You can say that this particular storm came without the warning of the preceding calm, for hardly anything under, on, or above the high seas is ever calm. And when you deal with someone of Mr. Drummond’s repute, well, you get to learn that hardly anything comes with a warning.
I am Quashee, formerly of Virginia and Komenda City before then, a Christian by choice and a free man by mandate who now sits awash in candlelight trying to commence a tale. A tale of how, when, and where the lecherous Edward Drummond, also known as the dreaded Edward Teach, or the infamous pirate Blackbeard, was truly and utterly defeated.
Ah, yes. This should do.
I stood on the deck of the Hummingbird, a sweaty dark effigy by the door of the captain’s cabin and an unwilling witness to one of the many melodies that play in the midst of lovemaking. Dinner that night had consisted of roasted pheasant joined by figs with honey and cinnamon, each bite downed with coconut water and all prepared at the behest of Mr. Drummond with the purpose of potentiating arousal. On feeling the effects taking appropriate root, he had grabbed Mrs. Rose by the neckline with one still greasy hand and sent me away with the other.
The thumps and thuds and vocal emanations came to what I thought a pleasurable end as the gulf breeze lifted the moisture from my stained shirt. I toasted to such culmination with the release of a withheld breath.
“Ye give a man reasons to feel alive, me fair Mary,” came Mr. Drummond’s voice from inside.
“And you give a woman reasons to cut your sea snake off with a hot butter knife,” was the curt reply from Mrs. Rose.
“What are ye babbling on about?”
I can tell you what. Mrs. Rose was in fact not a Mary, but a Marianne. Mary Ormond, probable cause of the unfortunate and untimely confusion, had been Mr. Drummond’s previous wife for a brief spell. And to mostly anyone that mattered, one of his many widows.
The din inside flared anew, the crashing of expensive china and blown glass goblets interspersed with language that would paint a blush even on the devil’s cheeks. After what was probably an entire dinner set gone to waste, the door to the cabin opened and a distressed Mr. Drummond emerged, buttoning up a turquoise vest worn over nothing but tanned skin. A thin red line under his right eye seeped blood, which he cleaned hastily with a dirty napkin.
“Tell me, Quashee,” he said, handing me a loaded linen condom and the bloodied cloth. “How do I keep finding these wicked broads and why do I continue to marry them?”
He had taken a good chunk of my left hand with his blunderbuss the last time I dared answer one of his rhetorical questions, so I kept my words inside my wordhole.
“I should have left Maynard take your head and feed the rest of your disgusting body to the sharks!” said Mrs. Rose from the cabin.
“To the depths with ye, wench!” Mr. Drummond yelled as he slammed the door shut. “Ye’ll soon be begging for more of this disgusting body,” he added for the sake no one in particular and crossed his arms over his chest, taking in the after-hours solitude of his vessel.
I remember looking at him then, embossed on the clear night of St. Joseph Bay, and feeling the utmost awe. At forty-five and no longer bearded, Mr. Drummond still cut an imposing figure. Toned muscles shone under the light of the moon and although the Hummingbird was naught but a fraction of what the Queen Anne’s Revenge had been in her heyday, the mere presence of such a seasoned seaman and notorious knave heightened the ship’s appearance. I was given to think from time to time that, even in disguise and apparently diminished strength, the waves knew the true identity of the one steering the ship and quaked in fear, flowing promptly away from the bird-shaped figurehead.
“Are we on schedule?” he asked, fixing his sight past the beach and on the tree line where the light of a few dozen lamps bloomed inside a few dozen tents. At this hour of the day, most of the workers were nursing rum, trading stories, and fondling breasts.
“Yes, Mr. Drummond. All is progressing as planned.”
I knew what he saw next to the camp: six months’ worth of construction on a majestic timber and stone manor surrounded by Florida’s best land. The turf had been awarded by the governor of Pensacola after Mr. Drummond had laid fire to the French’s Fort Crevecouer.
“The sea will not bear me much longer, Quashee,” he said. “I do not live by her watery rules no more. The stranded might bob on her placid swells and survive, but she will not suffer a dwindling offering of blood.”
You do not feel pity for one like Mr. Drummond, for one like he is well beyond what you or any other lesser man can feel. But there he was: haunted, forgotten, and dead. I wished then I could have provided him with more than my freely given servitude.
