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Authors: Kerry Lynne

Tags: #18th Century, #Caribbean, #Pirates, #Fiction

The Pirate Captain

BOOK: The Pirate Captain
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The Pirate Captain

Chronicles of a Legend

 

 

Kerry Lynne

 

 

 

 

 

By the Board Publishing

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2012 by Kerry Lynne

 

Published in the United States by By the Board Publishing

 

All Rights Reserved

 

 

 

 

To Eleanor and Dr. T

You are the sea that kept this ship afloat

 

 

 

Nor Silver

…for not all treasure does silver or gold make.

 

 

 

“Me hair is silver and me bones creak, but me cock still rises and I remember why.

Wisdom of the ages you seek, lad? I offer but one word: treasure.

At what price does this treasure come, you ask, for not all does silver and gold make?

To pose the question means you’ve not found yours, for when you do, ’tis no longer a question of the cost to keep it. ‘Anything’ becomes your creed.”

Chapter 1: Journey

M
ay, 1753

“On deck there. Sail ho!”

“Where away?”

“Larboard abeam, sir, ’bout three points.”

Ezekiel Pryce looked to the tops. It was Damerell up there, what sung out. An extra ration of rum and the best pistol on the prize would be his,
if
he be correct. Heaven help the blundering bastard if he weren’t, and the Cap’n not obliged to raise a finger.

The Cap’n stood peering through his glass.

“What be in yer mind, sir? Be it them, are ye thinkin’?” Pryce asked, coming up alongside.

“The bearing is fitting,” the Cap’n said, intent on the speck of white against the east Caribbean blue.

“Nary a ship from England what don’t come from that-a-ways.”

The skipper lowered the glass. A cat on the prowl, he was, and no prey was safe. “Then they’re fair game, are they not? The last two proved to be a hare’s chase, but fat prizes, indeed. If nothing else, the lads need the practice. We’ll burn the rust out o’ the guns, eh?”

“Aye, Cap’n.”

“Bearing sou’west,” Damerell called from his roost.

The Cap’n raised his glass, looked to the compass, and then said to the helmsman, “Make it so, Mr. Squidge.”

“Sou’west, aye.”

“Prepare to bring her about. Full cover!” The Cap’n was in high spirits now. “Fly every rag she’ll bear.” 22minutes

The ship beneath Pryce’s feet quivered. Aye! She knew. She smelled the prey. She’d throw her shoulder to the wind, take every bit of canvas and beg for more.

“It makes for a fair night, Master Pryce,” the Cap’n said, looking skyward. “Light every lamp, so we’ll glow like a damned fireship. We’ll allow them the night to think about the hell what is about to be visited upon them. She might try to duck and run under the cover of dark, so double the lookouts, and we’ll rig the grates for the first slaggardly lout caught napping.”

Clear skies, a steady glass and fair course: no creature of the sea could ask for more. Only a dirty night could save the hapless prey.

“D’ye think she’ll turn and fight, sir?”

“How often does the rabbit bite the fox, Mr. Pryce? If they opt for blood, then it shall be theirs what runs the decks.”

“The last ones we stripped to nature’s own and burned to the waterline.”

“Aye, well, ’tis the price of resistance, is it not? Pass the word to the Master Gunner to pray have his guns ready by…make it eight bells of the morning watch.”

“Hands to yer stations,” Pryce bellowed over the break of the quarterdeck. “Clear the braces and stand by to come about!”

Staring at the line where sky and water met, the Cap’n went uncommon quiet, a rare sight indeed when sniffing prey.

“I’ve the feeling on this one, Pryce. The Devil burn me, I don’t know why, but this one… this one is different.”

 

###

 

A few days earlier:

 

Cate Mackenzie watched the oily sea roll past and wondered if this would be the night to finally end her misery.

Behind was England and everything that constituted a life, everything she had ever had—home, husband, family—and everything she had lost.

Ahead, nothing.

The
Constancy,
a merchant ship, had been riding the trade winds for nearly two months, bound for Kingston, Jamaica—the West Indies. There was little reason to believe the long arm of King Georgie’s courts couldn’t reach there. Worse yet, there would be no one there either, no one to know whether she lived or otherwise.

With the impact of her body hitting the water, there was the possibility of pain, an intriguing prospect to be sure. Numbness had been a permanent state of being, moving woodenly from one day to the next. To feel anything apart from wretchedness was well worth the risk.

Captain Chambers emerged from the flickering shadows and drew up beside her. The weather rail was the reserved domain for the ship’s captain, but there he was at the lee side, seeking her out once again. He nodded a silent greeting, his sharp green eyes narrowing.

“You must be anxious to meet your family in Kingston,” he said around the stem of his cold pipe.

For a while now, he appeared to have a sense of what she was about, always watching. His attempts at small talk were maddeningly awkward. It was all a part of their jousting game: he trying to learn as much as possible, while she strove to tell him as little as could be managed. She cringed. On the docks in Bristol, she had told him there would be family waiting—a necessary lie to be allowed passage. Since then, she had come to understand it had been her coin that spoke the loudest.

She looked away into the darkness, lest the keen eyes see the deception. “Yes, my brother will be most anxious.”

She spoke with the conviction of an oft-told lie. The game of maintaining it for so long, however, had grown tiresome. She dreaded the same questions posed over and over, the resulting weariness undermining her will to carry on the charade much longer. The worst the Captain could do was throw her overboard—not an all-bad prospect.

She shifted uneasily under Chambers’ scrutiny, dreading the inevitable line of questions to come.

“You seemed to have gotten on quite famously with Mrs. Littleton and her daughter.”

