By Sidney Williams
“Admiral of the Narrow Seas” is a serial published in four parts. The rest of the story can be found here.
Unrest was immediate. They had no respect for me, thought me both inexperienced and a coward since I had run from the deck. Of more concern were the whispers of the cloaked figure that had been spotted briefly despite the distraction of battle. Likewise, they had seen the look in the eyes of the Triumph’s crew and seen the order to burn. They knew our mission was more than gold and spoils.
The task of calming them fell to Jorgen. They respected him slightly more, though their superstition simmered and rumors about the strange woman below deck took on their own chilling dimensions.
I could not fault them. Odd sounds and smells emanated from Lesedi’s cabin as she performed whatever acts of divination she had mastered, struggling to pinpoint the bokor’s whereabouts through chants and tea leaves and gull’s entrails.
It was from those strange measures that we continued northward, winding thorough small chains of islands. I questioned my life’s sudden turn, so far from the comforts of my house and family and further still from the pleasantries of my school days. Yet perhaps there was some joy in the freedom of the seas, perhaps it mesmerized me.
Perhaps, Jonathan, those who have whispered dementia may be correct, but it seemed real, and when Lesedi spoke of the cove on the small island we must locate I did not question. Yet when I set down what we saw there, you will believe me a madman.
No doubt as we made our way, the charred remains of the ship we had seemingly pillaged were discovered adrift in the shipping lanes, and the first word spread of pirates in the waters who practiced without mercy.
But we knew nothing of becoming legends. We sought answers and fought to quell mutiny as we glided into the small cove on the eastern side of a long, thin island off the coast of the Carolinas. From the sight of it, we might have been sailing the coast of paradise, lush greenery dangling over beaches of sand as white as the cottony clouds, but we dropped anchor in a dark place.
We told the men we would inventory and plot our next assaults on even more profitable ships. It was necessary to promise ships with troves of silver and jewels in their holds to keep the men appeased, but the visions of riches quelled complaint. They dreamed and slogged down rum from the Triumph’s stores.
The rum brought sleep, and we lowered a boat to the water’s surface shortly before the set of the moon, when the silvery rays still splashed white swirls across the mild water. Jorgen, Abelard, and a few trusted crewmen paddled. A cloaked Lesedi sat in the bow holding a torch. They had their suspicions of her, but they accepted her as soul doctor I required.
As we drew near shore, a chill brought by more than the night wind stabbed needles into my spine. I felt it first then saw that shadows moved. Eyes appeared, ignited by what moon and starlight there was. It seemed a thousand glowing green eyes. They peered from every pocket of shadow. They gazed at us between every blade of grass and between every leaf and tree trunk.
“What are they?” I asked.
“Cats,” Lesedi reassured. “Just cats.”
“What do we seek here?”
Our craft sliced into the beach sand and Jorgen and Abelard clambered out into the shallows to drag it to a secure stop.
“The man who holds Samuel’s soul passed this way,” Lesedi said. She flipped the hood from her hair, and I thought her eyes might be glowing as brightly as those from the trees. “We might be able to pick up some clue of where they travel.”
“From the sand?”
“From what they left.”
Watched by those thousand eyes, we lighted more torches and made our way across the beach and at the edge of thick trees Lesedi picked a trail. Jorgen walked beside her, his hand resting on the hilt of his cutlass. As our audience of eyes peered down, I could swear I heard whispers drifting on the wind.
Men often speak of seeking hidden pirate booty. They pour over maps and hope for forbidden knowledge that will guide them. We walked to the secluded spot guided only by Lesedi’s senses and divinations, effective if not saintly.
“Dig,” she commanded.
Unwisely perhaps, we had brought no spades. We used our hands and sword blades to scratch and hack at the ground and, slowly, sweating in the torchlight, we worked our way deeper and deeper until at last we struck something solid. Raking back dirt with our fingers, I saw we had not found the wooden lid of a chest but something denser. Bone, my brother Jonathan. Not bleached and white as you are probably pictured. Stinking, putrid flesh clung to it still. It was a man not dead for long. Months perhaps.
“Left to guard this pit,” Jorgen murmured. “His very soul left to guard.”
I was shrinking back from the sight, acid burning my throat. In horror I watched Lesedi reach deep into the folds of her cloak and kneel beside the hideous gray face that peered up. Chanting softly, she unfolded a bit of stiff fabric and as her strange words swirled she puffed a cloud of faint gray dust.
At first I attributed the tattered face’s movement to the flicker of our torch flames. Then, as I continued to peer into the hole I realized the ruined face muscles were flexing as if the figure were awaking from an extended nap. In the next moment, eyelids lifted revealing milky orbs were revealed with clouded, plum-colored pupils.
“Who are you?” Lesedi demanded. “Grave dweller, who are you?”
Incredibly, the monstrous thing began to chuckle. “I’m a husk o’ the man I once ‘twas.”
“Who left you here?”
“’Ave you never heard what’s said ‘bout what dead men tell?”
The voice was a hideous growling scratch. I wanted to cover my ears but I could not. I had to listen to the fabulous nightmare unfolding.
“You were left here by someone close to the man who holds my man’s soul,” Lesedi said. “Surely you can see the evil inherent in that?”
He chuckled again. “Why’s he got it?”
“They were rivals in a different time and place.”
“Rivals for what, sweetie? Visits to the ol’ apple dumpling shop?”
He suggested lewd things about Lesedi, kept at it until she spat in his face. One of his ruined cheeks twitched as the phlegm slid down its side.
“’At’s a way to win me over.”
“Who did you sail with?” Lesedi demanded.
“He might a slew me, but I won’t betray ‘im. Why can’t you see it, if you know so much?”
