Author’s note: A Pirate Made is a prequel to The Doom of Sallee, originally published in Grantville Gazette, Volume 62.
Off the coast of Portugal
Lysbeth Janszoon van Haarlem worked to loosen the damp knot of her neck scarf and leaned back into the curved railing on the aft deck of the Leeuwin. On one side, the coast of Portugal traced a hopeful path south toward her estranged father. A featureless ribbon of land, as indistinct as her new future and grey in the April light of their first clear morning since setting sail from Antwerp.
Beneath her, the ship surged gently forward before easing into the next rolling wave. A growing warmth promised midday heat and, if God should be so gracious, an afternoon’s respite from the pervasive wet.
Two couples shared the deck with her.
Alonso Vargas, captain of the Leeuwin, stood with Klaus, his smooth-cheeked helmsman. Lysbeth had rarely seen the two apart since taking passage on the journey south. Though to be fair, passengers were rarely allowed on deck. Today, however, was different, and spirits were high with hope for a calm and rainless day.
Marit van Voorburg leaned into her husband, Heer Henrik. The newlyweds kept near the railing as well, permitting the sailing men room to work. The lean young man unwound an arm from around his young bride. Beside him was a parasol and he opened it to shade her from the rising sun.
“Captain Vargas,” Marit said, “it is so kind of you to allow us time on deck. I was nearly undone with fear that rain would harry us to the very docks of Cartagena.”
Henrik responded to his wife’s words before the captain could reply, “I do hope, sir, that it is no imposition. We have greatly enjoyed both your table and your company at supper, but a chance to air and pray for the sun’s warmth is a blessing.”
Vargas spared half a smile for the young couple. His voice was deep, the Spanish accent a rich complement to his dark eyes. “Just stay off the main deck,” he said, “and keep the women out from under foot. I welcome the company and more refined conversation than Klaus here has to offer.”
“Then I insist we pass the time with a game.” Marit’s words were high and melodic, particularly by comparison to Lysbeth’s own low voice.
Henrik smiled with a tolerant softness at his wife’s unsurprising mention of a game. “Choose an innocent game this time, Love. Lest our helmsman turn it against us.”
The captain made a sound that was more snort than laugh. “Good luck with that,” he said. “Klaus can make holy communion sound randy.”
“Communion, no,” Klaus said. “But I can show you a thing or two to do with rosary beads.” He held the wheel with hands weathered nearly as brown as the ship’s well-kept wood.
Marit laughed, “Please do not, sir.”
“He is incorrigible, Señora,” Vargas said.
Henrik moved the parasol to better shade Marit. “Share the game with us, Love. And save the poor sailor lest blasphemy damn his soul.”
“Very well,” Marit arranged her skirts to dry in the growing strength of the sun. “We shall play ‘Two Truths and a Lie.’ I will make three statements about myself. Two will be true, and the third will be a lie. The group must then divine which of the three are false. Agreed?”
Lysbeth smiled contentedly as the young bride described the latest of a seemingly endless supply of social diversions. She breathed in deeply, letting the adventurous scent of salted air, oiled wood, and the bodies of the men working on the deck below soak through her.
She imagined that her father’s ships must conjure similar emotion. And although Lysbeth would never forgive the man for abandoning his only daughter for life at sea, she began to understand the hold it must have over him.
“A game of lies,” Captain Alonso said. “Finally an activity where sailing men can show their worth.”
“I will start,” Marit said. “Let me see . . . la! I have one. Here are my two truths and a lie. I was born on a ship. I was born in a carriage. I was born in a barn. Which two are true, and where is the lie? Lysbeth? Will you play?”
Lysbeth considered the erudite young woman. Marit was small and enviably curvaceous. Even in her sodden skirts, Lysbeth felt heavy and hipless by comparison.
Lysbeth considered what she knew of the young woman, saying, “I fear I have not done well at your games in the past. Perhaps I will find an advantage in this one.”
