Crimson waves danced in Morley’s eye as the metallic crunch of the flintlock’s hammer bounced off the walls of the damp cavern. The captain stood proudly at the base of his prize, yet his face flushed with rage. He clutched a fistful of gold with pride in one hand, the brazen weapon aimed towards the fleeting dinghy with the other. He stood motionless, his mind fighting an internal battle of rage and complacency, as he watched the small boat shrink on the horizon.
“Don’t waste the shot, cap’n. You’ve only got the one.”
Morley’s finger tightened against the hair-thin trigger as the words slithered into his ears. With the sights held steady on the drifting target, he turned his heated gaze to the raspy source: a scrawny man, thin as bones, sat below him on the cavern floor, nursing a large gash in his chest. “Oh?”
“You’ve only the one,” the man repeated before meeting the captain’s gaze. “There’s six of ‘em on the boat. It’d take a miracle to hit ‘em all.”
“Aye,” the boney man grimaced as he returned his attention towards his wound. Growing annoyed by the red liquid leaking from his breast, he ripped off a hunk of his blood-stained shirt and jammed the makeshift rag into the oozing hole. “A real act o’ God, I’d say. And I don’t reckon he listens much ta the likes of us. But I dunno. Maybe you’ll get lucky.”
“Aye, cap’n,” the man continued, hoisting himself up from the cavern floor and cracked his long thin neck. “Luck might be on yer side, but ye still have to account for the fact that you might miss entirely.”
“Miss?” Morley’s face grew hotter with each word the man uttered. His finger itched upon the trigger, impatient in its wait for its master’s call.
“Could happen. Would take a mighty impressive shot to hit em, sir. It’s merely a pistol, ya know. Not like ye got a rifle or somethin’. Ye only got that there flint, and they’re a ways off.” The man leaned out the cavern window, shielding his eyes from the beating sun, and mentally calculated the distance of the dinghy. “That’s more than just a couple yards, cap’n. And they’re gettin’ further away with each second.”
“Is that so?”
“Aye,” the man whistled before pushing himself away from the opening. Pleased with the advice he had given, a satisfied smile covered the man’s face. “So, as I said before, don’t miss.”
“Miss?” Morley chuckled, lowering the flintlock from the dinghy and setting the sights on his new target. “I don’t think I will.”
“… And he was never heard from again.”
“That can’t be the ending! How did he escape?”
“It’s just a story, Peter,” Diane replied, kissing the child on the forehead as the book snapped shut. “Get some sleep.”
“But Mad Eye Morley was the greatest pirate to live!” Peter exclaimed, leaping upright and flailing his pudgy arms about in an invisible sword fight. “He can’t just be stranded on some island!”
“Shh. That’s enough,” Diane hushed, her thin lips quivering in a vain attempt not to smile. She tucked the child in one last time before lifting herself from the bed and headed for the door.
“… Them bloody traitors,” the child muttered under his breath. He flipped his body away from the door and pulled the sheet close to his chin. “I’d have the lot of ‘em walk the plank!”
Diane’s back slumped against the thin batten door as it closed behind her. Her slender fingers ran along the frail skin of her face and through the auburn curls of her hair. Her emerald eyes widened and her cheeks flushed pink. Her lips twirled and her soft giggle filled the dimly lit room.
“That boy and his imagination.”
Diane’s smile grew larger as the words danced in her ears. “He’s a good kid,” she said, making her way across the creaky floorboards and taking a seat next to her father in the parlor. “Probably gets these grand ideas from his pop.”
“Bah,” the old man snorted, a puff of creamy white smoke exploding from his nostrils, the cloud hovering in the stale salt-filled air. A thin straight-paneled dublin bobbed between the man’s weathered lips, the small ember illuminating each wrinkle upon his face. “Most likely got them from those stories you keep reading him.”
“The same stories you read to me,” Diane corrected.
“Is that so?” A twinkle formed in the man’s eye as he looked at his daughter with admiration. He ran the tip of his finger along the chiseled edge of his pipe, puffing along in thought. “It’s about time you had a youngin’ of your own, wouldn’t you say?”
“What?” The syllable exploded from Diane’s lips as her brow narrowed in confusion.
Her father’s eyes softened at the response. He lowered the pipe from his lips and offered a grin. “All I’m suggesting is that it is time to start thinking of your own interests. Time is a fickle beast that waits for no one.”
Diane shifted in her seat, finding her chair rather uncomfortable with this particular conversation. “Where is this coming from? I thought you needed my help with Peter.”
The old man’s grin faded, his gaze turning firm. He bit back his lip in protest. His fingers danced about the bowl of his pipe as he contemplated his next words carefully.. “I appreciate everything you have done for the boy. But he is no longer a bae and you are not his mother. It is time to think of yourself.”
“I have thought for myself!” Diane huffed, the tension in her voice raising. “He will be home soon.”
