The afternoon sun painted the harbour of St. Kitts in a gentle golden light. Captain Clark liked the sight of gold. To him a full treasure chest was prove of having mastered another adventure. Heaps of gold also kept his crew in a good mood.
A crew was one of the troubles a captain had to deal with, just like the rats. Without a shipload full of both, the Aquila did not move anywhere. The englishman had trimmed his trader to perform as a warship till the original type was no longe recognizeable. Unfortunately he could do the same with his sailors only to a certain extent. Unlike the stable rat population, crews tended to disband after each successful raid and had to be recruited anew several months later. Some seamen always came back. They were on first name terms with the rats in the ship´s belly, called themselves Clark´s friends and demanded bigger shares.
A handfull of those men and one woman were loitering around their captain while Clark oversaw the final preparations for the Aquila´s departure. They could have lived comfortable their whole life long or in luxury for a few months from their shares from the last voyage. However, it seemed to be their intention to live in luxury for the rest of their lifes and following Clark out to the sea again seemed the best means to this end.
The captain was leaning against a large bale of cotton ready for shipping into the Old World. At his right side stood Jarundo, Clark´s true and valiant shadow as well as his external conscience. Among the privateers the carib indian functioned as the final authority concerning all matters of belief and spirituality. After all, he had eaten the missionary, had he not?
Jarundo wore a loincloth, a short vest and except for a long plait not the smallest trace of hair.
In this he was the exact opposite of second mate Whipcrack Werner. The curly haired dutchman´s most distinguishing marks were his evergrowing beard and a mediocracy that left no space for special talents, but neither for dangerous weaknesses.
Whipcrack throned on the cotton bale as if manning the crow´s nest for his captain. To the dutch´s feet Viviane Bridger sat cross legged, an english fisherman´s daughter who had arrived in the colonies at a very young age. Viviane had run away to sea to try her luck amongst the human sharks. She fervently fought the clichee of adventuring women donning men´s clothing. Viviane wore her dirt-brown hair open, covered her legs with a long skirt and her arms down to the wrists in a fancy fencing shirt. After she had payed a tailor in Providence to re-model the shirt to her size it had serverd her well everafter. A sash held Viviane´s flintlock precision pistol, a twin of the one Clark used. Worn this way the weapon told every pirate or marine that the woman wasn´t out to hurt anybody today, since battle ready-pistols were usually worn in braces on a sling around the neck and discarded after one use. Only “landlubbers” and civillians respectfully kept their distance, reading exactly the opposite into the sight of Viviane displaying her pistol.
The pistol was Viviane´s most priced posession. Clark, to the contrary, viewed his as a tool befitting his needs, nothing more. Some claimed he felt the same for his subjects.
It had to be said that the captain himself didn´t look very impressive. Built not very muscular, of average height at best, his dark blonde hair held by a red headband and clad in a long, black coat, not to forget the new shark leather boots – no, it wasn´t his appearance that made all the maidens up and down the caribbean island daydream of this man. The charme was in his stature, rather. Captain Clark had the bearing of a man not in the least afraid of death, because the devil himself was just another petty thug to him, a loser banished from the motherland into the depths of hell. Jarundo, Whipcrack and Viviane would laugh at an enraged nobleman´s or merchant´s “Common dogs! How dare you!” and run away with the loot before he stopped yelling and could start acting. Clark, however, would turn back and ask “In which way would it serve you if I gave you my answer?”, leaving the poor man dumbfounded in addition to just a bit poorer than before.
And then there was Garcia, Black Garcia, as the man once christened “Grazian” in far away Italy was often called. Black´s facial expression betrayed a man always ready for violence, one of no creativity, wit or talent, who was nevertheless able to tell when to employ his fists and when to bide his time instead. His clothing combined all the styles found in the New World and the general shabbieness of his attire told Clark´s friends that Black had completely spent the booty from their last voyage. Two very good years were behind him now and once again it was time to set sail with Clark, which was just according to how the world was made in Garcia´s worldview. And somehow this attitude had made him first mate and, next to Jarundo and the Aquila´s carpenter, one of Clark´s few real friends.
Clark watched his new recruits going on about their tasks. “Have we ever been that young?” he suddenly asked, with serious wonder and disbelief in his voice.
Garcia shook his head. “Never!”
