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.


3. Westward ho!

   A loud crack of thunder smashed throughout the cabin, giving Edmund no time to adjust to the darkened room.

   He lay there in his bed as the extinguished candles still swayed to and fro, and the vessel creaked and groaned under the stormy rollers which surrounded it.

   As he slowly lifted his head, trying to amend his vision to the dark, a fork of lightning sliced through the night sky behind the ship, creating a dazzling array of white through the lattice windows.

   Turning his body and laying his feet onto the wooden floor, he managed to get his mind straight as the ship tilted muscularly.

   He slipped his boots back on. It had seemed only a few minutes before he had previously taken them, but he certainly knew that it was much longer in reality.

   The sash he tied around his waist once more, and the scarf round his neck, where it was tied in a fashionable yet effective knot, before he picked the greatcoat up.

   The coat had gained a somewhat more energetic colour than that of before. It now seemed a vigorous chestnut, more than a damp auburn.


   Getting off the bed was a hard part. The ship swayed so vigorously, and Edmund’s legs were so exhausted and hardly conscious, that he had to cling to some of the more stable structures in the cabin to keep himself upright.

   First the bed, then a quick step to the tall post in the centre, which he adhered as the ship keeled to the port. He shook his legs, and the feeling begun to return, before he made for the doors.

   The ship levelled only slightly, but he was still just able to grab the doors and, using his left hands to open it, and his right to shield himself from the battering wind and rain, he walked out onto the deck.


   “Batten down the hatches!” he heard, almost screamed from Charles, standing atop the deck behind the wheel, before he caught sight of Edmund, “Captain on deck!”

   The men had no time to salute, and instead just gave a nod or a look in Edmund’s direction, as he turned away from the battering rain, and climbed the stairs.

   His sea legs, as they called them, had not fully became accustomed to the ships monstrous tilting, and he still grabbed the balustrades with great force as he ascended to the top.


   There was only Edmund, Charles and the Storm Crew on deck. The Storm Crew were a group of twelve men, picked for their hardy seafaring skills and experience. Most of them were over the age of forty, and had more than ten or so years in the maritime sector.

   But twelve men, pulling together a ship meant for about one hundred. That was a feat Edmund did not want to dwindle on.

   But the men certainly proved their worth. They climbed the shrouds and pulled the rigging tight, without showing any signs of weariness or exhaustion.


   He inspected the compass, sitting upon its pedestal beside the wheel: West by South West was the course, and that was the course the ship was following.

   He turned to Charles, and a troubled look became clear upon the Quarter-Master’s face.

   “Sir,” He kept both hands on the wheel, keeping her steady through the rough waves which attempted to thwart their advance towards the Azores, “We must bring her to, and wait for the storm to pass.”

   “Nonsense.” Edmund retorted, “The wind is in our favour. We shall use it to our advantage.” He turned to the deck, as the rain pounded the timber surface, “Haul out the sails!”

   The crew looked puzzled, but after a brief moment of confusion, nonetheless did as they were ordered by their superior.


   The ship grabbed the wind with all its might, and powered almost instantly. The squall blew a strong south-west, and glided the speedy vessel like a bird through the sky.

   Edmund could only presume it was morning, either already or soon to be. Daybreak would mean the hopeful time of meeting the welcoming sight of the Portuguese Archipelago.

   A good drink would await, as well as the taste of the local cuisine. The hot weather, like nothing he had seen in England.

   He could sit for a day in the tavern, as the sun would beam through the windows, pint in hand, and would be back on the ship by the next morning.


   But there was still a few good miles at the least to go, and the weather hastened to thwart their attempts to reach land quicker.

   There would be nothing gained from attempting to sleep again, either. The thunder and lightning would prevent any endeavour to do that.

   Instead, he once again thought back to life at home.


   His mother, though probably worried sick, would have now contemplated that he had gone, gone to do something that he devoted his life to.

