The Doctor

El Lobo Del Mar

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This is a closed story by Honour Bright and Mad Jack Wolfe.
©2009-2015 by the respective authors. All Rights Reserved.

Hampshire, Near Portsmouth - 1639

"Damn it, Jack, you're just being unreasonable now!"

John Michael Wolfe was stuffing whatever belongings he could into a sea bag. His older brother, Royal Navy Lieutenant Thomas Wolfe, was standing over him, desperately trying to talk his younger brother out of becoming a merchant marine.
"Define 'reasonable'," Jack shot back.
Thomas looked at the ceiling in frustration. "Fine. 'Reasonable' would be you stopping this nonsense and going back to Oxford where you belong."
Jack shook his head. "No, you just defined 'unreasonable'. Try again."
"Jack, you have a bright future as a professor! No fewer than three deans have come here begging to talk with you in hopes of changing your mind! Yet you insist on shipping out on a merchantman tomorrow? THAT is what I'd call unreasonable."
Jack turned and faced his brother. "Our father is dead, Tom. Mum isn't getting a penny now that he's gone. How much of your salary can you spare to keep bread on her table? Not one damned farthing, because the Navy can't afford to pay you! I can send back most of my money once we're under way, because I'll get paid regular. And I live cheap. Being at university has taught me to be frugal."

"It's not what Father would have wanted," said Thomas.
Jack rolled his eyes. "Yeah, and Dad is dead. I say he doesn't get a bloody vote. He took it upon himself to bugger off to the great beyond and leave us to tend to the mess. Well, I'm doing that, the best I can."
"Being angry at Father isn't going to help anything. It's not his fault he died."
Jack continued ramming whatever he could into his sea bag. "I'm not so dim as to think he planned it, Tom. But it doesn't change the fact that he did, and left us holding the bag."
Thomas shook his head. "I want you to think this through, Jackie..."
"Don't call me that!!" Jack erupted. "'Jackie' sounds like a little boy with an all-day lollipop. How would you like it if I started calling you Tommy again?"
"I'm sorry. You're right. I wouldn't like it much. But please, give it a few days before you commit to this choice."
"No time. The Laura Anne sails tomorrow. And I shall be on her when she does."
"There are other ships, Jack. You don't have to sail on that one."
Jack shook his head as he cinched up the sack. "I gave Captain Pritchard my word. You know how Father felt about men who don't keep their word."
"So now you invoke him, since it suits your purpose?"
"Something like that."

Thomas went to the chair across from Jack's bed and sat heavily. "Are you really doing this for Mum, or is it something else?"
"I don't know what you mean," said Jack.
"There's more to this than an overdeveloped sense of responsibility." Thomas leaned forward and looked at his brother. "This is about Rose, isn't it?"
Jack stiffened. "It's got nothing to do with her."
"Oh, the hell it doesn't. She hurt you, and badly. I remember the night she rejected your proposal. It was the first time you'd had anything to drink. I've never seen anyone hold their liquor so poorly."
"Rose wanted status," said Jack bitterly. "Like she said, I'm just the son of a shipwright. What status could I give her?"
"She's missing the point," Thomas said gently. "Everyone knows how much you love her. Rose is throwing away everything, for what? A meaningless title? Land? Will those things keep her warm at night?"
Jack's stomach was steadily tying itself in knots. Yes, Rose had hurt him badly. He had saved for months to buy her an engagement ring. Jack had worshiped the very ground she walked on, and she had never rebuked any profession of love he had given, no matter how bold. That made her laughing rejection of his proposal that much more cruel. He had been nothing more than an entertaining diversion to her.

"Tom, I really don't want to talk about this right now."
"When do you want to talk about it, Jack?"
"How about... never?"
Thomas stood and took his brother by the shoulders. "I know I can't talk you out of this. But keep this with you; I will do everything I can to keep tabs on you so I know you are safe."
"What, are you afraid I'll fall in with pirates?"
"Something like that."
Jack gave his brother a wicked grin. "Then I swear an oath that if I ever do fall in with pirates, I shall become the more feared pirate the world has ever seen!"
Thomas bit his lip and nodded. "That is what I'm most afraid of. You have a terrible habit of attaining whatever goal you set for yourself."
Jack shook his head. "There's no danger of that happening, Tom. I feel the same about pirates as you do. They are a vile and cancerous blight. I'd rather die than become one of them."
"Let's hope it never comes to that." Thomas looked hard into Jack's eyes. "Promise me you'll be careful?"
"I promise," smiled Jack. "Frankly, I feel better knowing you'll be out there keeping an eye on me."
The bothers hugged, and Thomas mussed Jack's hair. "Be careful. And for God's sake, get a bloody haircut!"
"Spoken like a true Navy man!" laughed Jack.

He watched as his brother left and closed the door. After a few moments, he reached under the bed and pulled out a bottle of Jamaican rum he has purchased a few days before on the docks at Portsmouth. Jack pulled out the cork and took a couple of swallows of the amber liquid. A violent shudder ran through him as the rum scorched its way down his throat, and he had to fight back the urge to retch. Finally, he unclenched his eyes and shoved the cork back into the bottle.

"Maybe Tom is right," he said quietly. "Maybe I'm doing the wrong thing. Maybe I'm not cut out for the sea. But I just don't care any more."

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Portsmouth - 1639

The morning sun broke clear and bright over the harbour town of Portsmouth, bringing with it the promise of new beginnings. Jack climbed off the back of the wagon he had hitched a ride on and gave the farmer a couple shillings for his kindness. Slinging his overstuffed sea bag over his shoulder, he scanned the ships docked there. A myriad of vessels lay before him; merchantmen, warships, mail runners, and a host of others. Jack knew the Laura Anne was a two-masted brigantine, which helped to significantly narrow his search. Being the son of a shipwright proved to be an advantage in situations like this. He could tell at a glance what type of ship each one was, and usually where it had been built.

At the end of one dock laid a stoutly built ship, deep drafted, with two masts. The foremast was square-rigged, and the mainsail was set fore and aft of the mainmast. She wasn't a large ship, but it was apparent she could carry quite a bit of cargo. Jack was fairly confident she was the Laura Anne, but he didn't feel like walking all the way down the long dock to find out. A man was sitting on the dock near the stern of a large weathered sloop, repairing one of the lines with a marlinespike. Jack decided the grizzled tar was as good a person to ask as any.

“Pardon me, sir,” he began.

“'Sir'?!” the man asked incredulously. He spat on the deck and gave Jack an amused look. “Ain't no 'sirs' here, boy. All of us, we work for a livin'.”

Jack could feel his face getting red. He knew full well how sailors addressed one another, and he knew a lot of their vernacular, too. But he never dreamt that one day he would be a sailor.

“Sorry,” he said with a smile. “No offence intended, mate. That brigantine down there, is she the Laura Anne?”

“I suppose it could be,” the man replied. “Who wants to know?”

“I ship out on her today. I was hoping you'd save a bloke a long walk if you know it's her.”

The man shook his head. “Sonny, after a month of nothin' but blue water and rollin' decks, you'll wish you had enjoyed the walk. But I figure it's somethin' you'll have to learn the hard way. Yeah, she be the Laura Anne. Pritchard's a good master. Tough but fair.”

“Thanks, mate,” said Jack, and he turned to leave.

“Hey, sonny!” the man called. “This is your first time on blue water, ain't it?”

Jack bit his lip. “Yes, it is.”

“You'll need a sure-fire seasick remedy then. I got one, but it'll cost you a sixpence.”

Jack thought about it, and how queasy he got when a skiff he was in got caught in a heavy chop. He dug in his pocket and put the coin in the man's hand. The man pocketed the coin and waved younger man closer.

“The best cure for seasickness?” he said mysteriously.


“Sit under a tree.”

Jack gave him a dumbfounded look, and the man let loose an ear-splitting cackle. Knowing he'd been taken and rightly so, Jack laughed and started down the dock to his new home, and the future.

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A few minutes later, Jack found himself tenuously setting foot onto the deck of the Laura Anne. He found it strange that no one challenged him. Undeterred, he looked around until he spotted the quartermaster who had signed him on. Jack walked up to the man and cleared his throat.

“Excuse me, Mr. Graves? Jack Wolfe. We met two days ago at the Crown and Rose. I'm reporting for duty.”

Graves looked the lad over and sniffed. “You look skinnier in the daylight. Can you climb?”

“Yes, sir. I even know a thing or two about working the lines. My father...”

“Is not a member of this crew, boy,” interrupted Graves. “We'll teach you how to properly work the lines, as well as other duties about the ship. Now, follow me. I'll show you where you'll bunk down.”

Graves told Jack about the ship and the captain, and explained how they carried textiles and other manufactured goods from England and Wales to the colonies on Nevis and Antigua, and brought back sugar cane, rum, and other exotic goods.

“I'm a little confused,” said Jack. “If the normal run takes you to Beaumaris and Liverpool, what is the ship doing in Portsmouth? Isn't that a bit out of the way?”

“It's for the captain,” Graves explained. “Every year at this time, we make port here so he can visit his wife.”

“He only visits her once a year? Mrs. Pritchard is a very understanding woman.”

“No, Mrs. Pritchard is dead. The captain pays his respects on their anniversary.”

“Oh, my God,” Jack stammered. “I didn't know...”

“Well, now you do,” said Graves, with the slightest hint of a smirk. “Here. Here's where you'll spend your time not on watch.”

They were on the gun deck. It was cramped, hot, and smelled of pitch, sweat, and a hint of spent gunpowder. Hammocks were slung from the overhead, and a few of them were filled with sleeping men.

“Get your kit secured and settle in, boy. We sail with the evening tide.” Without waiting for acknowledgement, Graves turned and left the gun deck.

Jack looked around, trying to see where he could put his sea bag. He found that tied to each deck support was a net, and some of the men had stowed their belongings that way. He shrugged, and stuffed his bag into one of the emptier nets. Jack leaned against the support and let out a loud sigh. A knot the size of a grapefruit was forming in his stomach. What was he doing there? He wasn't a sailor. He was a philosophy and literature student at university. At least he had been, before walking away from that life.

“Who are you fooling, Jack?” he asked himself quietly.

A low chuckle from one of the hammocks startled him. He turned to find a bearded man with shaggy light brown hair, a few years older than himself, looking at him with a mocking smile.

“Well, well,” the man laughed. “Looks like we got us a fish out of water, we do.”

Jack knew he would encounter razzing for being a “guppy”, a new sailor. He just hadn't expected it to start within the first half hour. “Yeah, I'm new. What of it?”

“Oh, hold on there, laddie buck! Ye best be belayin' that tone. If ye want a fight, there's plenty of men here what'll give ye one.”

“Sorry,” said Jack. “I'm a little jumpy.”

“Nah,” the man replied. “You're a lot jumpy. Ye don't have much to worry for, mate. This here's a good ship, with a good crew. What be yer name?”

“Jack. Jack Wolfe.” He extended his hand. “What's yours?”

The older fellow gave Jack's hand a firm shake. His palm felt like an odd combination of leather and sandpaper. “Pleased to meet ye, Jack Wolfe. My name's Josiah Briggs.”

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“I'd like to say it's a pleasure, Josiah, but I'm not even sure I'm doing the right thing by being here,” said Jack.

Briggs gave him a thoughtful look and nodded. “Aye, then ye be like nearly ever other man who takes to the sea. I suppose it's a matter of whether you're runnin' from somethin', or runnin' to somethin'.”

Jack thought about it for a moment. “I guess a little of both.”

“Glad to hear ye ain't over-thought it,” Briggs laughed. “Once we set sail, ye'll know if this is the right life for ye.”

“And if I find it's not?”

“Then it's goin' to be a very long trip to Nevis for ye.”

Jack rolled his eyes and sagged against the support again. “That's not much encouragement.”

“Ye'll be fine, Jack. Ye seem like a bit of all right to me. Green as grass, but that's nothin' new. Tell ye what; stick close to ol' Briggs. I'll take good care of ye. Teach ye the ropes good and proper.”

“If you don't mind my asking, just how old is 'ol' Briggs'?” Jack asked.

“Twenty-four, last Thursday. How old are ye?”

“Nineteen, this past July.”

“About what I figured,” chuckled Briggs. “Just a pup. But ye got a sharp look in your eyes.”

“It's very kind of you to take me under your wing like this, Josiah. It's intimidating walking into a new life feeling like you don't have a friend to your name.”

“Everybody needs a friend. Might as well be me!” Briggs hopped out of his hammock and pulled Jack's bag from the net. “Let's start with teachin' ye how to stow your gear the right way. Listen sharp to me, Jack, and ye'll make captain in no time.”

“And I suppose by the time that happens, you'll be an admiral?”

Briggs gave a hearty laugh. “Hell, yes! We may be mates now, but I'll not be taking orders from you if'n I can help it!”

That evening, the Laura Anne slipped silently out of Portsmouth harbour and into the English Channel, on her way to the deep blue waters of the Atlantic. Jack and Briggs were aloft working the mainsail lines. Briggs was pleasantly surprised with Jack's knowledge, though the younger man's fearlessness worried him. The last thing he wanted was for his new friend to end up on the deck below with a broken neck. He genuinely liked Jack. He could see a fire in the lad's eyes that spoke of intelligence and ambition. This was a man headed for something big, even though neither could guess what that might be.

Jack finally paused in his work and looked back toward Portsmouth. The sun was setting, bathing the town in a soft orange glow.

“Beautiful, ain't it?” said Briggs.

Jack nodded. “Yes, it is.” He shook his head and rechecked the sail stay he had just secured. “I'll get back to work...”

“Nay, laddie. Ye'll do nothin' of the sort. I'll finish up. Go ahead and take a good long look. Get it out of your system now, or ye'll regret it.”