Clark´s years numbered a bit more than thirty now. Thus he was rather old for a pirate captain, but not willing to spend the rest of his days in his mansion on Eleuthera island. He wished to use the time left to him to the fullest extend and the man´s reputation as an extraordinarily successful adventurer saw to it that he was never lacking potential recruits for his Aquila. But seeing the newst batch of “eagle chicks” today Clark was worried for the first time. He felt that something was amiss, unable to name what excactly. Did it worry him that half of his crew consisted of the greedy and the other half of untrained youngsters? He could not tell.
The real problem was that Clark had far too much time to think about such questions. So many elements that had once added to the fun of adventuring had step by step become routine tasks.
Before the captain could become lost in his musings, Viviane laughter caught his attention: “Hey, lad! Say, where´s that rammer headed with you?”
The “lad”, a young man in his twenties and as such only slightly younger than the female pirate, hesitated. “If a certain someone can´t keep her muzzle shut, that someone´s going to polish the guns tonight from inside!” he replied.
Viviane made a an angry fist. “I will! With your sorry hide!”
The woman turned to Clark.
“You aren´t too fond of that one to let me skin him, right, Captain?”
Clark just let out a bored yawn.
“What do you think, brother? Can he defend his position?” Jarundo asked.
“Either he can, or I choose someone else”, Clark stated the obvious.
Viviane jerked around. “What position?!”
“Chief Gunner, of course“, Jarundo explained. “Brady replaces Long Streak Eddy, since Ed won´t set out with us again. He´s had enough, he says. Of the risk and the treasure.”
“But I was next in the command chain! That rank is mine and no one else`s, least of all a landlubber´s who´s barely out of the egg!”
“Don´t worry”, Clark said, under the impression of having to quench the woman´s fears. She had, after all, been second-in-command of the gunnery crew since her very first journey on the Aquila and deserved a superior worthy of her own skill. “We´ve ran trials this morning. All the kids applying for the job were good. Brady earned his position fairly and not too easily.”
Now Viviane rose completely.
“So, it´s that issue again”, she sighed. “The guys.”
“Well, yes, of course, the guys”, Clark replied. “What did you expect? A female senior officer?”
“Why not? You are the one holding his hand protectively over every skirt aboard, be it a hostage or some bitch to be marooned with the rest of the scum on the next island! From you I expected better than…”
Noticing how close to a mindless rant she had come, Viviane managed to keep her composure at the last moment. She breathed in and out a few times, then faced Clark again: “Did the others share your lair with you?”
“If I promoted every pleasant face sharing my bed, the Aquila´s officers would outnumber her seamen”, the man laughed. “No, really, I´m looking for other qualities.”
“So “all” I have to do is chucking every male gunner overboard, before you are going to even consider me, right? Pray tell, it would be easier to just dispose of you this way!”
Captain Clark was not know for raising his hand against women, but he wasn´t in the habit of allowing his subjects to insult him in front of his gathered officers, either. So he broke the lesser of his principles, slapping Viviane´s face twice.
The she-pirate didn´t crinch or make the slightest sound. Wordlessly she turned around and started marching towards the town.
“If she should return, send her to Brady for cleaning duty”, Clark instructed Whipcrack and Black. Then he nodded Jarundo, to accompany him on the inspection of their ship.
As always the huge eagle caught an onlooker´s eye first, thanks to the wooden figurehead´s golden paint. In her beak the predator bird carried a red rose. Though the symbolism intended by Clark would be lost to most people, nobody could overlook just how sharp the claws and beak´s point were…
Clark concentrated a bit longer than usual on his death-promising heraldic bird, just to get the disturbing thought out of his head: “My Aquila´s fate has fallen into the hands of chickens, if not freshly laid eggs!”
Meanwhile Jarundo demanded to know what might be in a batch of tightly closed clay pots carried aboard by an eighteen year old, fox-faced youth.
“What have you got in there, Abe? Wasps?”
The young man flashed Jarundo a grin.
“Perhaps later, whatever you wish, mister! I can mix together anything the captain might call for, as long as can lay my hands on the raw incredients. But his, this is better than any weapon. It´s my best homemade brandy in marmelade pots – helps the flavour along, you know?”
“Your name´s Harris, is it?” the captain remembered. “Aberforth Harris? Enlisted as ship´s physician?”
“Don´t worry, brother, I´m confident this stuff is also good for cleaning out wounds”, Jarundo darkly remarked. “And that the patient will smell wonderfully of banannas and strawberrys afterwards.”
