‘And now, if you will excuse me,’ Giraldo de Luna said, dropping a bow before the stunned crowd like a street magician at the end of his trick, ‘I do believe my ship is leaving.’
The effect of his calm statement was somewhat spoiled by the sounds of renewed fighting outside as the guard finally arrived to break up the disturbance. Pandemonium resumed, and the Pirate King seized the opportunity to make his exit. He slipped through the mob and back out into the sunshine, where he took a moment to brush a fleck of dust from his shoulder. He walked confidently, unchallenged. Then he saw the gang of armed guards pushing toward him and, tipping his hat to them, set off at a run.
He barrelled across the market and out onto the quay, heading for the pier where the Hermione had been anchored. He could see her, sails billowing, as she pulled toward the open water. He gauged the distance. It was a long time since he had attempted anything quite this ambitious. Maybe, he thought, I’m too old for this. Maybe this will be the time that my magic fails me.
There was only one way to know.
Behind him, several of the guard were in hot pursuit. It seemed that the governor’s understanding did not stretch to civil disorder and brawling. Giraldo made a mental note not to return to Mahón for at least a year. A few bribes, a word in the right ear and everything would be all right again in time. An arrow whistled past his ear and buried itself in one of the pier posts.
Maybe two years.
Three, at the outside.
With an athletic leap, Giraldo de Luna dived from the end of the landing stage just as the first of the guards reached for him. They skidded to a stop, not quite keen enough to follow him into the water, but brought up more bows to pick him off when he surfaced.
There was no splash. There was no sound of de Luna’s body hitting the water. Instead, a few seconds later, the guards saw the lean figure of the Pirate King as he sprinted across the surface of the sea towards his departing ship.
Ripples spread out beneath his boots and marked his passage across the waves. The guards fired from the pier, but de Luna laughed and spun as he ran and their arrows plunged harmlessly into the water. Giraldo ran as hard and as fast as he could until he was jogging alongside the Hermione.
‘Permission to come aboard, Tohias?’ Giraldo hollered up to his grinning first mate, who was already leaning over the side, the rope ladder in his hands.
‘One of these days, Captain, I’m not going to let you back on board,’ he called down before dropping the ladder. Giraldo swung himself easily onto the lower rungs and clambered up with the ease of years of practice.
‘Perhaps,’ he said. ‘But not just yet.’ He raised his head to the sea air and inhaled the fresh, clean scent of freedom. There was another scent there, too; the second pressing matter of the day moved to the top of his mental list.
‘Set course for Genoa,’ he said, quietly. ‘We need to be ready to receive our guest.’