“Board the ship!” Marion yelled at the top of her lungs.
Her crew launched hooks at the crippled merchant ship. The hooks hit the wood, and they pulled the ropes hauling the ship towards them and the two ships collided. The men drew swords and pistols and loud cries of battle engulfed the deck as they jumped across and the battle began. Marion remained on the quarterdeck scanning through the mayhem for her target, the captain. If she could bring him to surrender his crew would follow, ending the bloodshed before losing too many men.
A man caught her attention. He stood beside the wheel of his ship, a pistol in his hand ready to fire at anyone that would get too close, shouting orders to his men and trying to keep his distance from the fight on the deck.
Now the two of us, she thought as she grabbed the closest hanging rope and swung across to the opposite ship. Her feet landed hard on the worn wood with a thud loud enough for her enemy to hear and spun around, pistol raised, aiming at her. Marion plunged to the side just in time for the whistling sound of a bullet to pass above her head. She rolled onto her back, draw her pistol and fire back at the captain marching towards her with his sword in hand. The bullet scratched his shoulder forcing him to take a step back, buying Marion enough time to stand up and unsheathe her sword before her enemy swung his. She blocked the upcoming hit inches from her neck.
The force of the impact pushed her backwards and her back hit her rail. Her adversary raised his sword again but before he could bring it down, Marion kicked him in the guts, breaking his balance. As he tried to steady himself, Marion punched him on the side of his head with the handle of her sword.
Her opponent landed on his hand and knees and Marion pulled her other pistol and aimed at his face. “Surrender and I’ll spare you and your crew,” she ordered.
The man’s eyes wandered to the lower deck, where the fight between the two crews was in full swing. Bodies already piled up; pools of blood ran along the deck.
“They’ll fire me and my crew,” he said, and pressed one hand against his bleeding head.
“You can find another job. You can’t find another life. End this massacre before is too late,” Marion cocked her pistol.
The captain stared at her, defeat written in his eyes. They were a merchant ship crew, not soldiers, and he knew it.
“Surrender,” he said through his teeth, but no one heard him. “Surrender!” he yelled again at the top on his lungs. This time one by one his men froze and let their swords fall to the ground and Marion’s men burst into cheers.
Marion looked down at her men just for an instant to savour the moment and turned her attention back on the captain. Her gun still pointed at him as she gestured him to stand up and walk down the stairs.
Once on the quarterdeck, the captain with the rest of his crew were pushed into a corner and forced down on their knees with hands behind their head.
“Fucking pirates,” a tall, muscular man hissed, blood running from a large cut travelling down his left arm. “The British Navy will make you regret every breath you’ve taken to this day.”
“Jackson. Enough!” his captain cut him off.
“I wish I could be there when they capture all of you,” the man called Jackson continued, his eyes fixed upon Marion. She held his gaze and walked towards him. “Especially you.” he tilled his chin in her direction, “I’m sure they’re gonna have a lovely time with a woman pirate--”
Marion’s fist met his jaw before he finished his sentence. Jackson spat blood and faced her again. “They are coming for you. For all of you.”
She chuckled in response. Many prisoners had made the same threat before, hope that their beloved Navy will come to their rescue still burning inside them.
“Shut your mouth Jackson!” his captain ordered him again.
Marion slowly crouched in front of him, her eyes never leaving his. Hatred filled his eyes, but it didn’t faze her. She was used to it, and if anything, she understood it. He was about to lose everything he had worked for the past months, and he probably had a family waiting for his earnings. But so did she.
“Let them try,” she said, her voice calm. “It’ll be our pleasure to cut their throats one by one. We rule those waters and there is nothing they can do about it.”
“Not for long,” he replied, matching her tone.
Marion grabbed him from his hair and yanked it back. Her other hand produced a small dagger hidden in her boot and placed it on to his throat. She pressed the blade just hard enough for him to feel the sharp pain of the metal digging into his skin but not enough to draw blood.
“I can show you what will happen to anyone trying to get in our way. What do you say?” she whispered in his ear.
And there it was. Faced with the prospect of certain death the man’s bravado faded away. Jackson tried hard to contain his fear. Tried not to let her know she had the upper hand, but his breath was heavier and his eyes darted from Marion’s hand and back to her face. She realised her grip and his gaze turned to the floor as he bowed his head.
“That’s what I thought,” she said. “If I hear your voice again, I’ll cut your tongue.” She stood up and looked at her crew. “All right lads, I want five of you watching those men. The rest of you, to the hull.”
