Alan Breck greeted each member of The League then, at the Baron's request, sat down and told the story of his delay.
It was the night before he was to receive M's summons that the highlander found himself prowling the streets and taverns of Calais for Dirk Hatteraick, a Dutch smuggler whose activities included transporting Jacobite exiles back to Scotland then selling them out to English authorities. Alan eventually spotted his quarry leaving a dive near the docks and began to follow.
Activity on the Calais docks was normal; evening lanterns lit up the wharfs with off duty sailors and dockers sitting around drinking and chatting, while some played cards on the top of upright barrels. Ships' watchmen and dockyard security were ever vigilant; there would be no chance for the vengeful Jacobite to make his move here.
Dirk Hatteraick continued his walk into a more notorious section of the docks, he was a smuggler and this was where their vessels would be moored. This actually suited Alan Breck well: true; his quarry was in his element here; but it was one of the best places to finish him off without alerting the city police, this was unofficially a law free zone.
Visibility became less, this was clearly a dark area. Alan had to be ever alert here, not only could he lose his quarry in the dark but his life as well, this part of the docks was a criminal drawcard. Sure enough while hiding behind a pier post to avoid Dirk's backward gaze; a click alerted the Jacobite to a rear attack; hurling himself aside he turned to see the garrote that was meant for his throat wrap around the pier post. A fast punch in the attacker's face sent him sprawling backwards. Alan got his knife out just in time to meet a second attacker, who came out of the shadows with a dagger poised to kill; the Scot blocked the stabbing arm with his, then seized the offending limb to yank the attacker off balance; while both arms were employed by the thief to break his induced stumble onto the pier, the highlander had no trouble slashing the varmint's jugular.
The thief with the garrote fled for his life; Alan did not pursue; he had to pick up the trail of Dirk Hatteraick, who by now could be aware of his stalker. Where the smuggler was last seen provided the right viewpoint to where he was now; Alan spotted him down a dimly lit cobblestone alley. A burst of speed sent the highlander rushing down the dark thoroughfare; this was the best place to finish Dirk Hatteraick's foul career.
If the smuggler was not aware of the shadow before, he was now and broke into a frenzied run; Alan would have got him had not the alley opened into a wide dockyard where Dirk was supported by two friends with swords; an extra seaman was swaggering about on the sidelines.
Alan had his claymore ready and engaged the three smugglers, he brought one down with a savage thrust within four seconds. Dirk and his remaining friend fought more cautiously, yet together they could not match the highlander's skill; so a double parry and quick lunge sent the second friend to his death. The smuggler stood his ground and Alan would have taken him had not the swaggering pirate joined the fight on Dirk's side. A loop and thrust seemed the right move to be rid of this seemingly drunk interferer but a well calculated parry and fine riposte, that was barely deflected, told the Jacobite that despite this pirate's swaggering demeanor he was a deft hand with the sword. A confident look befell Dirk Hatteraick, so confident that he disengaged, leaving the swaggerer to fight alone.
Dreadlocks hung out from the pirate's red bandanna, a coin decorating one of them. The face was a white composite of eye shadow, a moustache, several gold teeth and a goatee made up of two braids.
"So what do you think your doing here highlander?" slurred the pirate.
This buccaneer sounded wasted by too much rum as well as acting likewise, but not his swordplay, Alan found himself virtually outclassed by this swaggering pirate. A most frustrating obstacle this was, especially since Alan's quarry stood only ten feet away grinning.
"Ahoy matey. You beez needin' a hand there?" Said another pirate to the left.
Out of the corner of his eye, the Jacobite noticed a long red coat over a peglegged figure using a single crutch, he had no apparent weapons, so Alan kept his focus on the swaggering seaman he was fighting. The crutch swung up swiftly as the peglegged figure could flick it, connecting with Alan's head, the highlander collapsed in a heap, hearing the dreaded pirate laughter as he lost consciousness.
