Facing Down the Royal British Navy

It’s been a little while since I shared a scene from Red’s Girl, so maybe it’s time to drop in on one of my favorite pirate captains.  You can click the category at right for past posts.

I’m going to pick up shortly after chapter two (posted here).  When last we left them, Red and Tam had just met, and Tam was helping Red escape from a lot of Navy soldiers who are searching the port for him.  This plan does not actually go all that well, as they end up on the same street as a few of those soldiers. 


Tam’s Point of View

           “I hope you know a way off this street, kid,” Red said.  He didn’t sound worried, but he was walking faster.

            I struggled to bring my mental map of the town into focus.  It was fuzzier than I would have admitted to Red.  I had only lived here a month.  “Um, right.  Right at the next alley.”

            The soldiers noticed us—or they noticed Red.  I don’t think they cared about me.  I don’t know what made them notice him, if it was the vivid blue coat or the way he turned around so fast when he saw them.  Any case, they started following us and when Red picked up speed so did they—which makes it sound calmer than it was.  Everyone else on the street must have had an instinct that something was happening, because they were disappearing fast.

            We turned onto the alley I’d indicated, and came to an abrupt halt.

            “Left,” I said, staring at the solid wall cutting off this particular avenue of escape.  “I meant left at the next alley.”  The next alley on the left was another block away—we’d never get there before the Navy caught up to us, not now that I’d wasted time turning the wrong way.

            “Oops,” Red said, turning around again.  “There’s a doorway over there; you’d better duck into it, kid.”

            “What?  Why?”

            “It’s shadowed and the Navy’s not going to notice you.  Go on, this isn’t your problem.”

            He had a point.  I wasn’t the one with a price on my head.  This looked exciting, and I didn’t want to miss it, but I could watch from the doorway.  I dived into the shadows half a second before the Navy appeared at the entrance to the alleyway, pistols drawn.

            I tucked myself into the fortunately deep corner, and looked at Red.  He was standing with legs slightly apart, hands loose at his sides.  There was a half-grin on his face and he somehow seemed an inch or two taller—though I think Red usually seems taller than he really is. 

           I grinned and waited for the excitement I knew was coming.


Red’s Point of View 

             “You are under arrest in the name of the King,” the officer in the center announced.  I think he was a lieutenant.  They have less gold frippery on their coats than captains.  “I advise you to surrender at once.  It would be best for everyone involved.”

            Best for them.  Not for me.  “You know, you say you have my best interests at heart,” I drawled, “but I have to question your sincerity when there’re three guns pointing at me.”

            The lieutenant frowned severely.  “Are you going to surrender?”

            “No.  What do you think we should do about it?”

            He raised his gun higher.  “Drop your weapons at once.”

            I sighed.  “That’s just a variation on telling me to surrender.  You’re being somewhat over-confident, don’t you think?  But then, you probably don’t.  Do you?”

            I think I confused him.  I hoped so.  He was starting to look bewildered, and didn’t look pleased about it.  “Do I what?”

            “Think,” I said pleasantly.  “That you’re being over-confident.”  Somehow I can never resist trying to annoy Navy officers, even when they’re aiming guns at me.  We all have our bad habits.

            He was turning red.  “We are not being over-confident.  We are arresting you—”

            “—in the King’s name, I know, I know,” I said, and started to shrug out of my coat.  “Do you think King George really—”

            I broke off with my coat still half on, as all the pistols in the Navy’s hands rose a few more inches.

            “What?  I’m just taking my coat off,” I said, and pitched my most innocent expression at them.  “Can’t I take my coat off without you getting upset?”

            “Don’t try anything,” the lieutenant warned.

            I rolled my eyes, even as I continued to wriggle out of my coat.  “What am I going to try?  The odds are three to one against me.”   That’s not counting the kid, but he’d ducked into the shadows.  That was just as well; it wasn’t his problem and how much help was he likely to be anyway?  Not much.  “So really what could I try, with the odds such as they are and the circumstances such as they are, and taking into full and complete consideration both the odds and the circum—”  Mid-word I flung my coat into the line of sailors.

            When you’re outnumbered and surrounded, nothing is more effective than a surprise attack.  I know about these things.  Launching an attack mid-word is good.  They’ll be busy listening for the rest of the word, and won’t expect you to throw your coat at them then immediately throw yourself to the ground.

