Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Coming to Grips

Captain Correteaux made no visible reaction to the raising of the pirate ensign, other than to order his First Lieutenant, "Load all guns chainshot."

The chebec now also opened its gunports, and set full sail in pursuit

For the next five minutes the two ships maintained their northerly courses, the corsair gaining steadily on the Pharaon as Captain Correteaux urged his crew on to catch every possible ounce of wind in their makeshift rigging, dividing his attention between gauging the speed of the corsair behind and watching the flutter of the sails before him. To Cardinal Maximilian, who had remained on the quarterdeck, he confided in a low voice, "The pirates don't want a gunfight; they want to board. If we can slow them down with the chain, they'll cut their losses and seek easier prey."

Cardinal Maximilian was about to reply when the captain, noting an eddy in the breeze, suddenly barked to his helm, "Giulio, the wind is shifting; bring us onto broad starboard beam!" The wind indeed shifted to the southwest, and the ships, now perhaps a mile apart, separated slightly as the corsair took a minute to match the change in heading, while also striking most of its lateen sails and switching to oars. Seeking to press the separation, Correteaux order another four points to starboard, onto a due easterly course.

In short order, though, the chebec swung back onto a northeast heading, and the steady sweeps of the corsair's oars closed the distance between the two ships. As the Pharaon remained on its broad reach, its jury rigged sails could not stop the steady approach of the corsair, to within half a mile.

Without warning, the wind took another sudden shift, blowing back now into a tramontane from the north. Looking for some sign of separation, the Cardinal and the crew were dismayed to see the chebec tack directly into the wind and continue its stately sweep of oars to the north.

With a grimace and an ejaculation perfectly suspended between prayer and blasphemy, "Ste. Devota!" Captain Correteaux ordered his helmsman to keep the broad reach by tacking once more to starboard, and then commanded the gunners to reload with round shot.

The corsair, now in danger of finding itself overrunning the Pharaon, slowed its cadence for a few minutes, letting the Pharaon run its broadside safely past at a furlong's distance, daring Correteaux to fire first at that distance. Feeling the noose tightening about his neck, Correteaux crossed himself and, regarding the Cardinal still on the quarterdeck, recommended, "Your Eminence, I think it best that you retire to my quarters now.

Turning to the helm without witnessing the Cardinal's reaction, he barked, "Helm, four more points to starboard."

The ship swung now onto a due south course, at ninety degrees to the corsair, now separated by less than a furlong. The commander of the chebec, seeing the range closing, now committed himself.

With a roar, the port broadside of the chebec spouted flame and smoke, and the tell-tale whistling shriek communicated clearly the intent of the corsair commander.

With a smashing splintering of wood and shredding of linen, the corsair chainshot collided with the laboriously constructed jury rig of the Pharaon, cutting shrouds and sheets and splintering yards. Cardinal Maximilian, just having reached the companionway hatch, looked up to see the patchwork mainmast, really a spare topgallant lashed to the old stump, teeter again, and with a creaking groan sag and topple towards him, blotting out the sun with its rippling, shredded sails as it fell...

3 comments:

Miguel said...

Absolutely great and gripping! :)

Oldsmoblogger said...

Took me a minute to realize that those are Pirates of the Checkout Counter miniatures in the pictures. :-) I have a bunch of those, and I play with my sons. We're almost ready to move up to something a little more tactical.

Snickering Corpses said...

*grins at oldsmoblogger* I had the same realization suddenly when looking at the last picture. Have a half-dozen of those myself. I'm feeling inspired now.