BROTHERS OF THE FORSAKEN
The Golden Age of Piracy is ending. Pirates are accepting pardons to return to lawful lives. Benjamin is one of these men, but grapples with conflicting feelings toward his past life as a pirate, and his reformed life under the law. As Benjamin returns to the sea, he is forced to face the consequences for taking the pardon when he encounters his former brothers of the Forsaken. He must choose between friends and reconcile the conflict in his heart.
WARNING Contains some explicit language and descriptions of violence.
BROTHERS OF THE FORSAKEN
17th of February 1720
The sun rose over Kingston, but the excitement Benjamin had expected to feel was nowhere to be found. All he could compel himself to do was stare from his window at the Kingston harbour, remembering a different time. A time when he was free to sail beyond those wooden piers and crowded beaches into the smooth Caribbean waters, away from civilisation. He closed his eyes. He could still feel the rush of excitement that he felt when he stared from the burgundy bow of the Forsaken for the very first time. Despite his attempts to lock away those memories, he missed those glorious days amongst the gentlemen of fortune. He missed being one of the men who brandished their cutlasses to the pompous captains, rather than quivering to their every demand.
He turned away from his window to gaze upon Erin, who slept soundly in the layers of warm blankets with her brown hair covering her slender face. He quietly walked over to her and gently brushed the brown curls away. Thinking of her wellbeing helped him to cope with his decision. He stared intently at the British captain’s uniform laid out on the table in front of their bed. That was his only key to ever sailing the free seas again. A uniform worn by men he once robbed or killed. The absurdity of becoming one of them had never crossed his mind when he was a pirate, yet here he was.
Richard would be shocked to see me now.
After all this time, he still could not supress the memories of his old friend Richard. He could still picture that angular faced ugly mug, which could display the happiest of expressions, or the most ferocious of them. He had always enjoyed Richard’s talent of frightening their enemies, yet always thanked the heavens that he never faced that side of him. He always saw the cheerful fool who loved to drink, and gamble. But it was the conversations that he missed most. Though often brought on by rum, Benjamin and Richard could discuss anything, from the nature of power, to topics of religion, politics, and morality; but both agreed always that the most amoral thing, was treachery.
Those cheerful thoughts turned into fearful ones as Benjamin came to realise that if they ever crossed paths again, they would meet as foes. Richard despised the British Empire, and anyone who took their pardon.
‘The pardon is for traitors and the weak,’ he would preach to the Forsaken’s crew.
He believed those words so fervently that when he caught a pirate who had taken the pardon in Nassau, he had the man tied up with ropes, took him to the Forsaken, and keelhauled the traitor until the poor bastard’s body was nothing more than a hunk of ripped and bleeding flesh.
For all his time with Richard he believed those words, those who took the pardon deserved death. That was until he was at the mercy of his former capture and present friend William. As he was shackled, bruised, and starving in the bowels of that British Man O’ War the Morgan. William told him, as they argued, why the pardon was truly offered.
‘It’s a clean slate for those who were driven to piracy. It is an apology from the empire to you. It’s a second chance at a decent life!’
Benjamin had attempted to argue against that but found no counter. The pardon was what William said it was. A second chance.
Benjamin glared at the uniform and lowered his hand to the blue and white coat with gilded epaulettes, but before he could touch the woollen sleeve, his hand dropped, and he turned away in disgust.
I’m a traitor, I’m a coward.
Despite attempting to evoke William’s words, Richard’s words rang louder in his ear. He was about ready to throw the uniform through the window, but then he looked back to Erin. After struggling for so much of her life, she finally was genuinely happy for the first time since he had met her, he could not deprive her of that.
Benjamin swallowed his fear and got dressed. After he tied up his light brown hair into a gentleman’s tail, he went over to her and shook her shoulder gently. Slowly her eyes opened revealing their blue colour as she lifted herself from the bed.
‘Good morning,’ she yawned.
‘Morning. How’d you sleep?’ Benjamin asked softly.
‘Good, but I’m still…,’ Erin said as she sat up in the blankets.
Erin looked away from Benjamin and stared out the window. Benjamin grabbed her hand and said.
‘I’ll be fine. It’s just a short voyage delivering soldiers and supplies to Nassau. After that, I’ll be back.’
She looked into Benjamin’s eyes and then shook her head.
‘But what about the war? Everyone is talking about how the Spanish have their eyes on Nassau. I heard ships were sailing near those waters.’
‘I’ll be fine, I’ve got thirty soldiers aboard, a skilled crew of thirty-four, and William to keep me safe.’
‘Yes, but what about pirates, they still roam near there, what if you run into…’
Benjamin raised his hand and stopped her. He was touched by how much she worried for him and could tell if she had her way his feet would be firmly chained to their wooden floors.
‘I can handle it,’ Benjamin said smiling.
Though still worried she took a deep sigh and nodded.
‘Okay Ben, just come back to me.’
‘I’ll be gone no more than a month,’ Benjamin reassured her cheerfully.
He then rose and placed his black tricorne upon his head.
‘You look handsome.’
Benjamin shook his head and let out a small chuckle.
‘Thank you. this feels tight though,’ Benjamin said as he pointed to his waistcoat.
Erin let out a giggle.
