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Pirate Fiction -- Blackthorne's Story
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Capt Peter Blackthorne
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 16, 2017 5:08 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

BY THE MARK FIVE
____________________________


“You sent for us, Capitaine?”

At the sound of the young man’s soft accent, Blackthorne glanced across the shadowy deck, making out the figures of a pair of sailors awaiting permission to step onto the quarterdeck. It was nearing midnight. Legacy had been under sail by moonlight for already five hours that evening, as darkness fell early in winter this far south.

“Indeed I did. Come up.”

The Boucher brothers—Marcel and Maurice—had signed on with Legacy in Montserrat two years earlier. Marcel, the elder of the two, had been a scholar at Collège Royal-Bourbon and had run afoul of the press gang while with Maurice at a wharfside tavern in Marseille. The brothers served in the French navy for several years before jumping ship in Montserrat and hiding under a farmer’s haystack until their ship sailed without them.

Blackthorne waved them over to the taffrail, away from the helmsman and other officers and into the pool of light cast by the starboard stern lantern. “And so,” he said, studying their faces. “Legacy sails under a Letter of Marque from King Charles, and all aboard are pardoned of their crimes against England. In exchange, we are lawfully entitled to attack French ships.” He paused. “To attack your countrymen.”

The brothers gazed at him somberly.

“My Letter of Marque cannot protect you from the penalties France may impose do we take a French ship. If you wish to refuse to take up arms against your country’s navy, then let us part ways afore such time, and I will see that you get your share of what meager plunder we have managed to take thus far.”

“The crime would be treason,” Marcel replied quietly and looked at his brother.

Maurice shrugged. “We are already wanted for desertion, and for that the penalty is death. How many times could they hang us?”

Blackthorne smiled.

“We have no country but Legacy, Capitaine,” Marcel said to Blackthorne, “and no family but this ship’s company. We will fight like Englishmen.”

Maurice snorted. “Non, not like Englishmen—like Vikings!”

A shout rang out from the foretop. “SHOALS AHEAD! SHOALS! SHOALS!”

Blackthorne dismissed the Boucher brothers and drew his glass for a better look. In the light of the half-moon, he could see the foamy chop of waves shattering against a shallow reef about a mile ahead.

“Bear two points larboard,” Captain Blackthorne said to Hudgins, the helmsman.

“Two points larboard, aye, Cap’n!”

“Hands to the braces to trim the sails, Mr. Dickerson. Mr. Alden!”

“Sir!”

“Signal Captain Bertie to bear to larboard.”

Two pairs of flags were raised—one pair to the top of the mainmast and one pair strung along a mizzen stay where it was illuminated by the stern lanterns. Brown and orange. The flags fluttered and snapped their message across the sea to Dove, trailing by about half a mile. Bear larboard, bear larboard.

“By the mark seven!” came the sounding call.

Forty-two feet. Blackthorne strode to the forepeak, anxiously peering into the dark waters for signs of shallows.

“By the mark five!”

Thirty feet.

Though Legacy’s hull design was newer than Dove’s, she was a much larger ship with a deeper draft—16 feet. The smaller Dove could sail in waters as shallow as 14 feet. If Bertie steered Dove directly behind Legacy, Blackthorne could lead both ships through these shallow waters. His mind raced, trying to recall whether they’d worked out a signal for “Follow astern.”

“Captain! Captain!” Alden ran up to him breathlessly. “Dove is bearing starboard!”

“What?” Blackthorne looked to the signal flags, verifying that the proper colors had been raised. “Stay here and watch the waters, lad,” he shouted to Alden as he ran aft. “Call Mr. Dickerson if you see anything but black seas!”

From the stern, Blackthorne watched slack-jawed as Bertie steered Dove directly for the reef. Desperate to get Bertie’s attention, he reached into the binnacle cabinet and withdrew the loaded flintlock routinely stored there, then fired into the sky.

Seconds after the report of the pistol came the sound of Dove’s hull colliding with the sea bottom and scattered screams from aboard.


