Letter of Marque

Okay, I had a complete change of thought on the story, moving it forward for better historical representation.

Anyway, enjoy:

"The year is 1711. With Great Britain plunged into the War of Spanish Succession, the country faces more enemies from all sides. But with the Royal Navy chasing down fleets of French and Spanish vessels, the country’s trade routes are left unattended, vulnerable to pirates and pillagers alike.

Across the entirety of the British Empire, hundreds of converted merchant ships set out under the title of Privateer. Commanded by hardy seafarers, and crewed by veterans and novices alike, they seek a mutual goal: to serve under the British crown.

With his father’s death still a mystery to him, Edmund Randolph join his ship, the Emerald Night, to embark on a mission to retrace the steps of history that time forgot. "

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9. Stories,

   Edmund stood with his hands clasped behind his back, once again watching as the waves created pretty patterns in the wake of the vessel, when a sequence of knocks pounded on the cabin doors.

   “Yes?” He knew who it was to be, and thus was not surprised to see the contours of James’ face appear in the sunlight which pierced the cracks of the ceiling, “Ah-ha, the man himself.”

 

   “Sir?” The young boy carried the large book in his arms once again, and turned himself around to meander past the door without using his hands, before walking towards the table, “I have everything here for you.”

   Upon the book, a few pieces of parchment, riddled with numbers and letters scribbled in the lads regal handwriting, were taken off before he placed them upon the table.

   After Edmund took his seat, James followed in suit, handing him a few of the notes.

 

   “I’ve been making some calculations, Sir.” He started again, “You may have noticed me earlier, at the gunwall.”

   “I did, yes.” Edmunds face was smiling, and his eyes wandered across the pages, trying to make some sense of the symbols, “What does it all mean, James?”

   “I do beg my pardon.” The navigator replied, “The top half shows the calculations for the speed of the vessel. I made three separate tests, and all seemed to point towards the same area of speed.”

   “Which is?” Edmund waited in anticipation, unable to read the numbers himself.

   “With the wind in our favour, we area reaching speeds of around eighteen to twenty knots.”

 

   Edmund was speechless. Never in all his life had heard of a ship reaching those speeds. A fortuitous series of happy thoughts raced through his mind.

   They were making history.

 

   “That’s quite amazing, might I say.” He finally remarked after a minute’s silence, “How long do you expect ‘til we reach Newfoundland?”

   “If the wind’s in our favour, about three days.” James smiled, and opened the book to reveal a large map, detailing the settlements on the American Main, “We should reach Cape Broyle first. It’s just west of St. John’s, and should give us sufficient time to ready ourselves.”

   “That sounds a good plan.” Edmund answered, “Where it is in relation to Cape Catherine? That’s where we’ll meet the Topaz and the Vanguard.”

 

   As detailed by the orders Edmund had received alongside the letter of marque, First Lord of the Admiralty John Leake had explained that the Topaz and Vanguard – two battle-hardened schooners – were to meet the Emerald in the aforementioned bay.

   With the enemy flotilla numbering one brig and two gunboats, this would hopefully prove sufficient to deal with them.

   But in order to reap the greatest reward the Admiralty offered, the Jean-Marie would have to be boarded, and Edmund would use his extra men to crew the ship home.

   However, there was no telling whether more ships had joined the flotilla since the writ was issued, nor if the Jean-Marie was still blockading the port at all.

 

   “I believe it to be a few miles west of Cape Broyle, Sir.” James responded. Studying each and every map within his cabin, the boy’s memory was now a neatly ordered cupboard.

   “Very well.” The captain seemed happy, and emitted a wide smile from his face as slowly, the doors to the cabin were pushed open. “Oh, I’ve been thinking, James.” He continued, though in reality it was only a spur-of-the-moment thought, “Would it be better for us to stop at Boston or New York.”

   “Well, Sir.” James began again, “It is my belief that it would be of far more convenience for us to stop at New York.”

 

   He opened the book and turned to one of the maps, where sketches and lines were drawn in pencil.

   The voyage so far was plotted, with dates marking the arrival and departure of the Emerald at the respective ports, and a future route had been constructed along the Main, with tell-tale signs of correction.

   “How so?” Edmund asked, for he had no preference over the two. Boston was closer to St. Johns, but New York was in turn closer to Kingston.

