The schooner crew scented their prey before they found it. The distinctive, burning smell of spent gunpowder wafted over the seas and decks, the herald of death and destruction. High above the vessel, the lookout spotted the telling dark plume against the clear blue sky, pointing and yelling the direction. In response, the Captain ordered a change in course. At the wheel, the ship's pilot, or Master, obeyed, swinging the schooner away from their earlier path and toward the combat. Under the steady hands of the Master pilot and the well-trained crew, the sailing vessel smoothly followed the commands.
The Captain raised his spyglass, staring into the setting sun and studying the silhouettes of the two ships locked together. "No colors," he called, checking the flags and pendants -- or lack of -- on the port, or left, ship. His gaze swung to the right, starboard, checking the flags, but easily recognized the masthead. "The Galway."
The Prize Master yelled from his place standing beside one of the cannons. "She just left port today, and she's supposed to be traveling light, passengers and provisions only." The crewmen beside him finished loading the cannon, and he helped sight it, readying it for firing. The Gun Captain stayed clear, knowing the Prize Master's almost legendary ability with the cannon.
"Aye, Capitan." On the other side of the deck, the Second Lieutenant nodded. "She's taking passengers to the Islands."
The First Lieutenant stopped barking orders at the deckhands long enough to make a remark. "Well, we'll just have to interrupt this little soiree and help them on their way."
"Your musket." The Officer of the Marines handed the First Lieutenant a musket, moving on to distribute various arms and munitions to the rest of the crew. It was the Officer of the Marines job to make sure that everyone was armed and ready for the coming conflict, as well as directing his security force, called marines, in preparing to board the other ships.
A head appeared in the hatchway. "We changed course."
"Boil the water," the Captain ordered, not sparing his cook a glance
"Aye, aye, sir. Watch yourselves." The cook, now turning into ship's surgeon, disappeared to prepare his other work area for possible wounded.
"They see us yet?" The First Lieutenant called up to the lookout.
"No, sir." The lookout crisply replied from his perch, staring harder through his own glass. "Galway's riding high and she's already been boarded. Sir, her attacker looks like the Monahan. I'm pretty sure of her paint and lines." This lookout made a habit of studying ships and remembered details about them. If he thought it was the Monahan, then it was the Monahan.
"That's one of the ships Stewart finances," the First Lieutenant growled.
"Then if we can't seize it, we can sink it," The Captain allowed himself a smile, a smile lacking any warmth.
"Sir! They have pushed the ship's crew and passengers below decks on the Galway!" The lookout called down to them, handing off his glass to his replacement, taking his customary place as boatswain. His youth and exuberance for his job obvious as he scampered down the rigging to man his station.
"Time for introductions. Open fire." The calm voice of the Captain sounded suspiciously pleased.
Propelled by exploding gunpowder, two cannon balls launched the distance between the approaching schooner and the colorless pirate. The first was the warning, splashing harmlessly into the ocean just before the bow. Knowing the enemy and giving no quarter, the second shot hit dead on. Punching through the side of the pirate's sloop, the propelled round ball of lead created a splintered hole in the ship, right above the waterline. With each bob of the sailing vessel, seawater crept into the hold. If the ship's crew knew what they were about, they'd start pumping the hold immediately and prepare for fothering, the temporary repairing of holes.
Only one thing made those sounds, and that was a cannon. The Captain of the Monahan, intent on his prize, jolted at the sounds, and more so at the large splash beyond the bow. As he turned to check out the source, the second projectile found its mark. His feet flew out from under him as the entire sloop rocked, and the sound of shattering wood combined with yells immediately concerned him. Why hadn't the lookout called down a warning of a vessel approaching? Gaining his feet, he faced the threat, wishing he had not.
Coming out of the smoke, the prow and bowsprit of the mighty ship demanded his notice. Instead of the customary nude female as a figurehead, this ship wore a carved skull wreathed with crossbones. A large dagger pierced one eye, and the eye sockets dripped blood, deep crimson and realistic. The dark green hull blended perfectly with the green tinted water of the Atlantic. She did not fly the flag of England, or Spain, or any other recognizable color, except for her black pennants high on the mast, the bowsprit, and off her stern. Her sails faded into the sky, but it was the flying jib sail, located in the front of the vessel, that menacingly proclaimed her identity.