His hands were manacled; that was the first observation Alan Breck made as he regained his senses. It was just after dawn. He was in a small cage with both horizontal and vertical bars, his legs dangled out as he was seated on the base. The cage was hanging from a gibbet that was actually a hoist on the wharf where the ship was docked, standing before him on the poop deck were three pirates: the swaggering swordsman who engaged him; the peglegged figure who knocked him out; and a turbaned Indian with a scimitar.
"Ahoy maties." Said the peglegged pirate. "He beez comin' to. Who's for splittin' his gizzards?"
A mass roar of approval blared from a hoard of buccaneers who crowded the wharf and the ship's deck; all were from various crews and different parts of the world.
The pirate leader draw Alan's own claymore and was about to bid the hoist hands to move the cage closer when the swaggering swordsman called a halt to the venture in favour of handing the Jacobite over for an English bounty; this was booed away in favour of a ship wide baying for blood. It was the Indian who suggested that since we have him hanging from the gibbet, we lower him into the water and let the sharks do the bloodletting. This last suggestion was answered with a majority approval from the pirate audience.
Alan Breck had nothing to say to this cruel audience and tried futilely to free his hands from the manacles that were fastened to the cage. As the hoist moved the cage to the water's surface the crowd's jubilation became louder, most onlookers gulped much rum from flagons, bottles and flasks. A dorsal fin appeared on the surface, the crew had baited the marine horror with buckets of fish pieces.
A series of deep breathes prepared the highlander for submersion. The splash was sudden as the crew released the hoist. He was in a blue world with little visibility; Alan tried not to move lest the sharks become attracted to his plight, however the cage started shaking; the pirates were clearly moving the hoist to jiggle the bait as an invitation.
Strong arms could not free Alan from the manacles but they could lift him up of the cage base in an attempt to bring his dangling legs in; he began to make progress when he was lifted out of the water. He could breathe now but he knew this was a short relief. The rum soaked audience let out a group cry of mock disappointment.
"Well I'll be Damned." Yelled the Peglegged pirate. "The sharks aren't hungry today. Well I Happens to be a great ship's cook, so whattya say weez sweeten the pot. Let's start with some flour aye."
A bag of flour was hurled, by the self appointed cook, at the cage; it burst upon impact covering Alan with its contents. The maritime audience laughed.
"Next it be the sugar." Said the cook.
Sure enough another crew member threw a hand sized bag of sugar at the cage, it smashed against the bars and sprinkled Alan with its sweet crystals. Several ingredients were thrown in succession in a likewise manner; Indian spices, pepper; tomatoes, hurled on their own from various sources; and honey, thrown in a glass jar. The Jacobite was saturated with these sticky substances including burst tomatoes that hit him directly.
"And now." Said the peglegged cook. "A cherry on top."
A handful of cherries were hurled at the cage, Alan managed to catch one in his lap but with his hands manacled there wasn't much he could do with it. The crowd was uproarious; some even threw bottles of rum at the cage which doused the highlander, adding to his sticky saturation.
The cage was again lowered into the water. Alan felt the sticky condiments wash off then he began to lift himself off the base and bring his legs into the relative safety of the enclosure.
A shark came out of the blue and circled the Jacobite for a few seconds, it was huge, its enormous frame suggested it could fit several people in its belly, the jiggling caused by deliberately rattling the hoist, was its drawcard, it knocked the bars with its nose, turned away then with a swift return opened its mouth and seized the cage. The teeth caught on the bars, some near Alan's manacled hands, and shook the structure fiercely. A close look into the toothed maw revealed it could engulf a man completely and mulch him into a digestible pulp in seconds.
The structure began to buckle and collapse under this vicious attack. Alan could not hold his breathe long under this reign of terror. After threshing and ripping at the bars, the marine fury backed off to consider alternative attacks or a sustained repeat assault.
Alan felt the cage lift again out of the water, his lungs gasped for much needed air. Rivets and bolts were torn out, some just bent like the cage bars that met the shark's attack. A fourth pirate leader was visible on the poop deck, the enclosure was dangled before it again.
