7th Sea Fiction
Who Has Time For An Ambush?
By Dana DeVries and Vicki Kirchhoff-Martin
Cossette looked out at the sea. “Get your head on straight, girl,” she scolded herself. “You’re too old for mooning about nonsense. And the notorious Jeremiah Berek of all people. What’s gotten into you?”
Faust’s gruff voice startled her out of her thoughts. “What is it?” she asked.
“Maggie spotted a ship following us so far aft that she can’t make out any details. She seems to be pacing us, not getting any closer but not dropping back. They may not even realize we’ve spotted them yet.”
Cossette grumbled, “Well, we certainly can’t complain about boredom this trip.” She straightened herself up and faced Faust. “Have Maggie drop the sails and slow us down. Let’s see if they come closer. Then make a quick round of the guns. We don’t need to load them yet, but make sure that everything is ready. The way things have been going, she’s hostile until she proves otherwise. Understood?”
“Aye, Captain,” he replied and then strode off to relay her orders to the crew.
Cossette cursed herself as she found her hand straying again to the butt of the grappling pistol she couldn’t bring herself to leave in her cabin. “Don’t think I won’t blow you out of the water if I have to,” she said to no one in particular. She hoped it sounded more convincing than it felt. She needed to be focused. If that ship was hostile, she was going to need her head clear. She had to deal with the threat, no matter whom or what it was. With her ship, crew and mission at stake, there could be no hesitation.
Sean Garloise stood beside her with his strange knife in his hand. “You said you wanted to know if this deviated from its normal direction.”
“It has?” she asked, not sure if she was grateful for the distraction or not.
He nodded. “Aye. Just after we left that island back there, it began to drift and now it’s pointing south.”
He handed it to her and she moved it around until the gem in the handle began shimmering with an emerald glow. “South? That doesn’t make any sense. When exactly did you notice the change?”
“A couple hours after we were under way,” he replied
She tapped the glowing hilt in her palm. “I wonder…”
She glanced up and noticed the quartermaster on deck. “Brennan, did you take a sighting recently?” At his nod, she said, “Come with me. You too, Sean.”
Brennan gave her a curious glance and she replied, “We’ve got an unknown ship behind us. May be Berek, Abbotsford or Theus knows who all else and I can’t do anything about it until it gets closer. I need something to keep me occupied and this knife seems to be just what I need.”
The two men grinned and then followed her into her cabin. She shut the door and pulled out a couple pins and the map they’d been working on ever since they’d been out of charted waters. She spread it across her table after sweeping everything else onto the floor. Garloise and Brennan exchanged looks and shrugged.
“Where would you say we are?” she asked, tapping the map.
Brennan took a careful look. “About here,” he said.
Cossette turned the map so it lined up with their current direction and then placed the knife on the map. “So, that means that whatever it is that this dagger is pointing to is in this direction.”
She glanced around her cabin to find what she was looking for. “I need string or something.” She considered digging through the nearby piles of gear, but decided it would be easier just to yank the lacing out of her vest instead. She laid it out along the line the dagger indicated, pinning each end. “Now, we’ll keep this course and Sean, I want you to come back to me in a couple hours and we’ll try this again. I want to see whether this thing is stationary or moving. If it’s stationary, then we’ve obviously passed it by and might want to try to locate it on our way back. If it’s moving…” She looked out her cabin window hoping to catch a glimpse of their pursuer. “If it’s moving, then we’ve another mystery to solve.”
She glanced over at the two men to find them both staring at her. “What?” She followed their gaze and realized that parts of her were no longer contained by the opaque vest and could now be seen through the translucent silk shirt. She started to laugh. “Come on, you two, they’re just bosoms. You’re both old enough to have seen plenty of them by now.”
Brennan turned crimson and even Garloise, seasoned sailor that he was, looked away. She was trying not to giggle at their discomfort but it was hard not to. “All right,” she said finally. “Go on back topside. I’ll be up as soon as I find another tie for my vest.”
