After a detour at the nearest port to pick up supplies (paid for by me, since their treasure was at the bottom of the Ionian Sea), we headed toward the Isle of Man. Slim (the one with the leather wrist cuffs) had charted a course using a map I had provided him. I did little to help them. They seemed to be an efficient crew, each aware of their jobs, and I didn’t want to get in their way.
Hermes, however, didn’t think much of them at all. It was two days before they untied him. They even gagged him at one point after he told them what was going to happen to them when he got loose. He might have mentioned a one-way trip to Tartarus and said something about introducing Tooth to Cerberus. I finally took pity on him and convinced Barry #1 to free him. No, he didn’t thank me for it. But he didn’t leave, either.
Five days into our journey, I was standing by the rail when Barry #2 came over. “So…” he said, looking out at the water, “God of War, huh?”
He shrugged. “The one in the white sheet might have mentioned it, said you were goin’ to kill us all before we could get to the treasure. Is that true?”
I rolled my eyes. Hermes and his mouth. “Which part?”
“Any of it, all of it.”
Turning around, I leaned against the rail and crossed my arms. “Yes, I am the God of War. No, I am not going to kill you all before we get to the Isle of Man.”
Barry’s eyes widened in fear, and he muttered a few words I won’t repeat. “This is one of the dumbest things Tooth has ever done,” he said when he was through. “Shanghaiing an immortal.”
“Forgive me for saying this, but you seem a bit more intelligent than the others. What are you doing, as they say, ‘sailing the ocean blue’ with a gang of cutthroats?”
Barry laughed. “Cutthroats? Hardly.”
“Your captain told me about your adventures, how you’ve sent many ships to the bottom of the seas, all the treasure…”
Barry cut me off. “He likes to exaggerate…a lot.”
This hardly surprised me. I’d never met a pirate yet who couldn’t spin a yarn, as they liked to say. “What happened to your last captain?”
“You mean Hairy Peg Leg?” he replied. “It was a tragic accident.”
“I hardly call being run through the gullet with a sword a tragic accident. Sounds quite intentional to me.”
“Is that what Tooth told you?” Barry started laughing. “We were swabbin’ the decks one morning. Tooth was havin’ a nap in the sun when Hairy Peg Leg came topside. He’d been warned many times to watch where he walked. We didn’t want him accidentally stabbin’ Tooth with his peg leg, although there were times he intentionally tried to do it.”
Barry shrugged again. “He was okay. Anyway, Hairy Peg Leg was busy yellin’ at Teacup, and he tripped over Tooth. Stumbled into a pile of cannonballs, hit the cannon, flipped over the rail and into the water. We tried to pull him out, but the capt’n had the habit of carryin’ bags of gold in his pockets. Said he liked to hear them jinglin’ when he walked. He drowned. There was a proper prayer said ov’r him before Tooth took charge and ordered us to sail away.”
“So the ship that sank the other day was Hairy’s, not Tooth’s?”
“Aye, it was.”
“Interesting.” I was beginning to wonder what exactly the little black pug was up to, and just what he expected me to do when we go to the Isle of Man.
“Who’s the other guy?” Barry asked.
“That’s my brother, Hermes.”
“Really? I never would have guessed that. He’s a bit of a…” he tried to think of an appropriate word.
“Yes, he is,” I agreed, knowing exactly what he meant. “Tell me about the rest of the crew.” I pointed at Slim. “Start with him.”
“His name is Steve Stevens, but we call him Slim for obvious reasons. Never gets fat, even though he eats a lot. Tooth is actually his dog. I dunno, sometimes I think Slim has some problems up here,” he said, pointing to his head. “He’s really good with his swords, at least when there’s not a fight going on. But in an actual battle, he’s worthless.”
“No confidence in himself.”
Barry nodded. “It probably doesn’t help that Tooth gives him a hard time. Slim doesn’t seem to mind; he thinks Tooth is the smartest one of the crew.”
I shook my head. “What about Rummy?”
“We don’t know a lot about her,” he admitted. “Her name is Wanda Pearl, but don’t call her that. She hates the name. She’s crazy. Wild.” He looked sad. “When she ain’t drinkin’, she’s a lot of fun. But that ain’t very often. I asked her once why she was a pirate. She swiped my bottle of rum, punched me in the face, and walked off. She’s fierce in battle, though. I wouldn’t want to go up against her.”
I watched Rummy as she walked over to my brother and said something. Hermes looked indignant, got right in her face, and told her off. Her response was to punch him, sending him sprawling on the deck, flashing the whole crew as his toga flew up. They all laughed at him as he got to his feet, adjusted his clothing, and stomped off. “I see what you mean. What about the other Barry?”
“His name is Barry Berry. He brags all the time about how he’s going to be a fighter and beat anyone who challenges him. He couldn’t fight his way out of a burlap sack. You saw how he reacted the other day when you tried to hit him. He’s a coward.”
“I seem to recall his comment about your name being Maxwell and not Barry. Is that true?”
He looked embarrassed. “Aye, it is. When I first joined the crew, Barry helped me out. Taught me some fight moves, made sure I got plenty of food – the rest of them don’t like to share with scallywags, that’s new crew in case you don’t know – he was great. I couldn’t wait to go into battle with him. But then that first one came, and he was nowhere to be found. Rummy was the one that told me where Barry was hidin’. I didn’t hold it against him. I was scared, too.”
“But you didn’t go hide in fear, did you?”
“Well, no. But I did get a good beatin’. The rest of them saw me take my lumps, and they stopped givin’ me a hard time.”
