“That makes five then,” said Captain Asiago as yet another captured pirate ship, commanded by a select group of his crew, was piloted away in the direction of Port Pleez-Comagin. He had given each of the five skeleton crews the same command: return to the port, pick up as many volunteers as possible, and return to the Crab Cabin’s side in preparation for further battles. Already the first of the captured ships had returned, bristling with eager sailors, displaced restaurateurs and citizens thirsting for revenge against Long Jim Silverware.
“How many more ships before Silverware gets the message?” asked Semolina, now off crow’s nest duty. “We sent off that lifeboat full of pirates hours ago.”
“I’m sure they have reached him by now,” replied the Asiago. “The question is, can he break away from whatever he is currently doing?”
“Which is what?”
“I’m not sure.” The captain had heard rumors of an approaching land battle from his new recruits, but nothing further. “I’m sure Silverware is confident that he has the waterways pretty well buttoned up.”
“He clearly didn’t anticipate an air attack,” Semolina grinned. Potpie’s chickens had managed to wreak havoc on every ship without showing any signs of fatigue. With the exception of a few lucky hits from the pirates, nearly every bird was in peak condition and ready for more action.
“Ship sighted!” came the cry from the crow’s nest. Asiago and Semolina stared out to sea, watching the little black speck on the horizon.
“Shall I do the honors, Captain?” inquired Semolina.
“Proceed,” replied Asiago with a nod.
Semolina walked to the hatch, opened it and called down:
“Potpie! Number six is on the way!”
Semolina could have sworn he heard the chickens below deck growling with pleasure.
“So let me get this straight,” Long Jim Silverware said menacingly. “Ye lost yer ship. A ship armed and fully-manned. A ship under yer command…to a flock of chickens?!”
Hoboken Mike let out a laugh.
“I guess I ain’t the only one with chicken problems, huh?”
“Sir,” the former captain pleaded, “these warn’t yer ordinary type o’ poultry! These were huge, vicious killers!”
Little Julius let out a sigh.
“Gentlemen,” he said, “granted these attacks have been rather…unforeseen. However, when we pause to look at the big picture, we ought to realize that THESE ARE JUST CHICKENS!” Everyone around Little Julius jumped at his outburst. “Chickens!” He began to pace back and forth angrily, waving his hands as he spoke. “How are we supposed to conquer Dryvthru with men who are afraid of a bunch of stupid birds!”
“But Little Julius, sir,” said the now-cowering pirate. “The beaks on them…”
“Get out!” roared the pizza-maker and the pirate gratefully exited the command tent. Julius next rounded on Silverware.
“Well, what do you have to say about this?”
“That man’s a fool, but I ain’t got enough qualified men to command all me captured ships. Whoever attacked him got lucky.”
“So just who was it that attacked them?”
“The ship be the Crab Cabin. Joe had command of that one.”
“But no longer?”
Silverware looked slightly uncomfortable.
“Arrr…it seems not.”
“It seems not…” Little Julius repeated. “Tell me, is Joe another one of your…under-qualified pirate captains?”
“Aye, it would appear so.”
“And so I return to my original question: who…attacked…your…ship?”
“According to my man, the Crab Cabin was being captained by a man named Asiago.”
“Do you know this Asiago?”
Silverware thought for a moment, then slowly shook his head.
“The name be familiar, but I can’t place it.”
“So what are you going to do about it, now that you have apparently lost two ships?”
“I’ll summon me fleet together and snuff Asiago out. Maybe he can fight ships one-on-one, but not if a dozen be after ‘em at once, chickens or no chickens.”
Little Julius nodded approvingly.
“That’s more like it.”
“Let me go find them!”
Hoboken Mike’s men had withdrawn from the field to regroup and to change into clean suit coats. In the meantime, another battle was raging. Wendy was determined to find her friends. Prince Carl, however, was more realistic.
“Do you honestly expect me to let you go wandering off by yourself?”
“I can take care of myself!”
“You don’t even know where they are. They could be halfway across the kingdom for all we know.”
“I’ll find them!”
Prince Carl heaved an exasperated sigh. He had forgotten how stubborn Wendy could be.
“Look,” he said, throwing his hands up, “we’ll compromise. I won’t let you go…” This time, it was Wendy’s turn to sigh. “However,” he pressed on, “we’ll send someone out to search for them. Once we have an idea of where they are, then we’ll plan accordingly. Are we agreed?”
Wendy grumbled and kicked at the dirt.
“Are we agreed?” Prince Carl repeated, this time a little more sharply.
“Fine, then. Now that’s settled.” The prince let out a long breath.
“So who’s going to go out to search?” Wendy asked glumly.
“No one comes to mind as yet. We’ll need someone who is good at sneaking about unnoticed.”
“I think I know of just the right person!”
He couldn’t believe his luck. One moment, he was sweltering in a stuffy prison cell; the next, he was being ushered into the presence of Prince Carl. On top of that was the incredible offer being made to him. In exchange for tracking down several missing people, his criminal record would be expunged, AND he would be given his own restaurant.
“So,” said the prince after explaining the proposition, “do we have a deal?”
“Burgle, burgle!” the Hambandit agreed enthusiastically.
The sun was just beginning to set. The sea water glowed a fiery orange as far as the eye could see. A perfect ending to a perfect day, thought Captain Asiago as he watched the progress of the sun. Nine captured pirate ships, he marveled. That had to be some kind of a record, and now six of those ships had returned from the port, manned by tried and true sailors.
“We’ve waited all day for Silverware to come out of hiding,” the captain said, turning to Potpie who was contentedly smoking his pipe beside him. “Now that we have a fleet of our own, perhaps we should go find him.”
“How are your ladies?” Asiago asked, gesturing to the lower deck.
“Theys pretty pooped,” Potpie replied with a grin. “Me thinksk they’re finishsked for the day.”
“They did their species proud.”
“That they did, matey.”
“I suppose we can wait until morning to begin the hunt.”
“Ship sighted!” came Semolina’s call from the crow’s nest.
“Then again…” amended Asiago.
“There’s a second ship! No, three…four! Captain, there’s a whole fleet coming our way!”
“I guessk we don’t gets the night off after all,” murmured Potpie, moving toward the below deck hatch.
“Will your chickens be able to fight?” Asiago called after him.
“I don’t thinksk we have a choice,” he replied, disappearing into the hatchway.
“We can stop looking for Silverware, Captain,” Semolina called down as he trained his spyglass on the growing forest of masts approaching.
Spearheading the advance was a familiar red ship.