            If you’re lucky, and I always am, the other fellows will have their vision obscured and get mixed up besides.  After I flung my coat at them, the result was a lot of swearing and several gunshots, but they were aiming at the spot I used to be in and I wasn’t there anymore.  I came out of my roll and in one movement rose to my feet right in the middle of their line, already with sword in my right hand and pistol in my left.  It’s not easy to draw either one under those circumstances, but me, I can do it.  The Navy’s numbers became a disadvantage then, considering they were in such a tight clump and afraid they might hit their friends.

              It went well for a minute or two.  Sure, the lieutenant got one lucky hit in while I was fending off the other two, but he only got me on the left hand with the flat of his sword.  I cursed and lost my hold on my pistol.  It skittered off into the shadows behind me; couldn’t do anything about that.

            Still, it did go well for a minute or two, and if they’d fought fair I would’ve had them.  One of them, however, got behind me somehow, and a second later there was a crashing blow to the back of my head.

            It was dishonorable, unjust and completely unfair.  And it hurt like hell.

            My world spun.  I dropped my sword with a clatter and went down to my knees.  I hung onto consciousness by sheer willpower; it was a near thing for a second there.  By the time I could see anywhere close to straight there were three swords leveled with tips inches from my throat.  “Don’t think that was fair,” I managed.  I wasn’t up to saying “dishonorable” just then.

            “A fine thing, for a pirate to complain about matters like fairness and honor,” the lieutenant sneered.

            I took another breath, and my surroundings finally righted themselves and stayed righted.  “That’s the point.  Pirates break the rules.  The Navy’s supposed to play fair.”

            “Be silent,” the lieutenant ordered.  “You, Red Ballantyne, are under arrest for—”

            “Sorry, who?”

            The lieutenant’s former smirk vanished, replaced by exasperation.  “Red Ballantyne.  Captain of the Ocean Rose.  Infamous pirate.  You!”

            “Never heard of him.”

            The lieutenant glared at me.  Navy officers get angry so easily.  Too much tension in their work, I think.  Useful thing to exploit.  After a moment he recovered himself somewhat.  Sufficiently to half-smile, even if it wasn’t a nice smile.  “How stupid do you think I am?”

            “I don’t know,” I said.  “How stupid are you?”

            The lieutenant did not lower himself to respond.  He reached into his coat with his free hand and pulled out a loosely rolled sheet of paper.  Wanted poster.  He shook it out and read aloud, verbally checking off points.  Brown hair and eyes, age around thirty, blue coat.  Check, check and check.

            “That doesn’t prove anything,” I countered.  “There’s plenty of brown-eyed sailors around.”

            The lieutenant smiled again, deliberately returned the paper to his coat, and reached past the swords towards me.  His hand plunged into my shirt, and brought out the metal pendant hanging on a chain around my neck.  He jerked it upwards, my chin forced up in response.

            The lieutenant rubbed the object with his thumb.  “A bronze-colored skull and crossbones, with a rose placed just below the bones.  Exactly as the poster also describes.”  He released the trinket and it swung back, hitting me in the chest.

            I looked at the ground, hair hanging in my eyes, and muttered, “Bloody wanted poster.”

            “All right, on your feet, pirate,” the lieutenant ordered.  “And get your hands over your head.”  His sword stayed within inches of my neck as I rose, though at least the other two backed up some.

            “Do I really have to raise my hands?” I asked.  “I already dropped my sword and pistol so what’s the point?”

            The lieutenant gave a grudging acknowledgment, and I lowered my hands to a position near the small of my back.  That’s more comfortable, though it’s hard to be really at ease with a sword by your throat.  Or when the lieutenant holding that sword looks so damned smug. He was plainly about to say something preening and self-satisfied when another voice spoke instead.

            “Don’t move or I’ll shoot.”

            I looked over my shoulder towards the back of the alley.

            Turned out the kid knew how to hold a gun after all.


Tam’s Point of View

             The Navy clearly forgot all about me; considering they had just captured Red Ballantyne, captain of the Ocean Rose, that was reasonable.  But they’d also forgotten Red’s unfired pistol, which had gone skittering off into the shadows after he’d dropped it.  I didn’t think of it myself until he mentioned dropping his weapons, didn’t think that it had skittered near me so maybe I could do something with it.

              Until that occurred to me, I hadn’t been able to think of anything to do, except watch.  I was unarmed except for my knife at my belt, which wouldn’t do much faced with the Navy’s guns and swords.  But Red’s pistol I could do something with.  That realization gave me a dilemma.  I probably could have stayed hidden until they marched off with him, but that would mean the end of my chances of joining Red’s crew.  Getting involved could get me killed.

