tagSci-Fi & FantasySetting Sail on a Black Sea Ch. 01

Setting Sail on a Black Sea Ch. 01


The year is 1702, and the turn of the century has brought even greater conflict to the troubled waters of the Caribbean. The war of Spanish Succession rages in the old world, and glorious England is at war with France and Spain once more. When French and Spanish ships sail through the Caribbean sea, they keep a wary eye on the horizon for Royal Navy ships, and for Pirates...


"Load the grapeshot if you please, Mr Kinney!" The rakish Captain bellowed to his master gunner, as he leaned over the wooden balustrade of the quarterdeck.

"I still think we should burn 'em out, Cap'n," the grizzled man at his side grumbled under his breath, as he scratched at his eye patch irritably.

"Not now, Mr Hastings. I'll have no part of your need for senseless destruction. Besides, I'd rather not unduly damage our prize!" the Captain said, with a gleam in his eye.

He pulled aside the silver brocaded lapel of his dark blue jacket, and reached into the inside pocket, before withdrawing a brass coloured cylindrical object. With a quick flick of his wrist, the spyglass snapped out to full length, and he raised it to his eye, so that he could better study his quarry.

It took him a moment to refocus on the frantically fleeing ship that they were pursuing, and he could clearly see the name 'Santa Maria de la Rosa', embossed on the name plate affixed to the stern. He tilted the spyglass higher, so that he could study the aft-castle of the merchantman they were chasing. He looked around the billowing red and yellow flag that was hanging at the back of the vessel, and saw the Spanish Captain frantically yelling orders at his crew.

"You and I will soon be having words, my dear Captain," he said quietly with a smile.

He lowered the spyglass, collapsing it once more, and stowed it away in his jacket. He looked up at the Caribbean sky, seeing an endless blue expanse, save for one large cumulus cloud that drifted slowly above them.

"More sail Mr Dennings, and have quick about it!" he yelled to the swarthy sailor standing with him on the quarterdeck.

The bearded fellow nodded immediately, and began barking orders at the sailors below, who quickly began climbing the rigging to unfurl additional sails. The expert sailors soon had the sails snapping tautly in the wind, and the ship surged forward, as if eager to close with the Spanish ship. The fierce equatorial sun shone brightly off the nameplate on the prow of the ship, with the word 'Fortune' written in flowing lettering and etched in brass. The smaller ship began to rapidly catch up with the significantly larger, but much slower, merchant vessel, and it was soon time to bring the chase to a close.

"Hard a port, Mr Hastings, then bring us alongside for a broadside!" the Captain said exuberantly to the surly helmsman.

"Aye, aye, Cap'n," the man muttered, before bringing his left hand down on the Fortune's wheel and turning their vessel, so that he could execute the Captain's orders.

They quickly began to flank the merchantman, and the Captain could clearly see the crew of the enemy ship as they ran about the deck. He noticed the telltale glint of steel coming from behind the wooden sides of the ship, and he realised the Spaniards must have a compliment of marines aboard.

"Open fire on their foredeck, Mr Kinney!" he shouted to his Master Gunner on the deck below. "Let's see if we can encourage them to strike their colours!"

The heavy set man nodded, grinning up at his Captain, before setting about his deadly work. With a rapid series of barked orders, the gunnery teams repositioned the cannons, before lighting them with long torches. The Fortune's weapons roared angrily as the gunpowder ignited, sending the clusters of iron balls blasting into the front of the merchant ship.

The grapeshot tore through wood and flesh alike, devastating the front of the merchantman, and the squad of Spanish soldiers that had been hiding out of sight. Screams of pain could now be heard emanating from the enemy ship, and the Captain knew it was now time.

"Bring us alongside her, and prepare to grapple!" he yelled to his men, as he placed his right hand inside the basket hilt of the sword at his side.

He drew the long, elegant rapier from the scabbard at his waist, and the razor-sharp steel glinted brightly in the noonday sun. He strode over to the starboard side, and waited patiently while the two sailing ships drew ever closer. He could see the fear in the eyes of the enemy sailors now, they were that close, and there was a rapid exchange of musket fire from both sides.

