Pirate Festival > Port of Call

PRELUDE TO EL LOBO DEL MAR

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Welsh Wench:
This is a closed story by Welsh Wench and Mad Jack Wolfe.
©2009 by the respective authors. All Rights Reserved.

Captain Jack Wolfe:
Hampshire, Near Portsmouth - 1639

"Damn it, Jack, you're just being unreasonable now!"

John Michael Wolfe was stuffing whatever belongings he could into a sea bag. His older brother, Royal Navy Lieutenant Thomas Wolfe, was standing over him, desperately trying to talk his younger brother out of becoming a merchant marine.
"Define 'reasonable'," Jack shot back.
Thomas looked at the ceiling in frustration. "Fine. 'Reasonable' would be you stopping this nonsense and going back to Oxford where you belong."
Jack shook his head. "No, you just defined 'unreasonable'. Try again."
"Jack, you have a bright future as a professor! No fewer than three deans have come here begging to talk with you in hopes of changing your mind! Yet you insist on shipping out on a merchantman tomorrow? THAT is what I'd call unreasonable."
Jack turned and faced his brother. "Our father is dead, Tom. Mum isn't getting a penny now that he's gone. How much of your salary can you spare to keep bread on her table? Not one damned farthing, because the Navy can't afford to pay you! I can send back most of my money once we're under way, because I'll get paid regular. And I live cheap. Being at university has taught me to be frugal."

"It's not what Father would have wanted," said Thomas.
Jack rolled his eyes. "Yeah, and Dad is dead. I say he doesn't get a bloody vote. He took it upon himself to bugger off to the great beyond and leave us to tend to the mess. Well, I'm doing that, the best I can."
"Being angry at Father isn't going to help anything. It's not his fault he died."
Jack continued ramming whatever he could into his sea bag. "I'm not so dim as to think he planned it, Tom. But it doesn't change the fact that he did, and left us holding the bag."
Thomas shook his head. "I want you to think this through, Jackie..."
"Don't call me that!!" Jack erupted. "'Jackie' sounds like a little boy with an all-day lollipop. How would you like it if I started calling you Tommy again?"
"I'm sorry. You're right. I wouldn't like it much. But please, give it a few days before you commit to this choice."
"No time. The Laura Anne sails tomorrow. And I shall be on her when she does."
"There are other ships, Jack. You don't have to sail on that one."
Jack shook his head as he cinched up the sack. "I gave Captain Pritchard my word. You know how Father felt about men who don't keep their word."
"So now you invoke him, since it suits your purpose?"
"Something like that."

Thomas went to the chair across from Jack's bed and sat heavily. "Are you really doing this for Mum, or is it something else?"
"I don't know what you mean," said Jack.
"There's more to this than an overdeveloped sense of responsibility." Thomas leaned forward and looked at his brother. "This is about Rose, isn't it?"
Jack stiffened. "It's got nothing to do with her."
"Oh, the hell it doesn't. She hurt you, and badly. I remember the night she rejected your proposal. It was the first time you'd had anything to drink. I've never seen anyone hold their liquor so poorly."
"Rose wanted status," said Jack bitterly. "Like she said, I'm just the son of a shipwright. What status could I give her?"
"She's missing the point," Thomas said gently. "Everyone knows how much you love her. Rose is throwing away everything, for what? A meaningless title? Land? Will those things keep her warm at night?"
Jack's stomach was steadily tying itself in knots. Yes, Rose had hurt him badly. He had saved for months to buy her an engagement ring. Jack had worshiped the very ground she walked on, and she had never rebuked any profession of love he had given, no matter how bold. That made her laughing rejection of his proposal that much more cruel. He had been nothing more than an entertaining diversion to her.

"Tom, I really don't want to talk about this right now."
"When do you want to talk about it, Jack?"
"How about... never?"
Thomas stood and took his brother by the shoulders. "I know I can't talk you out of this. But keep this with you; I will do everything I can to keep tabs on you so I know you are safe."
"What, are you afraid I'll fall in with pirates?"
"Something like that."
Jack gave his brother a wicked grin. "Then I swear an oath that if I ever do fall in with pirates, I shall become the more feared pirate the world has ever seen!"
Thomas bit his lip and nodded. "That is what I'm most afraid of. You have a terrible habit of attaining whatever goal you set for yourself."
Jack shook his head. "There's no danger of that happening, Tom. I feel the same about pirates as you do. They are a vile and cancerous blight. I'd rather die than become one of them."
"Let's hope it never comes to that." Thomas looked hard into Jack's eyes. "Promise me you'll be careful?"
"I promise," smiled Jack. "Frankly, I feel better knowing you'll be out there keeping an eye on me."
The bothers hugged, and Thomas mussed Jack's hair. "Be careful. And for God's sake, get a bloody haircut!"
"Spoken like a true Navy man!" laughed Jack.

