| Bloody Beth, Chapter 01
"For broadside! Fire!"
Six cannon spoke at once, the thunder of their voices making the deck
beneath Beth's boots shudder with violence. Six balls of hot iron
smashed into the opposing vessel, gouging a painful wound in the ship's
once-sleek side. An explosion from within the corsair ripped open the
deck and hurled wood, debris and soldiers into the ocean.
Beth loved the sight with her heart. After six winter months of
waiting, they would take their third ship from His Majesty's fleet this
year. Although she could clearly see the flags of the British Merchant
Marine flying from the corsair's mast, the information proved correct as
the deck was swarmed with soldiers from His Majesty's army. The condition
of the corsair's sails suggested that they had been at sea the entire
voyage-- no stops, some nine weeks at least. That meant compared to her
own men, the troops would be exhausted, underfed, and quite probably
sea-addled. They had failed with their own defensive volley and only
one cannonball had struck the Jacob's Ladder, and although that one had
ruined her ship's bow it had not come close to sinking or disabling her.
The corsair, on the other hand, was now little more than a smoldering
ruin. A lucky shot with the reserve cannon had succeeded in bringing
down the rigging without completely unmasting her, and the last volley,
a broadside at close range, had gutted her gun ports on the presenting
side. Beth patted her wheelman on the shoulder. "Good job, Stede. Keep
"I know m' job, Captain!" he said with good cheer.
Beth grinned even as she wrapped one hand around a pistol and the other
about her sword, her familiar friends.
The corsair seemed a good target for plunder. Although the vessel was
probably low on supplies, Beth had word of both riches and ransom. On
such vessels gentry traveled. Gentry had money. It lifted her heart
higher to know that she had done well by her again.
"Grapples!" she shouted. Although to command, she reveled in the
feel of it. Orders sailed past her teeth, unquestioned, unhesitating.
Her men, twenty-seven in number, were probably outnumbered by the troops
on the corsair, but numbers would not be the deciding factor here. They
were all good and they had chosen her to lead them. In the year since,
she had not failed them, and she would not fail them now. They took to
their hooks and lines and waited for the hand-to-hand battle. "I'm going
down there, Stede. Do me well."
After the volleys of cannon fire, the explosion, and the exhausting length
of their voyage the corsair was on the losing end of a battle and its
crew knew it. The pirates had their sail and their rigging, while the
corsair had a in its side bleeding smoke. Beth shouted, "Now!"
Eight strands of rope sailed across the distance between the two
ships. Muscles strained on the ropes and eight hooks pulled the two ships
into contact. Their wooden sides crackled with complaint. She and her surged over the railing, guns and swords drawn to the ready. Even as her
boots made contact with the merchanter's deck, the glint of sun on steel
told her that this was not to be easy. Her made no special effort
to guard her more than any another. She found a on the wheel deck
taking aim with a gun. She shot him in the leg, knocking him down even
as she charged the stairs. His gun fired as he fell, the ball sailing
uselessly into the sky. "The wheel!" she shouted. Two of her joined
her at her side.
Another soldier jumped onto the wheeldeck, this one almost completely
liveried in the colors of His Majesty. He had steel drawn and Beth took
to him with relish, her sword batting his down even as he charged. She
had missed a good fight in the past few months; the last haul had been
The soldier, more lively than she expected, struck with a feint. Beth
paid for it with a swipe across the leg, screaming aloud with the searing
pain. He came in for the kill. She was faster with a throwing knife,
and one found itself lodged in his belly. He slumped, unbelieving,
as she finished him with her sword.
"Captain!" One of her leaped to her rescue.
"It's all right, Bart. I've had worse." She lied about both, but she
was the captain and it was her job to be brave.
"That's crap and ye know it," Bart replied. "Let's get ye back to the
Ladder and have Seaburr look at you."
"That old..." she gasped at the pain. "That barber's as likely to
kill me as patch me up." She tottered as she tried to stand.
"Aye, but ye can at least give him a try," Bart said, supporting her
with an arm under her shoulders. She got a good look at the battle
as he helped her into a standing position. She was the worst of the
wounded. The few left from the merchanter appeared to have given up.
At least after they were ransomed they could tell their admirals that
they hadn't gone down without a fight.
