By Sidney Williams
“Admiral of the Narrow Seas” is a serial published in four parts. The rest of the story can be found here.
It is well documented that we found Teach in the Bay of Honduras. We knew not what he suspected, but we had little choice but to proceed with a veil of parley. It was a way to gain access without turning our ship into cannon fodder.
We weighed anchor near the Queen Anne and the chess game began.
Teach had us brought aboard with cordiality a neighboring planter back on Barbados might have extended me. Jorgen and I moved through a gauntlet of men more terrifying than any in our crew. We were shown to Teach’s cabin by a man whose features had melted into hideous lumps as the result of some blaze or battle.
I was prepared for the pirate to be a huge and horrifying man, but he could not have lived up to the vision conjured by imagination. He was smaller in stature and pounds lighter, yet that tangled mass of black hair that spread across his chest was as it had always been described.
Black Caesar stood at the seated pirate’s shoulder, possessing the size Teach lacked. He was a mountain with massive shoulders and huge arms folded, revealing muscles that the work of tending sails and performing other on board tasks had turned to stone.
“It is a pleasure to meet the great Saxon Fairbourn, burner of ships,” Teach said. “What brings you to my humble craft?”
I pulled up the cloth bag in which we’d stored The Eye and showed him the jewel within the folds.
“You have heard of the success of our run in the Atlantic. We have holds filled with silver and tobacco and linen, but we gained much more. We traversed the magic and pulled out your horde.”
“Why should I not gut you where you stand?”
“We sought it only as a way to get your attention. It is safe and intact and illustrates our worth as partners. Gut me, and you’ll never know where we moved it.”
The pirate began to chuckle. “Perhaps Caesar could read the whereabouts in your entrails.”
“I am a former man of property,” I went on. “Clever and trained in commerce. From that I know that the efforts of a single ship and crew might be greatly expanded if it were coupled with a second. More men, more guns, more reward for us all.”
The pirate laughed a more hearty laugh.
“Together we could rule the Caribbean,” I said. “And the Atlantic coast. I have old military contacts. I could pick up word of the naval forces launched against you. We would be an alliance to be reckoned with.”
He began to stroke the mass of black hair, and he spoke slowly and with such eloquence the contempt in his words was almost unnoticeable.
“An interesting proposal, Mr. Fairbourn, but there is word in certain sectors that your crew is unruly and undisciplined. They’ve dubbed you Admiral of the Narrow Seas, as apt to puke from the toss of the ship as too much rum, and you’re clearly weakened and injured. For us to be successful in the endeavor you propose, I believe I must put a man aboard your vessel. They need the taste of a stern hand even if you and your friends are clever.”
Jorgen and I gave each other looks of alarm, but we said little in argument.
“Perhaps the men would appreciate a little more discipline,” I said at last.
“It is decided then. We will join forces. I will send a man back to your ship with Mr. Jorgen. You, Captain Fairbourn, will stay as my guest for a time as we get our affairs organized. It will be easier for us to communicate.”
And so began the alliance. Our ships sailed in unison while I enjoyed imprisonment, albeit comfortable imprisonment, in quarters Teach provided. Fortunately I had a little freedom of movement. It allowed me to study the ship and the men and move about enough to avoid feeling totally a captive. Frequently I supped with Teach and heard tales of his exploits, and often Caesar was at his side, but he never asked about Lesedi. I am sure he sensed her and was confident he would find and claim her soon enough.
The true nature of what was transpiring was like a dark snake that coiled between us of which we did not speak. It was poised and ready to strike, yet it did not for some time. I believe Blackbeard and Caesar feared Lesedi’s power.
A storm ripped the night sky when they decided they had my crew in their grip. On visits, Jorgen had quietly informed me of the transition of loyalties and dropped other messages. Blackbeard’s man on board my vessel had gained respect with a pair of floggings that, in the short term, brought grumbling but ultimately respect.
“They plan to put us ashore soon,” Jorgen said, sitting in my cabin. “And torture the weakest man until he tells where the treasure was dropped.”
“Somehow she has continued to elude them and they have not found Samuel.”
I lowered my voice. “Is she ready?”
“Let us hope, for I believe they will scuttle our ship if they do not find her.”
We waited in quiet anticipation for an hour, as the clock approached midnight and indeed a knock came upon my door, more pleasant than I expected. Teach and Caesar stood there, flanked in the narrow space by men holding muskets.
“We are near the shore of the Carolinas. A decent place to be released, wouldn’t you say?”
“Will we be able to take away what we came for?” I asked.
“What Caesar owns I cannot barter,” Teach responded.
Pretense was dropped. As suspected, offering the treasure back to him would have done little good.
“Though I believe your ship is a fair gift for the hospitality I’ve extended,” Teach said.
We were escorted politely above board into rain and a night turned into sudden daylight by lightning flashes. In those pulses, both Teach and his second glowed bright, their appearances taking on the nightmarish look of their legends.
