as told by Lorelei de la Mer

As befits any adventure worth having, it all began at the Drunken Mermaid. Having recently returned to Port Royal after a very successful voyage along the Main, I was enjoying a well-deserved cherry cordial and observing the activity in the public room from my favorite table, set in an airy corner that afforded me a complete view of the room and all who entered.

A large crowd was gathered about the Corsican Sisters, who were regaling their admirers with tales of their latest adventures, pantomiming and gesturing with such alacrity, I had to smile. Elsewhere, Baron von Eisenfaust and Wilhelm Schuck were deep in conversation over a ragged parchment spread upon their table.

Making a mental note of that, I turned my gaze to the large fireplace, near which sat Thane Blackdawn and Dead Jim Harris. Thane caught me glancing their way, whereupon he winked and raised his tankard in greeting. I smiled and nodded back.

Suddenly, there was a commotion at the entrance. A pistol shot rang out, and Agnes the Red, accompanied by two of her officers, stepped over the threshold. She stopped and turned back to the doorway, feet apart, one hand on a hip, the other brandishing a just-fired pistol.

"And let that be a lesson to ye, y' scurvy, pox-ridden bilge rat!" With a snort and a nod and a quick turn on her heel, she went to join her crewmen. "Reload this," she ordered, as she tossed the spent weapon on the table. A serving lad quickly rushed to see to their needs.

After taking their request, the boy hurried into the kitchen, nearly bowling over a wench walking out with a single tankard on her tray. She scowled at him, then resumed her purpose. She stopped at Agnes' table and placed the tankard before Agnes.

"What's this, then?" Agnes snarled, her eyes narrowing in suspicion.

The girl shrugged, and pointed to a dimly lit corner of the room. I strained to make out the features of the obscure figure who raised a tankard to Agnes.

Agnes' face grew dark as she recognized the man. Then, dismissing him with a haughty lift of her chin, she turned to speak to the crewman sitting next to her.

Aransas DeGuello bellowed with laughter, which caught the attention of almost everyone in the room. Aransas pushed his chair away from his table, took a drink from his tankard, then stood and strode arrogantly to Agnes' table, placing himself between her and the door. He knew that all eyes were on him, and I could have sworn that he was actually enjoying it!

Agnes remained outwardly cool, but her eyes were flashing fire. Her officers placed their hands near their weapons, just waiting for her to give the word. Aransas spoke first.

"Can the stories about Agnes the Red not be true, then? It is said she is not one to turn down a good round of Irish ale." His speech, though resonant of voice, had a slight slur to it, betraying his besotted state. Agnes glared at him.

"'Tis not me habit to drink with drunken fools," she spat, "and most certainly not with a drunken son of Spanish dogs!" The room grew noticeably quiet then. Mother Rackett instantly instructed her servers to clear the tables of any breakable dinnerware.

Keeping his gaze on her, Aransas took a long draw from his tankard. As he swallowed, his lips curved into an amused smile. Then he let out a laugh even heartier than before. "By the Devil's left nostril," he roared, "not only is she comely, she's got a way with words that would charm the Pope himself!" Aransas' crewmen, of whom there were several, broke into fits of laughter, which soon spread to many others in the room. I myself had to smile; Agnes was famous for taking action first, without mind to the diplomatic details.

Agnes the Red jumped up from her chair, and in a flash, picked up the tankard of ale from the table and tossed its contents fully into the face of Aransas DeGuello.

The room hushed instantly.

Agnes nodded to her men, then stepped purposefully toward the door. As she passed Aransas, he reached out and swatted her squarely on her stern quarter.

Agnes recovered quickly from her initial surprise, and swung around to face Aransas. Her men had straightaway drawn their weapons. Just as quickly, Aransas' men had leaped into position, cutlasses ready. The late afternoon sun streaming in through the windows glinted brightly on the menacing blades.

Agnes looked Aransas square in the eyes, not an easy feat considering he was at least a full head taller than she. Aransas drew his sleeve across his face to wipe off the ale she had thrown at him, then mimicked her stance, placing his hands on his hips. He cocked his head a little to one side and, with a rather merry look upon his face, waited for Agnes to speak.

Keeping her eyes fixed on Aransas', Agnes said to her men, "Put your weapons up, lads. This one's not worth the sweat it'd take to put him out of his misery, as little effort as that might be." Then, to Aransas, she growled, "Ye've proved yourself to be no better than a drunken lout. From the stories I'd heard, I expected much more, but I see now the tales are greatly exaggerated. Scourge of the English Royal Fleets indeed! Ye're truly a disappointment, Aransas DeGuello."

She then spun on her heel and waked away from him. Aransas' face displayed a look of stunned disbelief. Her reaction was unexpected. I, too, was somewhat surprised. Why did she let the fellow live? Agnes' behavior was unusual.

At the door, Agnes turned and addressed Aransas again. "Watch your back, ye scurrilous sea scum. Don't go thinkin' ye can mock Agnes the Red and swagger away unscathed. As deep in your cups as ye are now, 'twould not be much sport to slice ye up for shark bait. But this I swear by the saints and all God's angels: ye'll pay dearly for your insolence!" And then she was gone.

Aransas watched her leave, then picked up his tankard. Taking another drink, he glanced once more at the door. He grinned widely, then bellowed with laughter. I was sure Agnes could hear him. His men, seeing their leader at his ease, relaxed and laughed with him. Aransas called out, "Mother Rackett! Another round of ale, you bewitching wench!"

Everyone in the room returned to what they had been doing before the exchange between Agnes and Aransas. A fiddler began playing a lively tune, and the serving lads and lasses busily scurried from table to table, filling tankards and taking orders for meals.

I noticed that Schuck and the Baron had somehow slipped away during the excitement. Hmmm... The wench who had been serving their table might talk in exchange for a bauble or two. Then my thoughts returned to Agnes and Aransas. Aransas' taunts were very much like a school boy's. Could it be that--? No. Impossible.

Lorelei de la Mer is the alter ego of Loretta Beltran. This story originally appeared in No Quarter Given and is copyrighted by the author.