She thought they were going to trip on each other on their way out the door. —
The wind riffled through Cossette’s hair as she stepped up on deck. The lithe form of Maggie Malone climbed down the rigging and dropped easily beside her. “Captain, that ship is definitely making headway. They must have realized we could see her and put up more sail. I can’t make out her name yet, but it’s a galleon wearing that ludicrous Vodacce rigging.”
Cossette smiled. “I know you don’t care for them, but that doesn’t make them ludicrous.”
The red head shook her head and grudging admitted. “It may give them speed, but I still say that putting thirty sails up is just asking for trouble. They’re closing.”
“Any colours?” Cossette asked her Master of the Tops, but Maggie shook her head again. The captain nodded and called out to the master gunner, Gus Heimfather. The broad Vestenmanjavenar swung towards her and approached with a grim expression. “Yes, captain?”
“Come on, Gus. Shouldn’t be that bad. I think the Discovery is a match for any galleon sailing. ”
“Oh, it’s worse than you think, captain.”
“What do you mean?”
Gus looked at Maggie. The topman shrugged and pointed towards the pursuer again. “I think there might be another ship. It’s staying behind the galleon and it’s smaller, but I think it’s there.”
“Why didn’t you mention this before?”
“I wanted to be sure so I told the helm to tack slightly. If they’re back there, we’ll spot them in just a minute.”
Cossette’s face fell into grim lines. “I am the captain here and I need to be kept up to date on all information, confirmed or not. Is that understood?” “Aye, aye, captain. Sorry, I just thought you had a lot on your mind and that second boat is much smaller, could be…”
“Could be what?” Cossette demanded. Maggie and Gus looked at each uncomfortably for a moment, but before either could answer, the lookout called from above. “Sail ahoy! There’s a second boat behind the first. Looks to be a frigate with that spiderwork rigging!” Cossette took a deep breath. “All right, that changes things. We’ll give them a few more minutes to close distance to us, then we tack into the wind. Maggie, make it a fast tack. Gus, I want you to throw one of those special cannonballs right through that rigging. Slow them down and we’ll steer as close to the wind as we can. With that rigging that frigate won’t be tacking into the wind and should blow right by us.”
“You realize that when we turn into the wind, we’re going to lose speed. They’re going to be pretty close before we’re done.”
“I know, but it’s that or let them both overhaul us.”
Maggie nodded and grabbed a line. The captain put a hand on her arm. “It doesn’t matter who is back there. If they’re a threat to us, we’ll deal with them.”
“Sorry, captain. I should have told you first.”
Cossette replied in a severe tone, “That’s right, you should have.” The two women stared at each other for a moment and then both chuckled. “Just don’t do it again, Maggie.”
The topman nodded and them leapt back up into the rigging. Gus rubbed his chin a moment. “That frigate’ll be on us like a Vendel on an open wallet. We’re going to have to deal with them quickly, or the galleon may come back to haunt us.”
“I’m relying on you to convince them there are easier targets out here.”
Gus’ face was bleak for a moment. “Not after those pirates destroyed my little home. I’m going to make sure that they don’t have a chance to prey upon anyone else.”
Cossette put a hand on his arm, “We’re Explorers, not killers, Gus. Just show them off, so we can focus on our real job. Finding what’s out here.”
Gus nodded and returned to his guns. Cossette turned to stare back at the pursuers, the galleon and the little Vodacce frigate were growing larger, visible to even an unaided eye now. She smiled because whoever was chasing them, it wasn’t Jeremiah Berek. She shouted over to the helmsman to change course as Maggie and the others managed the sails. Who was following them was not bothering her nearly as much as why. They were out in the middle of unexplored and uncharted waters. No reason for pirates to be this far out, unless it was to prevent them from doing exactly what they were doing. They were simply exploring uncharted waters. No one knew what was out there. Or did they… Abbotsford’s words weeks earlier about the sabotage on the other explorers’ vessels came to mind, but gave her no answers… only more questions.
“They’re gaining!” Maggie called from the tops as the Discovery completed the course change.