‘It’s because your too used to loosened breeches and shirts.’
Benjamin shrugged in agreement. He then leaned down and kissed his wife one last time.
‘I better go. I love you.’
Erin however then wrapped her arms around him and hugged him tightly once again and gave him a loving kiss. Then she let him go.
‘I love you too. Be safe.’
Benjamin nodded doing his best to reassure her. He opened the door and felt the cool air hit his chest and walked to return to the ocean he missed so much.
* * *
It was a short walk from Benjamin’s house to the Kingston harbour. The house was one of the rewards bestowed upon him, along with secure living, and even guaranteed income if he sailed under the Union Jack again. All this given to him, just for signing a piece of parchment. Although it was William’s persuasion that was the contributing factor that allowed Benjamin to sail and even captain a ship again. He still found it hard to believe that when they first met, they hated each other.
When he reached the harbour, he found it alive with activity. The amount of ships that were anchored in the harbour took Benjamin by surprise. He had known that the Kingston harbour’s waters were deep enough, and the area was wide enough for many ships, but he still found it hard to believe that close to sixty large ships were all docked in this harbour. There were some that weren’t even accessible by piers. The mass of ships had even blocked the view of the two separate forts that guarded the harbour’s entrance, which was narrowed by a stretch of land that created a natural wall between the open ocean and Kingston. Benjamin found himself wondering if Nassau had such an advantage for defence, would Woodes Rogers have taken it as easily as he had.
Whilst living in Kingston after his carpentry work, he would often come down to the harbour to walk about the piers, take in the sounds of shouting and loud whistles blowing, all for the purpose of getting close to the ocean. Yet after hours of walking about, he went home unfulfilled for he could not sail beyond those piers without permission because of his past – and the harbour was never nearly as alive as it was in the mornings. The sea was everything to Benjamin, for most of his life he had been a sailor and he supposed he loved it because of the freedom and adventure it offered. The ocean could take you anywhere, from New York, to Paris, and as a pirate he was free to sail wherever he wished. Yet now he had to sail where he was ordered to, but it was a small price to pay to get back on those waves.
As he began walking from the white sands and onto one of the piers, he was reminded of how light he felt when standing on them. Whilst marching along he passed shop keepers shouting from their wooden stalls in attempts to attract him and other sailors for their coin. After some time doing his usual harbour exploring Benjamin reached his frigate’s pier and saw something that snatched his joy away.
Upon a thick wooden post hung a gibbet cage with a half-rotted corpse inside. On it hung a wooden sign with the words ‘BEWARE PYRATES.’
Every time Benjamin had begun getting used to being part of the empire again, something reminded him of why he turned to piracy in the first place. Whether it was those vile taxation officers, or those wealthy bastards who strutted about the Kingston streets like peacocks. But this he hated the most, men put on display and left to rot as warnings to other sailors to never taste freedom, to be content with the state authorised robbery by the British Empire. He removed his tricorne for the dead pirate, held it to his chest and muttered a quick prayer before placing it back on his head and walking towards his ship.
She was easy to find because of the thirty loitering soldiers who held muskets in their hands, swords by their sides, and were all wearing their red uniforms with tricornes mounted upon their heads. Many of them greeted him with handshakes and the words ‘pleasure to meet you sir.’ After them, Benjamin met their commanding officer Edward Morrow, who was a burly looking man with small green eyes and a clean-shaven weary face. He wore his gold decorated tricorne and redcoat with pride. Yet despite his appearance Morrow was quite soft-spoken and when Benjamin introduced himself the conversation turned to business, and then into silence. After the short exchange Benjamin examined his ship.
She was called the Sea Lion and she was a battered old frigate painted yellow and black, with grey sails and a sea lion figurehead upon her prow. She had ten gun ports on her port side, confirming that the twenty guns he was promised were aboard.
After staring at his vessel, he clambered up the ramp and boarded the Sea Lion to find his crew preparing her for her voyage. Some hauled crates below deck, whilst others cleaned the cannons and others scrubbed the deck. That was when he found his quartermaster barking orders with his clear and authoritative voice.
‘Get that shot below deck, and make sure it’s secured tightly,’ William said to a young sailor wearing a white shirt with a blue vest.
There he is. William after two years of knowing him was still a thin looking man with combed blond hair and a neatly trimmed beard. He wore a gold decorated blue officer’s coat, and a small black tricorne with a medal attached to its right side.
Benjamin raised his heels from the deck and attempted to move as silently and as quickly as possible, he had gotten so close to him, but William was always too quick to react.
‘Morning Mr “I’ll never wear a captain’s uniform,” he said never turning his head.
‘Shut your gob, I know I look foolish,’ Benjamin said, as William turned to face him with a smile.
‘You often do, but not in that uniform. You look especially foolish when trying to sneak up on me though,’ William said after turning his head to inspect Benjamin’s appearance.
‘I thought I’d get you this time.’
‘Nothing gets by me, try to remember that Captain,’ William said.
‘As you wish quartermaster. When do we depart?’
‘We’ll be ready in an hour.’
‘Very well. I won’t be in irons this time, will I?’ Benjamin smirked
‘Come, that’s how you remember our first voyage?’
‘Well that and the gambling.’