Marit seemed comfortable at sea, and Lysbeth thought she remembered Henrik mentioning a family shipyard. Perhaps the couple was the product of an arranged marriage between wealthy, Dutch shipping families. If that was the case, a birth at sea seemed as probable as any other guess.
Lysbeth shared her reasoning with the group. “I think you want us to assume the easy answer that you were born in a coach parked inside a barn.”
“That is my guess,” Alonso declared.
His face serious and without a trace of humor or emotion, Klaus said, “I’ll park something in your barn.”
“Klaus . . .” Alonso warned.
Lysbeth did her best to ignore the men. “I think instead that you were born aboard a ship. I remember Heer Henrik saying something about a family shipyard.”
“Indeed I did,” Henrik said. “Good memory, Mevrouw van Haarlem. That is the very reason I am aboard this ship. An innovative shipbuilder is lecturing in Cartagena, and my father has dispatched me to see if there is any merit to his techniques.”
Marit beamed to rival the warming sun. “I commissioned a tailor to make Henrik a set of clothes for the occasion. They are so sharp and manly that I will need to chase the Spanish women off with a broom!”
Lysbeth smiled at the young couple, saying, “Then I guess you were born in a shipboard stable. The coach is the lie.”
Marit grinned, her eyes narrowing impishly. “Anyone else? The captain says the ship is the lie. Lysbeth says the carriage.”
Henrik leaned his head in close and whispered in a conspiratorial, yet completely audible voice, “Give the answer quickly, Love, before good Klaus guesses something inappropriate.”
“La,” Marit crowed. “I win! My father owned the barge service crossing the Schelde at Antwerp. I was born aboard a ferry inside the carriage carrying my mother to the midwife.”
“Well done, Love,” Henrik said. She leaned into him and he pecked her cheek with a chaste touch of his lips.
“There is a trick to this game,” Vargas said.
“I’ve got one,” Klaus said from the wheel. “What’s longer? The ship’s beam, the ship’s mast, or the captain’s c—”
“Klaus!” Vargas cut the ruddy-cheeked helmsman off. “We are accompanied on deck by a pair of fine ladies. I am sure they are not interested in any of the measures you mention.”
Lysbeth turned her smile from the Voorburgs to the pair of sailors. Her father, from what she remembered as a much younger girl, had possessed a tongue as wicked as his wit. Though her mother would favor him with cross looks when his conversation turned coarse, their affection wasn’t so different from that shared between the Captain and his man.
Marit’s voice was melodic with laughter. “This is not a game of bawdy riddles, sir. You must tell three things of yourself, two of them true and we must divine from the telling where amongst the three the lie is hidden.”
“If I did not know better,” Henrik said in his entirely audible whisper, “I would say our corky helmsman was flying your colors, Love.”
Lysbeth whispered back to them, from across the deck and just as clearly, “I am fairly certain that Klaus flies only the Captain’s colors.”
“Lysbeth!” Marit cried. “I expect such ribald conversation from these rogues, but you are a lady.”
“Forgive me, gentle folk,” Vargas made his voice heavy and grave. “Klaus is a scoundrel through and through. And, I believe, a pirate at heart.”
“Do not tempt the fates with talk of pirates,” Marit said. “Henrik, have a go at our game before I faint dead away from the thought of pirates.”
“I am on a ship at sea with men of skill and daring, Love. It is not the nature of a man to tell truths in such a situation. And you ask me to find two?”
Marit would not be denied. “Nonsense. Show them.”
“I think Mevrouw Lysbeth should have a go,” Henrik said. “She has quite a memory for the details of our stories, yet she shares so few of her own.”
Lysbeth grew still, her smile fading as she reviewed the expectant group. Klaus kept his eyes moving over the rolling waters ahead. The rest watched her, waiting.
Memories of her estranged, seafaring father were still strong in Lysbeth’s thoughts. Indeed, he was the very reason she had abandoned her home to travel south. Though she generally avoided discussing her father, she found her two truths were about him. Once she had them, the lie came easily.
