Letter of Marque

1651, The commonwealth of England is gripped with war against many of the worlds greatest nations. With a scattered parliament and many colonies across the span of the earth, the defence of the seas lies with those referred to as "Privateers". With a letter of marque, Edmund Randolph sets out across the Atlantic with a small team of experienced sailors, hoping to secure his chances of a victory against the French, Dutch and Spanish pirates which plague the Americas. But a different cause grips him from inside, a chance to clear up a history which has his family torn apart.


5. The Last Leg

   “Fernando, I call your bluff.”


   Edmund slowly awoke to Hans’ voice, calling to his fellow shipmate as the sun glistened through the windows to the docks, and once more a new day arose to the men.

   It was, Edmund considered for a moment, as if these men had continued to play the same game all throughout the night, but their spirited and sprightly status told him otherwise.

   “Ha!” The man slowly tilted his cup to reveal his hand. Five dice, three of which bore the number one, were sitting underneath, “I win again!” He turned towards Edmund.

   “Good morning.” A pleasant yawn came from the Captain. He had finally come to his senses.


   Fully recovered from the occurrence that came about the previous day, he rose from his seat, and stretched his arms, before sitting back down.

   He still could only think of that dammed Spaniard, though.

   His foul mouth. The invectives and vituperations bit and flayed like steel whips on that evening, spoiling the mood, and the evening altogether.

   But now, that was over, behind him. Today was a new day, a new day to set new goals, new objectives.


   “Right.” Charles sighed as another game was finished, “I think that’s us done for now. Shall we make for the ship, Captain?”

   “You three go back to the docks.” He tried to sound as kind as possible, “I’ll return the dice, and also try to pay the man for his services.”

   “Are you sure?” Fernando replied. Without a guard, Edmund’s life could have seriously been at risk, even with the short walk from the tavern to the jetty.

   “Quite sure.” Edmund was forthcoming in his response, “Charles, make sure everyone is ready to set off as soon as we give the signal.”

   “Of course, Sir!”


   The trio of men waltzed through the tables and chairs, somewhat strewn and splayed across the floor, before turning left outside the open doors. Edmund took the cups in one hand, and the dice in the other, sighing to himself.

   Another day over. Now, it was straight to Newfoundland, to sink the French pirates to the depths.

   The thought dwelled on him for a brief moment as he walked calmly to the counter. Edmund “The Raven” Randolph and his crew, their names plastered across posters in all the major cities of the world, proclaiming his crew to be the best in the world. That would be his dream.


   “There we are, Sir.” He placed the dice and the glasses together on the counter.

   “Obrigado, my friend.” The man turned from the back bar, replacing the old bottles with newer, fuller ones, “Did you win?”

   “I didn’t play.” Edmund chuckled back, “I preferred to sleep.”

   “Ah!” He laughed, as his brash attitude of the night before melted like a spring frost, “I take it you’re off today?”

   “Yes.” Edmund removed his coin purse from his coat, away from the barkeeps sight, “We’re off to Canada.”

   “Canada?” His brow bent like a cliff at the mention of such a faraway place, “Why?”

   “We have some business to settle with a couple of French frigates.”

   “I see.” Once again the man grabbed yet another glass, fresh from washing, and tumbled it in his clothed hands, wiping it clean with the rag.

   “Look,” The captain placed a few gold coins on the surface of the counter, and pushed them towards the opposite side, “I thank you most kindly for the amenities your tavern has provided us, but for now I must wish you farewell.” He gave no time for the man to retort or refuse.

   “…Thank you.” He merely responded, wiping the coins away into his hands, “Good luck my dear friend.”


   The sun blinded Edmund as he exited onto the road, so much that he had to shield his eyes again with his hand as he scanned the bay for his ship.

   It was too much like Southampton for its dense wharf. Left…or was it right? His initial thoughts were confirmed as he saw the ensign of the English cross, raised upon the mast of his ship a little way to his left.

   Unlike Southampton, there were no horses trundling along the road, which made the journey much more pleasing. No unpleasant smells or unruly noises.

   But there was also no sea breeze, nor was there any seagulls swooping around the bay.

   There was, however, the familiar ringing of the ships’ bells, which became somewhat monotonous throughout Edmunds life.


   Finding his frigate was no difficulty. There were only three ships lying in the harbour. A brig sat two docks away from the ship, further down the street from Edmund, bearing the flag of Portugal. Nearer him, a small schooner was the only other occupant of the wharf, with the standard of Sweden flying high atop its mast.

   Edmund could tell it wasn’t a military ship just form the look of it. Only a few guns – about eight to be exact – were spread out along the sides, while men strained their backs lifting large crates on and off of the deck.

   Socker, some of them were labelled, while others were marked with the word Tobak.

