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Husband, father, and writer working on a short story project and submitting my novel, The Windsmith, to agents.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Privateer

Richard breathed deep the fresh, salty air. It had been a long time since he had been on a ship, since his father died. He had forgot how much he loved it. He turned to look back at his best friend, Edward, and smiled.

“It’s good to be back out here, Edward,” he said. “Especially given that what we are doing will aid King and Country. Thank you for inviting me.”

Edward rolled his eyes. “You always were an idealist,” he said. “Remind me again why I agreed to bring you along?”

“It’s not because we’ve been best friends since we were wee lads?” he said in a mock-hopeful tone of voice. Edward only rolled his eyes again. “Well, then it must be because I’m bankrolling this little expedition.”

“Ah, yes,” Edward said. “Money. That sure makes putting up with you a lot easier.”

The two men laughed and clasped each other on the back. “Come,” Edward said. “I have a special wine I’ve been saving in my cabin. Now’s as good a time as any to break it out.”

The two men walked down the deck, sailors getting out of their way as the went, and entered the Captain’s Cabin. Edward went to a small cabanet on one side of the room and retrieved a large, heavy bottle.

“A fine bottle we pillaged from a French freighter a year ago,” he said, showing it to Richard.

“Really, Edward,” Richard said, “Must you show such… enjoyment from your work as a privateer?”

Edward paused before pulling the cork of the bottle, looking at Richard with a serious look on his face. “Let me ask you a question, Richard. Do you really believe that this mission will aid your King? Is that something you really want to do?”

“Of course,” Richard said, surprised that the question was even asked. “Don’t you?”

“Well,” Edward said, “I do enjoy taking down stupid French nobles that think they can get past me, but I do it for the money, my friend. I don’t do it out of any loyalty to that piss-ant sitting on the throne.”

“Edward, your manners,” Richard said. “That’s your king you’re talking about.”

“Bah,” Edward said, pouring the wine. “Out here, on this ship, I am the law, I am king. Let that fop sit on the throne, making ‘plans’ against France, while real men, like you and I, are here, doing the actual fighting.”

“Speaking of being here,” Richard said, choosing to move past the old argument, “What, exactly, is it that we’re out here getting? All you told me before was that this was some kind of French supply depot.”

“Not just a supply station,” Edward said, growing excited. “It’s a secret French treasury. Inside is all the money they’ve managed to steal from English ships, an it’s how they are funding their own privateers.”

Richard’s eyes light up. “If that’s true, than our getting that money would put a serious dent in French activities.”

“Indeed it would,” Edward said. “Plus, it would make us filthy rich!”

Richard rolled his eyes, but let the comment go. After all, the two may be best friends, but they were as different as cold be when it came to social matters. Richard was the son of a Earl, now Early himself, while Edward was the son of his father’s personal assistant. Though Edward never grew up in poverty, he also was not a noble, and not one that was accustom to just having money available.

Edward pulled out a large scroll and rolled it out on the table. It revealed a map that depicted an island, one, from the look of it, that looked very similar to the islands found in the Carribian. Richard raised an eyebrow. They were nowhere near the new world.

“This is a placed called île de obscurité,” he said.

“Island of Darkness?” Richard said. “I don’t recognize either it or the name. Where is it?”

“It’s actually located right off the coast of France,” Edward said. “It’s owned by the Marquee DuPuis, a man that died with no heirs twelve years ago. Ever sense then, it’s been owned by the crown. My sources tell me that the French King has been leasing the island to privateers.”

“How do you come by this information?” Richard said. “I’ve never heard any of this.”

“That’s because you spend all your time courting regal ladies and I spend my time in the field,” Edward said, a slight hint of anger in his voice. Richard raised an eyebrow again, but let the comment go. After all, it wasn’t entirely untrue.

“How heavily guarded is it?” he asked.

“Enough that I needed you to bankroll two more ships,” Edward said. “Truth is, it’s difficult to say. See this lagoon here? That seems the logical place to dock, right? Problem is, none of the boats my spies have seen come here go to the lagoon. They all go around the back, disappear, and then reappear coming around the other side.”

“A cave in those cliffs?” Richard asked.

“That’s my guess,” Edward nodded. “So, the plan is to find that cave and then charge in. I’m pretty sure they only have one boat protecting this place. They needed to keep it secret after all. So, your two hired ships attack their protection vessel, and we sale in and take care of the guards inside.”

Richard nodded in return. “Sounds like a plan. Let’s get to it.”