“Like you Heer Henrik, I am traveling south to see a man, although I will not find him in Cartagena. I will start my search even farther south beyond the Straits.”
“So far,” Marit breathed. “That is long for one man.”
“Some men are longer than oth—”
“Klaus!” the Captain and Henrik cried together.
“So it is,” Lysbeth agreed. She was now committed and resigned to tell her tale. “But this is a man I have not seen since I was a girl. He left me with an ailing mother, a brother more interested in coffeehouse politicking than family, and a set of twins.”
Marit gasped into her hand.
“The villain!” she said. “Did he not wed you?”
“Oh my, no. Nor did he get the twins on me.” Lysbeth felt herself blush at the thought. She was so comfortable calling her father’s gift ‘the twins’ that she had forgotten the implication that the moniker implied. Her blush faded into what must have looked a wicked grin.
“No,” she said, “I did not birth the twins. Although I have made them cry for years since they were left to me.”
“Captain,” Klaus interrupted, “I don’t normally take to women as crew, but this one I like. Can we keep her?”
It was perhaps the first time Lysbeth had heard Klaus put together two sentences without uttering some vulgarity.
Vargas scratched at his thick, dark beard and ignored the helmsman, instead asking, “What then are your truths and lie?”
“The man I seek,” Lysbeth said, “is a prince. He is a preacher. And he is a pirate.”
Marit made a sound of pure delight. “La! You give us not one mystery, but two.”
“This man sounds like a bit of a scoundrel himself,” Vargas said. “If I may say so, Señora.”
“Oh my,” Marit said, “we have indeed found a game for you, dear Lysbeth. Now, where shall we start to find your lie—”
A clamor of calls came from the rigging. The crew working on the deck below them rushed to the starboard railing, and Lysbeth felt a palpable change in the mood of the men.
The playful tone was absent from Vargas’s voice. The indulgent shipboard host was gone in an instant. Only the captain remained.
“Class and range,” he commanded, and men cried out with nautical figures and weights that Lysbeth did not begin to understand.
She rose and moved toward the far railing as the sailing men discussed the new ship with unfamiliar sounding words. She stepped with care as the Leeuwin pressed into another swelling wave. There was indeed a ship beside them, still distant, but much closer than Lysbeth had imagined when the lookout first made his cry.
Henrik and Marit joined her at the railing. He pointed, gesturing along the waterline where a shadow rose and fell against the side of the oncoming ship. “She’s a xebec rowed hard into the sun. They kept her sails furled so as not to give her away.”
“Aye,” Vargas said, joining them at the rail. “And that’s not good news.”
The heat of the day was upon them. Lysbeth pulled her scarf from around her throat. Air brushing the nape of her neck made her hair stand on end, and the wrap’s light material was damp where it had rested on her skin.
“Can we run, sir?” Henrik asked the captain.
“They have the wind. But there is a shoal near the mouth of Seixe.” As he said it, Lysbeth felt the Leeuwin turn beneath her feet. She gripped her scarf with one hand, steadying herself with the other. “If we can make the coast, our pursuers may draft too deep to cross it.”
Marit’s voice was pitched high again, but with concern now rather than the casual excitement of the morning’s diversions. “Will we make the coast?”
Lysbeth watched Vargas. His lips were a thin, pale line under the coarse hair of his beard. “Señor Voorburg,” he said, “escort the women down to the cabin.”
Henrik’s eyes were rounded, white showing around the blue. He swallowed and it looked to Lysbeth like a dry motion. “I can help you on deck,” the young man said, “should they . . . should there be need.”
“Will we make the coast?” Marit asked again.
Lysbeth’s throat was suddenly dry, as well. “We will find our way to the cabin, sirs. Come, let’s give the men room to work.”
Lysbeth quickly wound her scarf into a ball, took Marit’s small hand into her own and led the way forward to the small, shared cabin. The ship felt different now, twisting and struggling to climb before bolting down the face of each obstructing wave.
It was dark inside the cabin. Lysbeth closed the door and leaned her back against it. Marit stumbled, sitting down hard before scrambling to one of the low sleeping pallets.
