The Battle of Richebeau
by Dana DeVries
The afternoon sun danced and dappled around the heaving bowsprit of the Careless Whim. A scattering of islands and reefs surrounded them and Captain Ambroise du Lac scanned the horizon with his spyglass. "Aye, Dan. I see her. Explorers, looks like. Signal the Shifty Gaze. There's a ship to port. Tell Jean Claude that we'll flush her straight to him." His tone was light and gleeful. Then he shouted out, "Rudder hard aport!"
The Careless Whim leaped forward as the course shifted. Within minutes an unwieldy galleon came into sight. The vessel lumbered along, searching for the isle of Richebeau that lay only a few leagues ahead. Ruins were known to dot the shore of the small island. Picked over ruins, to be sure, but cowardly archaeologists were known to visit it occasionally. But not today. Ambroise called out, "Louis, no reason to kill these diggers. Put a shot across the bow."
"Captain, I've already loaded her with crescent fire and Castillian gunpowder!"
"Bless my wig, why're you hunting this sheep with a cannon when a pair of shears would do?"
"Admiral Valoix's orders were clear. Anyone caught snooping was to be sunk."
"I know what that bloodthirsty git said. But we're not going to sink these fools for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Fire low and use that new powder I gave you for the next shot. Might as well give it a try, right? And for Theus' sake, make sure you miss. That crescent fire would sink her for sure."
"Are you certain?"
"My order stands, Louis." The captain's voice was light and bantering but held a core of steel within it.
"Aye, aye." Moments later, Louis' cannon fired and the cannonball splashed just short of the ship sending a plume of salt spray arcing across the ship's decks.
The Explorers immediately tacked about, heading for a nearby small island and Ambroise laughed. "Pursue her lads, but don't get too close. Wouldn't want to ruin the Gaze's fun." Ahead, the Explorer's vessel strained to catch the breeze and pull away from their pursuers. Their flight was short lived as the Shifty Gaze pulled out from behind a small island and into sight. They were running parallel to the Explorers and almost atop of her. The Explorers, seeing flight was impossible, dropped her colours and raised the white flag. An excited shout rang out over the Careless Whim. Amid the hubbub, the cry of danger was almost lost.
Captain Ambroise called out, "Silence. What was that, Dan?"
"Captain, another boat to the leeward! Just came from behind that island. Corsairs!"
"What? There wasn't room for a carrier pigeon behind that island, let alone a ship." The Corsairs low slung boat let loose with her guns. Cannonballs smashed into her and one of the masts toppled. "Rudder, bring us about. Louis, Fire!"
Louis frantically adjusted the angle of the shot as the Montaigne boat swung around. His startled assistant dropped the match onto the firing pan at the captain's shout. Finished with his adjustments, Louis jumped back just as the cannonball burst from the barrel trailed by a green gout of flames. The flames expanded as the shot flew until it passed through the Corsairs sails as a ball almost twenty feet in diameter. Seconds later the Corsairs sails ignited in green flames.
"Louis. Let's not use the Cathayan fireworks in the cannons again. They're not very precise."
"Aye, aye." The gunner's agreement was heartfelt and sincere. "But we might have another problem."
"Louis, if you keep this up, I'm going to be very peeved. What's wrong now?"
"We were supposed to re-supply at Richebeau today. And the other ships were to have this area combed clear of any foreign vessels."
Another volley smashed into the Whim and the shouts of the carpenters could be heard as they struggled to keep the Whim afloat. Burning scraps of the Corsairs sails and rigging began to fall to their deck.
"So, Simon sold most of the cannonballs back at the last port. We've only got enough to keep up this rate of fire for a few more minutes."
"What? I do not believe this! Simon!"
"Yes, captain?" The ship's quartermaster appeared as quickly as a well greased snake beside Ambroise. "You didn't really sell all of our ammunition off?"
The quartermaster sheepishly answered, "Yeah, I'm afraid that I did. But I got a good price. With the re-supply today, I didn't think anyone would miss it."
Curiously the captain asked, "Where's the money?"
"We drank it. That's how I bought you a drink night before last."
"I'm going to bust you down to scullery maid if the Corsairs don't kill us! Men, load the guns with whatever's available. Barrels of nails, cutlasses, the galley washbasin, Simon, whatever, but keep firing!"
The Montaigne guns fired again and the shots seemed drawn to the Corsairs decking. Fire had entirely engulfed the sails and rigging of the Corsairs ships and the pained cries of the slaves could be heard across the waves. The Corsairs seemed reluctant to stay for the rest of the engagement. Let alone the marriage.
As they pulled away, Ambroise noticed a small lifeboat drop behind them. Peering through his spyglass, he could make out three huddled figures dressed in rags and scraps. His eye widened as he recognized Marie Michel du Gloyure as one of them. "Cease fire! They're on the run and they left us a little present. Those are our people in the lifeboat, let's pick them up and ...".
Distant cannon fire interrupted his thought. "What now?" he demanded as he whirled about. Another Montaigne frigate had cleared the island behind him and was firing upon the Explorer ship who was still trying to surrender. The Shifty Gaze fired upon the newcomer. Full scale volleys ranged between them.
Behind him an unearthly scream rent the afternoon air. He turned with a hand to his sword to face the cold, blood covered face of Antoine du Mager standing next to a small blooded coin nailed to the mainmast. "The Admiral has made his orders clear enough for even the likes of you to understand. Why are those Corsairs ships still floating?" He demanded as he pointed to the lifeboat and the Corsairs ship disappearing behind the island.
Ambroise hissed at him, "We're going to rescue the people in the lifeboat. They're Montaigne nobles."
"I think not. You will sink them both. Now. We can't take the chance that any word escape of our position here. We launch against San Cristobal tomorrow. That plan must not be endangered."
"There's no danger..."
"If there's no danger why is that Corsairs vessel escaping you? Besides that decision is for the Admiral to make and he has. Destroy both of those boats or..."
An earsplitting barrage of cannons filled the air. Ambroise turned his attention back to the Shifty Gaze. Several brigs had cleared the island and opened fire. After their initial simultaneous shot, each fired at will. Within seconds the Gaze and the Explorers ships were listing. But the cannons continued to fire. The Porte noble sneered at Ambroise. "I believe I've made my point?"
Captain Ambroise du Lac stared in fury at the prim and proper monster before him. But any move against this man would certainly bring down the wrath of the Admiral upon himself and his men. They deserved better than that for following him. He lowered his head slightly and declared resignedly, "Aye. Men, fire all guns. Sink the Corsairs vessels." Long after the Porte officer had returned to the flagship, Ambroise stared at the wreckage of the lifeboat. He decided not to mention the fact that the Corsairs ship had somehow disappeared without a trace.