Anton returned to Tidewater Rock, followed a few days later by the rest of the crew returning from Santo Domingo. Anton initial concern was for the War Pig, of course, but on seeing that it was unscathed, he turned his attention to the fact that the crew were one and a half men light.
“What happened to Hall?” he asked.
Bennett, a man of few words (and limbs) replied “Got stabbed sir.”
“And your arm?” “Got cut off sir”
Sensing he wasn’t going to get any more information than that, he turned his attention to Captain Pegsworthy, who had based himself at Tidewater Rock waiting to take the crew to Armada. In recent days, he had captured and sunk a small Spanish schooner. Four crewmen, and indeed one passenger, had requested to join him, and as Merrill knew that his hosts were a little short-handed (quite literally in Bennett’s case), he took them on and offered them up to the crew. The four sailors were placed with Knuckles on the Thresher to bring him up to a minimum complement, and their attention turned to the passenger, a certain Manuel de Streza.
Manuel seemed keen to join the crew, and following some questioning in which Manuel was not altogether forthcoming about his talents, they did establish that he had no love for the Spanish and was quite at ease with reappropriating the property of others, and they took him on.
Anton kissed his wife goodbye and they set sail, following Pegsworthy to the Pirate city of Armada. Anton ordered that his banner be raised, which was quickly followed by the Bosun quietly mumbling to the crew to actually make a banner, which was hastily done and raised to the top of the mast.
After a few uneventful days sailing southeast, Merrill eventually led them to Armada, a floating city made up of hundreds of ships of all shapes and sizes. A magnificent sight. They docked the three ships up, and could see a man approaching, followed by a huge retinue of onlookers and cronies. Anton hailed him, having spent the journey ensuring that he looked magnificent, and the man introduced himself as First Mate Goldtooth, formal representative of the Pirate King. Goldtooth told the crew that they had been expected for some time, however before they could relax and enjoy the wonderful hospitality of our city, by the Pirate Code they must prove themselves legitimate pirates.
“Who is your sponsor?” cried Goldtooth, clearly playing to the crowd of onlookers.
“I am” shouted Captain Pegsworthy in response, with Goldtooth looking particularly impressed.
“Very well. You will face three tests, the first two must be completed by one of your number, and the last is for all of the officers. The first test is to see whether you are passable sailors, rather than just fancy jackets that found themselves in command of a pirate crew! When you’re ready, follow me.”
Goldtooth led the crew along the docks to another ship, the Stingray, still followed by a crowd of onlookers.
“Your task will be to unfurl and set the sail on the mainmast, before one of my crew does the same on the foremast.”
Sadly it seemed that Bennett would have been the best man for this task, but given his injury he would have been seriously hampered in climbing the mast and handling the ropes, so therefore Tregellan himself volunteered. This seem to impress Goldtooth, the fact that the captain himself would take on the task.
With the rest of the crew and onlookers assembled on deck, Anton would be up against Haines Boyne, one of Goldtooth’s experienced sailors. Merrill gave Anton a quiet warning that he should remember that they are up against pirates, who WILL cheat.
When the order to start was given, Anton shimmied up the mast at an incredible speed, making it to the top before Boyne is even half way up. The sail was tied up at four places. Anton had enough basic sailing know how to realise that the two inner knots should be released first, else the sail would flap about in the breeze making unfurling the other side a lot trickier. Perhaps filled with overconfidence (Who, Anton? I hear you cry), he tried running along the yard to the first knot, but he lost his footing and slipped off, managing at the last minute to grab onto the rigging and haul himself back up. By the time Boyne had made it to the top of the mast, Anton had already untied the first knot with a flourish.
As Boyne made it to his first knot, Louise hurled insults at him in an attempt to put him off and distract him. Boyne was a grizzled old sailor though and took no notice of him being compared to a three legged cat.
As Boyne untied his first knot, Anton had already crossed over and reached the second, slipping once again in the process but again managing to hang on to the rigging and pull himself back onto the yard. At this point, the crew on deck noticed that one of the ‘onlookers’ had made his way to the side of the deck and was surreptitiously cutting through a rope. Bennett realised that his was holding the forestay boom in place on Anton’s mast. Were it to come loose, it would crash into the yard with a huge jolt. Louise charged at him, and Jiim let loose a shot at the man’s feet, the crack silencing the voices on the deck. Looking sheepish and pleading innocence, the pirate made no further move.
Anton reached his first outer knot and again untied it with a flourish, and then attempted to cut one of the ropes and swing round the mainmast onto the yard at the other side, in true swashbuckling fashion. He couldn’t quite manage it, but the crowd certainly appreciated the attempt. Boyne, meanwhile, was struggling with his first outer knot, and Anton, spotting this, graciously shouted over to offer him a hand (no offense, Bosun!). Once Boyne had finally got it untied, he realised that he was now a long way behind Anton and ran along the yard to catch up. He lost his footing, and was unable to catch the rigging as he fell, and unceremoniously fell into the harbour waters. With a huge cheer going up from the deck and the sight of many coins changing hands, Anton leisurely completed his task and descended the mainmast to be greeted with applause from his crew and Goldtooth.