Lysbeth felt chilled before her eyes adjusted to the dim interior. Light from the cabin’s single, small window combined with the motion of the fleeing ship to send an irregular patch of light dancing across the cabin floor. It was disorienting to look at, and when she heard a sob she moved to sit with the small woman on the pallet.
Lysbeth had left her home in Haarlem in search of pirates, but never intended to find them like this. Not taken at sea. Not sold as a slave, perhaps never to reach Sallee.
Marit shook quietly and Lysbeth pulled her close. She draped the thin scarf around the weeping woman’s shoulders, more as a gesture of comfort than for warmth, and searched for some way to distract her. Then she remembered Marit’s game.
“You’ve yet to guess,” Lysbeth said.
“The game. You haven’t yet guessed my lie.” Lysbeth’s low voice seemed to calm the younger woman, so she continued speaking. “The man I seek has many titles. I have told you three. Can you guess from what you know of me which is the lie?”
“Oh, Lysbeth. I appreciate what you’re trying to do, but now is not the time for games. Don’t think me cruel for saying so, but you are unwed. Can you have any idea what they might take from me should we be boarded?”
The frank certainty in the small woman’s voice froze Lysbeth’s words. Men moved above them on the forward deck. Men shouted and rushed about outside their small cabin door, as well.
Lysbeth wondered what she would do if they were boarded? It was too much to hope that the approaching ship was her father’s own. Even if the ship were her father’s, would he care enough for a daughter long abandoned to spare her from slavery?
For the first time since stepping aboard the Leeuwin, a flutter of doubt settled Lysbeth’s belly. If some other pirate took them, would her father’s name spare her from slavery?
Marit and Henrik van Voorburg were each from wealthy Dutch families. Should the ship be taken, the promise of ransom might grant them some degree of protection. But what of her?
If legend and reputation were to be trusted, Lysbeth’s wealthy father could afford any imaginable payment. Should ransom be demanded, would he pay it? She had not seen the man in a decade, and then he had sailed out of her life despite her mother’s pleas that he stay.
Also, what did she know of pirates? It could be that her father’s very name might provoke a rival to murder her on the spot, if not to spite an adversary, then perhaps for fear of his wrath? Either way, the end for her would be the same.
No. Trusting to her father for rescue was perilous, at best. To be taken without hope of ransom might mean all the horrors of Tunis or Algiers. And so Lysbeth started to form the beginnings of a plan. Before all else, she had to calm Marit. She would need the woman’s help and something else that Marit had mentioned when they were up on deck.
“Marit,” Lysbeth said, “I think it’s time to introduce you to the twins.”
“What?” The absurdity of the words shocked Marit from her tears. “Dear Lysbeth, have you come unhinged? I’d have known if there were children aboard. I don’t understand.”
Lysbeth left her scarf with Marit and crawled across the narrow cabin to her pallet and the trunk beside it. She opened it, moving her extra clothing aside blindly in the dark. At the bottom was a long box. Its weight was familiar and comforting when she lifted it free from the chest.
She set the box on her pallet and reached back into the trunk for a worn leather satchel. When both were free, she closed the chest and called for Marit to join her by the wane light near the window.
“It is a pistol case,” Marit said.
“It is,” Lysbeth agreed, and she opened the box for Marit to see. Inside lay a matched set of flintlock pistols. Lysbeth studied the familiar lines of the guns. Her memory filled in fine details and tiny imperfections where her eyes could not in the dim light.
“These are my twins,” she said. “They were a gift to my brother, but he refused them.”
“Can you kill a pirate with one?” Marit breathed. “Could you kill their captain?”
“I’ve never had need to fire at a man.”
“Then we are doomed should they board and take us.”
“Perhaps not. Do not despair, Marit.” Lysbeth motioned with her head toward the pallet where her loading kit sat in the gloom. “Shall we load them?”
