Chapter Twenty-Four: AftermathCaptured Oriental Junk, South Coast of Mauritius

Pam watched while the sailors cleaned the blood from the decks of their prize. The flickering light of the torches made their shadows leap and dance, lending the scene an eerie, otherworldly quality. An hour had passed since their success in capturing the junk, its original, presumably Chinese, merchants having perished at the hands of an organized gang of what she thought must be Arab pirates. She based that guess on their clothing and behavior, but most of the denizens of the seventeenth-century Indian Ocean were still a mystery to her. She had a hunch that she would be learning a lot more about this part of the world in the days to come and, based on what she had experienced so far, doubted it would be pleasant.

Just twenty minutes ago she had watched her men cut down the severed heads of the junk's former owners from where they had been hung as trophies, a gruesome display courtesy of the pirates of the Indian Ocean. It was a grisly task. Pam felt pity that they had died in such a horrible way. She had asked that they be wrapped in a sack and given a Christian burial at sea. No one had any idea what their religion in life might have been, so Lutheran would have to do. Having borne witness to that brief but dignified ritual, she now waited to be returned to their beach refuge.

The uncomfortable feeling that none of this was real that sometimes swept over her came again. She felt as if she had wandered into some live-action period drama, a terrible tale of fighting seamen and ruthless brigands of days gone by and that any minute the lights would come up and the actors would shed their costumes. She closed her eyes hard for a moment, wishing with all her might that she would wake up back in the future age she had been born in. But when she opened her eyes, she was still there on the blood-splattered deck. Damn! Forcing herself to stay calm and make the panic subside she thought This is not "days gone by." This is now days! These are new days, these are my days and I must live them, like it or not! Gritting her teeth, she felt her head begin to clear. The scene came back into focus. Although lacking somewhat in sophistication, the current age certainly brimmed with action.

A watch of what she thought of as "the Marines," under the command of LöjtnantLundkvist was assembling on deck. All the sailors could fight, and fight well as she had seen, but these men specialized in it. They would stay aboard to guard their new ship, a bizarre and brightly-painted three-masted vessel that dwarfed lost Redbird in size and complexity, while the rest of the tired crew and Pam's personal staff returned to the beach camp. There was a lot of clean up left to do, but once the gory decks had been swabbed, the rest could wait for morning. The slain pirates were to be thrown as they were into the sea with no wrapping or ceremony.

"Those poor Chinamen are one thing but these lot don't deserve any better," the bosun said, his voice surprisingly cold. "Let the crabs have them, the murdering sons of dogs."

Pam nodded, trying not to look at the sheet-wrapped body of their friend Fritjof lying nearby. Fritjof and the bosun had been close, sailing together for many long years. The injured look on the normally gruff but cheerful bosun's face was enough to make Pam cry. She briefly considered weeping again, but the tears wouldn't come. She was all cried out for this night. Maybe in the morning. Meanwhile, dark thoughts like "I've killed men with my own hands!" and "More good men have died for my cause!" tried to push themselves into her consciousness, but she was too tired and ignored them until their shrill accusations fell away. She knew they would return, demanding to be heard in the early hours of the morning when she would stare at the shadow-filled ceiling of her hut and remember. But not just now.

Looking around the deck, she saw that not all the men's faces were grim. Some were beginning to admire their prize and clap each other on their backs in celebration of a hard-fought victory. Pam made herself smile for them. She knew that for some reason they looked to her, so she allowed herself to share some of their pleasure. They had won, they had a ship, it was foreign and weird but definitely seaworthy. Now they were free and able to take action! Pam turned her gaze away from the orange glow of the torch-lit deck to peer at the dark mass of the coastline. Her colonists were out there, somewhere, and they were certainly in trouble.

"We'll come for you," she spoke into the night in a voice beneath a whisper. "We're ready now, hold on!"

A few minutes later Pam sat in the back of the pinnace as the exhausted sailors rowed through the tranquility of a wind-less night. She was heading back to the simple comforts of her bamboo hut with her most trusted friends, Gerbald and Dore, as well as young Pers, injured Rask and the earthly remains of Mård and Fritjof. Mård had been a shy fellow. Pam hadn't gotten to know him very well but she recalled that he had always spoken gently to Pers, even when the lad was being a teen-age idiot, and so she thought highly of the man for that. She would miss his face, and dear old Fritjof's. Their places would be empty at breakfast. These fallen heroes would be given a proper burial on the grassy mound beside the first mate in the morning.