‘And me winning a lot.’
‘You didn’t, I won more from you than I ever earned,’ Benjamin said as he climbed the stairs leading up to the wheel.
‘Hyperbole doesn’t suit you Ben.’ From there William went back to ordering the sailors about.
In the meantime, he approached the Sea Lion’s wheel and ran his hands across the smooth and polished wood.
The hour soon passed, and Morrow’s soldiers were led aboard the ship. The sails were then unfolded, the Sea Lion caught the wind, and Benjamin was back on the never-ending blue.
The waves crashed against the bow of the Sea Lion springing up and drenching the deck as they sailed out of Kingston harbour and beyond the two forts stationed at the entry of it. Benjamin could smell the salt in the air and felt the warmth of the sun on his back. He could hear the wind flow into the main sails that were attached to the thick wooden masts towering above. The wind caught in the sails and forced the Sea Lion onward into the Caribbean waters.
‘Happy to be back?’ William asked.
Benjamin was beaming with happiness, he figured he would never be allowed to sail again, yet here he was.
‘I’m going to enjoy feeling like this every day.’
‘I’m glad, but down to business. How long do you think we’re going to be out there Captain?’
‘I told my wife no more than a month.’
‘We’re likely going to encounter the Spanish… or pirates.’
‘Our orders are to attack any lone ships. Pirates included. Why are you reminding me?’ Benjamin responded with bitterness.
He did not want to talk about this now, all he wanted was to feel the ocean’s push beneath his feet, hear the seagulls cheerfully mew, and breathe in the fresh watery air.
‘The Forsaken has been spotted prowling near Nassau. If we run into your old crew… will you?’
Benjamin turned from William and stared out into the sea, imagining the Forsaken sailing towards him.
‘I will do the right thing,’ he said.
William placed his hand upon Benjamin’s shoulder.
‘Good. Enjoy, I know it’s been a while.’
Benjamin took that advice and relished every second of his reunion with the ocean. He even threw his tricorne to one of his crew and allowed the gentle wind to hit his chest and wisp through his dark brown hair. He did not care if he looked unprofessional to the soldiers aboard, he wanted nothing to ruin this moment.
* * *
For the first two weeks Benjamin and the crew of the Sea Lion sailed beyond the coast of Jamaica toward Nassau. They encountered a few merchant ships and even some royal navy ones, but otherwise it was a quiet voyage. The crew and the soldiers were in good spirits for a lot of it and Benjamin went to great efforts to keep it that way. Often, he would talk with them as if he was no captain at all, and would eat with them, drink with them, and watched as the crew danced, sung or wrestled in their free time. Benjamin even rewarded the winners of the wrestling matches with a day off from duty.
Morrow was often quiet unless he was talking to William, in which case he would become as loud and rowdy as the soldiers under his command. At first, he was resistant to allowing the crew and the soldiers to participate in the same activities, but a ship has a way of bringing everyone together. Benjamin learned that from being William’s prisoner to becoming William’s friend. Morrow would also eat with Benjamin and William but would retire to his quarters soon after.
When he needed a break from the crew Benjamin would sit with William in the captain’s cabin and talk about things other than the business of the day. William was an excellent conversationalist and had ideas about a wide range of topics, from philosophies put forth by Descartes and Locke, to horse racing, and history. He was very much like Richard in that respect.
But what gripped Benjamin’s attention the most were William’s stories of fighting in the War of the Spanish Succession as an infantry man. During these stories William would never praise himself, and on one night when Benjamin had complimented his bravery, he responded by saying.
‘Those men I fought with were far braver than I. Compared to them I was just another cowardly officer feigning bravery. They were good and cheerful souls, and only ever in battle was I their commander, otherwise I was just one of them.’
William’s stories were the closest Benjamin could get to understanding infantry warfare without ever being an infantry soldier. The bravery it took to stand and take fire from an opposing army amazed him – even if William downplayed his own efforts, the fact that William survived all the battles he spoke of was a miracle.
‘During the war all I did was raid and capture ships. Nowhere near what you did.’
‘I did my share of seafaring,’ William said.
‘Yes, I know aboard the… Morrigan?’
‘The Morgan. As if you don’t know it.’
Benjamin could listen to the stories of victory, defeat, courage and loss for hours on end about William’s time on the field of battle. Yet when he spoke of the Morgan Benjamin was forced to feign interest because the stories mirrored his own experiences, but also because he had to bury resentment.
He could still remember those early days as a prisoner. Every day after the crew were done with their day’s work they’d clamber below deck and torment him. They’d beat him with the handles of their pistols or punched and kicked him repeatedly while he was down. They called him a sea devil, and swore that before he died, they would make him pay for the deaths of their fallen mates. They did give him food and water but made him drink water from the wooden floor and the food was often half rotten. He had first tried to fight back, trying insults like, ‘that didn’t hurt’, when in truth the pain bit into him like a rabid dog, and lingered with him for the whole voyage; so after a week of torment, he decided silence was best.
The only one who never showed no signs of enjoyment in Benjamin’s torment was William. So, it came as no surprise when he intervened and stopped the beatings. What did surprise him was William bringing fresh food and water to him every day. When he asked why he was doing this, William had said.