Last edited by Capt Peter Blackthorne on Sat Jul 22, 2017 7:25 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Salty Dog
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 19, 2017 6:59 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Very nice story there! Good author! Surprised
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Capt Peter Blackthorne
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 19, 2017 2:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks, Salty Dog! More to come! I finally got the story worked out in my head. It's been knocking around in there for years. Everytime I play the game, I hear a little bit more. Smile
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fleetp
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 19, 2017 4:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I've also enjoyed reading it. Smile
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Capt Peter Blackthorne
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 19, 2017 5:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Glad to hear it, Fleetp!
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Capt Peter Blackthorne
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 20, 2017 5:37 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

AGROUND
_______________________


Sound asleep, Johnathan Sims was thrown from his hammock when Dove slammed into the shoals. He landed on Jonas Fitch, a tall, red-headed Lincolnshire man who cursed and flailed as they jointly attempted to stand. Sims ran aft. Fitch, forward.

“Mrs. Henry!” Sims called, pushing his way through the crowd below decks. He could hear the cries of both children above the confusion as he sloshed through ankle-deep water.

“Are you hurt?” She was sitting on the deck, her linen chemise soaked. Holding her hand to her forehead, she was dazed and slow to respond. Sims took her face in his hands, peering in the darkness for a head wound. “We must go above, Mrs. Henry, in all haste! William, lad... Take this. Oh, and this.” He was shoving the family’s possessions into the boy’s arms—the children’s clothing, shoes, a doll, a blanket.

“My gown...” Mrs. Henry slurred. “I must dress.”

“Here.” Sims placed her dress into her hands. Take it and put it on above.” In the rising water he found her shoes, a comb and a locket.

“But my corset,” she said, “where is my corset?”

“You must do without. Please come. Now.”

Sims gathered Ginnie into one arm and took Mrs. Henry’s elbow with his other hand. “This way. Quickly!”

They passed Captain Bertie at the bottom of the companionway as he tumbled down to the hold, panic writ large on his young features. He held a lantern high to shed light on the flooding hold. Close at his heels were men whom Sims recognized as the ship’s carpenter and quartermaster.

After an awkward ascent up Dove’s cramped companionway, Sims and the Henry family staggered onto the main deck. The little galleon was pitched upward slightly, deck slanting underfoot. Sims led them to the stern, where the other passengers had already started to assemble. Mrs. Henry stopped abruptly. “Where can I dress?” she said with such urgency that Sims wondered if she were still addled from her fall.

He ushered her away from the crowd of men to the far side of the mizzenmast. “Here,” he said, and he turned away.

As he lowered Ginnie gently to sit on the deck, he remembered the items still clutched in his hand. He set Mrs. Henry’s shoes and comb on the deck and wrapped the children in the salvaged blanket. Stepping away, he cupped the locket in his hands and stole a moment to inspect it in the light of the half-moon. Inside was a man’s portrait painted in oil with a tiny brush, his pleasant, sincere expression so guileless that Sims immediately liked him without knowing him at all. Mr. Henry, Sims concluded, as the man possessed the same broad forehead and straight nose as William. He gently closed the locket, silently thanking heaven that he had been able to save this memento for Mr. Henry’s widow.


.............................................


Blackthorne did not ask permission to come aboard.

Following him up the Jacob’s ladder to board the Dove were George Hughes, Legacy’s carpenter, and several able-bodied seamen who were skilled with a hammer and saw. Legacy had anchored 200 hundred yards away, which was as near to the shoals as Blackthorne dared bring her.

Bertie stalked over to him, and even in the pre-dawn light Blackthorne could see the flush of rage in his face. “You signaled me directly into the reef!” he shouted.

“I did no such thing.” Blackthorne brushed past him on the way to the stern, moving to the crowd on the quarterdeck. “Are all passengers accounted for?”

“You signaled green and red!” Bertie spouted. “Green and red flags mean Bear Starboard!”

