Port of Call
The chamber was dark and silent. A soft emerald glow had just recently been extinguished as Jack concluded a lengthy conversation with Earl regarding their upcoming meeting. Rising from the padded seat beside the low table upon which sat the huge scrying crystal which he used to communicate with his various contacts, Jack stretched languidly and sighed at the sound of joints popping softly and the feeling of hours of tension being released from his back and arms.
Still it had been worth the effort. It had taken quite some time to talk Earl into a more favorable deal, yet in the end Jack’s silver tongue had won out over Earl’s stubbornness.
His cunning instincts and sharp wit were only a couple of the reasons he was known to most as Silver Jack. Another of the reasons was that he paid his men in pure silver ingots. It was not purely money which kept his henchmen loyal either, however. Captain Jack had their respect and trust as well. All who served under the banner of the Silver Sails ate well, drank fine ale and enjoyed a life of freedom and glory.
One lesson that Jack had learned early on and had never forgotten in all the years afterward was that a content and happy crew will always have one’s back. Let greed and discontent seep in and they may turn upon one as quickly as a leaf in a stiff breeze. Therefore Jack had always insisted that every haul would be split in even shares among all the crew. Every individual among them had a part to play in the work they did and each was considered as important as the next. Whether they happened to be the First Mate or a simple Cabin Boy, all were of even standing in Jack’s eyes.
Now of course there was the occasional disappearance or disagreement among some of the many men serving under Silver Jack’s command. Even so that was to be expected in their line of work and none paid it much mind so long as things didn’t get out of hand. Jack was quick to stifle any major conflicts and brought swift justice to any caught breaking what few laws they did have. Overall such cases were very rare, the men were satisfied with their free lifestyles and enjoyed their work. Beyond that they made more in a month than most would have been able to earn in a year in more mundane careers.
Sliding the lock on the door open and letting in light from outside, Jack gazed upon his reflected face in the now dark crystal and grinned. Smoothing back his dark, shoulder-length hair and running his fingers across the short-trimmed growth of facial hair upon his upper lip and chin, the Pirate Captain turned and left the small cabin to stride out onto the upper deck and called for attention. As one, the deckhands turned in expectation of the news and a cheer began to rise even before Jack announced their success.
”Make course for Bastille! We unload our cargo in two days with a nice bonus for all!”
The men passed the news along to those below and shouted it across to the other ships floating within the fleet nearby. As one, the sails were hoisted and filled as the Silver Sail fleet set course for their next destination.
Silver canvas was nearly unheard of when it came to using material for sails, it was quite simply an extravagance that few honest captains would spend coin upon. The money would be far better spent on less trivial items which had more worth in regards to safety and survival upon the high seas.
Even so, that is exactly what many of the dockhands of the Bastille harbor saw upon the horizon. ”Silver Sails Inbound!” The call was cried out by one lookout after another along the length of the port. The sighting of such sails when upon the open seas meant an entirely different thing than when seen from the docks of an official port.
There was a cute little rhyme known to many of the more veteran sea-dogs with regards to such a sighting. Silver Sails at sea, Turn tail and flee...Silver Sails at port, Nothing comes up short. For as bad as it was to encounter them on the open seas, it was that much better to be present when they came into port. Prices dropped markedly and supplies were overly abundant when the Silver Sails were in town. The holds flooded the marketplace with all manner of goods both mundane and exotic. It was a good time to be in the market when Silver Jack was around, none could dispute that fact.
As well-known as they were, it had never been proven to the authorities that Jack and his crew were pirates or outlaws. Anything of unique or identifiable make never saw the light of day by official eyes, and even if an occasional item might be “questionable”, the benefits to the local economy were such that any questions were easily dismissed as a simple coincidence.
Jack knew all too well that dock fees, taxes, and all manner of other such things doubled or tripled even the moment his sails were spotted by the watch. He also knew that they were dropped back to normal rates the moment the fleet set back out to sea once more. Such trivial mark-ups were of no concern to the captain, however, after all it was a small price to pay for the benefits received.
