Captain McCool

Heart of Gold

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This tale started its life over on the Pirates Magazine forums as part of a collaborative story in which I was/am participating. While writing it, however, it kind of took on a life of its own, and I am attempting to adapt it into its own, stand-alone narrative. Let me know what you think!

HEART OF GOLD

A Novel of High Seas Pyracy

By Michael Sheridan

Prologue

Somewhere off the coast of Cuba...

The squall had come out of nowhere. Hurricane winds and stinging rain, falling in sheets rather than drops, battered the hands near death as they struggled to take in sail and keep the ship head-on to the waves. Up they climbed, into the wildly swaying tops and beyond, some reaching the perilous heights to grapple numbly with the drenched, heavy folds of canvas, others torn from the shrouds to which they so helplessly clung, tossed into the mountainous waves below, never to bee seen again. It was a nightmare of a storm, beyond anything the captain had seen before. And gnawing at him, somewhere on the very edge of cognizant thought, was the absurd idea that the tempest had some kind of conscious malice in it—had intent. Waves crashed over the deck, nearly submerging the men for moments at a time before sweeping away, streaming from the scuppers, as the vessel slid down the next slope with a sickening speed that made even the most seasoned mariners blanch in terror. The captain turned to shout an order, unheard over the insane howling of the wind, and as he did so he saw another monstrous wall of water rise above the deck. He clapped onto the lifeline as the enormous wave surged over him, and when it had cleared, he saw to his horror that where the master had stood manning the con just seconds before, there was now an empty space, devoid of both man and wheel.

The ship gave a terrible lee lurch, blasted by a sudden gust much stronger than the rest, and a rending crack pierced the air, heard even above the gale. As the captain looked up, the mainmast listed unnaturally to larboard. With a hundred sharp twangs the stays and shrouds parted, and the mast crashed into the sea, taking eight prime hands to their watery graves. This was the end. All was lost. The crew felt the deck pitch beneath them as the ship turned broadside on to the waves, and in a moment of stark terror, as the vessel began its descent down the next slope, they saw the rocky seabed revealed below, laid bare before them at the bottom of the trough.

Without warning, a huge spire of rock loomed up from the bottom, unseen only a moment before. There was no time to brace for the impact. The ship struck the outcropping with appalling force; the hull ground painfully onto the precipice and before her captain could even comprehend what was happening, another shuddering crack vibrated through the entire hull. Her back was broken. Two more men near the fo’c’sle who had been standing too near the lee rail were flung into the sea with the impact, as were three on the quarterdeck, including the captain himself.

As he slowly sank beneath the waves, the salt water filling his lungs, he looked up to see his ship, his fortune, his whole life, dashed upon the rocks, destroyed, beyond his reach. And then he saw no more. Thus was the wreck of the merchant ship Anna. Not a wreck that history would remember, nor one that would garner a passing thought from Crown or Company. She did, however, bear a great interest to one Jack McCool.

* * *

A light breeze, rather than a raging hurricane, carried the Heart of Gold gently east by northeast towards the skeletal remains of the Anna, now the only grave-marker of the hundred or so brave souls who had been her crew. The approaching ship ghosted in under topsails and jib, almost invisible in the early morning darkness. Mist lay thick around, covering the ocean like a white downy blanket. Jack Smiled. Perfect.

They came alongside the wreck, carefully avoiding the treacherous rocks dotting the coastal waters, and dropped anchor about a cable’s length away. Jack surveyed the scene with a keen eye. She lay there immobile, fixed upon the rock, as still as if she were anchored. More so in fact, as she did not sway with the sea. She looked like something from a nightmare. Masts and yards jutted out at strange angles, and what sails were left wafted ghastly and tattered in the light wind. The two halves of her deck sloped crazily down towards each other, meeting amidships some twenty feet below the surface of the sea.

Jack only raised an eyebrow at the sight. So Eddy Finch had told the truth. Well, there had to be a first time for everything. He only hoped the cargo was still intact after such a nasty spill. He softly called out for a boat to be launched, and turning to his quartermaster he said, “Malachai, would you be so kind as to rouse our guest?” Malachai nodded and headed below, coming back a moment later with a young Native man in tow. “Very good, thank you Malachai.” Turning to the young man he began, “Mr.-” but stopped as he realized he could neither pronounce nor even correctly remember the Indian’s name, “Um, good sir, this is the wreck I told you of. I have it on excellent authority that you have tackled much greater challenges before, so I daresay this will seem rather a walk in the park for you. You understand what we need you to do? You understand what we’re looking for?”

“Yes,” the young man replied stoically.

“Very good then! Let’s have at it!”

A few minutes later Jack was sitting in the stern sheets of the boat, along with Malachai and two oarsmen. Snaking through his hands was a length of rope, which descended at a sharp angle into the water below. The other end was tied around the waist of the young Indian. For some minutes now there had been little or no tension on the line, and Jack was beginning to give up hope. It was madness, of course, that any man, even such an experienced pearl diver, could possibly find his way into the submerged hold of a wrecked ship, in the dark, navigating by touch alone, to seek out and identify a very specific selection of cargo, and then make his way out again without drowning. But just as Jack was about to abandon the project entirely, leaving the young man to his lamentable fate, he saw a boiling disturbance on the surface, and a second later a barrel came shooting up out of the water, followed closely by the diver, a triumphant look on his face.

Two hours later, and after several more journeys of this kind, Jack and the boat crew stood back on the deck of the Heart of Gold, watching the final barrels being hoisted inboard. Jack slapped Malachai on the back. “Now this, my friend, is what I call a creditable success!”

“Aye, ‘twas tolerably well handled tae be sure,” Replied the quartermaster in his thick Highland brogue, “But I’ll nay speak ta’ the outcome till all them barrels are sold off proper like and the coin in our pockets. And mebbe a few hundred sea miles between us an’ them as buys ‘em, too. Mebbe then I’ll call us free an’ clear.”

Jack found his jolly demeanor somewhat taken aback at this, but he pushed forward, his grin never faltering. “Come, must ye always put a damper on our success?” This, he realized, was perhaps an unfair criticism. Malachai was at times the most jovial of companions, and could oft be found leading the hands in a rousing chorus of some bawdy tavern song or telling amusing anecdotes of questionable authenticity. Especially when the grog went round. But it was true that lately he had been markedly more sober than usual. Lately they had all been more sober than usual. It would have taken a much less observant man than Jack McCool not to recognize that morale was running dangerously low. They needed this payoff, even if some of the crew grumbled about being “reduced to a bloody pack of wreckers,” and it perturbed Jack to hear Malachai’s foreboding words on the matter.

