Note: This fic is for Wackdagz_jewel, pirate queen and terror of the seas. Many thanks to Annmarwalk for her extremely helpful suggestions. Thanks also to my resident fight scene consultant, Lord Branwyn, for his assistance. My knowledge of French is very limited, so if I made errors, I hope that at least they are funny ones.
Before Archie could stop him, Horatio hurried to the door and, dropping to one knee, knelt beside the fallen men.
"Stay clear of them!" Archie cried sharply, and he seized the captain by the coat and tried to haul him back into the cabin.
"What are you doing?" Horatio snapped as he struggled to pull away.
Archie kept his voice level, but he did not loosen his hold on the captain's coat. "They may be ill. They could even have the typhus, sir. You should stay back, while I take a look at them."
There were many perils on board a sailing vessel, but there was only one thing that would strike down a sailor so quickly and with so little warning—typhus, the dreaded "ship fever." Flourishing in the foul air below deck, it was the scourge of all navies. There was no known cure, and the only treatment was blood-letting and the use of strong purgatives. Despite the surgeons' best efforts, this illness often proved fatal, especially when the victim was already weakened by injury.
Horatio stopped struggling and stared at him. "You think they have typhus? Then you would put yourself at risk in my place." He quickly looked away and said, "Your concern for my welfare is appreciated, Mr. Kennedy, but there is no need for such a precaution. They're not fevered. They are drugged. I doctored the rum with laudanum."
Now it was Archie's turn to stare. He felt torn between disbelief and laughter. "So they're pickled?"
Horatio gave him a quick grin. "These Frogs can't stomach honest drink. But I don't know how long the dose will last. We had best get these two out of sight."
They dragged their two guards into the small cabin. Eyes half-closed, the red-haired sailor smiled gently as they hauled him along the deck, while the second guard mumbled and stirred in his sleep. The hapless men were quickly disarmed and stripped to their drawers, then the two English officers hurriedly dressed in their baggy trousers and brass-buttoned jackets. From a distance, at least, they would pass for members of the prize crew. Outside the stern windows, rain still pocked the grey surface of the ocean, and the dark and dreary weather would aid in their disguise.
The red-haired sailor carried a belaying pin, a three-foot long club of solid oak. Archie hefted it in his left hand. "Now we will look like a pair of right mutineers," he muttered with a grin.
The sailors' two pistols he handed to Horatio who, with an injured right arm, would be better able to shoot than fight with a sword. Archie took the heavier of the two cutlasses for himself; then he helped the captain with the sword belt for the other, draping the wide strap over his right shoulder and under his left arm. He wondered if either of them would survive the coming engagement. The odds were against it, but after eight years in His Majesty's navy, he knew better than to dwell on such thoughts.
With a nod toward their guards, Archie murmured, "What about them, sir? What about when they wake up?" They both were well aware that the quickest and surest course would be to dispatch these two with a knife, and certainly there were captains who would give the order without a qualm.
Horatio glanced about the cabin with an impatient scowl. "Lash them to the gun." The tiny cabin's furniture included the Pickle's stern chaser, a long-barreled nine. Archie dragged the sailors across the deck and bound their wrists fast to the carriage, using the lines of the gun tackle.
"I doubt that even French officers would drink while their ship was drifting without a rudder," Horatio said quietly. "We'll still have to deal with them. And watch for that Chinaman. No doubt he's an opium smoker--you saw how he searched the medicine chest." The laudanum would have little effect on a man who was accustomed to taking large doses of opium.
They needed to move quickly to win back the sloop, before Commander Garneau could discover their escape. And if they did not succeed—Archie had a sudden vision of the French lieutenant ordering his men to feed their troublesome prisoners to the fish. A captain was expected to try to scuttle his ship rather than see her fall into enemy hands, but attempting to poison the prize crew was another matter entirely.
They hurried along the passage, past the aft companionway and toward the forward cargo hold where the Pickle's crew had been confined. They advanced unopposed until they reached midship, where the way was blocked by a wall of planks. The broadside had damaged the deck above, and the French had tried to brace the sagging timbers.
"We'll have to go on deck to reach the forward hold," Horatio whispered.
They hurried back to the aft companionway. A sudden gust of wind blew a sheet of rain down the open hatch. Archie set a foot on the steep ladder then jumped back as a voice called down, "Hey, etes-vous la?" A shadow blocked the light as a man leaned over the hatchway.
Eyebrows raised, Archie held up the belaying pin. Horatio gave a slight nod. They could ill afford to use one of the pistols. They would have only two shots, and the sound would raise the alarm. "Hey, les gars!" the voice called again. After a long moment, a silver-buckled shoe appeared on the uppermost rung.