‘Even if you are a pirate no one deserves what they were doing to you. I’d rather end it quick. But the captain thinks your execution will draw quite a crowd.’
It was aboard the Morgan that Benjamin came to terms with dying. As no other person would talk to him, Benjamin shared fears, regrets, and resentments to William. The thing that surprised Benjamin the most though, was William eventually started listening, and even went as far as to offer advice. That was when Benjamin saw the pardon in a new light. After weeks of talking with William, he realised he had come to like this young nobleman and looked forward to the evenings where the two could talk, and even play dice. William was the first officer Benjamin had met who – after some time – attempted to understand why he and so many others had turned to piracy. Although the thought of his death leered constantly in his mind, it did not ruin the early days of his friendship with William.
But fate strangely enough had chosen a different path for Benjamin. One day in the bowels of the Morgan Benjamin heard loud bangs that rocked the ship. Not long after, William had appeared in front of him with his blue coat covered in gunpowder and specks of blood. Soon after he found himself unshackled and armed with a sabre and pistol.
‘I’m trusting you, don’t let me down,’ William had declared.
Benjamin merely nodded and together they rushed upon the deck and faced the Morgan’s assailers.
‘I’ll never forget captaining that ship. God I hated it.’
‘I don’t get how you even became captain. When we met you were a quartermaster?’
‘Well I was only a replacement for Captain Walter. I could manage a crew well enough, but navigating storms, rough seas, or any of the trade routes, that was all alien to me. It was a miracle we returned to port at all. That’s why you’re captain and not me.’
Benjamin cracked up and punched William in the shoulder.
‘So, you leave the navigating of storms to me?’
‘Yes, and if we encounter one, you’ll have the responsibility.’
‘Thanks. I hope we don’t, the last one me and Rich navigated nearly cost us our main mast.’
The two men fell silent as Richard’s name loomed in the air of the creaking captain’s cabin.
‘It was pirates who killed Walter, they fired on us and a bullet found his throat.’ William stated, breaking the silence, and reminding Benjamin of his feelings towards pirates.
‘I’m sorry to hear that.’
‘Oh well good men die.’
‘Why didn’t Walter surrender?’ Benjamin blurted out.
William leaned back, and his face turned into a look of surprise and anger.
‘They were pirates, we were the navy.’
‘Yes, but if you had surrendered, they would have taken what they needed and left.’
‘Taken what they needed! No, they would’ve taken what they wanted. There was no guarantee that they would not have sunk our ship and slit our throats the moment we submitted to them.’
‘Not all pirates do that, most have a code.’
‘Then explain Blackbart, or Vane? Or are you going to tell me their victims should’ve surrendered?
‘No, but most pirates just want…’
‘Want to rob people because that’s easier than earning what they steal.’
‘Most were driven to it by the British, they were the ones who sacked the thousands of privateers throwing me and many others into poverty!’
‘Britain’s atoned for that with the pardon.’
‘Most don’t want to take it because it means… they failed to stay free and self-reliant. That’s one of the reasons I refused it for so long.’
‘Thievery cannot be tolerated in civilisation. The empire has made many mistakes in its time, and the mass sacking of all those privateers was one of them, but that was something they were forced into. That’s why Rogers’ pardon was introduced, as a…’
‘Apology for that mistake, yes I know.’
‘I don’t think your old friend Richard Redeye does. Otherwise he would’ve taken it too.’
Benjamin had to accept that, knowing it was mostly true. He could still hear the shrieking of the man Richard had keelhauled for taking the pardon. He could still hear the venom in his voice when the captain of the Morgan offered the pardon in exchange for their lives. Richard had asked the crew what they thought, and the crew decided no after some discussion, so Richard attacked the forty gunned Morgan. Suddenly an idea came to his mind, and he found himself speaking the thought aloud.
‘The Richard I remember valued the lives of every member of his crew. If enough of them considered the pardon to be the only way, then he would accept that.’
‘How do you know he would respect that decision?’
‘He values democracy. The captain is not always king.’
‘Well, I hope we don’t need to find out.’
From there the two men mutually changed the subject. Benjamin did not wish to continue arguing with William, after all he was one of the best friend’s he felt he had made since leaving the pirate’s life.
* * *
The voyage did not remain uneventful for long. As they were sailing along the coast of Cuba, they encountered a cluster of small islands and among them floated idly a large red and black Spanish frigate.
Through his spyglass Benjamin discovered that the ship’s red and black hull was badly battered with large splinters protruding out of it. The main mast was splintered as well with the top half of it dangling from its ripped sails over the water. Upon the frigate’s deck the Spanish sailors in their black breeches, and frilly white shirts worked to mend the damage done to their ship. There were also a few Spanish soldiers aboard, he could tell from their white uniforms. Upon the stern, their captain wearing a dark blue coat, with a large tricorne upon his head, directed his men to repair the damage.
‘They were attacked,’ Benjamin said as he handed the spyglass over to William.
William inspected the ship closely.
‘Should we?’ William asked as the voice of the whole crew who were now looking to Benjamin.
Benjamin had to find out who attacked this frigate one way or another.
‘Gun crews ready the cannons. Everyone else form firing lines and boarding parities. The rest of you bring us to full sail!’