********

Richard watched through his spyglass as the two hired privateer vessels went about their work. Sure enough, a French navel ship was there by the cliffs. It fired a few warning shots to try and get the two smaller ships away, but the two captains were good. They easily drew the French ship out and away from the cliff. From the looks of the battle, Richard had no doubt that in a matter of an hour, the French ship would be defeated and looted.

“Now,” said Edward. “Now!”

His crew jumped to life, and the ship slowly made its way around the island towards the other side of the cliffs. As expected, there was a large cave opening in the cliffs. With no vessel blocking their way, they sailed right in. The cave was massive, as if the whole rear end of the island was hollow, and filled with water. There was a strange little island within the island in the middle of this underground lagoon, and on it, he could see a small fortress.

“There’s our goal,” he said to Richard. The other man nodded upon seeing it.

“They’ll have cannons,” Richard prepared. “Our best bet is to go in fast and straight on, give them less to shoot at.”

“Right,” Edward said, “Then we drop off our boarding party and let the ship retreat and return fire, covering us.”

Sure enough, as they came in the fort started firing back. It wasn’t heavy fire, though, only four cannons. It seemed that the French never expected anyone to get this far. Edward lead his ship into position, and he and Richard lead the boarding party on the landing boats into the fort. The French blocking the boarding party didn’t offer much more resistance than the fort itself. It didn’t make sense to Richard. If this place really was as important to the French as Edward made out it to be, why wasn’t it guarded better?

The battle was over in a matter of minutes, and they had complete control of the fotress. More men from the ship were ordered into the fortress, where the remaining French were hunted down and slaughtered.

“Edward, do we have to kill them all?” Richard said. “Some of these men could provide useful information. They would be worth more as prisoners.”

“This is war, Richard,” Edward said. “We do not take prisoners.”

Richard started to argue more when Edward turned to glare at him. Seeing him there, with a bloody saber in one hand and a gun in the other, Richard let the matter go. He always knew that Edward was vicious. It was one of the reasons that the Crown had granted him rights as a privateer. But he never imagined that the man would be as bloodthirsty as he was. What had happened during his time fighting the French that turned Edward into this monster he was now?

After all the French inside were dead, Edward started the search for the treasure room. It didn’t take too long. The fort wasn’t much of a structure. Basically, it was one long wall that connected to the cave, and some sleeping quarters. The rest was all cave. Leading the search party down the cave tunnels, they found a smaller cave that was the obvious treasure hold. Chest and lined the walls, and gold was piled all around. It looked like something out of a bad penny novel. Real treasure wasn’t normally stored this way. It looked like all the loot the French had gained from raiding English and German merchant ships.

“Edward,” Richard said, looking at something that caught his eye. “Look at this.”

He pointed to a single, small chest, off to the side and by it self. It looked almost as if the black wooden box was kept separated on purpose.

“Hello,” Edward said. “I wonder what’s in here.”

As the two neared the small chest, they saw that a sword was with it. A finely crafted saber with what appeared to be a solid gold hilt and a blade made out of silver. Filigree and finely detailed carvings were all over the blade and even the hilt, and silk was wrapped around the hilt. Richard picked up the blade and found that it had a reasonable heft, like that of a normal blade. In fact, it seemed perfectly balanced, and surprisingly strong. The blade was even sharp. This was no mere ornamental blade.

“It suits you,” Edward said, smiling. “Keep it, it’s yours.”

Richard couldn’t help but smile. This would make a fine memento, indeed. Edward, in the mean time, knelt down to the box. It was as finely crafted as the sword, and the etchings on it were obviously done by the same hand.

“Whoever made these was a master craftsman,” Richard said.

Edward found a lock on the side facing the wall, and twisted it around. There didn’t seem to be a key anywhere. As he twisted, though, the lock sprung open.

“Well,” he said. “Must not have been locked.”

Slowly, he opened the box. Inside, sitting on a black cushion, was a ring. It was made of a black metal that neither of them recognized, and house an onyx stone in it’s setting. The craftsmanship on the ring was as fine as that of the sword, and Richard noted what appeared to be lettering on it that resembled that of the sword.

“It looks like words,” he said. “I wonder what language this is.”

Edward put the ring on. It fit him perfectly, and seemed to shine with an inner fire despite its dark appearance. A sudden chill went through Richard, and he got a feeling that putting on the ring was a very bad idea.

“Edward?” he said. “I think you may want to take the ring off.”

“What?” Edward said. “Nonsense. Look at it. It’s beautiful!”
It was beautiful, but there was something sinister about it. As he watched, the ring seemed to come alive in a black flame. Edward jumped slightly when it happened. Then, the flame spread and quickly covered his whole hand. Edward stood, shaking his hand, trying to get the flame off.

“Richard!” he cried. Richard came forward, but the flame was spreading up Edward’s arm and to his whole body at an amazing rate.