The French junior officer scrambled down the ladder. No doubt Commander Garneau had sent him to assess the situation below deck. When he reached the foot of the ladder, he glanced at the Englishmen in surprise then stumbled backward, reaching for a pistol. Before he could fire the shot, Archie swung the belaying pin and struck the side of his head. He dropped to the deck and lay motionless, water running from his hair and clothing. Archie shoved him over on his back. Though the young Frenchman was still breathing, his eyes were closed and he did not stir as Archie searched him and took a pistol—still miraculously dry--and a dagger from under his coat.
Through the open hatch, they could hear the French lieutenant giving orders. At least two of the enemy were waiting for them on the upper deck. "Let me go first, sir," Archie whispered, "You won't be able to hold a pistol while climbing one-handed." And before the captain could argue, he started up the ladder.
As Archie cleared the top and leaped onto the deck, Commander Garneau swung about and snapped, "Qu'est-ce que—" then, spotting the raised gun barrel, he darted behind the aft mast.
Archie fired at his retreating back, cursing as the shot went wide. He ducked into the shelter of the raised side of the companionway. The two prisoners who were manning the bilge pump threw themselves to the deck.
"Get over here!" Archie shouted at them.
"We can't, sir! The bloody Frogs chained our feet!"
Horatio stumbled from the ladder and crouched beside him. "Go forward. I'll hold him here." His face was white, and his hands shook as he cocked one of the pistols. Raising his head, he called loudly, "Show your face, Commander, and I will blow it off. Comprenez-vous?"
Archie drew the cutlass and ran toward the bow of the sloop. The captain did not need to tell him to hurry. The longer that they were exposed to the downpour, the more likely it was that those guns would misfire, and the Frenchman would be well aware of this fact.
Skirting the stacked barrels of limes, he nearly tripped on a sailor lying huddled on the deck, oblivious to the rain. The two prisoners at the bilge pump were frantically trying to unfasten the chains from their ankles. Behind him, someone shouted, but he dared not stop to look.
He had almost reached the forward companionway when the slight figure of the Chinese sailor came running from the bow. His long, black braid streamed behind him. As the captain had guessed, he seemed untouched by the effects of the laudanum.
"Surrenderez!" Archie screamed, not knowing the proper word. The Chinaman had drawn no weapons, and though he was in a desperate hurry, Archie had no wish to kill an unarmed man.
Halting just out of the reach of the cutlass, the sailor pulled off a shoe and brandished it at his opponent. "Waaaaaaah!" he crowed like a chicken, hopping on one foot. The long, black braid swung wildly back and forth.
The crazy bastard is out of his mind, Archie thought. He raised the sword, intending to strike with the flat, but instead he glanced up in surprise as the shoe went flying over his head.
"Waaaaah!" the sallow-faced Chinaman screeched, his dark head disappearing as he suddenly dropped to the deck. Archie looked down and caught a glimpse of the sailor crouched with one leg tucked under him while the other leg was stretched full length. What on earth is he doing? Archie thought, and then something heavy struck against his ankles and his legs went out from under him. The cutlass was knocked from his hand as he landed on his back. Half-stunned, he rolled over, blindly reaching for the hilt. The Chinese sailor snatched up the cutlass and, before he could raise an arm to guard his face, hit him in the head with the pommel. Archie dropped to the planking, too dazed to move. The sailor quickly bound his hands with a neckerchief and took away the stolen dagger.
Feeling strangely distant, Archie lay on his side and watched as Horatio drew the cutlass. The pistols must have misfired, or perhaps both shots had gone astray. The French lieutenant had taken up a long boat hook, and now he rushed forward and swung at Horatio. Cutlass in his left hand, the captain fended off the attack, but the movements were heavy and slow, like the dancing of a chained bear. Still weak from the loss of blood, he would soon be worn down. He clumsily parried the blows, until he lost his footing and slipped. As he tried to crawl to his hands and knees, the French lieutenant shouted at him and, when he would not surrender, struck him with the pole until he lay still.
The Chinese sailor hauled Archie to his feet and dragged him stumbling to the quarterdeck. His head still ached, but he felt less dizzy. At an order from the French officer, the Chinaman shoved him to the deck beside Horatio. The captain's arms had been tied behind his back, and his face was streaked with blood and rain.
"Are you badly hurt?" Horatio whispered.
"No, sir," Archie whispered back and started to ask "And you?" but was silenced by a sharp kick in the ribs.
To be continued….