Blackthorne stopped and turned. “The flags are brown and orange, your Grace. Brown and orange to bear larboard.” He glanced at Legacy, confirming for the hundredth time that the correct signal flags had been raised—the brightening sky proving the truth of it with every minute.

He spotted the Henry family by the mizzenmast. Mrs. Henry was sitting on the deck, disheveled, soaked and still dazed. After a nod to Sims, Peter asked, “Are you all right, Mrs. Henry?”

“I will be, Captain,” she smiled weakly. “I’m ever grateful for Dr. Sims’s care ... of all of us.”

“If you’re going below, Peter, would you have a look for my bag of medicinals? And anything of Mrs. Henry’s that might be saved?”

Blackthorne’s gaze fell on the children sitting against the gunwale. Though their faces were swollen from tears, they bore their suffering silently, and he was grateful for their composure. Kneeling to their eye-level, he murmured, “You are both very brave. Stay strong for your mum, aye?”

The hold had flooded to a depth of about 18 inches. Bertie’s carpenter had managed to pull up enough planks to reveal the damage to the hull below the forepeak. Blackthorne lowered the lantern, and its light filtered through a swirl of sandy seawater, dimly illuminating the hull’s injury. He took a cursory look and then handed the lantern to George Hughes with a shake of his head. “Find me when you’ve a measure of the damage, aye?”

Blackthorne located Sims’ medical bag in a raft of flotsam not far from the berths. Before returning above, he stopped by the screened-off area where Mrs. Henry had been sleeping and tore down one of the sail-cloths with a jerk, revealing a cot, two small hammocks and a sea chest, mostly submerged. The trunk would be too much for him to manage alone up the companionway, so he emptied its sodden contents into the sail-cloth and tied up its corners into a bundle. Before stepping away, he noticed one last item floating under the cot—Mrs. Henry’s corset. He flung it over his shoulder and proceeded up the companionway, the bundled canvas dragging along the ladder beneath him.

“Your possessions are soaked through but safe, Mrs. Henry,” Blackthorne announced, lowering the bundle to the deck. With a little glare, Sims snatched the corset off Blackthorne’s shoulder and dropped it discreetly out of sight.

“Are we sinking?” William’s small voice piped up from the deck.

“Not atall, lad,” Blackthorne replied. “There is a hole in the hull, true enough, but we are in shallow water, and we are safe.”

“Can the ship be repaired?” Mrs. Henry asked. She seemed more alert now, though a bruise was forming on her temple.

“I believe so, aye. And then we must move her off this ground and into deeper water.”

Dove had slammed into a sandbar just ahead of the reef, which largely cushioned what could have been a fatal collision. The ship rested on a sandy bottom in 13 feet of water, but the impact had cracked the keel and crushed a sizeable section of the prow below the waterline. With men constantly on the bilge pumps, the water inside the hold was evacuated in several hours. Though Hughes and his men managed to patch the breech in the hull, reducing the leaking to a slower seep, the ship would need a more thorough repair before she was seaworthy again.

At Blackthorne’s order, soundings had been taken throughout the day, revealing that the tide was highest at about noon. So in the morning of the next day, the passengers were loaded into longboats and taken to Legacy, lessening Dove’s weight by about a ton by Blackthorne’s estimation. Legacy’s experienced sailors then rowed out to deeper water with a kedge anchor, which they dropped onto a rocky seabed about 50 yards away. With two men on each capstan bar, Dove’s crew winched the slack out of the anchor line, then strained and sputtered as the capstan refused to turn another inch.

“It’s no use, Cap’n!” Dove’s quartermaster called.

“You must lighten the load even further, Captain,” Blackthorne told Bertie. “Ship your guns.”

“What?” Bertie protested. “And sail completely unarmed? I think not!”

“Would you prefer to dump your cargo?”

“Certainly not!”

Blackthorne pointed at Legacy’s two decks of cannon. “There are your guns, your Grace. You sail under the protection of a man-of-war. Your rabinets would be of no consequence to a French warship or a pirate vessel, mark me. But toss them overboard and we will be 1800 pounds lighter and may finally be upon our way.”

