The ship shuddered with the impact of yet another cannonball. Yes, shuddered was the word for it, Peter decided. As the battle dragged on, shivered didn’t quite cover it. He poked his head above deck to listen for the keening whistle of the next volley before deciding he had time to act.
The powder keg he heaved up from below weighed almost as much as he did, but he swung it onto the deck and shoved it forward with the finesse of months of practice. Finesse, now that was a good word. Peter shoved a lock of hair from his eyes and vowed to remember it to write down later.
“Get that powder over here, boy!”
The shout came from Stevens, who was feverishly hauling a cannon back to reload. Peter shoved the keg forward on its side and rolled it over to the first mate.
“The men below?”
Stevens was a man of few words, and Peter had learned he respected that attribute in others. Chopping his own sentences to match meant fewer cuffs and kicks from the man, and in the world of a cabin boy, that was a prize worth capturing.
Stevens tipped the keg into the barrel of the cannon, spitting as another ball splashed into the waves mere feet from the bowsprit. “Will this blusterin’ bilge rat will ever stop shelling us?”
Peter noted the phrase as one to write down, too. He liked the way it felt on his tongue.
“You’d best go see what the captain wishes us to do. Tell him we’re manning the forecastle guns. Good lad.”
Peter scrambled toward the captain’s cabin, adjusting his strides to the listing of the ship. His knock was immediately greeted with a barked order to enter.
“Mr. Stevens wishes to know your orders, sir,” Peter said, eyeing the near-empty bottle in the captain’s hand. “He’s using the forecastle guns.”’
Captain Hezekiah Harpshot looked up from the paper he held in a rather tremory… no, trembling, hand.
“Ah, Peter,” he said thickly. “I was hoping you’d come. Can’t read a word of this scrawl.”
Peter took the letter that had been delivered before the shelling began. Captain Harpshot always blamed the handwriting to cover the fact he couldn’t read a whit. The flowing script indicated a gentleman, and there were several words that were a good inch or longer. He couldn’t help but grin as his eyes skimmed down the page.
“It’s the Duke of Bouldingshire, Captain. He’s seeking satisfaction for the honor of his sister, Lady –“
“Helena,” Harpshot finished for him, his voice cracking. “Sweet, lovely Helena.”
“Yes, sir,” Peter said soothingly. The time since they finished plundering Bouldingshire had been particularly miserable as the captain mourned leaving his lady love. “The Duke says he will not be satisfied until we surrender, or he sends the Puckish Rogue to the bottom.
“How are we faring?” Harpshot asked.
“Not well, sir,” Peter said truthfully. An idea tickled that spot behind his left ear where crazy ideas were always born. “I suggest you send the duke his reply.”
“C-Can’t,” the captain said over a hiccup. “You know that, Petey.”
“I can write, sir.”
Moments later, Peter found himself outfitted with parchment and a quill. He bit his lip, and waited for the dictation.
“To that sniveling, monstrous heathen, the Duke.”
“We have no intention of going peaceably back to your shire…”
My heart is sad as I pen these lines, for we who should be united in brotherly love are at war.
“nor will we give you the satisfaction of offering our surrender…”
Were it not for my current outlaw status, I would have proposed to your sister a fortnight ago. Alas, I feared her reputation would come to harm by mine, so I departed.
“Long time writing that, sonny,” Harpshot said sharply. Peter looked up, smiling nervously, and Harpshot shrugged.
“I am offering you a chance to withdraw honorably…”
Were it in my power, I would instantly return and propose to the fair lady in question. At this moment, however, your hostilities stand between our hearts.
“And trust you will have enough sense in your misshaped –
“- head to accept my generous offer…”
I throw myself on your mercy, Your Grace, and trust you will not let your sister’s happiness be forever thwarted.
“From the fiercest pirate of these seas, Captain Hezekiah Harpshot.”
With fond wishes for your good health and that of your sister,
Captain Hezekiah Harpshot.
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