“Get it off! Get it off!” Edward screamed. The more he struggled, the more the flames seemed to dance and spread. Soon, Edward’s whole body was covered in the writing black flames. He flailed around screaming for help. As his arms waved back and forth in frantic energy, balls of black flame flew from him, igniting the wooden chests around him. The men started to run away. The flames on Edward were getting bigger and hotter. Even Richard was finding it difficult to stay while his friend burned.

“Edward!” Richard screamed. “Run to the water! Run to the water!”

He couldn’t tell if his friend still heard him, but Edward rushed towards the direction of the fort and the water. Richard followed, but before they got half way, Edward fell to his knees in pain.

“Richard!” he cried. “I can feel it building up! Get away! NOW!”

He was right, Richard saw. The flames were getting more intense. Despite their black color, they seemed to be getting brighter. Richard instinctively held the sword up in front of him to shield himself from the glare. He noted somewhere in the back of his mind that while he felt the heat, it didn’t seem to affect him. He tried moving forward, wanting to do something to help Edward.

Just as he got to him, Edward flung himself upwards, a cry escaping his lips, and exploded. It was a massive explosion, and Richard felt himself pushed backwards. He flew through the air and hit the back of the hall, and then everything went black.

********

When Richard opened his eyes, he was face down in sand. He pushed himself up, coughing water and sand out of his lungs. The first thing he noticed as he was looking around was the sword. It didn’t look like it was at all affected by the fire, which surprised him, given the heat and the soft metals the sword was made of. He looked around more, and didn’t recognize where hew as. He figured he had to be on the other side of the island, but things didn’t look right. This placed looked almost like the beach by his father’s lands. But that wasn’t possible the manor was miles away. The more he looked around, though, the more he became convinced that was where he was.

He stood up and dusted himself off, noting that his clothes were rather beat up, but nothing looked particularly singed. What happened back there? Is it possible that he was blown to the other side of the island and then rescued by one of the two ships he hired? They could have dropped him here. But if that was the case, why not take the sword? It was worth a small fortune, and Richard didn’t fool himself into thinking those men were kind hearted. Nothing made sense.

He shook his head. Whatever happened, he couldn’t just stand around here all day. So, he grabbed the sword and made his way up the beach. As he crested the ridge, he saw the small, seaside village that was only a few miles from his home. He was back in England, after all!

He heard some shouting from around a bend, and rushed forward to investigate. It sounded like someone was in trouble. These were his people, he would be damned if someone was going to harm them, even if he wasn’t in the best of shape at the moment. When he came around the bend, he saw some villagers fleeing men in armor carrying muskets and spears. There were about six men in all. He looked at the sword in his hand and shrugged. Hopefully, from a distance, no one would know it wasn’t steel.

“Halt!” he said, leaping onto a boulder by the road and brandishing the sword before him. “These people are under my protection! Leave now, and I shall let you live!”

The men stopped and looked at me. They stared at the sword for a few seconds, then looked at each other. Richard noted at this moment that only two of them had muskets, the rest were carrying spears. After a quick glance at each other, the six men broke out in laughter.

“Kill him,” one of the men with a spear said, and the two with muskets raised and aimed at Richard. Richard knew there was no time to dodge. He closed his eyes. He couldn’t believe that this was how it would end. He never would find out what happened to Edward. The guns went off, and he heard a woman scream. Then, he felt something impact on his chest and bounce off. No pain. Was he dead?

Slowly, he opened his eyes and looked down. There were no bullet holes in his chest. He looked around and saw that everyone was just as amazed as he was. Quickly, he raised the sword again, deciding to take advantage of the confusion.

“Once again, I ask you to leave,” he said. “Leave now, and I will allow you to go. Disobey me, and your lives are forfeit.”

Once again, the men looked at each other. There was a moment when Richard thought they would actually leave. Then, the man that barked the order before grabbed their attention again.

“You idiots,” he said. “You obviously missed. Charge him! He’s just one man with a saber. Kill him!”

The men with spears charged at him. Richard immediately sprang into action, leaping off the boulder. He swung his sword under one of the men’s spears, pushing it up, and he saw that it flew out of the man’s hands. He must have pushed harder than it felt. Then, he followed up with a punch to the man’s face with his other fist, sending the man flying back into a tree and knocking him unconscious. He turned to another man and swung his sword again, easily slicing the man’s wooden spear shaft in half. The man looked at him with fear in his eyes, and Richard took advantage of that by swing his sword again, cutting the man’s head off. He paused for a second. That should have been impossible with a silver blade. He looked at the sword and saw that it wasn’t even nicked.

