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The Seagull & The Shark: Part II

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Chapter 7: Hubris and Guile

(S. 2 E. 1-2.)

          Simonne could hear her teeth grinding together inside her head as Flint explained. It was possibly his most insane plan to date! Yet, despite the seeming impossibility of it and the tremendous likelihood of failure, there seemed to be no other viable option. It was a disturbing thought, and going along with anything he said felt utterly wrong. He was going to attempt to regain his position as captain, this she knew without a doubt. Furthermore, she feared that bringing Flint before the crew made DuFresne look weak. Who was supposed to be calling the shots here, anyway? At the very least she found some solace in knowing that DuFresne’s threat to ready the nooses struck some fear into his icy heart. It must have if he was willing to do that in order to avoid the alternative.

          The survivors gathered around on the beach, eying their previous captain with suspicion. With crossed arms, they looked down their noses at Flint as he began his explanation over again. They were none too keen to purchase what he was selling.  

          “The Urca’s gold is secure. Full complement of soldiers, reinforced batteries, eighteen pounders, all of them, and men who know how to use ‘em. There’s no way of approaching that beach from the land.”

          Logan could take no more. Unable to hold his tongue, he called bullshit on the deposed captain, perhaps still bitter about the prospect of being used as bait.

          “Why the fuck are we listening to him? We should be cutting your goddamn tongue out for all the lies you’ve told us!”

          The chorus of agreement erupted, sweet and vindicating. As long as the crew mistrusted Flint, Simonne knew that she and DuFresne could maintain control of the situation. As badly as she wanted to cheer with her mates, she stood stoic by DuFresne’s side, matching the stillness of his body with her own. No matter how much she disagreed, she could not openly protest anything DuFresne decided to do, for she feared she could pose as much of a threat to his captaincy as Flint. They were a team. If she was not behind him, the men would not be either.   

          Captain DuFresne’s powerful voice rose above the din of disgruntled murmuring, instantly catching everyone’s attention.

          “Gentlemen! No one is angrier about Mister Flint’s crimes than I, which is why you must trust me when I ask you to hear what he has to say.”

          Silence fell. Again the sound of teeth grinding against teeth filled Simonne’s ear canals. She wondered if anyone else could hear it. Flint continued his explanation.

          “And even if it weren’t for the soldiers, even if it weren’t for the guns, there’s a fucking warship watching over every inch of the bay. A fucking warship that’s already killed half your number. A fucking warship that will prevent any approach to that beach via the sea. There’s simply no way of stealing that gold… But there might be something else you can steal. The fucking warship.”

          “What?”

          DeGroot was taken aback by Flint’s proposal. Joshua, the captain of the vanguard, shook his head with a scoff. Everyone else either laughed out loud or shook their head with sympathy, for the man had clearly gone mad.

          As tantalizing as the prospect of procuring a Spanish warship for DuFresne was, Simonne knew that once they had it Flint would not rest until he took control of it for himself. DeGroot was right, the trial needed to commence at once. Had it been up to her, they would already be walking away from Flint and Silver’s corpses, but no one had asked for her opinion. Hell-bent on banishing their cynicism, Flint continued to defend the idea.

          “Too many soldiers on the beach, which means that the watch on the ship is spare. Two men approach quietly, evade a handful of sentries and eliminate the watch on the main mast. Now, at this point, while the sun is failing, but before the night watch arrives, an assault could be made. That ship is your only means of escape, and that ship is your only means of taking anything of value out of this ordeal. And once it is in your possession—“

          “Enough of this,” DeGroot protested

          “Once that ship is in your possession—“

          DeGroot spoke up again, but was sharply cut off by DuFresne calling him into line. The two attempted to out-shout one another, but Flint was louder, and overpowered them both.

          “Once that ship is in your possession you will be invincible!”

          That got everyone’s attention. All heads snapped in Flint’s direction. However, even if they were tempted by the plan, no one was willing to admit it because no one could envision how it was going to happen. Seeing the baffled looks on their faces, Flint continued talking.

