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Started by Welsh Wench, December 23, 2008, 01:48:03 PM

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Captain Jack Wolfe

Josiah put a hand on his friend's shoulder, snapping him back into the present.  "I swear, Jack, if ye ain't hip deep in the workin's of this ship, you're starin' off a thousand miles away."
Jack smiled.  "Just trying to keep things straight in my head is all."
Briggs gave his friend a hard look.  "Are ye, Jack?  Are ye keepin' all this straight in that head of your'n?  Because from where I stand, I ain't seein' it."
"I don't know what you mean."
"The hell you don't.  Two full years I've known ye, and of all the damn fool crazy things you've done, this top's 'em all."
Jack looked at his friend stone-faced, but kept his silence.
"Remember when Harkness took the Laura Anne?" Briggs continued.  "Ready to take on the entire crew bare handed, ye were.  If it hadn't been for me talkin' some sense into ye, you'd be a dead man.  Now look at ye.  Best chums with one of the most notorious pirates these waters have ever seen."

"You said yourself, Josiah," Jack said defensively, "that we have to do whatever is necessary to survive.  'Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer', was how you put it.  That's what I'm doing."
"There's a big difference between pretendin' to put up with somebody ye hate, and outright hero worship.  Ye know what the crew be callin' ye behind your back?"
"I'm afraid you're going to tell me whether I want to hear it or not."
"'Little Will', seein' how you're the fair haired child all of a sudden."
Jack could feel his anger starting to flare.  "What, do they think I kissed Harkness' arse to be put in charge of this?  He GAVE it to me, Josiah.  I never asked for it.  Hell, I never wanted it!  The next thing I knew, he was telling me how much he trusted me and how I was the only one he thought could make sure things were done right."

"Did he now?" asked Briggs with a sceptical note in his voice.
"Are you calling me a liar, Josiah?"
"Oh, no.  Not you, Jack.  I know ye too well.  I'm callin' Harkness a liar."
"You're what?!"
Briggs took a deep breath.  "Jack, a man like Will Harkness didn't get where he is by bein' a choir boy.  He stole, murdered, and lied his way there.  I'm thinkin' pretty strong that's what he's up to now.  Lyin' to ye."
Jack rolled his eyes.  "Did it ever occur to you that maybe I am the only man for this job?  That he recognises my abilities and trusts me to ensure success?"
"Men like Harkness don't trust, Jack..."
"All right!  Fine!  Then answer me this; what does William Harkness have to gain by lying to me?"
Briggs gave his young friend a sad, almost pitying look.  "Not a thing, Jack.  Not a thing.  But he knows damn well you have everything to lose."

Jack blinked hard several times.  Was Josiah right?  Had the pirate played him for a fool, and he had become too starstruck to see it?  A sickening tightness started in the young man's stomach.  Just when he was certain how things in this world worked, everything was thrown into confusion again.
"Think about it, will ye?" asked Briggs before returning to his work.  He blamed himself for not saying anything sooner.  He never dreamed Jack would be taken in by the likes of Harkness, but he had neglected to take into account his friend's age and eagerness to please, and the captain's renowned charisma.

Jack turned his gaze back to the harbour, his head filled with doubts and anger at the possibility he had been duped.  He quickly vowed two things to himself.  First, complete the job as he had promised.  At least his word meant something, if no one else's did.  The second vow he believed would protect and serve him the best.

Trust no one.
"I'm not sure about people anymore. They're responsible for some pretty nutty stuff. Individuals I'm crazy about, though." ~ Opus

Welsh Wench

Wales, 1645.
Four years later...

"Come on, Muir. Let's go! I want to see what ships have docked since this morning!"
Her loyal wolf dog barked and jumped on her. He seemed to know what the word 'ship' meant.
It had become a Saturday morning ritual for the two of them. He and his mistress would run to the port and sit on the grass.
The dog, who had always been her faithful companion, would sit next to her. Together they would gaze off to the horizon.
She absentmindedly stroked his head.
"Someday, Muir---someday! Someday we shall go sailing off and be free as---" she pointed to the sky, "-as free as those sea gulls! No one to tell us what to do or where to go!"

Back at the Order of St. Brigid, the novitiate had come back, nervously wringing her hands. "I'm sorry, Mother Superior. She's not in her room."
Mother Superior's lips were drawn in a tight line. She exclaimed, "Once again! TROUBLE! I should send her back to her father."
The novitiate asked, "Why don't you?"
The Mother Superior shook her head and said, "Her father is our most generous benefactor. On one condition."
"What is that?"
"We keep her here with us."
"Shall I continue to search for her?"
The elderly nun let out a pent-up sigh.
"No. I have an idea where she is. And when she returns, I shall deal with her. Again."

She walked to the docks, passing a fruit vendor. The young lass known to them all, she was quick with a smile and a greeting for them.
"Hello, Pierre."
"Ah, bon jour! If it isn't the little nun!"
She stamped her foot and said, "How many times do I have to tell you? I am not little and I am not a nun!"
He laughed. "Once again I apologize, ma petite! Will an apple make up for it?"
She broke out in a smile. "Indeed it shall! You know how I love apples!"
The vendor took a bone and Muir's tail thumped on the ground. "And one for le chien, oui?"

The young girl and her dog walked back to the dock. Upon arriving the two companions sat down on the grass and looked out to the sea. She spied a ship with impressive sails.
"Isn't that a beautiful ship, Muir?"
The dog paused from gnawing on his bone and barked as if to answer in the affirmative.
She looked over and saw a small skiff tied to a pole.
"I want to take a closer look at that ship, Muir. It looks like one that I saw a long time ago. But I can't remember the name.... It was the day we picked blueberries back in Beaumaris."
She stood up and looked around. No one was watching.
"Muir, I bet we can row it out and look at the ship's name and then be back before anyone knows it is missing."
Muir jumped into the skiff when he saw his mistress put one foot in it. She untied the rope and picked up the oars.
"Now you sit there and don't move! This won't take us long."

As she rowed the skiff out of the harbor, a sea gull landed on her head. She screamed and waved her hands to ward it off.
Muir jumped at the chance to chase the bird.
"Muir! NO! Sit! SIT!"
But it was to no avail. It was then that the skiff overturned, promptly plunging its occupants into the sea.

Show me your tan lines..and I'll show you mine!

I just want to be Layla.....

Welsh Wench

On the shore, a young man watched the skiff rowing out of the docks. He stood there staring incredulously and then swore.
"Uncle Henry will flay me alive!"
Just then the boat had overturned. He yelled, "God above!"
Hastily he took his boots off, throwing them onto the dock. He threw his coat off, then tossed his hat and dove into the water.
As he swam towards the overturned skiff, he saw the young girl clinging to a dog's neck. She was hanging on for dear life.
As he reached her, she gasped, "I'm so sorry, Mister! There was this seagull and my dog jumped and--"
He said, "Are you all right?"
She nodded. He righted the skiff and climbed into it. Extending his hand, he pulled the girl into it. She immediately reached for her dog.
"Where I go, he goes!"

The young man yelled, "What were you thinking of, little girl?"
She said darkly, "I'm ten. I'm not little."
He fumed, "Alright, young lady! What was the big idea?"
Her teeth chattered, more from excitement than from the cold.
"I wanted to see the name of the ship."
"You mean The Neptune Rising?"
"You know the ship?"
He couldn't help but grin. "I most certainly do! The ship belongs to my uncle. I'm an apprentice first mate.
He proudly added, "And he promised it to me someday."
Her eye widened. "You--you're a pirate!"
She looked with astonishment at his face, taking in his light brown hair streaked blond from hours spent on sea and salt. His grey-green eyes were mirthful and he wore a gold earring.
He laughed and said, "Such a label! I prefer to think of myself as a privateer with an unusual outlook on life."
"It is a grand ship. Nanny Greyson would tell me stories of the sea. She heard them from her father. Someday I should love to sail. Be free! As free as the birds!"
He laughed. "Lasses do not belong on ships. T'would tempt the sea. She is a jealous mistress."
The young girl retorted, "I'm not afraid. Maybe the sea needs to be afraid of ME! Someday...."