The crew rushed about the deck working quick to heed Benjamin’s orders, whilst Benjamin steered the Sea Lion toward the damaged frigate. He wanted to strike them while unawares.
It did not take long for the Sea Lion to get in range of the frigate, and for Benjamin to begin turning her starboard side toward it’s stern, just out of range of its cannons. Not that it mattered as they fired no cannons but formed firing lines and began shooting. Morrow’s redcoats fired a volley, whilst the rest of their crew roped in the frigate to bring it closer for a boarding. The cracking of muskets rang in Benjamin’s ears, and he became eager to meet the sound with steel.
‘The ship is yours William,’ Benjamin said as he drew his knuckle guarded sabre.
From there he leapt upon the frigate with his boarding party and slashed into the shoulder of the nearest Spaniard; the man cried out in pain as Benjamin withdrew his blade. He was then engaged by another soldier who aimed and shot at him, but the man missed, and Benjamin was quick on the draw. His pistol cracked and the soldier dropped oozing blood. As he fought, he was reminded of the thrills he felt as he leapt aboard ships as both a privateer and a pirate. He and Richard would stand back to back and carve their path to a wealthy prize.
As he fought the Spaniards cutting them down, he became in touch with his old, liberated self again. He felt that rush of energy he had lost as he locked swords with a big burly Spanish soldier. He felt the conviction to win the day as he grappled the soldier and drew him close striking him with his sword’s knuckle guard and knocking his black tricorne from his head. The only thing different was, he was more afraid now. When the Spaniard head butted him in retaliation Benjamin was reminded of all he could lose if he didn’t kill this man. The Spaniard attempted a thrust, but Benjamin parried the blade away and cut into the soldier’s white sleeve. The Spaniard pursued once more, but as he did so Benjamin dodged his right slash and ran his blade through the Spaniard’s chest.
He then turned his attention to a young Spaniard who shook in terror. Benjamin had seen that face on hundreds, for a moment he felt sympathy for the poor lad who stood powerless in the crowd of fighting men, that was until he stupidly charged him with his bayonet. Benjamin dodged the charge stepping to his left, then he came in close to the young Spaniard, and without mercy cut into the back of the young man’s neck. The poor soul dropped riving in pain. The sight shocked Benjamin, which he found strange. He had never shied away from blood before, but this somehow felt too cruel. So, he finished the lad with his pistol.
After that, Benjamin turned and saw his crew finishing off the last fighting Spaniards. A redcoat was drawing his bayonet from a dead sailor whilst a party member removed his axe from the chest of another. The rest of the Spaniards stood still.
Benjamin rose a hand to his face and wiped away the sweat and blood. That was when he noticed the Spanish captain walking toward him telling his men to stay back. The captain threw down his weapons, and then his men followed.
Seeing a chance to learn what led to the damage of their ship, Benjamin decided to use what fragments of Spanish he had learned from his raids to discover…
The captain’s answer was filled with bitter insults but ultimately did reveal something troubling. They were attacked, left alive, and immobile to lure in ships.
That was when Benjamin turned from the captain and opened his spyglass. Behind one of the large islands a ship with a burgundy hull, two gun-decks, and a large, gilded prow with a kraken figurehead upon it had begun to pursue the Sea Lion.
Benjamin ordered his men back to their ship and told them to leave the Spanish prisoners. There was no time to bind and imprison them all. They all leapt back aboard the Sea Lion and began sailing away from the Spanish, leaving them to repair their ship.
‘Get us underway!’ Benjamin boomed as he rushed to open his spyglass.
That was when he realised that the ship in pursuit was all too familiar. The ship flew a black flag depicting two skeletons holding raised cutlasses. His breathing grew heavy, his heart pounded, and he dropped to his knees. That was his flag. It was the Forsaken. It was Richard.
* * *
‘Hard to starboard side! Gun crews prepare to fire,’ screamed William as they left the Spaniards to their crumbling ship.
The helmsman rapidly began turning the wheel to heed William’s orders. But Benjamin could not compel himself to do anything else but stand immobile in disbelief. Until he was broken from his trance by William who he felt shaking him.
‘It’s him,’ Benjamin murmured sadly.
‘Pull yourself together’, he pointed to the crew, ‘they need to see strength.’
Benjamin then masked his despair with a brave face and clambered up the stairs upon the stern and took the wheel. From there he steered the Sea Lion to place the Forsaken in her line of fire. He knew there was no escape, the Forsaken was too quick of a ship and was too close now.
‘Gun crews on my mark,’ Benjamin shouted.
The Forsaken had soon sailed into firing range, the time to open fire was never more perfect. But instead of giving the order, Benjamin opened his spyglass, and examined the Forsaken’s stern again. He had to know, but he came to regret it when he saw the familiar large figure in red with an angular brown bearded face staring him down through his own spyglass.
It is him. If I fire...
Benjamin closed his spyglass, he felt the eyes of his entire crew and Morrow’s soldiers staring through his skin, seeing his conflicted heart.
He’s still my old friend.
‘Gun crews. Stand down!’
William grabbed Benjamin by the coat.
‘What the fuck are you doing? They’re in range!’
