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A/N - This story has been published as CUTLASS by Tami Franklin and is currently available on Amazon. I'm leaving the first chapter posted to protect against plagiarism.
Often, when the sunlight wanes, I find myself perusing the vastness of the sea about me, and ponder the warnings of those who speak of the wildness of this place. Some fear the natives of the islands and their strange ways. Others, the dangerous creatures who dwell in the depths beneath me. I, however, have come to know that the true danger of these waters lies not with the savages, nor with the beasties below. No, the true threat is the man without honor, without conscience.
He calls himself the pirate.
- The Journal of Simon Alistair Mellick, 6 October, 1666
Chapter 1: The Boy, Smith
Only a handful of fluffy white clouds marred the wide expanse of blue sky as the Black Arrow sliced through the choppy waters of the Atlantic. Captain Edward Cullen tilted his head, eyeing with approval the full sails billowing overhead and the full crew busily at work on deck. He stood, legs splayed widely, with a compass open in one palm, the fingers of his other hand wrapped lightly around the wheel. He allowed the ship its head more than trying to force it in a specific direction.
The wind was with them today.
The men knew not their destination, save Jasper Whitlock, the captain's second-in-command and most trusted confidant.
Only trusted confidant, to put a finer point on it. Edward Cullen shared neither his thoughts nor his faith easily, but over the years, he had grown to rely on his first mate and indeed trust him with his life.
That trust had been well-earned. The captain in fact owed his life to Whitlock twice over.
But that was a tale for another day.
"Jasper!" Cullen bellowed, snapping the compass closed and tucking it into his coat pocket. "Assemble the men!"
"Attend the captain!" Jasper shouted immediately, the command echoing across the deck and down the stairs to the bowels of the ship as well. Within minutes, the crew had assembled in a loose circle around the helm, and the captain relinquished the wheel to his Quartermaster, Crowley, and turned to address the men. He said nothing for a moment, just paced before them slowly, gripping the hilt of his dagger in his fist, the thump of his boot heels muffled slightly by the crash of the surf. A patch covered what remained of his left eye, a scar running from his temple to chin evidence of the injury that nearly claimed his life. His good eye glinted bright green in the afternoon sun as he appraised each man before him steadily.
"I know there's been talk about our heading," he began, "and what booty lies at the end of this journey." His stopped his pacing, his gaze locking on each of his men in turn. "At morning's light, we will encounter the Enchanted Lady, and I plan to take her."
At the mention of the notorious vessel, a nervous murmur arose from the crowd.
"Avast!" Jasper barked, silencing the men immediately.
"Now," Captain Cullen continued, "there's treasure aplenty on board the Lady, and each will get his fair share. But somewhere on that ship is a chest that is mine, and mine alone." He glared menacingly to emphasize his point. "Jasper will give you a description of the chest. The man who brings it to me will earn a double share of the Lady's treasure." An excited rumbling rolled through the crew.
The captain raised a hand, silencing the men. "And I need not tell you that anyone found to be keeping back a portion of the booty before it's duly divided by Crowley will find himself dangling from the main-mast." His voice lowered to a threatening growl. "And any who might think to keep the chest for himself…I'll see to Davy Jones myself, at the point of my sword."
A collective gulp resounded across the deck, and Cullen turned on his heel abruptly. A flash of movement to his left caught his eye and he paused, seeking out the source. A young boy he didn't recognize huddled behind the massive hulk of Emmett McCarty, the Master Rigger.
"Boy!" the captain called. "Show yourself!"
The crowd parted, all eyes following the captain's gaze as he took a step toward the boy.
"Don't make me ask again," he snarled.
The boy stepped out from behind McCarty tentatively, his bowed head covered by a dark woolen cap. His breeches were torn at the knee, his body swallowed by a voluminous shirt and leather vest. He wrung his hands nervously, and the captain frowned at the delicate bones, wondering how such a fragile creature could survive at sea.
"What's your name, boy?" he asked gruffly.
The boy mumbled an answer.
"Speak up!" Cullen ordered.
"Smith, eh?" He looked to Jasper questioningly.
His first mate shrugged. "He came on at Hispaniola," he explained. "We needed another powder monkey."