   It was easy for one to decipher these words, even without a grasp of the native tongue. Sugar and Tobacco were two major exports of the new world.

   But this was Sweden. Surely they didn’t have overseas territories?


   Edmund dwelled on the thought for a moment, and remembered a letter that he had received from his father, while patrolling America’s east coast.

   Fort Christina, it was called. A small village was set up at the confluence of the Brandywine and Christina rivers. This was what was known to be New Sweden in the coming months, and lasted until the Dutch seized it at the beginning of the Great Northern War.

   Nowadays, the Swedes were seldom seen, but there was always the odd trader or two, hanging on to the plantations which they clung onto during the decades.


   “Hallå.” One of the men, directing the others to place the boxes down onto the allotted sections for the different trades, nodded and stood his hand up to Edmund.

   “God morgon.” Like many languages, he knew nothing but the bare essentials, and so replied with much the same attitude, nodding his head and raising his hand before moving along.


   Charles, Hans and Fernando all stood on the jetty, chattering to one another as Edmund gracefully waltzed around the corner. The clopping of his boots grabbed the attention of the men, who instantly turned to face him.

   “Are the crew readied?” He asked as the sun peered through the obscuring cloud.

   “All present and correct, Sir!” Charles gave a quick salute, unnecessary, but still a show of expertise.

   “Then Fernando.” He turned to the man, “We must say farewell, and set sail for the Americas.”

   “You must do as your country asks of you.” He took the Captain’s hand and shook it in humble admiration, “We will endeavour to do the same for ours. May our alliance be a long-lasting one.”


   Edmund beckoned the others to board the ship, which they observed and obeyed instantly, causing the crew to stand up in reaction.

   “Captain on deck!” Charles hollered as sure enough, he joined them, before two young lads pulled the boards onto the ship, and carried them through the hatch.

   Edmund climbed to his perch high atop the poop deck, and took his position behind the wheel.

   “Haul out the sails, my dear friends.” He shouted with all his might, and as if an order from the gods themselves, it was obeyed within an instant, “Haul the anchor, we make for the Americas.”

   Like blooming flowers, the sails were released into the wind, tugging against the anchor before it was towed up to the deck.

   Young and able men climbed the net shrouds to get a better view of the sea ahead, whilst the older accomplices made themselves useful with various task which needed fulfilling around the deck and below.

   Fernando, now flanked by his soldiers, waved the ship goodbye as it gently sliced through the docks gentle waters.


   Leaving the port of Angra de Heroismo was a little tricky, as the inwards pointing jagged outcrops, which had proved no obstacle when the Oceans Knave was approaching the bay, had now become somewhat of an impediment, considering that the frigate was heading in the other direction.

   “Bring it in to half-speed, boys!” Edmund cautiously wavered to the crew, becoming evermore vigilant and watchful to eschew the rugged and labyrinthine bluffs.

   But with an attentive eye of the trail ahead, and the heedful shouts of “Rocks to starboard, Sir!” from Hans, and “More boulders comin’ up on port-side!” from Charles, the hoarse potential of the numerous headlands became somewhat ephemeral.

   The assemblage of crew members upon the deck had by now dissolved out to no more than a score or two by the time the ship had meandered its way out into the Western bay.

   With a lissom tone, the frigate wandered freely into the Atlantic once more, and those left on the deck waved goodbye a land they had come to know so well in such a dalliance.

   At the wave of the captain’s hand, and without a word, the half-sails, that had become erstwhile no more than a mere aide to the current, were joined by the fugacious full-sails, and the vessel began to gambol across the waves, much like a spring lamb.


   Five days at least were ahead of them, maybe a week if the wind died down. It was a vast ocean to span, and was nothing compared to the Channel that Edmund was used to crossing.

   Many a summer would be spent travelling through to the Ardennes Forest – located in Northern Belgium – to visit his uncle and auntie, the most notable Benjamin and Isabel Randolph, chief envoys to the royal families which resided in the nearby towns and villages.

   Once lord and lady of a quaint Cheshire town, they were forced out by the turmoil which ensued in the build-up to the Civil War, and joined with many other families from Holland, Zealand and even as far of a place as Bavaria, to create a society free of quarrels and fighting.


   But the sound of the horses’ hooves on the bare cobbled roads haunted his mind. He longed for the sounds, the visions and the experiences to return, but they did not.

   Instead, the lapping of the sea waves, the jaunty commotion below deck and the flapping of the sails began to conflate into a somewhat monotonous tone, and once more his mind was returned to his duty.


   By now, every part of the rock-strewn shoreline had disappeared below the horizon, and no ships – sloops, brigs nor frigates – were seen among the waves of which the ship was saddled upon.

