Careening was inevitable but annoying. It had to be done swiftly because a stationary, heeled-over ship was an easier target to pounce on – and there were always hunters seeking to curry favour by catching pirates – but it still had to be done.
Scraping the ocean’s detritus from the Lucky’s wooden hull had so far taken three days and would most likely demand at least four more. Barnacles and the like slowed her down and added extra weight where it was least welcome. For Lucky to fly ahead of storms and the British Navy, she needed to be clean. The gently shelving beach and calm waters of Carriacou were just the place to undertake such a venture.
Joseph Cayhill reclined on the perfect stone-white sand and closed his eyes for a lingering moment. Being captain had its own compensations, the ability to steal a few minutes of peaceful solitude being but one of them. The Caribbean sun was warm on his skin but there was shade provided by the dense jungle at his back. Birds chattered and chirped in the trees and unknown animals scurried through the undergrowth beneath the waving fronds. It was pleasant to be still after long weeks spent at sea.
Stillness was a rare pleasure for sailors. Even pirates, free as they were from the strength-sapping 4-hour watches of the Navy ships most of them had served on at one point or another, were ruled by the capricious seas and winds they encountered. The weather cared not whether men rested or went wakeful for days.
Cayhill and his crew had known little enough of stillness and rest in the last few months, sailing as they had between the Indies and the African coast, picking off fat merchants as they went. It had been a good cruise, a profitable one. Most captains had struck their colours at the mere sight of the grinning death’s head on Cayhill’s black silk flag and only two had forced him to fight for their cargo.
He smiled at the memory of Lucky’s guns belching out smoke and destruction. Sometimes it was good to allow the men to vent their spleens. Taking prizes without violence was easier, yes, but a bloodlust built up within the hardened core of the crew during weeks at sea, a lust that Cayhill would rather see slaked by letting a merchant’s blood than by watching his own drain over his cabin floor. Pirate captaincies were fickle and fluid things, voted for and sustained by the crew, they could be lost at a moment’s notice. Cayhill was of no mind to lose command of the Lucky.
The warm breeze carried the scents of the island’s interior to his nose, unfamiliar and enticing. But he didn’t stir from his prone position on the sand. One island was much like another to a pirate, however pretty. One as deserted as Carriacou provided nothing more than a place to refill water casks and do what was necessary to keep the Lucky floating.
White beaches and exotic animals were of little matter to Cayhill and his crew. Let painters and poets waste their time exclaiming over their perfect beauty. What the men wanted were brothels and taverns to fritter away their shares of the booty. Who could blame them? What was the point in piracy if stolen coin went unspent? If Cayhill did not soon provide an opportunity for them to find pleasurable company, unrest may begin to stir within the bowels of the Lucky’s hold.
As Cayhill himself had been the ringleader of one mutiny, he knew how ill it could go for captains unwilling to listen to their men’s grievances. Cold sweat prickled his brow as he recalled exacting revenge on Captain Mayhew. A harsh bastard and a liar, that one. But perhaps not deserving of the end he’d been given.
Cayhill shrugged against the soft sand. Enough reminiscing. Past was past and regrets had no place in the mind of a pirate. A merry life and a short one, that was the thing. He raised a mental glass to the thought, aye, that was the way of it.
“Cap’n. Jones says he’s spied turtles not so far up the beach. I’ll be sending him and a few others after ‘em.”
Cayhill squinted up at Matt Green, the Lucky’s quartermaster. “Aye. Sounds fine. Turtle soup, the lads’ll be happy.”
Green grinned, his handsome face tanned by wind and sun. Not for the first time, Cayhill envied Green his good looks and white, even smile. He himself was more homely than dashing and jealousy came quickly to him. But Green was an easy man to like and the crew had been unanimous in voting him to be their quartermaster. Far be it from Cayhill to depose him purely because women found Green more winsome, irritating as it was.
Dropping down on the sand beside Cayhill, Green wiped sweat from his brow and puffed out his cheeks. “Hotter than hell, I reckon.”
Cayhill snorted a laugh, then closed his eyes again, unwilling to disturb the heavy peace with conversation. Green fell silent and after a moment Cayhill quite forgot he was there.
The sun was perfect, the wind fair, the island suited to their needs – notwithstanding the lack of brothels – and Lucky would be seaworthy again soon, what more could a pirate ask?
A calm he hadn’t known since he was a boy and curled warm and protected against his mother’s side, descended on Cayhill. This was a proper life, a lazy life, far removed from the work and deprivations he’d known back in England. For a West Country urchin he’d done well. As long as he had drink enough to keep his men happy and rich English ships to chase, there was nothing more to hunger for.
Cayhill smiled up into the perfect sky. Definitely a pirate’s life for him.