Defeat Amidst Victory
The Boneguard was in a panic and a buzz. After more examination the incoming ship was determined to be a British vessel, and Validus knew the ship to be the Vanquish, the command of Captain Richard Bishop, a charismatic member of the Royal Navy. On and off for the past three years, Validus had been hunted by a British fleet co-led by Bishop in an attempt to reclaim their Avenger, which of course was captured by Validus who rechristened it the Boneguard.
Validus knew Bishop’s tactics very well, and they were bad news for pirates. Bishop always had an astounding number of cannons aboard his ship, and the way he arranged the sails of his ship, she had both speed and maneuverability on her side. In addition, Bishop armed his ship very well. The Vanquish sported 64 cannons. They were known to be small guns, most of them twelve-pounders, but that many cannons on ship with a single full gun deck was a great accomplishment. Validus knew he could take her, but the fight would be close.
The Boneguard was barely sea-ready, the Vanquish no more than a couple hundred yards off. The anchor was not quite reeled in, the carronades were still in the process of being primed, and the sails still couldn’t be opened because of the anchor.
Bishop’s ship was gaining hard, while the Boneguard was stagnant. Validus and his officers were desperately trying to get the ship ready, but the surprise appearance of the British warship caught everyone off guard. Finally, though, the anchor was reeled in and secured.
“Alrighty lads!” called the captain from the helm. “Hoist them sails! She’s gainin’ on our tails an’ we haven’t even got a move in on it! Move ye asses and get us on our feet!”
In a matter of moments, the ship was in motion, picking up speed and treading through the ocean with vigour. Giles was sent to the middle gun deck while Daniels to the lower deck. They would each control the gunners on their respective decks and run the broadside operations there during the impending battle.
William Morgan charged swiftly up the gangway to the helm and requested to Validus that he be the one to steer the Boneguard during the battle. He had seemed humbly earnest about it until he added, “I believe I have deserved this very honour if none else.”
“Ye plotted mutiny against me!” bellowed the captain. “Ye deserves death thrice over in my mind, Mister Morgan!” he growled in frustration under the weight of his current stress. He took a deep breath, and thought it over a moment. “Alrighty, lad. I can give ye but a single chance, though I need focus from ye. Focus on ye task, not the drinks you’re gonna have after the task. Savvy?” The captain had said his last remark quite mockingly, simply to keep himself humoured in the stressful moment.
“Aye, Cap’n!” replied Morgan. “Ye can count on me this time.”
“Good. Then let us be pirates!”
The Vanquish was coming up behind the larger pirate ship fast, and a firefight was soon to begin. Validus leapt down to the floor of the deck to lead his gunners and marines on the main deck.
“Me men!” Validus hollered, drawing his cutlass. “Today we will fight. Today, blood shall be spilled!”
Over a hundred pirates turned to look their captain in the eye.
“Today, we shall fight for our lives and our freedom. Fight for ye life, for the lives of ye brethren.”
The Vanquish slowed, and came in line with her larger opponent on her port side. The formidable Captain Bishop could be seen leaning over the starboard gunwale of his vessel, surveying the mighty Boneguard.
“Today, fight like you’re fighting for your last glass o’ rum before ye die and waste aways. ‘Cause for some o’ ye, you have already drunken ye last sip of rum.”
The men groaned, but only jokingly. Validus’ words empowered the young men and bright fires shone in their eyes. They could hear shouts coming from the British ship, trying to get Validus’ attention.
“Today, we shall live and die as free men. Men who answer to no one but we-selves; men who go where we please; men who earn our own living by the strength o’ our own backs! We are one, you and I; free men, with a will to conquer, and a passion to plunder!”
The men cheered in elation. Bishop’s men on the Vanquish fired shots of warning into the air. They would begin firing all their weaponry soon without even a word between the captains. Validus could tell Giles and Daniels were rousing the spirits of the men below; cheers and pounding of feet erupted from the bottom decks.
“I echo me earlier words!” cried Validus. “Ye are pirates—free men, powerful men, wise men, rich men! Sail the seas with a poise in ye breast and a fire in ye soul!”
The ship’s men went berserk with cries of triumph and passion. The British sailors fired more warning shots, but the roar of the Boneguard’s crew still didn’t die down. Validus lifted his sword and, slowly, the mayhem settled down.
Validus turned to Bishop, meters away.
“You must be the mighty Captain Validus,” called Bishop pompously from his quarterdeck.