Dore turned to see Pam looking at the shrouded corpses with an expression that held all the world's cares. She reached for Pam's hand and squeezed it. Pam returned the squeeze gratefully and the two of them looked back at their captured ship. The vivid colors of her lacquered woodwork and fanciful carvings in the flickering torchlight made her seem like something come sailing out of a dream, a phantasmagorical craft from beyond the edge of the world.

"What a day." Pam said, while Dore solemnly nodded in agreement.

Chapter Twenty-Five: Breakfast of Champions

Beach Camp of the Redbird Castaways, South Coast of Mauritius

Pam slept like a stone. The marvelous aroma of coffee brewing wafted through her little window and summoned her from slumber just half an hour after dawn, bringing her forth to blink at an already too-bright sky filled with enormous cotton clouds. She managed to stagger down to the cook-fire to join the men waiting for breakfast. The Swedish crew always treated her with deference but this morning they all leaped to their feet, except Rask who was still nursing his injuries but who looked much better as he smiled widely at her, and then made much fuss about finding her the most comfortable seat next to the fire. She leaned over to Gerbald and quietly asked him in German, "What's up with these guys? Since when do I get the star treatment?"

Gerbald smiled his best "You have asked the Fount of Wisdom" smile at her. "Pam, you really don't know? Think about what you did yesterday! It was you who lead them to victory! You even killed a number of the enemy yourself! You are their hero!"

Pam blinked at this revelation and then smiled, though her brow remained furrowed.

"Well, Howdy Doody," she muttered in English. "Now I'm a hero. I just wish I felt like one." Dore handed Pam her coffee but she just stared into its steaming darkness for a while, savoring the aroma along with a growing feeling of pride.

Dore seemed completely unfazed by the wild events of the day before and was going about her tasks with her usual efficiency. As Pam began to sip the wonderful native coffee from her coconut-shell mug, she was pleased to see that her friend had concocted some kind of culinary miracle from the final remnants of Redbird's food stores, ingredients Dore had been jealously guarding and doling out slowly over the months of their isolation.

"No point in saving all this now! Much longer and it all would have gone bad anyway," she said brightly, stirring a rich broth of salt pork, beans, dried onions, and butter, all thickened with the last of the flour and seasoned with a variety of herbs and spices. Everyone was beginning to crowd around the cook-pot, staring at it with hungry eyes.

"Stay back now, you fellows. There's enough for everyone and we need to save some for the men on the ship!" Dore chided them, but in a tone set at a less stern pitch than usual.

Pam, beginning to achieve caffeinated consciousness, now noticed that Dore hadn't put her beautiful burnished brass and silver streaked hair up in its usual severe bun this morning. Instead she wore it in a loose braid over her shoulder, tied with a string to keep strays out of her eyes. Pam smiled to see this development. Dore was definitely wound a bit less tight today. Evidently a little "harlot dancing" had been just the thing for her ever-serious friend.

After filling themselves with the delicious and hearty soup, they all stood up, stretched and made ready for the solemn duty they had to perform this morning. Singing a Christian hymn that was ancient even in the seventeenth century, many of the words of which Pam couldn't catch, the Swedes carried their dead down the beach with all the respect one might have afforded the kings of old.

The dodos followed along behind the procession, forming a peculiar kind of honor guard, cooing and chuckling softly but keeping a polite distance instead of engaging in their usual snack begging. Pam thought they must be able to sense the somber mood and once again was surprised at their intelligence. The dodos really were not dummies. They had just evolved in a place where there was no need to fear bands of roving carnivorous apes. The sight of what to Pam was almost a mythical creature, alive and thriving right before her wondering eyes, made her heart race yet again, and brought a modicum of good cheer to her heavy heart. All this fuss, all this trouble is really for you, funny birds! she thought at the exquisitely odd creatures.

At their lonely little seaside cemetery, Pam saw that two graves had been dug already. Getting up early for hard work was nothing new to sailors and Pam respected them all the more for it.

There were four grave markers now, all made of sturdy boards salvaged from Redbird, their epitaphs painted on with Pam's waterproof acrylics and further protected by a coating of amber-tinted tree pitch. Each bore the name and rank of their fallen and, if known, their birth date and birthplace, followed by their country, Sverige, the date and, lastly, the name of their ill-fated ship.

The fourth marker had gone up this morning along with Fritjof's and Mård's but there was no grave at its feet. It was a memorial to their captain, Pam had been putting off looking at it for a while and finally decided it was the right thing to do and she would have to face it. The marker read: Torbjörn, Captain of the Redbird. After the official names and dates Pam had added, "He stayed behind to save us all. Lost at sea, we pray this brave man yet lives." She had done the work alone in her hut, not wanting the others to see her tears as she painted this memorial to their lost friend, a man who, if he was still with them, maybe, just maybe, would have become something more to her. Now, standing among her band of castaways all gathered for a funeral yet again, she sent a brief thought across the rolling waves. Torbjörn, if you are out there somewhere please know we haven't forgotten you! I haven't forgotten you! Please be alive!