          “Now, the risk falls almost entirely on the first two men out. I would volunteer, in exchange for your pardon. That leaves one man to go. One volunteer—“

          “I’ll do it!” Silver spoke up from the rear of the group. “I’ll, uh… I’ll go.”

          Fantastique , Simonne thought. Let the two of them get killed, or drown trying to reach the ship. Silver looked less than confident, and even seemed a little surprised by his own bravery—or recklessness. Flint heaved a heavy, discontented sigh.

          DuFresne nodded with finality. The negotiation was over.

          “Then let’s put Mister Flint’s plan to a vote. All in favor?”

          If seagulls could vote, he’d have had one, but otherwise there was silence... at first. Just as Simonne began to smirk, someone shouted “Aye.” She looked in the direction of the voice to see Jean Luc standing with his arm half raised in the air. That bastard. Soon more voices echoed the first, and the plan was agreed upon, though the captain and first mate never gave their approval. Simonne cast a discontented glance to Logan, who returned it with an apologetic shrug, as if to ask what other options they had.  

          The survivors escorted Flint and Silver to the beach where they would begin their journey to the warship. Waves crashed against the rocky shore, showering them in a fine mist. DuFresne went over the plan one last time. It was simple: if Flint and Silver could give their signal in time, DuFresne would give the order to begin the assault. If, by the time the night’s watch returned to the ship and no signal was seen, it will be assumed they were unsuccessful in their endeavor.

          “There is something about which I want to be very clear,” DuFresne said to Flint. “Even in success, you will be expelled from the crew. Cast out. Are we understood?”

          Flint said nothing. DuFresne handed him his sword and lead the men away. Most of the men went back to the camp, but the captain was content to brood on the hilltop. He sat down on the soft, sandy ground with a perfect view of the Man O’War before him. Simonne was right behind him, and sat down by his side.

          “I don’t know if he understood, cheri.

          “I think he did. He just couldn’t bring himself to say it aloud.”

          Simonne was not so certain. If the plan proved successful, they would have to contend with Flint for the men’s loyalty. If the plan failed, they would travel down the beach to St. Augustine, but no one was sure what would happen when they got there. DuFresne did not want to admit to Flint that he had no contingency plan for if he were to fail save for “fleeing down the coast.”

          Simonne could not turn a blind eye to the issue. She had been trying to come up with a more precise plan of action for getting off the island without the warship.

          “We should take zee men and go to St. Augustine now. We could commandeer a ship, sail home and return with all zee pirates on Nassau. It would be a fitting end for zhose two, to signal to us, but we do not come. Let zem die zhere.”

          “Well, my dear, it’s further to St. Augustine than you think, and we cannot seize a sizeable vessel with the numbers we currently have, much less so should even more of the men die on the journey there. That warship is our best chance of getting off this island and our only hope of getting the gold.”

          DuFresne held his spyglass up to his eye and looked over at the beach where they left Flint and Silver. From the top of the hill Simonne could barely see the figure of a man walking into the surf. On the shore she saw another form removing his coat before walking into the waves. They were on their way.

          The two waited in silence. Nearly an hour after they departed the beach DuFresne saw the two men climbing up onto the warship. Simonne could feel her heart beating in her chest as she took the spyglass and watched Silver slide through a gun port and disappear into the hull.

          DuFresne reclaimed the telescope and kept a close eye on the ship. The minutes slipped by slowly, and for a while the ship was still as stone. Then, the lookout began climbing down from the crow’s nest. DuFresne perked up, focusing in on the man crawling up to replace him.

          “That’s Silver!” The captain stood up and handed off the telescope to his partner again. Simonne confirmed that he was correct. Somehow he had convinced the lookout to come down.

          “Is zat zee signal?”

          “It’s enough of a signal for me. Let’s go.”

          With the watch compromised the two ran back to the camp, bounding over boulders and through straggly beach grass. The crew sprang into action. The remaining intact life boats were boarded and shoved off the shoreline. With no lookout, the pirates nearly reached the ship before the lookout on the shore noticed, leaving the Spaniards with no time to stop the attack.