“Well, if it ain’t me good ol’ friend Captain Bishop,” chuckled Validus in return.
“I must say, I hardly recognized you with the sensational gash across your face,” remarked the British officer.
“‘Tis a mere flesh-wound,” laughed Validus. “Any last words, Bishop?”
“My ship and my men are far more powerful than they were during our last encounter, pirate,” boasted Bishop.
Validus paused, and a hoot of laughter burst forth from his chest, up his throat and off his lips. “Terrible last words, mate!” The pirate captain turned back to his crew, who started laughing, too. “Let us be pirates!!!”
The guns went off, and so the battle began.
Orders of “Fire!” were shot off across both ships. In the first round, over fifty cannons seemed to go off simultaneously. The blast was deafening, the damage horrific. Soldiers opened fire against each other on both sides, and the scene became total anarchy. Half a minute after the first broadside assault, the Boneguard’s guns were ready for another round.
“Fire on me mark!” ordered Validus above the noise to the gunners on the main deck. “One, two, mark!”
A tremendous volley hit the British warship from the Boneguard’s top two decks. The lower deck fired next, aiming lower into the enemy ship, almost below the water line. Daniels was hoping the British would take on some water gradually, and then as the water rose up their ship, they’d have to divert their attention to that instead of the fight. Validus admired that in his Chief Gunner. Always taking initiative, the captain remarked to himself.
The Vanquish let loose a fearsome broadside against her target. Their shots were high, and a few men on the top deck were swept from their places and hurled across the deck. Validus saw the shot of the one of the cannons slam against the base of the mainmast and halt there. What looked like two halves of small iron balls (small compared to round shot) were joined by a solid iron bar, known as bar shot. Validus knew this technique very well. The British were firing bar shot to take out the yards and rigging of their opponent. If accurate, bar shot was extremely deadly against its victims, and their ship.
Validus knew the only thing to combat bar shot was to eliminate the ones firing it.
“Me men o’ valour!” called the captain to his soldiers, “aim for the gunners!”
Below him, orders were sent to aim high, right around the edge of the Vanquish’s main deck. That way, they might hit some of the British guns and gunners utilizing the bar shot.
Validus’ tactics paid off. After an intense volley from the Boneguard, half a dozen British cannons on the main deck’s starboard side were knocked off their mountings. The great iron barrel of one cannon was seen rolling along the deck with the sway of the ship, the wooden structure from whence it came shredded by a blast from the Boneguard.
The next successful volley came from Bishop’s men. Thirty cannons fired almost in unison from the starboard side of the Vanquish, tearing through her more powerful enemy. Significant damage was inflicted by this round of fire; the mizzenmast’s lower port side shrouds were severed clean by a pair of iron bars. A couple sailors climbing up the shrouds lost their grip in the sudden jerk of the shrouds and fell with a great thud to the Boneguard’s deck.
The two ships were locked very close together, now. With a good portion of the Britons’ attention on the main deck diverted to the still free-rolling barrel of a carronade, Validus ordered the commencement of a boarding party. A bunch of stronger men threw grappling hooks over to the British ship’s deck, which caught and locked on the gunwale. The men pulled on the grappling ropes to keep the ships close together as Validus led about forty armed men from one ship to the next. The two ships became close enough that the men needed only to jump from one gunwale down to the next to board the enemy ship. Both of the British decks continued to drill the Boneguard with cannon fire, but as a precaution, only the lower deck of the pirate vessel was firing guns in order to not hit the boarding party.
Forty men leaped onto the British warship with flintlocks and sabres in hand. Humphrey jumped onto the Vanquish with a blunderbuss in hand, and leveled four redcoats with his first shot. The boarding party was very successful in the beginning, but ambush awaited them on the quarterdeck. The redcoats kneeled in front of the helm’s rail and shot through the holes between the wooden bars, while others stood above them, firing on the pirates. Half a dozen pirates fell before Validus realized what was happening. “Up the ship, lads! Out of them range!”
The pirates took cover in the foremast area and fired back against the British. As Bishop called down to the middle deck for more reinforcements, the pirates aimed at him but missed their shots.
We can’t stay here long, thought Validus. Instead of panicking, however, he drew a grenade from his belt.
“Are ye sure ye can throw that, Cap’n?” hissed Humphrey from across the deck. “An awful long ways, it is.”