The burial ceremony was brief but emotional. The bosun spoke the Lord's Prayer and the twenty-third Psalm in Swedish, his voice cracking, the loss of his long time friends and shipmates having hurt him deeply. Pers stood beside him, lending his quiet support. The bosun then asked Pam to recite Tennyson's Crossing the Bar as she had for First Mate Janvik. She managed to get through it in a calm, clear voice despite the great sense of loss within her. Pam had brought along the photo of Kristina that Fritjof had prized so much. She considered burying it with him but decided the fine old gentleman would have been more pleased to have it hanging proudly in a place of honor on their next ship. Holding it to her breast she spoke quietly to her fallen friend as he was gently lowered into the sandy grave.

"I won't ever forget you, Fritjof. I will do as I promised and tell the princess of your bravery in battle and your dedication to her cause. I will tell her of the great love you felt for her and how you served her so well, just as soon as I see her again." An unwelcome thought intruded. If. If you see her again. Pam looked out at the captured Oriental junk floating in their lonely bay, its vivid colors glowing ethereally in the morning light. Our chances have improved by a lot. She left a small bouquet of wildflowers beneath each of the four markers, whispering "thank you" to each. Then she walked back down the beach, trying hard not to think too much on all they had lost and concentrating instead on what they might now hope to gain.

Gerbald caught up to her and gave her the look that said "Is this a good time?" He knew Pam's emotions ran deep and that sometimes she just needed to be alone. She saw his cautious approach, smiled and took his arm, something she rarely did. He patted her hand in an awkward, big brotherly way, glad that she wasn't taking things too hard. They walked together in silence for a few minutes then Gerbald said, "Pam, this morning the bosun told me it will take a day or two to make this junk ready to sail. They 'need to figure out if this fancy painted contraption can be sailed by Christian men.' I believe those were his words." They both laughed. Pam had watched the bosun studying the junk from the shore during breakfast and couldn't tell from his expression if it was love or loathing he was feeling for the strange new ship he would be responsible for.

"He's a smart guy. They all are. They'll figure it out."

"Indeed, I have the highest confidence. In any event, it seems we have a little more time to spend here and I thought of something you might like to do."

Pam's eyebrow's arched up at him, her gray eyes sparking with curiosity. "Ooh, what, do tell! Do you have a box of chocolate cherry bonbons and a bottle of kirschwasser hidden away for me?"

"Nothing so immediately gratifying." He laughed. "We are getting low on coffee and who knows when we might come across it again? I thought we might hike back up the mountain and resupply ourselves, perhaps even bring back some live specimens. That is, if you feel up to it." Gerbald's face was perfectly straight but she detected the tiny wrinkle around the corner of his mouth that revealed he was terribly pleased with his idea.

"I take back everything I said about you, Gerbald. You are a real stand-up guy, a real pal." Pam kidded him, slapping him on his sturdy bicep with her free hand. They both grinned, Gerbald knowing the teasing praise was really sincere.

Pam noticed that the dodos had fallen in around them, cooing contentedly, spread out around their path in search of sand fleas and bits of seaweed.

"I have an idea that will go well with yours," she said, nodding at their avian companions "Let's take them with us."

"I'll get some nuts and dried fruit from Dore for the bait. I'm sure she will be happy to provide. She won't be missing what she has come to refer to as 'those flightless pests!' It is only her deep respect for your wishes that has kept them out of her stew pot." Gerbald grinned.

Chapter Twenty-Six: Ups and Downs

A while later, as Pam gathered supplies for their day trip, she found a rather depressed looking Pers carrying odds and ends from the sailor's longhouse down to the beach for transfer to the ship. He was still bruised from his encounter with the pirate captain, but had been deemed fit enough for light duty. Pam stopped him as he hurried by without so much as a greeting for her.

"Hey, Pers, are you all right?" Pam asked him, first checking to make sure they were out of earshot of his boss, the bosun.

"Oh, yes, Pam, I'm fine." The boy managed to give her a small smile but still didn't look fine. Pam figured he was just tired and feeling bad about losing two more comrades, as they all were. Pers was a real good kid and had been very brave, not to mention a good sport, dressing up for their friendly natives act and Pam wanted to do something to cheer him up.

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- The Grantville Gazette Staff