As much as Jack and his fleet were hated and feared upon the open seas, they were loved and admired on land. His men were always well paid and filled all the taverns and bars, shops and markets, inns and boarding houses, and of course the local brothels. Money flowed in streams through the city when they were in town and not many truly cared where that money came from so long as they got a share of it.
It was mainly the larger trading companies who felt the brunt of Captain Jack’s trade, as the smaller personal and private groups were usually too insignificant to attract his attention. It was also no coincidence that his fleet’s arrivals tended to occur when the officials for those mammoth cooperatives were out of town. This meant that the common people tended to benefit greatly from his presence and worked all around to make such occasions a generally enjoyable time for all involved.
The men quickly went about the task of unloading the holds of their various ships, knowing that once the job was done they would be free to enjoy all that their wages could buy within the limits of Bastille. They would be in port for two or perhaps three days, depending upon what business Jack needed to attend to. It would be days of drinking and gambling, followed by nights of lust and revelry for all.
Jack stood upon the gangplank joined to the dock where his own flagship, Cloudbreaker, was moored. His gaze swept the city-line before him and he smiled in anticipation of all that this great community had to offer. The soft pad of leather-booted feet behind him announced the presence of his First Mate upon the deck behind him, and without turning to look Jack commented in a seeming disinterested manner. ”It has the look of diamonds sprinkled over black sands, Aye Andre?”
”Aye it does Cap’n...Aye it does...” The burly, yet refined First Mate answered back with an unseen nod and smile. ”Where shall we begin then sir?” Andre questioned in return as he leaned against the railing and gazed out upon the glittering lights of the city beyond.
”Relax and enjoy yourself this eve my old friend. We meet with Earl at noon on the morrow. Until then your free of all duties and concerns, so enjoy all there is to be had here and be back here when the sun reaches an hour toward zenith.”
”Aye that Cap’n. Be see’n ya then...” The First Mate replied as he skirted around to a second gangplank along side that which Jack occupied and vanished off into the bustle of the dock district.
Jack simply nodded silently in response toward the retreating back of the tall, dark-haired giant of a man. Andre had been with him ever since Jack could remember, they had been best of friends as crewmates under the command of Captain Narbol. It had been an easy choice indeed at selecting Andre as his First Mate when Narbol had unfortunately taken ill from some bad chowder. Narbol had named Jack as his successor just prior to dying from the tainted food. Andre was one of only a very few who had been with Jack since the days prior to the formation of the Silver Sail fleet. Narbol’s old ship still served among the fleet, having been refitted several times since it’s earlier days as a simple merchant frigate.
Jack waved a hand over his eyes to return himself to the present moment and chuckled softly at all the memories which existed between that time and this one. His had been a good, free life and would continue to be so if he had any say in the matter.
Jack stopped outside the large two-story house nestled between two large abandoned warehouses. It was an ideal location really, no neighbors to complain about the noise, nor uptight folk to complain about the goings on there. The windows were all dimly lit, being thickly curtained from within to provide the privacy that most who visited such a place might desire.
The site was not unfamiliar to Jack, for he had a habit of stopping off at Lady Claire’s house at least once during every visit to Bastille. Walking slowly up the worn steps and hearing that ever familiar creak, a sure announcement of one’s approach, Jack smiled privately at how some things never changed. The door opened a moment before he stepped near enough to knock and from within a warm, inviting light of golden quality and tint bathed the front porch.
The vagabond stood a moment, illuminated by the cascade of radiance and a soft gasp was followed by an overjoyed giggle as a feminine voice called deeper into the house. ”Miss Claire... Jack has come calling...” The ruggedly handsome pirate captain was ushered inside by a beckoning hand with extravagantly polished nails and shown to a semi-private sitting area off to one side of the main entry.