The quartermaster returned Jack’s grin with a wan smile, “Don’t mean ta’ cast a cloud, Cap’n. As I said, ‘twas a tolerably well handled affair. I’ll admit, I half didn’t expect the bloody wreck ta’ actually be there, comin’ from Finch, an’ all.”

Jack folded his arms and leaned against the taffrail, considering this. “To tell the truth, neither did I. But here we are, our hold full – well, partially full, in any event – of the very same barrels Finch said would be here, and what’s more, we’re looking at the prospect of real, tangible money in our immediate future. For my part I’m quite sanguine about the whole affair.” Jack regretted his choice of words immediately, reflecting on the fact that sanguine also meant “bloody.”

“It’s no’ the barrels that worry me, Cap’n,” Said Malachai, lowering his voice so only Jack could hear him, “It’s whatever’s in ‘em.”

Jack’s good cheer suffered somewhat further at this remark. He didn’t know what was in the barrels either, and frankly, he didn’t want to. Whatever Finch was after, it was obviously very valuable, and probably very illegal. The illegality didn’t much disturb Jack; he was, after all, employed in an explicitly illegal trade himself. What concerned him was the general air of secrecy surrounding the cargo, even from Finch himself. He couldn’t quite place why, but something about it all made Jack believe whatever these casks contained was somehow dangerous. He was, therefore, perfectly content to deliver the goods and collect his payoff, no questions asked.

He brushed this thought aside for the moment, however. He had more pressing matters at hand. Turning back to Malachai, he gave him one last pat on the back and said, “Not to worry, mate. We’ll soon be rid of these infernal casks, and then it’s back to the Sweet Trade with pockets jingling.” Jack felt this was a suitably positive final remark on the matter, but even he had to admit that the optimism with which it was uttered was perceptibly forced. Nevertheless, he set off across the quarterdeck with a spring in his step, to see that everything was ready to get under way.

The morning sun was just peeking over the Eastern horizon, and the mist was starting to dispel, giving way to a beautifully warm and clear Caribbean dawn. Jack’s smile returned, broad as ever, as he gave some final instructions for the stowing of the cargo, and he was on the point ordering the men to ship capstan bars and prepare to weigh anchor when he heard the lookout’s call.

“On deck there! Sail ho!” Jack froze, rooted to the spot. What remained of his cheerful grin disappeared instantly as he heard the man aloft continue, “She’s hull up already, just off the starboard bow!” Jack’s stomach turned, and he suddenly wished he’d not said all those unlucky things to Malachai.

“What d’you make of her?” he called.

“Not sure yet sir! But… well, by the trim of her yards, I’d say she’s likely a man o’ war! Can’t tell yet if she’s English… maybe Dutch…”

“Bugger!” Jack cursed under his breath. “Have they seen us?”

“Dunno sir! But she’s not altering course!”

Good, thought Jack. He turned and crossed the quarterdeck back to Malachai, and speaking in a low, urgent voice said quickly, “We have the advantage of darkness for now, being to the westward of them. But it won’t be long before the sun rises completely, and then we’re buggered. Let’s set as little sail as possible and try to round the point before they notice we’re here.”

“Aye Cap’n,” the Scotsman said, and began giving orders to weigh anchor.

“There’s no time for that,” Jack cut in, “We’ll have to slip the cable.”

Just then he heard the lookout’s call again, this time with a barely discernable note of panic in it, “She’s altering course, Cap’n, and crowding on sail! She’s definitely seen us! And she’s just hoisted her colors! I think – aye, it’s the Union Jack, sir, sure as I live!”

“Bollocks!” Jack grabbed a glass from the binnacle box and headed over to the rail.

“She’s signaling, sir!” cried the man far above him, but Jack could see that perfectly well for himself. She was approaching rapidly, clearly a swift sailor. Several small flags flew out aboard her and Jack made out the signal for what ship is that?

Jack called out, “Fly the Union Jack as well, and tell ‘em we’re the Dryad out of Jamaica!” and then, praying that the rest of the information he’d bought from that bastard Finch would pay off, “And give them the private signal!”

The flags flew up. A pause from the man o’ war. And then more flags hoisted out: heave to and prepare to be boarded. The ruse was up. Clearly the private signal Finch had sold them was out of date, if it was ever real in the first place. There was only one thing left to do. “Slip anchor and set all the sail she’ll bear!” called Jack, “We’re going to run for it!”

* * *

James arrived at the small field at about half past five in the morning, promptly as the sun began to rise, and took up a position under a lone oak growing out in the middle of the open pasture. This was not out of any need for shelter, as the morning was pleasantly cool, but rather out of an irrational desire to have his back towards something solid. Ben Hollingsworth had yet to appear, which James was ashamed to admit relieved him slightly. He was relieved to have a few minutes to himself before confronting his fate. Relieved to see the sunrise just once more before he had to face what would doubtless be a quick and bloody end to his life. Or if not his life, at least his honor, his dignity, and his good name.

Sighing deeply, he watched as a reddish glow began to rise above the dense green foliage to the East. How very far he was from England. This New World was so virgin and untouched. It felt fresh, newly minted, wild. Things here were not at all what they had been in Europe. Men of ancient, noble lineage begged in the streets, while the sons of butchers, farmers, and merchants prospered and grew rich. It seemed as if the world was turned upon its head.

Though James had grown up in an environment stifling to independence, surrounded by people who taught him to be disdainful of dangerous, liberal notions, he was forced to admit he preferred this bold new world to his old gray home across the Atlantic. Certainly he felt a deep connection with his native England, but in his heart James loved the daring, adventurous spirit of the Americas. He yearned to be a part of it, to carve his own niche here as he had failed to do in London. He wanted to see it all, from the iridescent blues of the Caribbean Sea, teeming with strange exotic birds and beasts, to the cold murky waters of Labrador, with its rocky, wind-swept plains.

It is likely these colorful imaginings were somewhat exaggerated by his unfortunate position of presently facing death. He contemplated this thought a moment. How strange it was that one only truly appreciated life when confronted with its imminent end. As the sun rose slowly over the treetops in the distance, imbuing the morning air with a golden radiance and setting the dewy field afire with light, James felt alive as he had never felt before. He also felt sure he would never leave this secluded clearing in the Virginia woods.