Jack smiled his thanks and looked back at Portsmouth. He felt a twinge of regret for leaving, but he knew this was something he had to do. In a way, this was his way of honouring his father's memory in addition to providing for his mother. As the port shrank in the ship's wake, Jack hoped that other things would dwindle into nothingness with it. His utter disillusionment with Oxford's petty politics that sabotaged any chance of his becoming a professor there, for one. The other, deeper wound would take longer, but it helped that he no longer would hear her name spoken ever again. His best friend's sister, and the woman who had broken his heart.

Rose Gander.

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Beaumaris, Wales---1641

Daddy? You called for me?"

The imposing figure towered over her. "Yes. Sit down."

She sat on the edge of the chair, her feet never touching the floor. He stood there and cleared his throat. "I have made some new arrangements, child. You are being sent away to a convent."

"Daddy? I am to go away? Please! I'll be good. I promise!"

"You are beyond control. You have the house servants wrapped around your finger to the point where they are covering over for the mischief and mayhem you are causing. I shall not have this house in a constant uproar due to your shenanigans. We have already gone through five governesses in the last year."

Her lower lip trembled at the thought of not being in her home with her sisters. But she put on a false bravado.

"And where am I to go?"

"To the Order of St Brigid. They are expecting you there in the next few days."

Her father walked over to her and said, "I have Nanny Greyson packing your things now. Tomorrow she will be taking you to the convent."

She stood up and said defiantly, "I shall go but I am taking Muir with me."

She left the room, her little head held high but inside she was quaking with fear of the unknown.

The teacher, known affectionately to the little girls as Master Scholar, stood in the doorway and asked, "Do you think that was necessary?"

Her father turned around and said, "She's six years old! Do you know what she just did this morning? She demanded of Parry the head stablemaster that she will ride Goliath instead of her pony. Goliath! That horse stands 17 hands and is raw power! She told him that she had my permission. Parry knew I would never let her ride Goliath so when his back was turned, she opened the stall, climbed on the rails and hopped on the horse. She held onto his mane and the last Parry saw of her, she was galloping off towards the open meadow and into the woods. He tried to ride off to catch her but she was gone. He was frantic. And do you know where she was?"

The teacher shook his head.

"She went swimming in the pond in the middle of the clearing. Quicksand all around. Then she decided she was going berry-picking. She picked berries alright. She came home...BLUE! Seems she squished them in her pockets. Those were the ones she didn't eat."

The teacher said, "I admit that was a little extreme..."

The father interrupted him with, "Oh, that's her on one of her GOOD days."

The teacher said, "Mayhaps you have had the wrong servants watching her. She has a quick mind. If you would allow me to..."

"No! She is going. That is final. Let the order educate her."

"And what order is that, if I may be so bold as to ask?"

"That is not your concern. And if you continue to pry, you shall be out of a position."

The teacher finished his rum in one gulp and said, "Don't bother. Anyone that would turn such a little girl away from the only home she has known....I'll be moving on."

He turned and walked out of the study.

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From the stairways, the little girl had been listening to the entire conversation. The teacher was in his room, gathering his belongings. She hesitated at the door and then said in a small voice, "Master Scholar?"

He turned at the sound of her and smiled gently. "Yes, child?"

"I wanted you to know that I learned to read and write while listening to you."

She showed him a slate where she had written some words. She stood there and waited for his reaction.

The teacher took the slate and said, "That is excellent! You far outpass your sisters."

She took her slate back and said "Thank you. I sat outside the door and listened and copied everything you said."

He put his hands on her shoulders and said, "Remember this, child. Knowledge is power. You have that and you can rule the world!"

She looked up at him and tried to put on a brave face. "I shall be leaving tomorrow. I am taking my dog with me. He will protect me. And I shall fear nothing."

The teacher gave her a smile. "Perhaps some day our paths will cross, little one. Until then, keep safe."

Her wolf-dog came into the room and stood by her side. "We shall. Thank you, Master Scholar. I shall not forget that I owe my desire for learning to you."

He was amazed at her sharpness of mind and the adult way she had of speaking. It had touched his heart and he gathered his bag.

"God be with you, young one."

"And you, too, Master Scholar."

She offered her hand to him and he took it. On impulse she gave him a hug and then quickly ran out the door.

The teacher gave a sigh, grabbed his bag and walked out, looking back just once.

Then he walked away.

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She walked down to the docks of her coastal town in Wales.

'So what if I took Goliath out riding? It's not like I hurt him. No reason to send me away.'

Her wolf-dog Muir jumped along beside her. Suddenly the dog ran ahead and saw a young man looking over the port.

Muir jumped up on him. The man laughed and rubbed the dog behind the ears. "Good dog!"

The little girl ran after her dog and panted, "I'm so sorry, Mister. My dog means no harm."

The young man stood up, running his hands through his unruly brown hair and smiled at her. She was quite the sight. Her light blonde hair hung down her back in a tangle. There was a streak of dirt on her face and her hands were stained with blueberry juice.

"Well, what on earth have YOU been into, little girl?"

She looked down at her chemise that was covered in blueberry juice and the grass stains on the back of her skirt.

" down."

"Really? How many times?"

She laughed. "Quite a few!"

"And blue hands?"

"I had blueberries." She pulled a handful out of her pocket. "I'd offer you some but they are a little squished...oh bother!"

"What, little lass?"

"My dress. I keep getting the laces all knotted. Nanny Greyson said it means I am trouble. With a capital T."

Muir was running excitedly up and down the docks. She frowned. "He never acts like that at home. I think he would like to be on the ships. His name is Irish for 'Sea' "

"Ah--you are Irish?"

"No--I am Welsh. Where do you think you are, anyways? Are you lost?"

He was taken aback by her forthrightness.

"Not at all. I just made port this morning.

She looked over the harbor, her finger on her lips, deep in thought as her eyes searched the newly arrived vessels.

"Which is your ship?"

He pointed to a large vessel with impressive sails."That one."

She looked over the harbor and said, " L-A-U-R-A..A-N-N-E."

She looked at him with pride. "The Laura Anne!"

"You can read? A little thing like you?"

She drew herself up and said, "Of course I can read! I'm already six years old!"

A grin crossed his face. She obviously was a lass who knew her own mind.

"So who is this Laura Anne and what did she do to deserve her own ship?"

"Well, um...I don't really know..."

She interrupted him. "Well, I think you should! After all, she is letting you sail on her ship. Can I meet her?"

The young man hesitated. There didn't seem to be any reasoning with a little lady who had her mind made up on certain things.

"I think she is indisposed right now."

The little girl tossed her blonde mane and said with a dignity that spoke of breeding, "Well, maybe some day Laura Anne's path and mine will cross. Until then, please give her my regards."

She looked at her blueberries and threw them in the water. "I should have planned better. I'm hungry now."

The young man took an apple out of his pocket.

"Will this help?"

She smiled at him and said, "Thank you!"

She bit into the apple, the juice running down her chin. She took her fingers and wiped her chin with them.

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She sighed. "I won't be here long. I am to go away to some sort of school. Father said so."

"Oh? And why is that," he asked.

"Just because I took Goliath out for a ride, and other things that seem to upset my father."

"Really! He sounds like an impressive beast for one as small as you."

She said with a imperial air, "Oh, it's not the first time. I've taken him out lots of times! And I am NOT so small. I keep telling you--I'm six years old!"

He tried to keep from laughing. "Yes, I can see you are quite the young lady. So..when are you leaving?"

Sadly, she said, "I shall be leaving tomorrow."

She looked over the harbor and her face brightened.

"But I would so love to see your ship!"

He laughed and said, "Why not, little missy!"

She stamped her foot and said, "I am NOT little! I already told you that I am six years old."

He gallantly swept his cap off his head and dipped low into a bow. "And I am at your command, mademoiselle!"

She looked up at the sails.

"Those look different than the others."

She ran her little hands over the captain's door. "Oooh! Smooth! Why don't you carve your initials in the door? That way you will know which one is yours!"

He said, "I'm sorry but they are not mine. No one marks this door. The captain is very particular about it. It is teakwood."

She looked over to the sun setting and sighed. "I guess I should be going back home. Why I don't know. They are already sending me away so what more can they do to punish me?"

She pointed to another ship. "See that one? That one belongs to Captain Henry Morgan. His ship is the Neptune Rising. Someday I should like to meet him. Maybe even sail with him! But he's an old man."

"Really! How old is he?"

She wrinkled her brow in thought and said, "I'm not sure. But he's probably as old as you are!"

The young man winced. He had just passed his twenty-first birthday and really didn't think of himself as 'aged.'

She turned to the young man and held out her hand. "I want to thank you for a wonderful time, Sir. Perhaps I'll see you again."

He took her little hand and kissed it. "I should be honored. My name is John Michael Wolfe. And you would be........?"

She smiled and said, "I'm not allowed to talk to strangers let alone tell them my name."

She then cupped her hand to her mouth and motioned him towards her. Conspiratorially she whispered, "But my name is Rhiannon!"

He smiled back at her, "I'm pleased to meet you, Miss Rhiannon."

Looking at the sun dipping in the sky, she sighed and said, "I really must be going."

He took her hand and kissed it again and said, "Good day, Miss Rhiannon. It was a pleasure to meet you."

She waved and ran off the docks, her dog trotting alongside her.

What a precocious child, he thought. And for sure she will grow up to be trouble for any man.......

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Four months later, off the coast of Antigua...

“Get off me, damn you!” Jack cursed. The pirate kept a firm grip on the collar of Jack's shirt as he dragged the young man toward the cell. Jack struggled and tore at the big man's hand, to no avail. Finally, the cell door swung open, and Jack was thrust inside.

He whirled and lunged at his assailant. “I'll do you for that, you bastard!” As he dove forward, a heavy fist caught his chin and sent him spilling to the deck. Jack saw stars, and could feel the world caving in on him. He shook his head and fought off unconsciousness. A minute or two passed with him on his hands and knees, trying desperately to grasp what was going on. The taste of iron became more than he could take, and he spat a mouthful of blood onto the deck. He ran his tongue over his teeth, and found them to all be in place.

“Ain't no use in fightin', Jack,” said a weary Briggs. “The Laura Anne be theirs, no matter what we think about it.”

Jack dropped to the deck and rolled onto his back. “You saw what they did.”

“I saw a hell of a lot, Jack. You're gonna have to narrow it down a bit.”

“Captain Pritchard!” spat Jack. “They murdered him, right before our eyes!”

Briggs shook his head sadly. “Cap'n Pritchard had been lookin' for a way to die ever since his wife passed on six years ago. He found it today, tryin' to save his ship. An honourable way to go, no matter how ye look at it.”

Jack stared at the overhead as he listened to his friend. He kept running his tongue over his teeth, and was unhappy to find that the left canine and surrounding teeth were somewhat loose. “I never knew the captain was so despondent.”

“Aye, he hid it well enough,” said Briggs. “Buried himself in work, he did. But we knew why. And not a one of us could blame him.”

“And this is supposed to make me feel better?” asked Jack. “What's next? Tea and crumpets with our new pirate master?”

Briggs laughed darkly. “Yeah, somethin' like that. They'll be wantin' to press us into service, seein' as we're the skilled ones. Same with the cooper and sailin' master.”

“I won't turn pirate,” said Jack sternly.

“Then you're gonna find yerself dead, Jack. Harkness ain't known for playin' around. Best ye drop yer high-minded ideals and look to what keeps ye drawin' a breath.”

Jack thought about his friend's words. William Harkness was notorious for disposing of anyone or anything he didn't find useful. But what did he have to offer? Briggs was obvious. Ten years on the sea had made Briggs an expert sailor and a fierce warrior. Jack had two and a half years. What use was he?

Heavy footsteps on the deck caught their attention. Jack rolled over to see two formidable looking men approach the cell and unlock it.

“You,” one of them said as they pointed at Jack. “Come with us.”

Jack dragged himself to his feet, with a balled a fist behind his back.

“Jack!” called Briggs. “Don't do anything stupid! I'll never forgive ye if'n ye get yerself killed for no good reason. Think! You're good at that! We'll get out of this alive, I swear.”

Jack looked back at his friend, and uncurled his fingers. With a nod, he turned and went with the two pirates.

They led Jack up one deck, and down a long companionway to a room with an ornate teakwood door. The largest of the two men rapped three times on the door.

“Come!” came a voice from within.

The door was opened, and Jack was shoved roughly inside. He struggled back to his feet and tried to get his bearings. He was standing near the middle of the ship's great cabin. Behind him, to either side of the door, were bookcases stuffed full of books, journals, and charts. A large, four-poster bed was to his left, and a heavy table that could easily seat six lay before him. To his right was a simple desk, covered in charts. The setting was more what Jack expected to find in a governor's mansion, not a pirate ship. Everything was orderly and clean, with just the right amount of opulence to let anyone entering know they were in the presence of a wealthy and powerful man.

Harkness himself sat at the table, with a full spread of cheeses, bread, and claret. He was not a large man, but imposing nonetheless. Jack guessed his age at about thirty. His clothing was much like the cabin; understated elegance. Over a simple white silk shirt, Harkness wore a waistcoat of emerald and black brocade. His shoulder-length mane of jet black hair was loose, but neatly kept.

“Ah! Mister Wolfe. Welcome aboard the Raven's Pride. How good of you to join me,” he said, flashing a warm yet unsettling smile. “Please! Have a seat. No doubt you're hungry.”

Jack sat warily, and tried to mask his desire for the food in front of him.

Harkness filled a glass with claret and offered it to Jack. Jack sat it down on the table, and without a word, pushed it back at him.

Harkness chuckled. “Imbido non per vestri hostilis. But the Bible teaches us that if your enemy hungers, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him drink.”

“And in doing so, you heap burning coals upon his head. Romans, 12:20. I've read it too, a number of times. You'll have to do better, Captain Harkness.”

“My, my, my,” said Harkness. “You're going to make this difficult, aren't you, Mister Wolfe? And you've heard of me! I'm flattered.”

“Everyone has heard of William 'Iron Will' Harkness. You're the most vile, wicked pirate to every terrorize these waters.”