The one called Harris laughed. “One deep drought of the right stuff and you don´t care about the plague or anything, mister. Though there is a cure for the plague, too, if only you´ve got your supply of mumia stocked well…”
Of better education than most pirate captains Clark at once recognized the term “mumia” or, in englisch, “mummy”. He was shaking just from the thought of a medicine containing funural bandages.
Seeing his captain turning a bit more pale than healthy, the youth felt the need to uphold the reputation of his teacher: “My former master said, it belongs in every respectable chemist shop!”
“Threesee says a lot of things he wouldn´t even whisper within the town walls and I wish for you to follow his example on my ship“, the captain demanded. “Can you straighten broken bone, pharmacist apprentice?”
With a frown Harris answered: “I think so, yes. I just had no time to try it out since you last asked me.”
“What the…” the captain sighed. “We´ve made do without a doctor all those years, we´ll continue so in the future.”
“Cross your fingers, younger brother”, Jarundo adviced his captain and friend. “Best start picking up centipedes to have enough little fingers to cross!”
Clark slapped his friend on the shoulder in a brotherly manner. “No, stuff that last one!” he adviced Jarundo, smiling. “Because I´m not sure what our doc would cook up from them!”
The rest of the candidates were more or less normal, as normal, as any pirate crew could be anyway. Three of them were hard to size up at the moment, because they were dog-paddling in the wet dock. To reach the quay wall, the men had first to get around the Aquila somehow.
“Looks like keel-hauling for beginners”, Jarundo remarked.
A straw-blonde youth was watching the struggling swimmers, obviously quite pleased with himself.
“And what´s this supposed to be good for?” the captain greeted the young man. “Are you making sure all my privateers can swim?”
“Aye, captain!“ the lad answered. “Is it true, that some sailors from the Old World can´t?”
“That´s a matter of nationality rather than place of birth. As a rule of thumb the english usually can, foreigners can´t and with spaniards you´ll want to help their sinking along with chains and irons. Those down there seem to be englishmen”, Clark answered conversationally. “Now tell me what has happened here!”
The recruit shooks his shoulders almost apologetically. “We tossed the dice, that is, the three of them tossed them, I was just watching. Then they started going at each other with fists and I went between them and threw them overboard, one by one. There has to be some kind of order on a privateer ship, right? We are not pirates, are we?”
“No pirates”, Clark confirmed. A patriot to his very bones he would never even have pondered acting against the paragraphs of his Letter de Marque. To Clark this sheet of paper was more than a document relieving him from the threat of the death sentence for piracy if caught. He never violated the nation´s trust by going after english ships and the local governors returned the favor in their own way. The sharkling Clark enjoyed not the worst reputation in the english ports, even a good one in some like St. Kitts and Eleuthera. Having a son aboard the Aquila was nothing to be ashamed of for the citizens of St. Kitts. For a simple seaman like Hank Straight to be accepted into this crew was akin to a career jump. He was now part of the – however informal – english military.
Clark recognized officer potential when he saw it, even though he wasn´t very good at the so called people skills normally. In one action the new recruit had proven not to belong to the mass of faceless followers. He had sided with the ship´s leadership and demonstrated just enough cheek to border on, but not overstep, his line. And, of course, he would have pocketed the coins of the illegal dice players, proving himself a true pirate…
Clark was beginning to like young Hank, and since he liked people best from a safe distance, he strolled away from him, continuing the inspection.
The newest recruit was ten or eleven years old. He looked remarkably like Chips, the ship´s carpenter of french origin from Tortuga, a solid man who had taken part in the Aquila´s construction so long ago.
“Your boy?” Clark asked, unsure, because he knew his shipmate´s familiy from Chip´s tales only.
“My nephew, I think”, the carpenter answered. “We are quite certain about this. His name´s Alfred, he´s half english on his mother´s side and he has the eyes of a predator bird.”
Clark studied the child. Alfred seemed young in years, but older in experience. The mean and a little limited seeming facial expression reminded Clark of Garcia and that one had proven useful, a friend, even.
“As long as he´s not afraid of heights, he can stay”, the captain decided.
“Yay!” another ordinary seaman called out of sheer joy. “If the little one can come along, then I can, too!”
The seaman was so young, that Clark couldn´t be sure not to look at a girl in disguise. Somewhere between child and youth, no longer the one, though not yet the other.
“You are how old exactly?” he demanded.