‘He’s Richard Redeye, you know what he’s famous for and he is here to rob us. And once he finds out you betrayed him…’
‘I need to speak to him,’ he turned to the rest of his crew and the soldiers, ‘no one needs to die! Raise the white flag and lay anchor!’
‘This is a mistake.’
Benjamin placed his hand on William’s shoulder, and said.
William pushed Benjamin’s hand away from him while the crew watched. His face had twisted into something that resembled a snarling wolf.
‘You swore off piracy!’ he barked.
‘I’m not going back but I won’t kill my old friend. He’ll hear reason and let us go if we don’t fire.’
William had fists clenched with his left one clasping the silver guarded hilt of his battle-hardened cutlass. His narrow hazel eyes stared directly into Benjamin’s. He turned his back and… relayed the orders, allowing the Forsaken its approach. He even spoke with Morrow and deterred him and his men from initiating what Benjamin suspected was a mutiny. After convincing everyone of Benjamin’s plan, William faced him again.
‘If you’re wrong, I’ll skewer him with this,’ William said as he patted his cutlass.
Benjamin looked down at the cutlass, and turned away, hoping it would not come to that.
He’s right, it’s crazy, but I must try.
* * *
It didn’t take long for the two ships to meet. Both crews formed firing lines and boarding parties on their decks. The pirates slammed down a large wooden plank as a walkway between the two ships. Benjamin stood on one side of it and waited. Unable to keep still he paced up and down near the plank.
The last time he saw Richard was two years ago just after their escape from Nassau. He still remembered when Governor Woodes Rogers had taken the island and forced many pirates to take the pardon or hang. The conflict he felt during those early hours of Rogers’ Nassau had been unbearable. He and Erin had argued about the pardon the moment Rogers had come ashore. Erin wanted a family and a normal life after years of being forced into thievery and piracy, but Benjamin was happy as a pirate. He had attempted to argue that they were free, but she was adamant that a normal life was better. No matter what he said, she wanted a new start and the pardon was her way of getting it. It was more disappointment rather than surprise that angered him when he found out that she was one of the first to get one. He had returned home ready to argue, but when he entered their home and saw how happy Erin was, he could not muster himself to do anything but leave her and look for Richard.
Benjamin knew Richard had sent the Forsaken far from Nassau harbour the moment he saw the British flags on the horizon. From that moment Richard had begun devising a plan to sneak away to the Forsaken at night. He planned to escape the day Erin had got the pardon which forced Benjamin to make a choice. Freedom with Richard as a pirate, or happiness and peace with the woman he loved. In his ignorance he chose to abandon Erin and escape Nassau with Richard.
He came to hate himself for it because deep down he knew she was right to want a peaceful life. Yet he felt he could not betray his brother, no matter how well he and Erin had gotten on.
After their escape from Nassau they were at sea together for two weeks and all was peaceful, all but Benjamin’s heart which ached for Erin. Richard attempted to cheer him up, but his attempts fell flat as he tried to tell him that he had made the right choice, but Benjamin failed to believe that. The efforts from Richard were constant and though he could not heal the heartache, he did make Benjamin smile enough that on some days the thoughts of Erin disappeared. Yet all of that ended when they encountered the Morgan and Benjamin was captured after their failed attempt at a boarding. That was the last time he saw Richard; screaming and cursing as he was forced to retreat and leave his best friend behind.
As Benjamin waited for Richard to appear, he imagined Erin’s blue eyes, slender face, and thin lips mouthing the words ‘I love you.’ He nearly destroyed that relationship once, he would not do it again, no matter how appealing Richard presented the idea. At that moment Richard appeared on the other side of the plank.
* * *
His familiar footsteps approached Benjamin. His dark red coat fluttered in the wind revealing his silver basket hilted sabre on his left, and his glistening iron handled flintlock on his right. Covering his eyes was his black tricorne ornate with green feathers hanging from its left side. Richard removed his tricorne and tossed it over to one of the pirates who walked behind him.
‘Rich, it’s been a while.’
Richard stopped and his large eyes squinted at him.
Benjamin nodded as he breathed heavily. Richard’s bearded and serious face turned into a smile. He rushed to Benjamin grabbed him by the back and embraced him.
‘I thought you were dead.’
Richard pulled away and like a schoolboy who was let off early he could not take the grin from his face. All the good memories Benjamin had with him came rushing back, and he let some happiness shine through a genuine grin.
‘No, I’m still alive somehow,’ he said.
‘I’m glad. How did you survive I thought they’d have hanged you?
‘Well, it’s a long story.’
‘It’s one I’d like to hear. What are you doing aboard this ship?’
Benjamin looked away and locked eyes with William who held tightly onto his sheathed cutlass and stood still as a statue. He turned back to see Richard’s eager grinning face. How to tell him?
‘I took the pardon.’
‘Oh, how’d you manage that? Rogers put out an order that any pirate escaped from Nassau was to be denied a pardon.’
‘The quartermaster persuaded the captain who captured me to spare me and got me one.’
‘That’s good. Anyway, doesn’t matter you’re here now and…’
Richard looked at Benjamin’s clothes, and his smile faded away into a look of confusion.
‘You’re captain of this ship?’
Richard backed away from Benjamin and glared at his crew, and the redcoats in formation. That was when he met the gaze of William.
