Chapter 2 - Pirate Harbor
Taking that the surrounding governments were unable to enforce maritime laws, Pirate Harbour was the only haven where a pirate might avoid capture, and ultimately, the hangman’s noose. The infamous pirate community provided opportunity to repair our ships, resupply and spend our loot on days given over to pleasures of the flesh.
Thence, having shed some of my resentment at returning inshore, I’d given way to visit the tavern where most of the crew had already gathered, De Swarte Zwaan.
It was only after I’d had a good, hot meal, served with bread and a tankard of ale, that I decided to acknowledge the pirate who’d presumptuously taken the chair athwart me, arms folded impatiently across his chest.
Thick black hair, matted to dreadlocks, spilled like rigging rope from the dirty red bandana round his head. A single hooped earring dangled from his left ear, and heavy gold adornments from his neck. A tangle of hair covered the lower half of his face – a beard so bushy you could nest a bird within.
On the table, he traced the rim of his feathered tricorne hat.
“What say ye then, Cap’n?”
With a grin, I shook my head and leaned back in my chair before curling my hand openly around the hilt of my sword. “Nay, I dunnae accept.”
Trapper’s weather-beaten face creased into a menacing frown. He tapped the silk coin purse tied to his belt and a jingling sound ensued. “Dunnae be a fool. I’ll pay ye yer trouble’s worth.”
I bristled at the insult but kept a neutral expression. I was not so offended that I didn’t take interest in his offer. Even so, I’ve not survived piracy this long by being taken for a fool.
There was no dubiety that Trapper would deliberately deceive me for his own advantage. Moreover, navigating the sea of darkness on nothing more than fabricated myth would be searching out our demise – and I preferred myself as I was now, alive, and that much closer to vengeance.
“There be no treasures in Tartarus. Sailing t’ the Devil’s waters be nothing but a sure way t’ die.”
Trapper drew himself up, taking umbrage at my flat refusal. I knew I had hit a nerve, just as I knew his talk of coin to be no bluff. The bastard wouldn’t have to pay for any part of such a voyage with physical labour. He could fund the pursuance of a mythical treasure as sure as the sun rose in the east and set in the west.
Now he needed my ship – and I’d be either a fool to let him cross the gangplank, or a fool to refuse his gold.
Trapper, like most in the business of piracy, had trouble with authority figures. He refused to be part of a working crew to any captain, but had yet to procure his own vessel. With a preference of buying directly from the loot, he made a substantial profit selling silks, spices, baubles and trinkets, to those frequenting Pirate Harbour.
He became a successful merchant, rather than sail under the skull and crossbones flag.
For all that, it wasn’t the depth of his pockets I wanted to cast aspersions on.
Snake-eyed and seedy, Trapper knew how to swindle like the best of us – and he had wealth he never bothered to conceal. With only a faint promise of recompense, he could take control of my ship and slit my throat where I slept.
Allowing him aboard the Sea Gypsy would not be a well-judged decision for either ship or crew.
I just had a niggling feeling withal, as Trapper was willing to pay passage to the Devil’s Triangle, he must be keeping something close to his chest, a motivating factor other than the thrill of adventure. Too many ships have been said to mysteriously disappear within its boundaries, to attempt sailing there without good reason.
The treasure of Tartarus was common talk among pirate folk. A fine tale to be told over a stiff drink and the dark fog of snorting powder. A tale of which the falsehood had always seemed so obvious that it refuted itself by the absurdity of it.
But that was prior to Trapper’s approach that we sail after a treasure that shouldn’t rightly exist.
What kind of pirate would I be if I didn’t establish the truth of what he was trying to put into effect? Because I believed he knew more than he led on. He had to have stumbled across proof of some kind. Something solid, tangible.
Realisation washed over me in the next moment and it couldn’t come fast enough.
A map. The fucker had a map.
I felt certain of it. What else would explain his dogged determination to not only pay his passage, but fund an entire voyage to the Devil’s Triangle?
I would be the first to admit my desire for it, supposing it existed. Preferably without the hindrance to navigation Trapper’s company would bring about.
As if sensing my thoughts to exclude him from consideration, Trapper slammed his foaming tankard down on the table before him, ale spilling over the rim, and wiped his mouth on his shirtsleeve.
“A clap of thunder be needed t’ clear yer addled mind, Cap’n,” he jeered. “There be no better offer.”