The cut wasn't deep, so while her did the task of rearranging stores
from the captured corsair to the Jacob's Ladder, she suffered Seaburr's
pouring hot whiskey into the wound and sealing it over with a salted
bandage. She screamed without shame at the pain of it all, but when it
was over she thought she would survive and her leg would be none the
worse. It would scar, of course, but that was to be expected.
"What have we got?" she asked her second in command. She had chosen Spike
to be her second for two reasons-- first, he liked women, and second,
he knew his letters. He also knew his job.
"We're rich, Captain! You were right to take her on. It's almost a
treasure galleon! We got the bastard's payroll vessel!" Spike rubbed
his hands with glee. "And a fine lady as well, a pretty ransom-- the
lady Jessica Speer, of the Duke of Coke."
"Then you'd best keep hands off her, and her serving woman, clear?"
she said. Spike nodded, not at all distressed. He wouldn't touch them.
What they could bring in ransom could serve him a month in a good
whorehouse, and Spike knew his numbers as well as his letters.
She looked over the poor bunch assembled on the deck of the corsair. A
few were dressed as formally as could be tolerated in the beastly hot
weather, but most were merely able-bodied of land and sea, now struck
down by the weariness of travel and the shame of defeat. "Which of you
is the Captain?"
"I... I am. Thomas Hill, Her Majesty's Merchant Navy."
Beth regarded the soft, portly without emotion. He wore the clothes of
a sailor, but they fitted him poorly. There were few truly good sailors
in the world, so she found no surprise to see someone like this at the
wheel. She supposed that his one true skill was navigation. Such were
also hard to find, and he had the look. Still, he had once commanded
better ships, as most merchanters had. She wondered what had happened
to him. "Captain Hill, your people will be treated as well as possible in
the circumstances. None of you will be harmed if all goes well. I am not
my nickname. May I ask you, why are you so poorly manned and so light, if
you're carrying the garrison payroll for Jamaica? Where is your escort?"
Hill took a moment, the sweat gathering on his upper lip. "We lost our
escort in a storm. I do not know if it sank or just disappeared over the
horizon. We were close to the Main and thought it better to risk a fast
run into Jamaica than head all the way back to England. I thought that
a small, light vessel might make it past any pirates. And there are so
few ships available for escort these days, so many have been pressed
into service to carry wood to rebuild London."
"London?" Beth asked, surprised to hear that anything had happened,
and saddened to think that she might never see that wondrous city.
He wiped his brow with a handkerchief that had probably been white at one
time. "A great fire last year. Burned down fully a third of the city. I
suppose news would not have reached your ears all the way out here."
Beth smiled mirthlessly. "No, I suppose it would not." She looked out
over the sea. The battle had begun well past high noon, she needed to
rest her leg, and night would be coming soon. The high seas were as safe
as anywhere in the Caribbean after dark. It would have to do. "Spike,"
she said, "I am going to care for some things. Finish stripping Captain
Hill's vessel and then set it adrift. Maybe we will come back for the
Hill began to protest but soon realized that there was no advantage to
it. Spike grinned. "Aye, Captain. Call on you around supper, then."
"That would be a good hour," Beth agreed.
Beth eyes opened before six bells of the second day watch rang. She
decided she should see what was happening on her ship. The pain under
her bandages was something she could live with as she rolled out of bed
and tried to stand upon her wounded leg.
She found a simple cane helped her get about a good deal. The sun was
low on the horizon when she emerged onto the deck of the Ladder. She
loved the scent of the sea, the freshness of the air at this time of
day. Her were busy in the rigging, cleaning lines and caring for
the deck. Already, she saw lines over the bow showing that the had
begun to patch the hole. She reminded herself to praise such readiness to
work. A that big could swamp the Ladder in a storm. But no such storm
threatened that evening, and if Beth had anything going for her it was her
almost supernatural ability to predict the weather for the next day. That,
alone, earned her a place of respect among the pirates. Well, all except
for the Captain William Morrow himself, an enemy of sorts who accused
her of being a weather witch. It was he who had named her "Bloody Beth"
a few years ago, accusing her of sinking one of his boats and killing
his with a conjured storm, back when she'd been little more than a
curiosity and not even a captain then. She wished she had such power.