Then, he felt something poke at his back. He turned around and saw a third man with a spear, pointed right at him. The end of the spear was bet. He grabbed the spear and yanked it out of the man’s hand, then threw it up in the air, reversing it’s direction, and stabbed the man in the chest with it when he caught it. He paused again. He had never moved so fast or dexterous in his life. And both the bullets and that spear bounced off his skin? What was going on here?

He turned, and the other men were standing, staring at him. He noticed the villagers were too. He waved his sword menacingly, and everyone scattered, including the villagers. It was obvious they were all terrified of them. He couldn’t blame them. What he did just now as impossible. What he possessed? He looked down at the sword. No, maybe not possessed. The sword. Somehow, it was related to the sword, he knew it. He needed to get back home and figure out what, exactly, was going on, and he needed to get there quickly.

Before he knew what was happening, he found himself rising up into the air. His feet dangled below him, yet he didn’t feel suspended or in anyway like he was falling. He looked out over the horizon as he reached the top of the ridgeline and saw his family estates. He pointed towards it with the sword, and found himself suddenly moving in that direction. His body flattened out, as if he were laying on his stomach, and he had the vague feeling that the sword was pulling him through the air.

After getting over the initial shock, he realized he was flying! It was an amazing experience, the feeling of wind through his hair, the sights from the height he was at. It was all incredible. Once again, he looked at the sword. It all came back to the sword. It was the only thing that made sense. The sword was some how protecting him. It had protected him back on the island near France, too. In fact, the sword was probably what brought him back him. That had been his last thought just before Edward... exploded. Edward. He had put on that ring just before the incident. The ring must have been magical, like the sword.

Poor Edward. He got a cursed item, while Richard was fortunate enough to get the beneficial magic, the protective powers of the sword. And not just protective. Flight! And strength! When he hit those men, it was as if he were three men. He saw his mansion coming up, and pointed the sword towards it. Slowly, he lowered towards the estate, and gently touched the ground. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as graceful as he pictured it would be in his head. He hit the ground just a little too fast, and stumbled and fell. He would have to practice that.

“Master Richard?” came a voice from behind him. He turned and saw a gnarled old man running down the steps to the castle.

“John!” Richard cried.

“Master Richard, what was that I just saw?” he said, pointing towards the sky.

Richard looked up, blinked, and then looked back and John. He wasn’t quite sure how to explain this.

“I think it best that we go back inside, John,” he said. “I have a lot to tell you.”

********

“And that’s everything I know,” Richard said, setting down his brandy.

“And Master Edward is truly dead?” John said.

“I’m honestly not sure I really believe that,” Richard said. “I mean, all evidence points to it, but by rights, I should be dead myself. I was shot by two muskets and close range, and all they did was bounce off. I’m not ready to believe fully that Edward was really killed by that ring. I think it may have somehow protected him as well.”

“Will you be going in search of him?” John asked.

“I don’t think so,” Richard said. “At least, not right away. If Edward did survive, it’s likely that he took to one of his many hidden head quarters. I wouldn’t even know where to begin. In the mean time, I would love to study the effects of this sword more.”

“Are you certain it’s the sword, Master Richard?” John asked. “What if the ring that Master Edward had affected you as well?”

Richard rubbed his chin. “Hmmm,” he said. “I hadn’t thought of that. Still, I think it unlikely. I don’t think I could find my way back home from that French island we were on by myself, never mind while unconscious. I believe it had to be this sword. I just need to test it.”

“And how does one test something like that?” John asked.

Richard pondered for a moment. That was a good question. He looked around the room and noted that the fire was burning and the poker was still sitting in the fire wood.

“I have an idea,” he said. “John, go and get that poker out of the fire and bring it here.”

The old man did as commanded. When he was in front of Robert, he looked at him expectantly.

“No, I want you hold the poker up, and leave it there no matter what I do, okay?” he said.

Edward nodded and pointed the poker to the ceiling. Without warning, Richard reached out and grabbed the poker. He could feel John attempt to pull it away out of shock, but Richard held on tight and the old man couldn’t pull it free. He could feel the heat from the poker, even knew how hot it was just by touch. But it didn’t seem to affect him. He wasn’t really getting hotter by holding it. He let go of it, and John stumbled a little.

“I’m sorry, master,” John said. “You startled me with you suddenly grabbed the poker.”

“I do apologize,” Richard said. “But it did seem unlikely that you would just allow me to do that.”

John nodded. “Probably right, sir.”

“Well, let’s see the results,” Richard said. They looked at his hand and saw… nothing. It was as if he never touched the poker.