“Nay, ol’ Trap. Cracking Jenny’s teacup be a better wastin’ of me time,” I dismissed with a waggle of my brows, as if I’d rather a visit to the brothel. “Ye be better off not lendin’ yer ears t’ old wives’ tales.”
Trapper sputtered, sucking in his stomach and puffing out his chest.
“I’ll have ye know, I’m nae in the habit to pursue without certitude. Ye’ll find it worth yer while in treasure and gold.”
“Really, now?” I suppressed a smirk at how quickly he could be brought to unbosom himself. “Then I’ll be sorry t’ turn down such a likely lookin’ fortune, ol’ friend.”
Trapper’s eyes took on a murderous gleam, his face flushed a violent red. Which meant I had him exactly where I wanted him.
Humiliated and suitably enraged.
I rose from my chair with boisterous movements, swaying from side to side, acting sozzled. I wasn’t nearly drunk, not after only a few pints of ale, but I wanted Trapper to think I didn’t know what I was about. Desirous of getting his way, it seemed odds-on that he would want to take it.
If he did have a map, as I suspected, he wouldn’t be able to keep the greed from controlling him.
I watched his eyes narrow with sly calculation at my noisy farewell.
Pushing through the crowded tavern, I kept him within my peripheral sights, not the least surprised when he set out to follow. I took my time to ensure I didn’t lose him, stopping to fondle a tavern wench’s melon-sized tits and share a laugh with my crew on the way.
Catching sight of Bones, I walked on and inconspicuously motioned for him to precede me outside. He was there the moment I slipped from the rough stone building, sticking to the long shadows that shrouded half the street.
“Gather the crew,” I ordered in a quiet voice. “We set sail halfway t’ the hour.”
My quartermaster rubbed sceptically at the frown bunched across his forehead. “Ye be runnin’ a rig on me, Cap’n? Squiffy and without their wits ye be findin’ them now.”
“Fuck ’em, then. Just round up those ye can and be quiet about it.”
“Aye, Cap’n,” he accepted, but regarded me curiously. “Ye receive word of the stiff coats?”
“Nay,” I said smugly. “I be having me a map.”
“Aye! Here it comes now,” I whisper-shouted and shoved him deeper into the shadow of the buildings on either side.
With Trapper once again in sight, I switched to an unsteady gait and made for Madame Plaisir’s, keeping to the low span of lantern light. For how I had dismissed Trapper’s proposal in favour of a tumble between the sheets with one of Madame’s girls, and it being early eve, it would seem a plausible destination to my pursuer.
I trudged through the quickly disbanding marketplace, where the last of the day’s captives were being auctioned off on the slave trader’s block, and past several dozen windowless huts and thatch cottages condensed along the highroad that looked to be barely withstanding the sea breeze.
Out from under the light of the lanterns, I turned down the narrow cobblestone walkway leading to the entrance of the brothel. But rather than seek admittance, I kept to the unilluminated length of the footpath, awaiting the blighter that shared my agenda for this night.
I wiped the sweat from my brow and positioned my hat to cover my eyes. As expected, Trapper came rushing after me and I slipped my dagger from my belt to strike at his chest. He gave a pained shout when my weapon met with flesh, loud enough to draw attention. Swallowing a curse, I pulled the blade free to aim higher.
He struggled weakly and I brought my hand around to muffle his screams. Then I stabbed him again, in his throat.
Blood gushed from his wounds, spurting from his shredded veins, soaking through my tunic and breeches as I swathed my body around his to quieten his fall. Despite that, I remained ill-prepared for the moment he turned toes up and dropped still. The fucker landed atop me, heavy and fat as a hog.
I struggled from underneath his dead weight and promptly started my pat-down, passing my hands over the outer layer of his clothes in a fast and firm manner. Hearing a faint rustle, I stuck my hand in his tunic and pulled out the folded piece of parchment I’d been after.
“Fuck,” I cursed my foul aim, noting the neat slice my blade made through the upper flaps of the sheet after I unfurled it across my thigh. It was older than I expected, made of animal skin, sheep or goat by the feel, but the ink, at least, appeared not too faded to make out in the poorly lit passage.
I squinted, and unable to interpret much of the mapping, rose from my haunches and tucked it inside my boot. Then remembering how Trapper kept his valuables clearly visible, ripped the coin pouch from his belt, weighing it in my palm.
“Fer my troubles,” I remarked with a tip of my hat and turned on my heel, already counting off supplies in my head.