Cossette could see both ships easily as they attempted to accommodate the course change. Even without the galleon’s help, the frigate was going to be a problem, especially if it was out there with the sole purpose of destroying them. She had every confidence in the competence of her crew, but would it be enough? She watched Gus and his gunners busy themselves on the deck, treading lightly around several of the loads. Some of the Syrneth stuff was pretty touchy and sending the ship to a watery grave before a single shot was fired was a poor way to begin a battle. Her eyes swept the activity of her crew, searching for something else that could be done to give them an advantage, but although the galleon was lumbering off in the wrong direction while pulling down rigging and trying to tack about, the frigate seemed to be making swift progress.
“Captain! There’s a third ship!” came the cry from the lookout.
Cossette swore and peered back towards the frigate for the new enemy but the waters behind were clear. She was just about to shout up at the lookout when she noticed that several of her men were staring ahead of them.
“It’s the Black Dawn!” cried the lookout.
She had to leap over several of her crewmen to get to the prow of the ship. There was no mistaking the Avalon frigate or the colours of Berek’s Sea Dogs that flew atop her centre mast. “Hard to port!” Cossette cried.
“That’ll take us directly into the path of the galleon,” Gus said.
“I know,” Cossette said gritting her teeth. “We cut in front and disable her, that should slow our other friends down.”
She paused. “I’m open for other suggestions.”
Sean stepped forward with his glowing knife in his hand. “Um, Captain.”
“Not now, Sean,” she snapped. “I’m a little busy.”
“I said not now. I’m a little more concerned about surviving the next hour than I am about where your knife is pointing. Stow it and get back to your station. That’s an order.”
For a moment it looked as though he might argue, but Gus’ glare made him think the better of it. Cossette shook her head. A seasoned sailor like Garloise should know better. The Discovery veered away from the Black Dawn and into the path of the galleon and Cossette held her breath and her hand moved to the butt of the grappling pistol. Hopefully some of the famed luck of Jermiah Berek clung to the pistol. She was going to need it.
Fifteen minutes later, she realized that Berek had kept his luck for himself. The Discovery had caught the Vodacce unaware with her sudden course change, but the galleon had quickly adjusted and was waiting for her to attempt to pass them. The frigate had fired a few long range shots as she passed them and then pursued. The two ships now had the Discovery trapped between them and they were getting closer while the Black Dawn grew larger with every moment. With a grim nod, Cossette ordered her men to tack north and rake the galleon’s stern. The ship turned quickly before the wind and the sails filled. Before her guns could bear, the frigate’s cannons opened fire. One of the volley’s shots smashed into the Discovery’s cabins and Cossette winced, but the Discovery sped away from the frigate. Moments later her own guns opened fire upon the galleon and the full force of Explorer discoveries was unleashed.
One of the shots exploded in a ball of flame amidst the galleon’s sails, another halted in mid air above the ship and then plummeted straight down through her decks. Chain shot from the other gun sheared through the main mast without slowing and it slowly toppled over, ripping lines and men from the air as it fell. Even across the water, Cossette could hear the screams and prayers of the Vodacce sailors as her ship pulled away.
The small Vodacce boat ignored the distant Avalon privateer and fired another volley at the Discovery. The whistle of incoming cannonballs ended in a thunderous crash and the ship lurched. Cossette whirled around and saw that the volley had smashed into the stern of her ship. As it slowly limped to port as she looked over the side and cringed at the sight of the damaged rudder. The frigate then passed behind the galleon. With a grimace, Cossette began calling out orders. “Maggie, steer us by the sails. Get us as far from the Vodacce as you can. Garloise, I hope you know how to fix rudders.” The Avalon sailor appeared beside her and grinned for a moment before disappearing over the side with a length of line and a belaying pin.
Gus called out from the port guns, “Captain, we’re going to be in the firing arc of the galleon soon and that frigate’ll be coming around her soon enough too.”
Cossette nodded, “I know, Gus. We’re working on it.” She glanced to the horizon where the Black Dawn silently approached the three ships and wished she knew what Berek was up to. Then she looked up at the sails, “How’s it coming, Maggie?”
