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The Spice Must Flow (Cutlass Play 12/12/2018)


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Mal de Merd-a-din had met me in France following my recovery from wounds suffered at the hands of the Pig People of the southern oceans. I had been brought back to France aboard the galleon “Lion’s Pounce,” the personal vessel of Admiral of France, Leon Leonard L’eonce. It seemed during the absence of the Admiral an impostor has brazenly aped his identity and made off with the Flagship of France. The embarrassed Admiral asked me to return to the southern oceans to deliver an appeal for aid to the members of the Vert Valliant active in the area. Merd-a-din knew the party had been last spotted west of Ceylon. We were joined by the famed Killer of Kit Marlowe, Chip Wildemoon. We three set sail in my swift “Star Horizon.”

We found the Valliant - Thomas de Marchand, Alain Gignot, Jasc Bonadventure, Mathys Violette, Gaspard Oceane, and Paul Klee -aboard the galleass “Constable” under de Marchand’s command in the depths of the Indian Ocean. Also aboard, the madman, Rolfe d’Ambray. They were pursuing a mission on behalf of the Raja of India to open a spice route between India and the French Colony of Japan for mutual benefit. Pyrates were active in the area and the Valliant were seeking the Sandi-Joyaku Islands, the lair of Aco-Jan. Aco was a protege of the notorious Marco da Vinci, and would clearly be a foe to be reckoned with.

The Admiral’s letters were delivered, responses drafted, and I turned over Star Horizon to Jean LeBeouf and Louis Brighteyes (both good men) while Merd-a-din, Wildemoon and I stayed aboard Constable.

The next morning the ship was shaken from stem to stern. My eyes had never seen anything like the roiling mass of leviathans which had surfaced around Constable. The beasts pummeled the hull, and it seemed like at any moment the rampaging creatures would shatter our hull. Shot and spears found their way into the bodies of the creatures. Paul and Chip were knocked senseless when the battering tilted the ship almost clean over, with Paul’s skull cracked from the sheer force with which he was thrown into the rail. Merd-a-din identified the queen of these creatures and placed a harpoon in its eye. As the monster roiled the waters, the others in the swarm enclosed the thrashing beast allowing us to sail free. I am told a “pod” of “whales” usually will leave vessels alone. This was of little relief to me, as I had never before seen creatures so large and found it incredible that things so massive could move so swiftly and nimbly.

In the aftermath of the attack, Merd-a-din took Tomas aside. The terse Merd-a-din must have been convincing, for Tomas quietly informed the crew that he would be functioning as Ship’s Pilot. Merd-a-din was now Captain.

Merd-a-din first directed our sails east to no avail. I suggested we turn north towards Europe, then east towards India to quarter the ocean between the two known continents before (in need be) delving south and west into uncharted waters. Merd-a-din agreed, and lo and behold, as we ventured eastwards we discovered our destination.

The Sandi-Joyaku islands were little more than tall, jagged volcanic spires, and we were debating where to make landfall when the lookouts cried danger. A fleet of four galleons rounded the isles to the east and set course to intercept our lone galleass. Paul Klee recognized the banner of Billy Bane, a lieutenant of Aco-Jan.

Merd-a-din ordered chain shot prepared. The crew scrambled while the officers (the Valliant, Rolfe and myself) made certain gear was stowed and lines were tight. Chip Wildemoon was Fleet Tactician, and it fell to him to rally the worried crew. Jasc Bonadventure, Quartermaster, prepared the powder for the cannon. The enemy fleet had already opened fire, and a ball tore through the deck right where the procured gunpowder had been placed. A deafening explosion rocked the ship, and Wildemoon had to, again, calm the crew. One keening voice carried high on the wind. It was poor Thomas de Marchand, clutching the ragged stump just below his knee. The explosion had taken the man’s leg.

Jasc directed sailors to move below decks to fetch more gunpowder while our Navigator, Rolfe d’Ambray attempted an oblique approach, hoping to expose one of the flanking ships to our guns. The distance was too great and the attacking pyrates were able to hold tight formation. Mathys Violette was thrown overboard during the frantic maneuvering. The fortunate soul drifted far away from the battle, later to be rescued by an Indian warship and taken to Ceylon!

