Margaret was sitting quietly at the helm as Thom steered his ship. Malcolm was taking a nap and Mrs McCarthy was in Thom’s cabin, fussing over his disorganised items.
Thom sighed, “Margaret?”
She kicked his leg and laughed.
“Oi!” he said, shuffling slightly away from her.
“I want to do something!”
“Then go do somethin’.”
“But what should I do?”
Thom paused, “Sleep?”
“I’m not tired.”
“I’m not hungry.”
“I’m not desperate.”
He took off his hat and put it on her head, the afternoon sun making his light hair gleam, “Go and sing with the lads.”
“I’m not in a sing-songy mood.”
Thom rolled his eyes and turned the wheel, “Come and help me, then. I’ll show you how.”
She smiled and got up to take the wheel. Thom stood back slightly, still gripping the spokes as Margaret turned the wheel and Thom tried to guide it.
“Will you tell me a story?” she asked, making sharp turns.
Thom grunted, “What kind o’ story?”
“About… about you?”
He scoffed, “I’ve no stories o’ myself, Maggie.”
“Have you ever seen a pretty mermaid?”
“Some say they ‘ave. But I’ve ne’er seen one. And they aren’t always nice,” he said, yawning, “Legend has’t that they pull sailors outta their ships and drown ‘em for food.”
Margaret’s face blanched, and she looked up at Thom, “They do that? That’s not very nice.”
“No,” Thom snorted, “But like I said, I’ve ne’er seen one.”
“I hope we don’t ever see one if they’re that mean.”
There was a long pause, the soft sound of the waves and the murmurs of the singing pirates being the only things filling the silence.
“I’ve a story for ye, Maggie,” said Thom.
“Aye,” he said, “But I’ll have t’ask ye t’sit down, please.”
She sat back down and waited.
“They’re once was a man named Edward Thatch.”
“No. Th-atch. With a hard ‘ta’ in the beginning. He used t’be a privateer, a sailor when Spain and England were at war.”
“Spain and England were at war?” said Margaret, surprised.
“Are ye gonna let me tell the story or not?”
“When the war was o’er, Thatch didn’t like the fact that our German King George took the British throne. So he stole a galley – and a fine galley’t was. He called it The Queen Anne’s Revenge – after our British Queen Anne. He made his home on the island o’ Nassau with another man named Benjamin Hornigold. Thatch was a fearsome man, he was. I remember him. He was tanned and tall. As broad as our Malcolm. He had a big black beard and liked t’wear twelve pistols in his belt.”
“Twelve pistols, Tom? That’s a lot!”
Thom looked amused, “Aye, it is.”
“Did you meet him?”
“I ne’er talked wi’ him. But I saw him, and his galley.”
“Did you run away?”
“No, Maggie,” Thom laughed, “You see, Thatch was a man that was nice to… his own people. I was his own people, so he left me alone. He like t’steal… Spanish ships, but he didn’t like killin’ people. He used t’scare his enemies. Like really scare them, Maggie.”
“It’s not nice to steal, Tom… Why did he do that?”
“Because…” Thom paused, “because the Spanish had taken stuff from him,” he told her, feeling bad. He wondered for a moment how his step-mother would react if Margaret told her the story, “But anyway – I was told that he used t’put slow burnin’ fuses in his hat and in his big black beard, t’appear the Devil – so that his enemies were too scared t’fight him.”
“Didn’t his hair catch fire?”
“I s’pose it did,” Thom laughed, “But I’ll ne’er know for sure. He used t’drink his rum wi’ half a cup o’ gunpowder too. And one time, he locked his crew below deck, whilst fire and brimstone burnt on top. He wanted to see who was the most fit.”
“He sounds like a madman to me.”
“He probably was, a little bit. But… he stopped for a while. He’d become old and he’d stopped. But they came for him anyway and killed him and his crew.”
“Who came for him?”
Thom paused, “…People, Maggie. I’m not entirely sure who,” Hornigold, Thom thought to himself, Hornigold sold the man out, “But he fought valiantly. T’the death. His last words memorable ones, I’m told.”
“What did he say?”
He gave Margaret a sad look, “In a world without gold, we might have been heroes.”
“Captain!” cried Malcolm. Thom hadn’t noticed that he’d come out of his cabin, “Captain! It’s Jenkins! Jenkins is a-comin’!”
The rest of deckhands looked confused at the quarter-master’s outcry. Thom waited for Malcolm to walk up to the helm and moved away to allow the sailor to steer the ship for him. He took out his spyglass and searched the sea, seeing The Grudge approach. Jenkins’s ship was a brig like his own. If Thom was lucky, it wasn’t as well-equipped for a fight as The Tinker’s Curse.
“Captain?” said Malcolm in a worried fashion, “What should we do?”
“We meet him,” Thom said, “Turn the ship around and ram that bastard.”