Sensing the young man’s growing melancholy, Diego approached him, holding out a practice epee by the blade. James looked up out of his reverie and took the proffered handle, looking grim. He stepped a few paces away from the tree, and wordlessly saluting the old Spaniard, he stood at en guard. Diego struck first, with incredible speed, but James was ready, and quickly parried the strike. Just as he was making to repost, however, he stumbled upon an unseen root, and in this moment of hesitation, felt the blunted end of Diego’s epee strike him squarely upon his left breast, a perfect killing blow. In a sudden flash of anger, James slapped his mentor’s blade away with an oath, and swung a wild fist towards Diego’s Jaw. The older man easily sidestepped the clumsy attack, tapping James in the back of the head with the epee as he tumbled headlong into the grass. James lay there for a moment, so Diego gave him a soft nudge in the ribs with the square toe of his boot. The young man turned over, red faced, embarrassed, and angry.

“Up. We practice until they arrive. Your nerves are getting the better of you. Remember what I have taught you, and pray, pay attention to your surroundings. Here,” he handed James the dropped epee, and gave him an encouraging smile “A little preparation never hurt anyone. Take heart, mi amigo. You may yet leave this place alive.”

The two men practiced for fifteen minutes or so before they heard the sound of hooves coming around the bend in the narrow lane. James had been feeling much better, having bested Diego in the last two of five bouts, but as the horses drew nearer, becoming visible as they turned into the little clearing, James’ terror returned. He felt suddenly nauseous, and turning quickly, purged himself at the base of the tree. He prayed the men riding down the road had not seen his display of nerves, and stood there bent double and quivering, until he heard Diego’s apprehensive voice above him, suddenly very tense, full of suspicion.

“Something is not right,” he said, and James looked up.

“That’s not Hollingsworth,” Said the younger man, and the moment the words were out of his mouth, a hail came from the man on the foremost horse.

“James Sebastian Black, don’t you move! You’re under arrest for dueling!”

Edited by Captain McCool

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Now for the first chapter. I'm still debating where to put some of this stuff, and if I'll add in bits of sub-plot between some of what I've already written. I know I need to add more about James & Diego, where they came from, why a Spaniard is traveling as the guardian to a well-bred English lad, why they had to leave England, etc. Some of this I am still trying to decide upon, but other parts I just haven't gotten around to actually writing down.

Furthermore, I apologize in advance about the profanity in this chapter. I don't usually write a lot of it in my stories, but this particular character is a vulgar man. I have added asterisks by means of censoring the words in question, but if there are still objections, please let me know and I will make the changes as best I can.

EDIT: Okay, so I changed things a bit, in all the segments of the story. The first thing I did was to replace the "F" word with it's less offensive Irish cousin, "Feck" at the request of a mod. The latest thing was to add a little more about the barrels and the markings thereon, as well as cleaning up some typos, etc. I'm sure I did other things to this section, but I can't remember them at present, so: enjoy!

Chapter One

In nearly all respects, the Heart of Gold was remarkable for a pirate ship. Most buccaneer vessels were small, light, and quick, often sloops or brigs, displacing as little water as possible in order to take refuge amongst the shoals and reefs where their larger, heavier opponents dared not tread for fear of being run aground. They were also nearly always filthy, with hastily spliced rigging, patched sails, peeling paintwork (if indeed any), and fo’c’sles crudely cut away to make room for extra guns. These were all marks of a pirate vessel, and one might have been identified with little need of flying a Black Flag. The Heart of Gold, however, had developed a reputation for being somewhat non-conformist in this regard. All ship-shape and handsome was the way Captain McCool liked her. With gleaming brass guns, newfound rigging and sails, clean decks, bright crimson paintwork, and even a fair quantity of genuine gold leaf. She was also remarkable in that she was not in fact some tiny, shallow-draft sloop, but a true three-mast ship, with square sails fore and main, and a large, triangular lateen sail aft, below her square mizzen-topsail. While some ridiculed her, saying she was much too large and cumbersome to make a truly effective predator, her captain prized her superior capacity for firepower. He also knew that, despite her bulk, the Heart of Gold was a genuine flyer, capable of eating the wind out of nearly any ship her size and rig, if well handled.

She was not, as was often rumored, run strictly man-o-war fashion, for Captain McCool had never in his life set foot aboard a man-o-war. In actual fact, she was run much more in the style of a wealthy, respectable privateer. Indeed, had it not been for her rather startling array of guns, which was capable of throwing a broadside weight of metal large enough to blow most naval frigates out of the water, she might have been mistaken for some important admiral’s private yacht.

Though remarkable, there were reasons for the Heart of Gold’s unusual appearance. For one, Jack McCool had not, unlike many pirates, obtained the ship through treachery, deceit, or straight-out robbery. He had in fact inherited the vessel from its previous owner and captain, Robbie Balfour, when the unfortunate man breathed his last under the guns of the Royal Navy. Balfour himself, a moderately wealthy merchant sailor who also upon occasion found profit through somewhat less legitimate trade practices, had bought the heart of gold legally after she was taken from the Spanish. She had been considered too knocked about to be bought into the Service, as was the custom of the British Navy, so she was put up for public auction, and Captain Balfour snatched her up, to the chagrin of several other bidders who also recognized the rare beauty of her form.

Upon purchasing the Heart of Gold, Balfour immediately started making substantial changes to the vessel, completely refitting her, and in some ways nearly rebuilding her entirely. He added new knees, new masts, and a large number of other improvements, designed both to allow her to carry a larger cargo and to make her sail more sweetly. He also added a lavish cabin for himself, with an unusually extravagant stern gallery that would have been more at home on a first-rate ship-of-the-line than on a merchant vessel.

Balfour had taken tremendous pride in the running and the appearance of his ship, and had instilled this virtue in Jack during the time they sailed together. The only subject upon which the two men ever disagreed was that of guns. Because Balfour had spent every last penny he possessed, and indeed a good deal more, on the purchase and refit of his jewel, he found himself lacking the funds to arm her properly. So he stripped the few small cannon from his previous command to make up the larger vessel’s armament. Unfortunately, his previous command had been a rather tiny brig, which only mounted 8 four-pounder popguns. Since these had always served well enough in the past (in truth they had never once been fired except in salute) Balfour chose not to increase his firepower upon obtaining the larger vessel. This decision ultimately cost him his life, along with the lives of a large majority of his crew.

After Captain Balfour’s death, Jack had taken command by popular vote, choosing to stay in the warm waters of the West Indies, rather than heading back to the frigid, gray seas of Europe. The crew – now Jack’s crew – voted unanimously to leave their former lives behind and go on the account. Naturally, the first thing they did after taking a few small but rich prizes was to bring the Heart of Gold’s broadside back to a more respectable standard. So had begun Jack McCool’s career as a Gentleman of Fortune.

