Chapter Twenty: Strangers Come to Call

Pam and Gerbald were climbing over the steep southern bluff to walk the next beach over in search of as yet unseen species as well as possible new food sources, when an unexpected splash of color out on the water caught Pam’s ever watchful eye.

“Gerbald! Look!” Pam hissed back into the trees. She was now on her belly in the tall grass crawling up to the cliff edge. Gerbald slithered up next to her with practiced grace.

“A ship! But what kind?” his eyes were bright as they focused on the vessel anchored in their bay. Pam carefully grasped the black neoprene strap at her neck to pull her precious birding scope out of its chest pocket home. She cupped a palm over the outer lens to prevent any reflection from the bright southern sun giving away their position. Focusing in she was surprised to see a brightly painted vessel with elegantly carved touches to its woodwork: dragons and sea turtles and cranes. The back and front were both set high and the sails were an odd squared-off shape.

“Hmmm. I think it’s some kind of a junk,” Pam said.

“Really? I am no seaman but it looks like a perfectly seaworthy boat to me, although shaped rather oddly.” Gerbald squinted at the vessel curiously.

Pam stifled a laugh. “No, not that kind of junk. I mean a Chinese junk, a type of ship from the Orient.”

“Ah, another one of those homonyms. A rather annoying feature of English, I must say.”

“I agree. Christ all mighty, we have to get back down to the camp. Do you think they’ve seen it, too?”

“Master Bosun always sets a watch. The Swedish sailors are resourceful and well-trained men. We are lucky to have them.”

“Darn tootin’!” If one were to be shipwrecked, a friendly band of resourceful Vikings was definitely the way to go.

Pam watched the swarthy-complexioned men going about their tasks on the deck. “They don’t look Chinese,” Pam whispered, even though it was very unlikely they could be heard against the wind at such a distance. She handed Gerbald the scope.

“Indeed, at least not any such as I have seen on TV or at the movies, although I think some of those were actually white people in poorly done make-up. These fellows look to be some kind of Moor. By their white robes and headgear I would say they are followers of Allah the Merciful.” The last came with an ironic chuckle from the old soldier.

“Arabs?”

“Perhaps, or some relative. Turks, possibly. They are well armed with those curved blades, and handle themselves like fighting men. Several have firearms, although those look rather primitive. Oh- oh my.” His tone turned dark.

“What?” Pam asked, growing more and more uneasy.

“It’s ugly, but you had best see it for yourself. Look there, hanging from the bowsprit.”

Pam looked and to her horror saw several severed heads with silky black hair hanging there, grisly trophies swinging in the sea breeze. Despite the state of decay she was sure their features were Asiatic.

“My God, they killed the Chinese who owned the ship! These guys are some kind of pirates!”

“Indubitably.” That was one of Gerbald’s favorite two dollar words, gleaned from watching TV, of course. “This is not good,” he added, with a frown.

“Have you ever fought any like them before?”

“There were some with faces like these amongst the Spanish. Fierce fighters.” He handed the scope back to Pam. “Don’t worry, they will bleed,” he added, his voice taking on a cold edge. Pam looked at the former soldier, still fearsome in his fifties, as his hand went instinctively to the deadly shortsword that hung at his belt.

“No doubt they will. Let’s git.”

Very carefully, they eased their bodies back from the cliff edge through the grass, leaving little trace of their presence. They made haste through the shadowed wood, down the rocky hillside to their castaway camp. They arrived to find Dore clutching her biggest cleaver, waiting anxiously near the hidden path which was their designated escape route, which led to a refuge in the forest they had prepared for such emergencies. Seeing her loved ones arrive, she puffed out her typical exasperated breath. Before they could begin to tell her what they had seen, Dore addressed them in hushed and serious tones.

“You are late. We know about the boat, too. We were not seen and the sailors have already set up an ambush. They think those men will come ashore for fresh water. They are no Christians by the looks of them. The bosun says they are murderous pirates.”

Gerbald nodded, allowing himself a grim smile at the prospect of combat. Pam leaned on her grandmother’s walking stick, catching her breath and calming her nerves as she watched Gerbald slip silently into the brush to confer with their men, becoming invisible to any onlooker within an instant. Thanks to his training, she knew how to do that, too, and in a situation like this she was glad of it.

“Come on, Dore, let’s get undercover. This is one time where I am more than happy to let the men do their macho warrior thing and stay out of the way.”

“Such boys they are. They relish this, you know. Fools.”

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