A petite pair of feet attached to elegantly tapered legs slowly descended the carpeted stairway at the rear of the entry hall and slowly crossed the distance to finally stop just outside the recessed booth. The lovely, long pair of legs traveled up to meet at alluring and shapely hips which were covered down to mid-thigh by an enticing red velvet skirt. Atop the hips creamy, soft skin reappeared in the form of a bare, flat, and contoured midriff. The mystery was again restored by a matching red velvet half-blouse which covered yet in no way concealed the shapely and breath-stealing curves of the Madame’s chest. Long, white silk gloves covered each hand and ran teasingly up to just past the elbows, the fingers of the gloves were removed at the knuckles so that the silky soft fingertips and incredibly detailed, polished nails were not hidden from view. Slender shoulders led to an equally trim and proportioned neck which in turn met the delicious contour of her jawline. Long, silken, curled locks of jet-black hair descended in intricate ringlets to cascade over the shoulders and a fair distance down the pristine landscape of her back. Only a few spidery red straps criss-crossing it and leaving the majority of the hypnotic contours within full view of any adventurous eyes. Perched above the softly rounded chin rested a pair of full, soft, ruby-painted lips which might have a man on his knees in a heartbeat should they choose to part just slightly at any opportune moment. The perfect, petite and alluring nose led upward further, drawing ultimately and inexorably to a pair of large, sultry eyes. Sapphire blue mixed with chips of emerald around small disks of black were the pools which many had been lost within when wandering too deeply into those eyes. Thin, neatly brushed brows curved in a complimenting manner above the eyes and a hint of ruby shading upon lids and fading slightly around worked to draw one back to the eyes no matter where the gaze might wander.
”Hello Jack... Here for business or pleasure tonight?” Her moist red lips parted to allow a sultry and devilishly sweet voice to roll free from between them. The familiar sound and phrase sent a shiver along Jack’s spine as he cleared his throat briefly before answering in kind. The exchange being one they shared each time he visited here and served as a comforting and soothing familiarity between them. ”Both of course. I mix them freely and enjoy both as fully as anyone can.” Jack answered while standing and capturing her left hand to kiss the fabric covered wrist while drawing her tapered fingers to run through the short growth of facial hair along his chin and jawline.
She smiled following his answer and lightly teased her fingers along his jawline and under his chin a moment before pulling her hand free again and turning away. ”You should not come here Jack... People have a nasty habit of ending up dead around you...” She taunted as she walked slowly back toward the foot of the ascending stairs. ”Viscount Reeves is waiting in the usual room for your regular meeting. Mix them all you like, I still know that business tends to come first with you...”
Jack’s expressive sea-green eyes feigned hurt as he responded to her. ”Why the cold-shoulder Claire? You know I always save the best for last...” His best charming smile and convincing look both settled easily upon Jack’s features as he watched closely her every expression and movement. Claire’s lips curved into an approving smile at his answer and one shapely foot raised to settle upon the first of the steps. ”If my shoulder seems cold to you... Then I think you should hurry your business along and then come warm it up for me. Yes?” The other foot moved to rise to the second step as her back arched slightly to add ever greater impact to her striking curves and form.
A soft and delighted chuckle passed the pirate captain’s thin yet soft lips as he nodded silently in response and tore himself free of the vision upon the stairs. Moving purposefully down along the hall which ended at a closed door on the first floor, Jack knocked softly twice followed by three and then a long pause broken by a final single knock. The signal had been changed over time as needed but remained a custom when meeting for this beneficial exchange between vagabond and nobleman.
After a moment of silence from within, the door slowly opened and a well-dressed courtier nodded politely to Jack while gesturing within and moving to stand at a position just outside the door. Jack recognized the attendant instantly, and knew that despite the wealthy attire and seemingly demure nature, the man was an entirely capable and efficient bodyguard. Reeves was nearly never seen beyond line of sight of this particular individual, for so long as Jack had been dealing with the nobleman at least. The door closed behind Jack with a faint yet ominous click.