The ship that now sailed into Nassau Harbour, however, bore little resemblance to the Heart of Gold as she had once been. Her paintwork was faded and peeling, her gold leaf had long since been pillaged by the men in a vain attempt to line their empty pockets, and her crew as a whole was shabby, dirty, and ill-nourished. The fresh provisions had long since run out, and they had been living on hard tack and double-water grog for far longer than was healthy. No less than five cases of scurvy had cropped up in just the last week, and Mr. Langtry, the surgeon, had a dark premonition of things to come if they could not lay in some decent vittles.

The reason for this drastic change was plain enough. It was well known that Captain McCool’s famous Irish luck had abandoned him. He hadn’t taken a single prize in almost six months, and for some time now mutinous whispers had begun to be heard on the lower deck. One man had even taken to rolling shot across the poop above Jack’s cabin. This man now lay at the bottom of the Atlantic, thanks to a long Highland dirk carried by Malachai Armstrong, Quartermaster, and loyal follower of Jack McCool. At first Jack had been angry, and had reprimanded Malachai for the action, not wanting the crew to think him a tyrant. But Mr. Armstrong had pointed out, quite fairly, that rolling shot was strictly prohibited by the articles every man aboard had signed, and so Jack dropped the subject.

For all that, there was still a good deal of dissent aboard, and it was becoming more open by the day. Jack was nearly at his wit’s end. He tossed and turned at night, not sleeping, instead trying to devise stratagems for finding fresh prizes. All this achieved was to make him sullen and ill tempered, and to give him blinding headaches that sometimes lasted for days on end. That is why, when the well known coxcomb and swindler, Eddy Finch, had approached him with a proposal, Jack had not simply thrown the diminutive villain over the taffrail and into the filthy harbor below, as was his instinct, but instead decided to put his misgivings aside and lend the weasel an ear.

And now, as Jack gave orders to moor the ship at the Nassau docks, he thought of the two-dozen casks stowed down in his hold and thanked Providence that Finch had told the truth. Well, about one thing at least. The private signal he had sold Jack was utter rubbish. Which, in retrospect, explained why the little bastard hadn’t asked more for it. But there was no use dwelling on that now. By using several old smugglers’ tricks and a few innovations of his own, Jack had managed to evade the man-o-war, finally loosing her in a dense gray fog after a long, two-day chase. But she had had plenty of time to get a good long look at Jack, and this made him a bit nervous.

After giving all the necessary orders, jack went to his cabin and changed from his shabby working clothes into his best rig, which at this point was still somewhat knocked about and threadbare. He donned a black cocked hat and tall, fold-over riding boots, in his typical shoregoing fashion. Then he slung his old leather baldric over his shoulder, relishing the weight of the hanger at his side, and buckled on a heavy belt from which hung a wicked sharp sheath knife. Into this belt he thrust an old German dragoon pistol, at half cock, primed and loaded.

Twenty minutes later, Jack and Malachai arrived at the rear entrance of a mid-sized storehouse on the outskirts of town. The island of New Providence was well known as a hive of pirates, thieves, murderers, and general lowlifes. And yet, after many years of lawless abandon it was beginning to show signs of civilization. Legitimate businesses sprung up along the quays, soldiers began to patrol the streets at night, and occasionally Royal Navy vessels put in to take on supplies. These improvements did not, however, extend to the section of town in which Eddy Finch’s warehouse was situated.

As the two men advanced down the dingy alleyway, they remained on the alert for any sudden movements or signs of foul play. On a scale of one to ten, Jack’s trust in Finch sat at a solid zero, and Malachai’s was even lower. They fingered their weapons as they approached, and when they were about three paces from the door it swung silently open. A large Black man stood inside holding a blunderbuss. “We been expectin’ you,” he said, scowling, and ushered the two men none-so-gently through the door.

They found themselves in a dark hallway, with a light at the far end emanating from a door sitting slightly ajar. From this doorway came low sounds of conversation. Jack couldn’t make out the words, but there was a certain self-important, businesslike tone about it, and he recognized Eddy Finch’s cockney lilt at once. Coming to the door at last, the mountainous Negro stopped and knocked. The voices abruptly ceased, and then Eddy could be heard, calling, “What the bugger is it now?”

The Black man swung open the door and took a step inside. “The Irish captain to see you, sir,” he said, his deep booming voice and thick island accent sounding menacing even when uttering such an innocuous phrase as this.

“Well it’s about bloody time. What’re you waiting for? Get their sorry arses in here!” came the reply from within.

At this, the guard stepped out and motioned threateningly with his blunderbuss at Jack to go inside. Jack entered the room, Malachai close behind. It was a small office, with a row of dirty windows lining one wall, partially shuttered for privacy, in front of which, at an absurdly overlarge and ornate writing desk, sat the miniscule, filthy, infuriatingly superior form of Eddy Finch. His arms were folded across his chest, his crumpled cocked hat pushed back on his forehead; his stocking feet were propped up on the desk, and he wore a look of such venom it almost made him look intimidating. Almost.

Jack checked his surroundings at once. Only one way out, which was the way they had come in, and this was now guarded not only by Mr. Blunderbuss, but also another, even larger Negro with a machete hanging from a rope around his bare shoulders, and two braces of pistols tucked into his belt. The only other potential exit was a small doorway to the right of Eddy’s desk leading into an even smaller room, where a clerk could be seen scribbling away in some ledger book. Even the clerk looked dangerous, and Jack saw a cocked pistol sitting at the desk in front of him, within easy reach.

Jack did not look at Malachai, but he could feel the quartermaster’s tense presence beside him. Malachai was a big man, and stood head and shoulders above Jack. The fierce, bearded Scotsman made an intimidating sight, with his cutlass at his side, his Highland dirk tucked into his boot, a long knife hanging from his belt, a brace of naval-service pistols clipped to his baldric, and God knows how many other knives, pocket pistols, and various implements of death hidden about his person. He always came prepared; Jack could certainly say that much for the man. Still, if it came to a fight, there would be no question of escape. They were outnumbered and outgunned two-to-one.

It was only then that Jack noticed the two other occupants of the room. They were unmistakably whores. Their once fine dresses with skirts hiked up, revealing ankles poorly covered by torn stockings, their too-heavy rouge and eye shadow, their scarlet lips, and their flamboyantly arranged hair left no question as to their profession. The whore on the right was clearly older than she wished it to be known, and Jack thought he saw a sore on her lip, hastily covered with makeup. But the other was young, barely in her twenties, and was not unattractive. Jack felt a slight stirring in his gut, but quickly put it down. He hadn’t seen a woman in months, but this was not the time for lustful fantasies. He needed to keep his wits about him, and besides, he had sworn off such pursuits some time ago.