   And Hannah, probably catering for her and learning the violin as well as singing around the house. Her hair would flutter around as she sung her heart out to a…


   “Damn!” Charles exclaimed, “That damned cannon’s coming loose!” He pointed to the gun, forth from the aft-most, its ropes starting to flutter in the wind. He turned to Edmund, but he had already gone.

   The captain had vaulted the balcony, and was dashing towards the metal giant.


   The storm crew hadn’t heard the snapping of the chords or the lashing of the chords throughout the air over the thunder which cascaded through the night sky, but had heard the rolling of the Prussian monster as it bowled across the deck.

   Edmund managed to stop it, leaning a very acute angle to prevent it moving further. The other men flocked to help, some holding the gun in place, while the others found new rope to tie it with.

   “Push it forward!” Edmund roared. The crew obeyed, pushing the cannon as the ship tilted to starboard, allowing it to roll with ease back to its position.

   The other members lashed it with cable, and placed new chocks underneath, of which had previously been crushed under the weight) before standing straight, wiping the sweat from their brows.


   “Well done.” Edmund saluted to the men before walking back up to Charles.

   “Good work, Captain.” Charles congratulated Edmund on his work, and looked straight as the waves began to deaden, “Looks like the storms comin’ to a close.”

   “Do tell me when dawn breaks.” Edmund said with order, “I’ll be below deck. I have some arrangements to make with the crew.”

   “Of course, Sir.” Charles turned for a brief moment, before returning to the ocean ahead.

   The hatch was opened, and the captain disappeared below deck.


   “Captain.” One of the sailors – most probably on patrol - nodded with a quietened tone as he walked past the descending shadow.

   The cannon hatches were still closed, and the candles still it. Many of the men were asleep in their hammocks, strung three to a column.

   The candles now illuminated the whole ships, and Edmund could easily navigate the deck.


   The cannons themselves were interjected with benches and tables, each bearing half-empty tankards and plates for food. Coats hung from the wooden splinters and makeshift hooks as the deckhands snoozed loudly in their hammocks.

   The stern of the ship – where Edmund had the near-fatal encounter with Flint) was where armaments were stored, and the stairs to the deck was contained. All the reserves of gunpowder, excess firearms and more was stored behind the partition.

   From the partition the deck was one continuous deck, housing all the cannons, with the hammocks centred in the middle of the two hatches and the stairs descending from them.

   About a couple of yards abaft of the Captain’s position at the base of the stern-most hatch, was a small corridor, with four doors.

   One of these doors belonged to Hans, one to Lyle, one to James and the last to Francisco.


   Edmund slowly walked to the first door on the right, and peered in.

   Hans, the boatswain, sat upon his gilded beechwood chair in the rear-left corner, his head bowed frontward, snoring wildly, with a small book in his hand: A bible.

   He knew Hans was a practicing protestant – like Edmund – and always kept a bible with him wherever he went.

   He gave a sigh, before closing the door and moving along to the next one.


   He was mainly here for two reasons. One was to get out of the blasted cold which wrestled with his every move, and secondly, he wanted to make amendments to the plan.


   The next door swung freely, before slowing as it reached the wall.

   An eerie cast of light from the candle showed James, the large hat dominating his head even from the back, sitting at his deck, seemingly writing seamlessly.

   “James…” Edmund said.

   The boy turned instantly, as if troubled or somewhat shocked, and walked up to the captain instantly.

   “Sir,” He shook his hand, “How can I help?”

   “I wanted to make some alterations to the voyage.”

   “Of course,” James beckoned Edmund over to the desk.


   The young man joined Edmund at the table where the map lay across, with more markings and jotting than before.

   “I’ve been making some notes.” James cleared the stray pieces of parchment from the map itself, “Please excuse the disorder.”

   “It is no worry.” Edmund consoled, rubbing his chin in thought, “I was wondering whether we could extend the route?”