Pure black, the flying jib sail was the only dark colored sail; all the others were the color of whitish-blue, bluer than white, which made the ship hard to see during the day. Her jib matched her figurehead, the deadly symbol embroidered in intricate detail. More than one survivor of an encounter with Vengeance swore they still saw that flag in their nightmares.
Even her name conjured fear. Having appeared four months ago, in the year of Our Lord Seventeen Hundred Seventy-Four, Vengeance declared a private war on the sudden surge of pirate ships plaguing the mid-coastal states. Crewed by what many called earth-born demons, the men of the Vengeance fought with unity of purpose and under a shroud of secrecy. All those that crossed their paths saw only dark specters, since the crew dressed in dark clothing from head to toe, full cloth masks, resembling executioner hoods molded to their heads, completely concealing their identities. Ship and crew appeared as ghostly apparitions, and with their growing reputation, struck fear in many hearts before ever meeting in battle.
Confident of his crew, Captain Rutledge of the Monahan knew repairs would be underway below decks to secure the ship. Part of the crew was on the Galway guarding their captives, lest they got ideas of escape. Still as short-handed as he might be, facing the proven menace before him, he showed a bit of misguided confidence that his men would be triumphant.
Until the musket fired.
Rutledge saw his pilot fall before he even heard the retort of the sniper's musket. Looking across the narrowing distance between the two ships, he saw the Vengeance's Master, lower his rifle. The masked man stepped back, reclaiming the wheel from his mate. He wore a tan sash around his waist, and tight black pants that looked more like dyed buckskins instead of cloth. His boots laced up his calves, almost in the style of the local Indians, fringe swinging from around the top of the boot.
As the schooner swung in to move alongside his damaged vessel, Rutledge heard five more shots. He didn't need to look to know that those shots found their marks.
"Surrender or die."
The command originated from Captain Vengeance, the man having taken the name of his ship as his privateer name. He stood on the rail while Vengeance pulled smoothly alongside. His right hand held a vicious cutlass pointed right at Rutledge's heart, his left hand steadying his stance with a firm grip in the rigging.
Dressed in tight black britches, black leather boots, his half-unlaced black shirt billowing in the breeze, the man inspired fear. A black mask fully covered his face and hair, the ship's design embroidered in red and silver on the cloth over his forehead. Red thread outlined the eye and mouth holes. The red and black embroidered sash around his waist held the cutlass's sheath and a pistol.
Beside him, the First Lieutenant continued barking orders as the deckhands attached the ropes to tie the two ships together. A back line of men finished reloading their muskets while a front line held their fire, awaiting orders.
Glancing up, the beleaguered Captain saw topmen, men with muskets on the fighting platforms assigned to fire rifles and muskets with deck-clearing accuracy. Rutledge clearly saw his choices – let the Vengeance men take him and his crew to land for hanging or die in a fight. "Never surrender!"
His cry echoed from his remaining men, and the Captain of the Monahan swore he saw smiles on the mouth slits of the Vengeance crew. They wanted a fight. Well, he would oblige.
"Your choice." Captain Vengeance led the boarding charge, effortlessly jumping onto the Monahan's deck.
Combat immediately broke out, the pirates pulling their cutlasses while the privateers from Vengeance freed their own blades from their sheaths. Metal clanged on metal. Both sides fought with the swords, since swords did less damage to vessels than a misfired shot, not to mention the single shot weapons were little help if the attacker missed. Both crews understood this; along with the fact pistols were often seen as the easy way – the coward's way -- out of a fight.
High above, the topmen marines with rifles shot anyone who acted dishonorably, tried to shoot them, or harm their shipmates.
The two captains faced each other at the stern of the Monahan, the two men sizing each other up before making the first lunges. Their blades clashed rapidly, flying away only to strike again. Before a full two minutes passed, Rutledge miscalculated and slipped, allowing the other captain to break through his defense and disarm him. Instead of delivering the killing blow, Captain Vengeance backhanded him with his gloved left hand, sending him sprawling onto the deck. "It's the ropes for you, Captain." The privateer held the point of his cutlass at Rutledge's neck.
Across the deck, the First Lieutenant continued his battle with a sailor, quickly overpowering him with sheer force. As the Captain of Vengeance stepped back, the First Lieutenant tossed the body of the sailor on top of the now unconscious Monahan Captain. "Another one for you, Cap'n Vengeance."