          They could hear shouting coming from the deck, followed by a loud, rhythmic banging. On the beach a whistle blew, and Simonne looked back to see the watchmen on the shore frantically boarding their dinghies. Joshua and Joji lead the vanguard aboard the Man O’War with their ferocious little first mate right behind them. Surprised and terrified cries erupted from the Spaniards and the pirate’s boots landed on the deck and the assault began.

          Left and right the enemy fell as the vanguard swept across the ship. Simonne crept up behind a soldier who had Joji backed into a corner and stabbed him in the back. He nodded to her with a smile before tearing into his next victim. Joshua broke down the door that Flint and Silver had barricaded themselves behind, adding two more men to the already one-sided fray.

          DuFresne came aboard with a boisterous shout, and the men obeyed his commands without hesitation. This was his ship now.

          “Mister Logan, weigh the anchor, we must get underway before they loose those cannons on the beach!”

          DeGroot shouted for the anchor to be weighed and the canvas to be unfurled. Simonne jumped onto the anchor winch with Logan and pushed with all her strength. No one could move quickly enough, and the behemoth ship was a lot to handle with such a small crew. The rowboats were catching up, and some of the men began shooting at the men untying the sails. With a panicked yell Sampson fell from the t’gallant. He landed flat on his back with a loud crack like the snap of a tree branch in a storm.   

          “Return fire!”

          A succession of pistol’s cocking echoed the captain’s command, followed by round after round of thunderous explosions. DuFresne turned his attention away from the rowboats. There was a larger threat back on the beach.

          “The cannons are loaded,” DuFresne warned. “Get us underway! Get us underway!”  

          Finally the sails dropped and a large red cross appeared overhead. Instantly the sails caught wind and Simonne could feel the ship began to creep forward. They had moved no more than a yard or two when they heard the sickeningly familiar sound of a cannon blast.

          “Prepare to take fire!”

          Cannonballs splashed into the sea, but one managed to hit the ship, sending an avalanche of broken wood down onto them. Simonne was blown away from the crank, landing face down on the floor. Logan pulled her to her feet as another hit threw Johansson from the main deck. He bounced off the top of a cannon with a screech of agony before landing on the gun deck.

          Simonne ran up the steps to the aft of the ship. From inside her coat pocket she pulled out a wad of black fabric and began tying it to the flagpole. With a few heaves, she hoisted the banner up to the top of the pole and the fabric unfurled in the wind with a great flap. Excitement welled up in her as the image of the skeleton holding a sword in one hand and an hourglass in the other took flight. It did not matter that it was Flint’s banner. The Man O’War was a pirate ship now, and DuFresne was her captain. What a glorious day!

          Never in her wildest dreams did she think this would happen. What a radical transformation he underwent since that night they met! Her inner-child was jumping for joy. She was living out her wildest dreams, and her only fear was that she might wake up in the dank Nantes alley where she used to sleep just months ago. Seeing the black flying over the ship, the captain came up the stairs to admire it.

          “Well, we managed to pull it off. I can’t believe it.”

          “I can’t believe you are zee captain of zis ship, mon cher.

          DuFresne looked up at the towering masts and smiled. It had been a long time since he looked this happy. She put her arm around his waist, gazing around at the massive Man O’War and the men bustling about her decks. All of it was at their disposal. The world felt as open as the ocean that lay before them. Surely there wouldn’t be a pirate in Nassau who would not want to rally behind such a vessel. She could not wait to sail into the harbor!

          The sun was setting, casting warm hues against the clouds. It made her remember an old adage she heard one of her naval professors say back at the Academie. Red sky at night is a sailor’s delight. It was a good omen.

                                                                 ◊

                    That night the crew assembled for another vote. This time it was concerning the commuting of Mister Flint and Mister Silver’s sentences. Some commended the two in the effort in securing the warship, and wanted to make good on their end of the deal. Others were adamant to be rid of them both once and for all. DuFresne tallied the votes, but all he could do shrug at the results. DeGroot, Logan and Jean Luc stormed off below decks, so he and Simonne went to deliver the news to Flint and Silver.