              I hesitated just a moment.  Then I decided to do what anybody in any story I’d ever heard would have done. 

             I spotted the pistol almost at once, when I looked for it.  It was fetched up against the wall just a yard or two beyond my doorway, a stray ray of moonlight glinting a silver line off the gray metal.  I stepped out and scooped up the gun.  It was cold.  I held it in both hands in what seemed like the correct position, and leveled it at the Navy lieutenant a few yards away.

            “Don’t move or I’ll shoot.”

            I’d always wanted to say that.

            The two sailors were standing at the entrance to the alley, facing my direction.  The lieutenant had his back to me, his sword near Red’s neck.  Red, too, was facing away from me.  He looked back over his shoulder at me, looked surprised, and then grinned.

            The lieutenant looked back at me and didn’t grin.  “Where did you come from?”

            I shrugged.  “Came into the alley with him.”

           “I see.  Whatever you think you’re doing, son, it’s not a good idea.  Put the gun down.”

            I raised it another inch.  “Drop your sword or I’ll shoot.”  I was pleased with how steady my voice sounded.  I was actually feeling…‘calm’ isn’t exactly the right word.  I felt like I’d slipped into a pirate story.  Part of me was thrilled, part of me was proud, part of me was terrified, but none of me was feeling anything very strongly, because you don’t, in stories.  Feel things very strongly, I mean.  It’s only a story.

            The lieutenant didn’t drop the sword.  “All I have to do is swing this and he’s dead.”

            “Then I’ll shoot and you’ll be dead,” I countered.  This was easy—it was going just the way the stories said it should.

            “The kid has a point,” Red commented.

            “No one asked you,” the lieutenant said.

            I pulled back on the hammer with my thumb until I heard it click.  Pistol cocked for firing.

            One of the sailors tried to interject a comment.  “Lieutenant, we could—”

            “No, we couldn’t,” the lieutenant said, swore, and growled a “drop your weapons” to his men.

             The Navy is well-trained to obey orders, even if they don’t like those orders.  Swords and guns fell to the ground in a clatter of metal, the lieutenant’s sword included.  He sighed, expression resigned, and then reached for the gun at his belt, I assumed to drop that too.

            Red hadn’t changed position since I started talking; he was still standing in front of the lieutenant, hands at his back. 

           All at once the lieutenant lost his resigned expression, drew his pistol, leveled it towards me and cocked it.  But by then Red had a knife at his throat.  Turned out he hadn’t been as disarmed as he’d looked.  I understood now why he’d wanted his hands at the small of his back—that’s where he’d tucked his dagger, hidden below his loose white shirt.

            “Don’t try it,” Red said quietly.  “Raise the pistol another inch and I’ll kill you.”  His eyes flicked to the other members of the Navy.  “Or if any of you move, I’ll kill him.”

            I looked towards them, long enough to see that they had moved forward a step and then halted, glaring at Red.  Then I looked back at the pistol that was a fraction shy of pointing straight at me, and swallowed hard.  I’d never had a gun aimed at me before.

            Good thing Red had a knife at his throat.  “Drop the gun, Lieutenant.”

            He didn’t bother arguing with Red.  The lieutenant dropped his gun.

            “Thank you,” Red said, and then extended his free hand in my direction without looking at me.  “My pistol, please.”

            I gave it to him willingly.  My knees had gone shaky; the whole thing had gotten more real when that gun had swung my way.  I told my knees to firm up, and pushed aside any questions about why they were shaky.

            Red took the pistol and flipped it around with a practiced air until he had it comfortably in hand and pressed into the lieutenant’s back.  The knife he tucked into his belt.  “So, kid, does that door open?” he asked, waving towards the doorway I’d recently vacated.

            There was a bar across the door, similar to the one in the storeroom.  I lifted up the bar and pushed.  To my surprise it swung open.  “Yes.”

            “Good.  You two, in there,” he directed the two sailors, waving towards the open door.

            They didn’t move, except to look at their own commanding officer.  “Do it,” he said, sounding strained.

            “Can’t you think for yourselves, or do you really need his permission to walk a dozen feet?” Red asked.

            They didn’t answer that.  I doubt he expected them to.  They went into the building, and I dropped the bar back across the door.

            Red snatched up his coat with one hand and then all three of us—him, me and the lieutenant, with Red’s gun still pressed into his back—walked out of the alley.

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