This new leader seemed to be pulling tufts of straw out of his sleeves and removing what looked like a priest collar away from his throat; the book in his coat pocket caught Alan's attention; was that a bible? Discussion with the other pirate leaders seemed to reach a consensus. The new leader addressed the crowd.
"Why should we let the sharks do what we so much enjoy doing ourselves? Today we shall take this man and several other prisoners to one of the Channel islets and hunt them down. There will be grand booty for those who bag themselves one of the blighters. So get yourselves ready for some real fun."
The buccaneer crowd gave a begrudged yet agreeing roar then began to disperse.
When the hanging enclosure was placed on the ship's deck, the swaggering swordsman offered Alan a few gulps of rum to calm his nerves. Alan settled himself down despite his remaining manacled in the cage; his next visitor was a familiar face who appeared quite abruptly, it was Berthold in pirate's clothing.
"I finally found you Herr Breck and in bad circumstances."
"What are you doing here Berthold?" Asked Alan.
"M sent me. The League is to meet at the Chateau de Lune in Gevaudan tomorrow morning. M wants you to report for duty there."
"I'm a trite indisposed right now Berthold as you can see. Can you help me escape?"
"I don't have the key, I don't know where it is; nor do the pirates let you out of their sight long enough for me to help.
In as little time as he could, Alan explained his fate to be hunted down on a Channel islet; if Berthold could get a boat to the right islet then he could help spirit him away from this pirate captivity, allowing him to join the League. This manhunt will happen tomorrow afternoon, the opportunity to liberate will not come till then.
Berthold was told to report Alan's predicament to the Baron and explain his late arrival, if at all. The speedy envoy must then return to aid the highlander in his escape. With a wish of good luck to Alan and a whoosh of wind Berthold was on his way back to Gevaudan, he would stop to sleep along the way.
Only one thing was of note to the Scottish rebel throughout the day, the sight of men wearing wolfskins having a word to the pirate leaders while pointing him out, Alan could make no sense of the distant negotiations but clearly heard the peglegged cook finally say to the visitors.
"Go on, get ya flea bitten hides off me ship. Come back and I'll give ya a real skinnin'."
The wolfskinned men departed and were not seen again. Near the end of the day the swaggering swordsmen offered Alan more rum; after accepting it the highlander fell into a deep sleep.
Flickering sails teased by a light wind was what the Scot rebel saw when his senses returned, he had been asleep a long time. The cage was gone but he was still clapped in irons; chains kept his hands together in front of him and were linked to his ankle manacles, so he had limited use of his hands and could not run.
An awkward hobble up the hatchway stairs to the deck revealed that the ship had left Calais and anchored of a Channel islet, it was just sand, rocks, trees and bushes. There was no rich green meadows like those of Jersey.
Pirates buffeted Alan off the deck into a lifeboat which was was rowed to shore. Corrals held several unfortunate captives who were designated as game to be hunted, the highlander was led to a post where his irons where locked to a mooring ring. He must have been regarded as special game to be kept separate from the others.
Buccaneer activity was basically either swimming at the beach or sitting around campfires consuming copious amounts of fish, roasted meat and rum; it was the latter that fired the cutthroats up for the hunt. Impatience born of intoxication had the pirate swarm lobby the captains for the hunt to commence. The Indian buccaneers did not touch any rum but were eagerly anticipating the event; they all stuck together like a fraternity.
Some captain tried to advise the lobbying crowd that with nightfall only an hour or two away it would be best to postpone the hunt till tomorrow morning, to start now would add difficulty should targets still be at large after dark, but the rum soaked crewman were forthright in that they wanted to start now.
"Ahoy maties." Bellowed the peglegged cook standing on a mound with a screeching parrot perched on his shoulder. "Weez can start now. Ayeee we'll have our fun, finish the miserable wretches off real quick and then weez party all night. Aye me hearties?"