“Hold it up again, John,” Richard said. This time, he put the sword down on the table. He grabbed the poker one more time, but saw that the results were the same. He looked down at the sword, convinced that it was the blade that was allowing him to do this. Then, he moved it further away and repeated the experiment. It took several tries, but after a while they discovered that the sword protected him up to a range of about five yards. After that, he was a perfectly normal human. But it proved Richard right. The sword was what gave him his amazing abilities.

Over the course of the next month, the two of them worked out a way to practice and test all of his abilities. He was amazingly strong, so much so that they had yet to find the upper limit of his strength. They found that he could lift boulders the size of men, one in each hand, and carry them for about an hour without feeling tired. They also found he could dial the strength back when needed.

He was faster than a normal man, and in combat especially, his reflexes were quicker and his mind sharper. Of course, he could fly. His top speed allowed him to fly from one end of England to the other in a matter of about six hours. It tired him out so much so when he did that, however, that he slept for two straight days. His ‘cruising speed’ seemed to be more along the lines of allowing him to fly from his estate to London in mere hours, but even that left him drained. Flying was tiring, while strength didn’t seem to be.

And of course, he seemed indestructible. They tested all kinds of things, from pistols and muskets to swords and spears, nothing left so much as a scratch in his skin. Oddly, the magic of the sword made his skin hard as steel, but did not in any way dull his sense of touch. He could still fell the wind or even the bullet hitting him. But the pain stuff felt muted, as if it were happening through a pillow.

That first month seemed to fly by, until the day Jon came back with the news. It appeared that a fleet of French ships was seen of the coast of England, heading this way. Richard’s people were in danger, but this time he intended to do something about it.

“John,” he said. “Do you still know how to reach Anthony?”

“Yes, sir,” John replied. “He just lives in town, in fact, working as a fisherman.”

“Excellent!” Richard said. “Send for him, will you? I think its time we brought someone else into our little secret.”

********

“Amazing!” said Anthony. He was a tall, muscular man, grizzled by a life at sea, with a scraggly beard and the smell of fish all over him. “That was all simply amazing! The things you could do for the crown with these powers.”

“Indeed,” Richard agreed. “That’s why I have called you here. You served as my father’s first mate, right?”

“Well,” Anthony said. “Yes, but only after the noble gentleman that was supposed to sit in that role died.”

“Yes, but you stayed in that post for quite some time,” Richard said. “This is why I think you are trustworthy. I want you to gather together a crew, men who are loyal to the throne. We’re going to use my powers to take on that French fleet and protect the kingdom at the same time.”

Anthony nodded slowly. Richard caught the doubt in his eye.

“What is it?”

“Well, sir,” he said. “I don’t mean to insult you or nothing’.”

“Go on man,” Richard said. “Spit it out.”

“Well, sir, I can gather up a crew, for sure, but… well, none of ‘em will likely follow you. You quit the navy after your father died, and that didn’t settle well with them. They think you’ve turned into a dandy.”

“Don’t worry,” Richard said. “I have a solution to that. I don’t want anyone else knowing the secret that the three of us now know. So, I’ve decided to make up a new persona through which I can use my powers publicly. I shall be the Privateer. Look, I’ve made my own suit.”

He waved over to a closet, where John opened it up. Inside was a costume done up in the red, blue and white of the flag. It looked largely like a flashy pirate outfit, with loose shirt, tight pants, high boots and a hat with bandana. But the face had a mask covering half of it.

“The Privateer,” Anthony said, rubbing his chin. “A masked pirate wouldn’t be new. They might go for that. Keep in mind that they may still not trust you, being an unknown and all.”

“That’s why you’ll be my first mate, Anthony,” Richard said.

Anthony looked back and smiled. “I was hopin’ you would say that.”

Over the course of the next week, preparations were made. A ship was purchased discreetly through Anthony, who also gathered up the crew. Richard met the crew in costume and led them to follow his directions. They were not the cutthroat people that Edward liked the hire, but they were not friendly men by any means. His showed them a little of his powers, including flight and strength, and the men fell right in line. Meanwhile, the French fleet kept attacking the coast. Finally, John came to Richard one day with a report.

“They’re not French,” he said. “They’re pirates, using French vessels. In fact, they mostly seem to be English. They’re lead by a mysterious man who calls himself the Black Flame. People are saying he’s the devil himself. His last attack was against a navel fleet, where he burned several ships down by throwing balls of black flame at them. He made a demand. The king was to abdicate his thrown to this Black Flame, or he would burn the entire country down.”

“The Black Flame?” Richard said. Edward. It had to be. “Well, my friend,” he said, walking to his costume closet. “I think it’s time the world saw the Privateer. Don’t you?”

The End

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