Friend raised his own arms and she realized that she'd been pulled into this position in order to embrace him. His bulging lower lip was wet and trembling and the window was flashing into and out of existence as fast as the tails side of a spinning coin, and when he stepped into her arms she felt them close around his wobbly-fleshed back, and then his mouth came down hard on hers.

He stank of perfume and sweat and candy, and one of his hands was fumbling inexpertly about her torso, but Beth was for the moment able to keep her eyes and teeth clamped shut. Then his mouth slid off of hers and she heard him passionately whispering some pair of syllables over and over again.

She opened her eyes ... and blinked in astonishment.

The flickering window, the whole ship's cabin, was gone. The two of them were standing on a knitted rag rug in what appeared to be a shabby English bedroom; the air was close and smelled of boiled cabbage. Beth tried again to pull away from him, and, though she didn't succeed, she did get a glimpse of herself. She was suddenly fat, wearing a long shapeless black dress, and her hair was gray. And then she realized what it was that he was whispering.

"Oh, Mommy, Mommy," he gasped, panting hotly against her throat. "Oh, Mommy Mommy Mommy."

But it wasn't until she realized that he was spasmodically grinding his well-padded pelvis against her that she threw up.

Less than half a minute later Leo Friend was outside on the quarterdeck, pacing back and forth red-faced in the morning sun.

The thing about mistakes, he told himself as he dabbed at the spot on his frilly blouse with a silk handkerchief, is that one must learn from them. And that incident just now in the cabin certainly should have taught me something. I simply have to wait - and just a little longer, just until I can get enough peace and quiet to cook up some of the magic I'm now capable of.

And then, he thought, looking back at the cabin door which he'd just rebolted from the outside, then we'll see who has to fight off whose attentions. He took a deep breath and then let it out, nodding decisively. He looked around the quarterdeck of what he'd made of the Carmichael, and after scrutinizing his new crew he decided they were looking a good deal less lively than they had when he'd first conjured them up, several hours ago now. They seemed even paler, and puffier, and they kept cocking their heads as if listening to something, and glancing back north with expressions that even on their dead faces were recognizable as fearful.

"What's the matter?" he snapped at one of the figures working the whipstaff tiller. "You afraid of Blackbeard? Afraid he'll come stick a cutlass into your cold guts? Or Hurwood, come after us for his d-d-d-d - goddamn offspring? I've got more power than either of them, don't you worry."

The thing spoken to didn't seem to hear, and just kept turning its pearly gray head around - so far that its neck was beginning to tear - to peek back past the stern. Faintly from its useless throat came hissing that might have been whimpering.

Irritably, for his crew's evident fear had begun to infect him in spite of his confidence and the reassurance that sunny days bring, Friend climbed the companion ladders to the second poop deck - levitation was still too new and uncontrolled a skill - and looked back over the stern rail.

At first he thought the pursuing ship was Blackbeard's Queen Anne's Revenge, and his pudgy lips curled in a cruel smile - which disappeared a moment later, though, when he realized that it wasn't any ship he'd ever seen before. This one, he saw, was broader in the beam and was painted red and white around the bow ... and wasn't the bow advancing awfully steadily? Didn't most ships' bows rise and fall a bit when they were making speed, and fling some spray out to the sides?

He walked to the rail that overlooked the poop and quarterdecks. At least for the moment his ship had stopped shifting its features, and there weren't any masts or decks changing their minds about whether they were there or not from moment to moment. Probably even that window in ... that cabin ... was either steadily there or steadily not.

"More speed!" Friend shouted to his necrotic crew. Several gray figures began creeping up the rigging. "Faster!" he shrilled.

"No wonder the damned Charlotte Bailey went down, if this is the way you handled her!"

He looked back at the pursuing ship, and wondered if he was just imagining that it was already closer. He was pretty sure it was. Planting his feet firmly on the deck, he roused the new areas of his mind and pointed a sausagelike finger at the strange ship. "Go," he said tightly.

Instantly a wide patch of the sea erupted in steam, curling and boiling up in a white, sharply edged cloud, and Friend giggled delightedly - but the giggling stopped a moment later when the ship came surging out of the cloud, apparently none the worse. Its sails, in fact, still shone the bright bone white of dry canvas.