“Land beckons, friend. Double the shifts,” he said, tapping me on the shoulder just as the storm hit.
A conflagration erupted by the shore, fire welling out from every tent. We took spying glasses from belt hooks, extended them, put them to the eye. My spirits sank. The wooden beams framing the manor were also catching flame and, on the beach, an army of black-clad figures were lining up, some still wiping blood from their cutlasses. The camp would soon be all but destroyed.
“Ghosts,” I murmured.
“Women, rather,” said Mrs. Rose, whose presence we had been completely oblivious to. She was watching the unfolding inferno through her own pair of gilded binoculars while we, in turn, stared at her.
“Are we doing something?” she asked, lowering the spectacles. “They’re drawing bows.”
“Get yer pimply asses in motion, ye filthy lot!” yelled Mr. Drummond with a wide grin on his face. “Topdeck, diversionary fire!”
There were three main things that Mr. Drummond could always muster with ease: women, loot, and loyalty. The crew emerged from the quarters like ants from the hill, focused, with purpose. In just minutes, hands were closing around ropes, pouring powder, and loading shot.
The first volley of flaming arrows came as Mr. Hollingberry, the sailing master, came to us. Blazing tips thudded against the hull of the Hummingbird. Some of the projectiles landed on the deck but were collected by busy swabbies before the fire tongues could catch on.
“Take the wheel, Mr. Hollingberry. Get us out of this forsaken mire,” Drummond instructed.
The balding mountain of a man nodded his silent agreement and made a circling motion with his arm over his head. On cue, the first mate hoisted the anchor and a score of riggers already aloft unfurled the three massive triangular lateens. The wind eagerly caught the sails and the Hummingbird, a lithe and gracious xebec, let itself be pushed toward the mouth of St. Joseph Bay.
“By the frozen waters of the Styx, who were those?” Mr. Drummond asked once our cannonades made the archers fall back into the trees. “Marianne, did ye say women?”
Mrs. Rose appeared exceedingly calm for a lady who had just been attacked by fiery arrows.
“The way they moved, I’m surprised you didn’t drop your breeches, dived into the shallows, and swam to meet them,” she replied.
“I’ll apologize to ye when I catch me a real mermaid,” Drummond shot back. “T’was an honest mistake, woman. Let the matter rest.”
“Yes, Edward dear,” she said with reluctance. “They were women. Some carried Charleville muskets, if you must know.”
“Blasted frenchmen. Let them have their broken-hearted land if they want,” the captain said. “I made up my mind, Quashee. The beard is coming back.”
“That would be frenchwoman,” said a voice from the stern. “And no, it is not coming back.”
We all turned as one to face the newcomer. Dressed in a more flowery but still menacing black bodice, one of those spectral and quite curvy figures approached our group, her garb slick with seawater. Some of the mates trained blades and guns on her, awaiting Mr. Drummond’s orders.
“Relax, boys, my business is with my dead husband and with him alone,” she said.
“Mary?” the captain prompted.
“Oh. The bitch,” interjected Mrs. Rose.
“Watch your tongue, whore,” scowled Mary Ormond. “I came for the deceased but as you can see I don’t mind leaving behind more corpses.”
Mr. Drummond let out a deep laughter. He seemed to me more alive then than he had ever been while planning a recalcitrant life on the mainland.
“Ship!” cried the lookout. “Port side!”
We needed no glass to appreciate the news. A speedy corvette, previously concealed, was sailing at an angle to the Hummingbird, poised to broadside us at the earliest opportunity. Wind blowing as it was, such opportunity would not be long in coming.
“Ah,” said Mary. “There they are.”
“Who are they?” I dared ask.
Mrs. Ormond looked at me with familiar disdain.
“It matters not, Quashee,” the captain said. “Mr. Hollingberry, ye know what to do.”
“No, Edward,” Mary intervened, ignoring me. “They will board. You will all find the meeting, uhm, entertaining.”
Mrs. Rose scoffed, Mr. Drummond laughed again, and all I could do was worry, a powerless spectator pulled by the tug of unknown currents.
“Don’t ye see we have cannons too, woman? And a faster ship,” said the captain still in mirth. “What god makes ye think we will just lay down belly up for the crows to nibble on us?”