He rowed up to the docks, tying the skiff to the wharf. He extended his hand to help her out.
"Good! No one made off with my clothes," he said.
She looked at the pile of clothes on the grass and exclaimed, "Ooooh! What great boots!"
"They're from the finest boot maker in France."
She wrung her dress out, rivulets of water cascading onto the grass.
While the young pirate was wringing out his shirt, she took the boots and put them on. She tried on his coat and clamped his hat on her head.
"How do I look?" she asked, twirling around.
He looked up and retorted, "Ridiculous! Give them back to me!"
She pouted, "I thought I looked like a real pirate!"
He snatched the hat off her head and she said, "Hey!"
"Yes, real piratey in that dress. Where do you live, anyway?" he asked.
She pointed to a large greystone building on the bluff.
"Up there."
"The Order of St Brigid? You're a NUN?"
"NEVER!" she said, trying to separate the strands that were plastered around her face. Pieces of seaweed were caught in her wet hair.
He held his hand out and she said petulantly, "Oh, alright! Take your old coat!"
She handed it back to him and said darkly, "Just wait till I get a bodice."
He raised his eyebrow and she looked down. "Well...someday! When I have something to put in it."
He laughed and said, "Then I shall look forward to that day!"

"Shall I deliver you to the abbey?" he asked.
She shook her head. "No, I can slip in without anyone knowing I was gone and change into dry clothes. But thank you all the same. I'd like to thank you for the rescue, Mr....?"
He said, "Morgan. Rhys Morgan."
She smiled at him and said, "And I am Miss Conaway."
He tipped his hat to her and said, "It was a pleasure to rescue you, Miss Conaway."
She curtseyed and replied, "And it was a pleasure to be rescued, Mr. Morgan."
As she turned to go, she looked over her shoulder and asked, "How old are you?"
"Twenty," he replied.
She laughed and said, "Someday I shall be that old----Rhys! And wearing a bodice!"
She walked off, her dog trotting beside her.

She climbed through the window into her room. As she leaned over the sill, she fell forward and hit something solid.
She looked up into the furious face of Mother Superior, tapping a switch in her hand.
She whispered, "I think we are in trouble, Muir. Again."

That night, the little lass crawled out of her bed to gaze at the stars from her bedroom window. Muir sat next to her. She put her arm around the dog, willing herself not to cry. It was this stoic demeanor that earned her even more lashes from the switch that Mother Superior wielded.
The more she steeled herself not to cry, the harder the nun punished her. This was no exception. She ached from the beating she received.
She whispered, "We did have a grand adventure today, didn't we, Muir? It was worth every stroke that Mother Superior gave me."
She found her youthful mind drifting back to the young man who rescued her. And for some reason, wondering what her first kiss would be like and whom it would be.
She turned to her dog and gave him a smile. "Rhys Morgan. A nice name for a nice man. Perhaps we shall see him again, Muir."

As she settled back in her bed to go to sleep, the thoughts of a ship called The Neptune Rising came to her mind. Along with the thoughts of a young man with eyes the colour of the sea.
Show me your tan lines..and I'll show you mine!

I just want to be Layla.....

Welsh Wench

Off the coast of Beaumaris, Wales---1645

"Keep rowing. It's right.....over....THERE!"
The two pirates were in a skiff, the younger one rowing and the older one keeping his eye on the rugged coast.
"Are you sure?"
The older retorted, "Excuse me, Mr. Wet-Behind-The-Ears! Who has been in the sweet trade longer, you or me?"
"And who is your captain?"
The younger man grinned, "You, Uncle Henry."
Henry Morgan looked at his nephew with affection. "Damn right! And see that you remember that, Rhys!"

The two men jumped out of the skiff and pulled it onto the shore. Henry Morgan shaded his eyes and looked out towards his pride and joy, the Neptune Rising.
He lifted his face to the sun and breathed deeply. "It doesn't get any better than this, Rhys!"
Rhys laughed, "That's why I joined you, Henry!"
Rhys tied the skiff to a gnarly tree that was near the small beach where they landed. He surveyed the land.
"This is what you picked out?"
Henry turned his attention to Rhys. "Sure as I am standing here, boy! I did my research. The land here belongs to Lord Rhodri Conaway. The manor is about a mile inland and he never ventures down here. The caves are deep and stay dry for the most part because of this incline here. And further on down the coast about ten miles is an estate called Castlemaine. Same set-up with the caves. Only his go back even further but it is a little less accessible. His estate has that big bluff with the rock jutting out that looks like a figurehead on a ship. See it over there?"

Rhys shaded his eyes and nodded. "And the goods will be safe there?"
"As safe as in yer mother's womb, boy!" Henry laughed. "Don't be so apprehensive!"
"I'm not. I just want to make sure our goods are safe."
Henry looked at his favorite nephew and smiled, "Have you ever known me not to cover all situations?"
Rhys shook his head.
"Then what make you think I didn't this time? In fact, this cave is a virtual labyrinth of tunnels. I have them marked and mapped out so we can hide things far back into it and no one will be the wiser. Especially Lord Conaway."

"Conaway. Welsh name. Are there many in the area?"
Henry gave a non-committal shrug. "Damned if I know. All I know is that the Conaways have held this estate since the Domesday book. Lost his wife a few years ago under suspicious circumstances. Constable ruled out foul play and it was just an that--an accident. Whatever it was."
"Did he have children?"
Henry looked at his nephew with exasperation. "Why all the questions?"
Rhys rubbed his chin.
"Nothing, really. Just trying to find out if any children will be playing around the cliffs and get into the caves. You know how children are. You WERE one yourself once, weren't you, Henry?"
Henry clapped his nephew on the shoulder. "No. No, I never was."
He burst out laughing at Rhys' puzzled look.
"What say you that we start exploring the caves and finding the best way to angle all the chests?"
Rhys nodded.
But he couldn't help but think of the enchanting little girl he fished out of the ocean less than a month ago.
Complete with a dog.

Show me your tan lines..and I'll show you mine!

I just want to be Layla.....

Welsh Wench

"That's the last of it!"
Henry leaned back and stretched his back. Rhys surveyed the booty they had carefully hidden in the cave, his torch making shadows on the walls.
"I didn't think you would be able to fit all of it in here, Uncle Henry. You are sure it is safe and will stay dry?"

Henry snorted, "Of course I am sure! You think I would put this fortune just anywhere? Besides, Lord Conaway is too arrogant to think anyone would use his property for criminal activity and Lord Castlemaine--the grey stone manor just beyond the bluff--well, let's just say he can be bought for a price."
Rhys raised his eyebrow. "You have the cooperation of the gentry?"
Henry chuckled, "Every man has his price, Rhys. Remember that. There is not a man alive that can't be bought or---"
"Such an ugly word! I prefer 'induced to participate with an exchange of information.' I have the information and they are induced to participate. Lord Madoc Castlemaine does have a few skeletons rattling in his proverbial closet."
Rhys smiled, "Uncle, you always did have the gift of the Welsh upon your lips."
Henry laughed. "And now here we are in Beaumaris and I know a good tavern with cold ale and buxom tavern maids. We can get a warm bed and a hot bowl of soup."
"Or vice versa if we are persuasive!"
Henry laughed and clapped his nephew on the shoulder. "Now you're talking!"

Henry looked with affection at his older brother's son as Rhys made his way to the tavern bar to get the ales. His mind drifted back to the day that Rhys had made his way to the Neptune Rising, Henry's flagship.

"Uncle Henry?"
The privateer looked up from the gunwale to see a lad of fifteen, a wool cap on his tawny hair and his grey-green eyes full of merriment.
"Rhys? What in the name of all creation are you doing here?"
Rhys hefted his duffel and threw it on the deck. He crossed his arms and said, "I'm sailing with you."
"WHAT? What about your studies?"
"What better way to learn astronomy cartography than to sail in the middle of the ocean?"
"And what does your father say?"
Rhys set his mouth in a firm line and said nothing.
"You didn't tell him?"
"Well, I did in a way....."
"And what 'way' is that?"
"I left him a letter."
"I see."
Rhys went on in a rush, "It's not like I wouldn't learn anything. Uncle Henry, I would get more experience with you than I ever would sitting in a stuffy university.
And Father always said that experience was the best teacher. And I would pull my weight. I don't expect to be treated as your nephew but as one of the crew. And at the end of a couple years, I can pick up my studies at Cambridge again. You know our motto----'From here, light and sacred draughts.
From this place, we gain enlightenment and precious knowledge.' "

Henry shook his head. " 'From this place', Rhys-- this place is Cambridge. Do you have any idea what life aboard a pi-- a privateer ship is like?"
"Precisely why I want to join with you. I'll make you a bargain. If, after three months, it is not working out for both of us--or you alone--you can drop me off at the nearest port and I'll book passage back to Wales."
"And you promise to continue your education if this doesn't work out beneficially for both of us?"