The chamber within was darkened and silent for the most part, it remained so as the Pirate Captain took a seat with it’s back facing the only door and allowed his eyes to become accustomed to the dim surroundings.
“Our usual rate then?” A steady and obviously well-schooled voice spoke from within the darkness opposite Jack’s position at the table. As if in answer of the question, the sound of a leather pouched filled with coins and gems dropped upon the table’s surface and slid slowly to within view of the Pirate. “In return for which your fleet shall allow my own vessels to pass by unhindered for the period of six month’s time.”
Jack smiled invisibly and took the pouch from the table, carefully weighing it within the palm of his hand for a moment and seeming satisfied with the result. The pouch, containing a sum which might bankroll an entire decent sized city, was securely stowed within the folds of Jack’s cloak.
“Yes. Our usual agreement shall stand for another six months, we shall meet again at that time to negotiate once more. As always, it has indeed been a pleasure doing business with you Viscount.”
No further discussion on the matter was required or desired, both men present within the room were fully satisfied with the arrangement and would not do anything to disrupt it unless the other were to betray them in some manner. Jack stood as easily as he had sat and knocked upon the door behind him in the same manner as he had on his arrival. Following another brief moment of silence, the door opened and Jack stepped out into the lush hall beyond. Nodding politely to the courtier in passing, the Pirate Captain moved without pause to the foot of the stair and noted as he began his ascent that the bodyguard had moved back into the room and closed the door once again.
Jack chuckled to himself softly as he took the stairs two at a time up to the first landing, Reeves would now in typical fashion drink himself into a stupor and be taken home by the courtier. The veteran pirate had witnessed on a fair number of occasions, the departure of his “friend” from this establishment at a particular early hour and staggering in a manner which only a great amount of fine brew could cause.
The first landing split off into three sets of stairs, two leading left and right to the long wings where most of the “ladies” of the establishment resided. The third, which led further back into the house on the upper floor was rarely used by most who visited Claire’s home. It was this stair however which Jack always used during his regular visits and the path he took on this occasion as well. The door at the end of the hall was left slightly ajar, a single ray of light from within pointing his way along the corridor. Jack followed it of course, slipping through the door and closing it with a soft click behind him. The room was brilliantly and richly decorated, the same as it had been on all his prior visits. There were a few more trinkets and ornaments within than the last time he had been here, as expected. Claire had exquisite taste and enjoyed collecting unique things for her own private exhibit.
Candles flickered throughout the chambers, sending soft yellow light flickering over the myriad gold and jewel encrusted objects positioned in just the perfect places within. The lady Claire had a particular affinity for statuettes, they were her favorites and she had collected a good many of them over the years.
“Your business went well then?” Claire spoke in a soft and sultry tone from her relaxed position lying at the center of her huge canopied bed. ”You have a gift for me?” She continued without waiting for an answer to her first question.
”A small token... Not equal in comparison to your beauty.” Jack replied smoothly as he drew a small six inch tall jade statue of a feline sitting in upright posture with tiny rubies for eyes. Placing the object upon a small, crowded table at the foot of the bed and turning it so that the cat peeked over the edge of the bed’s foot. Jack carried himself with a graceful and secure ease as he skirted around the edge of the table and sat upon the edge of the bed, positioning one arm as support as he turned his gaze to fully meet that of the Madame. “It suits you of course. Which is why I selected it...”
”She is quite lovely and a welcome addition indeed, Jack, Thank you.” Claire responded while admiring the item around the curve of his muscular right arm. ”Do relax and be comfortable. Let us see about working some tension from those sea-worn muscles of yours shall we?” She whispered softly while leaning forward to caress his upper arm and shoulder tentatively. During his meeting with the Viscount, Clair had changed out of her former outfit and was now wearing only a thin and mostly transparent silk nightgown. The light pink color of it matched well with her skin-tone and provided just the right amount of mystery while showing off her assets to the best possible degree. Jack sighed softly and relaxed visibly under the soft caress of Claire’s gentle touch, lying slowly back upon the bed as her fingers began a slow, talented dance along his exposed skin and slid under his clothing in a knowing and familiar manner.