"Well done," the Captain praised as he turned to see how the rest of his crew fared. "Took you a bit, Rake."
"Getting my exercise."
if you need it."
"'Tis true that you are more winded than I, Captain."
Captain Vengeance looked over his First Lieutenant, taking in the black shirt undone completely to the waist. He had a small seashell and a gold ring tied on a leather thong dangling around his neck. The dark blue sash and accents only made him look more rakish. And blast him, he wasn't even breathing hard. "Appears I had a tougher foe."
A body flew between them, landing on top of the pile, quickly followed by another body. Both of the former projectiles groaned, but remained still.
Occupied with watching the prisoners, Vengeance asked, "Rake, Barrel okay?"
The First Lieutenant looked over at the Officer of the Marines, currently straightening the brown rope sash around his waist. "Barrel's fine. They tried to overwhelm him, two-on-one."
Captain Vengeance only shook his head at the foolish tactic, knowing that it would have only enraged the broad-chested man.
"Cursed swine!" The thick accent came from their Second Lieutenant, followed by a spate of Spanish, showing how much he liked his opponent. The reason for his ire landed in the pile rather roughly.
"He get you, Caballero?" Captain Vengeance asked, still covering their prisoners while his crew transferred over to help bind them. The marines took charge of the prisoners, freeing the Captain of the duty.
"Minor cut." The Second Lieutenant dropped his other unconscious foe on deck. He fingered the slash in his mask. Dressed also in black with a white sash and neck kerchief, both embellished with silver accents embroidered along the edges, he carried himself with pride and honor. "It will only improve my handsomeness with the ladies."
"If you can get one away from my clutches, amigo." Rake clapped him on the back.
The Prize Master pushed the last man standing over to the group with the point of his cutlass, making him sit with the others. He tossed a length of rope to Caballero, and the two men made short work of tying up the newest prisoners, with the assistance of the marines.
"Well done, Morgan."
"My pleasure, Captain." The Prize Master affected a bow. His dark green sash of the finest silk moved with him.
"Check your deck, more coming out." The lookout's voice carried across the decks of the two ships, warning the privateer's members that the Monahan's crew had started coming up from below decks.
The Officer of the Marines, Barrel, nimbly bounded over there, quick for his size and width, and flattened the first man with a left hook. The force sent the pirate tumbling into the second, and the second fell right into the cutlass of the man behind him. By the time the motion stopped, they added two more to the pile and removed the body.
Barrel, Caballero, and Rake led several marines below, scaring up and detaining the rest of the Monahan's crew. They moved the remaining crew into the empty hold of the Monahan and locked them inside, while Morgan and Captain Vengeance moved to free the passengers and crew of the Galway, jumping over to the ship with practiced grace.
The Captain of the Galway, Patrick Burnsville, came out onto the deck of his ship and surveyed the damage. Before he did anything else, he set his men to work in righting their vessel. Next, he faced the black-clad man beside him. "Thank you, Captain Vengeance. We are grateful for your timely rescue."
Rumors ran swiftly through the colonies. This ship and its crew's reputation were already becoming widespread, even in their short time of operation. Burnsville knew of the Vengeance, and that their vicious actions were directed only towards the rogue pirate ships and the British Navy. As with many others in the shipping trade, he looked upon the Vengeance and her crew as the Robin Hoods of the sea, helping those in need while trying to balance the scales with the British.
"Our pleasure, sir. Are you continuing south?" Captain Vengeance asked.
"Safe journey to you. We'll take the scum away, and tell you that the Spirit's active in the southern waters."
"Hoping not to see the Spirit, for that means we're facing trouble again, and the Spirit's there to pull us out. I wish I could offer you something beyond my thanks."
"Your gratitude is enough, Captain. We will get what we want off the Monahan."
"Then I bid you farewell. Happy hunting, Captain." Burnsville extended his hand. He was pleased to have it accepted by the man leading one of the strongest charges to protect the seas for the Americans.
Captain Vengeance smiled. "Smooth seas, Captain."
The Vengeance crew withdrew completely, letting the Galway get underway into the dark night.
"Cap'n, the Monahan's sailable, but we'll have to take her slow." Rake stood beside his friend at the Monahan's wheel.