          They were sulking up on the aft deck. DuFresne cut right to the chase.

          “Seventeen yay votes against sixteen nays. The crew has commuted your sentences.”

          “By zee narrowest of margins,” Simonne added with disgust.

          Flint looked relieved while Silver’s eyes widened in disbelief. Simonne crossed her arms and stared daggers at the cook. To her, he drove Flint to do the things that he did, and at the heart of it all, everything was ultimately Silver’s fault. There were, however, conditions to accompany the pardon, as the Captain explained.

          “You will both be transported back to Nassau, at which point you will be removed from this ship permanently, and without severance. There will be no further negotiation on the matter.”

          Flint gave DuFresne a cunning look, and then cast it to Simonne as the two walked away. Once at the bottom of the stairs, Simonne turned to her captain and shook her head at him. She already told him that closing the situation to negotiation would not sway him from trying to retake the ship, but DuFresne was convinced that Flint would heed his words.

          They went into the Captain’s cabin for the night. Once inside Simonne felt free to speak her mind, albeit quietly due to the broken down door. She had no idea what possessed him to think Flint would be as obedient as anybody else, but to her it was foolhardy to say the least.

          “No further negotiation my ass.”  

                                                                 ◊

                    The captain’s quarters on the Man O’War was far more opulent than Flint’s old cabin back on the Walrus. The large, beautiful windows filled the room with sunlight that shone off the gold gilded wallpaper, which was made all the more splendid in contrast with the black stained woodwork. Adorning the space were exotic furnishings, from fancy oriental chests to Venetian sconces and an elaborately carved chair behind the captain’s desk. Simonne was perched atop the desk, staring dreamily at DuFresne as he sat in that chair like a king on his throne. He was thoroughly immersed in the map that lay before him, trying to find the fastest route home. She glanced over the course, fully aware of their location and the lack of favorable wind, but she was at a loss for what to do about it.

          There was a knock on the doorframe and a moment later Flint came in. Simonne glared at him. Just because the door was broken down did not mean it was open for anyone to come waltzing through.  

          “A moment? If I may.”

          Simonne rolled her eyes, but DuFresne acquiesced.

          “Yes, of course.”

          Simonne stood from the desk and placed her hand on DuFresne’s shoulder, never taking her eyes off Flint. Whatever he was about to say, she promised not to heed any of his advice or accept any of his counsel. 

          “Have you read any of these?”

          Flint gestured towards the bookshelf. It was lined with ledgers and tomes of various colors and lengths. All of them beautifully bound and meticulously placed. DuFresne looked at him, confused.

          “Excuse me?”

          “A shelf of books, so many lives un-led… possibilities.”

          Flint perused the shelf, leaning over to stick his face closer to their spines, reading the titles painted there.

          “I glanced but nothing ran familiar.”

          “Nor for me. You know the irony of all this?”

          DuFresne looked intrigued. Simonne perked up as well, though was no less guarded about the intruder’s presence.

          “When we first found you, I was the one who saw the promise in acquiring you and Mister Gates was the one who opposed it.”

          The pair exchanged glances, thinking back to the day Simonne joined the crew. Gates opposed her as well, the first person to question her ability and worthiness. DuFresne turned his attention back to Flint.

          “Is that so?”

          “He didn’t trust learned men. Found them harder to keep in line. More resistant to persuasion. I prevailed.”

          “What was your argument?”

          “That I was tired of being the only one he had a hard time keeping in line.”

          Simonne scoffed in unison with her companion. She could not imagine the old DuFresne being too difficult to control, and she could not help but wonder what he was like back when Flint first set eyes on him. DuFresne seemed to find the prospect hard to believe as well. For a brief moment he seemed to lose himself in the memory of days past, but then he shook his head apologetically.

          “Mister Flint, I’m sorry but I have a tremendous amount of preparations—“

          “It’s killing me. What happened.”