For a moment, Blackthorne thought the young nobleman might burst into tears. Instead he stomped away and ordered his men to uncouple the guns from their mounting brackets and hurl them into the sea. After each shipped gun, the men at the capstan shouldered the bars again, grunting and cursing as the ship failed to move—until the last gun had been tossed.

Feeling Dove shift under their feet, Blackthorne, Bertie and every available hand joined the men at the capstan, and with their joint exertion, the galleon slowly slid off the sand until it bobbed freely in open water.

“Well done, lads,” Blackthorne said, panting. “If you would, your Grace, kindly bring Dove abeam Legacy, and we will have the passengers returned to your ship by gangway. We’ve all had enough rowing and sweating for the day, hmm?”


Last edited by Capt Peter Blackthorne on Sat Jul 22, 2017 7:22 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Capt Peter Blackthorne
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 20, 2017 6:13 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Map for the story so far:

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Capt Peter Blackthorne
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 21, 2017 9:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

ST. KITTS
_______________________________


With Dove needing repairs, Blackthorne was forced to alter the course for Jamestown by swinging west to St. Kitts, the nearest friendly port. The leaking galleon required men on the bilge pumps every hour of the two-day journey, resulting in an exhausted crew by the time Dove was moored to the shipwright’s dock.

The shipyard was situated on the far edge of the harbor, giving Blackthorne hope that he would not have to associate with Bertie while in port. Let him tend to his ship’s repairs and leave the rest of us be, Blackthorne thought, although he pitied the shipwright.

Unscheduled as it was, putting into St. Kitts did provide the opportunity to off-load the cargo taken from the Spanish merchantman, so Blackthorne steered Legacy to the wharf, where he found traders eager to purchase goods at a discounted rate.

Blackthorne stood on the quarterdeck of his ship, observing as nearly 100 tons of sugar, cotton and spices were hoisted out of Legacy’s hold and swung over to the dock, when a feminine voice called from wharfside.

“Good day, Captain.”

Mrs. Henry peered up at him with a smile, her face shaded by a white parasol. Her yellow gown had been laundered and smoothed with a flatiron, and a gold locket above her breasts glinted in the sun. Her two children stood obediently next to her, Ginnie holding her hand.

He gazed at her a moment, surprised to notice how truly pretty she was. His previous encounters with Mrs. Henry had been tainted—initially by his anger at her role in Legacy’s fate, and then by the confusion and crisis of Dove’s grounding. Now, on a sunny, breezy day—her matters no more pressing than a walk by the harbor—she was radiant and serene, and he allowed himself a thorough appreciation of her features from the proper distance between them.

“Mrs. Henry.” He tipped his hat and flashed a wide smile.

“You’ve a fine ship, Captain. She’s hardly weathered. Is she new?”

“She is at that. Built by Randall and Trent this past spring.” And financed by Spanish gold, he thought but did not say aloud.

“And how fare you, William?” Blackthorne called. He had grown to admire the fair-haired six-year-old, who reminded him so much of himself as a boy. Serious and quiet, displaced by forces outside his control, William was learning resilience and strength, qualities that would ably serve him as he grew up in the New World.

“I am well, sir,” William replied, but he reached for his mother’s skirt for assurance.

“Would you like to come aboard a pirate ship, lad? I’ll show how to climb the ratlines. Perhaps even fire a gun, hmm?”

The boy nodded, and Mrs. Henry wrapped her arm around his shoulder. “Perhaps later, Captain, as we are to meet Dr. Sims at any moment.” She gestured to Ginnie, and a note of teasing crept into her voice. “May we come as well, or is it bad luck to have ladies aboard your ship?”

Blackthorne smiled. “I assure you, Madam, I have never had a lady aboard.”

Mrs. Henry blushed and laughed softly, turning away and almost stepping into Sims as he approached.