"So, Spike," she said, startling her second as she hobbled up behind him,
"are we rich?"
"Rich?" He smiled as if holding back on a secret. "We'll not be kings.
But we will be comfortable. We can afford more stores. If we take out
the captain and ship's take, we can give each almost forty pounds."
Beth's eyes widened. "Forty pounds?" she gasped. "A could live off
forty pounds for years in the Caribbee'!"
"Aye," Spike sighed. "It's a bad day for a pirate when he gets that
much money. He has no reason to keep plundering-- until he runs out o'
shillings. Or he gets killed by bandits or drinks himself to death."
Spike shook his head. "What'll we do, Captain?"
"We give it to them, Spike. And we give them the choice."
Spike nodded, his mass of hair flapping in the gentle breeze even
as the sun finally set. Beth hadn't noticed until now the blood on his
tunic. "You're hurt," she said, pointing at his shoulder.
"A scratch. Far less than your leg."
Beth sighed. It was that kind of night. Too much time in which one could
think. "We had a noble lady on board?"
"Lady Jessica Speer, of the Duke of Coke. He owns--"
"I know what he owns, Spike," she snapped coldly. The Duke of Coke owned
one of the largest sugar plantations on Jamaica. It was difficult not
to know who he was. He was one of those who came and went again
and again, the sort who hated the heat and the mosquitoes of Jamaica,
but not who did not trust the people he left behind enough to leave them
alone for very long. To Beth, though, he was something else. There was
a God would not forgive easily. Nor she. "Bring her to my cabin,
would you? I'd like to meet this lady."
Spike grinned. "We'll be there in a moment."
Beth returned to her tiny cabin and made a note in the log while Spike
and and another wrestled the Lady Speer into her room. "You can
close the door," she said to them without turning. When she was done,
she closed the book, placed it in a drawer and latched the dresser lock
before finally turning to look at her prisoner.
Lady Jessica Speer was slightly taller than Beth. She had been caught
in little more than a collection of underthings: a satin kirtle with
buttons that led from elbow to ankle, with additional ties up to her
neck. Over that she wore a man's cloak that seemed to be just doing the
job of keeping her warm as the evening chill set in. The Caribbean sea
was like that; a hot Hell at noon and a colder Hell at midnight.
But to Beth, the look was overwhelming. Lady Speer's face was rounded
with high cheekbones, arching eyebrows, and a mane of black hair
that hung down over her shoulders. Beth's eyes looked downwards. Lady
Speer's body, what could be discerned of it through her clothes, was
rich with a quality Beth could not remember seeing in all her days.
She had large breasts, and Beth's eyes left them reluctantly as they
scanned back up to the woman's face. The eyes were angry, the face
scared. Beth took a deep breath. "Sit, Lady Speer."
Lady Speer took the chair offered with a jerk and sat down.
Beth turned her own chair around and faced her across the table. "No
doubt you wish to know what is about to happen to you," she began.
Lady Speer kept her silence.
Deciding that the silence might be broken with a little help from that
familiar friend, alcohol, Beth reached into a small, latched cupboard and
brought out two tin mugs and a bottle. "It's rum. We do drink it. It is
made everywhere on the islands and is better drunk early than late." She
poured for each of them and returned the bottle to its place. "Drink."
Lady Speer looked at Beth with accusation. Her eyes flickered back and
forth between Beth's face and the mug of dark liquid waiting for her.
She grabbed the mug and downed it all in one gulp, her face crossed with
the kind of agony reserved for more medicinal mixtures. "Oh, God!" she
gasped, then clasped her hands to her mouth, her eyes looking over the
fingers with fright.
"You get used to it," Beth said as she sipped her own. The alcohol
seeped down into her body and warmed her arms. The throbbing pain in her
leg seemed to flare and then subside in the darkness. "Have no fear,
my lady. We are going to see to it that you reach your destination
unharmed. My are not going to ravish you. They would not know where
to begin. Indeed, I think most of them are afraid of you, as one should
be afraid of an angel sent down from Heaven."
"I am not an angel," Lady Speer retorted.
Beth smiled. The rum was doing its business, loosening the other
woman's tongue and giving her the courage to talk. Beth appreciated
that, for she longed to hear more from this woman. More about England,
a land in which she had been born, but of which she had no memories.
