Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Pen and the Sword: Swords of the Red Brotherhood

"They are coming ashore in long boats!" exclaimed the child. "Oh, my Lady, I am afraid! How the sun strikes fire from their pikes and cutlasses! Will they eat us?"

In spite of her apprehension, Francoise burst into laughter.

"Of course not! Who put that idea into your head?"

"Jacques Piriou told me the English eat women."

"He was teasing you. The English are cruel, but they are no worse than the Frenchmen who call themselves buccaneers. Piriou was one of them."

"He was cruel," muttered the child. "I'm glad the Indians cut his head off."

"Hush, child." Francoise shuddered. "Look, they have reached the shore. They line the beach and one of them is coming toward the fort. That must be Harston."

"Ahoy, the fort there!" came a hail in a voice as gusty as the wind. "I come under a flag of truce!"

The Count's helmeted head appeared over the points of the palisade and surveyed the pirate somberly. Harston had halted just within good ear-shot. He was a big man, bare-headed, his tawny hair blowing in the wind.

"Speak!" commanded Henri. "I have few words for men of your breed!"

Harston laughed with his lips, not with his eyes.

"I never thought to meet you on this naked coast, d'Chastillon," said he. "By Satan, I got the start of my life a little while ago when I saw your scarlet falcon floating over a fortress where I'd thought to see only bare beach. You've found it, of course?"

"Found what?" snapped the Count impatiently.

"Don't try to dissemble with me?" The pirate's stormy nature showed itself momentarily. "I know why you came here; I've come for the same reason. Where's your ship?"

"That's none of your affair, sirrah."

"You have none," confidently asserted the pirate. "I see pieces of a galleon's masts in that stockade. Your ship was wrecked! Otherwise you'd sailed away with your plunder long ago."

"What are you talking about, damn you'?" yelled the Count. "Am I a pirate to burn and plunder? Even so, what would I loot on this bare coast?"

"That which you came to find," answered the pirate coolly. "The same thing I'm after. I'm easy to deal with-just give me the loot and I'll go my way and leave you in peace."

"You must be mad," snarled Henri. "I came here to find solitude and seclusion, which I enjoyed until you crawled out of the sea, you yellow-headed dog. Begone! I did not ask for a parley, and I weary of this babble."

"When I go I'll leave that hovel in ashes!" roared the pirate in a transport of rage. "For the last time - will you give me the loot in return for your lives? I have you hemmed in here, and a hundred men ready to cut your throats."

For answer the Count made a quick gesture with his hand below the points of the palisade. Instantly a matchlock boomed through a loophole and a lock of yellow hair jumped from Harston's head. The pirate yelled vengefully and ran toward the beach, with bullets knocking up the sand behind him. His men roared and came on like a wave, blades gleaming in the sun.

"Curse you, dog!" raved the Count, felling the offending marksman with an iron-clad fist. "Why did you miss'? Ready, men - here they come!"

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