“And are you special at anything? The kid has, as you must have overheard, a falcon´s eyes. That´s why I took him in. You are too old for a ship´s boy or powder monkey, but too young for a seaman.”
“I´m quick, the first up in the rigging!”
“And the first down, when it blows”, Jarundo interruped. “Blown overboard! If we fit a rope around him, we´ve got a sizeable fishing bait, Clark!”
Everyone laughed, but Jarundo´s mentioning of a rope had sparked an idea in Clark.
“We may have use for him yet”, he thought aloud. “You, lad, all you have to do is throwing a twig fixed to a knotted cord into the sea and watch how fast it rolls off. That way we can tell our speed…”
The youngling gave no sign of indication whether he had heard of the method before or even he knew the correct nautical term for it. He seemed to suck each the captain´s words off his mouth in the manner of the typical hero-worhispper. A bit dissappointed Clark went on: “You have to be able to cling to the rail like a monkey in any weather, count correctly and yell loud enough. If you think you can do this, you are in.”
The lad nodded eagerly, then he ran towards the other recruits. A wooden talisman was dangling merrily around his neck with every step.
“Hey, midget! Wait! What´s your name, anyway?“
“Mike”, the youth replied over his shoulder. But Clark´s treasurer had already heard the insult and so the newcomer went down into the papers under the name of Midget Mike.
There were other men on the Aquila, whose names the captain had memorized, among them veterans of former voyages like Tom “Fishfry” the cook, Jim Perry the treasurer and Chat Creed, but also promising new arrivals like Oldworld Eric and Kidd Christopher. Later generations would add more names, whispering them respectfully in low voices or, depending on nationality, spit them out. But at the end of this day in St. Kitts Captain Clark was just thankful that the men had not sunken his ship yet – and hopefully would not make up for that come morning while trying to leave port with the rising tide.
Clark saw Black Garcia and the dutchman nearby.
“Whipcrack, Black, over here!” he caught their attention. “Let´s throw the bones one last time in the landlubbers´ fashion!”
“Where´s the fun in it, when they don´t bounce off the cabin wall thrice while the shots fly around our heads?” Garcia replied.
“We haven´t seen each other for two full years, Garcia, are you claiming not to have learned any new tricks worthy to try on us us in this time?”
“Oh, claim he can all he wants”, Werner grinned. “But he has a few new dice tricks up his sleeve, just as you have, captain, but they won´t help the two of you in the least against the tricks I have learned!”
And so, in Clark´s cabin stuffed with booty from his career, the three officers violated the no-games-of-chance-aboard policy, arguing that dicegames were not really forbidden. It was forbidden – and thus punishable – to get caught at it.
The three men played as peacefully as they would only in a prison cell – and just as treacherous like they belonged in one. They were ever alert as if they were, stretching the analogy to it´s limit, just waiting for the guards coming ´round to supply them with a short violent intermezzo and afterwards the keys for their escape.
Clark smacked down the tin cup with the dice full force everytime it was his turn, but he could not tell why or at whom he was so angry.
About half an hour later a visitor presented him with a valid reason. It was an officer cadet from St. Kitts and the men had already expected him.
Whipcrack raised his head. “Ah, fine”, he gretted the entering man. “I was losing anyway.”
Black Garcia threw down the dice one last time, counted the score and then filled the same mug he had used for the game with brandy.
The arrival ignored the two men, adressing the privateer Captain Clark instead.
Clark took his time sharing out the coins in the pot between himself and Garcia, since Whipcrack had ended the game without his captain´s say-so and thus lost.
All the while Clark tried to read the midshipman´s´s facial expression. He found the usual disappointment of a young man of standing at being used as a courier during his learning years. Certainly he hadn´t been used to such treatment at home and most probably would not have believed it if warned about it beforehand. But despite this Clark could not shake the feeling that something else was weighing down the young man´s heart. The captain wasn´t good with hearts, he preferred the icy clarity of a mind.
“Speak!” he told the courier of his englisch allies.
“I’ve come to deliver your new Letter de Marque”, the midshipman said, holding out a rolled together piece of leather. “With the lowered shares, on durable pig´s leather as you requested and issued to…”
“I know the name of my own ship myself, thank you very much!” Clark snapped. He snatched the leather off the other man´s hands. “Now spit out your bad news already!”
The officer cadet swallowed hard.
“We are at war”, he said.