In any event, the ladies appeared to be leaving. They sidled past the two mariners with wry grins, leaving Jack and Malachai alone with Eddy Finch and his small brigade of heavily armed men. “You’re late,” was all the slimy villain behind the desk said to them as the ladies exited.

“There were… complications,” Jack replied smoothly, “But nothing we couldn’t handle. We’ve got the cargo, and we’re all well and ready to complete our arrangement.”

“No, see, I don’t fink you understand me,” said Finch again, taking his feet off the desk and leaning forward to look Jack in the eye, “You’re late.

Jack sighed, irritated. “Is that a problem?”

Finch glared at him. He clearly did not care for Jack’s tone. “Well let’s see, I dunno, what do you fink? Of course it’s a goddamn problem! If you’d been on time, you mighta’ outrun this.” Finch held up a broadsheet with a large tear at the top, apparently ripped down from the wall of some pub in town. Jack read it, realization sweeping over him like ice water. “That’s right you bleeding nincompoop. They saw you. Got a nice good look at that godawful flamboyant stern gallery of yours, and came into town posting this all over the goddamn place! See here: ‘Be on the lookout for a ship of this description,’ blah blah blah, ‘thought to be the infamous pirate ship Heart of Gold captained by notorious pirate JACK FECKING MCCOOL!!!’” This last was delivered in such a high pitched roar that Jack actually found himself taking a half-step backwards as the tiny man leapt from his seat.

Jack was startled, but he recovered his wits quickly enough. “Sure it’s damned unfortunate for me, but I fail to see how they could possibly trace us back to you.”

“You don’ get it, do you? You was pullin’ illegal salvage off that wreck. They saw you doin’ it.”

“And…”

“And? And there’s a fecking brand on every one o’ them fecking barrels, ‘cos they belonged to the fecking Company, see?” At this Jack shifted uncomfortably. He’d noticed the markings, but hadn’t made a fuss over them. No one could have possibly guessed where those barrels had come from. Until now.

Eddy saw Jack flinch, and it mollified him, to a degree. He did not sit back down, but his posture relaxed just a bit. “Ah, you noticed that, did you? So what were you gonna do? Just sell ‘em off to me an’ let me swing, is that it?”

“You were the one who told us about the wreck in the first place, Finch.” Now Jack was beginning to be angry. “Besides, anyone could burn the markings off those barrels. It’s Nassau, nobody would look twice. Which makes me think it’s not really about the markings at all. Is it?”

Finch just stared at him, still nauseatingly superior, with a look on his face that screamed, “Wouldn’t you like to know?”

“We had an arrangement,” came Malachai’s voice in a low growl from beside him. The tension in the air was palpable. Jack knew Malachai well and could sense that he was on the edge of explosion, which rarely happened, but when it did it was terrifying. And it was certainly not something they could not risk here. Not in this little office, surrounded by heavily armed, merciless, killers.

Finch simply ignored the Scot and continued, speaking exclusively to Jack, “It may have been my job, but I wasn’t the one who flashed my goddamn stern at the Navy. Deal’s off.”

In a flash, Malachai’s dirk was in his hand. He took two long strides across the office, and pinned Finch to his desk. He wrenched the tiny man’s arm around behind his back and brought the dirk up so the keen edge shaved some of the stubble from Finch’s bristly neck. All of this happened in an instant, almost too quickly to see, but nonetheless Jack had his pistol out, the clerk had his own trained on Jack, the Black with the machete held one firearm in each hand, and both were pressed to the back of Malachai’s head. The only man who seemed unsure of himself was the Negro with the blunderbuss. It had just occurred to him that such a weapon was not an ideal choice for close quarters fighting. If he fired at Jack, the spreading shot might hit the clerk, whereas if he fired at Malachai he would almost certainly wound or kill Finch and his fellow guard in the process. Instead he contented himself with swinging the heavy firelock from one target to the next, never cocking it, but managing to look tolerably threatening nonetheless.

The room was deathly still, and not a breath could be heard. Jack knew someone’s nerves would inevitably snap under the pressure, and he was trying to think of a way out that might leave him at least alive, until a soft but maniacal chuckle rose from the desk. Jack was beside himself. Was the little whoreson actually laughing? He was, in fact, doing just that. The laughter grew until it filled the small space, and all the men standing there with their guns trained so fervently on one another began to feel slightly awkward. Finally Finch spoke up, in a harsh croak, “So what’re you gonna do? Kill me? You sons of bitches would be dead before you could even blink!” he laughed again, that unsettling, wheezing laugh.

“He’s right, Malachai,” said Jack, never taking his eye from the clerk. He slowly raised his pistol, pointed it towards the low ceiling, un-cocked it, and tucked it back into his belt, raising his hands in the air, “Put the dirk away. That’s an order.”

A few minutes later, a much surlier Jack, and a downright deadly Malachai walked back up the gangplank and into the waist of the Heart of Gold. They were both enraged about Finch going back on his word, but this, each reflected sullenly, was hardly surprising. The real thing upsetting the two men was each other. Jack was angry with Malachai for loosing his temper in such a dangerous way, and Malachai was angry with Jack for not letting him cut the slimy bugger’s throat then and there. Jack had pointed out that this would hardly have been prudent, as they would both now be dead, and they could not very well expect to get paid if they were dead. Malachai retorted that they were not going to get paid anyway. Since these remarks the two shipmates had marched back to their vessel in brooding, reserved silence.

As the doors to their respective cabins slammed shut, whispers began passing through the crew. What was amiss? The Captain and the Quartermaster were the best of friends – what could possibly have caused such a row? And more importantly, where were the men with the cart who were to come unload the barrels in exchange for that thing they all wished for most: ready coin. This anxious curiosity only grew keener when, a few moments later, Jack burst from his cabin, gave the order to weigh anchor and proceed to sea, then immediately locked himself back in again. Something was very wrong, and the crew of the Heart of Gold was becoming more discontented by the second.

Edited by Captain McCool

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EDIT: Okay, so I've decided to go a different direction with the second chapter by continuing James & Diego's story, rather than immediately going back to Jack et al. aboard the ship. The other bits I wrote with Jack and the officers' council is currently under HEAVY revision, as I really did not like that part at all. Plus, I have a new idea about where to take that scene that I think will breath new life into it. In the meantime, I've started this scene, but I don't exactly know where to go with it. I do know that Diego is going to have a sort of flashback so I can go into some exposition about how he and James ended up in Virginia in the first place. This will be followed by Diego being visited in his cell by a sinister fellow - possibly someone from his past - who makes some kind of threat or somesuch and implies that he (or his employer, perhaps) was the one behind the duel in the first place, and used it as a pretense to have Diego and James arrested. This will lead Diego to escape his cell and book it with James out of town, though he actually has a difficult time convincing James to escape with him, because he doesn't want to tell James about his past, and James believes they have the law on their side, since no duel was ever fought. Poor naive James...