Paul attempted to inspire the crew with talk of prizes and riches. Under fire from three foes, with the Ship’s Pilot now passed out after the loss of his leg and Mathys seemingly lost overboard, the men were having none of it. “Spit and Polish” gave way to sullen desperation.

Spirits lifted when our chain finally found its mark. As the masts of one of the pyrates disintegrated and gouts of fire cleansed her deck, Captain Merd-a-din grumbled curses and threats at our foe. At the sight of the Captain’s wrath expressed, the crew’s spirits lifted as they realized they were under the command of a truly dangerous person.

Merd-a-din decided a change of tactics was in order. With one enemy vessel nothing more than a floating obstacle, it was time to change the cannon load to double-shot and blow the others from the ocean. Orders were passed and the men heartened as Merd-a-din calmly loaded his own brace of pistols, then stood, stropping his Cutlass blade while we sailed closer in, circling around the hulk of the disabled pyrate.

I was serving as Master of Guns, and I played my part, supervising the change of ammunition, and making certain all batteries were ready to fire once we had acquired a target. A second pyrate vessel suddenly loomed from the smoke. The enemy Captain had tried a variation on our own tactic. Rolfe d’Ambray leapt into action. The Master of Sails grabbed wheel and line and engaged in a series of short, violent turns which pressed against the limits of what Constable’s hull could withstand. The madman’s insane maneuvers paid off, for the second enemy ship was forced into the listing corpse of the first marauder. We sailed free as the two pyrates behind spun helplessly in the current. Alain Gignot, meanwhile, had his hands full preventing the lines from fouling due to Rolfe’s mishandling. He kept the rigging clear, but the crew were thrown into disorder by the unconventional way Rolfe threw the wheel and the unusual ways Alain was forced to keep the rigging free.

The madman spun the wheel left, then right to tack across the wind. The pyrate flagship and last of his lieutenant vessels were bearing down on us, guns muted. Billy Bane decided he wanted to board us, Rolfe d’Ambray decided to take the fight to them.

We pulled alongside the galleon of Mack, “the Knife,” Billy Bane’s trusted second. I had correctly anticipated Rolfe's intent and led the gunnery crew over the rail to jump across to the pyrate galleon before our soldier even threw their grapples. The surprise raid caught the pyrates unawares. We cut them down within a matter of moments and the crew jubilantly returned to Constable, cheering Captain Merd-a-din. My own aspect was somber.

Paul Klee had eagerly jumped into the raid. He was the only member of Constable’s crew not to return in triumph. His skull had already cracked during the attack of the leviathans, but the self-described thug didn’t have it in him to sit out of a fight. A pyrate’s belaying pin had smashed into Paul’s head. The weakened bone proved unable to absorb the impact. Paul’s skull had caved in, and he lay dead on the deck, face frozen in an expression of…glee? I had seen death many times before, but, for some reason the dispatch of this brute left me resolved to better look after those under my direction.

Gaspard Oceane held fast to a line and grapple twisted around the mainmast for Constable’s crew to slide back across. The crew were teasing the sullen youth as they re-boarded (“Guess you’re not the only one-shoe, now!”). He took the cruel japes in silent dignity, then deftly unwound the line. Constable surged forward in time to avoid the tossed grapples from Billy Bane’s flagship. Chip Wildemoon surprised the crew - for despite his reputation as a feared killer the man was an excellent sailor and had undone Alain’s jury-rigged lines and returned Constable’s lines to optimum trim. It was Jasc who pushed the crew to rush towards the port cannon (“You want one-shoe, I’ll give you one shoe!” he cried before bouncing Tomas’s smoking boot from a sailor’s skull) in time to unleash a full broadside into Bane’s waterline at the stern of his ship. Leaking, and rudder damaged, the pyrate was in no condition to continue the battle. We were free to make landfall.