Marit’s teeth flashed in the dim light, and her movements seemed more confident when she crossed to the pallet. Lysbeth’s spirits felt buoyed as well. With the twins in hand and Marit recovered from her sobbing, Lysbeth resolved to move forward with the next step in her plan.
“There is something else I need from you,” she said carefully.
“What is it?” Marit asked. “I’m afraid I have no secreted guns aboard.”
Lysbeth moved with caution now. She needed Marit to worry about what the pirates might do to a woman, but it wouldn’t do to have the young bride break down again.
“You mentioned a set of manly clo—”
An explosion drowned out the words of Lysbeth’s request. Her ears rang from the noise, and it seemed loud enough to have come from within their darkened cabin.
Marit screamed. She was crumpled on the floor in a heap. Men shouted outside, and Lysbeth rushed to the small window. The crew had uncovered two cannons. Smoke lay heavy around them, and they worked to reload the one Vargas had just fired.
Men lined the railing on the raised aft deck. Some carried long curved knives. Lysbeth saw several long guns. Henrik was there among them and he carried a stout pole with a wicked hook at one end.
The Leeuwin pressed into another wave. The bow pitched up, and as it did the pirate’s ship rose into view beside them. It was low to the water, sleek, and wet-looking. It bristled with oars, scuttling across the water like a many-legged beetle.
Men crouched on the deck of the ship. Pirates, Lysbeth supposed, though they didn’t look so different from the men aboard the Leeuwin.
A cloud of smoke puffed from the pursuing ship. Immediately after, Lysbeth heard a small, concussive pop. The line of sailors with Henrik on the aft deck broke suddenly as something blasted through the ship’s low wall.
The noise from it was terrible. Marit screamed again, and Lysbeth thought that she might have screamed as well.
She never saw the cannonball, but its effect was catastrophic. It sent several men flying. It struck Klaus where he stood at the wheel and swept him from the ship entirely. Men scattered, scrambling away from the ruined wall.
One man was thrown back nearly to the lower deck. Shocked, Lysbeth watched him as he tried to rise. He leapt quickly to his feet, like he had tripped and was embarrassed to have fallen. He turned then, and Lysbeth felt her gorge rise when she recognized his young face.
A length of the wooden railing had flown free and transfixed the man. He swatted at the beam with his hands while twisting to see where the end protruded from his back. Then he lifted his head, looking forward to where she hid in the cabin. Though he couldn’t possibly see her in the darkened window, he seemed to look directly into her eyes. Then he took a step forward into empty air and toppled to the deck below.
“Oh, Henrik,” she whispered.
Lysbeth’s throat burned as she turned away from the shouting men on the deck. Tears stung her eyes. She wiped them away with fingers that smelled oily from handling the twins.
“Marit,” her voice sounded low and rough, even to her own ears. “I need Henrik’s clothes.”
“Why? Whatever for?”
Lysbeth ignored her, moving to the satchel and her waiting guns. She opened the leather case. Working by feel, she pulled out the scissors that she used to cut patches. She offered the scissors to Marit.
“Quickly now,” Lysbeth said. “Cut off my hair, then I will need those clothes.”
Marit stared at her for a long moment. It was oddly quiet out on the deck, and Lysbeth couldn’t decide if that was a comforting thing. At length, Marit gave a short nod and took the scissors.
Marit appeared to gain confidence from the decision. Her voice sounded steadier and less shrill after accepting Lysbeth’s course of action.
“Here,” Marit said, rising, “at least come to the window where we can see.”
“No!” Lysbeth rushed out the word far more abruptly than she had intended. Marit looked at her sharply, and Lysbeth imagined the woman’s dark eyes narrowing.
Lysbeth couldn’t allow Marit look out the window. To see her husband’s ruined body on the deck would undo her.
“Do it here,” Lysbeth said. “So . . . so I can load the twins.”
Marit didn’t argue and they both set to work.
Henrik’s clothes were a problem. For one thing, they were newly made and perfectly clean. Vargas was a fastidious man, and he kept an orderly ship. Even still, they did what they could with oil from a lamp and salt-crusted grit from the floor.