“I had really hoped we were all past arguing with the cap’n,” Validus sighed. He lit the grenade with a quick match and hurled it off onto the quarterdeck. He stood, crying, “To me!”
All the pirates rose to their feet and charged across the Vanquish. But before the British could escape the impending blast or shoot down the screaming pirates, the grenade detonated.
The pirates took cover again as shards of wood and metal sprayed in all directions. Bodies of British soldiers were launched from the quarterdeck by the blast; many fell into the ocean below. As the dust cleared, a great commotion could be heard from the gun deck below. The pirates surveyed the deck. Bishop, along with another soldier struggled to get up. The navy captain winced in pain, clutching his lower back.
“C’mon!” ordered Validus. “Let’s get Bishop and get outta here!”
The men on the Boneguard heaved on the grappling hooks, bringing the ships as tight together as they could. Validus and his boarding party heaved Bishop onto the Boneguard and jumped back themselves. “Release the hooks!” the captain ordered. “Let’s sink the Vanquish!”
Just then, dozens of Britons came pouring onto the deck of their ship from below. The pirates ducked and fell to their own deck to avoid musket fire coming at their backs from the redcoats behind them. A couple grappling hooks were still attached to the British vessel, and the British kept them there. More of them piled on to their deck, and Validus ordered for more men to be brought up for support. The pirates had got their act together and were fighting back. Full cannon fire resumed, and more men climbed up to their main decks only to be peppered with enemy gunfire. Bishop was taken below to the galley where Lombardi and Humphrey would keep the British officer contained and alive.
The fighting grew more intense, though the British seemed to be gaining the upper hand; more pirates were falling than redcoats. Suddenly an officer, presumably Bishop’s lieutenant, stood, rallying a loud cry. “Board!” he called, and the British troops ran and launched themselves onto the pirate vessel. It happened so swiftly the pirates were caught completely off guard.
“Fall back!” shouted Validus. “Cut the grappling lines!” His first command was obeyed promptly, but no one could reach the grappling ropes before the British surrounded the Boneguard’s deck. Cannon fire from the Vanquish had decreased considerably, but the redcoats were now wreaking havoc at a closer range. Guns were thrown aside, sabres drawn in their place. From the quarterdeck, a few pirates remained firing at the British men, but on the floor of the deck, a massive sword brawl was unfolding.
Validus, with a long cutlass in one hand and a knife in the other, slashed and hacked his way through the fifty-strong party of English attackers. He saw Bishop’s lieutenant make a quick dash for the staircase leading to the deck below. Validus, a few yards away, flung his knife hard in the officer’s direction. By luck, the knife speared into his left breast. Validus lunged towards him to block the staircase, as other redcoats were now following their officer’s move. One redcoat made it down the stairs before Validus could get in the way.
He now stood between the stairs and two more fierce Brits. A second sabre he yanked from his belt, and sliced madly at the redcoats. He growled and they stepped back, raising their swords to defend themselves. One moved to cover a side of the pirate captain while the second covered Validus’ opposite flank. To his left was one Brit, to his right another. He circled and twirled with the two, slashing high and low, in and out.
One of the soldiers was not nearly as skilled as the other. Rather fat and slow, Validus stabbed into his abdomen, spun around him to his back end, and shoved the wounded man into the other soldier.
Caught off guard, the man collapsed under the heavier soldier and lay struggling on the ground. Validus hacked at another redcoat passing by, then stomped over to the struggling man. The captain laughed heartily, then swooped down and sliced the man’s throat with a deep cut. Though it couldn’t be heard above the clash of sabres, blood gurgled out of the man’s throat, and the trachea kept opening and closing, all while spluttering copious amounts of blood in amidst a few final, desperate breaths.
Validus didn’t stay to watch the man’s eyes go lifeless; the battle was still fierce, the pirates still losing. The redcoats began forcing the pirates towards their quarterdeck. Another officer and more Britons were seen leaping through the air and landing on the deck of the Boneguard. The pirates were now cornered, and the officer ordered his men to stand their ground. Cannons ceased to fire on both ships shortly; some of the redcoats had gone down to the lower decks to hold up the pirate gunners and retrieve their captain. The English officer took center stage.
“Pirates, hold your fire! Lower your weapons! I am Commander Marshall, second-in-command of the proud vessel HMS Vanquish. We have tracked this pirate ship for nearly twenty-four hours. We have come to capture the leader of this brood of bloody scoundrels. Who is the captain aboard this vessel?”
