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Chapter 4: Fire in the Hole

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"You're going to attack that ship?" I ask, not having heeded the captain's orders and still standing by his side at the wheel. After hearing Butler in the crow's nest ring the ship's bell, the rest of the crew is now clamoring around us .

"Attack, capture, and rob. That's correct," he says. "Now, get out of the way before you get hurt. We're gaining on them quickly. With any luck, they won't notice us until we're on top of them. The Dutch put up a good fight, so lock yourself in and wait for me."

Kincade ushers me toward the steps and stands at the top until I start to descend onto the main deck. "Henry! Bring my gear." He turns away as the well-dressed boy from earlier emerges from the navigation room with the missing jacket and weapons.

While the captain is busy getting dressed, I take the opportunity to slip around the exterior of the cabin into a nook that's out of view from the quarterdeck. We're still miles away from the other ship, and even if I only stick around for the prelude, this may be the most action I'll ever get to see. I'm not going to waste any of it hiding in my room.

"Correct course, Mister Till and full speed ahead," Kincade bellows from above, no doubt assuming that I'm now safely stowed within the cabin.

"Full speed ahead," the sailing master loudly repeatsthe order for everyone else to hear.

The excitement is palpable, and the men know their roles well. Apart from a few, key commands, they need no instructions, but rather go about their preparations.

Just like this afternoon, three men climb the masts and unfurl the canvas pieces to their full capacity. Their partners below adjust the sails' angles to maximize the wind captured while maintaining the right course. They expertly tie off the ropes with complex knots before running to the next task.

Other men open the porthole shutters and roll the cannons to their ready position. Disappearing below, they emerge with the accompanying metal balls, struggling against their weight. The men drop the round, black objects on the deck with a thunk before making a tidy pyramid at the base of each cannon. The sailors then proceed to roll out small barrels I assume contain the powder and place those nearby, as well.

The big, African man they call Femi brings topside a large bundle wrapped in burlap. Laying it on a crate, he unwraps it to reveal more than a dozen different weapons. The men clamor around the forged iron implements of death like children with new toys. They each choose their favorite from amongst the swords, axes, and pikes. They test out the feel of the wooden shafts in their hands and grin. Retreating to their stations scattered around the deck, I see them checking their personal pistols and knives before tucking them safely in their belts.

Finally, the crew snuff out all but a few of the lanterns, leaving the ship in an eerie darkness.  The light of the moon is no longer useful because of the increasing number of dark clouds overhead. I can only tell the navigators are taking measurements of our speed when a clear voice echoes into the silence. He counts up until finally reaching twelve.

"Very good," I hear the captain say. He must still be on the platform above me, waiting out the attack's commencement. While he's under the impression that I'm safely tucked away in the cabin, everyone who can see me continues to ignore me. Right now, I'm completely fine with this.

The anticipation makes my heart beat faster, and I'm already regretting the moment when I will have to take cover. Until then, I enjoy the salty smell of the cool air billowing around me, with not much more than the sound of the vessel cutting through the waves. Closing my eyes, I let the experience lull my nerves.

I don't realize until it's too late that Kincade's cabin boy Henry is standing in front of me.

When I open my eyes, I jump from my crouched position at the unexpected sight. The lad, however, smiles and places one finger against his lips.

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