Cullen scowled at the information, for some reason uneasy at the idea of the boy serving on the gun crew. "How old are you, boy?"
The boy hesitated only a moment, and the captain warned, "Do not be lying to me, now."
"Seventeen," he said quietly, his eyes still focused on the deck.
"Seventeen?" Cullen repeated. "Mite small for seventeen, aren't you?" He eyed Jasper, but the man just shrugged again in response. "I doubt he could even carry a half-empty powder barrel, if that," he muttered, half to himself.
"I'm stronger than I look," the boy said stubbornly, and Cullen fought back a chuckle of surprise. The boy had spirit.
Still, spirit had its limits, and the captain quickly rearranged his features into his trademark scowl. "Mind your place, boy."
"Aye, Captain." He wrung his hands again, the knuckles white with tension.
Cullen's good eye narrowed as he came to a decision. "Jasper, have you found a replacement for young Tom, as yet?" The cabin boy had jumped ship in Havana and had not been seen since.
"No," Jasper replied, picking at his teeth with the tip of his knife. "Not yet."
The captain removed his hat, scratching at his scalp briefly before replacing it. "That settles it, then. Smith here will take his place.
"Boy," he said in a brusque tone. "You'll be seeing to my needs from now on. For now, I'll be wanting a shave and my supper." When the boy stood frozen in place, the captain planted his fists on his hips, raising his voice to a near roar. "Move it, Smith! Don't be keeping me waiting!" The boy rushed to the stairs, and the captain stalked after him.
"The rest of you – back to work!" he bellowed, the command echoed by Jasper as the crew rushed back to their stations.
Nobody noticed the satisfied smile on the face of the boy named Smith.
Captain Cullen wasn't exactly sure what compelled him to help the boy. Part of it was the fact that he did indeed need a replacement for Tom – someone to keep his cabin in order and keep his things in repair. Despite his bloodthirsty reputation, Cullen did have a need for order and structure…discipline amidst the chaos. For in reality, his ship was a well-oiled machine, each crew member fulfilling his tasks with efficiency and pride.
But they also knew how to relax. Which led to the other reason he felt compelled to take young Smith under his wing.
His men worked hard, but they also played hard. After a long day of backbreaking labor, and a few jugs of rum, they were wont to take their pleasure where they could find it. Many would wait until they made port, finding relief in a willing female at pub or a brothel – or in a dark alley, if the need be. But a few took what they could get where it was offered, opting for hard muscles instead of soft curves.
Edward had no problem when both of the participants were consenting. But he'd caught a few longing looks toward young Smith, and he wouldn't stand for anyone taking advantage just because he was smaller and weaker. If the boy chose to participate in some onboard recreation, that was his choice, but no one on his ship would live in fear of such a thing.
Abruptly, Smith halted in the narrow space, and Edward stumbled forward into his back, knocking the boy sideways into the wall. Smith grunted as Edward leaned into him, gripping his hip to regain his balance.
"What the bloody hell?" the captain growled as he righted himself.
"I'm…sorry, sir," the boy said meekly, his eyes on his worn shoes. "I wasn't sure which way to go."
Cullen adjusted the leather belt across his chest that held his flintlock and propped his hands on his hips. "To the right, boy. Through the door."
Smith just nodded and hurried down the dark hallway, tripping slightly over his own feet. The captain followed behind, striding into his quarters and throwing his hat onto the massive bed – one of the captain's few bows to luxury. As soon as he'd taken command of the Black Arrow, he'd replaced the uncomfortable bunk with a feather mattress and silken coverings. His cabin was his sanctuary, after all, filled with personal items and prizes from his many conquests. Few were allowed in his personal abode, and even now he was nervous about allowing Smith entrance into his lair. He spotted the boy out of the corner of his eye, standing awkwardly by the door and waiting for instructions.
Cullen sighed. He had no patience for training the boy, but there was really no alternative. Usually, he'd leave the task to Jasper or one of the cook's boys, but he was starving and filthy and he had no time to wait.
"To the galley, boy," he ordered. "Fetch water for my shaving, then see the cook about my meal." When the boy hesitated, he added gruffly. "Be quick about it before I change my mind and have you swabbing the head."