“Here you are,” Sims said, but he had heard the exchange between them, and he glanced at Blackthorne, his brow knitted faintly.

“The men are granted shore leave after they are done with the cargo,” Blackthorne said, “and then they will debark. Do have Dr. Sims show you aboard at that time—and take you wherever you would like to explore, William.” He tipped his hat to Mrs. Henry and stepped away from the rail.


...................................................


Sims had taken a room at the King’s Arms, a respectable establishment a few blocks from the wharf—the same inn where Mrs. Henry was lodging while Dove’s repairs were under way.

Thus Blackthorne did not expect to see Sims in the seedier, cheaper part of town by the harbor. But on the third evening of their stay on St. Kitts, Sims walked up while Blackthorne was having a drink at an outdoor table next to a bawdy house. He glanced with faint disapproval at the woman—her clothing askew and face heavily painted—on Blackthorne’s lap.

“Hullo, John,” Blackthorne grinned, relaxed and a little drunk. “This is Joan--”

“Jane,” she corrected.

“—from Newbury.”

“Naseby.”

He gestured with a bottle of rum, inviting Sims to sit.

“May we speak?”

“Please do.”

“Alone?”

With a little sigh, Blackthorne eased the woman off his lap, responding to her whimper of protest by giving her a pinch and a wink. “There’s a good lass. Wait for me upstairs, hmm?”

Sourly, Sims watched her go, then turned again to Blackthorne. “Request permission to sail aboard Dove,” he said bluntly.

“Again? The girl looked well when I saw her.”

“She is well.”

“What then?”

Sims dropped into a chair, his face glum. “It’s just that— I love her, Peter.”

“Ginnie?”

“No, Mrs. Henry!” He snatched the bottle away from him.

Blackthorne smiled, sitting up straighter. “I cannot say that I’m surprised, John, and I am truly happy for you.”

“Thank you.”

“But I need you aboard Legacy.”

“But—“

“There are more than 200 men in Legacy’s company, John, and fewer than 50 souls aboard Dove. It is Legacy that will engage in battle, not Dove. It is Legacy’s men, not Dove’s, who will need your skills. I know you see the logic in this.”

Sims lifted Blackthorne’s bottle and helped himself to a long draft. At Blackthorne’s surprise, he muttered, “All things in moderation.”

“Please do not fight me on this, Johnathan,” Peter said quietly.

“Very well,” Sims sighed, and he took another swallow and grimaced.

The two men were silent a moment.

“I must wonder,” Blackthorne murmured, “if Legacy will lose her surgeon once arrived in Virginia.”

“It is too soon for me to discuss such a thing with Mrs. Henry.”

Blackthorne gave him a small smile. “But not too soon to discuss with me. Will you ask for her hand?”

Sims shook his head. “A fine lady such as her, with a common man like me? What have I to offer? I’ve neither land nor money nor title. Perhaps she will think I am too old and not handsome enough. Her husband was a fine-looking gentleman—do you know she carries his portrait in her locket? I cannot imagine her ever enshrining my plain face in her jewelry.”

“Johnathan Sims,” Peter said quietly. “You are the best man I know, and any woman—with title or not—would be fortunate to call you her husband. Give her time to know you as I do.”

He paused, considering. “If you would like to abide in Jamestown for a time, then do so. Marry her if she will have you. We’ll sail back to Virginia after our raid on the Spanish Main, and if you are not married, happy and fat you may join the company again. Fair enough?”


Last edited by Capt Peter Blackthorne on Sat Jul 22, 2017 7:19 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Capt Peter Blackthorne
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PostPosted: Sat Jul 22, 2017 7:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

ACCEPTABLE RISK
____________________________


From St. Kitts, the most direct route to Virginia would take Legacy and Dove northwest, past the nearby Virgin Islands and into open ocean for 1,500 miles before reaching the coast of Virginia.