As we moved between the peaks of the different islands, we spotted the mountain fortress of Aco-Jan high up a steep slope. We set ashore and formed up at the base of the mountain to begin the long work of digging trench-works up the slope. The crew complained about the difficulty of digging in the rocky, volcanic soil. Merd-a-din quelled the grumbling with a shocking act - he whipped his own manservant, a slight Korean in punishment. The savage beating killed both the man and any complaints the crew carried. I sent up spies and observers. It was a crewman named Antonii de Jupe who returned with detailed maps of Aco-Jan’s defenses. I kept “Tony the Skirt” by my side for the remainder of the siege. Alain studied the maps closely. Alain himself led the men through the trenches, up scarp past rock slide and steam vent to storm the enemy bunkers and drive the pyrates into the open where they found themselves quickly slaughtered.

We pushed into the fortress proper. Aco-Jan met us, weapons of himself and his four bodyguards drawn. Gaspard turned and fled while the madman, Rolphe, sprung into action. A right-left combination left one of the bodyguards face-down on the floor. Chip Wildemoon drew a pistol only to be knocked unconscious by a lead weight on the end of a thrown rope. Jasc spun around the room, crossing swords with one of the bodyguards. He was fast enough to cross his blade in front of his own throat to cut at the weighted rope thrown to encircle his neck.

Merd-a-din moved halfway up a stairwell, cursing the foes and making himself an attractive target. The flicker of doubt I saw cross his face must have been a trick of the light. It pays in battle to keep eyes on the antagonist, not one’s allies, and this lesson was soundly reinforced when I found myself tackled about the legs and brought down. A few moments of wild kicking was required to push myself free from the attacking pyrate and roll back to my feet. Meanwhile, Alain had recklessly charged in, striking high, then low, but neglecting his own parries. The wild attack worked. Alain’s opponent fell, lifeless, to the floor, his blade caught up in Alain’s cloak where it had tangled just under Alain’s right armpit.

Rolfe d’Ambray, that glorious, charmed fool strode brashly through the melee, ignoring the flailing of the Valliant and Aco-Jan’s bodyguard. Aco-Jan smirked at the challenger and readied his blade. Rolfe grinned, dropped his sword, ducked, and drove the point of his boot directly into the man’s groin. The squeal as Aco-Jan fell brought the entire fight to a standstill. With jocular laughter the emasculated Pyrate King and his remaining bodyguard were bound and brought aboard Constable. Victorious, we retrieved the galleon of Mack “the Knife,” and turned both bows towards India.

The next morning, Merd-a-din, always a taciturn type seemed even more somber than usual. When asked, he muttered something about nightmares and man-eaters. Given the man had recently killed his own manservant, no-one was brave enough to press for clarification.

As we continued east a convoy was sighted. Indian merchant ships were riding the winds westward. It seemed the Raja was confident enough in the skills of the party that trade vessels had been sent out even before we reported back that the pyrates had been defeated. Perhaps the thought was to teach the Raja a certain amount of caution with his merchants? I can think of no other for for our band of pyrate hunters to turn pyrate ourselves. Alain suggested we take a ship for ourselves, Captain Merd-a-din agreed. We fell in line behind the rearmost ship of the convoy, a lumbering Cog that lagged behind the rest, almost over the horizon from the next closest vessel. We must have been a known vessel to the Indian merchants, for we were able to sail directly alongside. The Indian crew was surprised when Alain gave the boarding order and our grapples were thrown. Alain himself dove over the side to swim around the merchant to board her far side. The Indians may have been surprised, but they were disciplined. Alain was shot almost the moment he surfaced in the water and was forced to return to Constable.

Discipline is a function of order, but Constable brought with her an agent of chaos. Rolfe again jumped into action with no sane plans. His headlong rush knocked troops aside and over the deck rails of the merchantman, and drove her compliment of soldiers back to the stern deck. Rolfe flung fists and feet forward, spilling friend and foe alike to the deck. The attack was so starkly surprising that Gaspard Oceane, demanded the cog’s Captain surrender before Rolfe “really begins to cut lose.” The Captain did. The ship was brought into our own convoy.

