed, “Please God, no… Stop this, now!”
Her head began to feel strange as she cried out again, “Stop!”
Suddenly, her eyes lit up as bright as the sun. The blue fire was blinding to anyone who saw it. A whirlwind formed around her and raised her off the deck of the Specter. She threw her head back and screamed out again, “Stop!”
Her scream sent a pulsing shockwave from her head and struck the crewmen of the Black Vengeance, but somehow didn’t affect the Specter’s men. Several of the attackers went flying over the side. Both Jaspart and Baltazar saw what was happening and stared at her. She levitated in the air for a few moments before another pulse came from her head. Jaspart decided to ignore it and jumped on Baltazar. He began beating him mercilessly.
Baltazar was sure that this was it for him and accepted his fate. Suddenly, the pulse hit Jaspart, knocking him off balance. It was all the opportunity Baltazar needed. He jumped to his feet and quickly stabbed Jaspart through the chest. Jaspart gasped as he fell to the ground dead.
Baltazar didn’t have time to savor his victory. The fighting had stopped and everyone was staring at Melisande. Suddenly, a ghostly pair of white wings appeared on her back. She looked out at the men with the glowing eyes, “Evil will be vanquished! You will pay for your crimes!”
Chills ran down Baltazar’s spine as he stepped closer. Another pulse emanated from her head, knocking more of the Black Vengeance’s crew overboard. Though the Specter’s crew was spared, the ship was not. The pulses rocked the deck planks and hull, causing her to sink faster.
Baltazar took a step closer, “Melisande…”
She turned and looked at him, “Stay back… do not interfere!”
Baltazar shook his head as he slowly crept closer to her. She was levitating only a few feet off the ground as he stepped closer, “Melisande, it’s over, you’ve done enough. We won!”
She clenched her teeth as her wings spread, “Nothing is over, as long as this filth still exists!”
Baltazar took another step closer, built up his courage and grabbed her. His hand passed through her ghostly wings and pressed against her back. He brought his head to her ear and whispered gently, “It’s over…”
Melisande felt his touch and suddenly her world faded to black. She fell limp in Baltazar’s arms, but she was still breathing. He had no idea what had just happened, but at the moment, there were more pressing matters. He turned to Gilles, “Take her, put her in the captain’s cabin aboard the Black Vengeance.”
Gilles looked at him oddly, “Sir?”
Baltazar looked out at everyone standing around him, “I’m taking over command of the Black Vengeance as restitution for the loss of the Specter. Any crewman from that ship that wishes to join me, may do so. Otherwise, you may utilize the boats from the Specter to get back to shore. Those willing to come with me, get back over to the Black Vengeance.”
Baltazar then turned to Papi, “Take a group below, get our supplies and the crew’s effects. Strip her clean, we’re leaving for good.”
Papi nodded and took fifteen men from the crew with him. Baltazar returned his attention to the rest of the men. His eyes took one last long look at the ship he’d served on almost all of his career. He realized now just how much he was going to miss her, “All hands… abandon ship…”
The two crews worked to get the longboats over the side for those that refused to go with Captain La Fuente. The rest grabbed what they could and ran aboard the large caravel. Within a few minutes, the deck of the Specter was completely deserted. In typical fashion as he allowed other captains, he was the last one over the side.
Baltazar smiled as his feet touched the deck of the much larger ship, “The Vengeance is mine.”
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