The toothy smile flashed again, but Jack detected and edge of annoyance showing through the pirate's smug façade. “You're forgetting 'ruthless', Mr. Wolfe. Always remember 'ruthless'.” Harkness took a sip of wine. “Yes, I've enjoyed a modicum of success plying my trade. One might say that business has been good.”

“Robbery and murder? That's a business to you?” Jack fired back.

“I could have gone into politics and done exactly the same things, Mr. Wolfe, and been hailed as a noble public servant. But I prefer things this way. More open, more honest. If you're expecting me to justify myself to you, you're sorely mistaken.”

“It's not me I'd be worried about, Captain. You'll have to answer for your crimes one day. In one court or another.”

“First you try to insult me, now you moralise. If your intent is to annoy me, you're off to a good start.”

“Fine, then. If I'm an annoyance, then let me go. My friend as well. We'll cause you no trouble,” said Jack as he got up to leave.

“SIT DOWN, Mr. Wolfe!”

Jack froze, then slowly retook his seat.

Harkness shook his head slowly, his ready smile not nearly as bright this time. “I can't tell if you're brazen, or stupid. You're certainly dancing on either side of that dangerous line.” He leaned back in his chair and popped a piece of cheese in his mouth. “Let me explain to you how this works, Jack. Isn't that what your shipmates call you? Do you mind if I call you that?”

Jack looked around the cabin feigning boredom. “Your ship, your choice.”

“Let me make this perfectly clear to you, Jack,” Harkness began deliberately. “My reputation for discarding that which is of no service to me is well deserved. I'm offering you a chance to continue drawing a breath. Cooperate, and you'll have an opportunity to join my crew. Continue to be a flippant, disrespectful pain in the arse, and you'll find yourself swimming for your life as this ship fades into the distance. Am... I... CLEAR?”

“Crystalline,” replied Jack. What was most clear to him was that Harkness wasn't like the other sailors he had encountered. When other men got angry, they got loud and made mistakes. Not William Harkness. When he got mad, he got cold. It was a trait the pirate captain shared with Jack's father, and the realisation left Jack feeling unsure of himself.

“There, that's more like it,” smiled Harkness. “I brought you here for a reason, Jack. Care to venture what it is?”

“My sparkling personality?”

Harkness' eyes hardened. “Hardly. Word amongst your shipmates is that you're the son of a shipwright. Is this true?”

Jack fidgeted. “Yes,” he answered quietly.

The broad smile returned. “Excellent. A bit of honesty at last. And what would you make of the Pride, Jack?”

“She looks fast enough. Certainly fast enough to overtake freighters and merchantmen.”

Harkness sat forward and leaned on the table. “I want her faster.”

Jack thought for a moment, an decided that Josiah was right. He could stick to his principles and die, or live and find a chance to escape. “With adjustments to the forecastle and stern, maybe some other alterations with the masts, I think it's possible to make her much faster,” he answered.

“Can you make that happen?”

“What if I can? What do I get out of it?”

“You become part of my crew, and I reward you handsomely. I suppose now you want to know what happens if you don't, or worse, try to deceive me?”

“I have an idea...”

“I make good on my promise to throw you overboard to drown,” said Harkness quietly. “You, and your friend.”

Jack's mouth fell open. “Leave Josiah out of this.”

Harkness grinned. “Consider it an incentive to perform.” He poured more wine in his glass, and pushed the glass Jack had refused earlier back to the young man. “Now, do we have a pact?”

Jack lifted his glass from the table and stared into the blood red wine. He swore he would never fall in with pirates, but he couldn't let his stubbornness be the cause of his best friend's death. With the words tasting like ash in his mouth, Jack replied “Yes. We do.”

Harkness' smile became one of self-satisfaction. “I knew you'd see reason, Jack. You know, in a way you remind me of myself at your age. We're going to become good friends, you and I.”

Jack forced a smile and sipped his wine, and tried to ignore the feeling he had just sold his soul.

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Wales, 1645.

Four years later…

"Come on, Muir. Let's go! I want to see what ships have docked since this morning!"

Her loyal wolf dog barked and jumped on her. He seemed to know what the word 'ship' meant.

It had become a Saturday morning ritual for the two of them. He and his mistress would run to the port and sit on the grass.

The dog, who had always been her faithful companion, would sit next to her. Together they would gaze off to the horizon.

She absentmindedly stroked his head.

"Someday, Muir---someday! Someday we shall go sailing off and be free as---" she pointed to the sky, "-as free as those sea gulls! No one to tell us what to do or where to go!"

Back at the Order of St. Brigid, the novitiate had come back, nervously wringing her hands. "I'm sorry, Mother Superior. She's not in her room."

Mother Superior's lips were drawn in a tight line. She exclaimed, "Once again! TROUBLE! I should send her back to her father."

The novitiate asked, "Why don't you?"

The Mother Superior shook her head and said, "Her father is our most generous benefactor. On one condition."

"What is that?"

"We keep her here with us."

"Shall I continue to search for her?"

The elderly nun let out a pent-up sigh.

"No. I have an idea where she is. And when she returns, I shall deal with her. Again."

She walked to the docks, passing a fruit vendor. The young lass known to them all, she was quick with a smile and a greeting for them.

"Hello, Pierre."

"Ah, bon jour! If it isn't the little nun!"

She stamped her foot and said, "How many times do I have to tell you? I am not little and I am not a nun!"

He laughed. "Once again I apologize, ma petite! Will an apple make up for it?"

She broke out in a smile. "Indeed it shall! You know how I love apples!"

The vendor took a bone and Muir's tail thumped on the ground. "And one for le chien, oui?"

The young girl and her dog walked back to the dock. Upon arriving the two companions sat down on the grass and looked out to the sea. She spied a ship with impressive sails.

"Isn't that a beautiful ship, Muir?"

The dog paused from gnawing on his bone and barked as if to answer in the affirmative.

She looked over and saw a small skiff tied to a pole.

"I want to take a closer look at that ship, Muir. It looks like one that I saw a long time ago. But I can't remember the name.... It was the day we picked blueberries back in Beaumaris."

She stood up and looked around. No one was watching.

"Muir, I bet we can row it out and look at the ship's name and then be back before anyone knows it is missing."

Muir jumped into the skiff when he saw his mistress put one foot in it. She untied the rope and picked up the oars.

"Now you sit there and don't move! This won't take us long."

As she rowed the skiff out of the harbor, a sea gull landed on her head. She screamed and waved her hands to ward it off.


Muir jumped at the chance to chase the bird.

"Muir! NO! Sit! SIT!"

But it was to no avail. It was then that the skiff overturned, promptly plunging its occupants into the sea.

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On the shore, a young man watched the skiff rowing out of the docks. He stood there staring incredulously and then swore.

"Uncle Henry will flay me alive!"

Just then the boat had overturned. He yelled, "God above!"

Hastily he took his boots off, throwing them onto the dock. He threw his coat off, then tossed his hat and dove into the water.

As he swam towards the overturned skiff, he saw the young girl clinging to a dog's neck. She was hanging on for dear life.

As he reached her, she gasped, "I'm so sorry, Mister! There was this seagull and my dog jumped and--"

He said, "Are you all right?"

She nodded. He righted the skiff and climbed into it. Extending his hand, he pulled the girl into it. She immediately reached for her dog.

"Where I go, he goes!"

The young man yelled, "What were you thinking of, little girl?"

She said darkly, "I'm ten. I'm not little."

He fumed, "Alright, young lady! What was the big idea?"

Her teeth chattered, more from excitement than from the cold.

"I wanted to see the name of the ship."

"You mean The Neptune Rising?"

"You know the ship?"

He couldn't help but grin. "I most certainly do! The ship belongs to my uncle. I'm an apprentice first mate.

He proudly added, "And he promised it to me someday."

Her eye widened. "You--you're a pirate!"

She looked with astonishment at his face, taking in his light brown hair streaked blond from hours spent on sea and salt. His grey-green eyes were mirthful and he wore a gold earring.

He laughed and said, "Such a label! I prefer to think of myself as a privateer with an unusual outlook on life."

"It is a grand ship. Nanny Greyson would tell me stories of the sea. She heard them from her father. Someday I should love to sail. Be free! As free as the birds!"

He laughed. "Lasses do not belong on ships. T'would tempt the sea. She is a jealous mistress."

The young girl retorted, "I'm not afraid. Maybe the sea needs to be afraid of ME! Someday...."

He rowed up to the docks, tying the skiff to the wharf. He extended his hand to help her out.

"Good! No one made off with my clothes," he said.

She looked at the pile of clothes on the grass and exclaimed, "Ooooh! What great boots!"

"They're from the finest boot maker in France."

She wrung her dress out, rivulets of water cascading onto the grass.

While the young pirate was wringing out his shirt, she took the boots and put them on. She tried on his coat and clamped his hat on her head.

"How do I look?" she asked, twirling around.

He looked up and retorted, "Ridiculous! Give them back to me!"

She pouted, "I thought I looked like a real pirate!"

He snatched the hat off her head and she said, "Hey!"

"Yes, real piratey in that dress. Where do you live, anyway?" he asked.

She pointed to a large greystone building on the bluff.

"Up there."

"The Order of St Brigid? You're a NUN?"

"NEVER!" she said, trying to separate the strands that were plastered around her face. Pieces of seaweed were caught in her wet hair.

He held his hand out and she said petulantly, "Oh, alright! Take your old coat!"

She handed it back to him and said darkly, "Just wait till I get a bodice."

He raised his eyebrow and she looked down. "Well...someday! When I have something to put in it."

He laughed and said, "Then I shall look forward to that day!"

"Shall I deliver you to the abbey?" he asked.

She shook her head. "No, I can slip in without anyone knowing I was gone and change into dry clothes. But thank you all the same. I'd like to thank you for the rescue, Mr....?"

He said, "Morgan. Rhys Morgan."

She smiled at him and said, "And I am Miss Conaway."

He tipped his hat to her and said, "It was a pleasure to rescue you, Miss Conaway."

She curtseyed and replied, "And it was a pleasure to be rescued, Mr. Morgan."

As she turned to go, she looked over her shoulder and asked, "How old are you?"

"Twenty," he replied.

She laughed and said, "Someday I shall be that old----Rhys! And wearing a bodice!"

She walked off, her dog trotting beside her.

She climbed through the window into her room. As she leaned over the sill, she fell forward and hit something solid.

She looked up into the furious face of Mother Superior, tapping a switch in her hand.

She whispered, "I think we are in trouble, Muir. Again."

That night, the little lass crawled out of her bed to gaze at the stars from her bedroom window. Muir sat next to her. She put her arm around the dog, willing herself not to cry. It was this stoic demeanor that earned her even more lashes from the switch that Mother Superior wielded.

The more she steeled herself not to cry, the harder the nun punished her. This was no exception. She ached from the beating she received.

She whispered, "We did have a grand adventure today, didn't we, Muir? It was worth every stroke that Mother Superior gave me."

She found her youthful mind drifting back to the young man who rescued her. And for some reason, wondering what her first kiss would be like and whom it would be.

She turned to her dog and gave him a smile. "Rhys Morgan. A nice name for a nice man. Perhaps we shall see him again, Muir."

As she settled back in her bed to go to sleep, the thoughts of a ship called The Neptune Rising came to her mind. Along with the thoughts of a young man with eyes the colour of the sea.

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Meanwhile, somewhere off Antigua...

Reluctantly, Jack kept his bargain with Captain William Harkess. He would draw up plans to make the Raven's Pride even faster and deadlier, under one condition; that Josiah Briggs be allowed to assist him. To his surprise, Harkness agreed. Over the next two weeks, the men made a painstaking assessment of the Pride's superstructure, with Jack making detailed notes and drawings as he crawled about within her. At first, Harkness made sure a guard was with the pair at all times. This impeded Jack's ability to get to know the vessel he was expected to improve, and improve significantly. Finally, after much debate, they were allowed full and almost unrestricted access to the innards of the ship.

Though Jack never formally apprenticed under his father as Thomas had, Charles Wolfe nevertheless managed to impart much of his 35 years of ship construction knowledge to his inquisitive younger son. While other children played with watercolours and chalk, young Jack learned the skill of drafting. He went with his father one day each week to the shipyard to see oak and birch shaped into sleek, imagination-inspiring vessels. Every moment was a teaching opportunity in Charles' eyes. He relished that, though his sons could not have been more different in their natures, they were bright and eager to learn.

One particular night, as he had done so many nights during this ordeal, Jack asked his late father for guidance as he poured over his notes and roughed out a few preliminary drafts. He knew his father would never approve of the situation he was in now, but he took comfort in knowing his father's love had always transcended mistakes.

“Forgive me, Papa,” he said prayerfully, “but I need all the skills you taught me to stay alive now.”

On this night, he got an answer.

“How many times must I remind you, Jackie? There is almost always more than one solution to a given problem. Start over, and look at it with different eyes.”

Jack could hear his father's voice as if here were there in the room. Memories of the lessons and advice his father gave him often came back to him in this fashion. In a way, it helped ease his sense of loss. As Jack looked over his raw notes again, a desperate plan began to form in his head. Instead of looking for ways to strengthen the Pride, he began to map out her weaknesses. He knew every ship had fundamental flaws in either design or construction. If he were clever enough, it would be possible to use the proposed improvements to weaken the Pride sufficiently such that she would not survive her next battle or heavy storm. It was a terrible risk. Jack knew he could be planning his own suicide and the death of many good men. Though he felt an odd admiration for the pirate, he felt in his heart that Harkness must be stopped, whatever the cost. Each night, he would stay up until the wee hours working on two sets of plans. One correct set that he could use to demonstrate his progress to Harkness and others, and another set that slyly called for considerable weakening of the ship that would prove fatal for them all. These plans he kept hidden, even from Josiah. If anything went wrong, he wanted his friend to be blameless. But when the time came and Harkness approved the plans, would Jack would be able to make the swap? It would mean condemning every last man, including Josiah, to an almost certain death.