"Damn," said Friend softly.

It doesn't matter who it is, he thought uneasily. I've got better things to do than deal with it. I could levitate myself and Elizabeth and just fly away ... but if they pursued us rather than this ship I'd be at a disadvantage, for I'd have to keep using part of my power just to hold us up ... of course I'm using a good deal of it even now, keeping these damned resurrected sailors moving ...

He climbed back down to the next deck, and after shouting some more orders to the silently working gray figures, he glanced down, at the deck planks under his mud-stained but still ornate shoes. I could just rush in there and take her, he thought, the hot excitement beginning to choke him again in spite of his anxiety about the pursuing vessel. And this time I could hold her in a total sorcerous vise, so that she couldn't even blink an eye without me specifically letting her ... or I could even just render her unconscious, and use magic to make her body behave in the ways I want ...

He shook his head. No, that wouldn't really be any different from the activities he'd been indulging in ever since he learned, in his adolescence, how to sculpt ectoplasmic women in the air over his unrestful bed. At best all he could do right now would be to rape Beth Hurwood, and any common sailor could commit a rape. Friend wanted - needed - to commit a much more profound violation. He wanted to manipulate her very will, so that not only would she be powerless to prevent herself from coupling with him, she would live for the hope of it. And then if he happened to get her confused with his ... with someone else ... she'd be properly flattered.

To be able to control people as thoroughly as that, though, he would have to have control over vastly more of reality than he had ever had before - over all of it, in fact. In order fully to define the present, he would have to be able to revise the past - dictate the future - become, in effect, God.

Well, he thought with a nervous smile, why not? Haven't I been getting steadily closer to that all my life?

He crossed to the port rail, leaned out and glanced back again at the mysterious pursuer. The red-and-white painted ship had sped up since he'd last looked, and was slanting over as if to pass the Carmichael on the port side, and now he could see another sail, farther back, which the unknown vessel had been concealing. Friend hissed in alarm and squinted at it.

It's too small to be Blackbeard's ship, he thought, or Bonnett's. It must be that damned sloop, the Jenny. Hurwood will be aboard, certainly, and the Romeo sea-cook, that Shandy fellow ... maybe even Davies, still angry about my having shot him. That must be what my lich crew has been looking back at for the last half hour. He glanced over at his ill-preserved helmsmen, but the focus of the dead men's attention had shifted. The lifeless figures weren't looking astern anymore, but off the port quarter instead, at the painted galleon.

"Idiots!" Friend yelled. "The danger's there!" He pointed back at the advancing sloop.

His crew of dead men didn't seem to agree.

"That isn't the Carmichael!" Davies had exclaimed when the Nuestra Senora de Lagrimas slanted to the east on a closer-hauled tack and gave the Jenny a clear view of the ship they were pursuing. He kept staring at it through the telescope.

"It has to be," said Shandy.

Hurwood, who hadn't shifted from his crouch since the voyage began, looked up. "It's the ship she's on," he said, speaking just loudly enough to be heard over the splash-and-spray and the wind whistling through the harp of the rigging.

Davies shook his head doubtfully. "Poop seems too high, but I guess we'll know soon enough; both of 'em seem to be slowing down. Are we getting every knot of speed out of this?"

Shandy shrugged and gestured down at Hurwood. "Ask him - but I'd say yes and a risky bit more. After that last speed-up to keep the Spaniard in sight we had to take down all sails, 'cause they were just slowing us down, and the hull strakes flex more and leak worse every time we skate over a big wave."

"Well, it shouldn't take too much longer." Whatever the ship was ahead, they were gaining on it fast, and after a minute or so Davies called "Catch!" and tossed the telescope to Shandy. "What's her name?"

Shandy peered through the telescope. "Uh ... the Vochi-flerouttes Barimychael? No ... no, it's the Carmichael, right enough, I see it clear now ... "

"Keep the glass on her," said Davies.

