Chapter Thirty-Nine: Man Down
Pam would never forget the sound of the scream, followed by the sickening thud. Her heart stuttered a beat as an intense chill arced through her body. She tried to get up to run to the door but her legs felt like rubber. Something terrible had happened, and she thought she recognized the voice behind the terrified shriek. She hoped she was wrong and felt guilty for it, but if it was the boy . . . Pam felt as if she were trapped in a nightmare and knew there would be no waking up.
Somehow she managed to make it to her door. She wrenched it open to find the men gathered below, surrounding a still form on the deck. She tried to shout but her voice could only muster a painful croak. The bosun stood up from the crowd and looked at her, his face ashen. Summoning his own voice, shaky and pitched too high, he called out the answer to the question he could see in Pam's stricken face.
"It is Pers! He has fallen!"
"Dear God, not Pers!" Pam whispered, and found it hard to breathe. Somehow she climbed to the bottom of the ladder and made her way toward the men. They opened a space for her, all of them wearing the same pale look of fear as the bosun.
There was Pers, lying on his side, blood leaking from his ear. His right arm lay akimbo, badly broken. Beside him was a shattered spyglass, its shards gleaming in the sun. To Pam's amazement and relief the teen-age boy was still alive, breathing loudly in ragged gasps. Pam knelt beside him and gently touched his forehead, but Per's eyes were rolled up into his lids, he was, perhaps mercifully, unconscious.
She turned to the bosun. "How?"
"He was climbing the mainmast to spy ahead for us, you know what a monkey he is! His foot became tangled in the unfamiliar rig and as he was trying to get himself loose the line slipped. He fell . . . "
"From up there, just above the third sheet. A good thirty feet at least! His feet landed on that coil of rope there first, which took some of the impact, but his head hit the deck pretty hard and his arm is all broken up. Damn my old eyes, I was the one who sent him up there." The bosun was starting to tear up. Pam fought the urge to cry as well, but somehow a part of her that she had come to think of as "the cool captain" stayed in control.
"Bosun, go get Dore, now!" she ordered him, partly to give him a chance to pull himself together and not be seen weeping by the crew. Without a word he jumped up and headed for the galley where Dore would be preparing the skin dye they would apply to the sailors after lunch.
Gerbald appeared over Pam's shoulder. With remarkable gentleness he took the boy's pulse and pulled back his eyelids to view his pupils. They were dilated as big as saucers.
"He is concussed. I've seen symptoms like this in men thrown from horses or hit with blunt weapons. His pulse is good but the blood from the ear is bad."
Pam could barely speak. "Will he live?"
Gerbald took her shoulder in a firm, encouraging grip. "I won't lie to you, Pam. It's hard to say just now. The head injury may be very serious, or it may not, only time will tell. I have seen men with injuries like these pass away suddenly without ever waking up, and I have seen some up and about within a few hours. We must think positively for him; there is plenty of hope. He's young and the rope helped break the fall. I saw the whole thing with my own eyes. There is hope."
Dore arrived, plowing through the crowd like a bulldozer. Although they were trying their best to get out of her way the men couldn't move fast enough and the unlucky were bowled over by her fast-moving, low center of gravity mass. She knelt beside Pers, clucking and softly praying under her breath as she gave him a thorough check. She was not really a nurse but years following a soldier had taught her many first aid skills. Her methods were mostly homespun remedies, but effective ones. When she moved Per's broken arm he moaned and his legs kicked slowly as if to flee the pain.
"He can feel the pain, and move his legs, that is good. His neck isn't broken, Thank the Lord!" she announced. "But, I am most worried for what may be damaged inside his head." She had brought her home-made first-aid kit with her, and began to splint the boy's arm with expert skill, Gerbald assisting her. Pam gently stroked Pers' flaxen hair as they worked, telling her dear, sweet boy that he would be all right and trying her best to believe it. Sailors arrived with a make-shift stretcher and many hands lifted Pers onto it, as softly as a cloud.
"Clear that storeroom two doors down from the galley. It will be our sickbay." Dore ordered them. The men jumped to the task without question, knowing that in a situation like this Dore held supreme authority with the captain's blessings. For her part, the captain was beginning to cry, and she let Gerbald steady her as they followed Dore and the stretcher bearers down into the cool shade below decks.
An hour later Pam called her senior staff together for a meeting on the castle deck. All the fun and excitement of the last few days had drained out of her, and she was left with a bleak sense of foreboding. Her life had started to feel like she was the star of some wacky adventure show, but the sight of Pers lying bleeding on the deck had brought home to her the real desperation of their situation. The truth was she wanted to go curl up in her cabin and wait for it all to be over, but these people had come to rely on her. She had accepted their allegiance and now she had to be strong for them. Physically pulling herself together with a deep breath and unclenching her fists, Captain Pam Miller turned to those gathered around her, all waiting her command.
"How is Pers now?" Pam asked Dore.
"He is sleeping and his breathing is normal. I think it's best we just leave him be and let his body do what it must to heal."