And more from this woman whose mere presence captivated her in ways
she could not begin to express in words. "No, but you are a woman.
They have not seen your like in many a year. Do you know that there
are far fewer whorehouses in Jamaica than on the mainland? who take
to the wide sea are not interested in women. Indeed, they may not have
known a woman since their mother, against whom they are usually sadly
bitter. They sign onto the open sea because they wish to get away from
ladies and the pressures to marry."
"You are... of the female persuasion," Lady Speer said, pointing out
Beth laughed, ignoring the woman's attempted dig. "They have known me on
this vessel since I was eight years old, Lady Speer. They do not think of
me as a woman, they think of me as a part of this ship. And I do not ask
of them the things your world asks of them and so they do not fear me."
Beth leaned back in her chair. "In any event, Lady Speer, you are to be
ransomed. Your husband will pay a willing hundred pounds, I imagine, for
you." She looked Lady Speer up and down again, wondering what was going
on in her own heart. She had a sudden urge to tear the lady's clothing
off and see for herself what lay underneath. She realized that she was
thinking like her men, or rather, like a landed man. Was it curiosity,
or... something else?
"That is not very much money," Lady Speer said. She seemed disappointed
to learn that the going price on hear head wasn't higher.
"It is in the Caribbean. And we are not feeling greedy. We have what we
came for off your ship."
Lady Speer's face twisted into an ugly snarl. "And you killed for
it. You're a monster. You are all monsters, but you most of all. A woman
who defies her sex and acts with sword and gun, who leads a ship full
of eunuchs, and who steals from the land that gave her birth."
Beth had heard all of these accusations enough that none of the enraged
her any more. She took another sip of the warming rum and felt better;
being treated as an enemy made the Lady Speer seem more distant and less
interesting. That she could tolerate more easily. It saddened her that
she would not make enough of a conversation with her ladyship for her
to learn more of England, but she could learn in other ways. She said,
"If you feel that way. Mais je ne suis pas un monstre."
Lady Speer reacted as if she had been slapped. "You speak French?"
"Oui," Beth responded. "And Latin. I was taken aboard this ship as a
child, Lady Speer, and have no idea what it means to be anything but
this. I am not defying my sex. I do not know what it means to be like
you, with your perfect clothes and your manners. I only know the with whom I share this ship." She leaned across the table and looked
into the lady's eyes. "What do you know of pirates?"
Lady Speer looked flustered. It was clear to Beth that she had not
anticipated being directly challenged. She leaned back in the chair
and took more of the rum herself. It had the desired effect: her face
flushed and her eyes seemed to water a little. "What is there to know?
They're smelly, dirty, unlettered... men!"
"I'm only the first two," Beth said, "And just now, you are the first
two as well. It has been a long day." A lock of hair had fallen over
Lady Speer's face. Beth could not keep her eyes off it. That, and the
alcohol haze through which both of them strayed, made the Lady look more
fetching than Beth could have imagined. She shook her head. "And it will
be a long week, at least, before you are ransomed."
Lady Speer's face fell. "A week?" Then she seemed to recover somewhat.
"Well, then. I will have something to tell my husband. You are sure your
men will not touch me?" There was something peculiar in the way she said
"men," Beth thought. Something very odd indeed.
"Quite," Beth said. There was a look in Lady Speer's eyes, and it bothered
her. Her heart was racing. She felt an uncomfortable moisture between
her thighs. "I believe we have had enough. My will escort you back
to the hold where your handmaiden awaits."
After Spike had taken the Lady Speer away, Beth rolled into her bed
and closed her eyes. The wound on her thigh throbbed without mercy,
but the image before her imagination was what truly kept her awake.
She could not banish the thought of the Lady Speer from her conscience.
She knew how a might feel; she had long ago learned from the few
men who kept the brothels in business, the ones who had come to the
sea from paths other than the usual. Right now the she kept for
her purposes was an Irishman named Patrick, a farmer who had joined in
the rebellion a few years back. He, and almost a thousand other men,
had been shipped to the Caribbean to serve in a penal colony. Patrick
had escaped and, although not a seaman, had found his way aboard the
Ladder. When her previous lover, Johnny, had decided to join three
others and make their way into Mexico to find a retiring land, she had
taken to Patrick easily. And Patrick had taken to her just as readily,
although always he carried a sense of sadness about himself. It was,
he said, for his wife, who had been killed by the British.