"Watch over her. She'll make a good prize, and I'll not lose her before we make land." He patted his friend on the shoulder, moving to leap perfectly onto the deck of Vengeance. "We'll guard your back."
Several members of the privateer's crew transferred over from the Vengeance to the Monahan, taking over repairs and getting the ship under way. They knew how to repair the hole their cannons made in the ship's side, and before long, the sloop was seaworthy enough to sail slowly toward the North Carolina coast.
The Vengeance dropped off her prize and her captured crewmen at the pre-arranged spot, letting the local law, indirectly through intermediaries, take custody of the crew and ship. Not that there was much left of the ship beyond the bare minimum, since the Vengeance crew stripped her down and took what they wanted as was their right. No one dared to argue with them.
Captain Vengeance turned his ship toward home, looking forward to the break. In the dark of night, he ordered Vengeance into the entrance of Ocracoke Inlet. The inlet was located along the shores of the North Carolina colony, and the closest one to their berth. The darkness let them slip past Pilot Town, to the Neuse River, and into the protected cove that harbored the Vengeance.
"Home sweet home." Rake grinned in the darkness, listening to the deckhands tie off the schooner.
"Any final orders, Cap'n?"
"Not for the crew."
Rake grinned. "I'll set them loose."
"Do it." Captain Vengeance went to his cabin to gather his few belongings, half listening as Rake released the crew.
They left the Vengeance secure in her hiding place along with the skeleton crew that lived aboard while she was in her home berth. They stayed not only to keep watch but also to affect minor repairs and keep her ready to sail at a moment's notice. The senior officers manned two of the rowboats and proceeded to shore after the rest of the crew took their leave.
On shore, a tall, distinguished figure paced back and forth beside his carriage, slightly up a small hill from the darkened docks. The spot overlooked the water, and only the moonlight gave a faint glow, barely lighting a few feet in front of him. He'd seen the signal lights earlier and, impatient to hear their news, came down to the docks to meet the men. Now, hearing the faint splash of the oars as the boats drew nearer to the docks, he paused and waited.
There was a faint thump as the boats pulled up to the pier. He stepped forward as the first man jumped lithely to the dock and secured the mooring ropes. Travis continued his vigil, but no longer in silence.
"Captain?" He announced his presence as the tall blond disembarked the small boat.
The captain turned, not surprised to see their benefactor there to greet them. As gruff as the older man's appearance often was, it was not hard to see that he worried for the men who were working for him. He took great care in helping select the crew for this venture, and most were his friends. Knowing the dangers they all faced in this undertaking, he worried not only for their success, but for their safety as well. They had all lost enough already.
Orin Travis owned the waterfront plantation. From its convenient location, it provided easy access to the cove that hid the privateer schooner, which was a fact known only to the men who sailed her. Instead of the silent backer of the notorious privateer, society saw the financier as one of the most respected men in North Carolina, along with being the local Magistrate. It was rumored the Governor, Josiah Martin, counted him as a confidante, an irony only apparent among those that knew that the supposedly devout Loyalist was actually helping further the cause of independence for the colony.
"I take it you were successful?" He moved forward, and held his hand out to shake the captain's as they met.
"Aye." Captain Vengeance smirked. "Caught one of Stewart's ships trying to plunder the Galway. Put a stop to it."
"Stewart himself needs to be stopped. He cannot continue to prey on colonial trade goods to fatten his own pockets." Travis nodded a greeting to the other men as they gathered on the solid ground, halfway between the carriage and the docks. Now shorn of their dark garb they looked nothing like the demons their enemies feared. "Do you have any plans towards that end?"
The men looked at each other, before turning in unison to face their Prize Master.
"What?" A pair of bright green eyes peered warily at them.
"We might have a few." The captain turned back to his employer.
"Fine, I'd like to hear them. Would you gentleman care to come back to the house with me for a celebratory drink?"
"You'll have to be beggin' me pardon, Orin . . ."
The older man chuckled. "No need to explain, Sam, I know you're anxious to get back to your new bride." The benefactor shook the Master Gunner's hand as he bid him farewell. "You must bring her to the house for a visit soon."
"Aye, I will." The town's blacksmith shook Travis' hand. The two men had been friends since Travis moved into the colony several years before, and remained so even with their difference in stations. With a new family to protect from pirates and rogue soldiers plundering the seas and land, it had been no problem for Samuel "Tiny" Butler to answer his friend's call for help. The request came months before when Travis approached him with his plans for Vengeance.