          Simonne’s head jerked in Flint’s direction. Did he actually have the capacity to feel emotions such as remorse? She hoped it was indeed killing him. She hoped the guilt would eat him alive from the inside out. Though, more likely, he would forget in time, when his attention drifted to other matters.

          “What I did to Mister Gates. I keep on replaying it in my mind, every waking moment, trying to see another way…” He shook his head. “I don’t expect you to understand, but I need you to know that no one on this ship feels his loss more keenly than I do. I know he developed a great affection for you—for both of you. Perhaps if I could support you in this moment it could be some small penance for what I’ve done.”

          “How exactly do you propose to support me?”

          “By giving you good counsel.”

          Simonne’s fingers tightened around DuFresne’s shoulder, trying to warn him not to trust anything he said. He was playing games with his mind.

          “We do not need your counsel, Monsieur Flint, merci beaucoup.

          “Miss DuBois, I am merely trying to help.”

          DuFresne gave her a pat on her hand, which was still tightening around his flesh and bone. She fell silent, allowing Flint to speak though still silently vowing not to heed any advice he gave.

          “We’re losing our favorable wind, been losing it for hours. Now, sooner or later someone would suggest tacking east around the coast. Get ahead of the wind. Maneuvered properly, that would be the fastest way to get home, but I suggest that you resist that plan at all costs.”

          “Why?”

          “Because that route runs right past the common passage out of Kingston, and the men will press to take the first prize they sight.”

          DuFresne looked like he was considering the advice, or perhaps he was considering other reasons why Flint would say such a thing.

          “We’re in possession of a warship. Why would we shy away from taking a prize?”

          DuFresne leaned forward, his attention focused on Flint as he broke himself free of Simonne’s grasp.

          “Because the men aren’t ready. Not with the numbers they’ve lost. They’re far too depleted to fully man this ship in battle. You get them home safely, get them rested, reinforce their numbers and then take this ship and do with it what you will.”

          Flint cast him a look of warning, but he returned the look with defiance. Without another word Flint excused himself from the room.

          “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” Simonne said. DuFresne looked up at her curiously. “I do not know what he is up to, but zat man is setting a trap for you.”

          “That’s exactly what I was thinking.”

          “Whatever he tells you to do, you must do zee opposite.”

          “We are in agreement on the matter, my dear, but I wonder what Mister DeGroot would have to say about all this?”

          “Well, zen why don’t we ask him?”

          The two left the captain’s quarters and walked out onto the deck. It was another bright and shining Caribbean day, and there was not a cloud in the sky. DeGroot was assisting at the helm. The sails flapped hopelessly in the breeze.

          “No luck,” DuFresne asked the boatswain.

          “Ugly stretch. Goddamn wind just won’t cooperate.”

          “If I were to suggest, rather than trying to tack southwest, that we head east. Hug the coast and navigate around the weather. What would you say?”

          DeGroot laughed out loud.

          “I would say either somebody gave you that idea, somebody who’s a hell of a sailor, or you’ve been holding back on me.”

          “I gave him zee idea.” Simonne stepped forward with her head held high.

          “No, you didn’t,” DeGroot said frankly.

          She glared at him, as if to say she was completely capable of coming up with such a plan. His sly smile told her that he would have believed her under any other circumstance, but not this time, not today. DuFresne heaved a heavy sigh.

          “Flint said to avoid it. Said that when it was raised, that we should resist the temptation at all costs. Avoid the common passage it would take us though, and the temptation to hunt a prize.”

          “You spoke to Flint?” DeGroot sounded sternly disappointed. DuFresne shook his head.

          “He approached us. Why would he do that, why attempt to scuttle the idea before any of us have even arrived at it?”

          “Is it possible he still believes he can take back his command?”

          “No.”

          DuFresne was still convinced he had Flint under his command. DeGroot looked to Simonne and she could not help but give him a quick nod to contradict their captain. DuFresne defended his assertion, unwilling to consider the possibility that he could be wrong.

          “There isn’t a man on the crew who will even speak to him, much less support him.”