“Your pappy taught ye well, Jack!” admired Briggs. “These drawin's would make any shipwright proud to call his own work. How come ye never went into the trade yerself, with such a fine eye and hand?”

Jack moved around the drafting table to better check a set of angles. “My father was a good shipwright, and proud of his work. But he wanted more for me and my brother. Hand me that protractor there, would you? The half-circle with a flat side.”

“Here ye be.” Briggs handed over the instrument and frowned. “Somehow, I don't see you quittin' Oxford and puttin' out to sea figurin' into his plans for ye.”

Jack sighed. “No. No, it didn't. Nor did his dying of consumption figure into mine.”

“That ain't why ye threw your hook. Two year's I've known ye, and ye ain't never once mentioned her name.”

Jack chuckled. “That's what I like about you, Josiah. When most people get around someone who's taught at university, they get tongue-tied worrying about their grammar and diction. But not you.”

“I don't see much point in usin' a two-shillin' word when a ha'penny will do. And what irks the hell out of me is the way ye change the subject whenever we start talkin' about why ye left a promisin' life on dry land.”

“What makes you so certain it was a woman that drove me out to sea?”

Briggs chuckled and shook his head. “It's always one of two things what makes a man like you up and trade his life for one on blue water; a woman, or runnin' from the law. Ye ain't the law breakin' type, so that leaves just one thing.”

Jack opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out. After a few seconds, his shoulders sagged in defeat. “Your grammar may be atrocious, but your logic is indisputable.”

“Ha! My guess was right!” said Briggs as he turned a chair around backwards and sat down. “Now, spill it.”

“Your guess?” asked Jack indignantly. “You were bluffing?”

“Aye,” Briggs smiled in satisfaction. “That's why I never play ye in cards. You're a smart man, Jack Wolfe, but there be priests what can lie better than ye!”

Jack sat against the table. “All right, I know when I'm beaten!” he chuckled. “Rose. Her name is Rose. My best friend's sister.”

“Broke your heart that bad, did she?”

“It took my asking her to marry me to find out my blood wasn't blue enough for her taste.”

Briggs winced. “Damn. That's rough. I'm sorry, Jack. Did ye lose your friend in the deal?”

“No, thank God. Duckie sat with me most of that night, bless his soul. He was completely mortified by his sister's behaviour. Kept apologising for her, for what it was worth.”

“I'm sorry, but did I hear ye right? His name is 'Duckie'?”

“That's his nickname,” laughed Jack. “His real name is Drake.”

“Oh, I see know,” nodded Briggs. “Drake, like the male duck, so's ye called him Duckie.”

“Actually, that had nothing to do with it.”

“Come again? Ye lost me.”

“Whenever anyone asked Drake how he was, his invariable reply was 'just ducky!' So it stuck.”

Briggs gave a hearty laugh. “I'll remember to watch what I say around ye from now on!”

“No worries of that, my friend. I can't see any other name suiting you,” smiled Jack.

“And don't ye be worryin' none, neither. Another lass will come along and turn your head. You'll forget all about that Rose.”

“Not bloody likely.”

"Jack, me boy, I have a feeling some day the right one will show up when ye least expect it. And then heaven help ye!"

Jack looked off in the distance, his mouth a firm line. "I don't have time for that sentimental hearts-and-flowers, Josiah. There's only one thing women are good for. And after that, it is on to the next. Women are a smorgasbord and I'm a hungry man. But I know when to push away from the table.”

Briggs gave his friend a concerned look. “Suit yerself, mate. But ye can't stay angry forever.”

Jack ignored Briggs' statement and turned his attention back to the drawings. “I can't believe I'm actually going through with this, Josiah.”

“We do what we must to live another day, Jack. It may leave a sour taste in your mouth now, but it beats the alternative. But I gotta say, you're a more honourable man than I.”

“How so?”

Briggs moved one of the drawings around on the table. “If I knew ships like ye do, I'd be powerful tempted to weaken her up. Hide the lot of it amidst all the changes. Then wait and hope for the next storm or battle to come along and send Harkness straight to Hell.”

Trying not to fidget, Jack said, “I have to admit, it crossed my mind.”

“Ah,” said Briggs, “but there be the difference 'tween ye and me. With ye knowin' all that philosophy and such, it probably crossed your mind as well that doin' somethin' like that would make ye no better than that devil Harkness. That is, if ye were actually inclined to try such a thing.”

Jack's eyes narrowed. “How long have you known?”

“A couple of days now. Remember when ye asked me to fetch some paper? I ran across the other set of plans then. Purely by accident, mind ye. What in God's sweet name were ye thinkin'?”

Crossing his arms defensively, Jack said, “It's just as you said. I thought that if I could trick Harkness into weakening his own ship, his reign of terror would be ended.”

“Aye, along with the rest of us.” Briggs shook his head. “Jack, Jack... Harkness will get his. Men like him, they burn bright and fast. And they know it. Piracy ain't exactly known for long careers.”

Jack pulled a chair over and sat heavily. “I'm sorry, Josiah. The last thing I would want to do is put you in danger. It was a foolish idea.”

“Foolish, I'll give ye,” said Briggs. “Your heart was in the right place, Jack. Like I said, I'd have considered it too. But your head weren't anywhere close.” He went to the cubbyhole where the alternate plans were hidden among sheaves of drawing paper. Josiah retrieved them, and went to the porthole. “I think this here would be a better place to hide these plans.” He swung open the porthole and shoved the papers through, and they fluttered silently into the ship's wake.

“What now?” asked Jack.

“We finish the plans, just like ye promised.”

“And make the Pride that much more deadly.”

“Aye, and we stay alive. Think about it, Jack. Harkness has taken a likin' to ye. You can use that.”

Jack shook his head. “I don't understand.”

Briggs put a reassuring hand on his younger friend's shoulder. “There's an old saying; “keep yer friends close, and yer enemies closer.' Heard it before?”

“Yes, I have.”

“Harkness be one ye need to keep very, very close. Let him think you're his friend. That way ye'll know just what he's up to, and it'll give ye a measure of protection. Those plans are what ye call a good faith gesture. Then we'll bide our time and hope fate decides to smile on us.”

“You really think it will work?”

Briggs laughed ruefully. “Ain't like we've got anything else workin' in our favour! These are the cards we're given, Jack. Let's play 'em, and play 'em well.”

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Harkness' brow furrowed as he went over the plans Jack had drawn up for the refit of his Raven's Pride. He had Jack's drawings laid out on the large table in his cabin, side by side with the ship's original construction draughts. Harkness had surprised Jack by producing a full set of brass and ivory drafting instruments with which to examine the work and the knowledge to use them. Jack breathed a sigh of relief that Josiah has destroyed the alternate set of plans. There was no way his scheme would have worked. Harkness would have spotted the sabotage easily. Jack would not underestimate this pirate captain again.

“Interesting. Most interesting,” hummed Harkness in a soft baritone. He made a few more comparisons, transposing measurements between the drawings via compass and scale with practised efficiency. “You think cutting down the fo'c'sle almost flush with the main deck will gain us that much more speed?”

“I'm certain of it,” replied Jack confidently. “And you'll gain four more forward guns, with significant reinforcement of the ship's prow. See? Here, and here.”

“What of the quarterdeck, Mr. Wolfe?” Harkness asked with a hint of testiness in his voice. “You've reduced it to a mere six feet above the weather deck. Why?”

“You wanted more speed, did you not? Dropping the quarterdeck by four feet will give you that. If your ego can stand the loss of rarefied air, that is.”

Harkness flashed his quick, enigmatic smile. “Jack,” he said, tapping the drafting compass on the table, “have I told you how damned annoying I find you?”

Jack gave a thoughtful look. “Only twice today. You're slipping.”

The captain laughed heartily and leaned back in his chair. Jack broke into a broad smile and joined in the laughter. He had spent considerable effort getting to know Harkness over the past month, in hopes of gaining the captain's confidence. But something unexpected happened. Jack began to genuinely respect and admire the man. William Harkness was a far cry from the bloodthirsty madman of tavern lore. Quite the contrary. He was a charismatic leader of men, intelligent and articulate. Someone Jack could identify with. The crew followed Harkness out of respect, not fear. “Firm but fair” was the common consensus.

“This is good work, Jack!” applauded Harkness. “Very good, indeed! You'll not only make the Pride faster, but much stronger. I dare say she'll be the most formidable ship in the entire Caribbean.”

Jack couldn't help but smile with pride. “I'm glad you're pleased.”

“Pleased?! To put it mildly! Of course I'm pleased! Even with all the changes you propose, there is no loss of cargo capacity. That pleases me even more. You're assuring my continued dominance in these waters, against pirates or patriots.”

“As if that was ever in question, captain.”

“Oh, please, Jack,” Harkness chided. “Fate and fortune are fickle mistresses. Whatever lifted you up one day will bring you crashing down another. Mark my words, lad. Treat every success as a gift. There is nothing more humiliating than your next engagement.”

Much like Jack's own father, Harkness never passed up a teaching moment.

The captain glanced at the plans again, then fetched two glasses which he filled with rum. Thought the dark liquid burned his throat, Jack was beginning to develop a taste for the stuff.

“We'll be putting in at St. Thomas in a few days,” Harkness announced. “It's a friendly port, one I think you'll enjoy. I'll order that work begin immediately on the refit.”

Jack nearly choked on his drink. “Just like that?

“Of course! No reason to tarry. Unless my eyes deceive me, and they don't, these draughts are complete and ready for the shipyard.”

“I'm just a bit surprised that you trust me, is all.”

Harkness smiled broadly. “I do trust you. To a point. But I trust the shipwright at Charlotte Amalie more. He'll catch anything I missed. If he finds more than honest mistakes, then I'll revisit the matter. Most unpleasantly.”

“He shouldn't find any mistakes at all,” countered Jack defensively.

“Well then, there's nothing to worry about, is there?” Jack's reaction told Harkness everything he needed to know. The young man was more concerned about the quality of his work than whether or not Harkness believed him. The ruse with the drafting instruments had worked perfectly. Navigation charts were one thing, but ship's schematics were hardly his speciality.

The captain regarded the younger man with a measured gaze. He was a bit of a puzzle, this Jack Wolfe. He had every reason in the world to be anywhere but on a ship in the Caribbean, yet here he was. The lad was intelligent, learned even, but incredibly angry at the world. Not at all unlike William Harkness at that age. If Harkness could only find a way to help Jack channel that anger, that intensity... It could well be that in Jack Wolfe, Harkness had found what he had been searching for these past few years.

A protégé.

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Off the coast of Beaumaris, Wales---1645

"Keep rowing. It's right.....over....THERE!"

The two pirates were in a skiff, the younger one rowing and the older one keeping his eye on the rugged coast.

"Are you sure?"

The older retorted, "Excuse me, Mr. Wet-Behind-The-Ears! Who has been in the sweet trade longer, you or me?"


"And who is your captain?"

The younger man grinned, "You, Uncle Henry."

Henry Morgan looked at his nephew with affection. "Damn right! And see that you remember that, Rhys!"

The two men jumped out of the skiff and pulled it onto the shore. Henry Morgan shaded his eyes and looked out towards his pride and joy, the Neptune Rising.

He lifted his face to the sun and breathed deeply. "It doesn't get any better than this, Rhys!"

Rhys laughed, "That's why I joined you, Henry!"

Rhys tied the skiff to a gnarly tree that was near the small beach where they landed. He surveyed the land.

"This is what you picked out?"

Henry turned his attention to Rhys. "Sure as I am standing here, boy! I did my research. The land here belongs to Lord Rhodri Conaway. The manor is about a mile inland and he never ventures down here. The caves are deep and stay dry for the most part because of this incline here. And further on down the coast about ten miles is an estate called Castlemaine. Same set-up with the caves. Only his go back even further but it is a little less accessible. His estate has that big bluff with the rock jutting out that looks like a figurehead on a ship. See it over there?"

Rhys shaded his eyes and nodded. "And the goods will be safe there?"

"As safe as in yer mother's womb, boy!" Henry laughed. "Don't be so apprehensive!"

"I'm not. I just want to make sure our goods are safe."

Henry looked at his favorite nephew and smiled, "Have you ever known me not to cover all situations?"

Rhys shook his head.

"Then what make you think I didn't this time? In fact, this cave is a virtual labyrinth of tunnels. I have them marked and mapped out so we can hide things far back into it and no one will be the wiser. Especially Lord Conaway."

"Conaway. Welsh name. Are there many in the area?"

Henry gave a non-committal shrug. "Damned if I know. All I know is that the Conaways have held this estate since the Domesday book. Lost his wife a few years ago under suspicious circumstances. Constable ruled out foul play and it was just an that--an accident. Whatever it was."

"Did he have children?"

Henry looked at his nephew with exasperation. "Why all the questions?"

Rhys rubbed his chin.

"Nothing, really. Just trying to find out if any children will be playing around the cliffs and get into the caves. You know how children are. You WERE one yourself once, weren't you, Henry?"

Henry clapped his nephew on the shoulder. "No. No, I never was."

He burst out laughing at Rhys' puzzled look.

"What say you that we start exploring the caves and finding the best way to angle all the chests?"

Rhys nodded.

But he couldn't help but think of the enchanting little girl he fished out of the ocean less than a month ago.

Complete with a dog.

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Jack strode the deck of the ship, keeping a close eye on the crew as they went about their assigned tasks. Every now and again he would lean in to check on a team's progress or better explain what it was he wanted them to do. If necessary, he would roll up his sleeves and pitch in to ensure everything was done just as he had envisioned. The men had been slow to warm up to Jack at first, unsure as to how they felt about taking orders from this young upstart. Jack himself was surprised at first that they listened to him at all. He hadn't sought out the chance to lead these men. It had been thrust upon him most unexpectedly.

By William Harkness himself.