‘He’s the quartermaster?’ Richard said pointing at William who stood at the head of his crew.
‘Yes, he saved my life,’ Benjamin said smiling at William before turning back to Richard.
There was a long silence after that, before being broken once again.
‘Well anyway what do you say to tearing off that uniform and coming home? I’ve waited two days for this trap to be sprung. Now we can rob and rob it together, just like old times.’
Part of Benjamin wanted desperately to climb back aboard the Forsaken and forget that he had ever taken the pardon to begin with. From there he envisioned Richard and him sailing away drinking and conversing together until the sun set upon the sea. But the corpse in the gibbet cage in the harbour stuck in his mind, William slashed and bleeding amongst his crew on the Sea Lion’s burning deck as she sunk into the sea stuck in his mind. Even if those never to came pass there was still the image of Erin standing alone on the Sea Lion’s pier in Kingston harbour, weeping as she waited for a husband that would never return. He could not do that to her again, he could not allow William who had sacrificed so much to give him a new life, become a corpse. Still, he was not willing to betray his old brother further, he couldn’t after all they had been through. They had left England together to be privateers fought together in skirmish after skirmish against the Spanish. Then when they were sacked and plunged into poverty, they suffered it together until they eventually escaped it by becoming pirates, together. Benjamin knew the chance was slim, but he had to try and avoid the bloodshed.
‘I can’t. I’m sorry,’ Benjamin said backing away from Richard.
‘The pardon wasn’t just a way to survive them was it?’
Richard’s fierce side began coming to the forefront, and Benjamin’s answer would depend on if the fierce Richard Redeye would devour him, or the cheerful Richard would return.
‘You’re right, I’m done with piracy.’
Richard nodded, breathing heavily as his excitement faded into a look of disbelief.
‘So, you work for them now?’ He said pointing to the redcoats.
‘I let you approach because I want to help you. There doesn’t need to be a fight. I can organise pardons for you and your crew. Just sail with us to Nassau and…’
Benjamin had realised what he had said and felt like a true fool.
‘Nassau? You’re taking these soldiers to reinforce Nassau, to help the British hold onto it. You’ve thrown in with the very kind that left us with nothing and forced us into this in the first place! They threw us into poverty. Then they blamed us for it, and now you stand with them willingly after that, and worse even aid them!’
Richard’s face and voice had transformed into that of an enraged beast snarling and roaring. The fierce Richard Redeye had burst out into the forefront and Benjamin desperately wished to calm the situation.
‘The pardon is an apology from them, and a second chance at a peaceful life.’
‘Empires don’t apologise Ben, and their second chance means giving up the freedom I have now. Why would I give that up?’
‘Because this life catches up to every pirate! Blackbeard, Vane, Rackham, and even old Bonnet all hanged for this life! I have a wife. I can’t have that if I’m hanging. I don’t want that for you. I don’t want to see you hanging in Port Royal.’
Benjamin stood in silence for a moment as he saw the image of Richard in the gibbet cage on one of those piers at Kingston harbour.
‘If not for me, and not for yourself, then take it for your crew.’
Richard calmed himself and took a few deep breathes. He turned around and faced his crew for what felt like an eternity. Benjamin noticed he was calm when looking at them, and he hoped Richard would put aside his principles for his crew at least. Richard then turned back around.
‘Brothers of the Forsaken. Do you want to be pardoned by England?’
Richard shouted as he frowned with eyes blazing at Benjamin – displaying why he was known as Redeye. This was Benjamin’s last hope, the crew could change Richard’s mind, he hoped by some miracle they would collectively think about their future.
‘No! No! No!’ the crew chanted.
‘There’s your answer.’
‘Richard please, I’m begging you let them think on it for a while…’
‘You were my brother. And you have betrayed everything you once stood for! But I have not and will not. My crew have decided.’
‘There is no choice.’
‘Yes, there is. And you chose wrong.’
Richard went to grab something from a pouch near his pistol, but before he could do so William fired his flintlock and its sound blasted loudly in their ears. Benjamin then saw the pirate behind Richard fall. Richard stared at the man in rage and shock, knowing that bullet was meant for him but before he could say anything, William rushed him with a drawn blade to do what the gun had failed to. He pushed Benjamin aside and swung at Richard who dodged each attack until he was able to draw his sabre and defend against William.
‘Fire!’ shouted William as his steel slid off Richard’s.
‘Belay that!’ Benjamin yelled as he jumped to his feet, but his order was ignored and the crew of the Forsaken were fired upon with muskets roaring from both the redcoats and the Sea Lion’s crew.
Men then leaped from the Forsaken aboard the Sea Lion and both boarding parties engaged in vicious combat. Muskets and pistols howled from both ships, and men on both sides dropped bleeding and struggling in wretched pain.
Benjamin drew his blade and was plunged into the surrounding chaos. Cutlasses slashed into men who spilled gore upon The Sea Lion’s deck. Benjamin was charged by a pirate with an axe who smacked Benjamin’s tricorne off with the side of it. The pirate attempted a killing blow whilst Benjamin was dazed, but Benjamin instead dodged the blow, and slashed open the axe-wielder’s stomach. That was when he saw his two friends continued engagement, duelling with such speed that he swore he saw a spark from when their blades clashed.
