“Braxton!” Cooke said. “Go to Mister Foote down below, and instruct him to fire our own stern guns at will! Slow that blasted Spanish ship down! Aim for the sails–I’ve seen our ball and shot cut into their bewitched rigging before!”

Braxton took the order below, where Foote had just finished slinging two additional chase guns out the great cabin’s rear windows to complement the two on lower decks. Foote had his gun crews well-drilled in such a way as to compensate for their drunkenness; the Fancy Rat was able to muster an impressive rear shot at the Magdalena.

It did little good; a skilled seaman was clearly at the helm of the Spanish ship, and she had changed tack to match the Fancy Rat. The shot splashed into empty waters.

“She’s still gaining on us, skipper,” said Hume. “You have any other tricks up your sleeve?”

“Not a one, Hume,” said Cooke with a grim smile. “You?”

“Prayer has been known to work, on occasion.”

“Try it then, and we’ll see if it deserves its reputation.”

The Spanish chase guns roared again, and this time they struck true. There was no magazine explosion, but the shot nevertheless tore through the Fancy Rat, tearing a hole in the side and ripping through one of the sails. The impact knocked back some of the loaded guns, and loaded gunners, crushing a few of them beneath the careening weapons. Cooke, at the wheel, felt the ship heave as the torn sails were felt.

“The Spaniards are catching up!” Hume cried. “They’ll be ready for a broadside any moment!”

“Go to Mister Foote,” Cooke said. “Have him fire everything at the Magdalena.”

“Everything, skipper?”

“EVERYTHING!” Cooke screamed. “Bring the guns from the port side and fire them two to a port if need be! Strew them on the deck! You saw what happens if they get a good shot at us, the magazine blows and we fly our way home!”

Below, Mercedes clutched Reynard the rat and wafted aside smoke from the Fancy Rat‘s chase guns. As the crews loaded up for another volley, she looked across at the approaching Magdalena. “We’re not going to make it,” she said to the rat, “are we?”

Reynard looked at her, then flinched as the guns fired a volley. The shot bounced off the Spanish ship harmlessly, having been fired too low to reach a sail.

Hume arrived bearing Cooke’s orders. “Get these guns to starboard!” he cried. “As fast as possible! We’ve got one chance to wipe these Spaniards off of us!”

“Here,” said Mercedes. She handed the rat to Hume. “Take this.”

“What? What are you doing?” he cried.

“This is all my fault. They’re here for me.” Mercedes stepped up on the threshold of the windows. “I need to make this right.”

“Miss!” Hume cried. “MISS!”

It was too late. She had stepped off the stern of the Fancy Rat and into the briny waves. Hume could see a flash of gold in the waves and then nothing.

Rather than simply firing its chase guns again, the Magdalena’s skipper apparently decided it was time to risk a broadside. The ship wasn’t quite in position, so half of the shots were over open water, but the other half were murderous. Wood splintered, men screamed, and one of the fore masts fell, taking with it two men and all its sails. Seawater began seeping in through cracks in the hull, and the ship slowed still further, with a decided list to starboard.

One of the casualties was Mister Foote, who took a full brunt of splinters from a nearby impact. Doctor De Groot appeared among the carnage, walking unperturbed past those beyond his help, to bear Foote and the others that might be saved down below for surgery.

“Fire all the guns,” Cooke cried. “FIRE ALL OF THEM! Don’t you understand this is our last chance?”

Mister Foote’s men were not even close to being in position, but the order was taken up and passed along regardless. Every gun that was ready was touched off and fired, not quite a double broadside. But the list made shots at the rigging impossible; there was no way, and no time, to correct for it. Instead of tearing into the sails like Cooke had hoped, the shot went straight into the bewitched sides of the Magdalena and rolled into the sea.

Cooke could only stare as his last chance to make an escape disappeared. He closed his eyes and sighed. “I’m okay with this,” he said. “Better to go out like Sam Bellamy. That’ll show Bess. That’ll show her.”

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