“The crows may peck, but they want you to live. For fun, if you will,” answered Mrs. Ormond. “The hounds, on the other hand, they want to make sure Blackbeard does not come back from the dead this time around. They wish to rip his flesh off from neck to toe.”
She pointed toward to the bay’s spit and we once again put glass to eye. Closing off our only exit, a tiny fleet (that nonetheless must have required a fortune to procure) of French First Ranks and American sloops of war waited patiently for a prey. Small, yes. But with more than two hundred guns combined, the best we could hope for if we engaged was to transform the Hummingbird into a steaming pile of mincemeat.
Mr. Drummond bowed to Mary Ormond and offered an exaggerated flourish.
“My ship is everyone’s ship, or so it would seem.”
The corvette had reached us by then. On its deck I saw battle ready frenchmen–real men; women on ships were tolerated up to a point but there was no need for taking unnecessary risks–, and two identical drops of dew in bone-colored mantuas. The girls, barely twenty by my reckoning, climbed deftly from the gunwale to our own deck.
“I do not like what I think is coming, Quashee,” said Mrs. Rose. I did not like it either.
“Is my sight being affected by scurvy?” asked the captain and approached the ladies. The pair turned their eyes away from Mr. Drummond and from each other, haughty as felines. They extended their hands to him.
“Anne Margaret, Anne Catherine,” he said, and kissed their hands in quick succession. After setting their gaze once again on the leaning figure of Edward Drummond, each girl used the just-kissed hand to slap him hard on the cheeks.
“It is the other way around, you filthy piece of blubber,” one of the girls said. “I am Catherine, she is Margaret.”
“So is it common in you, darling, getting the names of your lovers wrong?” Mrs. Rose’s anger kept mounting.
“Not lovers,” said one twin. “Wives.”
“Widows,” added Mary Ormond.
Mr. Drummond showed his exasperation.
“And what would ye have me do, harpies?” he asked dismissively. “Write all of yer cursed names down?”
You had to give it to him. Antagonizing an already scorned woman, man’s worst enemy, was a feat only the bravest or the foolest dared. Doing it with four of them at the same time made me think he was perhaps both.
Mary Ormond stepped up and faced Mrs. Rose.
“What should his fate be?” she asked. “You know your man is a scoundrel, but you are there for him. You tend to his wounds after he returns from the pillaging. You wipe his rum-reeking vomit after a night at port.”
“You stomach his marriage to your twin sister,” complemented Anne Catherine or Anne Margaret. The other sister just nodded.
“And then he leaves you to mourn him, to grieve, allowing you to think him dead. What would you do?”
Mrs. Rose took a good gander at Mr. Drummond.
“Be done with it, wench,” he said, proud as ever.
“I would cut his sea snake off with a hot butter knife,” Mrs. Rose muttered at last.
Mary Ormond chuckled and the twins jumped up and down with glee.
“I might yet get to like you,” said Mary Ormond, placing now her immaculate face in front of Mr. Drummond’s. He did not flinch.
“But that would be giving him a way out, however permanent. He deserves worse.”
“I’ve struck a deal with Maynard,” she continued. “He will take you, put your stinking, beardless hunk of flesh in the deepest of Virginia’s dungeons, and lock you up for life. You will never see the sea again; you will no longer feel her sweet, wet embrace.
“Your heart’s boat will wither and rot within the masonry and one day, when the time is right, someone will write about how you were conquered not by the tides or the cannons or the monsters, but by six, no,” she corrected herself looking at Marianne Rose. “Eight of the dozens of teats you have wronged. That shall be your punishment.”
“Sailing master,” one of the twins called. “Raise white flag and head for the fleet or risk being blown to pieces.”
Mrs. Rose strode silently toward the captain’s cabin. I looked at Mr. Drummond’s eyes and, for the first time since I had chosen to dutifully serve him, I saw fear. And I think I saw tears.
Did I want to tell this tale? No, of course not. What history officially recorded is exactly what Mr. Drummond would have wanted. A death full of bravado, fear and gore; a man insane enough to sacrifice his own ships for a smidgen of victory.
But there is a limit to what a man can do, starved, thirsty, threatened. I may need to beg forgiveness from Mr. Drummond, if I ever see him again. But I want to live, and Mary Ormond promised me life if I put to paper my account of that fateful night’s upheaval.
She says it will turn out nicely. I say she’s a cruel vixen. Wonder where she got that trait from.