Lem drew his sword and pistol simultaneously from his belt and rushed at the attackers, with David right behind him. The rest of the crew swept up their weapons and followed. Already there were ten or so enemy sailors across the small gap between the two ships. Several more had thrown ropes with hooks on the ends to bring the two ships closer together.
Lem threw himself instantly into a fight with two of the leading sailors and bested them quickly. He thrust a third one through and sprang to the railing to fend off the other attackers that were coming across. The Shark's first mate, who was much loved by his men, stepped to the railing to lead the charge across onto the American ship. Lem pointed his pistol at the man's chest and pulled the trigger. The man staggered forward and fell down through the gap between the two ships and into the sea. A roar of rage went up from the British, and they surged over the gap.
The decks of the two vessels were thrown into utter confusion. Boarding pikes were thrust, cutlasses slashed, pistols and muskets flashed and roared, and the sailors sent up a continuous shout.
David took up a position behind Lem and attacked the British with tremendous force, but he kept his double barreled pistols in his belt and fought only with his sword. He was saving the pistols in case Lem was in danger of being killed. He knew that if Lem was killed now his soul would be lost, so he stayed near him, guarding his back.
Lem fought like an enraged tiger and British seamen flew from him, left and right. He happened to glance towards the poop deck and saw a group of the enemy had boarded and taken control there. With a roar Lem made all speed towards the stern, cutting down enemies and knocking aside friends in his haste, with David right on his heels. He met the second mate of the Sea Devil on the steps between the quarter and poop decks and engaged him with his sword. The two mates of opposing ships fought each other with all their strength but Lem was evidently the master. Within thirty seconds the British sailor lay prostrate on the deck.
Lem leapt up the ladder and cut down a second man with one blow. Two more British attacked at once, one with a sword and the other with a bayoneted musket. Lem whipped out his pistol and evened out the fight by shooting the one with the sword. He then attacked the musketeer. Lem moved so fast that the man could not level his musket in time. With one quick thrust the man was down. Wrenching the musket from the dead man Lem spun and fired into another man who was moving up to attack from behind. Dropping the gun he turned around only to find the muzzle of a pistol was staring him right in the face with the captain of the Snake behind it.
"Ye killed me first matey, and now I'm a-gonna kill you!" he said as he cocked the pistol. Lem glanced at the sword and pistol he had left on the deck when he had taken the rifle.
"Don't even look at yer weapons," sneered the British captain, "I have ye now!"
Lem looked around desperately for help. All the fighting had worked its way down to the quarter deck and the only others on the poop deck were dead and wounded.
"Why don't you just shoot me now?" Lem demanded as he continued to back away.
"The taste of revenge be sweet in me mouth," said the captain with a smug grin. At the same moment he reached out and grabbed Lem by the collar and slammed him into the railing. He then moved the barrel of the pistol from his head, where it would have killed him instantly, to his stomach, which would result in a slow, painful death.
Lem clenched his eyes shut; drops of sweat formed on his forehead. Lem hated to admit it, but he was afraid of death. The words of David Mitchel came back to his mind about hell and judgement, and he was afraid. His hands began to tremble and his knees nearly failed him.
Suddenly a man came hurtling at the British captain and knocked him to the ground. The pistol discharged in the clash and the ball flew off into the air. Lem instantly recognized his rescuer was David. David had been caught up in his own fight and had only now realized Lem’s peril.
The British captain and David rolled over and over, fighting each other furiously, trying to get the upper hand. Suddenly Lem saw that the captain was on top, had managed to draw a knife and was attempting to finish David off. Frozen with shock he watched as the blade came down twice, only to be blocked by David's forearm. Bloody gashes rent his sleeves and slashed his flesh.
The blood broke Lem from his shock and he jumped to his feet and retrieved his sword. He seized the Brit by the hair and dragged him off of David. The British captain whirled around and plunged the knife blade towards Lem's chest. A pistol blasted and the captain dropped his knife and clutched his right hand, screaming in pain. Blood ran from between his fingers and down his arm. Lem seized the opportunity and raised his sword to kill the Brit. A second shot exploded and the ball severed Lem's sword in half. David, who was still laying on his back a few feet from the combatants, dropped his empty double barreled pistol and drew his other one. He rose to his feet unsteadily and faced Lem.
"Don't kill him," he said sternly. "If we don't have to it is needless to shed his blood."
"Is that the reason you shot my perfectly good sword?" Lem demanded.
"Yes," David answered plainly. "And why I shot his hand instead of his chest. You may have his sword when we are done. Now release him." Lem shrugged and let go of the man's hair. The British captain fell to the deck, clutching his wounded hand.
