Hours went by as Melisande contemplated her situation. She wanted to rejoin the crew, but she knew that Baltazar would never allow it. Still she was out at sea on her adventure and she still wanted to find out about her family. She at least still had that.
Her thoughts were cut off by a signal from the deck, “Sail ho!”
She immediately jumped to her feet and ran out on deck to see the other ship. Baltazar stood next to the helm with his hands at his side. He picked up his looking glass and peered through it to inspect the ship that they were coming up on.
After a few moments, he smiled and lowered the scope, “Mr. Melchior, we’ve found our spaniard. Full sail if you please.”
Melchior nodded, “Aye aye, full sail you swabs!”
Melisande walked up next to him on the aft castle, “What’s going on?”
“The reports we got were dead on.” Baltazar replied. “We’ve found our merchant and we’re going to take it.”
He turned to Gilles, who was back on the helm, “Come about ten degrees starboard.”
The ship picked up speed and began to close the distance with larger Spanish ship. Melisande shook her head, “Look at the size of that thing, you can’t be serious.”
“Size isn’t everything on the ocean, my dear.” Baltazar replied. “Speed is a far more deadly advantage, and we have the wind with us.”
He then looked over at Gilles, “I’ll take over here. Take our guest to my cabin and see to it she stays there.”
Gilles saluted, “Aye sir.”
He let go of the wheel and turned to Melisande, “This way please.”
Melisande shook her head, “I signed on as a member of the crew. I’m fighting here too!”
Her words impressed Baltazar, but not enough for him to rescind his order, “You signed on under a false identity. You are entitled to nothing. Go below or I might reconsider letting Morgan hurl you overboard.”
Melisande flashed Baltazar an angry look as she turned to follow Gilles. The helmsman held her on the arm as they walked, “I never did thank you for saving my life. For what it’s worth, I’d be fine with the idea a serving with a lass.”
She smiled, “It’s nice to know someone around here wouldn’t mind. May I ask you a question?”
“By all means.” He replied.
“Why are we attacking Spanish ships?” She asked. “Isn’t he Spanish?”
Gilles shrugged, “That’s something you’d have to ask him. As long as I get my share, I could care less who we attack.”
Melisande turned away as he closed the door behind her. She thought about it oddly for a moment, but then turned her attention to what was going on outside. She opened the window and watched as the small Spanish ship grew larger with each moment. This ship was a large carrack style vessel with a high fore and aft castle. It was also bristling with guns from the hull. Baltazar must be crazy, she thought to herself.
On deck, Baltazar saw the ship enter gun range. He smiled and looked to the men at the rigging, “Raise the colors! All hands run up the guns!”
A black and red flag with the image of a demonic spirit was raised behind the lateen sail. Baltazar counted down the seconds until he was right where he wanted to be and then pulled the helm hard to starboard. The men yelled and cheered as they approached their opponent.
Baltazar nodded, “Steady men, wait for it…”
Once they were in the right position alongside, Baltazar waved his arm, “Fire!”
Smoke poured from both sides of their cannons as large explosions emanated from the muzzles. Melisande could hear what sounded like deafening thunder from the deck as the cannons blasted the Spanish ship. The cannons ripped massive holes in the side of the Spaniard. In response, she began to turn to starboard in order to fire her own guns.
Baltazar saw this, and looked up at his men on the masts, “I need more sail men! Tighten them up, don’t give the Spaniards a target!”
The men worked as fast as they could and it paid off. The ship turned quicker than the Spanish carrack could compensate for. Baltazar held the helm at hard over to starboard. The old wheel shook as the ship moved out of range of the Spanish guns. Moments later, Baltazar’s ship had made a full 180 degree turn and was now turning to port to fire the cannons on that side.
Baltazar nodded and raised his left arm, “Port gun crew, ready on my mark!”
He waited a few seconds for his ship to be positioned exactly where he wanted it and then dropped his arm, “Fire all!”