Hours later while Jack sat lounging beside the window during a respite in the night’s activities, the Pirate watched as two figures departed from the establishment. One of them was stumbling and weaving in a manner typical of having drank too heavily of rare spirits, the other walked in a steady and professional manner in support of his lord. Grinning to himself, the amusement showing reflected in the glass of the window as Jack turned away from that vision and toward another which was far more appealing to behold. ”Some things never do change...” Jack commented quietly and mostly to himself, yet the statement was caught by the returning figure within the room, her bare curves silhouetted against the candlelight in a most alluring and seductive way.
”Indeed. And it would be a shame if some of them did ever change... I for one would miss some...things...far too greatly for my own comfort.” Claire taunted as she prowled slowly across the bed toward him in a way which left little doubt regarding her desires. ”Do come back to bed now Jack. This shoulder of mine needs warming again...”
And of course he did.
With the arrival of the Holy Crusader vessels, the Bastille port was by far more busy than any previous time within it’s known history. A healthy and well-placed bribe had gained Jack the prestige of having a large portion of the available dock space opened up conveniently to his vessels, while several other trading companies found themselves stuck in a waiting line within the protective region of the bay and breaks.
In all, the Silver Sails had gained temporary use of 8 of the largest wharfs and 13 more of the smaller slips. Cloudbreaker, Jack’s own vessel and flagship of the Silver Sail fleet, was a truly breath-taking Admiral class Ship of the line. Her trim and railings were fashioned in plated gold which gleamed in the faint light. The decks were polished and clean, the dark mahogany wood revealing a deep smooth finish which boasted that a fair price had been spent upon it’s making and upkeep. A casual observer, or even a critic for that matter, would find little to nothing regarding the lead vessel which had not been attended to with no expense spared in the process. Cloudbreaker was the pride of the fleet and as such had her own reputation to keep, one which Jack would not allow to be tarnished in the least while he remained as her Captain.
Nearby, a pair of lesser Ships of the line which were rarely seen far from Cloudbreaker, the twins were moored together on either side of a large pier. Sunset and Sunrise as they were named were respectively identical in all ways between them with exception that Sunrise was trimmed in Amber and Burgundy, while Sunset was trimmed in Sapphire and Turquoise. Taking up moorings along the larger cargo piers sat five immense hollowed out Galleons which served as the main cargo division of Jack’s fleet. While not quite as richly adorned as the Ships of the line, these large refitted vessels were similarly well tended and cared for, showing few if any signs of neglect.
One rule among his men which was upheld without question or reprieve was that one took care of their ships and in turn the ladies would care for their men and bring them safely home every time. Flitting in and out among the larger vessels within the port, a small swarm of sloops and frigates which also bore the trademark Silver Sails ferried men from the distantly anchored remainder of the fleet which had been positioned just outside the sea-lanes at the mouth of the harbor. The line of vessels looked like hulking demons upon the horizon, watching protectively over their tucked in charges. Another trio of Galleons, and a pair of Man-of-War barely bobbed within the tide as they sat low in the water and were obviously armed to the teeth and beyond. Men were ferried out and back to the city to enjoy their shore-leave, yet never was even one of the veteran gunships left without at least a moderate crew should they be needed through the night. These were the bruisers of the Silver Sail fleet and their voice was quite often the death warrant of any vessel which did not abide the “requests” of the Fleet Captain.
The docks of Bastille remained busy throughout the evening and long into the early morning hours as hands from both the ships and various groups on the shore labored to offload the immense stores of cargo both mundane and “otherwise” from the Silver Sail Fleet.
Andre had done as his Captain said, at least in part. He had gone to a local tavern for some good brew and a fine meal, yet had returned after being gone only briefly and napped upon the deck of Cloudbreaker while occasionally waking to direct various “delicate” trade matters between the officers of the cargo vessels and the fences they were dealing with.