          That was not true, and he knew it. Simonne had noticed Jean Luc speaking to Flint below decks on multiple occasions. Their new quartermaster seemed to be buddying up with the deposed captain and the page thief.

          “I don’t know,” DeGroot replied, “but had he that notion, I imagine the idea of this crew taking a prize under your command would be a terrifying prospect.”

          “Zhose are my thoughts exactly. If we do zis, it only makes it harder for him to gather support for himself. I say we show him what we can do without him calling zee shots.”

          “I suppose the only question is: are you prepared to lead them?”

          DeGroot and Simonne looked to their captain curiously. A fire seemed to burn in his eyes, fueled by a new confidence she had never seen in him before. A wave of excitement welled up inside her. This was going to be fantastic!

          “Set the course,” Captain DuFresne said. He turned to Simonne with a smile and a wink.

                                                                 ◊

          “ Sails!”

          Logan may have been the ship’s armorer, but he had the keenest eye of any man who ever joined Flint’s crew. He could spot a seagull taking a shit on the horizon at dawn. With him as the lookout, there wasn’t a ship out there that could spot them before Logan spotted it first.

          The Captain and First Mate emerged from their quarters to investigate the cry.  

          “What is she?”

          “English colors. Inbound from Kingston. Sugar merchants, most likely.”

          DuFresne took the spyglass and peered out towards the sails on the horizon. DeGroot stood at the helm. He turned around to his superiors standing on the steps behind him. He was beaming.

          “How do you presume an English merchantman will react when being held by a Spanish warship?”

          “Only one way to find out,” DuFresne replied with a smirk.

          Simonne threw her head back and let out an evil laugh. She could already taste that sweet payout. The rest of the men looked hungry as well. DuFresne clapped his hand down on Simonne’s shoulder and looked around at his crew.

          “Anyone up for a little hunting?”

          His shout sent a shiver down her spine. A chorus of excited screams erupted all around the ship. What a glorious day! Quick as a flash the men darted about, readying for battle. Simonne helped Jean Luc push one of the eighteen pounders into position. He did not seem as happy as everyone else, but she did not care. Ever since they set off in pursuit of Bryson he had been dour and moody. Perhaps it was because he had not gotten drunk since the night before they set sail for the Andromache. Now he was looking at her standoffishly.

          “Is zhere a problem, Monsieur Quartermaster?”

          He just grunted and stormed off. She knew all too well what his problem was. He had been complaining loudly to his mates about his disdain for not being chosen as first mate. He felt his status as the captain’s brother outranked her status as his consort, and he was bellyaching about it all the previous night long. She tried to assure him that—had she not been in the picture—DuFresne still would not have chosen him for the position because he was an idiot, so he told her to go fuck herself. Swift as a hawk she clocked him in the gut and shut him up right quick. As far as she was concerned, she was the best man for the job, and besides Jean Luc, none of the other men seemed to have a problem with her holding the position. No one argued when she acted as assistant quartermaster either. Time and time again she proved she was worth her salt. She had more respect from the men than he did. She outranked him, fair and square.

          DeGroot called for the men to raise the lateen sails. DuFresne watched the merchant vessel closely as they made their approach. Flint and Silver were standing on the main deck below them, casting cynical glances up at the captain and whispering to one another. Simonne bristled, but DuFresne did not notice. His mind was preoccupied with other matters. He looked nervous.

          “Raise the black,” he commanded.

          Logan whistled and repeated the order. Moments later the banner unfurled in the wind, and everyone waited for the ship to respond. Simonne leaned over the ledge, trying to get a better look.  

          “Anchors at the ready,” DeGroot said. “Hold your breath, lads.”

          Slowly, the English flag began to lower, and a small white flag rose in its place. Simonne had the spyglass now, and she waited, unblinking, until the English flag began to lower and a new flag was hoisted in its place.

          “Zey struck zheir colors!”

          Everyone let out an ecstatic cheer. DuFresne looked to Simonne with a big grin. Unable to resist, she threw her arms around his shoulders with a little hop of glee. As they made their way down the stairs to the main deck they met up with DeGroot and Logan.