A huge series of explosions rocked the side of the Specter as her cannons unleashed a terrible volley on the Spanish carrack. Baltazar’s crew cheered as they watched smoke pour out of the side of the Spaniard. It appeared as though the ship was crippled. Baltazar kept his eyes on their flag, waiting for it to be lowered, but it never fell. Instead the ship slowly began to turn. The joy in the crews’ eyes turned to fear as the Spanish carrack brought its guns to bear.
Baltazar turned his ship hard to starboard in an attempt to avoid getting hit, but it was too late. The carrack opened up with a full broadside. Baltazar screamed as the ship’s massive cannons erupted in flame, “Hold on everyone! Brace yourselves; this is going to be bad!”
Cannon fire ripped through the deck and hull as the barrage continued. Baltazar called down to his men, “Reload, ready the guns and prepare to return fire!”
Baltazar’s men quickly responded as the hull splintered around them. Melchior jumped into action, “Move it your bilge rats! Brace the cannons, ready the fuse!”
After a few moments, Melchior looked at his rows of cannon and called out, “Guns at the ready?”
Each gun crew signaled back one at a time, “Gun ready sir!”
Melchior turned to Baltazar, “All guns reporting ready sir, except port side numbers 2, 6, and 8, they’re out of action.”
Baltazar nodded, “It’ll have to do, all guns return fire!”
Once more, Baltazar’s guns let loose a barrage of smoke and fire. The shots ripped into the Spaniard. One shot blew through the main mast, sending it toppling to the side. There was a moaning sound that came from the ship’s hull and it slowly listed to port.
Melchior ran to the helm, “Captain, the Spaniard looks to be taking on water! We must have hit her below the waterline.”
Baltazar nodded, “Aye, and look!”
He pointed to the flag aft of the mizzen mast as it slowly lowered and a white one took its place. Cheers of victory arose from the remaining crew aboard the Specter. Baltazar nodded, “Grappling hooks men, make ready to board!”
They brought their ship alongside the Spaniard and threw across several planks to create walk ways. Melisande watched as Baltazar crossed over to the Spanish ship with two men. He was met on the larger ship by the enemy captain, who was a large man with a thick mustache and a gruff expression. The two men greeted each other.
The Spanish captain bowed and held out his sword to Baltazar, “Sir, I am Captain Del Rosa of the Spanish merchant vessel Cristobal. Please accept this sword as my personal surrender, Captain.”
“Thank you Captain,” Baltazar replied, “It was a battle well-fought, there is no shame in your defeat. You may keep your sword.”
“And what do you intend to do with us now,” Captain Del Rosa demanded, “leave us to sink with our ship, or perhaps hold us for ransom?”
Baltazar’s men came across from the Specter, “Permission to transfer the cargo, captain?”
“Aye,” Baltazar nodded, “but remember, no crewman or passenger is to be harmed, and any crewman who lays so much as a hand on a woman passenger will lose said hand. Do we understand?”
A resounding ‘aye’ came from the crew in response. Baltazar nodded and raised his arms, signaling them to start working, “Get to it men.”
The crew raced over like a flood of men and ransacked the ship’s interior. Captain Del Rosa shook his head as they moved, “I asked you a question, Captain. I can’t overlook the fact that I have yet to receive an answer.”
Baltazar nodded, “Indeed, my dear Captain, forgive me. I am not in the business of murdering such honorable opponents. Even surprised, damaged, and outmatched, your ship put up a good fight. The Spanish Armada would be lucky to have such iron.”
He turned to one of the Spanish crewmen, “Lower your ships longboats will you?”
The man nodded and promptly took three men to ready the boats. Captain Del Rosa was taken aback, “You’re letting us go?”
Baltazar nodded as the Spanish captain continued, “But how will we survive out here on the open ocean?”
“Take whatever food, canvas, and provisions you need.” Baltazar replied. “You’re only a few hours sailing from shore. If you set your boats on a course directly south, you should hit land by day’s end.”