“I know,” the man’s words fell silent, his attention falling back to the dublin balanced in his hand, the ember now faded to a soft cinder. He brought the rod back to his lips, fanning the flame with two fingers in a vain effort to breathe life back to the dying ember.
Two sharp raps on wood broke the unnerving tension that had filled the room. “Were we expecting company?” Diane asked, glancing at her father in confusion.
“I don’t believe so,” the old man said, hoisting himself from his chair with a grunt. “It’s a bit late for company.” He placed the smoldering pipe atop the mantle before hobbling over to the door, his cane clipping across the floorboards as he shuffled along. Frost filled the room as the man opened the door to reveal two men in uniform standing outside. “Can I help you, gentlemen?”
“Is this the home of Miss Diane Seegar?” the stout man of the pair asked. He lowered the scarlet cavalier from atop his head and clutched it close to his chest, his fingers dancing uneasily along the brim.
“Aye. I’m her father. What business do you have with her?”
“I’m sorry to report, sir,” the man on the right interjected. His nose twitched furiously with discomfort as he reached into the breast pocket of his coat and pulled a waxed envelope from within. “The Ivory Lilly is no more.”
“What is this you speak of? No more?”
“Pirates!” the stout man enthusiastically proclaimed, his voice echoing throughout the still night. Realizing the level of enthusiasm was higher than intended, his face ripened to that of a burgundy tomato.
“Yes,” his comrade continued, shooting a glance of disapproval at his embarrassed partner. “Pirates attacked the ship. They took the cargo the crew was transporting from the East. The Ivory Lilly was not much of a vessel. Bastards sank it as they left.” The man’s hands trembled as he handed the father the sealed parchment. His lips quivered in fear as the following words stuttered to escape. “They left no survivors.”
“I see.” The color faded from the old man’s eyes as the words fell from his lips. He clutched the parchment close to his chest, his thumb slowly tracing the wet wax of the delicate seal. He nodded his respects as he backed slowly inside the small cottage. “Thank you,” his voice broke as the door swung shut.
“What was that about?” Diane asked before the old man could turn. “What did they want?”
“I’m sorry, darling.” The man’s cane quivered in his hands as he hobbled towards his daughter. “I’m so sorry.”
Candlelight flickered across the parchment as a hardened finger paced across the dotted markers, slowly tracking the narrow trail. Where are you? The sullen captain withdrew a compass from his pocket and placed it upon the vellum page, his gaze still locked on the faded lines.
“Cap’n! You’re gonna want to see this!”
With a grumble, the captain rose from his seat. “What is it this time?” he muttered with a scowl before making his way to the door. A grim, musty scent of scorched wood greeted the man before he had completed his journey. He stopped his advance mid-step, twirling on his heels to peer out the cabin window behind him. A blanket of thick black smoke had settled atop the churning sea, engulfing the air around the ship. How did I not notice this?
The captain spun back around and flew to the exit, flinging the door open and thrusting himself into the chaos that had erupted aboard the ship. His crew scuttled about the deck in a frenzy, screaming of ominous omens and bad luck. A group of the men had splinted off from the rest, having hoisted themselves over the side of the hull, greedily reaching out to pull what soot covered trinkets they could reach from the wreckage below.
“Shipwreck cap’n!” A squat man proclaimed, sprinting towards his leader. “Mighty big ‘un too. Looks like they took down a small fleet. There are at least two sloops down there. A frigate, too. Blew ’em right ta pieces, they did.”
Three ships? The bewildered captain stood motionless, observing the wreck in awe.
“The crew is getting nervous, sir. Who’ver blew up these vessels can’t be far. The smoke is still fresh. If they can take down these vessels, what’s stopping them from takin’ down ours?”
Who could have caused this wreckage?
“What do we do, captain?”
“What we do...” A dark figure floating atop the nearby debris caught the captain’s gaze. He rushed to the side of the hull, peering out into the darkness of the hanging cloud. “Benson! My glass!”
“Aye!” the squat man jumped to action, spinning about and darting off to the cabin door. A moment passed before the man leapt back onto the deck, huffing and puffing to catch his breath. “Your glass, sir,” he wheezed, handing the captain a brass spyglass, patinated from years’ worth of work in the harsh environment.
“Man overboard!” A voice wailed from atop the crow’s nest. “Cap’n! I think he’s breathing!”
“Sir, do we take him aboard?” The squat man gasped as the captain extended the metal contraption and brought it to his eye.
The captain quickly searched out his target, locking his sight on a damp mass of cloth, hair, and skin clinging to the charred debris. The mass was relatively still. Only the closest observation could discern a slight bob of the husk inhaling and expelling air.
“Sir?” Benson repeated, looking to his captain for an answer.
“Ay, Benson,” the captain firmly replied, lowering the glass from his eye and snapping it shut. “Bring him aboard. He’ll have our answers...”
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