Werner and Garcia toasted each other. A declaration of war! What better luck for a privateer?
“With whom?” Clark asked.
“No one else. Just we.”
While Werner and Garcia bawled about this answer, their captain’s face paled visibly.
So that´s how it began… Strictly speaking it had begun long before, with rumours counting not even among the most colorful ones coursing the New World. The king had been overthrown, some said, beheaded on Cromwell´s order. “Not true!” others cried, “though it would be adviseable if he did so soon!”
Rumours… nothing more. Up until now. Now it was utter certainity, that in the homeland Clark had known only so short a time as a child, a civil war had ignited.
Hesitating, ever so often interrupted by the laughter of Clark´s leutnants, the midshipman gave his full report about the events in England.
Clark´s eyes narrowed. “The governor guarantees for the legitimacy of this document?” he inquired. “His nation keeps true to her word?”
A short nod had to suffice for an answer.
“Go”, the privateer captain ordered the midshipman in an unusually gentle voice. “Before you have to ask me a question that may cost you more blood than a body can risk loosing.”
Another nod followed, but the man from St. Kitts did not leave the captain´s cabin as ordered. Instead he brought forth a sealed letter.
“While you certainly place no trust in me, the governor does in you”, the midshipman said. “Break the seal as usual only after you´ve reached the open sea. Then decide to your own discretion.”
Only after saying those words the man left.
Clark put away the letter for now.
“Did they saddle us with one of those missions again?” Garcia asked.
“Doesn´t matter!” Werner laughed. “Our captain, who so dislikes attacking english ships, has just been told that his protection needs only be good for half of their vessels from now on! This calls for a party, if you ask me!“
St. Kitts. The same evening.
The last shadows of the day hat not yet dissolved completely. They stretched unnaturally, while the sun bled dry in the horizon.
Viviane Bridger sat nestled against a housewall, watching the bizarre shadows the pigs and goats cast on the street. In one hand she held a twig that she had used for scratching in the dirt, as if she was a backyard animal herself, despite her being a sharkling.
A larger shadow fell over Viviane.
“So this is where you´ve been crouching to lick your wounds”, Black Garcia remarked. The man had slipped unnoticed from Whipcracks’s party. Or probably his captain had noticed, too, but silently complimented Black’s sense of duty.
“Did they send you to fetch me?” Viviane asked.
“Would you follow?”
“Perhaps.” The woman prodded the ground with her stick. “To build this.”
Garcia looked around. What did his shipmate refer to?
“A town?” he ventured.
“No, silly. Step back!”
Garcia did so and then followed with his eyes the direction Viviane´s stick implied. Looking down he noticed that Viviane had sketched out guns. They were cannons sticking in strange holding devices.
“Guns cast in irons? Does it mean something? Like… like we are supposed to keep peace with each other? I´m sorry, but you won´t score a rousing success with this attitude in England right now…”
“Not completely off the mark. I call my invention the chain dogs and they are going to keep the peace at our ship”, Viviane started to explain. “You see, whenever a gun recoils, the ship runs danger of loosing a plank. In the worst case the cannon kicks against – or through – the wall behind it. Not on the Aquila, but certainly on the bathtubs most pirates and enough of the military use. The way I laid out my construction, it will compensate the recoil and bring forth again the gun very quickly, allowing for more shots in the same time.”
Garcia got the general idea. Thankful to be spared the details and numbers he asked: “Sooo… are you going to test your idea with the swivel guns?”
“No. I´m not building anything that makes the captain even more secure.”
“Aquila´s captain – or Clark?”
Viviane reaised her head. She met Garcias black eyes and noticed the sly grin in his equally black beard. And suddenly the shadows around her took on an altogether different quality. No longer strange or threating, they became her friends that welcomed her.
“It´s a rough life we are leading”, the woman said. “Accidents happen?”
“There are no accidents, says Jarundo. Just the divine providence.“
“Then let´s go to Providence”, Viviane smirked.
“Yes, to Providence”, Black Garcia replied. He stressed the english town´s name as if relaying a code and Viviane´s smile widened. So innocent a word, a name, a place and yet so much more…
So, after reading this, do you think the chapter length is okay? I used the same chapter breaks as in the novel, but perhaps they should be shorter for a blog entry?
Also you will have noticed that I’m not a native speaker, so I guess I should apologize for every glaring mistake I made. Not for the small ones, as those happen to everyone 😉