Captain Del Rosa looked south and nodded, “I’ll not forget your gallantry, Captain. I expected to meet my end the moment you came onboard.”
Baltazar’s men carried large crates and barrels out of the hold and transferred them all to the Specter. The crew of the Spanish ship quickly made their way over the side and into the boats that had been lowered. Once everyone was over the side, Baltazar turned to Captain Del Rosa, “I’ll take my leave of you now, Captain, as I assume you wish to maintain your honor?”
Captain Del Rosa nodded and extended his hand, “I’m sure you understand. This is still my ship.”
“Only too well,” Baltazar smiled as he shook the merchant captain’s hand, “Good bye Captain, and good luck.”
“Thank you,” Del Rosa responded, “farewell.”
Baltazar turned, walked across the planks, and turned to his men, “Shove off, move us away from the Cristobal, we don’t want to be dragged down with them.”
The Specter slowly began to pull away as the crew cut the grappling lines. Baltazar watched as the last of the Cristobal’s men quickly entered the boat. Once every last person on the ship was safely away, Captain Del Rosa climbed down the side and entered the last boat before it pulled away.
The crew of the Specter watched as the Cristobal slowly disappeared beneath the waves. He turned back and looked through the window to his cabin. That was when he noticed that Melisande wasn’t there. He turned back and looked at his first officer, “Melchior, where is our passenger?”
“She’s below decks.” Melchior replied. “She refused to stay in the cabin. I wasn’t going to put up a fight.”
Baltazar rolled his eyes and climbed down the ladder while his men continued to load their new cargo into the hold. What he saw on the main gun deck shocked him. There right next to the guns, was a triage set up by the ship’s carpenter.
Melisande was standing over a wounded crewman, cleaning an injury caused by the splintering wood from the Specter’s hull. Her sleeves were rolled up and her arms were covered in blood. She looked up at Baltazar with a faint smile as he approached, “That was a nice thing you did for the captain, allowing him to maintain his honor.”
“You saw that?” Baltazar asked.
“I watched the entire battle.” She responded. “I was on deck getting your casualties down here for care while you were on Spanish ship.”
He looked down at the injured crewman, “How are you Morgan, is she taking good care of you?”
Morgan was the same man who had wanted to throw Melisande over the side earlier in the voyage. He coughed lightly before speaking, “She be a living angel of mercy. The pain be manageable now.”
Melisande smiled as she worked. Baltazar nodded as he turned to her, “I don’t think anyone will want you thrown over the side now.”
Morgan’s eyes widened as he remembered his words. An apologetic look appeared on his face, “Forgive me, lass.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Melisande replied, “just rest easy.”
Baltazar turned away and headed over to the carpenter, “How many did we lose?”
The carpenter looked over his triage, “Ten dead, about sixteen wounded. Eight of them should be able to return to duty in a day or two.”
He then looked over at Melisande, “Make that ten with the way Melisande be working.”
“Ye know sir,” he continued, “none of this would be happening right now if it wasn’t fer the lass. I don’t know where she learned how to care for people like this, but she’s saved three lives so far.”
Baltazar sighed, “I know…”
He walked back over to where she was working and sat down, “The work you’ve done here is very impressive. I know Morgan appreciates it, don’t you sailor?”
The large man nodded as he passed out. Baltazar smiled, “Where did you learn how to tend wounds like that?”
Melisande shrugged, “I didn’t learn how to. I can’t explain it. I just know how to treat an injury when I see one. I don’t understand how.”
Baltazar nodded, “Well… keep up the good work.”
Melisande saluted Baltazar only half seriously, “Aye sir.”
He got up and walked back up on deck. Once there, he turned to the helmsman, “How’s our haul?”
Melchior watched as the last of the plunder was brought below deck, “We should be able to turn a good profit.”
Melchior ruffled his brow and turned to Baltazar, “Are ye still planning on giving most of your shares to the local poor house and the church?”