Evidently the threat of having to clean up the toilet area at the bow of the ship was enough to spark Smith into action. He jumped, darting out the door, and Edward chuckled at the sound of his feet pounding toward the kitchen area in the bowels of the ship. He shrugged out of his coat and pulled his weapons belt over his head before tossing them both onto the bed as well. Tugging his shirt from the waistband of his breeches, he reached for the jug of rum on his heavy wooden desk, pouring a hefty dose into a tankard. His dagger belt stayed in place around his hips, a second pistol tucked into it and his jeweled dirk secure in his right boot. Captain Cullen was always armed. Even in sleep, his hand gripped the flintlock under his pillow, his dagger tucked securely beneath the mattress.
Taking a long swallow from the tankard, he collapsed into a carved wooden chair he'd liberated during a raid the pervious summer, rubbing a hand absently over his scruffy cheek. He could glimpse the blue sky out of the porthole above his bed, the swaying of the ship bringing the deeper blue of the sea into view every few seconds. He was lulled by the hypnotic swaying of this ship combined by the relaxing buzz of the rum. So much so, that at first he didn't realize his cabin boy had returned, a steaming bowl of water in his hands.
He waved a beringed hand at a small table beside him. "The soap and razor are on the shelf, over there," he said, pointing across the room. Smith hurried over, setting the bowl on the table carefully but still managing to splash a little on the polished wood. He gasped, using his shirt tail to wipe up the water before retrieving the mug of soap and razor. Adding a little water to the mug, he began to swirl the shaving brush into the soap.
Edward eyed the boy carefully, noticing the nervous way he swallowed. "You ever shave a man before, Smith?" he asked gruffly.
"Aye, sir," his voice squeaked. He cleared his throat. "My…my father."
The captain nodded, leaning his head back on the chair. "Well, carry on then." Smith reached for a strap attached to the side of the table and began to run the straight razor slowly back and forth before testing the edge against his thumb. He reached for the mug without meeting Edward's gaze, and the captain closed his eye and felt the soft sweep of the brush against his skin. He could hear Smith's shaky breaths and wondered why the boy seemed so terrified of him. When the boy set the mug aside and Edward felt the razor touch his cheek, his hand flashed up, gripping Smith's wrist as his eye narrowed on his reddened face.
"Take care, boy," he warned. "I'd not like to have to gut you because your hand slipped." Cullen's hand gripped his dagger, slipping it from the scabbard with a quiet hiss to emphasize his words before laying it across his stomach.
Smith swallowed thickly and nodded. "Aye, sir." The boy hesitated briefly before taking a deep breath and sliding the razor across his skin with a gentle scrape. Edward relaxed, but his fingers remained wrapped around his dagger as the boy shaved him, dipping the razor into the bowl of water between each stroke, and finally wiping his face with a piece of rough toweling. Edward reached for a small tin of salve on the table, dipping his fingers into it before smoothing over his cleanly shaven cheeks. The spicy scent wafted in the air, and he felt the boy watching him carefully.
"An herbal remedy to prevent irritation," he muttered, not sure why he was explaining himself. He put the lid back on the tin and stood abruptly, rounding his desk. "Deal with that," he said gruffly, motioning at the now-soapy water, "and bring me my supper." The captain turned his attention to some documents on the table as Smith hurried to fulfill his wishes.
The captain examined the parchment that had led him this far. It was just a torn scrap bearing only a few words and a portion of a pencil drawing, but it pointed to the Lady as the place to find the chest he sought. It was only a step on his journey, however, for inside…inside the chest was the answer he was looking for. Once he had it, he would have what he'd been seeking since he first took command.
Edward smiled grimly at the thought, rubbing at his eye patch in remembrance. The man who took it – who nearly took his life – would pay. In time, he would pay.
"Sir?" Smith's quiet voice interrupted the captain's concentration, making him jump. The fact that he was startled irritated him more than anything else.
"Must you prowl about like a timid kitten?" he barked.
Smith jumped in surprise, and before he schooled his features, Edward thought he might have spotted another emotion there.
Irritation? No, it was almost…fury.