          “Prepare to board,” the captain said.

          “Aye,” DeGroot replied.

          Even Flint cast DuFresne a smile. Maybe he wanted the new captain to be successful after all. Perhaps, instead of plotting how to get his old position back, he was putting forth his effort into planning his future elsewhere. Simonne hoped so, because it seemed as though nothing could stop the Shark now.

          The Revenge was easily twice the size of the little English sugar ship. They dwarfed their opponents as they pulled up alongside and tied on. DuFresne walked across the gangplank with his head held high and an attitude as if he owned both ships. Simonne was right behind him, sauntering with a sneer, daring anyone aboard the ship to take them on.

          DuFresne walked up to the captain. He was fearless and fully expecting the man’s complete cooperation. He demanded it with an entitled smirk, as if to remind his opponent that he possessed the power to send him to the bottom of the ocean encased in a ball of fire.

          “You’re in command here, yes?”

          The merchant captain scowled at DuFresne and gave a grim nod.

          “I am.”

          “You were wise not to fight. Are there any men lying in wait below?”

          The Englishman said nothing. His eyes bounced between the pirate captain and his little first mate, the living doll with the face of an angel but the eyes of a demon. 

          “Answer truthfully, or zee consequences will be severe.”

          “It is as you see it,” the man replied.

          “Sweep the hold, start at the bow!”

          With the Captain’s order, the search began. Simonne stood near the merchant, giving him the evil eye as he looked about frantically. DuFresne was busy overseeing the crew’s efforts. His back turned to the hostage captain. He knew that the man would not be able to take so much as a step in his direction before Simonne took him out. There was nothing he could do to stop them. This was in the bag.

          “Are you him?” The merchant captain asked, scratching his chin. He took a step forward and Simonne cocked his pistol. He stopped, but his mouth did not shut. DuFresne slowly turned around.

          “Beg your pardon?”

          “I said are you him, are you captain Flint?”

          Simonne’s breath caught in her chest. What did that matter? They had a fucking warship! She saw the hostages below looking at one another, and up to their captors. DuFresne approached the captain slowly, and spoke with an eerily quiet calmness.  

          “I assure you, sir, you do not want to test us. The men in these waters are hard men. They don’t fear ships, they don’t fear guns, they don’t fear swords.”

          The English captain looked down to one of his men on the deck below. Something about the looks on their faces made her stomach turn, but before she knew what was happening the merchantman whistled a quick, high pitched tweet. A gun went off. Simonne and DuFresne spun around to see a firefight breaking out below. Simonne turned back around and shot the stupid man in the forehead at the exact moment Joji sliced him in the back with his katana. Blood squirted out of both sides of him and he dropped to the deck with a splash.

          “Fuck you!”

          Simonne screamed at the man’s dead body before firing another shot through his sinuses, sending bits of skull flying in all directions. Without hesitation she turned around and leaped over the railing of the aft deck, landing in the heat of the battle. Slicing through the merchantman’s crew and doing her best to contain the outburst, she could not help but notice that the Englishmen outnumbered the pirates who boarded the vessel. The rest of her men stood on the deck of the Revenge like spectators at the Roman coliseum. DuFresne was frozen, completely unprepared for such a situation.

          “Get down ‘ere and fight, you cowards!”

          Simonne shouted up to her men but none of the budged. Logan was shaking his head.

          “Back to the ship!”

          Someone was yelling for retreat, but it was not their captain. Simonne rushed to the aft-deck stairs, arriving at the same moment as one of her men. She guided him up the stairs in front of her in an attempt to help him back to safety. Down on the main deck, an enemy crewman popped up out of a pile of corpses and fired a killing shot into her man. He fell down dead on the stairs, completely blocking the narrow passage. Simonne turned her pistol on the shooter, knocking him back down into the hole he came out of before she clambered over the body of her fallen comrade. Joji was leading DuFresne onto the gangplank as Simonne arrived on the aft deck. He gave her a hand up before disembarking himself, the last man off the vessel.  