The men obeyed. Voices and the echoing sound of boots running around now filled the silent and tense atmosphere of the deck.
Marion walked towards the captain’s quarter. The door creaked open, and she stepped in closing, the door behind her.
She leaned on the door and let out the breath she was holding from the moment the merchant ship came into her sight.
Ship ahead, little Monty had yelled, perched in his crow’s nest*, and her blood had frozen in her veins. The time for her to step in her father’s shoes and live up to her crew’s expectation had come.
She passed her still trembling hand through her hair. The three tight braids on the left were loose from the battle and the rest of her messy long, wavy, black hair falling down her right side. She brushed them out of her eyes; her hand brushing against a large scar starting from above her eyebrow, above her eye and stopping just on her cheekbone. The scar, a reminder of her first raid beside her father at the age of fifteen, when her hand was still trembling when holding a sword.
She breathed in and out deeply to calm her heart that thumbed loudly in her chest. I did it, she told herself, I successfully lead my first raid. Her pulse slowed down, the knot in her stomach loosen and she straightened and looked around her.
The room was small and kept tidy. On the desk, maps gathered together in a neat pile on the desk together with the captain’s log. It looked a lot like her father’s. He liked to keep everything organised, and she was trying too but it turned out that tiding wasn’t a quality of hers.
She opened the log to and read the last pages. One entry said the ship left one day late from the harbour because of bad weather condition. One day. That’s all it took for Marion’s ship to get in their way and turn the journey upside down.
On the wall, they were shelves with books of all sorts. She skimmed through them until one caught her attention. A small brown book, a little torn on the edges. “Sea Creatures” the spine read. She took off of the shelf and placed it into the back pocket on her breeches as she heard steps outside the door.
“Come in,” she said before the man on the other side had the chance to knock.
The door opened, and she turned around. A tall, black man entered the room. He was wearing boots, brown breeches and his chest was bare of clothes but covered in scars. Mr Tates, her father’s loyal quartermaster. And now hers.
“Captain,” Mr Tates said, and stood in front of her, towering over her small figure.
“How many?” she asked.
“Three men. Cooke, Stillson and Bear.”
Her heart sank. No matter how many years she had been at sea and how many men she had seen die, losing a member of the crew was never easy. Especially when they had a family waiting for them back home, and Bear’s was the one that wouldn’t see him come back this time. Marion shook the thoughts out of her mind. There will be plenty on time to find a way to break the sad news to his wife and daughter.
“And the cargo?” she asked
“Tobacco and rum,” Mr Tates answered.
At least that was great news. Tobacco and rum were the easiest product to make a profit out of. This would cheer the grew up.
“Good. That’s good.”
She walked to the small and only window of the cabin and looked out to her ship. The Irish Lady. A beautiful ship it was. The British had used it to transport slaves before her father took control of it and turned to piracy.
“You did well,” Mr Tates said, his voice warm and a discrete smile drawn on his lips. “Your father would have been proud of you.”
Those simple words were enough to lift the weight off of Marion’s shoulders. This had been her first raid as captain of her father’s ship after his death, no longer than six months ago. She knew she had big shoes to fill, and this was her final test to prove to her crew, but mostly to herself, that she was ready for this.
I wish you where here, a lump formed in her throat. She had dreamed of the day she will become captain and the day of her first raid as captain. But in her dreams she had imagined her father will be still on her side, watching her from the deck, proud of her. And that day came, but he wasn’t at her side, and nothing could fill that void.
“Thank you, Mr Tates,” she said a bittersweet smile on her lips. “How long to be on our way?”
“We’ll be sailing before dusk, and if the wind is on our side, we should be back on Ferra in five days.”
She nodded her head, “I’m done here, let’s go join the crew.”
Captain and quartermaster walked out of the office and back on to the deck where Marion’s crew came and went, carrying barrels of rum and sacks of tobacco back to their ship. Despite the loss of three of their companion, it had been a good day and their morale rose as they chatted and sang.
Marion walked over her ship this time using the plank that had been placed to connected the two vessels.
“Damage report?” she asked a sailor as she jumped on the deck.
“The topsail is torn and needs replacement, and we took some hits in below the main deck but no leaks. We should be able to sail without troubles until we reach land,” the sailor said.
“Good,” she replied and took the stairs up to the quarter deck, her hand brushing the railing.
From there could watch her men bridging the goods on board, but her gazed drifted to the horizon, south, where home was waiting from them. Sea was where she felt more at home, but after three weeks of sailing and chasing merchants ship, the thought of steady land beneath her feet brought a smile on her face.