    While Edmund clearly understood that the Atlantic was a calm place in terms of passages, the crew saw the ocean as their own. Anyone they saw – they thought – were trespassing on their demesne. Be it Spanish, German or even Danish, they were privateers, and their duty was to kill enemies of the crown.

   But Edmund knew it didn’t quite work like that. The crown was no longer a lawful motive, and the letter of marque – signed by the Lord Protector Cromwell himself – only certified the sinking of Dutch, French and Spanish ships, and on top of that, was reserved for the immediate sinking of the few French vessels surrounding Saint John’s of Newfoundland.

   But the crew still had no idea of Edmunds plan to extend the voyage all the way to the Caribbean, hopeful in the search for his father. But these were good men, he brooded for a moment, they would understand.

   The islands were famed for their people. Not the natives that once roamed bare-foot around the grasslands, but the vagabonds of such.

   Renegades, turncoats, people that would share a drink with anyone, and revel in telling stories until the day was through. The wenches would serve endlessly, and the music would ring through the shanty houses all night. Surely that was a place to envy.

   Kingston, Havana and the infamous Nassau were all locations on Edmunds list, places which would hopefully encompass Nathaniel and his worthless friends.


   The sun hung like a lantern in the centre sky as midday approached, and not a word was spoken between the men on the poop deck. While Edmund concentrated on reaping the full extent of the Western wind, the others took to their own interests to pass the time.

   Charles, as bold and brave a man as he surely was, seated himself upon a small barrel on port-side, and sat much like The Thinker, musing about all the glories and wonders the New World would bring him.


   Hans, on the other hand, was much more fecund in his work. Only a few days before setting off, he vowed to his wife and two children to keep a Captains log, as he called it.

   He promised to scribble down everything he did – apart from any intimate details that may have arisen – and would document the journey, picking up signatures from the crew and other figures he met along the way. Then, upon returning to his hometown of Lubeck, he would present the journal to his dearest parents, a token of such a feat in their family.

   He also sat on one of the wooden containers, this time on starboard, and had a slightly larger one for the leather-bound diary to rest on while he shilly-shallied the quill across in his rather stylish calligraphy.


“Here we go, boys,” Out of nowhere, Charles had stood up from the barrel, and in an attempt to liven up the mood and overall atmosphere, thrusted the voice from his heart, and decided to sing, much to everyone’s surprise:


“We are outward bound for Kingston town!”


   At that moment, as Edmund heard the harmonious words come from the man’s mouth, one and all heads turned to meet him, and joined in for the following part.


“And a heave ho, ho!”


   Edmund had thus consolidated that songs and shanties were commonplace on such a lonely and disheartening place as the sea, and so saw no reason to sit out such a beautiful melody.


“We’ll heave the old wheel round and round,

Good morning ladies all!”


   And that was all it took to spark the candlelight inside the crews mind, as from then on, one after the other, the afternoon was filled with the singing of a hundred men, all joining with different voices and vocals.

   Padstow Farewell, Bully in the Alley and Randy Dandy Oh! Were just some of the many songs which occupied the afternoon while the ship glided across the crystalline waters.


   As dawn approached, and the sun began to crest gently on the horizon, Charles and Hans took it upon themselves to tour the decks, lighting the lanterns upon the masts and bulwarks above and below as the fog began to roll in from the north.

   The ship was now a ghostly spectre to anyone who caught sight of it. A mirage of amber lights on the waters as it slithered with efflorescence.

   It had been at least twelve hours since Edmund had awoken in the quaint inn, and as he let out a great yawn, and begun to acknowledge that the hours were catching up on him.

   Checking the ship’s timepiece, it read six o’clock, a far too early hour to rest upon. But there was no denying it, fatigue had become a burden on his reactions and overall effectiveness, and it was far better to leave Charles in charge then try to soldier on himself.


   “Charles!” He called, the wheel rotating in his hands by the sheer force of the seas.

   The man appeared from port-side and stood to attention, “Yes, Sir?” He replied.

   “Keep her on a steady course.” A drowsy reply ordered the man, “North-west should do the trick.”

   “Aye, Sir!” He took the wheel, and Edmund descended the stairs, once more in a somnolent state.


   The pair of doors scuffed the floorboards, which had swelled due to the change in temperature, and the captain locked them behind him, before making for the table.

   He picked the Merlot, concealed in its bottle, and poured himself another round, before perching himself on the seat opposite from the grand window, watching over the east.

   The cork, wedged tightly in the neck, was plucked out accompanied with the most glamorous and pleasing noise, and its contents poured into Edmund’s cup, with the residue of the previous drink still visible in its base.

   Such a drink was an elixir to a man as Edmund. Unlike many other fellows of his demeanour, it seemed to strengthen everything about him.

   But as he sipped the scarlet liquid, his eyes grew even more tired, threatening to close at every glance, every movement of the pupils.

   And with that, they did.

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