The next test, Goldtooth explained, was to see how lucky the crew was. Real pirates need to have Lady Luck on their side. One of them was to take on Goldtooth in a game of Bastard’s Fool, a popular pirate card game. The stake would be 1000 pieces of eight, and the first to clean out their opponent would be the winner. There was a twist though, in that the winner of each hand would need to drink a flagon of gutburn rum. After some discussion amongst the crew, and coming to the realisation that none of them possessed any particular skill at gambling, Louise would take him on. A table was set up on the deck of the Stingray, and the game began, with the onlookers and the crew crowding round to watch.
Goldtooth won the first hand, and Louise took the second and third, and the rum seemed to have no effect on either player. Louise then took the next one, and this time the rum certainly seemed a lot harder to swallow for her, but she did manage to knock it back and suffer no ill effect. Goldtooth took the next two small pots, but then Louise took a large pot off the First Mate, leaving him with around half his stack. The very next hand saw Louise put Goldtooth all in, which he called. To his dismay, Louise revealed that, whether through luck or sleight of hand, she held 19, beating Goldtooth’s 17. Louise had won, and still suffered no adverse effects from the foul rum.
Goldtooth once again is impressed with the crew, and explains that the final test is for all the crew, and will take place in the morning on board their own ship. Pirates, of course, need to know how to fight. The final test will see how they repel boarders on their own vessel. They can prepare overnight. When the question is raised “how do we normally defend our ship?”, the answer is quietly uttered by almost everybody “by ramming”.
The crew, including Knuckles, spread themselves out around the deck of the War Pig, not really knowing what to expect. Anton tried to get some caltrops fashioned, but was unable to in time. In the morning, Goldtooth and his now familiar retinue of cronies could be seen wheeling a huge covered cage to the side of the ship. Goldtooth took the cover off the cage, revealing what was inside – a giant of a man, over 9 feet tall, wielding a huge scythe. As the cage was opened, the giant leaped over the gangplank and engaged Louise, the closest target.
Louise lashed out as soon as he approached, but it was clear this huge man was a very gifted fighter, and she did not even come close to breaching his defences. He battered her with the flat of the scythe’s blade, but clearly still fortified by gutburn rum, she shrugged off the hit. Manuel tried to sneak up round the side of the huge man, but in broad daylight, his moves were obvious. Bennett, mysteriously, ran down below into the galley. As Jiim levelled his musket at the giant’s head, Anton cheerily called out that they are expecting attackers any time soon, would he mind calling back another time?
Louise managed to stun him with Brine’s Sting, and Jiim, sensing that the giant wasn’t trying to kill them, switched his aim to the man’s arm and hits, but once again the huge man didn’t seem to be affected. Anton, determined to swing on a rope at least once, cut a nearby line and swung over to attack. The giant swung his scythe at Manuel but missed. Bennett emerged from the galley and he and Jiim both ran into the fray, the Duntchman reloading as he ran. Anton connected with both his sabre and his dagger, but again couldn’t damage this beast of a man.
Once again the big man swung at Louise, but missed by virtue of Louise’s femininity. Bennett emerged with a fistful of pepper that he had obtained from the galley and flung it in the giant’s face. But this too had little effect, other than to draw a few cheers from the crowd in appreciation. Anton desperately tried to disarm the man, but he proved far too strong. With all the crew now surrounding this formidable foe, Jiim took a shot into the melee, striking him in the head and stunning him.
The Chastener smacked Manuel with considerable force, knocking him to the ground. Jiim, reaching over Bennett with his bayonet, tried to bat the scythe away making it easier for his crew to connect with their strikes. Knuckles then managed to stun him, Louise hit him twice and Anton finally delivered the knockout blow, and the huge man crumpled to the ground unconscious.
Again, a huge cheer erupted from the docks, and Louise tended to the wounds of Manuel, and sportingly, the enemy.
Goldtooth announced to the crowd that the crew had passed the tests, and that they would have an audience with the Pirate King in the Great Hall this evening. The crew discussed whether they should take a gift for the king, and settled on one of their Deep Platinum Necklaces.
In the evening, the crew went to the Great Hall to find that the revelry was already in full swing. Tables were laden with roast meats and flagons of ale, mead and rum, and there were numerous buccaneers drunkenly staggering all over the place. As they were brought before the King, sitting on his teakwood and gold throne, looking more pirate than king in his tricorn hat and longcoat, they noticed that his most noteworthy feature was his skeletal right hand. It was also clear he was already well into his cups as he stared blearily down at the crew as they were introduced.
He roared for silence, which was ignored, so he fired his pistol into the air and a quiet fell over the hall.
“This fresh catch of scallywags want to add their fine ship to our brethren of the sea” he said, waving his still smoking pistol in the direction of the crew. “But before we make them Free Captains, I say we hear from them. What say you tell us a tale or two about how you came by the plunder in your hold?”
Anton stepped forward and told the tale about how they were attacked by creatures from the deep, wearing necklaces like this one, and threw the necklace towards the King. Anton continued his tale, ending with the crew finding their lair and gutting them like the fish they were.
The King finally presented them with their Free Captain’s Jolly Roger, and told them that Armada was now their city which they were free to explore. The first order of business was to resupply – Anton acquired a couple of grenades, and Bennett had a modular hook commissioned, at considerable expense. It would have a hook, a parrying blade, a swimming paddle and a climbing claw modules. They also decided to upgrade four of their 4-pdr cannons to 8-pdrs for the War Pig.
Next, attention would turn to the recruitment of more crew.