But just as soon as it appeared it was gone, replaced by the fearful hesitance the captain was accustomed to, and Edward thought perhaps he'd imagined it after all.
"Your supper, Sir?" Smith said quietly, and Edward realized he was holding a covered tray. He studied the boy's face for one more moment before he slid his papers into a drawer and waved him over. Smith set the tray on the desk, removing the lid and holding it behind his back. Edward saw his chest expand as if inhaling the scents released into the room – roast sausages, potatoes, some fresh vegetables they'd obtained at the last port, and a small loaf of warm bread. Edward broke off a piece of the bread and popped it into his mouth, washing it down with a swig of rum.
The loud rumble of the boy's stomach drew his arched brow.
"Sorry, Sir," Smith said, his face reddening again as he moved closer to the door. "Is there…something else you need of me…Sir?"
Edward chewed on another piece of bread. "What was your last meal, boy?"
He shifted nervously. "Uh…I had some hardtack and salted beef…a little ale…earlier."
"How much earlier?"
The boy's eyes circled the room, not meeting Edward's as he wrung his hands. "Uh…sometime…yesterday, I think."
The captain sat back in his chair, grunting in irritation. "Yesterday? Of all the…" He tore apart the rest of his bread, laying a few sausages inside before pressing it closed. "Here," he said, tossing the makeshift meal to the boy. "Eat that."
Smith crammed the sandwich into his mouth hungrily. "And in the future, do not be missing meals," Edward added around a mouthful of potato. "You're skinny enough already, and you'll need to pull your weight on my ship. And I will not have you interrupting my concentration with your growling belly…or swooning like some blasted female!"
At that, the boy choked, his eyes growing wide as he covered his mouth to keep his food from spraying around the room.
"Good God!" Cullen growled, rolling his eye as he crossed to the boy and smacked him on the back soundly. Smith continued to cough and Edward reached for his tankard, holding it to his lips.
"Have some of this," he ordered. Smith grabbed at the mug, tilting it back and washing down the food with a large gulp.
Then he began a whole new round of coughing.
"What…what is that?" he asked on a wheeze, tears streaming down his scarlet face.
"Rum. What else?"
"I thought it was water."
The captain laughed. "What man in his right mind drinks water when there's rum to be had?"
"Captain?" Jasper appeared in the doorway. He looked confused at the picture before him, but knew better than to ask any questions.
"What is it?" Edward replied, reaching over the desk and popping a sausage into his mouth.
"We're nearing Sav-la-mar," he replied. "Do you want to make port or remain offshore 'til dawn?"
"Any sign of the Lady?"
Edward rubbed his chin in thought. "They've been at sea for months, so they'll put in to Lucea tonight to take on supplies before making the run to Santa Marta. We'll stay here, hidden by the shore and set out to intercept them before first light."
Jasper nodded. "Aye." He turned to head back up on deck.
"Jasper, a word," Edward called after him, casting a glance behind him at Smith before following his first mate into the hallway. He closed the door quietly and lowered his voice.
"Keep an eye on Newton," he ordered. The Master Gunner had only been on board the Black Arrow for about a month, and although Edward didn't fully trust him, he needed the young man's expertise with weapons. "He's shown a particular interest in talk of the Lady, and I've heard rumors from his former crew that he's been known to line his own pockets before the loot has been counted."
"You think he'd dare after your warning?"
The captain shook his head ruefully. "There's no telling. Men can be foolish, and greedy men the most foolish of all."
Whitlock nodded. "I'll assign Jenks to watch him," he said. "I trust him, and he won't let Newton out of his sight once we board tomorrow."
"Are the cannons readied?"
"Aye. We're short on musket balls, but we've plenty of chain shot."
Edward nodded in approval. "Good. Good. Don't let the men overindulge tonight. We'll need to be up before the sun."
"Aye, Cap'n." At that, Jasper walked down the dim hallway toward the deck stairs and Edward turned to re-enter his quarters. He grimaced in anger when he saw young Smith running his finger along the hilt of the cutlass he kept on the shelf behind his desk.
"What are you doing, boy?" he roared. Smith jumped, whirling about and tucking his hands behind his back.
"Sorry…Captain," he stammered, his eyes wide. "I didn't mean anything."