Try as she might, she could not be rid of her imagination of the
Lady Speer. She wanted to touch that purity of skin, that softness of
flesh. Her imaginings included kisses, her lips to that of the fine
Lady's mouth; her ears filled with the dreaming of what it might be like
to hear the Lady whispering words of encouragement and love.
Beth's hands crept down under the drawstring of her brais and into the
thicket of fur between her thighs. She had often watched her stroke
themselves and, although the activity fascinated her, it had held no
attraction for her. They always looked like they were going to their little organs as they acted with such violence. They performed the
action with all the care of a performing elimination and, indeed,
for many of them that's what it appeared to be. They acted as if lust
itself were a dirty thing that built up within them like urine, and that
it had to be eliminated, with effort if necessary.
She still had some of the learning of her father, though, and understood
that what they were doing was an act better performed in private, if at
all. Unlike they, she did not feel some third element within her that
needed elimination from time to time. At least, she had never felt that
She tossed over in bed, feeling warmer than was right. Was she
feverish? Maybe she had taken ill, her wound grown gangrenous. That might
explain how the spirits tormented her with dreams, or maybe nightmares,
of the Lady Speer's softness. But she was not yet asleep. Her fingers,
as if possessed by an animation all their own, crept between her thighs
and found her pudendum. She startled when she realized that they were
seeking something that they would not find. She had no prick to seize and
stroke, no organ of release to call her own. For all that she belonged
on this ship and with these men, she was a woman born and could not
perform some acts by herself.
She rose from her bed and tightened the string about her waist before
heading up top. She came out into the main deck and saw three of her
men wandering about, keeping watch. "Bart," she said, "Is there anything
left to eat?"
The big with the eternal grin looked back at her. "Aye. There's a stew waiting for you. Made with salt found in Hell, but it's still warm."
She thanked him and made her way into the galley. A tiny hole, it had
just room enough for one small stove. On top was a pot, fixed down with
iron latches, with just enough food in its bottom for two or three. She
took enough to feed just herself, and a hunk of black, stale bread from
the cupboard, and went back out on deck to eat. The bread took a lot
of chewing but was worth it. For some reason tonight her belly felt
bottomless and starving. She drank water straight from a rainbarrel.
"Evenin', Captain," said Patrick's soft brogue. "I saw ye were bandaged
this afternoon. Not too badly hurt, I hope?"
"No, not too badly," she replied. "Not in body, anyway."
Patrick nodded. It never ceased to amaze Beth that no on the crew
resented her relationship with Patrick. Among her crew were more than
a few sodomites who kept their pleasures with one another and the rest
simply remained celibate by choice, free of any associations save with
the bottle and their hands. Most pirates were like that, misfits for
that reason especially, but other reasons included. The of her ship
were gentle enough souls when they were among one another, calling each
'brother'. Herself included.
She looked up into his scruff and handsome, face barely visible in the
starlight. Memories of dreams raced into her imagination once more,
fantasies of the Lady Speer unwelcomed by her natural self. She decided
to attempt some magic of her own, the only kind she knew of, to banish
the beastly figments. "Patrick, I need ye tonight."
Patrick seemed surprised. He was not inclined to refuse. He appreciated a
good roll with a woman better than many on the crew, and know his nights
with her gave him no special standing in the morning. "Need, Captain?"
She rose and stood close enough that she could smell the collected sweat
upon his brow. "Yes. I need you, Patrick." She reached out one hand for
his and he took it.
She led him back to her cabin, to her small, never-made cot. There, she
stripped the clothes from his body and allowed him to do the same for
her. He opened her and gathered her modest in his hands,
stroking and kneading their skin until he was almost hurting her. She
moaned with wanting him, with the force he applied to her. It made her
feel alive. His hands dipped into the line of her trousers, pulling the
drawstring open and dropping them to the floor. She stepped out of the
pile of clothes that had gathered about her feet.
In the darkness of her cabin, illuminated by a single candle and the
starlight of one small portal, she pressed her body up against his.
She felt the Irish steel of his flesh, the hard muscles of his body
against hers, and she wished that she could be as strong and as powerful
as he. Her hands reached down to stroke the erect prick pressed against
her belly. "The bed, Patrick."