His men began to spin grappling hooks at the end of sturdy ropes, rotating them in the air to gain momentum before the throw. He looked up at the aftcastle, his eyes searching for the enemy Captain, and it didn't take long to find the man, dressed as he was in a shining steel breastplate and a red plumed Morion helmet. The Spanish Captain was bellowing orders at his men, desperately attempting to rally them in readiness to repel boarders, and had drawn a golden hilted rapier of his own.

There was a clang of metal, mixed with dull thuds, as his men cast their grapnels over to the other ship, and they bounced off metal cleats, or dug into the wooden hull. The ships creaked loudly as the two vessels were drawn together, their wooden hulls groaning in protest as they were tied together in preparation for the boarding action.

"To arms, men! For Queen Anne, and for England!" the Captain called out in a strong and vibrant voice, which was joined by an eager roar from his crew.

English sailors began to leap across the narrow gap from the Fortune to the Spanish merchantman, and soon the ring of steel could be heard as men duelled one another in a deadly melee. The Captain backed up several paces, and then tensed the muscles in his legs in readiness. He could see his target leaning over the wooden balcony of the aftcastle, shouting orders at his men below, as he tried to keep the panicked sailors from routing.

The Captain sprinted full tilt towards the crevasse between the two tall ships, and sprang up so that his buccaneer's boot landed on the balustrade of the Fortune, then used the extra height to launch himself through the air. He sailed across the gap, and then grabbed at the rigging on the merchantman, using it to slow his momentum, and bring him to a graceful landing on the deck of the enemy ship.

The Spanish Captain looked up in shock, his eyes widening as the Englishman pulled a flintlock pistol smoothly from his belt, and cocked the weapon before pointing the loaded pistol towards him.

"Pleasant greetings to you, good sir! My name is Captain Matthew Taylor, and if you would care to strike your flag, we can bring this unpleasantness to a close."

The Spaniard was about to respond, when a Spanish marine charged up the steps to the aftcastle, musket in hand. The soldier snarled in anger, and began to raise his weapon, aiming for the bold Englishman who was threatening his commander. Matthew was faster however, swinging his flintlock pistol in line with the marine, and then pulling the trigger. The shot rang out and his aim was true, striking the Spanish soldier in the chest, and making him stumble backwards. The wounded man toppled over the wooden railing behind him, and with a terrified scream, plunged into the deep blue waters of the Caribbean Sea.

"It looks like matters are not yet decided between us after all, Capitan Taylor," the Spanish Captain said with a strong accent, as he brandished his sword.

"In all fairness, I must warn you that I'm undefeated with a blade. Why not be a good fellow, save us this bother, and just surrender?" Matthew requested with a cocky grin, as he shoved his empty pistol back into his belt.

"We shall see, Capitan Taylor, we shall see. I myself trained in Madrid for ten years, and you will find me to be a most worthy adversary," the Spaniard replied confidently.

Before the Englishman could reply, there was a flash of steel in front of his eyes as the Spanish Captain lunged to attack, thrusting his rapier towards Matthew's face. The man was certainly fast off the mark, and Matthew had to step back to bring up his own sword in a lightning fast parry to avoid being struck.

"Not bad, Sir," Matthew complimented the other man, as he twirled his blade with a flourish. "How about you try this on for size?"

Matthew stepped forward, and his sword was a blur as he attacked, forcing the armoured man onto the defensive as he parried and blocked the rapid slashes. Their blades rang out as they clashed, steel ringing against steel as they moved in their deadly dance, each man trying to force the other into making a mistake. The Spaniard certainly was a fine swordsman, but as Matthew parried and riposted, he smiled confidently, as he realised that his skills surpassed those of the other man.

He forced the Merchantman Captain back towards the staircase that led down towards the lower deck, knowing that their duel would soon be done. The Spaniard had also realised that he had met his match, and Matthew could see it in the fearful man's eyes.

Matthew stepped back and raised his rapier in a jaunty salute. "There's no need for this to end badly. Surrender, and I'll return you and your men to Port Royal as prisoners of war. You'll be back in Madrid within the year," he said with a smile and a respectful nod.

The Spanish Captain looked relieved, and lowered his own blade. He smiled in return, and was about to speak, when there was the horrible shriek of metal on metal. The man looked down in horror, and then tipped forward, clutching at his chest. As the man fell to the floor, Matthew could see that a cutlass had been driven through his back, with Robert Hastings holding the hilt of the sword and grinning evilly.