“There are things I need to collect on my ship,” I said.
“The things from your quarters will be put in the longboat with you,” Teach said. “Was there anything else?’
Jorgen sprang, shoving himself to right into one of the armed guards. He snatched the musket from the man’s fist before he knew what had happened and fired, the blast ripping open the throat of the second guard.
When the man dropped, I went after his cutlass, snatching it from his belt even as Teach bellowed for reinforcements. As Jorgen grabbed the dead man’s weapon, I thrust the cutlass at Teach’s throat. His men would fell me before I escaped, but I had within my power the opportunity to sever his jugular.
“Will your blood spill this night?” he asked.
“Will yours? It rides on what Caesar possesses.”
Both pirate and lieutenant chuckled, ignoring our weapons just as they ignored the icy, slashing rain.
But with the next bolt of lightening their laughter froze in their throats. In that spotlight, Lesedi, clad all in white was visible standing on our quarter deck. She brandished a twisted staff in one hand and a dagger in the other and, though her voice was lost amid the crash of the sea and the storm’s roar, it was apparent she shouted.
Darkness returned, but in another instant a fresh lightning bolt illuminated the world anew and our eyes were drawn immediately upward to the writhing movement on the Revenge’s forward mast.
We caught a flash of nightmare, of gleaming ebon scales and coils wrapped around the wood. High above the sails, eyes glowed red, and fangs like two massive cutlass blades flared in the lightning, while somewhere almost lost in the clouds we caught the flutter of black wings and more length of body that stretched somewhere into a void in the clouds.
It was the real version of things I had drawn at Lesedi’s instruction.
“Markings, veves, have been etched in secret places as I’ve hobbled about your ship,” I told Teach. “Lesedi has studied long days and said they are invitations and behold. I believe Caesar could interpret and might know that fellow on the mast. If you wish, we can test her command against Caesar’s.”
Above the storm’s cry, a loud, rattling hiss issued from deep in an alien throat.
“Shall we?” Teach asked.
“She has learned much since I knew her,” Caesar said. “She is powerful.”
“Even to a bokor such as yourself?”
In the next lightning flash, a new figure stood beside Lesedi. Caesar’s eyes opened wider.
He looked almost like one of the dead we had encountered, but Samuel stood, staring toward his old rival. For a moment, I held my breath, wondering what Caesar would do. His hand went to the hilt of the sword at his side, then he looked to Samuel, cast a longing glance at Lesedie and then into the clouds, but he did not draw the weapon.
“She is the one who summoned the spirit in the mast. She commands it,” Caesar said. “She has become powerful.”
And in his face it was clear he could see she would never be his, not if she’d mounted this big an effort.
Those rituals below deck had been practice. Trial and error with the loa and other spirits, all for Samuel.
A Samuel who looked ready for battle, ready to rend any who opposed him.
“What is his will be returned,” Caesar said.
“And the coordinates to your treasure will be yours,” I responded.
The small chest Caesar provided was no more than a humidor with modest carvings but when Lesedi saw it, she shrieked with delight. Despite the harshness of the storm, they rowed us back to Cursed Sabre and we stood soon beside poor Samuel’s form.
“We will find a place for his burial,” I said. “And see that a proper service is said.”
“He will not die,” Lesedi responded.
“But the injuries.”
“I did not expect it, but the swelling of his brain went down while he was in the trance. The show on deck was real. He was ready to fight. The restoration of his soul will give him new strength. The night will not claim him.”
And it was so, my brother. We saw that a night later after a ritual performed by Lesedi. Samuel was able to stand for the first time while awake and alert. Lesedi had one more request.
We set sail, and we soon returned to that isle of Downel and his kin. An old monastery stood on a high hill, a structure that would make a home for them and at last they would stand beneath the lovelighted star they had so long been denied.
When a new man-o’-war appeared on the horizon, we turned the ship over to Abelard who already gave orders that drew respect. As the Sabre bore away, Jorgen and I sat in a longboat until the naval forces approached as you have heard.
The governor will show no mercy. I regret that, for Jorgen is guilty most of loyalty. It was even loyalty to me to try help in the balancing of my ledgers that he cut rations to the slaves and performed other dark tasks of which I was unaware.
I am the greater sinner. I see it now. For me all is well enough.
I have had a full life, and I know you will follow the instructions forthcoming from my attorney. Keep an eye on my wife and children. You will have the means to see they are well taken care of. You can go forth knowing there are no curses on our family and the generations yet to come are spared.
Think of it as madness if you will, but if you doubt me, if you think simply that my mind twisted as I poured over my ledger, someday go to the island in the Atlantic marked on the map I’ve enclosed. Walk there and see if you do not see cats running free amid the children of Samuel and Lesedi. And listen in the night to the wind.
I am certain you will hear other whispers.
Fare ye well.
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: Blackbeard the Pirate, Artist Unknown