by Dana DeVries

   Three men dressed in black dashed down the Castillian streets and out onto the pier. With only a glance around, the man in the lead pointed at a lone galleon at the end of the pier just preparing to set sail. They sprinted across the fresh wood of the pier and as one leapt for the departing ship. The men stood panting upon the deck for just a moment as the topmen dropped down to face them as an impromptu boarding party. Laughter filled the air as the ship's captain pushed her way through and faced the men. She was a small woman, but her presence overwhelmed the men behind her and they quickly fell silent. Pushing her curly red hair aside, she smiled at the invaders and her voice was a sultry purr.

   "It's good to see you, Torvo. But we were leaving port. Perhaps we can catch up the next time I'm in town?"

   The leader of the three men shook his head and took a deep breath. "Hello Red. Actually, I'm going by my true name now. Marcos Rivera del Rios. I was hoping to hire your ship."

   "Someone has already hired me. We're heading north. But now that you're here, you might be able to cut that trip short."

   Another man pushed his way forward. He was tall and thin with the seriousness of the young. "This is my employer, Owaine Gosse." Marcos looked confused for a moment.

   "Owaine Gosse?"

   "Yes. Phillip Gosse was my father." His voice cracked slightly as he spoke. "Were you one of his men?"

   "Yes. I grew up on the island he settled and sailed with him. I was there when he died."

   "I wanted to meet him." Regret filled the young man's voice. "But at the very least, I'd like to see the land he called home."

   "That could be arranged. But we'll need to make a stop first."

   Gosse started to respond, but Red interrupted him. "Where do you need to stop?"

   "La Bucca."

   "The pirate lair of the Brotherhood of the Coast? You must be insane."

   "Actually, Gosse and Allende got along quite well."

   "That was before Gosse robbed him! Besides, it doesn't matter how well they got along. Allende may be captain on the sea, but on shore, most of those men accept no man as their master. Going there is suicide for any merchant!"

   "That's why I wanted to hire you, Red. You and I are already pirates. They won't give us any trouble."

   "Why do you need to go there anyway?"

   "I'm hunting Don Aldana on a matter of personal honor. His ship was headed in that direction."

   Owaine said, "That shouldn't be a problem."

   Red opened her mouth to speak when a shout came from the street. Everyone onboard turned to look and drew weapons at the sound. A large group of men dressed in the livery of the Aldana family emerged onto the pier and began running towards the end of the pier. A glance showed Red that the galleon had only drifted a few yards since the topmen had abandoned the rigging.

   Marcos turned back to the captain and pulled a large clinking belt pouch out and tossed it at her feet. "A bonus, for getting us to La Bucca quickly."

   Red stabbed her sword down through the ties of the pouch and flicked it up into the air. Her left hand caught it with practiced ease and weighed the bag for a moment.

   "Alright men, get us out of here!"

   Red, Marcos, Owaine and several others all moved to the aft of the ship and watched as the men raced down the dock with bare steel in their hands. With a shout, they leapt across the widening gap between the ship and the dock. Marcos slashed out at the first one. The man parried the attack with ease, but it overbalanced him and he toppled into the water below. Red grabbed the next man across, pulled him close and kissed him deeply. When she let go of him, he stood confused for a moment and she gently pushed him overboard with one hand. After that they began fencing in earnest and pushing their opponents overboard.

   Within minutes, the ship had pulled far enough away that the remaining men stood at the end of the pier shaking their fists in anger. Marcos smiled for a moment and stated. "Well that was fun."

   "We're not out of it yet." Red warned him.

   "Why not?" Turning around, he saw another ship bearing down on them. "Who is that?"

   "That is the Castillian Navy."

   Marcos arched an eyebrow and asked, "And why is the Castillian Navy after us?"

   "Well, this ship isn't exactly paid for."

   "Not exactly..." Marcos closed his eyes for a moment.

   "This is the second boat you've stolen from the Castillians then?"

   "Yes. I promised Gosse I'd return the first one. I never promised not to steal another one. Especially after I saw they'd named her Spirit. I love that name."

   "You're a menace, Red. A true menace."

   "Thank you. Coming from someone with your reputation, that is high praise indeed."

   Owaine Gosse cleared his throat. "Are you saying that we've stolen this boat and are headed for La Bucca, home base of the pirate fleet known as the Brotherhood of the Coast?"

   "Yes." Red nodded happily.

   "I guess I am going to follow in father's footsteps." The young man sounded pleased. "So how are we going to get away from them?"

   Red smiled. "Just watch."

   The Castillian ship was already within easy cannon range and drawing closer on the starboard side. The signals officer was calling for them to surrender as Red shouted out orders to her crew. The crew instantly dropped the sails and the anchor. Within seconds, the naval vessel began to pull ahead. That was enough for Red and she shouted out again. The riggers scurried like demented spiders and quickly raised the sails again. The ship strained for a moment against the anchor until the men cut through the anchor line with boarding axes. The Spirit of Adventure leapt forward, already on a new heading passing behind the Castillian ship still trying to come about to catch her. Red grinned evilly for a moment.


   A single volley of chain shot arced out, lazily spinning through the air until it crashed into the masts of the Castillian ship. With a sickening snap, the masts broke and began toppling over. Red chuckled before ordering full sails and a course set for La Bucca.