“The bokor has strong magic surrounding him. I can spy only little pieces.”
“Little piece brought you here? Why don’t you sit right down? I’d gladly be a seat to a game pullet.”
He flicked out a ghastly tongue, and the bile threatened to pour from my stomach as I saw the wriggling maggots inside the ruined flap of flesh.
Lesedi drew back, angered and frustrated.
“We’ll learn nothing from him.”
“Perhaps ah can beh of service,” said a voice from one of the overhead branches.
I looked up into a pair of the glowing eyes that had been studying us from afar. They were gold now in the flicker of torchlight, and I saw there were vertical pupils, feline. The unbelievable events of the night were not over.
A creature that crouched above us dropped suddenly and without warning. Standing in front of us, he was four-feet tall at the shoulder, sleek and gray-brown with black stripes and pronounced black tufts on his pointed ears. The fur at his cheekbones was as thick as mutton chops. His tail, however, was a short, almost stubby appendage.
“I am Downal,” he said in a soft, wry voice. “Now o’ the cat people.”
“Has some of your magic dust bewitched this creature, too?” Reynolds asked.
“Amn’t bewitched by this lady, ah assure you,” Downal said. “Joost selective, as are all of my kind, with whom we choose to communicate.”
“You live on the island?”
“We are no’ natives. We fled the persecution of sorcerers in Ireland who believed us to be evil witches. They turned us inta felines and would have slaughtered us. Fortunately a group o’ monks were leaving the land at the time and weh tagged along, posing simply as pets, though some are large like I. Weh remained her, and it’s been peaceful, and weh do not wish to change that.”
“You saw the men who left this rubbish?” Lesedi asked.
“A crowd of them. They spoke to one man as leader. Perhaps that will help you.”
“A name?” Lesedi asked. “Did they give a name? Or a ship’s name?”
“I’m afraid we didna see the name of the ship. I can only tell you they referred to their leader as Thatch or perhaps Teach.”
Jorgen and I turned at once to stare at each other’s expression of recognition and horror. It could only be Edward Teach.
“Was this Teach befriended by a man with skin the color of mine?” Lesedi asked.
“Darker perhaps,” said Downal, “but yes. He stood at Teach’s shoulder. He performed a ritual over tha’ ground on which ya stand.”
Lesedi turned to me. “He is the one we seek. No doubt if he performed magic. That is the bokor who holds Samuel’s soul.”
“I heard him called Caesar,” Downal said.
In the next port, in the grog shops, we gathered news of Blackbeard and his ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge. He was in the Virginia Capes, it was whispered, so after trading and making use of the goods we had taken from the Triumph’s hold we replenished our supplies and set sail again. The men, though still restless and frightened, seemed momentarily satisfied with rum and fresh payments.
“We cannot confront Blackbeard in an outright fight,” Jorgen said as we stood at the bow several days later. “He will slaughter us.”
“How are we to get to this Caesar and convince him to release Samuel’s spirit?”
“What if we go to Teach not just with reputation but with booty as well? In the rum houses we heard people speaking of us or at least of pirates who had slaughtered an entire crew and burned the timbers of the ship itself. That’ll get embellished and whispered more. If we could find some additional treasure to take along, that might be useful.”
“Are you saying pillage more ships? Be true pirates?”
I winced at the thought of the notoriety we’d already gained. No one would ever understand or believe the reason behind the tragic events.
“We could find treasure already in the ground.”
“We dare not take Teach’s own.”
“What better way to get his attention? He wouldn’t be without it, just given a taste of our prowess.”
“Do we go back to old Husk’s trove and fight him off?”
“We might need to re-visit that isle, but that little bit of gold was just put there to lighten Teach’s hold. His greatest trove is elsewhere.”
“What do you know?”
“There are legends of the Île Magique. It’s protected by magic, more than the likes of old Husk, but with Lesedi’s help, magic wise, maybe it would be possible.”
“Magic and the spirits can’t do everything,” Lesedi said, suddenly standing beside us.
“With the crew and perhaps with some help of friends, we might find a way,” Jorgen said.
“Do we know where it is?” I asked.
“We could find it. With the magic to protect it the location is not that big a secret.”
“We need to be quick,” I said. “We’re going to be pursued by the authorities now that we’re rumored as pirates and Samuel, how long can he hold on?”
“The magic will do some good, but he grows ever weaker,” Lesedi said.
“We find the treasure quickly then, so that when we locate Blackbeard, we’ll be worthy of notice,” Jorgen said. “Then you as captain will greet him with a proposition. You, plantation owner turned pirate, wish to join forces with him to fight at the side of the fiercest pirate in these waters. As a gesture of good will, we’ll offer his treasure back to him.”
“Won’t he see through the ruse? If this Caesar is powerful enough to cloud…”
“The spirits don’t make me see all,” Lesedi said. “The same is true for him.”
“At the very least if we approach Teach with holds full of his gold, he’ll be too intrigued to resist,” Jorgen said. “Then we snatch back the soul.”
“It is at least the beginnings of a plan,” Lesedi said. “You can possibly sweeten the pot for Caesar even more.”
“What does he want?”
Sidney Williams (@Sidney_Williams) is a creative writing instructor and the author of several paperback horror thrillers, graphic novels, and comic book mini-series.His latest novel, Dark Hours, is due soon from Crossroad Press. His short fiction has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies including Cemetery Dance, Under the Fang and Hot Blood: Deadly After Dark, and he has written young adult thrillers under the name Michael August. He can be found on the web at Sid is Alive.
Image Credit: Pirates Attacking a Merchantman, Ambroise-Louis Garneray