The morale in our flotilla was muted. The mixed crew of Constable, impressed pyrate and impressed merchantmen were rotated and mixed amongst the three ships. The sailors had little trust in each other, and agreed on very little other than their fear of the quietly menacing Captain Merd-a-din and the boisterously insane Navigator and Master of Sails, Rolfe d’Ambray. When the storm came it was hard to say what terrified the crews more - the raging of thunder and ocean, or the cursing of Captain and Navigator!

The tempestuous winds blew out fleet east of India into the section of sea known as “Le Chaos de l’est.” The Chaos manifested in constant gusting winds, battering, cold rain, and constant discharges of thunder and lightning. Faced with the seething ocean, Rolfe became uncharacteristically quiet and calm. Hollowly, he stated he was not yet ready to meet Davy Jones. WIldemoon, a man of action, also had to force himself to avoid haste stay calm and rational while Merd-a-din found himself quite invigorated by the battering winds.

The chill and wet caused me to fall ill, and I lay below-decks, shivering. In my fever, I heard the calling voice of someone I’d not seen in a very long time: my beloved older sister - she who used to sing me to sleep at night while my father drank and my mother was working the streets - gentle Chantelle, drowned by a jealous man when I was a mere boy. Her clear voice carried up from the waves and on the whistling gales. Chantelle missed her baby brother and wanted to hold him against her bosom and sing of Brother James. Chantelle, the only truly pure woman I have ever known, and the only family I ever cared for was calling me, and I could not refuse her. Singing (“…why aren’t the bells ringing! Ding, dong, ding…”), I made my way to the forecastle, straining to catch a glimpse of my sister to join her in the depths. Next to me stood Alain Gignot, tears shining in his eyes, whispering, “Yes, Jacques, I’m awake…” I believe it was Jasc Bonadventure who took Alain and I both below. Certainly it was Jasc who brought broth and kept company until our fevers had passed.

Gaspard Oceane went from ship to ship, preaching to the fearful crews. Aboard the Indian cog lightning crashed around him as he proclaimed that the righteous man need not fear death. On Constable he sermonized that the faithful alone would be spared untouched. I am told it was after speaking those very words that a bolt of lightning flashed from the sky and left the preacher twitching and spasming on the deck.

Rolfe and Chip Wildemoon organized the crews. Rolfe shored up the masts, battened the hatches, shored up the sails, and did whatever he could to strengthen Constable against the stormy seas. He took materials from the Indian merchant to do so, and that other ship was left behind to founder and sink. With Constable secured, we were able to ride out the tempest until Wildemoon steered us free. We had survived the feared Chaos of the east.

With Constable returned to calm seas, we shortly thereafter made port in Ceylon. The Raja was most pleased with the party, for the entire southern ocean between India and Japan seemed free of pyrates (in the last few months, only one spice ship had been lost, and, since her convoy had seen no pyrates, she was presumed to have been lost due to the incompetence of her Captain), and the new trade route had good flowing freely both ways. We were payed well for our service, and I found my own name associated with the opening of the new route.

A purse of coins, a good reputation, and a fast ship is all I need for happiness, and, coin in belt, hailed for my deeds, I found Star Horizon waiting for me at the port, where Louis Brighteyes had moored her. The swiftest caravel in the ocean was in sparkling trim and her crew ready for their rightful, righteous (and famous) Captain to return. The Valliant came aboard, and I sailed Star Horizon north to France. An Admiral needed his friends, and I had pledged to make certain they arrived safely. That duty fulfilled, I left the Valliant in Paris. Before they disembarked, Jasc Bonadventure and Mal de Merd-a-din presented me with a small box. Within, a sealed letter and a green sash…

Yours,

   Hugo Marque Lamarr



Message Replies:
Hats Off for the Telling -- red (posted: 12/13/2018) 
It is said that Klee rose from the dead ... -- Iron Bonadventure (posted: 12/14/2018) 
No rest for the Wicked & Weary -- red (posted: 12/14/2018) 
 
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