Henry stuck out his hand and said, "Welcome aboard, nephew!"
"Ah, ah, ah.....that is Rhys to you....Henry!"

"Henry? You seemed a million miles away."
"Just reliving the past, my boy."
Rhys set the ale down along with a hearty stew and brown bread.
"Beautiful countryside, Wales is."
"Miss it while at sea?" Henry asked.
"Yes and no. The sea represents freedom and the land represents---"
"Settling down?"
"Aye. And that I am not ready to do."

Henry took a spoonful of the stew and wiped his mouth. "Someday you will, boy. Sure, you are only twenty. But someday, some little lass will creep into your mind and get under your skin and then it is good-bye, briny deep and hello, hearth and home!"
Rhys laughed, "While I have known my share in port, none touch my heart, Henry."
Henry nodded sagely, "She's out there, my lad. She's out there. And then you can say good-bye to your heart!"
Show me your tan lines..and I'll show you mine!

I just want to be Layla.....

Captain Jack Wolfe

La Habana, Cuba -- 1645

Jack sat in a dimly lit tavern contemplating how much his life had changed in the past three years.  He was no longer the idealistic, moral young man who had signed on to a freighter, certain he knew exactly how the world worked and his place in it.  Events had transfigured him, remoulded him into something very different, inside and out.  His neatly kept hair now hung long and wild past his shoulders, and his once clean-shaven face sported a close-cropped goatee.  For a man of 27 years, his eyes belonged to someone much older.  He was very much a product of his environment now.  He was a pirate.

And he was enjoying it.

The world had revealed much to Jack.  More than he could have imagined in his dreams or his nightmares.  His misgivings about Harkness that arose during the refit of the Raven's Pride proved to be unfounded.  The captain took Jack fully under his wing and taught the young man the finer points of piracy and seamanship.  Navigation, swordplay, negotiation, gunnery, tactics and strategy, and most importantly, self promotion.  Jack learned that the majority, and often the most terrifying, of the rumours circulating about William Harkness were started by Harkness himself.  It was his habit on extended layovers to dress in the shabbiest, tar stained clothes he could find, smudge himself with soot and pitch, and wander into a tavern crowded with merchant sailors to weave harrowing tales of the merciless pirate "Iron Will" Harkness.  With just the right touch of his powerful personality, his stories left the sailors almost too frightened to go back aboard their ships.  More often than not, he could get few rattled men to divulge their ship's destination and cargo.  Imagine their terror when, as if foretold by that half crazed old salt, a sleek, powerful ship flying a black flag emblazoned with a raven clutching a sword and pistol ran them down and demanded unconditional surrender.

When Jack questioned Harkness on this well worn ploy, the elder man replied, "Which would you rather do, Jack?  Transfer their cargo directly, or salvage it off the bottom?"  The logic was irrefutable.  Jack began openly shadowing his mentor, no matter the situation.  He soon learned that Will Harkness was no bloodthirsty beast.  Quite the contrary.  Will Harkness was cool, even tempered, and a brilliant tactician.  He could read men in a matter of moments, and develop a strategy to pick them apart before they knew what hit them.  Jack learned the benefit of this skill from the many ships they took over the years.  Yes, there was the odd foolhardy captain that dared make a stand, and they were made example of.  That's where Jack saw Will's truly human side.  Will Harkness despised the taking of a human life, no matter how necessary it was to achieve his ends.  After one such occasion, Jack entered the great cabin to find his captain openly weeping, regretting the life he had taken that day.  "Human life is precious, Jack.  Never ever forget that," Will had said.  "When you must take it, never take it lightly."  But ever the enigma, Will Harkness was back on deck the next morning, playing the role of ruthless sea dog.  It was a lesson Jack took to heart.  No matter how the captain feels inside, he is still the captain.

"You're going to stare a hole into the bottom of that mug," said a sultry voice.
Jack looked up into the most perfect emerald eyes he had ever seen in his life.  They belonged to an exotic Spanish beauty with dusky skin and jet black hair that cascaded over her bare shoulders.
"Dios mio," he murmered.
The woman laughed.  "That sounds so funny with an English accent like yours!  Come on, say something else, like paella or cucaracha!"
Jack blushed.  "I'm sorry.  I wasn't... you caught me off guard."
"Me?" replied the woman in mock astonishment.  "I caught a pirate unawares?  This is indeed a great day for me!  What is my reward for taking a pirate?"
Jack made a production of checking his clothes.  "I wouldn't say you've taken a pirate just yet.  I'm still fully dressed."
"I can change that," she purred.
"Oh, can you now?"
"Faster than you think.  What is your name?"
"Jack Wol--"  The raven haired woman grabbed Jack by the collar and kissed him deeply, their tongues playing an intricate, erotic dance.  He could scarcely draw in enough air when she let him go.
"Jack.  I like that name," she said breathlessly.
"I didn't catch yours," he said.
"No, you didn't."
"Will I ever?"
She wound her fingers in hair, and pulled him suddenly to her.  "Mercedes," she said huskily, and his eyes grew wide as she playfully bit his earlobe.

Alarm bells clanged in his head.  A woman this aggressive had something to prove, or someone to hurt.  But he shoved those thoughts aside. 
"Mercedes.  I like that name, too."  He buried his face in her black hair, and sought out her neck.  Mercedes pushed him back with a wicked smile.
"Oh, no.  Not until I let you. This is my game."
"If it's your game, will you ever let me?"
Her devious smile grew.  "I will.  If you can last that long."
"Oh, I can last quite a while."
"Prove it."
"What, here?  On the bar counter?  Or would you prefer a table that gives everyone a good view?"
"Don't tempt me!" Mercedes laughed.  "No, I have a room upstairs.  Unless you're afraid."
"I'm anything but afraid," said Jack.
She entwined her arms about Jack's waist and pulled him close against her.  "No, I'd say you're not one bit afraid," she smiled.  "Let's go."
"Let me pay my bill," Jack started.
"Don't worry about it."  She caught the innkeeper's attention.  "Manuel!  He's with me."
"As you wish, señora," Manuel replied wearily.  "May God have mercy on this one..."

From a corner table, a young man roughly Jack's age watched the proceedings.  His grey-green eyes narrowed slightly as the pair went up the stairs to the rooms above.
"Got your hooks into another one, Mercedes?" he quietly asked no one.  Could  Diego be far behind?

Mercedes led Jack into her flat.  It was opulent for a tavern room, with thick drapery and a massive bed.  The room was lit with at least two dozen candles, and the air was heavy with the scent of sandalwood oil.
"What have I gotten myself into?" Jack asked aloud.
"Me, unless you've suddenly got cold feet," teased Mercedes.
Jack laughed.  "No, no, I haven't changed my mind.  But this room!  This isn't what I'd expect from a tavern doxy!"
Mercedes got a hard look in her eyes.  She shoved Jack hard against the door and kissed him deeply, digging her nails into his chest.   "You have no idea who I am, do you?"
"Mine for the night?"
She began loosening his shirt.  "Good answer.  Now, enough talk.  Make love to me."
Jack laughed.  "That sounded strangely like an order."
Mercedes rolled her eyes.  "You English!  All you do is talk, talk, talk!"  She grabbed Jack by the shirt and pushed him down on the bed.  Suddenly she was astride him, unbuckling his belt.  He reciprocated by unlacing the front of her bodice.
"Isn't this better than talking?" she grinned.
"You've convinced me.  I'll keep my mouth shut."
"Oh, no, no, no," Mercedes said as she leaned forward, her lips brushing his.  "I intend to keep it busy..."
"I'm not sure about people anymore. They're responsible for some pretty nutty stuff. Individuals I'm crazy about, though." ~ Opus

Captain Jack Wolfe

The following morning, the young man with grey-green eyes was still in the tavern, sipping mulled cider as he looked over what appeared to be hastily drawn navigation charts.  He had slept in the common room with the rest of the sailors and those too drunk to make it home the night before.  Not because he himself had been too drunk or couldn't afford a private room.  Taverns were the heartbeat of any port town.  Loose tongues abounded once the alcohol began to flow.  Anything of use could be overheard.  What ships were in port, what they carried, where they were headed, whether or not they had an adequate crew or competent captain.  The other patrons were beginning to stir when the tavern door swung open with a loud bang.  In walked five serious looking men, their leader entering last, slapping a pair of black leather riding gloves impatiently into his hand.