"Hurry up Cap'n, stop messin' about," the grizzled man said with a wicked smile, as he yanked the bloodied blade from the Spaniards back.

"He was about to surrender, Mr Hastings!" Matthew protested. "There was no call for that!"

"Looks like he took too long about it... Sir," Hastings said, sounding anything but respectful.

"I'm not amused, Mr Hastings. We'll discuss this later," Matthew said furiously, before striding over to the edge of the aftcastle so that he could see how the rest of the battle was progressing.

The other Spanish sailors had seen their Captain fall, and all the fight had gone out of them. They dropped their weapons with a loud clatter of metal, and raised their hands in surrender.

"You'll be treated kindly, have no fear," Matthew called out to them, and the handful of Spanish sailors who could speak English translated for their compatriots.

They nodded in gratitude to the smartly dressed English Captain, and Matthew's crew led them away to secure them in the brig on the Fortune.

"Explore the ship lads, let's see what's on this fine vessel that they were so eager to protect!" Matthew shouted to his crew, and they let out excited whoops and cheers as they celebrated their victory.

He sheathed his sword, and walked over to the stairs, looking down at the fallen Spanish Captain with regret. "My apologies, Sir, you fought bravely," he said, then stepped over the corpse to walk down the stairs.

Hastings had run over to the foredeck to take a look down in the ship's hold, leaving Matthew alone at the wooden door of the aftcastle. He opened the door, and looked around carefully, lest there were any lurking Spanish sailors who had decided not to surrender after all. The corridor was empty so he stepped inside, keeping a wary ear out for any ambushers.

The corridor was fairly short, with just three doors leading off it, one to his immediate left and right, and the third at the end of the hall. Matthew reloaded his flintlock pistol, and then gingerly pushed down on the handle to the door to his left. It looked like this room was a guest quarters. There were a couple of trunks pushed up against the wall, with a variety of delicately stitched clothing spilling out; as though someone had tried to pack them away in a hurry, but had been interrupted.

Matthew raised an eyebrow speculatively, and then backed out of the room, to open the door opposite. This was the map room, and charts were sprawled out across a wide table, charting the voyage of the 'Santa Maria de la Rosa' as it travelled from Spain, to the colonies in the Caribbean. Seeing no signs of life in this room either, he closed the door, then walked down the corridor to the door at the end. He tentatively pushed down on the handle, and he winced as a noisy squeak pierced the silence. Figuring that the element of surprise was well and truly lost, he shoved open the door into what he was guessing was the Captain's cabin.

There was a shocked feminine gasp as the door swung wide open, and slammed into the wall with a crash. When Matthew stepped forward cautiously, he saw a dark haired girl in a blue dress cowering on the other side of the room. Her hands clutched at the back of the chair she was hiding behind, and she stared at him with terror in her eyes.

Putting away his pistol, he bowed to her courteously. "Captain Matthew Taylor at your service, miss."

"Are you a pirate, monsieur?" the frightened young woman asked him, in a delightfully melodic French accent.

"No, mademoiselle, I'm a Privateer!" he said, smiling at her disarmingly. "I have a letter of Marque signed by Queen Anne that proves it," he added with a wink.

"Are you and your men going to ravish me?" she asked him fearfully.

"Of course not, my dear," he told her soothingly. "I plan to sail this ship to Port Royal in exchange for a bounty, and I will leave you quite unharmed in the capable care of the Governor. I imagine you will be sent back to France, once the hostilities between our nations have abated."

"Merci, monsieur," she thanked him gratefully, as she stood up straight behind the desk.

Now that she wasn't huddled in fear, he could see that she was a beautiful young woman, with her elegant face framed by long black hair. "Would you grace me with your name, mademoiselle?" he asked her in a friendly voice.

"Christelle de Gabaret," she replied shyly.

"De Gabaret... that surname sounds oddly familiar. You wouldn't be related to the Governor of Martinique would you by any chance, Christelle?" he joked light heartedly, as he strolled over to the Captain's table, and began to flick through his logbook.

"He is my father, monsieur," she said, watching him warily.

"Well, this is a surprise!" Matthew replied, as he looked up to study her face. "I met Nicolas before, several years ago. He was a splendid fellow, but I don't recall seeing you at the colony?"

"I was living with my mother in France. When I came of age, my mother decided I should visit my father, and his holdings on Martinique," she explained.