"Aye, me Captain. You have inflamed me greatly." He followed her to the
tiny cot. It creaked under the weight of them both even as she opened
her legs and accepted his body between them. His prick sniffed at her
willing sex like a dog, so she seized it in her hand and led it to its
proper den. Patrick plunged into her body on one stroke. Her desire had
turned her insides to liquid and she accepted him readily and lustily.
His thrusts were hard and demanding. Her soul exulted in this expression
of affection that was so beyond what she might have learned from
whatever pale, aristocratic jackass she might have in another
life. His arms, as strong as the beams that made up her ship, punched into
the mattress on which they lay, and she wrapped her fingers around those
muscular limbs and held on for dear life. His prick, his glorious manhood,
plunged and emptied, plunged and emptied her. His body heaved into hers
like a stormy sea against a battered ship, and like such a ship, Beth had
no thought to anything but riding out the glorious rut. "Patrick, yes!"
He was in his own heaven, or wherever it was went when they
rutted. His body was a taut bulk of masculine line, his hips a broadside
against her own. She was holding on for precious life even as he finished
with a shout more like a cry for help than an exultation of lust.
Patrick lay down beside her on his back, crowding her in her own cot.
"Thank you, m'Captain."
She leaned against him, curling her grateful body against his own, her
thigh pressing against the damp curls of his pubes. "You're welcome,
Patrick. I appreciate what you have done for me."
"And what you have for me. On a ship like this, the presence of a woman
is a welcome reminder of what I may have left behind forever."
The smell of sex filled the space between them, but even that had not
helped completely to wipe out the fancies that Beth had hoped Patrick
might prove the medicine for. And Patrick seemed withdrawn even at this
close range. "Patrick?"
"I thought of Nainsi, my wife, while we made that beast with two backs. I
"She was killed by the King's Men, yes?" The had come in small
drips through the year, but never had he told it to her whole.
"Aye, during the rebellion. Bastards shot her in the back. At least she
died with her womanly honor intact; she had only ever known me in all
her life. She was a beautiful woman, Beth, Nainsi was, with reddish,
curly hair, the whitest skin the sun had e'er touched, and the full body
that a woman who has borne children truly deserves."
Patrick rose abruptly. Beth's skin protested the sudden loss of his
warm body even as her heart sank. She feared she had asked too much of
him. "I'm... I'm sorry, Patrick, for reminding ye of her."
"Nae, that's not it," Patrick said. He kept his back to her as he pulled
on his pants and tied the cord that kept them up. "I'll just be going
back to me hammock." He paused at her minuscule desk, little more than an
oversized stool, and placed his fingertips on the small rosewood chest
that occupied one corner. "Captain, a pirate is a dead man. He dies
the first time about seven or eight years when the is too small to
be divvied up further and his throws him into the streets where
he is lucky to find a band of thugs and rovers to call home. He dies a
second time at nine or ten when he realizes that women have no place in
his heart any more and natural inclination condemns him before God and
his ministers. And he dies a third time, out here, when the cruelty of
His Majesty's Navy drives him to rebellion and desertion and a price on
Patrick turned to face her. "In such, I've only died once. But you, my
lady, have not yet died at all. Maybe it's my just bein' a speakin',
but tossing yourself into that fight today was a damn stupid thing to
do. But for a damned villain, you still live, and you can go back t'
living. Do it. Before a cannon or a sword ends all your chances." Before
she could make a reply, he left, leaving her with her confusion.
She felt saddened for Patrick and angry at herself for not knowing
when to leave well enough alone. Worse, even as she lay in her cot
and felt his seed seeping from her sex, she could not keep her mind
from thinking about... women. About her unique status among pirates--
only the second woman to go to sea with a pirate crew and attain any
notoriety worth mention. She didn't even know the other woman's name,
but she could not stop dreaming about what her body must have contained,
her clothing must have hidden. Beth curled up in the bed, thankful for
Patrick's strength, but now sure that it would not be enough to banish
her queer, curious desires.
Bloody Beth is Copyright © 1989-2000 Elf Mathieu Sternberg. Distribution
limited to electronic media not-for-profit use only. All other rights
are reserved to the author.