The night was a chilled and rainy one as the Raven's Pride rode at anchor just outside the harbour of Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas. With the water choppy and night falling, they had to hold position until the next morning before attempting the circuitous route among the islets and shoals that littered the approach to the Virgin Islands port. Jack had just finished his duty watch when one of the men brought word Captain Harkness wanted to see him. The captain had made a habit of calling Jack to his quarters over the recent weeks to discuss the refit and banter about philosophy. Harkness seemed almost starved for intellectual conversation, and Jack was happy to oblige. As he spent more time with the man, Jack's appreciation for Harkness' intellect and sophistication grew. It became harder and harder for Jack to see him a pirate any more. William Harkness wasn't anything like the murderous animals he had read about and learned to despise. Far from it. He was worldly, yes, but refined. Perhaps it was Jack's sudden immersion into a frightening, alien world that coloured his perceptions, but he had come to count his captain among the noblest men he had ever known.

“Have you ever been to this island before, Jack?” Harkness asked.

“No, I haven't,” replied Jack. “ It was never on the Laura Anne's run.”

“Truly a jewel, this place. Hilly, like the north country back in England. And the women here! You're in for a treat, my lad. Dusky diamonds, every last one of them.”

“Do you ever miss them?”

“What? The women? Every hour of the day, until I've had my fill of them. Then I can't get back to sea fast enough,” said Harkness with a mischievous smile.

“No, I meant the hills,” laughed Jack. “Do you ever get homesick?”

Harkness' eyebrows went up in surprise a the question. “For England? Hell no. This, ” he said with a sweeping gesture of his hand, “this is my home now. This wooden world is all mine, and it gives me everything I need. I can't say as much for Mother England.”

Jack couldn't imagine never returning to where he was born. He missed his sisters, Jacqueline and Victoria, and even his priggish brother Tom. He wondered how his mother was getting along. She had put on a brave face the last time he saw her, but he knew she missed his father terribly.

“Have you heard a word I've said?”

Jack snapped out of his reverie. “I'm sorry, William! I was lost in thought.”

“I asked how you've adjusted to life at sea, and if you were homesick. I got my answer. No matter, really. It takes a few years for some people.”

“A few years for what?”

Harkness leaned on the table and smiled knowingly, light dancing in his eyes. “To realise this is where they belong, Jack. In a life on blue water. You'll figure it out soon enough. The sea is in your blood. Always has been. You were simply headed in the wrong direction.”

“And where are you from? You've never said.”

“I'm from here. The sea.”

“Then why do you sound like you're from the north?”

“Every place has a north, Jack,” Harkness snickered.

“Is prevarication part of being an effective pirate?”

“Now you're catching on! Admit nothing, deny everything, and lie through the rest of it. You'll learn the proper balance. It's an acquired skill.”

“I've the feeling I'm learning from a master.”

“That you are, my boy!” Harkness said with pride. “I'll have you manufacturing truth easier than the Commonwealth prints money.”

“And both equally meaningless!” Jack said with a raise of his glass.

“That's the spirit!” laughed Harkness. He sat back and regarded Jack with a critical eye. “You know, I haven't decided who I'll have oversee the refit of the Pride.”

Jack cocked his head quizzically. “Really? I thought you'd task Phillips, the carpenter, with that duty.”

Harkness shook his head. “Phillips' head is as full of sawdust as his projects. I had someone else in mind.”

“Daniels? He's an able hand.”

“Sycophant. Out for himself and any woman he can seduce. Try again.”

“Tompkins? He was helpful enough.”

Harkness looked balefully at the overhead. “Jack, Jack! What am I going to do with you?”

“Not killing me would be a good starter.”

That drew a belly laugh from the captain. “The answer is literally right under your nose.”

Jack thought for a moment. “Oh, yeah! Briggs! He'd be perfect--”

“Ah! No,” interrupted Harkness. He took a swig from his glass and pointed directly at his young charge. Jack's eyes went wide.

“What? Me?! You want me in charge of the refit?”

“Yes,” beamed Harkness. “You. I want you to oversee it all.”

Jack could scarcely close his mouth. “But, why me?”

“What, you don't think you're up to it?”

“It's not that,” Jack stammered. “I thought you'd want someone, oh, I don't know... more experienced?”

“I need someone knowledgeable, Jack. And you're that man.”

“But I've never lead men before.”

Harkness grinned reassuringly at Jack's naivete. “Despite everything you've been taught, leadership is learned. Some are born with the raw materials, but they have to be forged. You have those materials, Jack Wolfe. You were born to be a leader of men. Now it's your chance to man up and exercise the talents God Jehovah gave you.”

Jack sat back in his chair, gobsmacked. “I... I don't know...”

“Yeah you do,” chuckled Harkness. “We will make port tomorrow, and I shall step off this ship and leave you in command. How long will the refit take?”

Jack shook his head and tried to think. He was so overwhelmed that his thoughts came molasses slow. “Um... ten days?”

Harkness slapped the desk. “You have fourteen. There's a certain establishment I'm part owner in, and I need to thoroughly inspect the inventory. Womanly inventory. I like to take my time, if you get my meaning.”

Jack thought for a moment, and burst out laughing. “Aye, I can see why!”

Harkness refilled their glasses. “Make me proud, Jack Wolfe. Make the Pride the most fearsome vessel the world has ever seen. My trust is in you. Don't fail me.”

Jack swallowed hard and forced a smile. “I won't fail you, William. I swear it.”

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Josiah put a hand on his friend's shoulder, snapping him back into the present. “I swear, Jack, if ye ain't hip deep in the workin's of this ship, you're starin' off a thousand miles away.”

Jack smiled. “Just trying to keep things straight in my head is all.”

Briggs gave his friend a hard look. “Are ye, Jack? Are ye keepin' all this straight in that head of your'n? Because from where I stand, I ain't seein' it.”

“I don't know what you mean.”

“The hell you don't. Two full years I've known ye, and of all the damn fool crazy things you've done, this top's 'em all.”

Jack looked at his friend stone-faced, but kept his silence.

“Remember when Harkness took the Laura Anne?” Briggs continued. “Ready to take on the entire crew bare handed, ye were. If it hadn't been for me talkin' some sense into ye, you'd be a dead man. Now look at ye. Best chums with one of the most notorious pirates these waters have ever seen.”

“You said yourself, Josiah,” Jack said defensively, “that we have to do whatever is necessary to survive. 'Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer', was how you put it. That's what I'm doing.”

“There's a big difference between pretendin' to put up with somebody ye hate, and outright hero worship. Ye know what the crew be callin' ye behind your back?”

“I'm afraid you're going to tell me whether I want to hear it or not.”

“'Little Will', seein' how you're the fair haired child all of a sudden.”

Jack could feel his anger starting to flare. “What, do they think I kissed Harkness' arse to be put in charge of this? He GAVE it to me, Josiah. I never asked for it. Hell, I never wanted it! The next thing I knew, he was telling me how much he trusted me and how I was the only one he thought could make sure things were done right.”

“Did he now?” asked Briggs with a sceptical note in his voice.

“Are you calling me a liar, Josiah?”

“Oh, no. Not you, Jack. I know ye too well. I'm callin' Harkness a liar.”

“You're what?!”

Briggs took a deep breath. “Jack, a man like Will Harkness didn't get where he is by bein' a choir boy. He stole, murdered, and lied his way there. I'm thinkin' pretty strong that's what he's up to now. Lyin' to ye.”

Jack rolled his eyes. “Did it ever occur to you that maybe I am the only man for this job? That he recognises my abilities and trusts me to ensure success?”

“Men like Harkness don't trust, Jack...”

“All right! Fine! Then answer me this; what does William Harkness have to gain by lying to me?”

Briggs gave his young friend a sad, almost pitying look. “Not a thing, Jack. Not a thing. But he knows damn well you have everything to lose.”

Jack blinked hard several times. Was Josiah right? Had the pirate played him for a fool, and he had become too starstruck to see it? A sickening tightness started in the young man's stomach. Just when he was certain how things in this world worked, everything was thrown into confusion again.

“Think about it, will ye?” asked Briggs before returning to his work. He blamed himself for not saying anything sooner. He never dreamed Jack would be taken in by the likes of Harkness, but he had neglected to take into account his friend's age and eagerness to please, and the captain's renowned charisma.

Jack turned his gaze back to the harbour, his head filled with doubts and anger at the possibility he had been duped. He quickly vowed two things to himself. First, complete the job as he had promised. At least his word meant something, if no one else's did. The second vow he believed would protect and serve him the best.

Trust no one.

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"That's the last of it!"

Henry leaned back and stretched his back. Rhys surveyed the booty they had carefully hidden in the cave, his torch making shadows on the walls.

"I didn't think you would be able to fit all of it in here, Uncle Henry. You are sure it is safe and will stay dry?"

Henry snorted, "Of course I am sure! You think I would put this fortune just anywhere? Besides, Lord Conaway is too arrogant to think anyone would use his property for criminal activity and Lord Castlemaine--the grey stone manor just beyond the bluff--well, let's just say he can be bought for a price."

Rhys raised his eyebrow. "You have the cooperation of the gentry?"

Henry chuckled, "Every man has his price, Rhys. Remember that. There is not a man alive that can't be bought or---"


"Such an ugly word! I prefer 'induced to participate with an exchange of information.' I have the information and they are induced to participate. Lord Madoc Castlemaine does have a few skeletons rattling in his proverbial closet."

Rhys smiled, "Uncle, you always did have the gift of the Welsh upon your lips."

Henry laughed. "And now here we are in Beaumaris and I know a good tavern with cold ale and buxom tavern maids. We can get a warm bed and a hot bowl of soup."

"Or vice versa if we are persuasive!"

Henry laughed and clapped his nephew on the shoulder. "Now you're talking!"

Henry looked with affection at his older brother's son as Rhys made his way to the tavern bar to get the ales. His mind drifted back to the day that Rhys had made his way to the Neptune Rising, Henry's flagship.

"Uncle Henry?"

The privateer looked up from the gunwale to see a lad of fifteen, a wool cap on his tawny hair and his grey-green eyes full of merriment.

"Rhys? What in the name of all creation are you doing here?"

Rhys hefted his duffel and threw it on the deck. He crossed his arms and said, "I'm sailing with you."

"WHAT? What about your studies?"

"What better way to learn astronomy cartography than to sail in the middle of the ocean?"

"And what does your father say?"

Rhys set his mouth in a firm line and said nothing.

"You didn't tell him?"

"Well, I did in a way....."

"And what 'way' is that?"

"I left him a letter."

"I see."

Rhys went on in a rush, "It's not like I wouldn't learn anything. Uncle Henry, I would get more experience with you than I ever would sitting in a stuffy university.

And Father always said that experience was the best teacher. And I would pull my weight. I don't expect to be treated as your nephew but as one of the crew. And at the end of a couple years, I can pick up my studies at Cambridge again. You know our motto----'From here, light and sacred draughts.

From this place, we gain enlightenment and precious knowledge.' "

Henry shook his head. " 'From this place', Rhys-- this place is Cambridge. Do you have any idea what life aboard a pi-- a privateer ship is like?"

"Precisely why I want to join with you. I'll make you a bargain. If, after three months, it is not working out for both of us--or you alone--you can drop me off at the nearest port and I'll book passage back to Wales."



"And you promise to continue your education if this doesn't work out beneficially for both of us?"


Henry stuck out his hand and said, "Welcome aboard, nephew!"

"Ah, ah, ah.....that is Rhys to you....Henry!"

"Henry? You seemed a million miles away."

"Just reliving the past, my boy."

Rhys set the ale down along with a hearty stew and brown bread.

"Beautiful countryside, Wales is."

"Miss it while at sea?" Henry asked.

"Yes and no. The sea represents freedom and the land represents---"

"Settling down?"

"Aye. And that I am not ready to do."

Henry took a spoonful of the stew and wiped his mouth. "Someday you will, boy. Sure, you are only twenty. But someday, some little lass will creep into your mind and get under your skin and then it is good-bye, briny deep and hello, hearth and home!"

Rhys laughed, "While I have known my share in port, none touch my heart, Henry."

Henry nodded sagely, "She's out there, my lad. She's out there. And then you can say good-bye to your heart!"

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La Habana, Cuba -- 1645

Jack sat in a dimly lit tavern contemplating how much his life had changed in the past three years. He was no longer the idealistic, moral young man who had signed on to a freighter, certain he knew exactly how the world worked and his place in it. Events had transfigured him, remoulded him into something very different, inside and out. His neatly kept hair now hung long and wild past his shoulders, and his once clean-shaven face sported a close-cropped goatee. For a man of 27 years, his eyes belonged to someone much older. He was very much a product of his environment now. He was a pirate.

And he was enjoying it.

The world had revealed much to Jack. More than he could have imagined in his dreams or his nightmares. His misgivings about Harkness that arose during the refit of the Raven's Pride proved to be unfounded. The captain took Jack fully under his wing and taught the young man the finer points of piracy and seamanship. Navigation, swordplay, negotiation, gunnery, tactics and strategy, and most importantly, self promotion. Jack learned that the majority, and often the most terrifying, of the rumours circulating about William Harkness were started by Harkness himself. It was his habit on extended layovers to dress in the shabbiest, tar stained clothes he could find, smudge himself with soot and pitch, and wander into a tavern crowded with merchant sailors to weave harrowing tales of the merciless pirate “Iron Will” Harkness. With just the right touch of his powerful personality, his stories left the sailors almost too frightened to go back aboard their ships. More often than not, he could get few rattled men to divulge their ship's destination and cargo. Imagine their terror when, as if foretold by that half crazed old salt, a sleek, powerful ship flying a black flag emblazoned with a raven clutching a sword and pistol ran them down and demanded unconditional surrender.