“This isn’t as easy as it looks captain!” Maggie called from the tops, “Especially with the rudder still in place.” With a roar, the galleon’s guns opened fire, but the shots fell short. The Discovery’s guns returned fire and several shots smashed into the deck of the galleon and one of the Vodacce cannons fell into the sea.
“Almost got it!” Maggie shouted over the din as the frigate swept around the galleon and tacked towards the drifting Explorer vessel. Cossette breathed a sigh of relief as her ship began to slowly turn before the wind again and the sails filled. Gus fired a volley from the light chaser guns in the stern but the shots twisted in mid air and landed to starboard of the frigate and a patch of ice formed upon the surface of the sea. The gunner shrugged and moved to the broadside guns again.
On the way, he grumbled to Cossette, “Sorry captain, some of those special ammunitions just aren’t that accurate.”
“Don’t fret, Gus. We’ll be fine. Ready the grapeshot.” Looking up, she called out, “Lower the boarding nets.” Seconds later, nets to entangle boarders fell down to the deck from the rigging overhead. The topmen continued scurrying from spot to spot, adjusting the rigging to catch every wisp of air possible. The two ships quickly left the crippled galleon behind. Despite their efforts, the frigate quickly overtook them on the starboard. As it drew closer, the Vodacce tacked starboard and unleashed a cannon volley into the Discovery. The shots hammered into the stoutly built vessel. It shattered struts and supports but failed to critically damage her. The Vodacce gunners quickly began reloading while the frigate tacked again to bring her closer to the Explorers.
A shout from the stern of the ship attracted Cossette’s attention as Sean Garloise climbed back on board. He was soaked and covered in bruises from hanging on through the ship’s manoeuvres. Bowing low to her, he declared, “The rudder is repaired, my captain.”
Cossette’s smile was cold enough to make startle him. “Thank you, Garloise. Helm, five points to starboard. We deal with these pirates here and now.”
A cheer went up from her men as the ship tacked about and the frigate suddenly loomed large. The Explorer gunners fired a volley of grapeshot across the assembled Vodacce sailors and cut huge swathes through them. With a bone shattering shudder, the two ships collided. Explorers and sailors threw grappling hooks across and tied the two ships together. With a shout, the crews launched themselves at their foes and merged into a bloody melee. Cossette leapt to the Vodacce ship. She parried one pirate’s blow and emptied her pistol into his face. Dropping the now useless weapon to the deck, she switched her sword to her other hand. Around her she knew her crew was fighting for their lives, but hacking into the enemy was the only thing left for her to do. Their numbers were evenly matched and she tried not to think of the lives that would be lost in the combat. She hated the thought of losing even one of her crew and the idea of losing so many… Driving towards a group of sailors under attack by five swordsmen, she slashed a Vodacce sailor across the chest and shoved him over the side of the ship. Two of his companions noticed her and charged towards her. These men seemed better trained than their companions and were far too focused upon her specifically. She realized they were intentionally driving her away from the support of the rest of her crew, but as she frantically parried their blows, she was forced further back.
They kept pressing her until she was up against the starboard side of the Vodacce vessel with the rest of her crew far out of reach. She cursed the two swordsmen and tried to press one of her opponents. He drove her sword down toward the deck and then slashed out at her left leg. With her sword out of position, all she could do was to leap above his blade. While still in mid-air, the other swordsman slammed his body against hers. She fell heavily to the dock at their feet as the two Vodacce grinned down at her. The sound of a gunshot close at hand shocked her and one of her opponents dropped clutching his chest. She took advantage of his companion’s surprise and thrust her blade into the other man’s thigh. He collapsed to the ground clutching his wounded leg.
She scrambled to her feet and someone’s hand fell upon her shoulder. She spun around with her sword ready, stopping her blade less than an inch from the chest of Jeremiah Berek. “What are you doing here?” she spat. She couldn’t believe she hadn’t noticed the Black Dawn coming up alongside of the Vodacce vessel, but she saw it lashed to the other side of the frigate. Cossette let out a sigh of relief at the sight of Sea Dogs swarming over into the fray. She just hoped they were on her side
“Saving your life again,” he replied with a grin.