"Aaargh". A general cheer rose up from the pirate crowd; muskets were collected and armed, cutlasses were drawn, knives sharpened and powder horns filled. The corrals were opened the human game fled into the bushes, most were in sailor's apparel, probably crewman from plundered ships. A master at arms came and unlocked Alan's irons then motioned him to run for his life, the Jacobite swiftly obliged.
Trees, brush and rocks, with the occasional bush were all that made up the islet's landscape: the trees were pitifully thin and weak, providing next to no cover; the brush was profuse and matted, it could provide a hiding spot to anyone who digs underneath and pulls out several hundred roots; the rocks included many small ones that could be thrown; the bushes provided too obvious a cover, they would be death traps.
The Islet's far shore was reached after only twenty minutes travel time. A cannon shot heard ten minutes ago must have been the signal to start the hunt; Alan was running out of time. Two short sand hills provided a brush covered gap, this seemed to be the best hiding place available, unless the pirates stepped on it. The highlander tore off a tree branch to use as a club then collected some choice throwing rocks before getting into his brush cover. He had hid from redcoats in highland heather, so he could do likewise with pirates here and hold out until dark.
Views of the surrounding area could be attained by parting the thick stems to make peepholes. An unwise sailor was spotted hiding in the light canopy of a tree, it wasn't long before the hunters also saw him and fired their muskets, bringing him down. In the distance buccaneers prodded a bush with swords and pikes, sure enough two unfortunates fled the hiding place but didn't get far before being shot and hacked to death. Loud screams were heard from various directions and all followed by murderous roars of victory from pirates.
Four corsairs came close to the Jacobite's hiding place, some were drinking from flasks while stalking; all walked over the neighbouring sand hills rather than between them. Alan kept very still, they were so close he could touch them; one looked as if in a drunken stupor he was going to stumble over to the next mound, straight over the hiding spot. The highlander readied hid makeshift weapons, then a cry of alarm jolted the intoxicated corsair towards the beach.
Through a tear in the brush Alan could see a party of fugitives fleeing another hunting party, now there were two on them. Musket fire from both directions brought most of the unfortunate sailors to their death or injury on the sand; all pirates drew their cutlasses and moved on the now trapped or wounded survivors; it was over fast and the murderous roar of victory filled the beach.
The hunt moved away, allowing Alan to stay hidden until night, he would wait till pitch dark before moving. Only one search party came close to his hiding place after nightfall, they were carrying torches and lanterns but didn't see him.
"Come on." Said a pirate. "He's got to be somewhere. No way is he going to swim through that there surf."
So, Alan was the only one left and every murderer who cared to go out in the night will be hunting for him. The festivities may even be postponed until the hunt was complete, these pirates must hate the Scot who should have been fed to a shark.
Pitch dark allowed the Jacobite to leave his hiding place and observe the location of each hunting party in the area because of their lanterns and torches. Alan picked out the most isolated of these groups and moved towards it.
Four cutthroats made up the party, two with firearms; they were prowling the bushes and brush while angrily speaking of visceral cruelties for their quarry once they find him. They must have been looking forward to the all night festivities. A straggler stepped behind a sand hill to take a secret drink from his flask, within three seconds Alan was clenching his throat in a vice like grip with a muscular forearm, though he struggled the pirate silently succumbed.
Alan now had a cutlass and a dagger. Another cutthroat ventured around the sand hill to check up on his shipmate, he raised his lantern but saw nothing as sand was thrown into his eyes; a motion for his pistol ended when a sword was driven through his chest. The two remaining buccaneers approached the mound, Alan darted out and fired the stolen pistol at the musket bearer, the shocked fourth cutthroat reached for his now dead shipmates firearm, it only took a couple of seconds, but before he could level it a sword strike disarmed him, severing two fingers in the process; a painful cry for help never reached his mouth due to a swift cutlass opening his throat.