"Manuel!" the imposing man called.  "Manuel, get out here!"
Manuel emerged from the pantry, pausing a moment to look out over the main room and take note of the groaning, grumbling patrons.  They were all moving to some degree, so he stepped behind the bar.
"I hope I don't have to have the hinges on that door fixed again, Roberto," he said, unimpressed.
"Send the bill to Colonel Mendoza.  Is she here?"
"If you weren't certain of it, you wouldn't be here wrecking my property," said Manuel.  "Upstairs. Like always."
Roberto motioned to his men to up the stairs to Mercedes' room.  Before they could reach the staircase, the young man spoke up.
"I saw her kissing a man goodbye just before you arrived.  It was only a couple of minutes ago.  He left through the back way.  He looked like a common labourer.  If you hurry, you can catch him before he gets too far!"
Roberto looked at Manuel, who nodded and pointed toward the back exit.
"Why didn't you say so?" demanded Roberto.
Manuel shrugged.  "You asked about Mercedes, not if she was with anyone.  Besides, I'm unhappy about my door."
"After him!" Roberto ordered his men.  "Before he gets out of town!"
The men crowded through the back door and into the alleyway.  The young man winked at Manuel, tossed him a coin, and charged up the stairs to Mercedes' room.

He paused at the top of the stairs and counted down three doors to the right.  Mercedes had tried to work her charms on him more than once, but he had heard too many things about her reputation and her husband's deadly temper.  Each time he declined, and each time she reminded him where she would be if he reconsidered.  He listened at the door.  The sound of soft laughter could be heard.  They were still at it.  But there wasn't time to wait.  Mendoza's men would be back as soon as they found out they had been tricked, and they wouldn't be happy.  The young man took a deep breath, and burst into the room.

There lay Jack and Mercedes, in the throes of passion.
"Whoa!" yelped the man, and he immediately turned to face the wall.  "Sorry to barge in like this, but sir, you need to leave. Now."
"Excuse me, but I'm not ready to leave, sir," Jack retorted.  "Now get your arse out of here before I get up and shoot you."
"You aren't going anywhere until you finish what you started, Jack," snapped Mercedes.  "And you!  You picked a fine time to change your mind about coming to see me.  You'll have to wait your turn."
The man sighed in exasperation.  "I haven't changed my mind, Contessa, I'm trying to--"
"Contessa?" interrupted Jack.  He looked down at Mercedes and smiled.  "I've never had a Contessa before.  I'm really taking a liking to this port!"
"This port is going to be the end of you if we don't leave now!"  The man picked up Jack's shirt and pants and threw them at him.  "Her husband's men were just downstairs looking for her.  If they find you, it won't be good."
"What, they'll kill me?" asked Jack as he reluctantly pulled on his pants.
"No.  They'll drag you to her husband, and he'll kill you."
Jack shot Mercedes a look.  She gave a sheepish smile and shrugged.
He hastened his efforts to get dressed.  "Bollocks!  It was good, Mercedes, but not worth dying over.  And I suppose I should thank you for the warning, whatever your name is."
"Rhys Morgan."
"Jack Wolfe.  I'd say it's a pleasure, but that would be lying.  Shall we make our exit?"

The door of the tavern crashed open again.
"I said be careful of my door!  And don't tell me to charge it to Colonel Mendoza!  He hasn't paid for the last one you broke!" howled Manuel as Mendoza's men stormed back inside.  The innkeeper began arguing loudly with Roberto in an attempt to buy the two young men time.  Not that he cared about them.  Blood was devilishly hard to clean off unfinished wood floors.
"Nefi bliw," Rhys swore in Welsh.
"If that's anything like bloody hell, I agree," said Jack.  "How many?  Can we fight them?"
"The window it is."
Rhys stuck his head out the window and looked down.  There was a short drop to a long wooden overhang for diverting the tropical rains that often fell.  As fortune would have it, a farmer's cart full of produce had been left in the alley.
"We can do this,"said Rhys as he clambered out of the window.  There was a narrow ledge that allowed for a foothold.  He looked back into the room to find Jack and Mercedes sharing one more overheated kiss.  The sound of boots could be heard charging up the stairs.
"Damn it, Jack!  Get out here!  Let's go!" Rhys hissed.
Jack quickly joined him on the ledge.  To Rhys' surprise, Jack leaned nonchalantly on the windowsill.
"What are you DOING?" asked Rhys.
"One last look, mate.  Believe me, she was worth a bit of trouble."
At that moment, one of Mendoza's men appeared at the door, a pistol at the ready.  The man's scowl turned to a snarl as he caught a glimpse of Jack's face in the window.  Rhys didn't care to find out what brazen thing Jack might do in the face of this danger.  He took control of the situation.  Grabbing Jack's belt at the small of his back, Rhys yanked hard.

Jack's eyes went wide as he felt himself falling backward through space.  With a crunching thud, he landed flat on his back in the middle of the farmer's produce cart.  He shook his head hard and took a quick personal inventory.  Everything still moved, and nothing seemed broken, though his back felt wet.  The air was suddenly sickly sweet.  Jack reached beside him and looked at one of the items that had broken his fall, just as Rhys dropped from the overhang onto the end of the cart.
"Casaba melons?!" complained Jack.  "I hate casaba melons!"
"It was either that or a ball to the head.  The melons seemed a little less final.  Now get off your back and let's get--"
A shot rang out from the window above, and a melon at Jack's side exploded.
"They're in the alley!!" bellowed the gunman.
Rhys and Jack leaped from the cart.  The pair ran at full speed down the alleyway and into the street, with Jack leaving a scattershot trail of seeds and melon bits in his wake.
"I'm not sure about people anymore. They're responsible for some pretty nutty stuff. Individuals I'm crazy about, though." ~ Opus

Welsh Wench

"Quick! To the dock!" Rhys yelled.
Jack was close on his heels. "Why the dock? I'll be a sitting duck!"
Rhys ran towards a small skiff that was tied to a sapling. "Because Medoza's men will be looking for you on land. They won't think to look for you on the water."
Rhys untied the ship quickly and shoved an oar in Jack's hand.
"Start paddling, stud!"

Rhys threw the rope into the skiff and pushed the skiff for all it was worth. Jack jumped in, followed by Rhys.
As the two of them paddled, Jack asked, "And just where do we go in this toy boat?"
Rhys pointed about a hundred yards from the harbor. "I was in town to gather some information for my uncle. No one will think to connect you with this ship."
Jack looked up in the moonlight and could see the figurehead. It was a torso and head of a massive man, a trident held high.
"So whose ship am I to be a guest of, if I may be so bold as to ask?"
Rhys nodded. "That is the Neptune Rising. A pi--privateering ship from Wales.
Jack snorted with laughter, "Privateer, my arse. That ship belongs to Henry Morgan. Oh, and as you are Rhys Morgan--sailing with your da?"
Rhys shook his head. "No, my uncle. Doing an apprenticeship as an astronomy cartographer."
Jack affected a snobby tone. "Ooh, a learned man, no less!"
Rhys retorted, "I don't hear the accent of a slumlord in you, sir."
Jack muttered, "Oxford."
Rhys laughed, "Cambridge."
Together they yelled, "OXBRIDGE!" and clapped each other's hands.

Deftly, Rhys pulled the skiff up to the ship and yelled, "Dalton! Throw the ropes over."
A rope ladder dropped down. Rhys tied the skiff to the lines dangling overboard and motioned for Jack to climb up.
As they cleared the gunwale, a large man stood with his hands on his hips.
"And just what devilment have you gotten yourself into, young pup? And what is that smell? Rotten fruit?"
Jack lifted his arms and smelled underneath, then shrugged.
Rhys explained, "Our guest here ran into a bit of local trouble so he will stay the night till the smoke clears. Where is Uncle Henry?"
"Took the other jollyboat over to port to see about....his merchandise. Said he may spend the evening at the gaming tables. And not to wait up," Dalton winked.