"But why would you be travelling on a Spanish ship?" he asked her in confusion.

"We were assured that the Spanish controlled the seas in the Caribbean, and arranging passage on a Spanish merchantman was the safest way to travel," she explained carefully.

"Well, as you can see, Christelle, that isn't the case unfortunately," he said with a wry smile.

"Yes, that has become quite evident, monsieur," she agreed with him sadly.

"Call me Matthew, please," he said in a jovial tone. "It doesn't seem right to leave a pretty young girl like you, languishing in the brig at Port Royal. I'll tell you what, we'll drop you off at Martinique on our way there, how about that?"

"Oh, Matthew! That would be magnifique!" she gushed excitedly, her pretty green eyes lighting up with hope.

"Think nothing of it, my dear," he said magnanimously. "Come, let's return to my ship, and we can complete your journey."

Christelle beamed at him with delight, and took his hand when he held it out to her. Her slender fingers felt wonderfully soft as they slipped into his, and he led her carefully out of the cabin, back down the corridor to the door that led out onto the main deck.

"There was a battle outside, Christelle, so you might want to look down to avoid seeing anything unpleasant," he told her considerately.

"Merci, Matthew," she said gratefully, and looked down as he suggested.

Matthew opened the door, and led the young woman out onto the deck. His crew were busy hauling the goods from the merchantman over to the Fortune, and a few of them stopped and stared at the girl, until he gave them a sharp look, and they scurried back about their business. He guided her over to the side of the ship, and then turned to face Christelle.

"It's a long drop to the sea from here, and I'd hate for you to suffer such a fate. If you will forgive the lack of decorum, mademoiselle, I will carry you safely across to the Fortune," he said to her gently.

"The Fortune?" she asked him curiously.

"Ah yes, my ship, the fastest vessel to sail the Caribbean sea I'd wager," he claimed boldly.

"I will take you at your word, monsieur, that you will keep me safe," she said softly, looking up at him trustingly.

Matthew swept into a low bow. "You have my word of honour as a gentleman, that no harm will befall you while under my protection, Christelle," he said sincerely.

She smiled at him and nodded, then he stepped close to her and swept her up into his arms. Their faces were only mere inches apart now as he held her securely, and her breath caught as she looked up at him. He stepped confidently up onto the guard rail of the merchantman, and then leapt across, while holding the girl tightly to his chest. She had screwed her eyes shut when he had made the jump, and she kept them closed even when he had landed on the other side.

"You're safe now, my dear, remember, you have my word," he said to her warmly.

"Merci, Matthew," she said quietly, and he carried her through to his cabin, ignore the lewd winks her received from the onlooking crew.

The Captain's cabin on the Fortune was a large room, that encompassed most of the space in the quarterdeck. Matthew closed the door behind him with the heel of his left boot, and then carefully lowered the young woman to her feet. Christelle looked around the room curiously, and her eyes lingered on the four poster bed for a moment, before she blushed slightly and turned to look at the extensive bookshelves that lined the walls.

"Monsieur, you do surprise me!" she exclaimed with delight, as she glided over to examine the titles of the books. "Educated men are in short supply."

"I aim to please, Christelle," he replied with a merry laugh. "Make yourself at home, there's water in the jug, or wine in the decanter should you prefer. I'll arrange for your possessions to be brought aboard."

"Your hospitality is much appreciated, Matthew," she said, as she glanced over her shoulder to smile at him, before returning her attention to the bookshelves.

"It's my pleasure to cater for such a charming young lady," he said when he returned her smile, and then turned to leave the cabin.

Matthew exited his quarters, and strode out purposefully onto the main deck. "Mr Dennings!" he called out in a booming voice.

His second in command leaned out over the wooden balustrade of the quarterdeck. "Yes Captain?" the bearded man replied.

"How's the transfer of goods progressing?" Matthew asked curiously.

"We're making good time, Captain. We'll be done within the hour," he replied with a thoughtful nod.

"That's what I like to hear, good man," Matthew said with satisfaction. "I'd also like you to assemble and lead a prize crew to take the Santa Maria de la Rosa back to Port Royal."

"Very good, Captain," Dennings said eagerly. "We should get a fine price for her."

"We should indeed, Mr Dennings," Matthew said with a grin, and he walked over to two sailors who were busy cleaning their weapons after the fight.

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