“I was doing just fine,” she lied, trying to assure herself that her heart was pounding because of the exertion of the fight. “And if you don’t mind, I’m a little busy.”
She turned to go back into the fight and Berek grabbed her arm. “What? No kiss for your brave hero?”
She shook him off. “Later. My crew is fighting for their lives and I’m not going to abandon them for your carnal pleasures.”
He favored her with a lecherous grin. “Promise?”
She needed to get back to her crew and needed to be rid of him. “Fine, I promise.” She waded back into the melee. With the addition of the Sea Dogs, the outnumbered Vodacce crew quickly surrendered. Cossette rounded up her crew and ordered them back to Discovery, leaving Berek and his Sea Dogs to mop up the pirates. They had a lot of work to do to get her ship repaired and back on course. She also wanted to avoid any more encounters with the charismatic captain.
“How bad is it, Sean?” she asked
“Could have been worse,” Garloise said. “We’ve lost four and have another dozen injured. Of those, about half of them are still fit for duty. The rudder’s repaired and I’ve got a crew on the hull damage right now. The masts and sails came out almost unharmed. We may be able to get underway in a couple of hours.”
Cossette breathed a silent prayer for the four lost. It was four too many. “Get on it then,” she said.
Garloise turned to go and then stopped. “Um, Captain, there’s something I need to tell you, something I tried to tell you earlier.”
“For Theus’ sake, Sean, this isn’t about that damned knife, is it?”
He paused. “It is, but I think it’s important for you to know.”
She considered just ordering him off to do what she’d asked, but he was a seasoned sailor. Whatever it was, it probably was as important as he claimed. “All right then.”
He drew the knife. “I had this out as we were changing course. Figured if I watched it then that it would give me a better idea of where it was pointing. Anyway, as we started tacking…”
“Sean Garloise, it’s been a very long time.”
Cossette recognized Berek’s rich baritone voice behind her and was surprised at the unpleasant look on Garloise’s face. She’d thought he and his old captain had parted on amiable terms. “Hello, Captain Berek,” he said tersely.
Cossette turned and saw that Berek also seemed surprised at the cool reception. “My loss appears to be your gain, Captain,” he said. “Sean was one of the finest of my Sea Dogs. I was very sad to see him go.”
Cossette put her hands on her hips, “What are you doing on my ship, Berek? I thought I’d sent word that the Vodacce ship was yours as long as you left mine alone.”
She turned back to Sean. “We’ll finish that talk later. See to the repairs.”
“Not so fast, Sean.” Berek’s voice held the sailor up short. “Our timely arrival and assistance were the only things that saved your captain’s life and saved your ship. I’d say you owe us and I mean to collect.”
Cossette furiously interrupted, “You bloodsucking weasel! I won’t be robbed blind just because you saved us from being robbed! Especially from the man who has ambushed and sabotaged so many other Explorer vessels! Did you think we wouldn’t know about that?”
Berek took a step backwards and raised his hands before him in protest. “Hang on. I’ll admit I’ve spied on you, but I’d hardly call that sabotage.”
“What about Warren Abbotsford’s boat? He claims you attacked him seven days ago.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’ve been keeping close to you. I have no idea where this Abbotsford thinks I was.”
“A likely story. And now you want to steal what little we have after that attack?”
“Now, now, captain. I will settle for three things. Not so high a cost for what I’ve provided.”
She was liking the situation less and less. “We’ll see. What are your demands?”
“Don’t think of them as demands, my dear. Simply the cost of doing business out here. First, I’d like Sean’s dagger.”
Sean looked suspiciously at Berek for a moment and then nodded. Handing it over to the Sea Dog captain, he quietly asked, “Are you repenting your crime or just covering it up?”
“A man is allowed a mistake now and then, Sean.” Berek’s voice was pitched low. He held out his hand and the two men silently sized each other up. Then with a grin, Sean grasped Berek’s and shook it strongly. “Well met, sir.”