Rhys motioned to Jack to follow him. He opened up the door to a small but neat cabin. Maps and inkwells were all over a table with an oil lamp dangling from a hook. There was a small cot in the corner and a footlocker at the end of it.
"I'm sorry I am not really set up to receive guests but I do have some blankets if you don't mind crashing on the floor."
Jack shook his head. "Not at all. Beats the hell out of the undertaker's slab."
He sat on the chair and tried not to spew melon seeds and pulp. Rhys sized him up. He rummaged in an armoire and threw some clothes at Jack.
"You are a bit shorter than me. But I think my shirt will fit you and you may have to roll the breeches up a bit."
"Thanks, mate!"
"You will find soap and water in that pitcher. I think the soap is strong enough to get the fruit-smell out."
Jack looked quizzically at Rhys. "Mind telling me why you are taking the time to help a total stranger out of a dicey situation?"
Rhys shrugged. "Because there but for the grace of God that could have been me."
Jack questioned, "I don't quite get your meaning, mate."
Rhys smiled, "Change your clothes and I'll tell you a tale, Jack, old boy!"
Show me your tan lines..and I'll show you mine!

I just want to be Layla.....

Welsh Wench

Jack rubbed his hair with a towel. "That seems to have done the trick. I threw the water in some potted plant you have. Hope you don't have a crop of melons next year, mate."
He sat down on the chair and held his hands out. "The shirt's a bit large but I can't begin to tell you how nice this feels."
Rhys opened a bottle of brandy and poured two glasses, sliding one of them across the table to Jack's waiting hand.
"You said you were going to tell me a story. So...I love sea tales. Let's hear it."
Rhys took a deep drink of the brandy, letting its warmth spread through his body.
"Ever hear of Colonel Diego de Castille y Mendoza?"
Jack shook his head.
"You should. You just cuckolded him."
Jack spewed his brandy across the room. "Damn! I had no idea the wench was married."
Rhys leaned back in his chair. "That, Jack Wolfe, is no wench. She is the Countess de Castille y Mendoza. But, as she said, you can just call her Mercedes."
"You seem familiar with her. Have you and she ever...."
Jack made a gesture leaving no doubt as to what he wondered what Mercedes and Rhys had ever done.
Rhys laughed with derision. "No, I never had that pleasure, Jack."
"Too bad, mate. It was..incredible!"
"No doubt. And I can name a dozen men who can testify to that."
"A--a dozen?"
"She's known as the catch of Cuba. Providing you don't catch something."
Jack automatically started to squirm.
Rhys said, "You know what they say, 'A night in the arms of Venus leads to a lifetime on Mercury!' "
He then burst out laughing at the look on Jack's face.
"Oh, I'm sure Mercedes would never let that happen to her. She has access to the best medicines and physicians hush money can buy."
"But....she was so...passionate! So...."
"Now hold on there! A woman isn't desperate when she wants me and I'll thank you to---"
Rhys waved the upcoming temper away. "You are a hot-blooded one, aren't you?"
Jack settled down and Rhys filled another glass for him.
"This is a pattern with the fiery Countess. She keeps a room at the tavern on the nights she decides to prowl. And when the revered Colonel is off on his power trips."
"Power trips?"
Rhys poured himself a glass. "Colonel Diego y Castille Mendoza--related to the Castille dynasty. Think Isabella was an aunt distantly related. Isabella, you know, the mother of Catherine of Aragon. Although I think Diego was more suitably descended from her daughter Joanna the Mad. Diego goes insanely crazy when things don't go his way."
"And Mercedes doesn't go his way?"
"Mercedes goes her own way. And frequently."
"Does Mendoza know?"
"He does. Let me explain about Diego Mendoza. He is trying to rebuild the Spanish navy one vengeance at a time. See, he hates all Englishmen and holds us--even though I am Welsh---personally responsible for a little public humiliation called the defeat of the Spanish Armada. Being a superb military man, Diego always felt the tide would have turned in their favor except for one thing--besides the weather."
"What was that?"
"In order to execute their 'line ahead' attack, the English tacked upwind of the Armada, thus gaining the weather gage, a significant advantage. Remember that maneuver, Jack, if you ever become a commander and find yourself in a situation. It comes in handy. Henry has used it before and it works briliantly. Anyways, this is besides the point. Diego wants to make each and every Englishman pay for it and Mercedes wants to make Diego pay for ignoring her in his conquest for power."
"She only goes for Englishmen?"
"Yeah. Her little way of getting even. And there is something else."
"What is that?"
"Mercedes is bored. Not to say she didn't enjoy herself. But I would guess by this time tomorrow, she will be esconced in those sandalwood scented sheets with another of our mother country's sons."
Jack threw back another drink. "You mean she...she...."
"Used you? Yeah. I'm afraid so. Oh, don't take it personally. She had a good time, I am sure of it. But mark my words--if Mendoza ever finds out the name of any one of them, his murderous temper will be unleashed and he will make an example of him."
"And what of Mercedes?"
Rhys shrugged. "Who cares?"
Jack looked down at his glass.
Rhys filled it again. "Let me guess. You do. Well, don't. Countess Mendoza can take care of herself. Diego forgives her. He always does."

Jack sat there looking dejected.
Rhys stood up and stretched. "Just put this in your book of remembrances in the chapter entitled, 'What I did on my visit to Cuba' or some such rot. Tomorrow she will be a smile on your face that your wife won't understand."
"I have no wife."
"Good. Then a smile on your face your future wife won't understand and you won't have the ensuing guilt."
Jack punched the pillow and rolled up a few blankets.
"My deepest thanks to you. For the rescue and the enlightenment."
"Tomorrow I will deliver you to town. I suggest you get a new hat and not return to that tavern and you will be safe."
Rhys blew out the oil lamp. "Goodnight, Oxford."
"Goodnight, Cambridge."
Together they said, "Oxbridge!" and laughed.
Show me your tan lines..and I'll show you mine!

I just want to be Layla.....

Captain Jack Wolfe

The next morning, after a light breakfast of hardtack and bad coffee, Rhys and Jack rowed the Neptune Rising's jollyboat toward the Raven's Pride.  Jack was explaining to Rhys how he fell into company with Harkness and a life of piracy.  When he began telling about gaining Harkness' respect with the Pride's refit, Rhys couldn't help but laugh out loud.
"What's so damned funny?" asked Jack indignantly.
"I'm sorry, I'm really sorry," Rhys laughed.  "But you, redesigning a ship?  I just can't see you planning out something that requires that much care!  You're more of a 'leap before you look' sort of fellow."
"Laugh it up, Cambridge.  Why don't you tell me where you and your uncle are headed next, and you can see for yourself just how fast the Pride is?"
"As entertaining as that sounds, I'll pass.  Uncle Henry is looking to establish himself here in the Caribbean, so we'll be staying put a while.  The waters back home are over-hunted, he says.  The Spanish are thick as fleas on a dog's back here, and he does so enjoy bedevilling them."
"Pulling up stakes, eh?  Well, he's picked a good place to resettle, especially if he like Spanish targets.  Where exactly were the old haunts?"
Rhys smiled whistfully.  "Beaumaris, on the northern coast.  The most beautiful place on earth.  There was a small bay, more of a cove to be honest, that we used.  You'd love it.  It's called Blaidd Drwg Bae."
"Again with the Welsh.  What does it mean?"
"Bad Wolf Bay."
Jack let out a hearty laugh.  "Aye, they practically named it for me!"

By that time they were along side the Pride, opposite the docks and any prying eyes.  Jack let out a loud whistle.
"Ahoy the ship!" he yelled.  "It's Jack Wolfe, and a friend!  Throw us a couple of lines!"
A few faces appeared at the gunwale.  One of them belonged to Briggs.  "If it ain't the tomcat draggin' himself home!  Three lines, boys, and step lively!"
Jack and Rhys tied on to the boat to prevent it drifting away, and the two men climbed the side of the ship up to the weather deck.  Briggs was giving his friend and expectant look.
"Josiah," said Jack merrily, "this is Rhys Morgan.  Rhys, Josiah Briggs, my best friend."
"Pleased to meet ye, Rhys," said Briggs.  "Somethin' tells me there's a story to go along with all this."
"Aye, there is," replied Jack.  "Rhys saved my life yesterday."
"He did, eh?  And who was the angry husband he saved ye from?"
"The Governor of Havana," Rhys said matter-of-factly.
Briggs choked back startled laughter.  "Saints and angels, Jack!  Only you would pull somethin' so daft!  "
"In all fairness, she didn't tell me she's the governor's wife.  We never exactly exchanged last names."
"Just everything else, I suppose."
"Something like that.  Wouldn't be polite to kiss and tell.  But when Mendoza's men stormed in to find his wife, Rhys was kind enough to stage a rescue."
"If I had known you were Oxford, I probably would have changed my mind," Rhys smirked.
"Oi!  How do you think I feel being rescued by a Cambridge man?"
"I dunno, who was smart enough not to climb into her bed in the first place?  Certainly not the Oxford man."
"Yeah, but the Oxford man put a hell of a smile on her face..."
"I'm not sure about people anymore. They're responsible for some pretty nutty stuff. Individuals I'm crazy about, though." ~ Opus