   “Well,” Once again, a glittering, infectious smile loomed over the lad and his shadowy face as he relished the chance to explain, “It has to be known, that Boston has undergone at least six outbreaks of smallpox over the last decade, Sir. Staying there could mean any number of the crew could catch it.”

   “That certainly seems a fair point.” The captain chuckled, rubbing the stubble which grew on his chin. Even a few days without shaving had already caused an itch to persist, “How long is it from St. Johns?”

   “About two days.” The navigator informed with pride, running his finger along the line joining the two settlements, “We can rest up in the town for the night, but we must stop again before Spanish Florida.”

 

   Seized by numerous conquistadors in the name of the Spanish Empire, Florida was certainly one of the most dangerous places to pass for an Englishman. The coasts were defended by numerous forts and countless sentries, and the major towns were certainly out of bounds.

   There was no point in straying too far from the coast, though. Providing the fastest winds, and frequent trade routes to encloak oneself in, the coastal waters still seemed the best choice for the Emerald.

   It was just a case of having to grin and bear it, as Edmunds mother would always say.

 

   “Where would you recommend we stop?” Edmund inquired.

   “I suggest Charlestown.” James answered, pointing to a small circled settlement on the map, on the coast of the area labelled South Carolina, “Its centred on the confluence of two rivers, and would be ideal to restock on food, armaments and water.”

   “That sounds like a very well-thought plan, James.” The captain certainly approved the idea, and reached for the oak pitcher of water on the table to his right, “Say, James, would you care for a drink?” He offered.

   “I would love one, thank you Sir.” The lad replied, and two of the tankards upon the table were filled almost to the brim.

 

   Taken from a spring not too far from Southampton, the Emerald was stocked with enough water for two weeks, and would need to be replenished when they made landfall in Newfoundland.

   In his role as Boatswain, Hans had collaborated with Francisco to store the casks at the bow of the ships gun deck. Along with a dozen chickens – giving a decent supply of eggs – and various stores of both food and supplies, a congregation of barrels had emerged.

   Each one was flavoured with half a dozen whole peeled lemon – to help prevent scurvy – and was dished out to the crew when asked for, meaning it was quite favoured over the classic issue of spirits at hand.

 

   Both men took a sip of the refreshing water, before Edmund spoke once again.

   “James?” He asked.

   In the midst of drinking, the boy merely hummed in a questioning tone.

   “Where exactly are you from, if you don’t mind me asking?”

   “A place called Bungay, Sir. On the border of Norfolk and Suffolk.” He answered once he had finished his drink, and filled the cup up with more of the water, “I only lived there ‘til I were three.”

   “And where did you move to?” Edmund continued, trying not to step on anything too personal, “I assume a seafaring town?”

   “Portsmouth, Sir.” He replied, rustling the captain’s fancies, “My father was Midshipman on the Whitehaven, so my mother saw it fit to move closer to him.”

   “The Whitehaven?” Edmund had heard much about the ship. Fighting off scores of enemies along the St. Lawrence River, and defeating a hardy French foe at Port Royal, Acadia in 1697, “That ship had a reputation. I imagine your father earned his place?”

 

   James merely nodded, and sat in deep brooding, “He certainly did, thank you Sir.” He looked solemn and grave, “Unfortunately, the dammed French got to him in the end.”

   “He passed away?” The captain nearly choked as he attempted to swallow another sip, as this riveting story unfolded, “I’m so sorry I asked.”

   “It’s no bother.” The boy replied, “I was only young when he fell. All I remember is the smartly dressed man coming to the door.” He sat and dreamed for a while, and a stray tear came upon his cheek, “It’s nice to reminisce of him once in a while.”

   “And what about your mother? Don’t tell me your alone in the world?”

   “I’m afraid so.” Edmund heard the words he dreaded. “Mother died a couple of months after father. She always wanted to join him, but sickness caught up to her before the angels.

   I lived on my own until I came to Southampton. That’s where I saw the advertisement for your ship, so I decided to do what I had always dreamed.”

   “And how lucky we are to have you aboard, James.” The captain cheered, raising his glass to be toasted alongside James’, “Answer me this, though.”

   “Anything, Sir.”

   “Why didn’t you join the Royal Navy?”

 

   It was a question Edmund – and Charles for that matter – had always wanted to ask him. Such a bright young lad would certainly have a better career in the Navy, than with a lone privateer.