Anyway, here it is. Thoughts?

Chapter Two

Diego sat in his cell, leaning back against the rough stone wall with its layer of green mold, a boot propped up on the rough protrusion that served for a bench, and his old broad-brimmed hat pushed forward over his eyes. He was trying to think, but thought was not coming easily. That is to say, thought was coming far too easily, filling his head so rapidly he couldn’t make out a clear path of logic. His primary reflection, however, and one which kept recurring over and over in very angry Castilian, was “What the hell just happened?”

James had been perfectly discreet in the arrangement of the duel. Surprisingly discreet in fact, for an Englishman. He hadn’t given any hint of his intentions to anyone who might have gone blabbing to the local authorities. And yet they knew. The only explanation, of course, was that Hollingsworth had never intended to senselessly risk life and limb in pursuit of honor in the first place, and had tipped off the sheriff himself or through one of his lackeys. What didn’t make sense to Diego was that no duel had actually been fought. It was ludicrous to think they should arrest not only James but his second as well for the mere intent to duel. No matter how he considered it, the situation didn’t add up, and Diego was becoming worried.

He wondered how James was faring. The boy had never been in any kind of trouble before, and Diego was very much concerned for his well-being. This jail wasn’t so bad, all things considered, but James was used to stylish drawing rooms and fashionable clubs, not dingy alleyways and questionable dockside establishments, which were no doubt the haunts of most men who had seen the inside of these cells. He wished he and the boy had been confined together. This was yet another detail that made no sense. The jail was nearly empty, with only two other inmates that Diego had seen, presumably incarcerated for drunkenness or brawling, yet the sheriff had insisted on placing James and Diego in separate quarters, at opposite ends of the jail.

The old Spaniard sighed. He had hoped never to see the inside of a cell like this again after taking up employment with the Blacks. This was his world no longer, and he wished fervently to be rid of it once and for all. Yet somehow he always managed to find himself back in these kinds of situations, wondering all the while just how he had gotten there. “I’m too old for this,” he said softly to himself in the half-light.

How had he gotten here anyway? It was a complicated question.

Edited by Captain McCool

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So that's what I've got so far. Where I'm thinking of taking the story is this (SPOILERS):

Jack is on his way to sell the cargo when he comes upon a packet bound for some West Indian port or another. Aboard this packet are James and Diego, escaping Virginia and the unpleasantness surrounding the duel. Jack's crew, not convinced that Jack will actually be able to sell the cargo in Kingston, demand they attack the packet. Jack accepts, though he knows their powder and ammunition is low, and they manage to take the ship, capturing James and Diego as prisoners.

Diego has a somewhat dark past. He is close to the Spanish Court in his youth, but he has a falling out with the aristocracy and becomes an ex-patriot, living for a while in France, then England, and eventually setting out to the West Indies, where he eventually falls in with pirates. He gives up this life, however, and returns to England, choosing to work as something of a schoolmaster and caretaker for the Black family, with whom he has ties from his previous stay in Britain. I'm also seeing him having something of a liaison with the matron, before she married Lord Black, James' father. She was a French woman herself, and also has a slightly shady past. More on that to come.

In any case, the Blacks also have a daughter, Sarah Rose, and she will come into the tale a little later on. Her end of the story involves a revenge plot and a stolen family fortune, as well as some slight bad blood between her and her brother. Basically, she has set off to the new world in search of a villainous uncle who stole their family's fortune, and along the way has become something of a lady swashbuckler. Think Lara Croft meets Anne Bonnie. I'm still working on a plot for her that comes off plausible and creditable. It's hard to do a character like this that doesn't seem contrived.

Anyway, in the end they're all going to converge, with Sarah Rose Black and Jack McCool having something of a romance hinted at, but never exactly overt. There will also be a bad pirate captain - something of a cross between Blackbeard and L'Olonnois - and likely the Black's dastardly uncle will make an appearance as well.

As for the overall plot, yes I am considering something verging on "epic," and steeped in the supernatural. I know it's been done to death, but I like those elements when they're done well. Plus, the Caribbean and Spanish Main have a lot of richness and depth in their legends and myths. The one I intend to draw upon the most for this story is the lost golden city of El Dorado. I'm also considering throwing in the Tree of Life/Fountain of Youth, similar to how it was portrayed in "The Fountain," with Hugh Jackman. The idea here would be that somehow Diego got mixed up with trying to find El Dorado back when he was a buccaneer, and maybe had had to do with some shady parts of the Spanish crown either trying to find it or trying to hide it. One way or the other, he's mixed up in it, and Sarah has somehow found out about it too. She's quite the adventuress, and is obsessed with ancient relics and legendary treasure (again, think Tomb Raider or Indiana Jones here), so she wants to go after it. Somehow Jack gets mixed up in this mess, even though he's really only looking to be a simple pirate, but the company he keeps continues to pull him into their drama. Ultimately he probably saves the day and all that, and in the end I see James setting up as a respectable doctor (oh yeah, he's a doctor), Jack sailing away into the sunset with Sarah, and maybe Diego sacrificing himself to save them all.

So that's what I've got. Please add your two bits. Criticism is welcome - I'm not looking for gushing compliments or anything. I realize that supernatural pirate stories have been pretty much done to death, but this one has been growing in my head for a long while. I will, of course, make every effort to be mindful of the actual history of the early 18th Century (I have no intentions of this being another Pirates of the Caribbean sequel) however, if there are those of you who feel this story would really read better as a strictly historical fiction piece, with no fantastical elements whatsoever, please feel free to say so. I only ask that you keep any criticism you may have constructive. Out-and-out bashing of ideas does neither you nor me any good.

Thanks!

Captain McCool

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It's very entertaining so far. Very well written, great imagery with the storm and the confrontation in Finch's office, nice character contrast between the flamboyant McCool and the dour Malachai. I loved the abrupt ending to the duel - finally, a scene that recognizes the fact that dueling was illegal and not something you wanted to get caught at! Good element of suspense regarding the mysterious contents of the barrels.

Criticism: there's some verbal flab that needs trimming. Like the "utterly" in "utterly drowned," or the "Well" in "Well, there had to be a first time for everything."