"Thank you, Dore. That's good." Pam let out a long whoosh of breath. She was still very worried about her adopted teen-age son but they had done all they could and there were a host of other problems to face this day, all of them deadly dangerous.
She turned to Gerbald, the bosun and Löjtnant Lundkvist. Despite the gravity of the situation, she did allow herself a small smile at their shaven heads and faces, they looked like three cue balls lined up in a row.
"Gentlemen, we had planned to make our attack today. After what happened to Pers, I'm not so sure. We haven't had a very auspicious beginning. Should we wait another day? What do you think?"
The three of them looked at each other and silently elected Lundkvist, their military leader, to speak.
"Well, Captain Pam, I think we should go ahead with our plan. Despite the misfortune, our men are wound up and ready for battle, and we should use that to our advantage. I say we go in today."
The other two nodded their agreement.
"In addition to that," Gerbald added, "I can already feel my hair growing back. If we wait until tomorrow you will have to shave us all over again. I for one prefer to play the part of a hunting wolf, not a sheared sheep." Gerbald's face was a perfect picture of distaste at the thought of having his head shaved again.
They all shared a quiet laugh, humor so often being the best way to deal with stress. Pam was silently thankful to her old friend for his good cheer in the face of danger. "All right then, let's do it." she told them, feeling her resolve grow again. "Dore, let's get the make-up ready."
The three men all moaned in unison, dreading further torture at the hands of these formidable Valkyries. Despite their concern for Pers, they made the effort to play their parts, by cackling and rub their hands with threatening glee.
As the men went to round up the crew for their make-up session, Dore motioned for Pam to wait. She produced a folded cloth, one end of which she handed to Pam. Together, they opened it up to reveal a hand-sewn flag.
Pam gasped with delight. It was made from silk, of which there was plentiful variety and supply on their captured Chinese junk. The base was a rich sky-blue and over it was sewn a golden cross, in the Scandinavian style: the flag of Sweden. Behind the cross a black saltire ran from the corners with two gold stars on each band, just like the flag of the United States of Europe. Finally, to Pam's great delight, a gray dodo outlined with black thread occupied the center, complete with a shiny, gold button for an eye.
"Wow!" she exclaimed in English, then switched to German, which Dore was more comfortable using. "Dore! It's fantastic! How did you manage to do this?" Pam asked her grinning friend, who was a-glow with one of her very rare demonstrations of pride.
"I have some talents beyond the galley, you know. That oaf of a husband of mine was always tearing up his clothes in battle, or while running down some poor creature in the woods; someone had to mend them! If left to his own devices he would go about in nothing but rags. Just look at his hat! I became fairly handy with the needle and thread," she said in modest tones, although it was plain she was highly pleased with her work, which was perfectly executed.
Pam hugged her, the flag squished between them. "Thank you, Dore. It's wonderful! We needed something like this; it will help morale. A fine flag for our new colony. Really, you are a wonder!"
Dore took it gently from Pam to fold it neatly up again.
"Today, when the time is right, we will raise it here from this deck," Pam promised her. "Then, we will fly it over the colony once it has been freed! Dore, you have outdone yourself, you are the best!" Pam was deeply moved at her friend's clever thoughtfulness, and felt some of the fear that had been building in her throughout the day ease its clutches. "Now, let's go paint our men yellow."
Chapter Forty: A Ruse By Any Other Name
Pam and Dore stood before their first unhappy subject, Gerbald, whose sad, hound-dog face was now a rich yellowish orange, not quite what they had in mind, but it would have to do.
"It goes well with his hat." Dore remarked, enjoying her beloved husband's discomfort.
Pam studied their victim thoughtfully. "I think a bit more turmeric paste around the ears. Then we'll give him arching eyebrows with the ink and ash paste. He looks more like a Star Trek Romulan than an Asian, but I think it will fool the French long enough."
"My people are declaring war on your Federation," Gerbald grumbled. He had, of course, seen every episode of the classic 1960's version of the show, one of his supreme favorites in the Grantville Library's video preservation archives. He made an effort not to flinch as Pam applied the turmeric they had found amongst the galley's many spices, and had worked into a soupy paste with rice flour and water. She prayed there wouldn't be any rain this afternoon.
"Just be glad I decided not to color you blue and give you some antenna. Look, it's staining nicely," Pam said, smiling at her handiwork. "I think it will last a few hours, maybe even a few days!"
Gerbald groaned. "Must you do more? Am I not heathen looking enough yet?" he pleaded.
"Ha!" Dore interjected "Why not look like a heathen? You have always lived as one! Those such as you who have turned their back on Our Savior, Jesus Christ, deserve far worse than this bit of discomfort!" Dore's face became the very embodiment of confident self-righteousness. "Pray The Lord doesn't strike you down at the very sight of you."
Tuning out his devout wife's pious haranguing, Gerbald sighed deeply as Pam painted a highly realistic Fu Manchu mustache on his long, hang-dog face. It was too bad something couldn't be done to hide his blue eyes but Pam just didn't have that kind of technology available. She shuddered at the thought of trying to maintain a set of contact lenses down-time, since she knew that any pair of glasses in her possession would end up lost or irreparably broken within a few days, those would have been her choice. It was her opinion that the Lord hadn't given her much but she was truly grateful for her excellent vision.
