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An excerpt from Chapter 8; in which Kate arms herself with sword and pistol, and prepares to face desperate men.
They were anchored one morning somewhere off Nam Ky, the peninsula between Burma and China, when Kate rose early to draw the coastline.
“Good morning,” Sir Tom called, stepping along the rail to see her work.
“Good morning, Grandfather.”
“Difficult to sketch once we’re under way?”
“Yes, indeed.” Kate nodded. “And this view isn’t very interesting to draw. It’s endless jungle. I wonder if tigers are in there?”
“Perhaps.” He swivelled around. “Look, there’s a junk off our port bow. Why don’t you draw that?”
A square-sailed vessel, about forty feet long, approached them at speed. Kate peered at the odd boat and thought it would make a nice subject. She started adding it into her sketch while Sir Tom moved off towards the cabin. After a few moments of drawing the high, wide squared bow, low hull, and broad stern, examining her subject and trying to capture the shape of the craft, Kate noticed the junk was tacking in a decidedly aggressive manner, using the wind to draw near.
“Grandfather!” she called. “Doesn’t that boat seem to be coming up on us?”
Sir Tom moved to the rail and took a long look. Kate strolled over beside him. On the junk, men were visible, filling the deck.
“Who are they, Grandfather?”
“Pirates,” Sir Tom spat, then he turned and yelled, “Men! On deck! To me!”
“Really?” Kate looked at the junk again. “In that small boat? Don’t pirates usually have warships, with cannons?”
“These aren’t the buccaneers of old, Kate, sailing out of Port Royal. I’ll wager most of them are poor, desperate men with nothing to lose.”
“We can barely see them. How do you know they’re pirates?”
“The only reason to have dozens of men massed on deck would be for a boarding party. Now get below.”
“Men!” Colonel Bob appeared at the rail. “Prepare to repel boarders!”
“Can’t we outrun them?” Kate asked, hoping for an escape. This is wrong. There must be a way to avoid bloodshed.
“Our steam’s not up yet, we’ll have to fight.” Sir Tom looked out at the approaching boat. “They’ll have to tack again before their attack run. We’ve time to arm ourselves properly. Men!” he bellowed. “Draw weapons from the stores!”
“Tell cook to hold breakfast!” Colonel Bob added, apparently more concerned with his morning meal.
The crew scurried, and orders were shouted all around, the boat’s ratter barking in alarm. Kate made for the ladder, jumped down the three steps into the hall, and rushed to the cabin the ladies were sharing. She found Mrs. Farewell dressing. Kate pounced on her strongbox, tripping on her skirt hem, and drew her pistol, hands shaking. I can’t believe I’m doing this. I don’t know if I can use it. Could I actually shoot someone? Maybe I should give it to Grandfather.
“What’s all this?” Mrs. Farewell asked, clearly alarmed.
“We’re being attacked by pirates,” Kate gasped. “We have to defend ourselves.”
“Yes, and take care of the men. There’ll be wounded.”
“Should we bolt ourselves in?” Kate suggested. “Yes, we’d be safer here.”
“No! We have to help,” Mrs. Farewell declared. “We need the men to stop the pirates on deck. If they get down here with us we’d be better off dead! Follow me.”
When they emerged on deck, the crew were formed up in two ranks with Brown Bess muskets ready, Sir Tom and Colonel Bob with cutlasses at each end. Kate could see the men were calm, all of them professional soldiers who had fought in countless battles. She wished she could be so composed. Not entirely sure what to do, she stood behind and to the side of the men. She watched Mrs. Farewell stride up to her grandfather and say a few words. Various swords had been brought on deck in a barrel. Kate grabbed a long, thin sabre similar to the duelling blades she’d practised with…