          Back aboard the Revenge Captain DuFresne tried his best to regain control, but the men did not seem keen to listen to him any longer.

           “I want muskets in the rigging to suppress their front line!”

          “Mister DuFresne, we have lost the day!” DeGroot answered.

          “Zat is zee captain you are speaking to!”

          “I will concern myself with formalities when we are not in open battle, Miss DuBois. We must disengage.”

          “What are we waitin’ for, why aren’t we moving?” Logan budged in, looking at the three with disgust.

          “Give the order, Mister DuFresne, we do not have the manpower to retake that ship, we must get underway.”

          “Why the fuck are we waiting for him?”

          “Because he’s in charge here.”

          “No one is in fucking charge here!”

          Simonne rounded on Logan. She was already pissed at DeGroot’s lack of respect, and now that Logan was openly questioning DuFresne’s authority she was going to take her anger out on him. She held up her finger to his face, making him go cross-eyed.

          “Get zee fuck in line, Monsieur Logan, or I’ll put you zhere myself!”

          “Oh, you’re going to put me in line, huh? What are you gonna do?”

          Logan pushed his face into hers, daring her to put her hands on him. She moved towards him, not away, pressing her forehead firmly against his, warning him not force her to make good on her threat. Her finger was still in his face, almost close enough to gouge his eye with her nail. DeGroot tried to pull the two apart but they were locked in on each other, knocking their heads together like a couple of rams while they argued over who would throw who to the sharks first. DuFresne did not even notice. He seemed lost in a waking dream, his legs petrified to the wood of the deck. Flint walked up as casually as if there were not screams and pistol shots echoing around them, and as if two of his crewmates were not about to rip one another apart with their bare hands.

          “You have to sink her.”

          That shut everyone up. Logan pulled face away from Simonne’s. She gave him a rough shove in the chest before rushing to her beloved captain’s side. Flint continued to explain.

          “You cannot just escape. You have to sink that ship, for if a single one of those men lives to tell the tale, no one will ever surrender before that flag again.”

          Both of them knew he was right. Simonne was ready to start lighting fuses, to see the whole mess wiped off the face of the earth, but her companion did not seem so eager. It was an utter defeat, sending that ship and all of its cargo down to the bottom of the sea. He could not bring himself to give the order. His once powerful voice was now mute as a stone, and Simonne could almost see the men’s faith in him dissipating into thin air like wisps of smoke. It was worse than she thought…

          “Cut us loose, get us underway,” Flint said.

          “Belay zat order, he is not zee captain.” Simonne held her finger up at Logan again, but he barely looked at her before completely ignoring the order.

          “Cut us loose! Get us underway!” Logan repeated Flint’s orders to the men. Simonne gritted her teeth and her hand fell to her cutlass. She fully intended to return the stab in the back she had just received, but DuFresne reached out and gently curled his fingers around her wrist. She looked up at him, but he would not return her gaze. Joji and Joshua began hacking at the lines holding the ships together.

          “Gun crews at the ready,” Flint commanded.

          The men down on the gun deck seemed confused. Simonne walked to the railing beside Flint and looked down at them. Their eyes darted between her and Flint, as if they were trying to make up their minds as to who to follow. A few tense moments passed, but in the end it did not take long for them to choose sides between their old captain and the new first mate. Joshua echoed the order.

          “Gun crews at de ready.”

          Simonne retook her place beside DuFresne and Flint as the men fired the cannons. The little merchant ship did not stand a chance. Sawdust flew in the air like Parisian snow. Flint did not stick around to watch the vessel go down. He sauntered into the captain’s cabin as if the mutiny were naught but a bad dream he had just awoken from. The audacity.

          All of the dreams she had for her and DuFresne’s future went down with that ship. She knew this would happen—that somehow Flint would take from them everything they worked so hard for. At the same time she was heartbroken to realize that DuFresne was not cut out to be a captain. His intentions for justice were good, but he just did not have the heart—or lack thereof—to make the tough calls. The prize was gone, the day was lost and the dream was dead.