The giant of a man would have been entirely restless if he had retired to some land-bound establishment for the night, he for one was at home upon the sea and only felt “right” when he was present upon Cloudbreaker. His large arms crossed over his chest and monstrous feet propped over a railing, Andre napped lightly and restfully while serving as a deceptively aware sleeper upon Cloudbreaker’s forecastle deck.
Dawn arrived, slightly overcast yet clearing toward midday, Jack met Andre at the end of the pier to which Cloudbreaker was moored and together the pair headed off to the pre-arranged location for the expected meeting with Earl.
The elder captain/merchant was not present when they arrived shortly before the toll of noonday, and no sign of him or a message regarding his absence had been received after two hours of waiting impatiently. Jack’s temper was quickly boiling over and it was all Andre could do to calm the outraged pirate captain.
Finally he had waited as long as he intended to and Jack stomped off to locate a known associate of Earl’s and get any information out of the whelp. The young man was barely past his nineteenth summer and made a meager living as a cutpurse in the slums of Bastille. Jerard was easily located and interrogated by the nefarious sea pirate and his giant of a henchman for the better part of an hour. Satisfied that they had learned all the cutpurse knew of the situation and fairly certain that what had been relayed was the truth as accurately as the boy knew it, Jack growled softly the entire way back to Cloudbreaker.
According to Jerard, Earl had been making a late run to a nearby coastal village named Shatter’s Retreat and his vessel had come under attack and taken by the sea. Apparently the old captain, true to his creed, had gone down with his ship and would not be returning obviously.
Upon arriving back at his ship, Jack quickly sent a pair of sloops, a frigate, one of the empty galleons, along with one of the distantly anchored Man-o-wars to scout and lay claim upon the site of the wreckage. It would be hauled up and pillaged of anything of value on board. Jack’s men were told to keep eye out for a small steel box with a pair of green gems on the lid. If luck held that strongbox was still present within the wreckage, it surely held the payment Earl had accumulated from the various trade dealings he had signed on Jack’s behalf.
It appeared that his fleet would be in the region a bit longer than originally expected. This of course pleased the men and the merchants of the various establishments they frequented, it did precious little to dispel Jack’s ire however. One further bit of information which had been of interest to Jack was the mention of a rather particular woman who had been either present or somehow associated with the incident leading to Earl’s demise.
Jack had not thought about her in years and the mention of her name had dredged up some long submerged memories from his past. She had been rather young back then, as had he for that matter. Even back then she had a fire to her, one which told that she would not remain a simple underling for long. He had been first-mate to the captain Narbol and she had been a simple deckhand at the time. Now according to the rumor he had just heard, she carried the title of Admiral and sailed for one of the best-outfitted fleets in the known seas at present. Kate, the former raggedy whelp of a girl, was now Admiral of the entire Holy Crusader fleet.
Jack had only placed the name with the face in his memory when Jerard had described the now striking woman. This fact had intrigued the pirate captain a good deal more than he had let on to the cutpurse, which had been complete disinterest beyond questioning what he knew of her involvement with the incident.
Back aboard Cloudbreaker, Jack prepared a special cask of Sonarian Amber Ale and once ready to his satisfaction ordered that the “gift” be left beside the cargo bound for Kate’s flagship, which Jack learned was named Eye of the Wind. Two deckhands rolled the sealed barrel down to the dock and out around to the appropriate location, depositing the barrel among the others being loaded upon the large vessel and departed with a friendly wave to the men laboring to load all the arrayed goods into the ship’s hold.
Jack was familiar enough with the ship in question, it’s notoriety had been spreading since the day it had been commissioned. Still it now carried an added measure of interest for the pirate since learning the identity of her captain.
The next few days would certainly prove to be far more interesting than Jack had initially imagined on his way into the Bastille harbor.