" ... Well," said Shandy tiredly after another few moments, "it blurs and shifts. But for a moment there it was the Charlotte Bailey." He sighed and muttered a curse he hadn't known a month ago. "So he raised the crew of the Charlotte Bailey to replace the men he murdered, but his new sorcerous strength is so great that he raised the ship's ghost too, and it's clinging to the Carmichael."

Davies nodded toward the Spanish galleon. "He even raised the ship that went down with the Bailey."

"God," said Shandy. "I wonder if he knows that."

"I don't think it matters. The de Lagrimas seems to want to take up their battle right where they left off a century ago ... and I don't think we want to permit that."

"No," said Shandy.

"No," agreed Hurwood, who had at last stood up and closed his noisome box. "And to answer your earlier question, no, Friend doesn't know what the Spaniard is, or he wouldn't have wasted energy trying to boil her - she's part of the same magic that's furnished him with a crew, and the only way he can be rid of her is to cancel that magic." He laughed without smiling. "The boy isn't in control of his new strength yet. He reached down to the sea floor for a crew and raised up as well everything and everybody in the vicinity. I'll wager there are fishes aswim below us now that were scattered skeletons yesterday."

"Excuse me," said Shandy quickly, "but can ghost cannon balls damage real ships? The Lagrimas seems to be lining up for a broadside."

"I don't know," grated Hurwood. The old man closed his eyes and took a deep breath, and then half the men aboard the Jenny were sent sprawling as the old sloop leaped forward across the shattering waves at a still greater speed. Shandy, braced against the transom and trying to snatch a lungful of the solid, rushing air, considered, and then giddily dismissed, warning Hurwood that the battered old vessel probably couldn't take it.

Smoke bloomed from the Spaniard's starboard flank, and a moment later Shandy rubbed his eyes incredulously, for the Carmichael had blurred, seeming simultaneously both to reel and to continue unchecked, seeming to lose spars and sails in a tangled explosion and at the same time maintain her broad spread of canvas untouched.

The drunken pirates aboard the Jenny burst out yelling at the sight of this prodigy, and several took it on themselves to try to hoist some sails while others scrambled for the helm. One man was wrenching at the sheaves of the cathead, trying to get the anchor to drop.

Davies grinned at the men who were rushing back toward the helm, and thoughtfully drew a pistol, and Shandy yelled, "There's enough ghosts in this fight without volunteers! Our only living opponent is the fat boy - do you want to let him get away with your ship?"

Shandy's words, and, even more effectively, Davies' pistol, halted the rush. The pirates wavered, covering uncertainty by redoubling their shouted oaths and demands and gestures.

Davies fired his pistol into the air, and into the relative silence that followed he yelled, "The Spaniard's a ghost, I admit - but she's distracting the fat boy. He's seen us now - so do we go in and hit him while he's occupied, or wait for him to turn on us at his leisure?"

Miserably, the pirates turned and fought their way back through the hammering headwind to their posts. They had only managed to raise one sail, the little square topsail, and before they could even begin to lower it again it split into a hundred fluttering ribbons, giving the plunging boat a shabbily festive appearance but doing nothing to slow it down.

Almost skipping over the waves now, the Jenny crashed into the narrowing gap between the two ships.

"All port guns fire!" Davies roared against the wind. "And then try putting the tiller over to port!"

The Jenny's seven portside guns all boomed jarringly, and then after a moment of recoil the sloop heeled sharply with the canvasless jibe to starboard, and Shandy held onto the port rail and blinked against the spray from the waves that were hurtling past just inches below him; and when the port side heaved back up to something closer to its normal position he craned his neck to look back at the de Lagrimas.

She was in trouble, sure enough, her stout mainmast broken off at a ragged point about halfway up its length, and most of her rigging was serving now only to connect her to the unwieldy sea-anchor that the mast-top had become - but Shandy swore softly in awe, for the Jenny was a much smaller vessel, and her broadside had been leveled at the Spaniard's hull, not up at the masts and rigging ... and it occurred to him that he was seeing the original conflict between the Nuestra Senora de Lagrimas and the Charlotte Bailey being re-enacted by the temporarily resurrected principals, who, in some deteriorated sense, still recalled the original sequence of events. Copyright 2016 - 2023