“Aye,” Baltazar replied, “tis the right thing to do.”
“I never understood this,” Melchior replied, shaking his head, “in all the years I’ve served with ye, the riches ye’ve plundered would have made ye a very wealthy man.”
“You don’t have to understand,” Baltazar replied, “I have my reasons, believe me.”
Melchior nodded, “Fair enough, Captain. What be our course?”
“San Sebastián.” Baltazar responded. “We should be able to part with our goods without a lot of questions asked.”
“As long as we aren’t coming under fire ourselves!” Melchior mused.
Baltazar shook his head, “Most of the corsairs that operate out of there are former fishermen trying to turn a profit. They’re not well armed and wouldn’t be so bold as to come near the Specter.”
Melchior did not look as confident, “Desperate men be willing to do desperate, and often stupid, things. They tend to take greater risks.”
Baltazar sighed, “Are you questioning my orders Mr. Melchior? Perhaps you would like to take over as Captain for a while? If so, you can vote to have me deposed.”
Melchior shook his head, “No sir, I harbor no ambitions as such. I just be looking out for the good of our men.”
“As you should.” Baltazar admitted. “You’re a good man, and a close friend. Please trust that I know what I’m doing.”
“Aye Captain,” Melchior replied, “My humble apologies.”
The Specter sailed through the night and on into the morning. Melisande returned to Baltazar’s quarters while he slept on deck near the door. At five bells, three men approached the captain. He was slowly roused by their presence. His vision was blurred as he slowly rubbed his eyes and stood up, “What is it men, the sun has barely kissed the horizon yet.”
His eyes focused enough to make out Morgan, the carpenter, and Gilles standing in front of him. They stood silently for a moment before Morgan spoke up, “Captain, we’ve been speaking in open council with the rest of the men about the lass.”
Baltazar rolled his eyes, “I know, and I’ve taken note of how you feel. I give you my word that she will be off the Specter as soon as we dock in San Sebastián.”
The men looked at each other for a moment before Gilles finally spoke up, “That’s what we be wanting to discuss sir.”
“Oh?” Baltazar replied with interest. “Well you’re speaking to me in open council, as is your right, so speak your minds. I won’t hold anything against you.”
Morgan spoke up again, “Captain, sir, ye can’t put her off the ship.”
“Have you been speaking to the ship’s cook again?” Baltazar asked with a sigh.
“Nay sir,” The carpenter replied, “but we’ve seen her work. As a cabin boy, she worked as hard, if not harder than any man aboard, despite getting only a half-wage. The drinks haven’t been flowing nearly as quickly since she’s been confined to your cabin. Then she voluntarily took to nursing the wounded back to health after the battle.”
Morgan nodded, “I’m figuring too many of us would be dead now if not for her.”
Baltazar could not believe what he was hearing, “So now, after everything you’ve said, you want her to remain on board, as a member of the crew?”
“Aye.” Gilles replied. “The men no longer look at her as a tavern wench, and she’ll be treated as one of us. We give you our word.”
Baltazar looked Morgan in the eye, “What about the black mark and all that?”
“As we been telling ye captain,” he replied, “we don’t see her as a tavern wench anymore. She be one of us now. Some of us wouldn’t be here if not for her.”
“Okay…” Baltazar said looking at the honest eyes of his men. “Well I appreciate your input. I’ll talk to her and to Mr. Clement… I make no promises, but we’ll see where it goes.”
All three of them smiled and saluted, “Thank ye, Captain.”
Baltazar nodded, “All right… to your stations.”
The three men turned and started the morning work. Baltazar stood there in disbelief as the Sun came up over the horizon. I’ve never seen anyone earn the respect of these men so quickly, he thought to himself. There is something almost mystical about her.
Baltazar decided to sort it out later. The ships bell hadn’t rung yet, and he was still tired. His bunk creaked gently as he lay back down and fell asleep.
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