“I am,” responded both Validus and William Morgan simultaneously. Morgan charged down the portside gangway to Validus’ side.
“Two captains?” scoffed the commander. “Well, this is an immense vessel. I almost recognize her from somewhere…” The man’s voice trailed off, and he looked puzzled, like he recognized it but couldn’t recall where from.
Validus furrowed his eyebrows, picking up the commander’s confusion.
“I am captain,” he declared.
Morgan interjected. “Now, wait just…”
“I am captain,” Validus cut him off. “My helmsman called for mutiny against me this morning. The vote was in process as ye ship slinked out of the mist.”
“Well, I am under the orders of my captain to take the captain of this vessel hostage. But it appears there is not an official captain aboard.”
Validus peered to the side at the British ship. It seemed… lower. Many redcoats were madly scurrying about the deck; the longboats were being hastily lowered into the water.
On the Boneguard, Bishop was being escorted up from the middle gun deck by a pair of his loyal soldiers. The Navy captain had a couple lacerations across his face and neck.
Good. Humphrey taught that sorry dog a lesson whilst he had the chance, Validus said to himself.
Meanwhile, Bishop’s commander proceeded to update him on the situation. “Sir, it has come to my attention that this ship has two captains; or no captains, depending on…”
“This is the Boneguard. She has only had one captain. You know, the Admiral promised me this ship four years ago. He said…”
“Sir, uh, maybe it would be advisable to continue this discussion elsewhere?” interrupted Commander Marshall sheepishly.
Bishop bit his tongue and resumed where he left off. “Admiral Wellington promised me this ship, this very ship, when she was still in the dry docks. A ship of this size and this quality—to me! That’s the potential he envisioned in me, Commander.”
As Bishop went on with his officer in front of a group of bloodthirsty pirates as well as his own men, Validus rolled his eyes and sighed most loudly, all the while laughing inside.
Ye got ye precious ship, but you couldn’t keep it past her maiden voyage, mate! Validus jeered in his head. Aye, such potential!
Validus tuned back in on his adversary’s words.
“And out from under my nose came this pirate!” cried Bishop, pointing an angry finger at Validus. “Stole my prize and sailed it off to ravage our valiant armada! My prize… turned to scum! Do you think that he could possibly not be the captain of this vessel, the man I have sought to destroy all these three long years?!”
“Yes, sir,” replied the commander, “but he said…”
“After I lost my precious Avenger, I went back to the Admiral,” continued Bishop heatedly, “and he gave me that!” Bishop turned and pointed at his ship. To his horror, the ship was strangely low in the water and awkwardly tilted. Bishop rushed to the edge of the pirate vessel and gaped at his diving ship.
“Yes, about the Vanquish, sir, she’s uh… sinking,” added Marshall fearfully.
Bishop turned and gawked at his officer. “And what do you perceive might have given that away?!”
Bishop fumed, turned away in disgust, focusing his gaze back on his commander. “Not only that, but I got stuck with you!” Bishop calmed, and returned to a more dignified state. “Come, men. We take only Validus. Commander, call the rest of the troops up from below. We have naught the men to crew this ship, and naught the force to command such a band of ruffians. Only Validus.”
Validus couldn’t believe it. As the Britons bound his hands and escorted him into a longboat, a part of him died inside. He had won; he had beaten the British and sunk their ship, but their manpower was beyond his strength, so they stripped him of his command, his ship, his career, and his friends. They just tore him from Francis, Rogers, Humphrey, and especially, Giles.
As all the redcoats departed the pirate ship, Giles and Rogers and a hoard of sailors came up to see what was happening. To their horror, they looked down over the gunwale to see their captain being shoved into a small dinghy by the Commander Marshall.
Giles yelled, “Validus! Validus!”
“Aye, me friend,” the captain called back up. “Ye have ever been me greatest friend. And ye always will be.”
Giles sank as he watched his closest companion get rowed away in a dinghy, surely condemned to the gallows for his crimes against the Crown.
Giles cursed aloud, and turned to Morgan.
“We can’t just let Validus be taken away! He’s our captain!”
“Was!” corrected Morgan. “I am the captain. We will give them safe passage out of here, and they will get Validus. A simple courtesy, seeing as they’ve already lost their ship, don’t you think?”
“But, but,” stammered the quartermaster. His whole world was suddenly crashing down on him. His best friend was just… gone. Gone forever. Just… gone.