“What’s the deal with this?” I said, imitating him when he had boarded the first day.
He rubbed the back of his neck. “I read a book about magic, and it sounded cool. I’ve been practicin’ and wanted to try it out.”
“Trust me, magic is more than just what you read in books. I can’t explain it myself, but I have seen it. It’s amazing and terrifying at the same time.”
He looked disappointed. “So, I’ll probably never be able to do it?”
“I didn’t say that, and I don’t know enough about it to give you a proper answer.” I watched as Smee walked over to Slim and said something. She gave him a smile, gently touched his arm, then quickly moved away before anyone else noticed the small exchange. “What’s Smee’s story?”
“Well, I don’t know if this is true or not, but I heard a story that she likes to poison people.”
I looked at the young woman with the shoulder length black hair. She had a pleasant look about her. Someone I might have taken for a gondola ride through Venice, or a moonlight stroll in Athens. “I find that hard to believe.”
“I thought the same thing until I saw her slip some belladonna into Rummy’s food one night. They had had a huge argument earlier in the day, and Rummy had punched her.”
“Rummy’s solution to everything seems to be punching people.”
“Aye, that’s true,” Barry said. “Anyway, it was Smee’s turn to cook that night, and I came around the corner in time to see her put the belladonna in Rummy’s stew. She didn’t see me, so I backed out of the galley and went to sit down. When she brought the bowls out, I stood up quickly and hit her arm. She dropped Rummy’s bowl, then glared at me. I told her I was sorry and cleaned it up.”
“So you’re a hero,” I said. “You saved someone’s life.”
He thought about it a moment. “Aye, I guess I am,” he said, smiling.
I saw the young woman who had waved at me when she had first come on the ship and nodded my head in her direction. “What about her?”
“Waves? She’s all right,” Barry said nonchalantly.
I studied his face for a moment and saw him blushing. “You like her.”
He shrugged, but didn’t admit it. “She knows more about magic than I do. Watch.”
I looked at the young woman as she held her hand out, palm up, and saw her lips moving. A small burst of flame appeared, and her eyes widened in surprise. She shook her hand as if to put it out and sent the little fireball flying in the air. It hit the back of Hermes’ toga, which promptly caught on fire. He started yelling, and everyone turned in his direction. Rummy rushed over, intent on putting out the fire with the rum. Smee knocked the bottle out of her hand, and Rummy reacted by trying to punch her. The quiet man of the group grabbed a bucket of water, ran over, and threw it on Hermes, putting the fire out. Unfortunately, half of the toga was gone, leaving very little to the imagination. Pulling down the edges of what remained of his clothes, Hermes went below decks.
“Who’s that guy?” I asked, pointing to the man with the bucket.
“That’s Teacup. He’s a bit of a dandy, if you ask me. Doesn’t drink his rum from the bottle like the rest of us. He pours it into a teacup, and holds his pinkie up when he drinks it. Slim says he’s good at blowing things up, but the only thing I’ve ever seen him sink was our own ship!”
“You mean he was the reason your ship sank, and not because of some battle?”
“Aye. He was down in the hold, messin’ around with the gunpowder. We’re not exactly sure what happened; no one was down there with him at the time. Just a loud BOOM! I’ve heard stories about some of his other attempts, though. None of them have been gone as planned.”
“Well, I must admit, you have an interesting crew,” I told him.
“We’re a bunch of odd ones, to be sure,” he replied. “But we’re family.”
I looked around at the people on the deck of my ship. Certainly not a crew I would pick, but things did seem to run smoothly when they worked together. Given the various personalities, I was honestly surprised they had survived this long. “Barry, I’d like to ask you something, and I want an honest answer from you.”
He looked at me warily. “If I can, but I won’t betray their trust. That’s sacred.”
“I’m not asking you to do that at all,” I assured him. “Is it treasure you are after, or is it something else?”
Barry pushed away from the rail. “We are after treasure,” he said cautiously.
“There might be an obstacle or two along the way.”
“What kind of obstacles?”
He shook his head. “I can’t tell you more than that,” he replied as he started to walk away. He stopped and turned to look at me. “But I sure hope you truly are the God of War. Because that’s the only way we’re goin’ to be able to get our treasure back.”
I watched him leave, and was immediately joined by Hermes, who had changed into some of my clothes. The leather pants were a good look for him, but I’d never tell him that. “Having a rough time of it?” I asked him.
“These people are insane,” he muttered. “Why are you allowing them to do this?”
I shrugged. “Why not?”
“Because you’re a bloody god! You don’t let people push you around! You tell them what to do.”
“Maybe that’s the way you work, but not me, Hermes. Look at them. They’re working together toward a common goal. Granted, they’re a bit of a mess, but their hearts are in the right place.”
Hermes scoffed. “I’ve heard them talking. I don’t think they’re as ‘pure’ as you think they are. There is something waiting for us when we get to the Isle of Man. I don’t know what, but from what they’ve said, it doesn’t sound good.”
“Barry #2 mentioned that he hoped I really was the God of War. Did they mention any names or anything like that?”
“Smee mentioned a name, and the rest of them got a scared look on their faces when she did. Something de Bastille.”
That got my attention. “Are you sure?”
“Of course, I’m sure,” he snapped. “I’m not deaf. Do you know him?”
“His full name is Captain Sirio Neruda de Bastille,” I replied. “I don’t know him personally, but I’ve heard stories.” I slapped Hermes on the back. “I think this little adventure just got a lot more interesting.”