When Jack questioned Harkness on this well worn ploy, the elder man replied, “Which would you rather do, Jack? Transfer their cargo directly, or salvage it off the bottom?” The logic was irrefutable. Jack began openly shadowing his mentor, no matter the situation. He soon learned that Will Harkness was no bloodthirsty beast. Quite the contrary. Will Harkness was cool, even tempered, and a brilliant tactician. He could read men in a matter of moments, and develop a strategy to pick them apart before they knew what hit them. Jack learned the benefit of this skill from the many ships they took over the years. Yes, there was the odd foolhardy captain that dared make a stand, and they were made example of. That's where Jack saw Will's truly human side. Will Harkness despised the taking of a human life, no matter how necessary it was to achieve his ends. After one such occasion, Jack entered the great cabin to find his captain openly weeping, regretting the life he had taken that day. “Human life is precious, Jack. Never ever forget that,” Will had said. “When you must take it, never take it lightly.” But ever the enigma, Will Harkness was back on deck the next morning, playing the role of ruthless sea dog. It was a lesson Jack took to heart. No matter how the captain feels inside, he is still the captain.

“You're going to stare a hole into the bottom of that mug,” said a sultry voice.

Jack looked up into the most perfect emerald eyes he had ever seen in his life. They belonged to an exotic Spanish beauty with dusky skin and jet black hair that cascaded over her bare shoulders.

Dios mio,” he murmered.

The woman laughed. “That sounds so funny with an English accent like yours! Come on, say something else, like paella or cucaracha!”

Jack blushed. “I'm sorry. I wasn't... you caught me off guard.”

“Me?” replied the woman in mock astonishment. “I caught a pirate unawares? This is indeed a great day for me! What is my reward for taking a pirate?”

Jack made a production of checking his clothes. “I wouldn't say you've taken a pirate just yet. I'm still fully dressed.”

“I can change that,” she purred.

“Oh, can you now?”

“Faster than you think. What is your name?”

“Jack Wol--” The raven haired woman grabbed Jack by the collar and kissed him deeply, their tongues playing an intricate, erotic dance. He could scarcely draw in enough air when she let him go.

“Jack. I like that name,” she said breathlessly.

“I didn't catch yours,” he said.

“No, you didn't.”

“Will I ever?”

She wound her fingers in hair, and pulled him suddenly to her. “Mercedes,” she said huskily, and his eyes grew wide as she playfully bit his earlobe.

Alarm bells clanged in his head. A woman this aggressive had something to prove, or someone to hurt. But he shoved those thoughts aside.

“Mercedes. I like that name, too.” He buried his face in her black hair, and sought out her neck. Mercedes pushed him back with a wicked smile.

“Oh, no. Not until I let you. This is my game.”

“If it's your game, will you ever let me?”

Her devious smile grew. “I will. If you can last that long.”

“Oh, I can last quite a while.”

“Prove it.”

“What, here? On the bar counter? Or would you prefer a table that gives everyone a good view?”

“Don't tempt me!” Mercedes laughed. “No, I have a room upstairs. Unless you're afraid.”

“I'm anything but afraid,” said Jack.

She entwined her arms about Jack's waist and pulled him close against her. “No, I'd say you're not one bit afraid,” she smiled. “Let's go.”

“Let me pay my bill,” Jack started.

“Don't worry about it.” She caught the innkeeper's attention. “Manuel! He's with me.”

“As you wish, señora,” Manuel replied wearily. “May God have mercy on this one...”

From a corner table, a young man roughly Jack's age watched the proceedings. His grey-green eyes narrowed slightly as the pair went up the stairs to the rooms above.

“Got your hooks into another one, Mercedes?” he quietly asked no one. Could Diego be far behind?

Mercedes led Jack into her flat. It was opulent for a tavern room, with thick drapery and a massive bed. The room was lit with at least two dozen candles, and the air was heavy with the scent of sandalwood oil.

“What have I gotten myself into?” Jack asked aloud.

“Me, unless you've suddenly got cold feet,” teased Mercedes.

Jack laughed. “No, no, I haven't changed my mind. But this room! This isn't what I'd expect from a tavern doxy!”

Mercedes got a hard look in her eyes. She shoved Jack hard against the door and kissed him deeply, digging her nails into his chest. “You have no idea who I am, do you?”

“Mine for the night?”

She began loosening his shirt. “Good answer. Now, enough talk. Make love to me.”

Jack laughed. “That sounded strangely like an order.”

Mercedes rolled her eyes. “You English! All you do is talk, talk, talk!” She grabbed Jack by the shirt and pushed him down on the bed. Suddenly she was astride him, unbuckling his belt. He reciprocated by unlacing the front of her bodice.

“Isn't this better than talking?” she grinned.

“You've convinced me. I'll keep my mouth shut.”

“Oh, no, no, no,” Mercedes said as she leaned forward, her lips brushing his. “I intend to keep it busy...”

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The following morning, the young man with grey-green eyes was still in the tavern, sipping mulled cider as he looked over what appeared to be hastily drawn navigation charts. He had slept in the common room with the rest of the sailors and those too drunk to make it home the night before. Not because he himself had been too drunk or couldn't afford a private room. Taverns were the heartbeat of any port town. Loose tongues abounded once the alcohol began to flow. Anything of use could be overheard. What ships were in port, what they carried, where they were headed, whether or not they had an adequate crew or competent captain. The other patrons were beginning to stir when the tavern door swung open with a loud bang. In walked five serious looking men, their leader entering last, slapping a pair of black leather riding gloves impatiently into his hand.

“Manuel!” the imposing man called. “Manuel, get out here!”

Manuel emerged from the pantry, pausing a moment to look out over the main room and take note of the groaning, grumbling patrons. They were all moving to some degree, so he stepped behind the bar.

“I hope I don't have to have the hinges on that door fixed again, Roberto,” he said, unimpressed.

“Send the bill to Colonel Mendoza. Is she here?”

“If you weren't certain of it, you wouldn't be here wrecking my property,” said Manuel. “Upstairs. Like always.”

Roberto motioned to his men to up the stairs to Mercedes' room. Before they could reach the staircase, the young man spoke up.

“I saw her kissing a man goodbye just before you arrived. It was only a couple of minutes ago. He left through the back way. He looked like a common labourer. If you hurry, you can catch him before he gets too far!”

Roberto looked at Manuel, who nodded and pointed toward the back exit.

“Why didn't you say so?” demanded Roberto.

Manuel shrugged. “You asked about Mercedes, not if she was with anyone. Besides, I'm unhappy about my door.”

“After him!” Roberto ordered his men. “Before he gets out of town!”

The men crowded through the back door and into the alleyway. The young man winked at Manuel, tossed him a coin, and charged up the stairs to Mercedes' room.

He paused at the top of the stairs and counted down three doors to the right. Mercedes had tried to work her charms on him more than once, but he had heard too many things about her reputation and her husband's deadly temper. Each time he declined, and each time she reminded him where she would be if he reconsidered. He listened at the door. The sound of soft laughter could be heard. They were still at it. But there wasn't time to wait. Mendoza's men would be back as soon as they found out they had been tricked, and they wouldn't be happy. The young man took a deep breath, and burst into the room.

There lay Jack and Mercedes, in the throes of passion.

“Whoa!” yelped the man, and he immediately turned to face the wall. “Sorry to barge in like this, but sir, you need to leave. Now.

“Excuse me, but I'm not ready to leave, sir,” Jack retorted. “Now get your arse out of here before I get up and shoot you.”

“You aren't going anywhere until you finish what you started, Jack,” snapped Mercedes. “And you! You picked a fine time to change your mind about coming to see me. You'll have to wait your turn.”

The man sighed in exasperation. “I haven't changed my mind, Contessa, I'm trying to--”

“Contessa?” interrupted Jack. He looked down at Mercedes and smiled. “I've never had a Contessa before. I'm really taking a liking to this port!”

“This port is going to be the end of you if we don't leave now!” The man picked up Jack's shirt and pants and threw them at him. “Her husband's men were just downstairs looking for her. If they find you, it won't be good.”

“What, they'll kill me?” asked Jack as he reluctantly pulled on his pants.

“No. They'll drag you to her husband, and he'll kill you.”

Jack shot Mercedes a look. She gave a sheepish smile and shrugged.

He hastened his efforts to get dressed. “Bollocks! It was good, Mercedes, but not worth dying over. And I suppose I should thank you for the warning, whatever your name is.”

“Rhys Morgan.”

“Jack Wolfe. I'd say it's a pleasure, but that would be lying. Shall we make our exit?”

The door of the tavern crashed open again.

“I said be careful of my door! And don't tell me to charge it to Colonel Mendoza! He hasn't paid for the last one you broke!” howled Manuel as Mendoza's men stormed back inside. The innkeeper began arguing loudly with Roberto in an attempt to buy the two young men time. Not that he cared about them. Blood was devilishly hard to clean off unfinished wood floors.

“Nefi bliw,” Rhys swore in Welsh.

“If that's anything like bloody hell, I agree,” said Jack. “How many? Can we fight them?”


“The window it is.”

Rhys stuck his head out the window and looked down. There was a short drop to a long wooden overhang for diverting the tropical rains that often fell. As fortune would have it, a farmer's cart full of produce had been left in the alley.

“We can do this,”said Rhys as he clambered out of the window. There was a narrow ledge that allowed for a foothold. He looked back into the room to find Jack and Mercedes sharing one more overheated kiss. The sound of boots could be heard charging up the stairs.

“Damn it, Jack! Get out here! Let's go!” Rhys hissed.

Jack quickly joined him on the ledge. To Rhys' surprise, Jack leaned nonchalantly on the windowsill.

“What are you DOING?” asked Rhys.

“One last look, mate. Believe me, she was worth a bit of trouble.”

At that moment, one of Mendoza's men appeared at the door, a pistol at the ready. The man's scowl turned to a snarl as he caught a glimpse of Jack's face in the window. Rhys didn't care to find out what brazen thing Jack might do in the face of this danger. He took control of the situation. Grabbing Jack's belt at the small of his back, Rhys yanked hard.

Jack's eyes went wide as he felt himself falling backward through space. With a crunching thud, he landed flat on his back in the middle of the farmer's produce cart. He shook his head hard and took a quick personal inventory. Everything still moved, and nothing seemed broken, though his back felt wet. The air was suddenly sickly sweet. Jack reached beside him and looked at one of the items that had broken his fall, just as Rhys dropped from the overhang onto the end of the cart.

“Casaba melons?!” complained Jack. “I hate casaba melons!”

“It was either that or a ball to the head. The melons seemed a little less final. Now get off your back and let's get--”

A shot rang out from the window above, and a melon at Jack's side exploded.

“They're in the alley!!” bellowed the gunman.

Rhys and Jack leaped from the cart. The pair ran at full speed down the alleyway and into the street, with Jack leaving a scattershot trail of seeds and melon bits in his wake.

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Jack rubbed his hair with a towel. "That seems to have done the trick. I threw the water in some potted plant you have. Hope you don't have a crop of melons next year, mate."

He sat down on the chair and held his hands out. "The shirt's a bit large but I can't begin to tell you how nice this feels."

Rhys opened a bottle of brandy and poured two glasses, sliding one of them across the table to Jack's waiting hand.

"You said you were going to tell me a story. So...I love sea tales. Let's hear it."

Rhys took a deep drink of the brandy, letting its warmth spread through his body.

"Ever hear of Colonel Diego de Castille y Mendoza?"

Jack shook his head.

"You should. You just cuckolded him."

Jack spewed his brandy across the room. "Damn! I had no idea the wench was married."

Rhys leaned back in his chair. "That, Jack Wolfe, is no wench. She is the Countess de Castille y Mendoza. But, as she said, you can just call her Mercedes."

"You seem familiar with her. Have you and she ever...."

Jack made a gesture leaving no doubt as to what he wondered what Mercedes and Rhys had ever done.

Rhys laughed with derision. "No, I never had that pleasure, Jack."

"Too bad, mate. It was..incredible!"

"No doubt. And I can name a dozen men who can testify to that."

"A--a dozen?"

"She's known as the catch of Cuba. Providing you don't catch something."

Jack automatically started to squirm.

Rhys said, "You know what they say, 'A night in the arms of Venus leads to a lifetime on Mercury!' "

He then burst out laughing at the look on Jack's face.

"Oh, I'm sure Mercedes would never let that happen to her. She has access to the best medicines and physicians hush money can buy."

"But....she was so...passionate! So...."


"Now hold on there! A woman isn't desperate when she wants me and I'll thank you to---"

Rhys waved the upcoming temper away. "You are a hot-blooded one, aren't you?"

Jack settled down and Rhys filled another glass for him.

"This is a pattern with the fiery Countess. She keeps a room at the tavern on the nights she decides to prowl. And when the revered Colonel is off on his power trips."

"Power trips?"

Rhys poured himself a glass. "Colonel Diego y Castille Mendoza--related to the Castille dynasty. Think Isabella was an aunt distantly related. Isabella, you know, the mother of Catherine of Aragon. Although I think Diego was more suitably descended from her daughter Joanna the Mad. Diego goes insanely crazy when things don't go his way."

"And Mercedes doesn't go his way?"

"Mercedes goes her own way. And frequently."

"Does Mendoza know?"

"He does. Let me explain about Diego Mendoza. He is trying to rebuild the Spanish navy one vengeance at a time. See, he hates all Englishmen and holds us--even though I am Welsh---personally responsible for a little public humiliation called the defeat of the Spanish Armada. Being a superb military man, Diego always felt the tide would have turned in their favor except for one thing--besides the weather."

"What was that?"

"In order to execute their 'line ahead' attack, the English tacked upwind of the Armada, thus gaining the weather gage, a significant advantage. Remember that maneuver, Jack, if you ever become a commander and find yourself in a situation. It comes in handy. Henry has used it before and it works briliantly. Anyways, this is besides the point. Diego wants to make each and every Englishman pay for it and Mercedes wants to make Diego pay for ignoring her in his conquest for power."

"She only goes for Englishmen?"

"Yeah. Her little way of getting even. And there is something else."

"What is that?"