He watched as his brother left and closed the door. After a few moments, he reached under the bed and pulled out a bottle of Jamaican rum he has purchased a few days before on the docks at Portsmouth. Jack pulled out the cork and took a couple of swallows of the amber liquid. A violent shudder ran through him as the rum scorched its way down his throat, and he had to fight back the urge to retch. Finally, he unclenched his eyes and shoved the cork back into the bottle.

"Maybe Tom is right," he said quietly. "Maybe I'm doing the wrong thing. Maybe I'm not cut out for the sea. But I just don't care any more."

Captain Jack Wolfe:
The morning sun broke clear and bright over the harbour town of Portsmouth, bringing with it the promise of new beginnings.  Jack climbed off the back of the wagon he had hitched a ride on and gave the farmer a couple shillings for his kindness.  Slinging his overstuffed sea bag over his shoulder, he scanned the ships docked there.  A myriad of vessels lay before him; merchantmen, warships, mail runners, and a host of others.  Jack knew the Laura Anne was a two-masted brigantine, which helped to significantly narrow his search.  Being the son of a shipwright proved to be an advantage in situations like this.  He could tell at a glance what type of ship each one was, and usually where it had been built.

At the end of one dock laid a stoutly built ship, deep drafted, with two masts.  The foremast was square-rigged, and the mainsail was set fore and aft of the mainmast.  She wasn't a large ship, but it was apparent she could carry quite a bit of cargo.  Jack was fairly confident she was the Laura Anne, but he didn't feel like walking all the way down the long dock to find out.  A man was sitting on the dock near the stern of a large weathered sloop, repairing one of the lines with a marlinespike.  Jack decided the grizzled tar was as good a person to ask as any.
“Pardon me, sir,” he began.
“'Sir'?!” the man asked incredulously.  He spat on the deck and gave Jack an amused look.  “Ain't no 'sirs' here, boy.  All of us, we work for a livin'.”

Jack could feel his face getting red.  He knew full well how sailors addressed one another, and he knew a lot of their vernacular, too.  But he never dreamt that one day he would be a sailor.
“Sorry,” he said with a smile.  “No offence intended, mate.  That brigantine down there, is she the Laura Anne?”
“I suppose it could be,” the man replied.  “Who wants to know?”
“I ship out on her today.  I was hoping you'd save a bloke a long walk if you know it's her.”
The man shook his head.  “Sonny, after a month of nothin' but blue water and rollin' decks, you'll wish you had enjoyed the walk.  But I figure it's somethin' you'll have to learn the hard way.  Yeah, she be the Laura Anne.  Pritchard's a good master.  Tough but fair.”
“Thanks, mate,” said Jack, and he turned to leave.
“Hey, sonny!” the man called.  “This is your first time on blue water, ain't it?”
Jack bit his lip.  “Yes, it is.”
“You'll need a sure-fire seasick remedy then.  I got one, but it'll cost you a sixpence.”
Jack thought about it, and how queasy he got when a skiff he was in got caught in a heavy chop.  He dug in his pocket and put the coin in the man's hand.  The man pocketed the coin and waved younger man closer.
“The best cure for seasickness?” he said mysteriously.
“Yes?”
“Sit under a tree.”
Jack gave him a dumbfounded look, and the man let loose an ear-splitting cackle.  Knowing he'd been taken and rightly so, Jack laughed and started down the dock to his new home, and the future.

Captain Jack Wolfe:
A few minutes later, Jack found himself tenuously setting foot onto the deck of the Laura Anne.  He found it strange that no one challenged him.  Undeterred, he looked around until he spotted the quartermaster who had signed him on.  Jack walked up to the man and cleared his throat.
“Excuse me, Mr. Graves?  Jack Wolfe.  We met two days ago at the Crown and Rose.  I'm reporting for duty.”
Graves looked the lad over and sniffed.  “You look skinnier in the daylight.  Can you climb?”
“Yes, sir.  I even know a thing or two about working the lines.  My father...”
“Is not a member of this crew, boy,” interrupted Graves.  “We'll teach you how to properly work the lines, as well as other duties about the ship.  Now, follow me.  I'll show you where you'll bunk down.”

Graves told Jack about the ship and the captain, and explained how they carried textiles and other manufactured goods from England and Wales to the colonies on Nevis and Antigua, and brought back sugar cane, rum, and other exotic goods.
“I'm a little confused,” said Jack.  “If the normal run takes you to Beaumaris and Liverpool, what is the ship doing in Portsmouth?  Isn't that a bit out of the way?”
“It's for the captain,” Graves explained.  “Every year at this time, we make port here so he can visit his wife.”
“He only visits her once a year?  Mrs. Pritchard is a very understanding woman.”
“No, Mrs. Pritchard is dead.  The captain pays his respects on their anniversary.”
“Oh, my God,” Jack stammered.  “I didn't know...”
“Well, now you do,” said Graves, with the slightest hint of a smirk.  “Here.  Here's where you'll spend your time not on watch.”
They were on the gun deck.  It was cramped, hot, and smelled of pitch, sweat, and a hint of spent gunpowder.  Hammocks were slung from the overhead, and a few of them were filled with sleeping men.
“Get your kit secured and settle in, boy.  We sail with the evening tide.”  Without waiting for acknowledgement, Graves turned and left the gun deck.