Benjamin fought his way through the mob of death. He hadn’t wanted this, but he shot and hacked through the pirates towards the duel. He must’ve killed six pirates to get to it, but he was so consumed with trying to stop those two from killing each other that he hardly noticed.
Soon enough he found his blade clashing against Richard’s and William’s. William attempted to slice Richard into ribbons, and Richard thrusted toward William with brute force. Benjamin however parried William’s slice away and kicked him out of the fight, and then with Richard he deflected the sabre away with his own, and punched Richard in the nose. Richard reeled back and stood dazed. Benjamin looked around for William and found him cutting down a pirate to get back to Richard. Benjamin swiftly ran to William and grabbed him by the collar of his blue coat.
‘Why?’ Benjamin asked.
‘He was going for his pistol.’
Benjamin wanted to argue against that, but he understood William.
William went to charge for Richard who was now fighting a redcoat.
‘Don’t. Rally the crew instead!’
William glared at Richard who opened the redcoat’s throat, then at Benjamin. He nodded and shook Benjamin’s hand.
‘I’ll see you after we win.’
And with that William ran into the mob of chaos and began barking orders to the crew and soldiers to form up and drive the pirates back, whilst Benjamin returned to a very furious Richard.
‘Richard, I don’t want to fight, order a retreat and go.’
Richard shook his head and drew his pistol. He pulled the trigger and the bullet found Benjamin’s side. Richard then violently lunged at Benjamin who dodged and parried as many of the fierce swings as he could, but he was struck on the shoulder, forced to the ground, and was slashed on the thigh. Benjamin’s energy in the duel was failing, he knew there was no beating Richard he had always been the better fighter.
Richard and Benjamin’s duel drove them aboard the Forsaken, and with a twisting of the arm, Richard disarmed Benjamin of his cutlass. Benjamin stood exhausted and felt every wound he had taken. Across the plank he looked from the Forsaken as William, the soldiers and the Sea Lion’s crew stood in lines fighting the pirates fiercely.
‘They’re never reaching Nassau,’ Richard said with blood in his beard and hatred in his voice.
Richard turned away to re-enter the fight aboard the Sea Lion. Benjamin knew what that meant, he could not allow it. He picked up his blade and charged Richard, but his footsteps gave him away and Richard reeled back and countered with a slash.
The air began to slip away from Benjamin’s breath, he coughed up blood on the deck as he dropped to his knees grasping his throat. He tried desperately to hold onto the breath he had left, as the blood drenched his hands.
‘It shouldn’t have come to this,’ Richard said with what sounded like remorse. He closed his eyes and turned his back from the dying man who he had once called brother.
Benjamin keeled over and fell to the ground, and as he lay there drowning, he saw Erin alone on the Sea Lion’s pier at Kingston harbour weeping for a husband that would never return.
I should’ve stayed with her.
As he lay on the deck, he saw Richard’s men rushing back aboard the Forsaken. Benjamin with one hand lifted himself up and saw William alive. He was leading the Sea Lion’s crew and driving Richard’s back, he parried quick and struck the ones still aboard down. Benjamin felt a smile come to his face, but then he fell on his back onto the wooden floor.
‘Captain they’ve beaten us back,’ one of the pirates said to Richard.
Richard turned to walk back aboard the Sea Lion. Fear swelled in Benjamin’s heart; he couldn’t allow Richard to turn the tide of the battle. He pulled one hand away from his throat, grabbed from his belt his pistol, cocked it, and aimed.
His pistol howled, and his shot lodged in Richard’s knee. Richard shrieked in furious pain before falling into the arms of his men. He attempted to stand himself, but he could not. His men brought him to Benjamin who had just dropped his smoking pistol. Just as Richard was offered the pistol for revenge on Benjamin, they all heard William’s shouts of ‘victory’.
‘Fire on that ship!’ Richard shouted in rage and pain.
Benjamin began to try and raise himself up again. I must stop him. As he did so he attracted Richard’s attention. His face conveyed a mix of both amazement and sadness as he watched Benjamin do everything he could to rise and shout.
‘William. Run,’ he tried yelling, but it only came out as a loud whisper.
Seeing no other way to save William, Benjamin reached out his hand to Richard and begged.
‘Let them go,’ he croaked
Richard threw off Benjamin’s hand and turned his gaze toward the Sea Lion again.
‘Please,’ Benjamin begged.
‘On your order sir,’ one of the pirates said.
Benjamin shook his head and opened his mouth to try and warn William again, but it was no good. Richard looked down again with an expression of pain and grief.
‘Let them go,’ Richard said as he looked directly at Benjamin, assuring him with a nod.
Benjamin smiled and mouthed the words thank you and ceased his struggling. He laid there in silence thankful for the relief that his brother of the Forsaken had gifted to him.
Marcus Parisi’s major passion within the arts is writing that tells a story. Stories can tap into the universal human experience. They can teach us to cope with our world’s trials or provide us an escape from them. Marcus sees contributing to that with his own writing as an honour. But if this lockdown has taught him anything it is storytelling is a difficult craft to master but is also incredibly rewarding. All the writing challenges are worth facing if the result is a good story.