Several events strain credibility. I'm pretty sure McCool wouldn't be able to identify the Union Jack on a vessel that had only just come hull up; even with a spyglass in broad daylight, he'd be doing well to recognize a flag more than two miles away, and under these dark misty conditions it would be much harder. Also McCool's "graciousness," in sparing the crew the cat would not be appreciated, since pirate captains couldn't normally impose a flogging anyway without a vote of the majority of the crew. I'm also wondering why they just didn't deface the Company marks on the barrels, or cover them with tarpaulins, or something like that, although maybe it will make more sense once we discover what's in the barrels and what they're being used for.

I'd love to see more; so far it's been fun!

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It's very entertaining so far. Very well written, great imagery with the storm and the confrontation in Finch's office, nice character contrast between the flamboyant McCool and the dour Malachai. I loved the abrupt ending to the duel - finally, a scene that recognizes the fact that dueling was illegal and not something you wanted to get caught at! Good element of suspense regarding the mysterious contents of the barrels.

Criticism: there's some verbal flab that needs trimming. Like the "utterly" in "utterly drowned," or the "Well" in "Well, there had to be a first time for everything."

Several events strain credibility. I'm pretty sure McCool wouldn't be able to identify the Union Jack on a vessel that had only just come hull up; even with a spyglass in broad daylight, he'd be doing well to recognize a flag more than two miles away, and under these dark misty conditions it would be much harder. Also McCool's "graciousness," in sparing the crew the cat would not be appreciated, since pirate captains couldn't normally impose a flogging anyway without a vote of the majority of the crew. I'm also wondering why they just didn't deface the Company marks on the barrels, or cover them with tarpaulins, or something like that, although maybe it will make more sense once we discover what's in the barrels and what they're being used for.

I'd love to see more; so far it's been fun!

Thanks for the critique! You bring up some truly excellent points, some of which I threw in consciously, hoping people would simply overlook them (that'll teach me to underestimate my audience, heh), and some of which I didn't see at all.

The Part about the flogging never did read right to me, for several reasons, and it's likely going to be cut in the final draft. Jack doesn't exactly run the ship like a traditional pirate vessel, in many respects, however I felt even when writing it that this was pushing the limits. Mostly I was scratching away, stream-of-consciousness, and that's the first thing that came to mind.

As for the "verbal flab," I have been ripped to shreds by many an English teacher for that very habit. It's something I'll likely always have to work on, and I appreciate you pointing it out, because I never notice it on my own.

The bit about the flag now seems glaringly obvious, and I don't know why I never realized that flaw before. I'll definitely have to change it around to make it more believable. Likely it is the product of my complete lack of real-world seagoing experience, but it still seems like common sense. Thanks again for making me aware of it.

And in regards to the crates... damn, you caught me. I have no justifiable explanation for why the markings on the barrells could pose any real problem when anyone could, as you say, simply deface them. My only (admitedly weak) explanation is, that if they were defaced to hide the markings, it would be fairly obvious they were contraband. This hardly holds water though, since contraband wasn't hard to sell or buy in this period and location. The only thing that makes this work at all is if somehow the barrells contained something kind of sinister. Something that could fetch a hefty price, but that's also dangerous, and especially dangerous if it's known to be stolen.

The thought I had for this is not my own, but was borrowed from one BloodyHarry over on the Pirates Magazine forums. He suggested that they are actually full of weapons, disguised as foodstuffs, that were originally intended for some outpost, but were filched by a greedy company captain who was trying to skim a little profit off the top, as it were. Still, this doesn't exactly lend credibility to the idea that the markings ultimately cause much trouble. Dunno, I'm stumped. If you've got any ideas, I'm completely open to them.

Thanks again for the pointers!

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As regards the "Company" marks, I would suggest the marks be on the weapons themselves, rather than the crates or barrels. Barrels can be disposed of and the goods put in new packaging, before or after being taken to shore, but if the weapons themselves carry the marks, either of the Comapny, or maybe just of the Deptford or Woolwich armories, then they can at most be defaced, which leaves them still obvious contraband.

It's fine if McCool doesn't run his ship like an ordinary pirate ship, but a pirate captain can never run a ship as autocratically as a Navy or merchant captain, because he doesn't have the power of the government to back him up. One man can sometimes intimidate a whole crew, as Long John Silver did so masterfully in Treaure Island, but only up to a point; even Silver eventually got thrown over by his men. One thing you might consider is having McCool adopt a similar arrangement to Bartholomew Roberts, who divided his crew into Lords and Commons; that way, he can threaten the Commons not only with his own sword or cat, but with the weapons of all the Lords.

Two other things I wanted to mention. The name Heart of Gold will inevitably cause many readers to think of Douglas Adams' comedy book, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I don't know if that was a deliberate allusion on your part or not, but you should be aware of it.

The other thing is that it's not quite clear why Robbie Balfour ended up getting killed by the Royal Navy. If the crew didn't vote to go on the account until after Balfour died, that would suggest that Balfour wasn't himself a pirate. You mention something about his doing "less legitimate" trade practices, but smugglers wouldn't normally be fighting it out with Royal Navy warships.

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As regards the "Company" marks, I would suggest the marks be on the weapons themselves, rather than the crates or barrels. Barrels can be disposed of and the goods put in new packaging, before or after being taken to shore, but if the weapons themselves carry the marks, either of the Comapny, or maybe just of the Deptford or Woolwich armories, then they can at most be defaced, which leaves them still obvious contraband.

It's fine if McCool doesn't run his ship like an ordinary pirate ship, but a pirate captain can never run a ship as autocratically as a Navy or merchant captain, because he doesn't have the power of the government to back him up. One man can sometimes intimidate a whole crew, as Long John Silver did so masterfully in Treaure Island, but only up to a point; even Silver eventually got thrown over by his men. One thing you might consider is having McCool adopt a similar arrangement to Bartholomew Roberts, who divided his crew into Lords and Commons; that way, he can threaten the Commons not only with his own sword or cat, but with the weapons of all the Lords.

Two other things I wanted to mention. The name Heart of Gold will inevitably cause many readers to think of Douglas Adams' comedy book, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I don't know if that was a deliberate allusion on your part or not, but you should be aware of it.

The other thing is that it's not quite clear why Robbie Balfour ended up getting killed by the Royal Navy. If the crew didn't vote to go on the account until after Balfour died, that would suggest that Balfour wasn't himself a pirate. You mention something about his doing "less legitimate" trade practices, but smugglers wouldn't normally be fighting it out with Royal Navy warships.

