Chapter 6.

The next day dawned as bright and hot as the one before, and the men started the day with their last ration of water, as well as breaking their fast on the juiciest fruits and crisp vegetables the Quartermaster could provide, in hopes that this day might provide enough wind to see them through.

But their hopes proved as empty as the last water barrel: the wind scarcely rose above a breeze, and the sails hung limply as the ship inched its way towards a too-far shore. By eleven o'clock, as the sun rose above the yardarm, two of the men, desperate with thirst, had attempted to drink from the rolling sea, had promptly fallen seriously ill and were consigned to their cabins.

The day looked bleak indeed, and there was not even a drop of rum left to cheer the men's spirits. The lookouts suffered worst of them all, being exposed to the sun more than the rest of the crew. Their throats were dry, and their voices hoarse.

A dry throat and a weak voice are great impediments to a lookout, so Westley decided to reduce each lookout's shift to two hours at a time, which eased the problems a little, though the fact remained that the crew could clearly not take another day of such conditions, no matter what their Captain did to help them.

However, Westley's decision proved a good one indeed, for even with the exceptions made for them, the lookouts had to try many times to even be heard by the crew below. And it was as the sun rose to its highest point that the weak, but determined cry, reached Westley's ears.

"Ship ahoy! Ship off the port bow!"

Inigo wiped his sweating brow and saw his Captain rushing to his gunwale, taking his long brass telescope from inside his Captain's coat. Unfolding it, and putting it to his eye, Westley peered into the distance, straining his eyes for the telltale flag that would signify from whence this new source of hope came.

"What do you make of it, Gunner?" asked the Dread Pirate, handing the telescope to Inigo.

Inigo looked closely; his eyesight, honed to superior levels from his years of watching swords and duels, caught a flash of colour from the distant ship's mizzenmast. "It is flying the flag of Guilder, Capitan."

"Guilder?" said Westley in disbelief. "Guilder would never field a merchant ship on its own, without protection from the Navy. Certainly not at this time of year, when they know our ship sails these waters." Westley took back the telescope, and focused hard. "Yes, there it is!"

Inigo was bewildered. "There what is?"

Westley turned to smile at him, all concern gone from his face. "The prow of that ship is too long to belong to Guilder. Guilder would never build their ships to such a design, not with such rocky shores around the whole country. That ship looks more likely to be a French or Danish ship, more heavily armed than the equivalent from Guilder."

"And this is a good thing, Capitan?"

"Certainly it is. That ship is flying false colours, pretending to be merchants from Guilder. They are pirates no doubt, out for prey and keen to attack any vessel in distress. And if they are flying the Guilder flag, then the ships from Guilder are their intended targets."

Inigo remained puzzled. "How does that help us, then?"

Westley just smiled, and dropped his voice. "Watch and learn, Inigo." He raised his voice to shout as loud as his dry throat was able. "Bosun! Fly us the Guilder colours, and send a Guilder distress flare!"

A salute from the stern of the ship answered his words, and the ship was suddenly alive as every man felt the signs of approaching battle.

"Men!" called the Dread Pirate Roberts to his suddenly eager crew. "Our prayers have been answered. Soon we will be attacked by pirates, who no doubt have fresh provisions and good water."

The men gave a hearty cheer. They knew this tactic well, though they had never played it quite this way before. The Revenge would fly the same colours as an approaching merchant ship, and pretend to be in distress. The merchant ship would turn to help, and the Revenge would fly her true flag once the ship could not escape – and usually, no actual fighting was needed.

The flag alone, with its unique and distinctive design of a dove with crossed swords, had a reputation that demanded surrender.

This time was different, though. They were no longer tricking prey into considering them an ally. Instead, they were posing as easy prey for pirates like themselves: not asking for help, but inviting attack.

"All hands make ready to fight!" called Roberts. "Gunners, ready the guns to aim for the main sails!"

The ship was now a positive hive of activity. Swords were hurriedly sharpened and wiped, heavy iron cannonballs were hastily loaded into the guns, and Inigo found himself gasping with exertion as he rammed his cannonball into the muzzle, ready for his partner gunner to light the taper.

They crew worked feverishly: as in all cases where they flew false flags, they had to be ready to fight before their target could see them. If the ship saw them loading cannons, the whole charade would be blown. Inigo started as the bangs and whines of flares streaking into the sky went off behind him, and the sky filled with gold and green light as the flares exploded, gaining the attention of the pirate ship in the distance.

The ship had been drawing nearer at any rate; now Inigo could faintly see oars protruding from its hull. Unlike the Revenge, this ship had oarsmen, giving it a speed advantage on still days. And those oarsmen were quickly proving their worth: the ship was getting closer at a shocking rate. Inigo checked the aim of his cannon to fire at the enemy's main mast, then closed the flap over his gunwale, crouching down beside the cannon. To his left and right, the gunners all along the port side did likewise. Behind him, the sound of swords being cleaned told him exactly what the starboard gunners planned.

Inigo checked the blade of his own beautiful sword, confirming for his own peace of mind that it remained sharp as a razor. To his left, Fezzik was flexing his muscles, warming himself up ready for a fight. There was no point in Fezzik hiding; his great size made him hard to miss.

The Dread Pirate Roberts stood by his cabin, ready to call the order to fight when the pirates came close enough, and Inigo's skin crawled in anticipation of being able to use his formidable fencing skills once more.