Jack looked around, trying to see where he could put his sea bag.  He found that tied to each deck support was a net, and some of the men had stowed their belongings that way.  He shrugged, and stuffed his bag into one of the emptier nets.  Jack leaned against the support and let out a loud sigh.  A knot the size of a grapefruit was forming in his stomach.  What was he doing there?  He wasn't a sailor.  He was a philosophy and literature student at university.  At least he had been, before walking away from that life.
“Who are you fooling, Jack?” he asked himself quietly.
A low chuckle from one of the hammocks startled him.  He turned to find a bearded man with shaggy light brown hair, a few years older than himself, looking at him with a mocking smile.
“Well, well,” the man laughed.  “Looks like we got us a fish out of water, we do.”
Jack knew he would encounter razzing for being a “guppy”, a new sailor.  He just hadn't expected it to start within the first half hour.  “Yeah, I'm new.  What of it?”
“Oh, hold on there, laddie buck!  Ye best be belayin' that tone.  If ye want a fight, there's plenty of men here what'll give ye one.”
“Sorry,” said Jack.  “I'm a little jumpy.”
“Nah,” the man replied.  “You're a lot jumpy.  Ye don't have much to worry for, mate.  This here's a good ship, with a good crew.  What be yer name?”
“Jack.  Jack Wolfe.”  He extended his hand.  “What's yours?”
The older fellow gave Jack's hand a firm shake.  His palm felt like an odd combination of leather and sandpaper.  “Pleased to meet ye, Jack Wolfe.  My name's Josiah Briggs.”

Captain Jack Wolfe:
“I'd like to say it's a pleasure, Josiah, but I'm not even sure I'm doing the right thing by being here,” said Jack.
Briggs gave him a thoughtful look and nodded. “Aye, then ye be like nearly ever other man who takes to the sea. I suppose it's a matter of whether you're runnin' from somethin', or runnin' to somethin'.”
Jack thought about it for a moment. “I guess a little of both.”
“Glad to hear ye ain't over-thought it,” Briggs laughed. “Once we set sail, ye'll know if this is the right life for ye.”
“And if I find it's not?”
“Then it's goin' to be a very long trip to Nevis for ye.”
Jack rolled his eyes and sagged against the support again. “That's not much encouragement.”
“Ye'll be fine, Jack. Ye seem like a bit of all right to me. Green as grass, but that's nothin' new. Tell ye what; stick close to ol' Briggs. I'll take good care of ye. Teach ye the ropes good and proper.”

“If you don't mind my asking, just how old is 'ol' Briggs'?” Jack asked.
“Twenty-four, last Thursday. How old are ye?”
“Nineteen, this past July.”
“About what I figured,” chuckled Briggs. “Just a pup. But ye got a sharp look in your eyes.”
“It's very kind of you to take me under your wing like this, Josiah. It's intimidating walking into a new life feeling like you don't have a friend to your name.”
“Everybody needs a friend. Might as well be me!” Briggs hopped out of his hammock and pulled Jack's bag from the net. “Let's start with teachin' ye how to stow your gear the right way. Listen sharp to me, Jack, and ye'll make captain in no time.”
“And I suppose by the time that happens, you'll be an admiral?”
Briggs gave a hearty laugh. “Hell, yes! We may be mates now, but I'll not be taking orders from you if'n I can help it!”

That evening, the Laura Anne slipped silently out of Portsmouth harbour and into the English Channel, on her way to the deep blue waters of the Atlantic. Jack and Briggs were aloft working the mainsail lines. Briggs was pleasantly surprised with Jack's knowledge, though the younger man's fearlessness worried him. The last thing he wanted was for his new friend to end up on the deck below with a broken neck. He genuinely liked Jack. He could see a fire in the lad's eyes that spoke of intelligence and ambition. This was a man headed for something big, even though neither could guess what that might be.

Jack finally paused in his work and looked back toward Portsmouth. The sun was setting, bathing the town in a soft orange glow.
“Beautiful, ain't it?” said Briggs.
Jack nodded. “Yes, it is.” He shook his head and rechecked the sail stay he had just secured. “I'll get back to work...”
“Nay, laddie. Ye'll do nothin' of the sort. I'll finish up. Go ahead and take a good long look. Get it out of your system now, or ye'll regret it.”
Jack smiled his thanks and looked back at Portsmouth. He felt a twinge of regret for leaving, but he knew this was something he had to do. In a way, this was his way of honouring his father's memory in addition to providing for his mother. As the port shrank in the ship's wake, Jack hoped that other things would dwindle into nothingness with it. His utter disillusionment with Oxford's petty politics that sabotaged any chance of his becoming a professor there, for one. The other, deeper wound would take longer, but it helped that he no longer would hear her name spoken ever again. His best friend's sister, and the woman who had broken his heart.

Rose Gander.

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