“Yourself as well. You have a good captain here. Take care of her.”
“I will. Against any and all threats.”
Cossette cleared her throat, “Are you both quite done? Mr. Garloise has work to do.” Sean grinned sheepishly and then hurried off to his duties. She faced Berek, trying to control the racing of her heart. The anger at his audacity was certainly helping but she still felt like a young girl with her first crush. She tried to hold onto her anger and asked, “Now, what else do you want?”
Tossing the dagger lightly, he declared. “I gave you the strength of my arms and took the arms of one of your crewmen. I altered my course to give you the aid of my ship so I would like your course. Where are you headed?”
Cossette noticed the gem’s glow only flashed when it pointed towards Berek’s ship. “What’s it to you?”
“I believe your destination may hold something I must have,” he said. “It’s a small price to pay for saving your ship, don’t you think? What is your course?”
Cossette looked at the Black Dawn for a moment. She was a fast ship, faster than the Discovery even before the damage she’d taken, but the island was only a day away so he wouldn’t have much time there before she arrived. “All right,” she said finally. “North by northwest on a heading of 312.”
Berek inclined his head to her in thanks. “See? Again, nothing horrible.” “Give me your third request and be done with it,” She snarled anxious to be done with him and back to her ship repairs. With a flourish, he went down on one knee and took her hand, “Since I met you a few weeks back, I have heard your voice in the wind. I see your face whenever I close my eyes and my fingers long to feel your touch. You have enchanted me and I do not want to be released. I love you, Cossette. I just want to be with you for the rest of my life, but I have my duties as you have yours so I cannot be with you just yet…” He lifted her hand and lightly brushed it with his lips. “So my third request is, now that I have given you my true feelings, I need to know, what are your feelings for me?”
Cossette stared down at him speechlessly for a moment then pulled her hand from his grasp. His eyes widened as she quietly stated, “I am sorry, captain. While I thank you for your aid today, I have no feelings for you whatsoever and all the flowery words and poetry will not change that.” Her voice was cold and she hoped he could not tell how fast her heart was beating.
Berek stared up at her for a moment in shock and then rose with a laugh. With a rueful smile, he declared, “I knew you were too smart to fall for that, but I had to try. Until we meet again, good captain.” He turned away from her and then stopped. “There is one more thing.”
Cossette gave an exasperated sigh. “What? You’ve had your three demands met, what else do you want?”
He gave her a mischievous smile. “Why, the kiss you promised me when I saved your life.” Part of her wanted to throw his Avalon ass off her ship, but the memory of their first kiss began to turn the fire of her anger into something else. “Oh fine,” she said. “Only if you promise to leave my ship when you’re done and not come back.”
“As you wish, Captain,” he said. He swept her into his arms, covering her mouth with his. The kiss held more than their first one and she tried to hold back. She didn’t want him to think that his words had swayed her, but her body had other ideas and she found herself matching his passion. When they parted, she caught the surprised look in his face before he could hide it with his trademark mischievous smile. He swept off his had and bowed with a flourish, “Until we meet again,” he said.
It took her a few moments longer to compose herself. “You got what you wanted, now get off my ship.”
“As you wish,” he said again, giving her a wink. He stepped past her and quickly crossed to his own ship. Cossette released the breath she didn’t realize she’d been holding and turned back to her ship. Her entire crew was staring at her, having witnessed the absurd spectacle. As Berek left the ship, they began to applaud. Her face flushed, she shouted out, “All right. Back to work, all of you. We’ve got a lot of repairs to finish before nightfall.” She turned and headed toward her cabin, her left hand brushed the butt of the grappling pistol. With a curse, she noticed that the Black Dawn had already pulled away. She was sure they’d meet at the island up ahead and she’d give him his back his gun and his shirt and be done with the Avalon pirate once and for all. The thought brought her small comfort. She cursed Berek for his stupid poetry and herself for wanting desperately to believe he hadn’t been lying.
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