You're right about the weapons, and I like the thought. Perhaps the markings on the barrels indicate that the contents will be similarly marked? Honestly, I'm just flogging around for any explanation at this point. I only used the markings as a means of moving the dialogue along.

And I do like the "Lords and Commons" approach. I’ve always tried to model Jack (both when I am playing him personally, and when I am writing him in fiction) somewhat after Roberts. He was my kind of pirate. As mentioned before though, that whole chunk of dialogue will likely be thrown out altogether in the final draft.

As for Balfour, no he was no pirate, but he had engaged in activities that verged very close on piracy, and he was certainly a smuggler. I intend to flesh out the story of his demise as the narrative progresses. Right now, my thought is that he was carrying extremely illicit goods, possibly for a very dangerous client, and when the naval vessel tried to board him and make an inspection, he chose to run for it, despite lacking the advantage of the wind or the firepower necessary to fight off the other vessel. A fight ensued, with the naval vessel decimating Balfour's crew, and killing Balfour himself. Towards the end, however, a couple lucky shots from the Heart of Gold felled the Navy ship's mainmast and disabled her rudder, allowing Jack and the remaining crew to limp to safety.

And yes, I am aware of the Heart of Gold in Douglass Adams' Hitchhiker series, but my naming the ship that was not meant as an allusion to Adams' work. I actually took the name from the title of an episode from the short-lived sci-fi television show, Firefly. At the time, I had entirely forgotten the name of the ship in The Hitchhiker's Guide. While I'm aware that some may draw a connection here, I've grown attached to the name, and I feel it nicely represents the essence of Jack McCool and his band of sea-robbers. If people choose to make that connection, so be it, but it wasn't the intent. Just like "McCool" wasn't meant to be a pun. I guess I just have a knack for choosing unfortunate names.

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EDITS!

Okay, so I took a lot into consideration from Daniel's wonderful critiques, and I did a little revision. Mostly I tried to cut down on the wordiness (rather unsuccessfully, I fear), I fleshed out some parts of the prologue that I thought felt rushed, and I tried to make both the lookout's description of the man-o-war and the explanation of the markings on the barrels more logical.

Oh yes... the barrels...

Okay, so I know as I've mentioned before repeatedly that it's been done to death, but I'm leaning very heavily towards the supernatural at this point in the story. Keeping this in mind, I think I've come up with an idea for what's in the casks...

CAUTION: SPOILER AHEAD!

Water. All the barrels contain plain old water. Or at least, when the crew gets pissed off and actually opens the casks, that's what they think. In actual fact, it is the Water of Life.

The idea here is that they're being shipped back to the Old World for one reason or another, as some kind of proof of the lost city of El Dorado and the Fountain of Youth (which I have decided to combine into one myth). In any case, when the crew gets pissed off and re-stows the barrel they opened, a bit of water falls to the deck and promptly sprouts a twig with some leaves. But no one notices, because at that moment is when the ship with Diego and James is spotted, and the new growth gets trampled in the ruckus. The big reveal is when James is tending to some wounded men (possibly in a fight with the "evil pirates" who have yet to make their appearance, or possibly the Royal Navy) and needs fresh water to clean the wounds. A crewman brings up one of the barrels, thinking it's just plain old water, and when James uses it to clean the wounds they all miraculously heal.

Sooooo... Yes, I know the next Pirates of the Caribbean movie is going to be about the Fountain of Youth. Based on that information, does anyone think I should make all sail on the complete OPPOSITE tack? Or should I go ahead with it? Thing is, this is the only plotline I've contemplated so far that actually makes some kind of sense to bring all these characters and story elements together.

Thoughts? Questions? Suggestions? Concerns? Etc?

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It sounds interesting. Supernatural is not my style, but it can be done well. I think it's harder to pull off in a novel than on the big screen, though.

When you introduce the supernatural to a real-world setting (you already have Cuba, Nassau, Virginia, etc.) you have to be careful to do it in such a way that you can still believe in the existence of that world. The background and rules of the supernatural elements have tobe carefully thought out. Has the Fountain of Youth always been there? Has it been there a longer time, or shorter, than El Dorado? Since the waters of the Fountain can be transported without losing their potency, why don't the El Doradans (if they still exist) sell it to their neighbors? They have the most valuable commodity in the world; potentially it should be them, and not the Europeans, who dominate the Earth. Does everybody in El Dorado live a very long time, or are the waters reserved for the elite? Does one drink of the water restore youth, or do you need more of it all the time? Can it bring the dead back to life? If it can resurrect you, what keeps the population of El Dorado from reaching the billions? If it can't, does everybody in El Dorado live in constant fear of violent or accidental death, since it's the only thing that can kill them? These are the sorts of questions you have to consider, and answer believably, to write a good supernatural story. If you do a good job of it, your story will almost certainly be different enough from POTC 4 to be worthwhile.

Some minor points: I would say that the black's blunderbuss was not ideal for "the situation" rather than not ideal for close-quarter fighting. Blunderbusses are great for close-quarter fighting; you can put down two or three enemies at once with them and hardly ever miss. But it is inconvenient if your friends are in the line of fire. That's the real problem here.

The rope "around the shoulders" of the larger of Finch's minions doesn't sound right to me. If it's actually around both shoulders, wouldn't it cross his throat, and thus be usable to choke him?

One small point during the storm: I think it was standard practice to put at least two men on the wheel during a storm, rather than have the master stand at the helm alone. There's a memorable picture in Harland of the wheel taking control during a storm, crushing one of the helmsmen to the deck while throwing the other into the air.

I like the good use of period language you have, like "crowding" on sail, or where the captain "clapped" onto the lifeline, or "eating the wind." For that exact reason, I would avoid capitalizing "negro," "native" or "black," all of which are 20th-21st century style.

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Okay folks, it's been quite a loooooong while since I've worked at all on this story, but recently (inspired by National Novel Writer's Month) I have written a little more and done a lot of revision and editing. I would like to put it up on the forums again in the near future, but I don't presently have a lot of time to edit all the italics tags, etc. (not to mention making the story "board safe" as far as profanity is concerned), so instead, for the present, I am going to post links to the story as it is posted over on DeviantArt.com, and if you'd like you can leave any comments on it here or over there, whichever you prefer. Cheers!

Prologue:

http://manveruon.deviantart.com/gallery/24330721#/d2ikqk3

Chapter One:

http://manveruon.deviantart.com/gallery/24330721#/d2ikv47

Chapter Two:

http://manveruon.deviantart.com/gallery/24330721#/d2ikvsd

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