Captain Jack Wolfe

Briggs stepped in between the two college rivals.  "All right, gentlemen!  That's about enough, the both of ye!"  He wasn't sure if Jack and Rhys were about to come to blows, but he felt the precaution of keeping them separate was the wise choice.  They glared at each other as if Briggs weren't even there.  After a long pause, they both broke out laughing, leaving Briggs with a bewildered look on his face.
"Thanks for saving my hide, Cambridge," said Jack.
"You owe me one, Oxford!"
"Oxbridge!" they said in unison, and laughed even more.
"Would somebody tell me what the hell is goin' on?" complained Briggs.
Jack clapped his friend on the back.  "Rival schools, my friend.  Rhys here went to Cambridge, poor bloke.  But he's a good man in spite of it."
Rhys smirked, "And you've done nothing to improve my opinion of anyone from Oxford, Jack."
"Likewise, but I'm starting to warm up to you."
Briggs shook his head.  "What's this world comin' to?  Ye'll need a head full of book learnin' to be a pirate before long!"
This drew a fresh round of laughter from everyone.  The rest of the men went about their duties, leaving Jack, Briggs, and Rhys to themselves.

"Come on, let us show you around," Jack said to Rhys.  "You showed me hospitality, now it's my turn to play host."
Rhys smiled and shook his head.  "I really should be getting back.  Somebody has to watch over the crew whilst Uncle Henry is off conducting business."
"They'll get by for a few hours on their own.  What could happen in that short time?"
"With you involved, anything and everything!"
"Ain't that the truth!" Briggs laughed.
"I'm a bit of an overachiever," grinned Jack.  "And Josiah isn't about to let me live down that little incident in San Juan and the brothel.  Are you, Briggs?"
"It was your bright idea to try and sneak them women back to the ship... dressed as nuns."
"And it would have worked, too!" Jack protested.  "If the shortest path to the waterfront hadn't gone right past the church.  Damned nosy priest.  What was he up at that hour for, anyway?"
Rhys laughed and rolled his eyes.  "That seals it!  I'm leaving before you can cook up any more wild plans.  Harlots dressed as nuns?  Let me guess- you were dressed as a priest?"
"Not exactly..." began Jack.
"The Mother Superior," interrupted Briggs.
Rhys stared at Jack, slackjawed with astonishment at the older man's audacity.  "You are mad, Jack Wolfe!" he exclaimed.  "As if I needed any more evidence!"
Jack pondered Rhys' words a moment.  "'Mad Jack Wolfe'.  That's got quite the ring!  Mind if I use it?"
"Aye!" laughed Briggs.  "That sums ye up perfect!"
"Wear it in good health, Oxford!  Lord knows you've earned it."

Jack smiled at his new friend.  "Thanks, Cambridge.  And thank you again for saving my neck.  I'm serious; I owe you."
"Here's hoping you never have to make good on that debt, my friend," answered Rhys.  "Do yourself a favour, eh?  At least try to stay out of trouble?  You can start with not going ashore anywhere you hear the name Mendoza."
"I'll give it a go, mate.  I promise."
Rhys chuckled and shook his head as he climbed over the side of the ship and down to his boat.
"Hey, Cambridge!" Jack yelled.  "You think our paths will cross again some day?"
"Oh God, I hope not, Oxford!  Once was enough!"  Rhys laughed.

Jack and Briggs stood at the gunwale for a bit as Rhys rowed away.
"Are ye goin' to take his advice?" asked Briggs.
"I think I might just do that, this time," Jack said quietly.
"That close, huh?"
Jack took a deep breath and let it out slowly.  "Yeah."
"What about next time?"
"Easy.  I'll ask her straight away if her husband is the governor.  If not, then it's a party!"
Briggs laughed softly.  "Aye, 'Mad Jack', indeed!"
"I'm not sure about people anymore. They're responsible for some pretty nutty stuff. Individuals I'm crazy about, though." ~ Opus

Captain Jack Wolfe

On the open sea -- 1649

The two magnificent ships strained and groaned as their hulls grated against one another in this unholy union.  Hooks and grapnels dug into the hull of the prey, holding it fast against the predator.  Smoke from pistols, scatterguns, and patereros obscured the deck as Will Harkness stalked the deck of his latest prize.  He carried his cutlass in one hand, his pistol in the other.  His eyes searched the murky air as he stepped over the fallen men from both ships whom Fortune had failed to smile upon.  He hated this kind of engagement, where the decks ran red because the losing captain favoured self over sense.  Normally, the sight of Harkness' colours would make any ship's captain heave to and surrender.  It was a regrettable loss of life on both sides.  The pirate captain shook his head bitterly, and paused to look at the sails fluttering uselessly overhead, emblazoned with the blood red Norman cross of Spain.

"Mendoza!!" he shouted.  "Show yourself, you cowardly dog!  Give it up!  You've lost this time!"
Harkness turned around, in case Colonel Diego Mendoza had decided to emerge from his quarters and face his conqueror.  Instead, he was met by a pair of boots smashing into his chest.  His pistol went skittering across the deck, but he managed to keep hold of his cutlass as he fell on to his back.  Instinctively, he brought his blade up across his chest just as another clanged against it.
"How dare you try and take my ship, you English dog!" raged Mendoza.  "Get up, and face me like a man!"
Harkness brushed Mendoza's sword aside and sprang to his feet.  He ignored the broken ribs that burned in his side as he faced his enemy.  "Now, who is the dog?  The man that called you out, or the one who blindsided him?"
Mendoza swung angrily at him, and Harkness deflected the blow.  "That's not much of an answer!"
"You English think you own the seas!" Mendoza raged.  "Spain is her master, and I'll do whatever I must to restore the motherland to her rightful place!"
Harkness had to work doubly hard to fend off Mendoza's onslaught.  Though blinded by his quest to restore Spain's naval domination, Diego was a skilled swordsman, with the will of a zealot.
"But you're beaten, Diego!" countered Harkness.  "Your men are defeated.  I've won the day!  Give up now, and I'll make sure you have safe passage back to Cuba."
"NEVER!!  Not as long as my heart beats!" howled Mendoza.  He pressed his attack against Harkness, who had no choice but to give ground.  Harkness rallied, forcing Mendoza backward.  The two men clashed like titans, to a virtual standstill.

Blade clanged against blade until finally, Mendoza found and advantage and spun Harkness' cutlass out of his hand.  Will stood there, dumbfounded.  Diego pressed the point of his sword against his opponent's chest.
"Tell me why I shouldn't kill you here and know."
Harkness's eyes searched the deck, and came back to Mendoza.
"Because I'm almost as good as you with a sword?"
Mendoza gave a feral grin.  "Not good enough."
He cocked his arm to drive his cutlass through Will Harkness' heart, but another blade slapped Medoza's sword away before he could strike the death blow.

"It's about time you showed up!" Harkness groused.
"What, you think this all works on a schedule?" asked Jack Wolfe, as he stepped in front of his captain.  Both men's eyes went wide just before they ducked away, and Diego Mendoza's sword cut a groove into the bulkhead just behind them.
Harkness rolled to Mendoza's left, out of harm's way.  Jack, however, rolled right, and found himself face to face with the angry Spaniard.
"I don't know you," said Mendoza warily.
"Jack Wolfe.  Though I can't say it's a pleasure to make your acquaintance."
Mendoza's eyes flared.  "Jack Wolfe?!"
"Um, yeah.  I thought you said you didn't know me."
"I don't.  But my wife knows you!"  Mendoza swung wildly, and Jack easily blocked the blow.  Realisation dawned on the young man's face.

"Mendoza, Mendoza... Why is that familiar?  You mean Mercedes, right?  That sweet little contessa from Cuba!  Oh, she was one hell of a goer, that one!  But I'm guessing you didn't want to hear that...  Whoa!!!"  Jack ducked and did a shoulder roll across the deck as Diego tried mightily to take his head off.
"I'm beginning to think you're upset about that little tryst."
Mendoza stalked across the deck toward him.  "She's thrown your name in my face every chance she gets!"
"Really!" Jack mused.  "I made more of an impression than Rhys gave me credit for!  How about that?"  He deftly blocked another attack from the cuckold Spaniard.
"I'm going to enjoy killing you, Jack Wolfe!"
"And I'm going to enjoy spoiling your day!" 