"Get up," David ordered as he wrapped his wounded arm in a makeshift bandage. The man spat and made no movement. David pressed his lips together and glared at the man.
"You're a brave one, aren't you? Lem, help him up."
"Aye aye, sir, with pleasure," Lem said gruffly. He grasped the Brit's collar and jerked him to his feet. He then threw aside his own broken blade and jerked the captain's sword and scabbard from his belt.
"Be careful with that, Lem, he'll need it when he surrenders to captain Donte," David said. "Now, bring him along."
"But what about yer arm?" Lem asked. "It looks mighty bad."
"Only a flesh wound," David answered. "Nothing vital, I can still use it. I’ll just cut a strip from my overcoat as an extra bandage."
The two men then hurried along the ship towards the center of the fight, dragging their prisoner along behind.
The British and Americans were locked in a fierce hand to hand struggle and the blades and bullets flew fast and thick. David had reloaded his first double barreled pistol and now held both at the ready. Lem had the British captain's cutlass in one hand, the man's collar in the other, a loaded pistol in his belt, and a knife between his teeth.
The second mate of the Shark saw his captain in the hands of the enemy and leapt to the rescue. He sprang from behind the mainmast and brought a two handed blow down towards Lem's head with his cutlass. Lem deflected the blow while still maintaining his hold on the captain's collar. He swung his sword down from the block and into the second mate's side. The man screamed in rage and pain and brought a thrust towards Lem's chest. At the last instant Lem deflected the blow and brought his knee into the man's stomach. This maneuver knocked the breath clear out of the assailant and sent him sprawling. Lem leaned over him without relaxing his grip on the British captain and found that he had knocked the man out and broken several ribs with his blow.
David was now locked in a struggle of his own. As Lem had engaged the British second mate two British midshipmen rushed on David. David fired one barrel of the pistol in his right hand into the first attacker and one from the gun in his left at the second. The first man dropped to the deck, dead, but the second was uninjured. David discharged a second shot at the man and missed again. Not wanting to have an empty gun if Lem needed help he did not fire his last shot at the man. He tossed the empty pistol in the air and caught it by the barrel.
He blocked a blow from his assailant's musket butt with the empty pistol and jabbed the barrel of the other into the sailors middle. At that moment he was struck in the shoulder from behind by a third attacker whom he had not noticed. He quickly discharged the last loaded barrel into the assailant in front and spun to meet the new man.
The Brit cursed at having failed to knock out David's brains with his gun and whipped out a long knife. David threw both empty guns at the brute but the man was unfazed. With an evil laugh he pulled back the knife for a thrust, but before he could execute the deadly plunge David sprang upon him and landed a hard fist in his face. The man staggered and nearly fell but continued to laugh. That is when David realized the man was drunk. David danced and dodged the powerful yet clumsy knife and fist blows until he came to where his pistols lay. He snatched them up and rushed on the man. He blocked the knife with one gun and smashed the butt of the other into the man's head. The laugh stopped and the huge Irishman fell to the deck, unconscious.
At that moment Lem came up, with the British captain still firmly under his control. He had taken a moment after his fight to tie the man's arms securely and search him for any weapons. David motioned for him to follow and the two continued towards the main mast. The fight was quickly digressing into a slaughter on both sides. Many of the British were more experienced but the Americans had the advantage in numbers. David knew he had to stop the killing as soon as possible. He called to Lem and a few other American sailors. They formed around the mainmast and quickly cleared an open space free of attackers. Lem pushed the bound British captain towards David.
David reloaded his pistols and mounted a sea chest. He then shouted above all the clamor of battle, "Listen to me! This bloodshed has lasted long enough! Cease your resistance or I will shoot your captain on the spot!" He emphasized his words by cocking both barrels of his pistol and placing them against the man's head.
"They 'ave us boys, we got t' surrender!" the British captain ordered. The men were fiercely loyal to their officers, but there was a hesitation for a moment after the order. The silence on the two ships stood in stark contrast to the uproar of a few minutes ago. Then one man threw down his musket, then another his sword, then a third his pair of pistols. All up and down the decks of the ships the clatter of dropped weapons was heard.
Captain Donte smiled, his men had won. He did not once consider that a religious "softy" had been the one to secure the victory, but Lem did, and it made him think. He also recognized that this man he had tried to kill had saved his life two or three times. He turned about and descended into the hold. He remained there while the wounded were being taken care of and the Shark being taken over. The whole fight, from sighting the Sea Devil to the surrender of the crew of the Shark had been less than two hours, but those two hours, coupled with the few weeks David Mitchel had been a shipmate, were beginning to change the way Lem saw life.
To be continued...