"Sir." Rafe Mosely held out his hand. "I believe I should return before my father questions my absence."
"Of course." The Magistrate shook Rafe's hand. He knew it was rough on the boy having different political leanings than his loyalist father. "Tomorrow the Peacock must show his plumage, if he wishes to continue his nocturnal activities."
"Yes, sir." Rafe, known as Peacock and in charge of the ship's daily routine, smiled and left with the blacksmith.
"I, too, must excuse myself."
Travis turned to the young Spanish landowner, noting the injury on his cheek. "Raphael, are you okay?"
Fingering the slight scratch, he waved his hand off at his friend's concern. "It's nothing."
The large, dark-haired man beside him threw his arm around Raphael's shoulders. "He thinks that little mark is going to have the ladies swooning after him. We all know that isn't going to happen when I'm around."
He laughed as the Spaniard smiled and pushed the teasing man away.
"Buck, you are so full of it." The young boatswain said, now standing beside the two and laughing.
"Yes!" Buck crowed. "And whatever 'it' is, the women love it. So, Orin, thanks for the offer, but I think I'll go make sure my tavern's still standing. The ale's free and beggin' your pardon, but," the man looked around at his companions, "I can find company a bit better lookin', too."
"I wouldn't dream of keeping you from your ladies, Buck." Travis laughed along with the others.
"Ah, patron, when they see him coming, they will run the other way...right to me," Raphael smiled and opened his arms wide.
Buck slapped him on the back, "Now who's dreaming, my friend."
"It's true." The Spanish landowner looked offended.
The taller man threw his arm back around the Spaniard's shoulders as they started to walk off to the small barn and corral that housed their mounts while they were at sea. "One of these days, Senor Cordova de Martinez, I'm going to have to challenge you."
"What? Losing the ladies is not enough for you?"
As the rest of the men continued to laugh, watching the two friends move off continuing to trade insults, Travis turned back to the Captain. "I see Wilmington is as entertaining as always."
The Captain managed a small wistful smile as he watched his oldest friend enter the barn. "Yes sir, you can always count on Buck."
Travis nodded knowing the deeper meaning behind that statement. Wilmington was one of the first men the blond asked to bring into their joint venture. He knew they went far back as good friends, along with a history full of tragedy.
"If you don't mind, Captain, sir," the younger man, beside them, looked nervously back and forth between the two, "I think I'll follow them . . .keep Buck out of trouble."
The Captain nodded. "You can try, JD."
The youth grinned and raced off after his friend to the barn near the top of the hill.
"Do you still have reservations about the boy?" Travis asked growing more serious as he watched the trio departing.
Shrugging, the Captain replied, "There are many sailing younger than he is. He's proved his salt. Buck keeps a good eye out for him."
Travis nodded, satisfied, and turned when the dark skinned sailor approached.
The man said, "I'm going to go check on my father, sir."
"I saw him this morning, Nathan," Travis informed the young healer. "He was much better."
Nathan smiled. "That's good, sir. Thank you again for all your help."
"It is I who am grateful for your help," Travis assured him. "It was a lucky day when Chris found you."
Absently rubbing his neck, Nathan concurred. "Can't disagree, sir, but I never expected you to offer as much help to me and my family as you have."
Travis frowned. "It is little I do," he denounced. "I've never liked to see others suffer at another's hand. Helping you and your family, like this ship, is just my way of setting things right. Be sure you come up to the house tomorrow. I may have some more information for you by then."
Nathan looked hopeful. "I'll do that, sir, and goodnight."
"Nathan," the Captain called, stopping him. "Where's Vin?"
Nathan looked down at the ground, and then over at the large man beside him before facing his captain again. "He left. Said somethin' about one of your mares 'bout to foal."
The blond blew out a frustrated breath. Vin could move like a ghost and had slipped away again without him noticing." It's okay, Nathan." He sadly faced Travis.
Nodding his head, Nathan disappeared into the barn, and they heard him ride away.
"He'll come around, Chris." A large comforting hand fell on the blond's shoulder. Josiah gave the shoulder a gentle squeeze of support when the man turned questioning eyes to him. "He's still unsettled here."