Ah, yes, her traveling companions, the only other passengers. The wife of the new King’s Commissioner of Jamaica and their daughter, just coming of age, had been the initial purpose of the
Constancy
’s journey. Commissioner Littleton had gone ahead the year before to report to his new post and set up a household. Through some intrigue or malchance regarding a Royal Navy ship, exclusive passage had been arranged on the
Constancy
to deliver said family to the Commissioner’s waiting arms. They would have—should have—been the only passengers, but Cate had arrived at the last minute, coin in hand, eager to leave England. The good Captain Chambers wasn’t above a little extra profit, and since they were to be aweigh immediately, no one would be the wiser.

There had been one overshadowing flaw: Mrs. Littleton and Lucy, her daughter, sickened and died, barely a month from England’s shores.

“They were both very dear,” she said, straining to glean the desperation from her voice.

Falling into another one of his torturous pensive pauses, Chambers drew deeply on the cold pipe, the dry rasp sharp over the backdrop of ship and sea.

“We’re in pirate waters, now,” he said.

“Here?” Startled, she looked around, wondering how, amid hundreds of miles of ocean, this particular track could be different.

“Caicos Passage is just ahead; virtually every ship bound for the Caribbean passes through there. Makes every vessel an easy target, ready for the picking.”

“You sound as if you’ve a bit of experience on your side.” she said, scanning the water.

“A bit. I’ve only been boarded once and we fought ’em off. We barely made port. Three feet in the well, and only jury-rigged jibs and staysails to fly, but we lived to tell of it.”

He stared across the water, seeing far beyond the horizon, his voice shook with uncharacteristic vehemence. “Be bloody goddamned if I was going to allow those black-hearted bastards to have my ship. Pardon the language, ma’am,” he added, ducking his head.

“They’ll take your ship, if they can,” he continued, much composed. “And give the crew option to either sign on or join Davy Jones. If one among them is prime for captain, the ship is his and sails as consort. Some have built up nigh on to a fleet. Or, they take what they desire and scuttle her right before your eyes. Couldn’t allow that to happen to the old girl, either way,” he said, lovingly stroking the rail.

“So, you fought them off?” she asked with growing interest.

“Wasn’t easy, mind. I’ll carry the scars to my grave. We lost our share of men; we figured we were all as good as dead anyway. Most vile, black-souled, murderous lot you’d ever face. They’d kill their own mother for the gold in her teeth. They don’t call ’em sea wolves for nothing; like a pack of rabid dogs, they are.”

He contemptuously spat over the rail. Mr. Ivy, the First Mate, softly cleared his voice, indicating he had come on ship’s business. While Chambers was thus occupied, she slipped away.

Her cabin was a rabbit-hole of a place: a bunk and the necessary foot space to reach it. She threw open the port and inhaled deeply. Compared to the heat, stench, and stuffiness of below deck, the night air was exhilarating. Thanks to the steadiness of trade winds, the cabin had been to windward for most of the voyage, allowing her a bit of moving air, when the seas allowed the port to be open.

The lantern’s golden halo curved up and down the bulkhead as it swung. She pulled a small, often-mended bag from its hiding place between the wall and the mattress. As was her evening ritual, she set its contents with reverential care in precise order before her: a hairbrush—actually a discarded horse brush, but serviceable—and a tin can containing several pebbles—a tried-and-true alarm for one sleeping alone—a needle, its tip secured in a bit of cork, and a stick with a length of thread wound around it. A few bits of ribbon lay at the bottom of the bag. Too short to be of any use, they were treasured for their color and silkiness, reminders of a genteel life.

A piece of green-and-white tartan was next; the colors of Clan Mackenzie. Shrinking with the passing of each year, it had been cut from her husband’s plaid. Wrapped inside was a shard of broken mirror. In the flickering light, she gazed into the fragment. Barely the size of her palm, she held it first one way and then another, in order to view her entire face. It wasn’t an exercise of vanity, but to see if someone looked back.

Haggard and thin, a face was there, barely familiar. The eyes—a blue-green color to which no one could ever assign a name—showed the merest spark of life. Her brambled hair defied description as well: copper or brown? Her father had compared it to his favorite blood-bay mare; her husband referred to it as “time-mellowed cherrywood.” The wide brow was the same, as was the mouth, its corners still tending to independently curl into a smile. It was a trait that had brought many a reprimand for impertinence in her youth.

A few coppers, a couple of wood buttons, all just for the sake of possession, the last two items were the most treasured: a
sgian dhu
—a stocking knife—and a bit of parchment, folded. She clasped the knife’s staghorn handle, recalling its warmth from her husband’s hand when he had given it to her. Crackling to the point of near disintegration, the parchment’s contents were too precious to be opened, lest the few strands of auburn hair, snipped off on their last night together, be lost. She pressed the paper to her cheek and closed her eyes to conjure his image once more.

There were no tears; those had been used up long ago. Dry-eyed, she reverently returned each token to the bag, blew out the light, and curled on the bunk around what was left of her life.

 

###

 

Rough crossings.

The term had been heard many times, but Cate had only a vague inkling as to its meaning. She had listened to the stories of violent storms, towering rogue waves capable of smashing masts into kindling, and winds that could pick up a piece of said kindling and drive it through the next mast. There was no reason to doubt such testimonials, but the most intemperate weather she had thus far experienced had been a several-day thin drizzle, the sails hanging as limply as her sodden hair.

Now the day came with howling winds shrieking through every crevice, and waves that pitched the ship from dizzying heights to plunging depths, often seemingly at the same time. Nature now seemed determined to make a point of showing the extent of its benevolence in these weeks past. Cate’s first lesson was the importance of the berth’s raised edge—that single plank her sole salvation from being thrown to the floor. If she didn’t wish to roll about like a pencil, she needed a foot planted against the bulkhead and a shoulder jammed into the opposite corner. Luckily she wasn’t given to sea illness, but she was very conscious of the peril in closing her eyes.

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