The highlander preferred his claymore but the cutlass will have to do for now; he also had a dagger, a musket, a pistol and powder horns for reloading. Taking a lantern was too dangerous he needed to be invisible; the other hunting parties will have heard the pistol shot and be converging on this spot; Alan, now armed, fled into the darkness.
Moonlight was illuminating the beaches, this was unfortunate because that's where the Jacobite needed to be if he was going to find a boat he could row back to the mainland; he knew which direction to take as it was visible during the day. The bushes and brush that rimmed the beach would be his travel path, that way he could spot any boat while staying hidden. It was along this path that he found two dead pirates; how they died was not clearly visible but the dim light of their fading lantern revealed an interesting feature on one's chin, a bruise in the shape of a skull.
It was further down the track that Alan noticed a bonfire of buccaneer revelry, some pirates were not waiting for news of the last man to be hunted down. A boat could be seen on the beach beyond the camp, so bypassing this premature party via the dark inland bushes was essential. Darkness served the Jacobite fugitive well, the pirates weren't alert at all; songs, dance and rum kept their attention.
A muffled cry followed by a series of rough blows were heard in the blackness nearby; Alan froze, nobody around the bonfire seemed to notice until a fright struck Indian ran into the camp and screamed a desperate warning in his own language. Alan only knew a scarce few words of the Hindi tongue, but made out two words from the panic rantings: they were "ghost" and "walks". Several Indians in the camp suddenly got to their feet and joined the desperate ranter in flight.
Befuddlement kept the camp quiet for a few seconds until a large buccaneer began to call for action; wether this was for continued festivity or a search of the area will not be known; a crossbow bolt, shot from outside, suddenly lodged in his forehead. The remaining dozen campers quickly picked up their weapons and formed a back to back circle around the bonfire. Alan dared not move, now that they were alert, the pirates would see him. A lobbed parcel appeared out of the dark and landed neatly in the bonfire. An explosion from the burning centre sent the ring of buccaneers hurling outward in various directions, some were engulfed in flames instantly, others were either unconscious or crippled by the blast. The hurled package was obviously a gunpowder bomb.
Only three pirates showed any ability to get up and engage the enemy; Alan noticed a shadow detach itself from the surrounding darkness and set upon one of the recovering revellers, blows and agonised yelps told much. Two pirates began to slowly get to their feet, they were facing Alan; the highlander rushed them, one tried to level his musket but a sword knocked it out of his hands, the next swing disembowlled him; the other had his cutlass but was too stunned by the blast to use it, a Jacobite lunge finished him off.
There was no sighting of the unknown pirate killer, the shadow had melted back into the darkness. The boat was were Alan wanted to get to, he left the charnel campsite and proceeded there. Providence had removed his main obstacle to salvation, it filled the rebel Scot with a profound confidence in his own rescue, the beach looked unguarded so the first few steps were taken in the moonlit sand.
A shrill whistle brought the highlander's attention to a lifting canvas in the beachside brush, it revealed six pirates waiting in ambush, the wait was over; they all had weapons, some had firearms levelled at him.
"Well, what did I say." Said one of the pirates. "I knew he would come here to get the boat. First we're can shoot him, then stab him and then we're going to get mean."
While the ambushers were listening to their leader, a swift streak of disturbed sand approached them, a lot of beach sediment shot up into the air in its wake, it whipped past the surprised team so fast that suddenly they were doused with it, all had to wipe their faces and spit the crystaline substance out of their mouths. What really mattered was that those readied weapons were no longer in the pirate's hands, they had been snatched by the streaking entity.
Alan realised that the buccaneers were not the only ones waiting for his arrival, Berthold had been hiding in the vicinity to counter their ambush. The hunted fugitive fired his musket, sending one disarmed pirate to the afterlife, a shot from his pistol made another follow. Four blades were unsheathed, the remaining ambushers positioned themselves to attack Alan from front and back simultaneously. A second streak of disturbed sand passed behind two of the enemy, they quickly fell to their knees in great pain, Berthold had hamstrung them.