Jack mounted a counter attack, matching Diego blow for blow.  But the Spaniard quickly adapted, forcing the young pirate backwards cross the deck.  Before he knew it, Jack had his back against the mainmast.  Mendoza swung like a man possessed, not allowing a counter-thrust nor escape.   Jack began to panic, when he saw a coil of rope sitting atop a barrel next to him.  He grabbed it, and flung it at his adversary's face.  The rope fouled Mendoza's vision, and allowed Jack to dance away.  By the time Diego got rid of the rope, he found Jack's blade tip inches from his nose, and Will Harkness' pistol against his back.

"I'm pretty sure this is where you surrender, mate," said Jack.
"I'm not sure about people anymore. They're responsible for some pretty nutty stuff. Individuals I'm crazy about, though." ~ Opus

Captain Jack Wolfe

Diego Mendoza stood there, wild eyed, not sure what to do next.  Finally, he decided defeat was inevitable.  His chest heaving, he tossed his sword to the deck.
"You win," he whispered.
Jack's brow furrowed.  "Oh, I'm so sorry.  I didn't quite catch that.  Louder, please, for the gallery?"
Mendoza took a deep breath.  "I said, you win!" he growled through clenched teeth.
Jack began to speak, but Harkness preempted him.  "I heard that, loud and clear, Mister Wolfe.  And so did you."
"Aye, Captain.  That I did," said Jack.
Jack backed off and let his sword drop.  Mendoza swiftly went for a dagger hidden in his boot, and Jack cuffed him with the guard of his sword.  The Spaniard dropped to his knees and spat a bit of blood on the deck, a bitter, hateful expression on his face.
"Tell your men to stand down, Diego," Harkness ordered.
After a long pause, Mendoza shouted "¡Entrega!  ¡Ahora háganlo!"
Reluctantly, his remaining men stopped fighting and surrendered to their pirate masters.
"Good choice," said Jack.
"Go to hell!" Mendoza spat.
"Maybe some day, but that's a philosophical debate for another time."
"You English talk too much."
"Funny, I recall you're lovely wife saying that just before she, well..."
Mendoza started to get to his feet, but Harkness stopped him.  "That's enough, Mister Wolfe!  Am I understood?"
"Crystalline, sir," answered Jack as he backed away.

Will waved in a few men to take custody of Mendoza, and Harkness relieved the Spaniard of his boot dagger and a few other hidden blades.  He walked over to Jack, who was at the far gunwale, staring out across the open sea.
"He was humiliated enough, Jack," began Will.
"I know," said Jack.  "I guess the moment got away from me."
"It's called mercy, Jack.  And with it goes respect.  You must never let those qualities get away from you."
Jack turned and gave his mentor a hard look.
"Would he have shown us such mercy?"
Harkness shook his head.  "Certainly not.  But we must be better than those we vanquish, in all ways.  If we aren't superior in mercy, then we are no better than a common highwayman.  Does that make sense to you?"
Jack thought for a moment.  "I suppose it does.  I'd never thought of it that way."
"Yes, you had.  But you had an advantage over him, and you exploited it.  As you should have."
"Now you have me confused.  You tell me to show compassion, but to exploit advantages as well?"
"Exploit any advantage in battle, but be compassionate in victory.  Be humble in triumph," smiled Harkness.  "That is, unless they're too stupid to give up and you have no other choice."
"There's always a lesson with you, isn't there?"
"Of course!  I'd be a poor mentor otherwise.  You two seem to have a bit of history between you."
Jack laughed.  "You could say that.  Remember when we were in Cuba last year?"
"I do.  You didn't leave the ship the last two days we were there.  Usually you're off carousing in the taverns unless there's deal to be struck.  I take it that's when you met the good Colonel's wife?"
"The Catch of Cuba herself."
"She's something else, isn't she?" chuckled Harkness.

Jack gaped at his captain.  "You mean... you, too?"
"What can I say?  The does enjoy her Englishmen," Will smiled wistfully.  "Though Diego never heard about me in that regard.  You seem to have made an impression on the fiery Mercedes."
"As you say, Will; best effort in all things.  How do you know our testy friend, then?"
"Diego and I have crossed paths more than a few times.  The nutter has it in his head that getting rid of me is key to restoring Spain's dominance in the region.  It doesn't help that I've cost him quite  a bit of money, and the lion's share of his credibility with his masters."
"I've heard he's obsessed with Spain's former naval glory.  Though I never thought I'd actually come face to face with him.  His lot usually talk big from behind a desk."
"Oh, not Diego Mendoza," said Harkness.  "He puts a lot of personal effort into his lunacy.  What do you think we should do with him?"

Jack thought for a moment.  "We could kill him, but for what?  Being an incredible nuisance and a self-aggrandising fool?  Hardly seems fair."
"Ransom him, then?  He's rich."
They paused and looked across the deck of the ship to where Mendoza was being held.  The defiant Spaniard was red-faced, petulantly cursing every man within earshot.
"And put up with that howling?  Not worth the money, if you ask me.  Mercedes would never pay us to get him back anyway."
"Then we're back to killing him?" asked Harkness.
Jack shook his head no.  "If we did, then the Spanish government would have to take action.  They may think him as much of a pain as we do, but he is one of their own.  And stepped up Spanish patrols would be bad for business."
"What do you want to do with him, then?" Harkness asked.
"Why me?"
"All I did was muck things up by getting sloppy.  You beat him.  You figure out what his fate is."
Jack gave his captain a look of surprise.  "Well, then.  I suppose there's nothing else to do but give him the longboat and some supplies, and set him and a few close friends free near the shipping lanes.  Let them sail for it as best they can."
Harkness smiled proudly at his apprentice.  "I think that's a very good, very merciful choice."
"I figured it's what you would do if you were making the decision."
"You're right.  It is the choice I would make.  I've taught you well."

"When will you run out of things to teach me?" asked Jack jokingly.
Will looked around at the two ships, and gave a chuckle as his cracked ribs argued with him.  "Today.  How's that?"
"Today?  What do you mean?"
"Well, you're your own man now, Jack.  You've earned the respect and trust of the crew.  You'll make a fine leader, in spite of your impulsiveness.   And besides, you saved my life.  If it weren't for you, Diego would have run me through.  I'd hate to think of myself impaled against some Spanish bulkhead.
"You would have done the same for me."
Will laughed.  "That has nothing to do with it.  Most of the men know Mendoza is a superior swordsman and stayed back.  You jumped in, your own skills be damned.  That's courage.  And courage will see you through, even when you don't think you're ready to take something on."
"You're talking in riddles again, Will.  What are you driving at?"

Harkness looked around them.  "What do you  think of this ship, Jack?"
Jack regarded the vessel with a critical eye.  "She's sleek.  Well built.  With a few improvements, she might even be made to give the Pride a run for her money.  Why?  Thinking of keeping her?"
"It all depends.  I'm curious.  If I had died today, command of the Pride would have fallen to you.  There's a packet of final orders in my quarters stating as much.  Given the choice, which ship would you keep?  The Pride, or this one and make it your own?"
"Why all this morbid talk, Will?"
"Indulge me."
"You sound like someone who is contemplating their mortality."
Harkness kept his silence.
"Now, wait just a moment..." started Jack.
"Mendoza never should have been able to catch me off guard the way he did.  I got careless.  Maybe too much success has made me soft.  Or maybe just the years."  Will paused for a moment and looked at his protégé.  "Piracy is a young man's enterprise, Jack.  And I am no longer a young man.  Maybe it's time I quit this game before it quits me."
"You can't let one misstep rattle you so!" implored Jack.  "You're Iron Will Harkness, for God's sake.  Your very name strikes terror into men's hearts.  How could you think of walking away from that?"
"Iron Will Harkness is a persona, Jack," the captain said quietly.  "A carefully manufactured façade of my own creation.  In the end, I'm just a man, like any other."  He smiled enigmatically.  "Maybe, if you live to be my age, you'll understand."
"I'm not sure about people anymore. They're responsible for some pretty nutty stuff. Individuals I'm crazy about, though." ~ Opus

Captain Jack Wolfe

"I can't believe I'm hearing this," Jack said in disbelief.  "I can't imagine any other life than this one.  And I can't believe you'd just... walk away from it!"
Harkness smiled a bit.  "Listen to yourself, Jack.  When we first met, you would have rather died than become a pirate.  You said it yourself.  Look at you now.  Can you honestly tell me things can't change, when you're living proof they do?"
"What am I supposed to do, if you leave?"
"Exactly what you would have done if I had died today.  Carry on."  Harkness took his student by the shoulders.  "You're ready for this, Jack.  And I'm ready to move on.  It's time, for both of us."
Still in shock, Jack looked his mentor in the eyes.  "Damn you for springing this on me, Will.  It's not fair."
"Jack, I've learned you make your best decisions when you don't have time to think about it too much.  You over-analyse, my boy.  Trust your instincts.  Your wits will balance things out.  Now, answer my question.  Which ship shall be yours?"