   “I don’t like wearing uniforms, for a start.” James chuckled, pulling his tricorne down, “This hat, it was my fathers, and I have worn it ever since I was given it. No doubt, if I had joined the Navy, they rob me of it.”

   “That’s true.” Edmund agreed, “But you’d earn a lot more money. We merely take what we can find, but the Navy, it’s a fixed rate. Just imagine sailing with the explorers, or on a warship.”

   “With respect, Sir.” Again, contrary to the shy, nervous lad Edmund had seen so far, the boy spoke with such indolence, such languor, that it seemed the two were best friends, “A man of my age would probably be drafted as a cabin boy or powder monkey.”

   There was nothing Edmund could answer to that. More often than not, it was the upper-class gents which were given any rank above swabbie, and unless James could prove himself, it would be years on the deck before even the notion of his skill could be caught by the highfalutin captain.

 

   “Well, everything seems to be in order.” Edmund gave another glance at the map, “I must say, I am very impressed by it, James.”

   “Thank you, Sir. I certainly aim to please.” He reacted with a bright grin, “But I must take my leave, for I have much to plan now that the route has been finalized. I will leave the rutters here, Sir. I am sure you will find them interesting.”

   “Of course.” The captain stood up, and shook the young lads hand with a force of rapport, before the boy moved towards the door, “Thank you.”

 

   As he headed for the doors, Hans, standing tall and stiff as a tree, held it open as James ducked under his outstretched arm.

   “Sir?” His bold German voice was heard all around, “The castaways have awoken. Shall I bring them in?”

   “Please do, Hans.” Edmund retorted, filling all four cups upon the table with water as a booming voice bellowed throughout the ship.

   “Come on lads!” Hans called to an invisible entity, hidden by the jamb, “Lively now!”

   In through the doors came a completely different trio of men to which Edmund had witnessed a while earlier. As short as their nap may have been, it had certainly rejuvenated the lot of them.

   Coming to the table opposite the captain, the leader of the group removed his tricorne, and was graced with a handshake as he spoke.

 

   “Captain Tivetshall of the merchant sloop Halifax, Sir.” With his hat held to his chest, he and the other two saluted to the captain, who gave a quick gesture back before they seated themselves, “These are two of my deckhands: Blake and Ford.”

   “It’s a pleasure to have you aboard.” Edmund said in turn to introduce himself, “My name is Edmund Randolph, and this is my cruiser, the Emerald.”

   “Thank you for the rescue.” Tivetshall replied as the other two gazed around the cabin in awe, “We weren’t sure which nation you were. You could have left us for dead.”

   “We thought we was done for.” Blake added in a sombre tone.

 

   “So, tell me…” Edmund began as he filled up each man’s tankard – left over from the last drink – with still water from the jug, “Are you sailors of the Royal Navy?”

   “Quite the contrary, Sir.” The other Captain replied, taking a sip of his water in a bout of crisp, cool freshness, “We’re merchants, my friend.”

   Edmunds eyes flared with wonder.

   “Merchants?” He asked for confirmation.

   Edmund had not heard of lone trading vessels crossing the ocean. With the war raging all around, civilian ships were advised to group together with the Navy in order to fend off would-be attackers.

   “Aye, Sir.” The man replied, “We’ve been running under my own company for twenty-six years now, and never had we come across a foe alone.”

   “Alone?” Edmund was once again shocked. As large as the world’s seas were, corsairs and pirates plagued every known piece.

   “Aye.” The monosyballic reply was once again uttered by the man, “We’ve never had the need for protection.” He took another swig of his drink, before changing the subject, “And what about you, Sir?”

 

   Edmund finished his drink before speaking, “A soldier of fortune, my friend.”

   “As in a corsair?” All three men looked with wondrous intent as the captain nodded to Tivetshall’s question, and once again a bout of silence ensued.

   “Like Captain Kid himself…” Blake muttered, and Edmund smiled in return.

   “Precisely.” He answered, “My father was a commander in the Royal Navy about a dozen years ago. When he passed away, I decided to –”

   “Excuse my interruption, Sir,” Tivetshall broke in quickly, holding his hand out for extra politeness, “But you wouldn’t be talking about William Randolph, by any means.”

   “Indeed I am.” Suddenly, interest rid him of any train of thought, and he leaned forward in marvel, “You knew him?”

   “He was a good friend during my time in the navy…” The man began.

 

   And soon enough, Edmund was once again a young child, listening to the stories of some great mariner.

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