The Jacobite dropped his spent firearms and with a flick of his wrist sent his dagger flying into the throat of a standing pirate; the other, being stripped of his advantages, tried to run away; with a few strides, the highland warrior was on him and with a stroke of the cutlass finished him. After seeing the fiendish hunt and the cold blooded slaughter of human game, Alan had no qualms about killing the disadvantaged hamstrung pirates and did so with scant trouble.
Sand streaked up to the triumphant Scot and stopped short of him. Berthold was still in his pirate disguise and carrying the snatched weapons.
"Thank you Berthold. I am most grateful. They nearly got me there. Did you bring that boat?" Asked Alan pointing at the vessel on the waterline.
"That I did Herr Breck." Answered Berthold. "The Baron wanted me to do whatever I can to help you out; so I found out which islet that ship took you to, raced to Cherbourg, which is only an hour or two rowing time from here, got a boat and brought it here. I knew you would survive the hunt, then comb the coastline looking for one. The ambushers arrived shortly after I arrived which was just before dark, they hid themselves, so I also hid and waited for you to show."
"Well done Berthold, the Baron's faith in you is well placed. We must take the boat and leave now; the night lights of Cherbourg will guide us to the mainland. How late am I for the assembly of the League?"
"A day so far, it assembled this morning, by the time you get to Gevaudan you will be a day and a half late."
One day, at that moment Alan realised he had been asleep for a whole day after he drank obviously drugged rum then woke up in the ship's hold on the Channel islet.
"Berthold." Said the late League member. "Place the weapons in the boat and launch it into the water. I will grab some provisions and join you in a minute."
Munchausen's loyal servant moved to the vessel with his load of snatched weapons. Alan Breck went to the canvassed hiding spot to grab some beef jerky, rum and a lantern, then strode across the moonlit beach to the rocks that flanked the boat.
A yelp of shock cut short by a thumping sound, then a thud caught the highlander's senses, he was over the rocks in an instant, shone his lantern onto the scene to see Berthold knocked out next to the boat. The dark figure standing over Berthold was tall and muscular wearing short black breeches over a skin tight purple body suit that covered all except his hands and face. A black masquerade mask prevented any facial recognition of the dark figure, all that was revealed was a stiff look of cast iron resolve. Appearing on the masked man's right hand fingers was a ring with an protruding skull face, now Alan knew where the skull shaped bruises came from. As Alan stared in dumbfounded stupor at this figure, it returned only a short look before melting into the rock shadows.
Realising Berthold was attacked because he was dressed like a pirate, the Jacobite felt no danger from this pirate slayer. Berthold was lifted into the boat along with the weapons, provisions and lantern, Alan pushed the small vessel out into the water, got in and proceeded his rowing towards the mainland; it was reached in two hours.
Some people on the Cherbourg marina helped the Scot lift Berthold out of the boat and carry him to hospital, he had a concussion and would be bedridden for several days. One thing that was notable on the speedy messenger's chin was a fresh bruise in the shape of a skull. Alan left Berthold in the hospital's care and chartered a night coach to Calais; he arrived in the morning.
Having lodgings far from the docks kept the highlander's mind away from returning there, he would go after Dirk Hatteraick another day, right now he had to join Baron Munchausen and The League. A change of clothes was in order with the tartan sash of Clan Stewart adorned proudly, a portmanteau was packed and the spare claymore brought out in favour of the cutlass. Alan Breck took his luggage to the coach and began his trip to Gevaudan.
Hawkeye, Chingachook, Redmond, Juliette, Jean and the Baron Munchausen finished listening to the story with sheer amazement. To survive such an ordeal certainly justified his presence among the League, his lateness seemed insignificant since he was lucky to be alive and hence here at all.
M drew everyone's attention to the time and told everyone to prepare for the party at the chateau of the Marquis de St Evremonde.