"Mercedes is bored. Not to say she didn't enjoy herself. But I would guess by this time tomorrow, she will be esconced in those sandalwood scented sheets with another of our mother country's sons."

Jack threw back another drink. "You mean she...she...."

"Used you? Yeah. I'm afraid so. Oh, don't take it personally. She had a good time, I am sure of it. But mark my words--if Mendoza ever finds out the name of any one of them, his murderous temper will be unleashed and he will make an example of him."

"And what of Mercedes?"

Rhys shrugged. "Who cares?"

Jack looked down at his glass.

Rhys filled it again. "Let me guess. You do. Well, don't. Countess Mendoza can take care of herself. Diego forgives her. He always does."

Jack sat there looking dejected.

Rhys stood up and stretched. "Just put this in your book of remembrances in the chapter entitled, 'What I did on my visit to Cuba' or some such rot. Tomorrow she will be a smile on your face that your wife won't understand."

"I have no wife."

"Good. Then a smile on your face your future wife won't understand and you won't have the ensuing guilt."

Jack punched the pillow and rolled up a few blankets.

"My deepest thanks to you. For the rescue and the enlightenment."

"Tomorrow I will deliver you to town. I suggest you get a new hat and not return to that tavern and you will be safe."

Rhys blew out the oil lamp. "Goodnight, Oxford."

"Goodnight, Cambridge."

Together they said, "Oxbridge!" and laughed.

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The next morning, after a light breakfast of hardtack and bad coffee, Rhys and Jack rowed the Neptune Rising's jollyboat toward the Raven's Pride. Jack was explaining to Rhys how he fell into company with Harkness and a life of piracy. When he began telling about gaining Harkness' respect with the Pride's refit, Rhys couldn't help but laugh out loud.

“What's so damned funny?” asked Jack indignantly.

“I'm sorry, I'm really sorry,” Rhys laughed. “But you, redesigning a ship? I just can't see you planning out something that requires that much care! You're more of a 'leap before you look' sort of fellow.”

“Laugh it up, Cambridge. Why don't you tell me where you and your uncle are headed next, and you can see for yourself just how fast the Pride is?”

“As entertaining as that sounds, I'll pass. Uncle Henry is looking to establish himself here in the Caribbean, so we'll be staying put a while. The waters back home are over-hunted, he says. The Spanish are thick as fleas on a dog's back here, and he does so enjoy bedevilling them.”

“Pulling up stakes, eh? Well, he's picked a good place to resettle, especially if he like Spanish targets. Where exactly were the old haunts?”

Rhys smiled whistfully. “Beaumaris, on the northern coast. The most beautiful place on earth. There was a small bay, more of a cove to be honest, that we used. You'd love it. It's called Blaidd Drwg Bae.”

“Again with the Welsh. What does it mean?”

“Bad Wolf Bay.”

Jack let out a hearty laugh. “Aye, they practically named it for me!”

By that time they were along side the Pride, opposite the docks and any prying eyes. Jack let out a loud whistle.

“Ahoy the ship!” he yelled. “It's Jack Wolfe, and a friend! Throw us a couple of lines!”

A few faces appeared at the gunwale. One of them belonged to Briggs. “If it ain't the tomcat draggin' himself home! Three lines, boys, and step lively!”

Jack and Rhys tied on to the boat to prevent it drifting away, and the two men climbed the side of the ship up to the weather deck. Briggs was giving his friend and expectant look.

“Josiah,” said Jack merrily, “this is Rhys Morgan. Rhys, Josiah Briggs, my best friend.”

“Pleased to meet ye, Rhys,” said Briggs. “Somethin' tells me there's a story to go along with all this.”

“Aye, there is,” replied Jack. “Rhys saved my life yesterday.”

“He did, eh? And who was the angry husband he saved ye from?”

“The Governor of Havana,” Rhys said matter-of-factly.

Briggs choked back startled laughter. “Saints and angels, Jack! Only you would pull somethin' so daft! “

“In all fairness, she didn't tell me she's the governor's wife. We never exactly exchanged last names.”

“Just everything else, I suppose.”

“Something like that. Wouldn't be polite to kiss and tell. But when Mendoza's men stormed in to find his wife, Rhys was kind enough to stage a rescue.”

“If I had known you were Oxford, I probably would have changed my mind,” Rhys smirked.

“Oi! How do you think I feel being rescued by a Cambridge man?”

“I dunno, who was smart enough not to climb into her bed in the first place? Certainly not the Oxford man.”

“Yeah, but the Oxford man put a hell of a smile on her face...”

Briggs stepped in between the two college rivals. “All right, gentlemen! That's about enough, the both of ye!” He wasn't sure if Jack and Rhys were about to come to blows, but he felt the precaution of keeping them separate was the wise choice. They glared at each other as if Briggs weren't even there. After a long pause, they both broke out laughing, leaving Briggs with a bewildered look on his face.

“Thanks for saving my hide, Cambridge,” said Jack.

“You owe me one, Oxford!”

“Oxbridge!” they said in unison, and laughed even more.

“Would somebody tell me what the hell is goin' on?” complained Briggs.

Jack clapped his friend on the back. “Rival schools, my friend. Rhys here went to Cambridge, poor bloke. But he's a good man in spite of it.”

Rhys smirked, “And you've done nothing to improve my opinion of anyone from Oxford, Jack.”

“Likewise, but I'm starting to warm up to you.”

Briggs shook his head. “What's this world comin' to? Ye'll need a head full of book learnin' to be a pirate before long!”

This drew a fresh round of laughter from everyone. The rest of the men went about their duties, leaving Jack, Briggs, and Rhys to themselves.

“Come on, let us show you around,” Jack said to Rhys. “You showed me hospitality, now it's my turn to play host.”

Rhys smiled and shook his head. “I really should be getting back. Somebody has to watch over the crew whilst Uncle Henry is off conducting business.”

“They'll get by for a few hours on their own. What could happen in that short time?”

“With you involved, anything and everything!”

“Ain't that the truth!” Briggs laughed.

“I'm a bit of an overachiever,” grinned Jack. “And Josiah isn't about to let me live down that little incident in San Juan and the brothel. Are you, Briggs?”

“It was your bright idea to try and sneak them women back to the ship... dressed as nuns.”

“And it would have worked, too!” Jack protested. “If the shortest path to the waterfront hadn't gone right past the church. Damned nosy priest. What was he up at that hour for, anyway?”

Rhys laughed and rolled his eyes. “That seals it! I'm leaving before you can cook up any more wild plans. Harlots dressed as nuns? Let me guess- you were dressed as a priest?”

“Not exactly...” began Jack.

“The Mother Superior,” interrupted Briggs.

Rhys stared at Jack, slackjawed with astonishment at the older man's audacity. “You are mad, Jack Wolfe!” he exclaimed. “As if I needed any more evidence!”

Jack pondered Rhys' words a moment. “'Mad Jack Wolfe'. That's got quite the ring! Mind if I use it?”

“Aye!” laughed Briggs. “That sums ye up perfect!”

“Wear it in good health, Oxford! Lord knows you've earned it.”

Jack smiled at his new friend. “Thanks, Cambridge. And thank you again for saving my neck. I'm serious; I owe you.”

“Here's hoping you never have to make good on that debt, my friend,” answered Rhys. “Do yourself a favour, eh? At least try to stay out of trouble? You can start with not going ashore anywhere you hear the name Mendoza.”

“I'll give it a go, mate. I promise.”

Rhys chuckled and shook his head as he climbed over the side of the ship and down to his boat.

“Hey, Cambridge!” Jack yelled. “You think our paths will cross again some day?”

“Oh God, I hope not, Oxford! Once was enough!” Rhys laughed.

Jack and Briggs stood at the gunwale for a bit as Rhys rowed away.

“Are ye goin' to take his advice?” asked Briggs.

“I think I might just do that, this time,” Jack said quietly.

“That close, huh?”

Jack took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Yeah.”

“What about next time?”

“Easy. I'll ask her straight away if her husband is the governor. If not, then it's a party!”

Briggs laughed softly. “Aye, 'Mad Jack', indeed!”

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On the open sea -- 1649

The two magnificent ships strained and groaned as their hulls grated against one another in this unholy union. Hooks and grapnels dug into the hull of the prey, holding it fast against the predator. Smoke from pistols, scatterguns, and patereros obscured the deck as Will Harkness stalked the deck of his latest prize. He carried his cutlass in one hand, his pistol in the other. His eyes searched the murky air as he stepped over the fallen men from both ships whom Fortune had failed to smile upon. He hated this kind of engagement, where the decks ran red because the losing captain favoured self over sense. Normally, the sight of Harkness' colours would make any ship's captain heave to and surrender. It was a regrettable loss of life on both sides. The pirate captain shook his head bitterly, and paused to look at the sails fluttering uselessly overhead, emblazoned with the blood red Norman cross of Spain.

“Mendoza!!” he shouted. “Show yourself, you cowardly dog! Give it up! You've lost this time!”

Harkness turned around, in case Colonel Diego Mendoza had decided to emerge from his quarters and face his conqueror. Instead, he was met by a pair of boots smashing into his chest. His pistol went skittering across the deck, but he managed to keep hold of his cutlass as he fell on to his back. Instinctively, he brought his blade up across his chest just as another clanged against it.

“How dare you try and take my ship, you English dog!” raged Mendoza. “Get up, and face me like a man!”

Harkness brushed Mendoza's sword aside and sprang to his feet. He ignored the broken ribs that burned in his side as he faced his enemy. “Now, who is the dog? The man that called you out, or the one who blindsided him?”

Mendoza swung angrily at him, and Harkness deflected the blow. “That's not much of an answer!”

“You English think you own the seas!” Mendoza raged. “Spain is her master, and I'll do whatever I must to restore the motherland to her rightful place!”

Harkness had to work doubly hard to fend off Mendoza's onslaught. Though blinded by his quest to restore Spain's naval domination, Diego was a skilled swordsman, with the will of a zealot.

“But you're beaten, Diego!” countered Harkness. “Your men are defeated. I've won the day! Give up now, and I'll make sure you have safe passage back to Cuba.”

“NEVER!! Not as long as my heart beats!” howled Mendoza. He pressed his attack against Harkness, who had no choice but to give ground. Harkness rallied, forcing Mendoza backward. The two men clashed like titans, to a virtual standstill.

Blade clanged against blade until finally, Mendoza found and advantage and spun Harkness' cutlass out of his hand. Will stood there, dumbfounded. Diego pressed the point of his sword against his opponent's chest.

“Tell me why I shouldn't kill you here and know.”

Harkness's eyes searched the deck, and came back to Mendoza.

“Because I'm almost as good as you with a sword?”

Mendoza gave a feral grin. “Not good enough.”

He cocked his arm to drive his cutlass through Will Harkness' heart, but another blade slapped Medoza's sword away before he could strike the death blow.

“It's about time you showed up!” Harkness groused.

“What, you think this all works on a schedule?” asked Jack Wolfe, as he stepped in front of his captain. Both men's eyes went wide just before they ducked away, and Diego Mendoza's sword cut a groove into the bulkhead just behind them.

Harkness rolled to Mendoza's left, out of harm's way. Jack, however, rolled right, and found himself face to face with the angry Spaniard.

“I don't know you,” said Mendoza warily.

“Jack Wolfe. Though I can't say it's a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

Mendoza's eyes flared. “Jack Wolfe?!

“Um, yeah. I thought you said you didn't know me.”

“I don't. But my wife knows you!” Mendoza swung wildly, and Jack easily blocked the blow. Realisation dawned on the young man's face.

“Mendoza, Mendoza... Why is that familiar? You mean Mercedes, right? That sweet little contessa from Cuba! Oh, she was one hell of a goer, that one! But I'm guessing you didn't want to hear that... Whoa!!!” Jack ducked and did a shoulder roll across the deck as Diego tried mightily to take his head off.

“I'm beginning to think you're upset about that little tryst.”

Mendoza stalked across the deck toward him. “She's thrown your name in my face every chance she gets!”

“Really!” Jack mused. “I made more of an impression than Rhys gave me credit for! How about that?” He deftly blocked another attack from the cuckold Spaniard.

“I'm going to enjoy killing you, Jack Wolfe!”

“And I'm going to enjoy spoiling your day!”

Jack mounted a counter attack, matching Diego blow for blow. But the Spaniard quickly adapted, forcing the young pirate backwards cross the deck. Before he knew it, Jack had his back against the mainmast. Mendoza swung like a man possessed, not allowing a counter-thrust nor escape. Jack began to panic, when he saw a coil of rope sitting atop a barrel next to him. He grabbed it, and flung it at his adversary's face. The rope fouled Mendoza's vision, and allowed Jack to dance away. By the time Diego got rid of the rope, he found Jack's blade tip inches from his nose, and Will Harkness' pistol against his back.

“I'm pretty sure this is where you surrender, mate,” said Jack.

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Diego Mendoza stood there, wild eyed, not sure what to do next. Finally, he decided defeat was inevitable. His chest heaving, he tossed his sword to the deck.

“You win,” he whispered.

Jack's brow furrowed. “Oh, I'm so sorry. I didn't quite catch that. Louder, please, for the gallery?”

Mendoza took a deep breath. “I said, you win!” he growled through clenched teeth.

Jack began to speak, but Harkness preempted him. “I heard that, loud and clear, Mister Wolfe. And so did you.”

“Aye, Captain. That I did,” said Jack.

Jack backed off and let his sword drop. Mendoza swiftly went for a dagger hidden in his boot, and Jack cuffed him with the guard of his sword. The Spaniard dropped to his knees and spat a bit of blood on the deck, a bitter, hateful expression on his face.

“Tell your men to stand down, Diego,” Harkness ordered.

After a long pause, Mendoza shouted “¡Entrega! ¡Ahora háganlo!

Reluctantly, his remaining men stopped fighting and surrendered to their pirate masters.

“Good choice,” said Jack.

“Go to hell!” Mendoza spat.