   Marcos sat down upon a barrel on the main deck and stretched out. Owaine continued to gaze around the ship and watched the men work.

   Elsewhere, Margaretta Orduno sat at a desk in her cabin examining a map of the waters around Castille. While she would never be the navigator that her husband was, she was becoming proficient enough to plot at least the basic course. An older man sat across from her, staring into his glass of wine.

   From outside her cabin, she heard angry shouts and then the ominous sound of steel being drawn. Within seconds she was on her feet and crossing the cabin. On the deck, she saw a sight that almost made her laugh.

   Joaquin Orduno held a cutlass while six men stood surrounding him and held blades to his throat. Miguel Cortez was speaking very slowly. "Madame Orduno is currently occupied. I will be happy to tell her that you are here, but you will not barge into her cabin. And if you think that pulling that pig sticker out and waving it around will convince us to move any faster, you might want to reconsider."

   Margaretta stifled her chuckle and called out calmly. "It's alright. I can take a moment to see him. Come on in, Joaquin." The group of sailors slowly backed away and lowered their weapons. Joaquin put his own away and bowed courteously to them.

   "I apologize. I hadn't realized that my cousin's men were quite so...touchy."

   Cortez nodded coldly.

   "I'm certain that is true." Joaquin smiled and followed Margaretta into her cabin. "Margaretta..."

   "Slow down. Sit down. Let me introduce the representative of the Crown, Don Millano Rios del Aldana."

   The two men nodded to each other. "We're leaving in just a few hours and I have a lot to do, but your information of Felipe was correct, so the least I can do is pour you a glass of wine and listen to what you have to say."

   The black sheep of the Orduno family took a deep breath and smiled. "Thank you, Margaretta. I am in a bit of a hurry. I'll be leaving even before you do. I need a favor. Can you make a detour on your way out west?"

   "A detour? To where?"

   "La Bucca."

   "And why would the Corozon want to make port in the home of the Brotherhood of the Coast? We wouldn't be exactly welcome."

   "Even less welcome given who might be in charge by the time we get there."

   "What do you mean?"

   Joaquin nodded to the other man, "Um, could we speak in private?" Don Aldana stood, but Margaretta waved him down.

   "This man speaks for the King, Joaquin, not the Church. I don't want to start excluding him from the information I base my decisions on. What is going on."

   Joaquin stood and began to pace in front of her desk. "The Brotherhood of the Coast is about to be destroyed."

   "Well good. Less for us to worry about."

   "Yes, but they're going to be destroyed by the Corsairs."

   Astonishment passed across Margaretta's face. "The Corsairs?"

   "The Corsairs. I just received word from one of my sources in Vodacce. It seems that the Corsairs are looking for a base here to help with their own ships going west and they've chosen La Bucca. The fact that they will have to kill or enslave the entire Brotherhood of the Coast to pull that off doesn't seem to bother them in the slightest. I know that Castille has never had a whole lot of use for our neighbors the pirates, but I'd rather have them, than that fanatic Kheired-Din!"

   "Are you certain of this information?"

   "Absolutely. And its supposed to happen tomorrow night."

   Margaretta immediately objected. "But, that's not enough time to do anything. I could get the Corozon there, but that would be it."

   "I'd been hoping you had more ships ready to sail."

   "We do, but they're either at sea or in for repairs. And they'd have to make sail within the next six hours if they were to reach La Bucca in time."

   "Damn. I knew that, but I'd been hoping for a miracle." He paced for a moment and then turned back to her. "Could you sail for La Bucca anyway?"

   "What? I know they call me the Heroine of San Felipe, but one ship isn't going to change an entire Corsair invasion!"

   "I know. But with the Corozon we could at least save some of the men."


   "The Corozon's boarding cannons are on swivels. Enrique showed them to me once. If we got in close we could reach up to the cliff tops with them. With that, the men could climb down."

   "But they're pirates! Why would we want to save them? Careful Joaquin, you're making me wonder if you might be more closely connected to the Brotherhood than I had suspected."

   Joaquin bit off his first response. "They may be pirates, but that doesn't mean they deserve death or enslavement. Besides if we can save them, they'll have plenty of incentive to fight the Corsairs. That's got to be worth something!"

   Staring into his glass, Don Aldana cleared his throat. "Actually. That's not a bad idea. I'm sure King Sandoval would have no objection to saving their lives if we didn't risk the Corozon. Also, we should alert the Navy and have them launch an attack on La Bucca. If the Corsairs do attack, whomever wins will be weakened."

   "Now you're talking! Well, Margaretta, what do you think?"

   "I think you're insane. Let me finish my drink and think about it for a minute."

   Joaquin reached across the desk and grabbed her wine glass. He quickly poured its contents down his throat and slammed the glass back down. "Well?"

   "You have the manners of a filthy swine. Alright. We'll have the last supplies and men on board in two hours. We'll raise anchor then and meet you at La Bucca."

   "My ship will be ready in two hours as well. I'd be happy to escort you."

   "How kind of you. In two hours then. Now be off." "Joaquin nodded and quickly left the cabin. Behind him he heard her snort, "How that man can share the same blood as Enrique is beyond me."