Thursday, November 8, 2012
Thursday Tales: My Pirate Story
It happened about three years ago.
I was first mate on a merchant vessel, and we were cargoing fine linen from Italy to London. Well, that isn't 100% honest. We were shipping fine linen. But the real money was in the Italian wines we had stowed away in the belly of the ship to smuggle into England. Liquor taxes took the profit of sea travel right out of the equation!
It was my eighth run.
There was always a danger, once we got into English waters, of getting held up by the Customs officials. But, we'd all gotten pretty good at being convincing in our story. I could lie with the straightest of faces, and the Captain's young wife could make a man quickly forget whatever it was he was there to do with a toss of her head and a slipped button. And she did, too.
The bigger danger, though, was Pirates. Customs had to follow protocol. Pirates could do whatever they damn well pleased. A few slit throats meant nothing to them, and if you had cargo they wanted, they'd board you, slice you to pieces, and take off with your entire ship. Although, I suppose you wouldn't care all that much about the thievery if you were lying there dead.
So, it was with a bit of panic and dread that I woke up that night to hearing Billy, who was on lookout, cry out, "PIRATE SHIP!!" I shoved my legs into a pair of breeches and ran out of my cabin, still tugging on my boots. I nearly knocked the captain down in my rush to get to the deck.
"Sorry, Captain," I said to him.
But, he just nodded at me. He was a man of not many words.
We reached the side of the ship and looked behind us into the mist. Sure enough, Billy was dead on right. A dark ship slid behind us in the water, black flag at its mast. I glanced up at our own sails and then behind us again, judging the speeds of the two vessels.
"We can't outrun that, Captain," I said. But again, he only nodded. We watched as the pirate ship came alongside us, our swords drawn. Just waiting.
Someone on the pirate ship threw an anchor over the side of their vessel, anchoring the two boats together.
"ARGH, Matey!" came a growl from across the way. "You have been caught by the dreaded Pirate Greenbeard!"
I raised an eyebrow and muttered to the captain, "Greenbeard? You ever hear of a Pirate Greenbeard?"
The captain shook his head and shrugged his shoulders.
The pirate's announcement continued. "We are the scourge of the Mediterranean! We've captured dozens, nay, HUNDREDS, of ships! Burned them to pieces! Took their women! But we are in a fair mood on this night... Simply pass over your cargo and we will let you pass!"
I looked to the captain. It was his ship. Finally, he spoke. "Nay! Come over and get it if you want it so badly!"
"Captain, is that wise?" I said under my breath. "They're pirates."
His eyes never left the pirate ship. "If I'm going to lose my life savings, and even my life, I'd like to look the man responsible in the eyes while he's doing it." the captain said quietly.
There was a long pause.
"If you don't comply, we will take your ship for ourselves!"
The captain called back. "Try it."
A crack sounded and we were suddenly overrun by Pirate Greenbeard and his... crew.
Not that I'd seen a lot of pirates, mind you, but these were the shortest pirates I'd ever seen. I'm talking, four feet tall here. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves tall. I admit it. I started to laugh. The thought that I'd been so scared of these pirates? Hysterical.
The captain tried to hide it, but he was chuckling under his beard, too. He bowed with a flourish, mirth still in his eyes. "Ah, welcome to my ship, Pirate Greenbeard. Please forgive me if I don't hand over my cargo at your say-so. I was prepared to fight a real pirate to the death to protect my livelihood and the lives of my crew and wife. But, somehow I don't think that's going to be necessary." He gestured to a cabinboy. "But, I would be happy to have you all escorted back to your ship, with a bottle of wine for your trouble. A gift of thanks to you for providing me with a much-needed laugh tonight."
Pirate Greenbeard frowned. "I'm afraid that won't be necessary." He nodded to his first mate. "Gentlemen?"
I'm frankly embarrassed to tell you what happened next. We were grown men. Sea-weathered. TALL grown men... with swords and daggers and cutlasses. They were... dwarves. Comically short. I don't know how it happened. One second we were drawing our swords, the next they were stabbing at our legs. I'd never fought anyone who attacked that way. Grown men can't reach that far down, I suppose. But it was amazingly effective. Soon, we were all bloody from the thighs down... and...
Tied to the mast.
We watched helplessly as the pirates ran up and down from the deck into the hull, taking every bottle of our precious Italian wine. And as the pirate ship left us (alive, at least), they sang, "Yo Ho, Yo Ho, a pirate's life for me!"
A lone voice, maybe Pirate Greenbeard himself, started the cheer, and as the ship disappeared into the mist, I heard them all.
"Short people can do anything!!!"