   “Extend?” James didn’t like the sound of that, and Edmund could sense the displeasure in the words that he spoke, “I’m not sure the crew would approve…”

   “The crew will do what they can to get a wage and a new home.”

   “Of course. Where would the voyage be extended to?” James watched Edmund’s hand as he ran his finger along from St. Johns, down to the Virginia Colony – marked with a regal red ensign with the Saint George’s Cross in the top-left – then to the east coast of Florida – this time discernible with a white pennant with the red cross of Burgundy over that.

   He knew that this would be risky, for this was the capital of Spanish Florida, and only in the last century, Francis Drake launched an almighty attack on the port, worsening relations between the two countries.

   But it was also the only major coastal settlement for miles around. Not stopping there could mean an ill-equipped, malnourished and famished crew, every Captain’s worst nightmare.

   After a moment of pause, he then moved his finger down to Port Royal – Edmund’s best bet at finding that rat: Nathaniel Fynche.

   “If we follow that route from Saint John’s,” He lifted his finger, and James traced the route with his various instruments and pencils, “How long would that accumulate to?”


   The man, though still outlining the routes, seemed troubled by the proposal and, after a moment of pausing and resuming, replied.

   “About a week, Sir.” He finished lining the route to the final destination, “But why to such a place as Jamaica?”

   “I need to make a visit…” He paused for a moment, “…to an old friend…”

   James still didn’t seem too sure.

   “Uh…very well.” He nodded after hesitation, and Edmund seemed that a job had been done.


   The ship had stopped tilting, and Edmund could clearly see the sun starting to crack through the wooden palisades which formed the deck walls.

   “Suns a risin’!” A call, in broad Norfolk accent, came from above, and was clearly audible throughout the deck, “Every man on deck!”


   As Edmund ascended the stairs, flanked by the rushing wave of crewmembers on his right, the sun began to dawn on him. The waves had decreased tenfold since he had left the deck, and the ship gently swayed to and fro now.

   The men lined the bulwarks, not taking one look at the captain as he attempted to figure out what exactly was happening.

   Standing on the bowsprit, a lone Swabbie, holding his hand just above his eyes, scanning the horizon as the shifting fog began to clear.

   Edmund made for the poop deck once more, and stood alongside Charles as the clouds shifted, and the sun beamed down on the vessel.

   Charles did not but look ahead, anticipating the moment that land appeared.


   And his wish, was the worlds command.


   “Land ahoy!” Shouted the young boy, holding onto the ropes with great force. He turned around to shout, and the crew wailed in response, before he revolved around to gaze at the Azorean coastline persisted to emerge over the horizon.

   They had made it. The first part of their journey was complete. The prospect of a good drink and rest filled everyone’s minds. The men shook one another’s hands, congratulating themselves on a voyage well done.


   Charles looked over to his captain, smiled and outstretched his hand also.

   “Well…” He said proudly, “At least we’ve made it here.”

   “Of course.” His offer of a handshake was kindly accepted by Edmund, who smiled before returning his gaze to the nearing shoreline.


    They had made it to Praia De Vitoria, on the island of Terceira, and its appearance was much like that of a smaller – and much more pleasant –Southampton.

   There were three jetties protruding out of the land – of which two were occupied by merchant sloops – and behind that stood the main promenade of houses, closely-knit and puffing smoke from their chimneys.

   There wasn’t really anything else apart from those houses. There were no farms in the hillsides surrounding the coastal town, nor were there any large structures or buildings.

   It was throughout the century that the town was hit by many seismic events, and had been rebuilt many a time, yet now it seemed to be in full bloom just like before.

   The whole place seemed to give off a peaceful, relaxing aurora, where one would do more than just stop on their way to another destination.


   The men barged past one another to get a glimpse of the beautiful landscape which surrounded them. Small sloops departed from the jetties, and much larger ships just sailed straight past, off to their paradisiacal place over the horizon.

   “Bring the sails in, boys!” Charles shouted as they gently rolled into the harbour.

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