The fit proved challenging, as well. Lysbeth was of a height with Henrik, and she lacked Marit’s generous curves. Still the dark pants were snug and rested too low around her hips. She had to suck in a deep breath to buckle the belt.
The movement of the ship changed again. It turned, rolling slowly with the waves rather than taking them on the bow. The voices of the men outside changed as well.
“Hurry!” Marit whispered.
The shirt was made to fit under a narrow jacket. The heavy coat looked impossibly out of place on a ship, and Lysbeth wondered if Marit had taken the Spanish weather into account when she’d had it tailored.
The shirt fit her well enough, but despite the short hair and pants, there was no mistaking her femininity. Not at least without finding something to wear over the shirt.
Marit had the solution to that problem.
“Here,” she said. “Take it off. We’ll use your scarf.”
Lysbeth did as instructed and together they wound her chest tight with the light material. She was reaching for the shirt when someone flung open the door.
It was bright from the midday sun outside. The sailor couldn’t possibly see inside the darkened cabin. Still, Lysbeth gasped and instinctively threw an arm across the immodesty of her tightly wrapped chest.
“On deck,” the man shouted. “Captain says, ‘Get on deck.’ ”
Then he was gone.
Lysbeth cursed herself for a fool. She cursed herself for blushing as well, and fumbled back into the shirt. When she finished, she fetched the twins and shoved one under her belt.
Her hips were narrow, but Henrik had been a lean man. Given time she might punch a new hole to loosen the belt, but she could barely squeeze one gun between the dark leather and her waist. Even if she got the other through the belt, she’d never be able to draw them.
She swore again, this time out loud. It was not a ladylike phrase.
Marit didn’t chide her. Instead, the small woman picked up the scissors and ripped a long cut into the folds of her thick skirts.
There was a bump followed by thumping noises outside. Men shouted, some in Spanish and Dutch, others in languages Lysbeth didn’t understand.
“Here,” Marit extended her hand for a gun. She said, “Just give it to me,” when Lysbeth hesitated.
“Do you know how to fire one of these?”
Marit sniffed. “Most certainly not.”
“Should I need the gun,” Lysbeth explained, “just pull back on this cock and hand it to me. Good?”
Marit took the weapon and it quickly disappeared from view. Lysbeth drew a deep breath, squared her shoulders in what she hoped was a manly way, and stepped out of the cabin.
Lysbeth squinted against the brilliance of the midday sun. She raised an arm to shield her eyes just as something crashed against the side of her head. The blow sent her reeling to bounce off the outer wall of the cabin.
When she could see again, Lysbeth was curled on her side with Marit hunched protectively over her. Pain lanced through her head, and she couldn’t remember falling to the deck.
“Pistola, capitan,” said the pirate that had struck her.
Lysbeth’s stomach rolled, but if it was from the blow to her head or the motion of the ship, she did not know.
“Bring it to me,” said a man she could not see. He spoke Spanish as well, although his accent was clearly intended for some other language. Arabic, perhaps?
The pirate kicked Marit, and she shied away with a pained shriek. Then he stood on Lysbeth’s hand while tugging the flintlock free of her belt. His feet were as bare as her own. Still, his weight ground her fingers painfully against the deck’s wooden planks.
When he stepped away, Lysbeth cradled her bruised fingers in her other hand, pressing them to her mouth. Her face stung when she touched it. Her fingers came away bright and slick with blood from a split lip.
“Get him up,” the Arab said.
Lysbeth felt Marit’s small hands under her arm. Then larger, strong hands hoisted her roughly to her feet. She thought to act like a man, not knowing how an injured man should stand. Her stomach rolled again, and she would have fallen, but Marit was there to steady her.
“Does anyone else wish to give to me a fine pistol?” the Arab asked. “No? Very well, where was I? Ah, yes! Introductions.”
He was a small man. Rounded near the middle, but small all over with short legs and short arms. He had a fringe of greying hair surrounding a bald patch that was deeply tanned from long hours in the weather.