Blackthorne sat back in his chair with a sigh, rubbing his forehead as he studied the map. Once in the Atlantic, beyond the highly trafficked lanes between the Antilles Islands, it was rare to come across another ship, much less a rich prize. But if he were to sail from St. Kitts directly west, and skirt the southern coast of Puerto Rico, chances would be higher that he might encounter a Spanish ship or two. Perhaps even a royal galleon. Then, continuing northwest, he could sell the cargo and prize ship at one of the English colonies in the Bahamas Islands and quickly be on their way to Virginia.

It would mean a delay, but only a short one. An acceptable risk, he reasoned, in exchange for the opportunity of plunder. The crew were growing impatient—two of his men had deserted in St. Kitts. Legacy needed a target, and soon.

With a brisk easterly wind, the fleet made seven knots running before the wind, sailing westward within sight of the Puerto Rico coast. But after a full day and night of sailing, Blackthorne encountered only small fishing craft and an English merchantman. The crew had learned by now that Blackthorne never took English ships or towns, but he knew there would be grumbling nonetheless once the merchantman was in Legacy’s wake.

Legacy rounded the island’s western coast, steering north and finding more empty seas, and Blackthorne was beginning to curse his luck.

Then, a call sounded from the foretop. “SAIL! DEAD AHEAD!”

Blackthorne ran to the forepeak for a better look. When he saw nothing on the horizon, he leapt onto the rail and scaled the ratlines to the foretop, joining the sailor on watch. “What have we, Thomas?”

The sailor passed him the spyglass. “Just there over the horizon. Can’t make out the colors yet, Cap’n.”

The ship was perhaps 17 miles ahead, just entering a narrow passage between Puerto Rico’s mainland and a small island to the west. In the imperfect circle of the glass, Blackthorne could make out two masts—no, three—clearing the horizon. The hull was not yet in sight. It was a large ship, but what nationality?

He was silent, contemplating the strategies of wind and sea, and the risks and opportunities posed by an engagement in the limited sea room of this channel—a mere four miles at its widest point.

Blackthorne handed the glass back to the sailor on watch. “Sing out the moment you can see her colors, aye?”

“Aye, sir!”

“Mr. Alden!”

“Sir!” came a call from the deck.

“Signal Captain Bertie to heave to and wait here.”

“Straightaway!”

As Legacy entered the channel, Blackthorne ordered the log-line to be cast and learned that the ship’s speed had gained a knot from a strong following current. He glanced back toward Dove, relieved to see that Bertie had correctly interpreted the signal and had turned into the wind.

“FRENCH COLORS!” the watch called. “She’s a French frigate!”

Blackthorne pursed his lips. This was not the Spanish prize he’d hoped to take. Still, even if this vessel carried little coin, a warship would command a fair price, especially from an English colony. It would mean one less French ship to attack English holdings—and, once refitted for the King’s navy—one more English ship to sail against the enemy. Perhaps taking a French ship while escorting Mrs. Henry to Virginia would earn even more favor from King Charles—a fair prospect for an Englishman who had been on the wrong side of the Crown for most of his life.

“Do you know this ship?” Blackthorne handed his spyglass to Marcel Boucher, who studied it a long moment.

“It is Beaumont,” he replied. “She is an older ship of 40 guns, but they are only 12-pounders.” He paused. “Anyway, that is what she carried last I knew, but it has been two years.”

Blackthorne’s gaze remained on the oncoming ship, now almost midway through the channel, and he knew that her captain was studying Legacy through his glass just as he had studied Beaumont through his own. “What will he think when he does not recognize this ship?” Blackthorne asked, for Legacy was flying French colors.

Boucher thought a moment, then shrugged. “Perhaps he will think she is a new ship.”

“And he would be right about that.”

“Or perhaps he will think she sails under false colors.”

“Right about that as well,” Blackthorne murmured. “Mr. Dickerson, order the men to the braces, but have them stay out of sight. And man the larboard guns, but do not open the ports until my order.”

Legacy’s sailors rushed to their assigned lines, then slid to sit on the deck below the rail, understanding that close combat was imminent, and they would soon be visible on deck and recognized as the rabble they were.
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