Jack turned and looked at the Spanish vessel again.  It was remarkably trim for ship of Spain, built almost in the style of France's lean, fast frigates.  She had real possibilities, with some work.  Then he looked at the Pride.  There was a ship he knew like the back of his hand, since he had helped to shape her.  Jack knew her quirks and temperament like a lover knows his partner.  The comfortable familiarity was a powerful draw.  But he knew if he took the Pride as his own, he'd never escape the shadow of Will Harkness.

"If I had to make a choice..."
"Yes, Jack.  You have to choose."
"This ship, definitely.
Harkness chuckled.  "You never do anything the easy way, do you?"
"Where's the fun in that?" replied Jack.
"The fun is just beginning, my lad.  You'll be a captain now, in your own right.  We'll make the announcement once we make port.  I prefer not to spring this news whilst we're still at sea."
"What are you going to do?"
"What, with the Pride?  The quartermaster has been wanting his own ship for a while now.  He'll jump at the chance to have her."
"I thought as much.  He'll do well.  I suppose we'll have to work out who goes with which ship when we part company.  But what I'm really interested in, Will, is what your plans are for yourself."
"I honestly don't know for sure.  I certainly won't become a merchant captain, what with you out there running free!  No, I'll find something.  Can you imagine me as a gentleman farmer?"
Jack laughed involuntarily at the thought.  "You, living on dry land?  I'll believe it when I see it."
"I know this for certain," said Harkness, "you're getting more than a ship in this bargain.  You're getting a sworn enemy."
"How do you figure?  Mendoza?  What's a ship to him?  He'll just buy another."
"Oh, you don't know this ship's name?"
"Not a clue."
"Jack, this is the second Mercedes of his that you've been involved with.  And this time, you're taking her away."
Jack stared at his captain with a mixture of shock and glee.  "You're joking!  He named this ship after his wife?"
"Even had the figurehead carved in her likeness."
"This is too good!  I'm enjoying it more every moment.  I may just have to swing out on the bowsprit and give her a kiss as we sail away!"

Harkness' expression turned serious.  "Be careful, Jack.  Diego Mendoza may have lost today, but don't underestimate him.  He's wealthy, driven, and more than a little crazy.  That's a dangerous combination.  You're going to have a very, very high spot on his list of people to get revenge on.  I know you're not one to look over your shoulder, but you may want to start."
"He's had it out for you for a long time, you said.  And you've managed to elude him."
"Because I keep tabs on him.  One of the first things I do in port is ask if he's about.  Not just to decide if I want to make a prize at his expense, but to avoid him, too."
"You make it sound like the better option is killing him now."
"No, and for the same reasons you arrived at.  Better to have him wage his impotent crusade than to deal with a fleet of costa garda.  Just watch yourself, all right?"
Jack let Will's words sink in.  Harkness was a cautious man, but the concern in his voice was unusually strong this time. 
"I promise.  No letting my guard down with this one," Jack nodded.  It wasn't enough that he had butterflies in his stomach at becoming a captain, he now had a blood enemy.
"Good," Harkness smiled.  "So, what are you going to name your very own ship?  Assuming there's no sentiment behind Mercedes for you."
"Very funny.  I'm tempted toward something Spanish as a tip of the hat to the man who so graciously provided her."  Jack thought for a moment, and his eyes brightened.  "I know!  How about El Lobo del Mar?"
"The Wolf of the Sea, captained by Mad Jack Wolfe himself," mused Harkness.  "Interesting choice, practically naming her after yourself."
"It works then?"
Harkness nodded approval.  "With a name like that, your reputation will practically write itself!"
"I'm not sure about people anymore. They're responsible for some pretty nutty stuff. Individuals I'm crazy about, though." ~ Opus

Welsh Wench


Aboard the Neptune Rising on the open seas--1650

Henry, this fish is superb!"
Henry leaned back and smiled. "Thanks to Dolan for snagging into that school of
tuna. Nothing like fresh fish for the men."
"But you didn't bring out the Madeira for nothing."
"Whatever do you mean?"
Rhys narrowed his eyes. "You have something on your mind, Henry. I haven't spent all these years on the Neptune Rising for nothing."

Henry poured another glass of wine and topped Rhys' off.
"Rhys, it is no secret you are like a son to me. Sure, you are blood kin but I have always regarded you as more than a nephew.
Rhys clinked his glass with Henry's.  "And I feel the same way. A better mentor I never could have picked. If I had been looking."
Henry took a long sip of his wine before continuing.
"I have something of importance to discuss. I've decided to organize the privateers in the Caribbean into a force to be reckoned with. I've been in touch witha few--Morris and Jackman to name a few--and we think if we become an organization, we will have more of an impact breaking the yoke of the Spanish Main."
Rhys nodded his head slowly. "Sounds like a solid plan. Have you any ideas?"
Henry laughed. "Yes, I do. And we are meeting in Port Royal to discuss it.  How does Order of the Brethren Coast sound?"
Rhys agreed, "A force to be reckoned with, I daresay."

Henry leaned forward and his eyes glittered with ambition. "And a force like that--and the head of that force--deserves a big ship, wouldn't you say?"
"Not to mention a big hat. With lots of plumes. What are you getting at, Henry?"
"You know that French frigate we took six months ago?"
"The one you left in drydock in St Maarten?"
"The very one. She'd make a fine flagship, wouldn't she?"
"But you HAVE a flagship, Henry. Neptune Rising has been your pride and joy."
"Aye--but it is time I be trading up."
"You intend to sell the Neptune Rising?

Henry said exasperatedly, "For a Cambridge boy, you aren't quite good at sussing things out. I'm giving it to someone."
"Dolan? Pretty high reward for a passel of fish, Uncle."
Henry rolled his eyes. "Do I have to spell it out for you, Rhys? I'm leaving the Neptune Rising in your capable hands."
"I've watched you the past five years. You love the ship as much as I do, maybe even more. Sure, I could sell her. But would anyone love her like a Morgan?"
"Neptune Rising---to be mine?"
"Rhys, you started out as an astronomy cartographer. But you've taken to pyracy--and let's not deny it, we call a spade a spade--like a duck takes to water."
"But, Henry, what of the smuggling operation in Wales?"
"You can run it. Hell, you practically do anyways!"
"And what terms do you want out of it?"

"Lord Madoc Castlemaine gets his ten percent. Kick me back another ten percent and that leaves you with eighty percent for you and your crew. That ten percent will keep me in rum and pleasurable company."
"And will I have to meet with Lord Castlemaine to introduce myself as the new proprietor of his caves?"
Henry shook his head. "Not very often. You remit the payment to a bank in Cardiff. Lovely resort spot. In fact, I think I have only met him twice. Just lost his wife last year. Fell down the stairs and broke her neck."
"And you will make all the arrangements?"
"No arrangements to make. Hell, Rhys, don't make this more complicated than it is.
Once a year, Lord Castlemaine gives a ball. I go there, make all the right noises, pass myself off as Lord Henry Morgan as I was born and garner respect among the landed gentry. I get on with it. I even met Lord Conaway at the last ball. Poor sod has no idea his caves are my prime outlet for ill-gotten goods."

Rhys sat back, the proposal almost too much for him to absorb. But a smile slowly spread over his face.
"It could be interesting--and an adventure besides!"
"Not to mention it will set you up financially for your future."
"As an astonomy cartographer?
"Hell, Rhys, you can even buy your professorship at Oxford."
"There too."

They clinked glasses again and Rhys said, "To the Neptune Rising."
Henry smiled back. "Long may she plunder!"
Show me your tan lines..and I'll show you mine!

I just want to be Layla.....