Two hours later Gerbald was not alone in his oddly colored misery, he stood nearly indistinguishable from the crowd of orange-yellow skinned Swedes. Pam laughed, thinking they looked like spear carrying extras wandered away from the set of that goofy old movie The Conqueror, which had cast an unlikely John Wayne as Genghis Khan.
"Time to get dressed!" Pam announced, pointing at the pile of cloth and clothing they had assembled from the foreign goods aboard their prize ship.
The men went to work pulling on colorful silk robes embroidered with glowing scenes of cranes and sunsets. The best of the finery and some sparkling jewelry went on Gerbald, whom they had unanimously elected to be their great and powerful Khan. He was a good choice, with his gift of mimicry and natural penchant for hamming it up Pam thought he was their best chance to carry this charade off. The Great and Powerful Gerbald was to be carried on a beautifully carved palanquin they had found, no doubt belonging to the wealthy merchant who had once been this ship's master. Its satin pillows would be the perfect place to hide his up-time manufactured shotgun pistol, the deadly Snake Charmer. Pam's son, Walt, had given it to him with orders to protect his mother with it, according to Gerbald. She and her son were not exactly on good terms, and she suspected this was a polite fiction, but she was still glad to have the thing along. In any case, Pam hoped that today its services would not be required.
Pam and Dore hurriedly added the finishing touches to the costumes. Soon, they stood facing a mysterious envoy from what Pam thought of as the Far-Out East.
"I would not recognize them if I didn't know them so well! Dore exclaimed "Even that foolish husband of mine!" She was well pleased by their handiwork, cleaning her hands on her apron in a gesture of job well done.
"Gosh almighty, don't you fellas look a picture!" Pam gushed, lapsing into West Virginia hillbilly-ese for a moment as a rush of excitement coursed through her. I can't believe we're really doing this; it's all like something out of some crazy old movie! Her giddy grin turned serious as she thought of poor, badly injured Pers lying in a coma below, and what might happen to these men, her friends, in the coming hours.
"All right, we all know what to do. Good luck, my friends!" she regarded them with an intense pride for a moment then shouted, "Battle stations!"
Pam and Dore kept a low profile on the castle deck. They were both wearing white linens draped over their clothes, with their hair tied up under makeshift turbans. They had decided against dying their own faces and hands since they were going to be far enough back from the action and, truth to tell, couldn't bring themselves to do it out of simple vanity, although they would never admit it, even to each other. Pam felt the heavy weight of her.38 at her belt, the very one she had used so effectively in the capture of her ship. It both terrified and comforted her.
On the foredeck, Sten, one of the older sailors and experienced in firing cannons, waited for the bosun beside the formidable carronade deck gun salvaged from Redbird. It was currently hidden beneath a tarp and Pam hoped that they wouldn't have to unleash its deadly force. If all went well, little blood would be shed this day. The marines and sailors not immediately needed to sail Second Chance Bird in to the harbor's wide dock stood in attendance of the Great Khan Gerbald, who sat in his palanquin regally fanning himself with a bored expression. Every man had a sword and several had pistols, all carefully concealed within the folds and sashes of their outlandish garb. Around them were placed brightly lacquered boxes and barrels of rice wine, the "gifts" they had prepared to lure out the renegade French officers. Pam shook her head and frowned in a moment of doubt. Yes, it was a variation of the old Trojan Horse trick, hopefully these guys had never read Virgil. Beware orange-skinned strangers bearing gifts. Pam knew they were taking a completely desperate gamble. but no better choices had presented themselves. It was completely nuts, and it had to work.
The bosun brought the junk in slowly, giving everyone on shore a nice long look at it. The captive Swedes paused in their work for a moment, while their captors gaped at the brightly painted boat approaching. The captors had set up a grass-roofed rest area in the middle of the long dock; several sailors loafing there began making their way out to the T-shaped end they were pulling up to, pointing their bow to the left, with their right side facing the shore. This position gave the deck gun a range sweeping the entire dock as well as most of the anchored warship's side. Pam saw that Annalise and Ide were still anchored out, well away from easy reach by any would-be escapees. The bosun, silently guiding the crew manning the sheets with gestures alone, skillfully piloted Second Chance Bird up against the dock with a light groan of timber.
He had wisely chosen their position, lateral to the shore. This move gave them a big tactical advantage, their hidden deck gun as well as their Chinese cannons had a clear sweep of the entire dock and shoreline, including the warship tied up stern out to their right some twenty yards inland. At last they could read its name, the Effrayant. Tied up just past its bow, the much smaller and badly damaged Muskijl floated, mostly hidden behind Effrayant's massive bulk. Hopefully, if cannon fire started, her crew was imprisoned aboard that vessel rather than the enemy's. Down the left side of the dock the slave-master's menacingly graceful lateen-rigged crafts were tied up in a line, looking like a scene from out of the Arabian Nights. All their guns would have a lovely, clean shot at them, Pam smiled to herself.
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- The Grantville Gazette Staff