He turned to Captain Vargas, and it appeared as if he was returning to a conversation rather than starting one.
Vargas towered over the pirate, and the captain’s dark eyes looked stricken. Lysbeth remembered Klaus and the cannon strike that had torn him from the ship. She didn’t know if Vargas had seen the helmsman die, but he looked very alone without the ever-present Klaus at his side.
“Alonso Vargas,” the pirate said, “your ship is now the prize of one Gaspar Suarez. Suarez is a temper on loan from hell. He can’t piss standing without a drink in the morning. And he’d just as soon sell the lot of you in Algiers.”
He was shouting when he finished, and swept his arm in a wide motion that included Vargas and all the men of the Leeuwin.
“He is, in a word,” he continued, “me.”
Lysbeth felt Marit go rigid at her side.
“You and your men gave us a fight this morning, Vargas. And that don’t sit well with me. We’re freshly victualled and out for the season. I need men right now more than I do a bounty.” Suarez poked his finger into Vargas’ chest, saying, “So here’s what’s going to happen.”
Marit started to shake at Lysbeth’s side. Without warning, the diminutive woman surged forward with a scream. Had Lysbeth not been leaning on her for support, the woman might have leapt on the pirate Suarez.
“You killed him, you bastards!” Marit screamed.
Lysbeth got an arm around the smaller woman’s waist. She struggled to hold her. Marit had gone mad. Her voice climbed to a shriek as she struggled to work free of Lysbeth’s grasp.
“You bastards. You killed him!”
Suarez watched, his thin brows pulled down in a weathered scowl. He looked more irritated at the interruption than concerned about an assault from the tiny Dutch woman.
Marit tore at Lysbeth’s arms with her nails. Things would go poorly for Marit if she struck their captor, so Lysbeth ground her teeth beneath swollen lips and held on.
As suddenly as it began, the frantic struggle stopped. Marit stopped tearing at Lysbeth’s arms. The skin burned where clawed hands had raked her. Marit slumped forward, all but burying her face in her ruined skirts.
Lysbeth saw the pirate captain’s scowling eyes go wide in alarm. It was then that she remembered what Marit had hidden beneath her skirts.
She didn’t know who Marit intended to shoot with the flintlock pistol. Presumably Suarez, but the gun swung dangerously in her hands. Sparks leapt as flint struck the frizzen.
Men scattered. A boom rolled out from the ship. It echoed back from the nearby Portuguese shore.
Marit’s shot was comically wide of Suarez. He crouched with his arms covering his head, as if he still feared being hit by the shot.
The ball tore instead through the throat of a dark, shirtless pirate in a turban. His mouth gaped open and he clapped a hand to his savaged neck. He turned wide, unblinking eyes on Marit. Then he lifted his own pistol and fired.
Marit’s body bucked in Lysbeth’s arms. Then she went slack. The weight of her pulled Lysbeth down to sit awkwardly on the deck.
“Stop!” Suarez roared. He spat out words in a language that seemed to be assembled randomly from Spanish, Dutch, French, and Arabic. Men, pirates and sailors alike, scrambled to clear away from the deck.
The throatless pirate dropped his gun with a leaden clunk. Then he toppled, dead before his body struck wood.
Vargas moved with the other men, but Suarez stopped him with a word. “Not you,” the pirate captain said. “You stay here.”
Lysbeth was left alone, holding Marit. Only Suarez and Vargas remained.
“I swear,” Suarez barked, “the next man to raise a weapon will be dragged by the heels when we leave this place.”
He looked at Marit, sprawled in Lysbeth’s lap. He swore. Then he saw the flintlock lying at the young bride’s feet, twin to the one taken from Lysbeth.
His eyes snapped up to meet hers. Lysbeth froze. The hair on her arms and neck rose. She shook, although she couldn’t be sure if it was her motion or Marit’s.
Suarez pointed a short, dark finger at her. “You sneaky bastard.”
He took quick steps toward her, leaning over Marit’s body to stab the finger at her face, “What is your name, Sneaky Bastard?”