"Perhaps our young compatriot suffers from the same trepidation that fills me in your presence, Magistrate...too much is left to chance." The slight brogue, less pronounced than when on the ship, came to them from out of the darkness, accompanied by the owner of the voice joining the others.
Travis replied, "We're all taking chances, some more than others, and many are pressing their luck."
Ezra quirked an eyebrow and smiled in devilment. "I, sir, attempt to leave nothing to chance."
"Well, I know that." Travis grinned. "Nor do I, if you remember."
Standish gave the man a two-fingered salute and turned back to his captain. "I would not be too concerned. Our young hunter will soon realize our esteemed benefactor is not in league with the British on the sly, as he first feared. And like myself, he will learn to ignore the crusty, curmudgeon exterior, for the man bluffs well to conceal the care and concern he is often not allowed to express."
"Urmph." Travis tried to glare at the younger man, but it warred with the smile that fought for equal service. The young Scotsman had been an embittered young man when he'd first met him, not long after Ezra had escaped the British and a bitter betrayal. It had given the Magistrate a hold over the young con artist to either make use of his talents for him or serve his arrest warrant issued. But Ezra still tried to play the Magistrate for all he could. The Magistrate was never quite sure whether the man was trying to pull a con on him, but over the last few months the young man had changed . . . and was still changing.
The stoic captain allowed a small smile, knowing himself what his Prize Master said was true. Seeing not only the change in the con man over the last few months, but in the crusty curmudgeon, too, as his venture helped take away the driving pain of losing his son in a questionable act by the British. The same way it was helping Chris heal his own heart, shattered by the loss of his family in that same tragedy.
"Mr. Travis, I do believe I will partake of your offer for refreshment, as I find myself parched for both quality and company after this journey."
"Excellent. Mr. Sanchez?"
"I rarely pass up a chance to commune with the spirits." Josiah grinned.
"Count me in."
The three men went to the barn, saddled their horses, and followed the carriage back to the plantation, helping the older man put the carriage away.
Settled in his well-appointed receiving room, Orin Travis motioned for the men to take seats. He served them brandy himself, passing out the snifters.
"Are we safe?" he asked.
"Yes." Chris nodded. "No one suspects who we are."
"Yet," Ezra added.
"Something I need to worry about?" Travis studied each man.
"Always worry, lest ye err." Josiah sipped his brandy.
"Stewart concerns me," Ezra said. "He's brazen in his greed."
"Would the crew you captured have killed some, if not all, of those people today?" Travis asked. "That raises things to a more dire level."
"Yes," Chris said, "at the very least. And given his greed, he might have kept them alive and sold them to the slavers in the Islands. He's becoming bolder and more dangerous, not leaving many witnesses behind."
"Things are growing unsettled, brothers." Josiah put his glass down, leaning forward to talk. "The colonists are chafing against all the new tariffs by our king, and the British soldiers are caught in the middle. They are required to enforce the laws, yet the colonists are making that difficult for them. Half the soldiers don't want to do it, and many have been posted here a long time. They consider it their home, too, so they don't agree with the tariffs either."
"Aye, but there are rumors of a new garrison coming in, along with a new commander," Ezra informed them warily.
"Yes." The Magistrate nodded somberly. "Martin has been boasting this might be true. An influx of British loyalists directly from England is not to our favor."
"I surely do not care to come under their scrutiny again." The conman inwardly shivered at the thought before saying, "I fear several of our members of party might have similar objections." He ended his declaration gazing significantly toward the older, former monk.
Josiah nodded wisely. "You might be right there, brother." He turned his gaze toward their leader.
Chris frowned, thinking of their reluctant crewman. "Kincaid hinted Vin might have a similar problem as our con artist here."
Ezra smiled and tilted his snifter in salute. Initially, he had grumbled the warrant the British held for him was the noose the good Magistrate held over his head to participate in this dangerous venture. Now, it was more often a joke between the two. Standish had no love of the British, and would have found a way to exact his own revenge against them. Instead, he'd found a group he was becoming comfortable with to help watch his back. Still, he found it unpleasant to have the worry over his head, or his new friends'.
"I've tried to make inquires, but I don't want to raise any more suspicions our way," Travis told him.
"Well, I didn't learn much and he won't talk." Chris sighed.