“Maybe some day, but that's a philosophical debate for another time.”

“You English talk too much.”

“Funny, I recall you're lovely wife saying that just before she, well...”

Mendoza started to get to his feet, but Harkness stopped him. “That's enough, Mister Wolfe! Am I understood?”

“Crystalline, sir,” answered Jack as he backed away.

Will waved in a few men to take custody of Mendoza, and Harkness relieved the Spaniard of his boot dagger and a few other hidden blades. He walked over to Jack, who was at the far gunwale, staring out across the open sea.

“He was humiliated enough, Jack,” began Will.

“I know,” said Jack. “I guess the moment got away from me.”

“It's called mercy, Jack. And with it goes respect. You must never let those qualities get away from you.”

Jack turned and gave his mentor a hard look.

“Would he have shown us such mercy?”

Harkness shook his head. “Certainly not. But we must be better than those we vanquish, in all ways. If we aren't superior in mercy, then we are no better than a common highwayman. Does that make sense to you?”

Jack thought for a moment. “I suppose it does. I'd never thought of it that way.”

“Yes, you had. But you had an advantage over him, and you exploited it. As you should have.”

“Now you have me confused. You tell me to show compassion, but to exploit advantages as well?”

“Exploit any advantage in battle, but be compassionate in victory. Be humble in triumph,” smiled Harkness. “That is, unless they're too stupid to give up and you have no other choice.”

“There's always a lesson with you, isn't there?”

“Of course! I'd be a poor mentor otherwise. You two seem to have a bit of history between you.”

Jack laughed. “You could say that. Remember when we were in Cuba last year?”

“I do. You didn't leave the ship the last two days we were there. Usually you're off carousing in the taverns unless there's deal to be struck. I take it that's when you met the good Colonel's wife?”

“The Catch of Cuba herself.”

“She's something else, isn't she?” chuckled Harkness.

Jack gaped at his captain. “You mean... you, too?”

“What can I say? The does enjoy her Englishmen,” Will smiled wistfully. “Though Diego never heard about me in that regard. You seem to have made an impression on the fiery Mercedes.”

“As you say, Will; best effort in all things. How do you know our testy friend, then?”

“Diego and I have crossed paths more than a few times. The nutter has it in his head that getting rid of me is key to restoring Spain's dominance in the region. It doesn't help that I've cost him quite a bit of money, and the lion's share of his credibility with his masters.”

“I've heard he's obsessed with Spain's former naval glory. Though I never thought I'd actually come face to face with him. His lot usually talk big from behind a desk.”

“Oh, not Diego Mendoza,” said Harkness. “He puts a lot of personal effort into his lunacy. What do you think we should do with him?”

Jack thought for a moment. “We could kill him, but for what? Being an incredible nuisance and a self-aggrandising fool? Hardly seems fair.”

“Ransom him, then? He's rich.”

They paused and looked across the deck of the ship to where Mendoza was being held. The defiant Spaniard was red-faced, petulantly cursing every man within earshot.

“And put up with that howling? Not worth the money, if you ask me. Mercedes would never pay us to get him back anyway.”

“Then we're back to killing him?” asked Harkness.

Jack shook his head no. “If we did, then the Spanish government would have to take action. They may think him as much of a pain as we do, but he is one of their own. And stepped up Spanish patrols would be bad for business.”

“What do you want to do with him, then?” Harkness asked.

“Why me?”

“All I did was muck things up by getting sloppy. You beat him. You figure out what his fate is.”

Jack gave his captain a look of surprise. “Well, then. I suppose there's nothing else to do but give him the longboat and some supplies, and set him and a few close friends free near the shipping lanes. Let them sail for it as best they can.”

Harkness smiled proudly at his apprentice. “I think that's a very good, very merciful choice.”

“I figured it's what you would do if you were making the decision.”

“You're right. It is the choice I would make. I've taught you well.”

“When will you run out of things to teach me?” asked Jack jokingly.

Will looked around at the two ships, and gave a chuckle as his cracked ribs argued with him. “Today. How's that?”

“Today? What do you mean?”

“Well, you're your own man now, Jack. You've earned the respect and trust of the crew. You'll make a fine leader, in spite of your impulsiveness. And besides, you saved my life. If it weren't for you, Diego would have run me through. I'd hate to think of myself impaled against some Spanish bulkhead.

“You would have done the same for me.”

Will laughed. “That has nothing to do with it. Most of the men know Mendoza is a superior swordsman and stayed back. You jumped in, your own skills be damned. That's courage. And courage will see you through, even when you don't think you're ready to take something on.”

“You're talking in riddles again, Will. What are you driving at?”

Harkness looked around them. “What do you think of this ship, Jack?”

Jack regarded the vessel with a critical eye. “She's sleek. Well built. With a few improvements, she might even be made to give the Pride a run for her money. Why? Thinking of keeping her?”

“It all depends. I'm curious. If I had died today, command of the Pride would have fallen to you. There's a packet of final orders in my quarters stating as much. Given the choice, which ship would you keep? The Pride, or this one and make it your own?”

“Why all this morbid talk, Will?”

“Indulge me.”

“You sound like someone who is contemplating their mortality.”

Harkness kept his silence.

“Now, wait just a moment...” started Jack.

“Mendoza never should have been able to catch me off guard the way he did. I got careless. Maybe too much success has made me soft. Or maybe just the years.” Will paused for a moment and looked at his protégé. “Piracy is a young man's enterprise, Jack. And I am no longer a young man. Maybe it's time I quit this game before it quits me.”

“You can't let one misstep rattle you so!” implored Jack. “You're Iron Will Harkness, for God's sake. Your very name strikes terror into men's hearts. How could you think of walking away from that?”

“Iron Will Harkness is a persona, Jack,” the captain said quietly. “A carefully manufactured façade of my own creation. In the end, I'm just a man, like any other.” He smiled enigmatically. “Maybe, if you live to be my age, you'll understand.”

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“I can't believe I'm hearing this,” Jack said in disbelief. “I can't imagine any other life than this one. And I can't believe you'd just... walk away from it!”

Harkness smiled a bit. “Listen to yourself, Jack. When we first met, you would have rather died than become a pirate. You said it yourself. Look at you now. Can you honestly tell me things can't change, when you're living proof they do?”

“What am I supposed to do, if you leave?”

“Exactly what you would have done if I had died today. Carry on.” Harkness took his student by the shoulders. “You're ready for this, Jack. And I'm ready to move on. It's time, for both of us.”

Still in shock, Jack looked his mentor in the eyes. “Damn you for springing this on me, Will. It's not fair.”

“Jack, I've learned you make your best decisions when you don't have time to think about it too much. You over-analyse, my boy. Trust your instincts. Your wits will balance things out. Now, answer my question. Which ship shall be yours?”

Jack turned and looked at the Spanish vessel again. It was remarkably trim for ship of Spain, built almost in the style of France's lean, fast frigates. She had real possibilities, with some work. Then he looked at the Pride. There was a ship he knew like the back of his hand, since he had helped to shape her. Jack knew her quirks and temperament like a lover knows his partner. The comfortable familiarity was a powerful draw. But he knew if he took the Pride as his own, he'd never escape the shadow of Will Harkness.

“If I had to make a choice...”

“Yes, Jack. You have to choose.”

“This ship, definitely.

Harkness chuckled. “You never do anything the easy way, do you?”

“Where's the fun in that?” replied Jack.

“The fun is just beginning, my lad. You'll be a captain now, in your own right. We'll make the announcement once we make port. I prefer not to spring this news whilst we're still at sea.”

“What are you going to do?”

“What, with the Pride? The quartermaster has been wanting his own ship for a while now. He'll jump at the chance to have her.”

“I thought as much. He'll do well. I suppose we'll have to work out who goes with which ship when we part company. But what I'm really interested in, Will, is what your plans are for yourself.”

“I honestly don't know for sure. I certainly won't become a merchant captain, what with you out there running free! No, I'll find something. Can you imagine me as a gentleman farmer?”

Jack laughed involuntarily at the thought. “You, living on dry land? I'll believe it when I see it.”

“I know this for certain,” said Harkness, “you're getting more than a ship in this bargain. You're getting a sworn enemy.”

“How do you figure? Mendoza? What's a ship to him? He'll just buy another.”

“Oh, you don't know this ship's name?”

“Not a clue.”

“Jack, this is the second Mercedes of his that you've been involved with. And this time, you're taking her away.”

Jack stared at his captain with a mixture of shock and glee. “You're joking! He named this ship after his wife?”

“Even had the figurehead carved in her likeness.”

“This is too good! I'm enjoying it more every moment. I may just have to swing out on the bowsprit and give her a kiss as we sail away!”

Harkness' expression turned serious. “Be careful, Jack. Diego Mendoza may have lost today, but don't underestimate him. He's wealthy, driven, and more than a little crazy. That's a dangerous combination. You're going to have a very, very high spot on his list of people to get revenge on. I know you're not one to look over your shoulder, but you may want to start.”

“He's had it out for you for a long time, you said. And you've managed to elude him.”

“Because I keep tabs on him. One of the first things I do in port is ask if he's about. Not just to decide if I want to make a prize at his expense, but to avoid him, too.”

“You make it sound like the better option is killing him now.”

“No, and for the same reasons you arrived at. Better to have him wage his impotent crusade than to deal with a fleet of costa garda. Just watch yourself, all right?”

Jack let Will's words sink in. Harkness was a cautious man, but the concern in his voice was unusually strong this time.

“I promise. No letting my guard down with this one,” Jack nodded. It wasn't enough that he had butterflies in his stomach at becoming a captain, he now had a blood enemy.

“Good,” Harkness smiled. “So, what are you going to name your very own ship? Assuming there's no sentiment behind Mercedes for you.”

“Very funny. I'm tempted toward something Spanish as a tip of the hat to the man who so graciously provided her.” Jack thought for a moment, and his eyes brightened. “I know! How about El Lobo del Mar?”

“The Wolf of the Sea, captained by Mad Jack Wolfe himself,” mused Harkness. “Interesting choice, practically naming her after yourself.”

“It works then?”

Harkness nodded approval. “With a name like that, your reputation will practically write itself!”

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Aboard the Neptune Rising in the open sea---1650

"Henry, this fish is superb!"

Henry leaned back and smiled. "Thanks to Dolan for snagging into that school of

tuna. Nothing like fresh fish for the men."

"But you didn't bring out the Madeira for nothing."

"Whatever do you mean?"

Rhys narrowed his eyes. "You have something on your mind, Henry. I haven't spent all these years on the Neptune Rising for nothing."

Henry poured another glass of wine and topped Rhys' off.

"Rhys, it is no secret you are like a son to me. Sure, you are blood kin but I have always regarded you as more than a nephew.

Rhys clinked his glass with Henry's. "And I feel the same way. A better mentor I never could have picked. If I had been looking."

Henry took a long sip of his wine before continuing.

"I have something of importance to discuss. I've decided to organize the privateers in the Caribbean into a force to be reckoned with. I've been in touch with a few--Morris and Jackman to name a few--and we think if we become an organization, we will have more of an impact breaking the yoke of the Spanish Main."

Rhys nodded his head slowly. "Sounds like a solid plan. Have you any ideas?"

Henry laughed. "Yes, I do. And we are meeting in Port Royal to discuss it. How does Order of the Brethren Coast sound?"

Rhys agreed, "A force to be reckoned with, I daresay."

Henry leaned forward and his eyes glittered with ambition. "And a force like that--and the head of that force--deserves a big ship, wouldn't you say?"

"Not to mention a big hat. With lots of plumes. What are you getting at, Henry?"

"You know that French frigate we took six months ago?"

"The one you left in drydock in St Maarten?"

"The very one. She'd make a fine flagship, wouldn't she?"

"But you HAVE a flagship, Henry. Neptune Rising has been your pride and joy."

"Aye--but it is time I be trading up."

"You intend to sell the Neptune Rising?

Henry said exasperatedly, "For a Cambridge boy, you aren't quite good at sussing things out. I'm giving it to someone."

"Dolan? Pretty high reward for a passel of fish, Uncle."

Henry rolled his eyes. "Do I have to spell it out for you, Rhys? I'm leaving the Neptune Rising in your capable hands."


"I've watched you the past five years. You love the ship as much as I do, maybe even more. Sure, I could sell her. But would anyone love her like a Morgan?"

"Neptune Rising---to be mine?"

"Rhys, you started out as an astronomy cartographer. But you've taken to pyracy--and let's not deny it, we call a spade a spade--like a duck takes to water."

"But, Henry, what of the smuggling operation in Wales?"

"You can run it. Hell, you practically do anyways!"

"And what terms do you want out of it?"

"Lord Madoc Castlemaine gets his ten percent. Kick me back another ten percent and that leaves you with eighty percent for you and your crew. That ten percent will keep me in rum and pleasurable company."

"And will I have to meet with Lord Castlemaine to introduce myself as the new proprietor of his caves?"

Henry shook his head. "Not very often. You remit the payment to a bank in Cardiff. Lovely resort spot. In fact, I think I have only met him twice. Just lost his wife last year. Fell down the stairs and broke her neck."

"And you will make all the arrangements?"

"No arrangements to make. Hell, Rhys, don't make this more complicated than it is.

Once a year, Lord Castlemaine gives a ball. I go there, make all the right noises, pass myself off as Lord Henry Morgan as I was born and garner respect among the landed gentry. I get on with it. I even met Lord Conaway at the last ball. Poor sod has no idea his caves are my prime outlet for ill-gotten goods."

Rhys sat back, the proposal almost too much for him to absorb. But a smile slowly spread over his face.

"It could be interesting--and an adventure besides!"

"Not to mention it will set you up financially for your future."

"As an astonomy cartographer?

"Hell, Rhys, you can even buy your professorship at Oxford."


"There too."

They clinked glasses again and Rhys said, "To the Neptune Rising."

Henry smiled back. "Long may she plunder!"

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