Lysbeth could not speak. Even if she could produce sound, she hadn’t thought to consider a name for her masculine disguise. She wondered again if her father’s name would save her should her sex be discovered.
Suarez spoke again, presumably restating the question, but this time in a language she didn’t understand. Lysbeth cast her eyes about, not wanting to look at the pirate. She searched, desperate for help and not daring to speak.
She found Vargas.
Her gaze locked on his. His dark eyes were red around the edges. His face looked sunken, the cheeks hollow beneath his coarse beard. Lysbeth’s terror was a wordless chill that wound itself, constricting around her throat.
She sensed Suarez loom closer toward her, but couldn’t pull her eyes from Vargas.
She did not know what Alonso Vargas saw in her face. His, however, was changed. It was etched with rage and drowned in recent loss. But his lips parted and he saved Lysbeth’s life with a word.
“Klaus,” Vargas said.
Lysbeth jerked her eyes to look at Suarez. The little pirate had straightened and turned to face Vargas.
“His name,” Vargas lied, “is Klaus von Lisse. He handles my affairs. You’ll find his name all over the manifest. He’s worthless as a sailor, and doesn’t speak a word of anything other than Dutch. Doesn’t speak much at all, come to think of it. ‘Course, talk ain’t the only thing a pair of lips is good for.”
Suarez turned to glare down at Lysbeth. He flicked his gaze to Marit, and Lysbeth’s eyes followed. A dark, wet band wrapped her belly – wide and spreading to either side like a cummerbund. The blood looked slick and black like pitch in the harsh overhead light, a sharp contrast to the pale skin of Marit’s small hands.
Suarez squatted. He took up the flintlock from where it lay at Marit’s feet. He held both of Lysbeth’s twins now, one in each hand. He stood then, and took a small half-step back from her. He pointed a gun, the loaded one the men had taken from her belt, leveling it at her face.
Lysbeth didn’t dare look away. For a long moment, she did not breathe.
“Klaus,” Suarez yelled, his voice pitched to reach the men on both ships, “is a Sneaky Bastard. Whatever ship I’m on, Sneaky Bastard will be on the other. Is that clear?”
He turned from her then, addressing all of the men still aboard the Leeuwin.
“Anyone else want to kill one of my men?” he asked into the silence. “No? Good then. Now what I’ve been trying to tell you is this. Welcome to the crew!
“You will be the razor edge of my scimitar. You are my marines! When I take a prize, you will be first to board. If you are last to leave my deck, I will shoot you myself. If you fight hard, Allah will reward you. If you are very lucky, the fates may spare you. Be lucky long enough and others will take your place, both at the oars and as marines.”
Suarez continued his lecture. Trusted men from his ship would crew the Leeuwin. Most of Vargas’ men would move to the pirate’s ship. But a whispered word from Marit pulled Lysbeth’s attention from the pirate.
“What did you say?” Lysbeth barely breathed the words for fear of angering Suarez. Silently she prayed that Marit would not to cry out and draw attention to them.
No one reacted. All eyes were on Suarez.
“We never finished the game,” Marit said.
Lysbeth’s heart broke for the poor woman, though she dared not show it for fear of giving herself away.
“Will you tell me?”
Lysbeth swallowed hard, and then she nodded. Marit closed her eyes, and Lysbeth spoke in a breathy whisper.
“The man I seek is my father, Jan Janszoon, the dreaded scourge that men call Murat Reis. Never in my life was any part of him a preacher. He is a pirate in his soul and a prince among the Barbary Corsairs.”
Lysbeth did not know if Marit heard the words before joining her husband in the afterlife.
She continued for her own benefit, steeling herself for what was next to come. “It seems now that I must practice his trade should I ever wish to find him.”
Lysbeth laid Marit van Voorburg on the deck beside the fallen Henrik. Then she joined Alonso Vargas. Her body ached from exertion and injury, but she willed herself to stand straight as Gaspar Suarez welcomed them to a new life of piracy.