"Give it time," Josiah counseled.
"It may not be time he has," Larabee argued. "Can't protect him if we don't know what we are up against." Seeing the frown on their benefactor's face, Chris hastily added, "He's a good man, though, I trust him."
"I've no worries on that score," Travis assured him. "It's what we don't know, and everyone's safety I'm concerned with. More British influence in our town will not bode well for any of us."
Chris nodded. "Throw in those pirates, and everyone's nervous. Buck heard one of the sailors talking in his tavern. Stewart may be getting a special license from the King. That will only make things worse. He would be able to pirate legally in the name of the crown."
"The talk of revolution and freedom from England is growing," Travis stated.
"We're heading for war, gentlemen." Ezra studied the remaining contents of his glass. "It's best we prepare."
"How?" Travis asked. "What, specifically, do you want to do?"
"Stockpile. We will need food, munitions, money, and goods."
"I agree, but someone will notice." Chris shook his head. "If too much disappears, or if we bring in large shipments there will be questions."
"We can use my ship," Josiah offered. "My hold is mostly empty."
Chris nodded, "It would be best to spread our supplies out." He glanced at Travis, "It may become unsafe to use our harbor here, and we need to be prepared."
"Magistrate?" Ezra stared directly at Travis.
"Don't tell me, but do it. We all have to be ready. Whatever you think you need for Vengeance and her crew take, because that will have the priority. She'll need provisions."
"Consider it begun." Ezra smiled.
"We're going to have to limit who knows where things will be stored," Chris said. "Senior officers only, in case we're caught."
"We'll need to scout some more likely safe ports, too," Chris stated.
"I feel the need for another soul-searching journey, my friends." Josiah smiled.
"Take JD." Chris smiled with him, knowing the mad monk and his scow of a ship would draw little notice. The locals were use to his wild wanderings. "The kid knows these waters."
"Aye, Captain. And now, I hate to do this, but the mad ex-monk Josiah needs to appear in town tomorrow to help with the roof repair on the church. I should leave so that I won't hammer myself to the roof in my fatigue. I beg your pardon." Josiah stood.
The Magistrate stood. "I understand. Take care."
"We'll be going as well." Chris stood and shook the Magistrate's hand, followed by Ezra, and finally Josiah.
"Ezra." The Magistrate laid a hand on the conman's shoulder as they walked toward the door. "When you're done, I want a formal inventory of what's stockpiled. I don't want to know where it came from, or where it is, but I will want to know what you already have and what you might need." The older man stared hard at the man who could 'acquire' just about anything.
"Yes, sir." Ezra gave the older man a two-fingered salute as he took his leave.
"Good night, gentlemen," Travis called. He closed the door behind them with a whispered, "Be safe."
Overall, Orin Travis was pleased with his crew and his ship, knowing that the senior officers would protect him, just as he would protect them, or any member of the crew, if someone found out about their arrangement. Vengeance represented something powerful, at least to the Magistrate. It would be a strong force in the war he knew would be coming.
The Seven men were the heart of her. Not to discount the efforts of Tiny, Raphael, Rafe, and the rest of the men who risked their lives to put her and keep her at sea, but those Seven had a bond that was unbreakable. It was as if they were meant to be together, and were fulfilling a pre-ordained destiny. A shiver passed through the older man, as if in confirmation of his thoughts. Taking that as a sign he was on the right path, he sent a prayer of gratitude to his Maker.
Standing, he took the snifters into the kitchen and washed them. He knew his staff was probably aware of these late night meetings - it was hard to keep most of the activities of the household from the servants. For the most part he trusted his employees, but he preferred keeping his guard up and evidence to a minimum. Besides the more they stayed on their toes about the little things, the less mistakes they were all likely to make. If the staff members weren't sure, there would be no proof for them to testify otherwise.
Stretching, the Magistrate made his way upstairs to his room, quietly going through his preparations for bed and changing into his nightclothes. He blew out the candle, lying down beside his wife. As he gazed with fondness on the sleeping love of his life, softly lit by the moonlight, and briefly thought of the son they lost in such an unjust manner. Thinking too of his daughter-in-law and young grandson he now watched out for, he knew in his heart he was doing the right thing for all of them. War was coming, and with Vengeance and her crew he was certain, now more than ever, that he had chosen he right path . . . for Vengeance.
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