Edward crossed the room, catching the boy up by the collar of his shirt until his toes barely grazed the floor. "Remember, boy," he spat. "You are on this ship…my ship…at my whim. Anger me, and you'll be feeding the fish after a good flogging." He shook Smith like a rag to emphasize his point. "Do not touch anything in this room without my express permission to do so. Is that clear?"
The boy let out a strangled sound and Edward loosened his hold slightly. "I said, is that clear?" he gritted menacingly.
Smith sucked in a breath. "Aye…Aye, Captain."
He released the boy with a shove toward the door. "Off with you, now. Be back at four bells. We set sail before the morning watch."
Smith ducked his head and ran from the room without another word. Edward shook his head in frustration at the boy's audacity as he turned around to consider the cutlass that had held him so enthralled. With a small smile, he pulled it from the shelf, sliding the shining blade from its leather sheath. To most, it would seem like an ordinary sword, he supposed and – except for the single large sapphire set in the hilt – of very little value. Edward knew its true worth, however – and it was far beyond the value of the glittering blue stone. He studied the engraving encircling the gem, whispering the now-familiar words aloud.
Dixitque Deus fiat lux et facta est lux.
Latin for And God said, "Let there be light, and there was light."
The significance of the piece of Scripture, Edward was still unsure of. Yet he knew it was yet another key in the mystery he was endeavoring to solve. One that he would come a step closer to unraveling once he set foot on board the Enchanted Lady.
In the bowels of the Black Arrow, the boy called Smith scrambled down the dimly-lit hallway, ducking behind casks and into corners whenever anyone else came near. Eventually, he found the door he was looking for and after a quick glance in both directions to ensure he was not being observed, he slipped silently through it.
The storage room was packed full, but there was just enough room behind a large pile of crates for him to create a small pallet to rest his head. Smith grunted as he shoved a wooden chest in front of the door, praying that it would be enough to deter anyone who might decide to enter. No one had tried as of yet, but he couldn't be too careful.
Once the door was barricaded, he padded quietly over to his pallet, lowering himself to the ground with a quiet sigh. He rested for a moment, his back braced against the cool wall. He was a bit lightheaded from the large gulp of rum that still burned his throat – and his hands trembled slightly in memory of his terrifying encounter with the captain. He knew, possibly better than anyone, that Edward Cullen was a cutthroat and a barbarian, and Smith would need to be more careful in the future if he was going to stay alive long enough to complete his goal.
Bone-tired, Smith pulled of his cap and released his clubbed hair from its leather thong, running his fingers through it before scratching at his scalp. He slid the vest from his shoulders and, lifting his oversized shirt, picked at the knot that held the rags bound around his chest. When the cloths finally loosened, Smith unwrapped the rags with a relieved exhale, rubbing at his aching flesh underneath.
The flesh that – were it discovered – would reveal his true identity…or rather, her identity. For Smith was not a boy at all, but rather a young woman of nineteen years who had stolen on board the Black Arrow with only one goal in mind.
To kill the captain.
And now that she'd seen the cutlass, she was more determined than ever to accomplish that goal. Touching it for the first time in almost two years, her throat had closed up in anguished memory.
He had loved that sword.
In the distance a bell rang. Only two hours until she would have to become Smith again and appear at Cullen's door. She curled her lip in distaste. Becoming his cabin boy gave her a chance she'd been hoping for, but spending any time in close quarters with the man turned her stomach.
Still, she would be near him now – day and night. Near enough to take his miserable life when opportunity presented itself. She'd been tempted while shaving him, but wasn't certain she could complete the task before he could bury that damned dagger in her belly.
No, she would be patient. And when Cullen had his guard down – perhaps even when he was sleeping – or deep in his vile rum – she would take that cutlass into her hand and slit his traitorous neck.
Crass, perhaps. But she had long abandoned the idea of acting as a proper lady. Since the day her father was killed – the sapphire-embellished sword stolen from his still-warm body – and she'd set out to track down his murderer, only to learn that One-Eyed Eddie Cullen was to blame.
She smiled. Perhaps she'd call him that to his face as he bled to death. Few did and survived, but she would.
One day soon, Isabella Swan would have her revenge.