Chapter I: Renewal
CAPTAIN CANNONWALKER WIPED THE grease from his hands as he gently lay his vintage double-barrell carbine Brandenburg musket against the cobblestone rampart. It was old, but not useless; rough, but not uncapable. And thus was the Brethren, as well. Gathered now before the captain, in unholy masses of sinners and scum, were dozens (perhaps hundreds?) of sturdy-bearded giants of men who went about their respective operations. They came from all corners of the Earth and each had their own story: sugar smugglers evading company detention; saboteurs and cutthroats who craved nothing more than a life of risk and chance; drunken swashbucklers who surely had the scars to prove their crimes and misadventures; ambitious Frenchmen and squandering Irishmen who seeked a piece of the trade; mercenaries and defects who found fort life immoral or unfavourable; tradesmen and clerks who were driven mad by the stodgy banalities of their previous professions; corrupted merchants who took to the sword rather the book. In one word: pirates.
The captain, reaching for his worn tricorn as means to evade the sun's glare, surveyed the fortress before him; he stood at the veranda of the top tier of the walled island, examining the prospect of his prize. It had been an easy victory, the previous evening. The captain, flintlock and broadsword in hand, had led the charge on the fort, whilst his towering flagship, the Black Warrior, pounded the outer walls from the islet's edge. So caught off guard were the soldiers occupying the fort, that the afternoon for them had been dedicated to drinking and making merry, so that they hadn't the time nor ability to properly react to Captain Cannonwalker's raid, or their torn down gates. Indeed, yesternight's fortuitous attack on the fort proved successful for Cannonwalker and his crew, as the defeated garrison of the stronghold now regained sobriety in the frigid lower cells. The Union Jack that had once flown gloriously over the isle was now used as a mud-clotted floor mat in the fortress's lower bastion.
Cannonwalker oversaw his crew performing their rightful duties. His trousers sagged from the multiple silver-muzzled flintlocks and bronze-hilted sabres that hung contemptuously from his waist. His white overshirt and ruby vest appeared rugged and desheveled, stained with a decade's worth of gun grease, sweat, and no doubt, blood. His face was dominated by a black bedraggled beard, which he had grown as quickly as possible to cover the scars on his face; the beard met with his oil-black hair (unkempt to say the least) which had been left worn and matted from months of unrest, and was concurrently tied back in a ponytail, protruding slightly from his gold-rimmed tricorn (which, if the stories are true, once belonged to a Spanish admiral Cannonwalker had felled in a duel).
He had always loved life as a renegade. Behind those baggy, yet determined eyes was a man who not only yearned for adventure, but embraced it every chance he could; he pounced on it as a lion on his supper. It was rumoured that, even from birth, Captain Cannonwalker spent no more than a fortnight on dry land before returning to open waters once more. Thus was his motive, for it seemed the only air the captain could breath was the salted sea air, differing from the distasteful, dirt-ridden draft one breathed on solid soil. He was happiest before the helm of his ship, with his crew manning the deck and a bottle of brandy within arm's reach. Indeed, the crew favoured him, not only for his oblivious passion for piracy but his sound judgement and level-headed persona – characteristics quite rare to come across as an outlaw.
Presently a familiar voice addressed the captain from behind. Cannonwalker turned to be greeted by a bony yet stout twig of a man sporting an ornate apparel with a dark blue Royal Navy frock coat. He was clean shaven, revealing a skinny jaw and a crooked yet trustworthy smile below two stern, zealous blue eyes. It was Garland. He had been Cannonwalker's first mate for some time now, having defected from the East India Company years earlier on charges of bribery and treason. In the process of the scandal, he managed to smuggle a plethora of valued company documents from his post, revealing the locations of several of the enterprise's notable shipment yards. He had quickly joined the ranks of Cannonwalker's crew, and set out to plunder these prized utopias, leading the men of the Black Warrior to be proclaimed amongst the richest in the Caribbean; and with that, the most wanted.
"We've identified the commandant," spoke Garland, in a dour Mancunian dialect. "Captain Sydney Lewis, 4th Halifax Infantry. He says 'ere's no expected arrival 'till tomorrow, so 'at should buy us a fair block 'o time."
Cannonwalker looked surprised. Garland produced from his overcoat a role of documents, which he subsequently handed to the captain as he was speaking. Cannonwalker eyed them and spoke in a low tone.
"What are these?"
"These be the fort's letters, captain. We officially own 'er now," replied Garland with a grin revealing several brown or missing teeth.
Cannonwalker smiled as he eyed them over.
He turned back towards the stone railing overlooking the fortress, which towered in stories of granite and cobble, arranged in the unorthodox style of not one, but three separate forts layered upon each other. From the central citadel below he spotted half-a-dozen seamen hauling kegs of powder and other usables to-and-fro; upon the walls surrounding the stronghold several able-bodied men gruelingly dragged cannon to their rightful positions. With his eyes continuing to monitor the busy scene, he spoke to Garland in a curious voice.
"Have you ever wondered, Jeremiah, just what our lives would be like had we decided not to defy the law?"
At being addressed as "Jeremiah", Mr. Garland knew at once that Captain Cannonwalker was embracing a personal discussion, one that warrants given names over proper titles.
"Well, Rich," he began, now standing next to the captain upon the railing overlooking the isle, "If I hadn't joined you – and I almost didn't y'see – I'd still be back o'er at Port Royal, kissing Beckett's ass."
Richard Cannonwalker chuckled. He knew Garland's humour to be quick and dry. He now stared out over the ocean, which had become smeared with the orange mixtures of an imminent sundown.
"Truth is," began Richard, "I don't know what I'd be doing or where I'd be had I never taken to the sea." He now looked proudly at the Black Warrior anchored soundly in the harbour.
"But I'm glad I did. I want to die doing what I'm doing."
"As do I."
Garland still carried in the forefront of his mind melancholic memories of his nine-year service with the Company. The assignments given to him had taken him all over the world: Madras, Singapore, Havana, Tangier, Accra, and so on, and so on. He held in his thoughts memoria of his colleagues with whom he shared cabins and dear stories; his regiment and their service to the Crown; smoke-filled offices and the scent of tea looming for eternity; the sharp blades of betrayal... Indeed, Mr. Garland now missed the Company very little, but never could he forget the worst and best of his career.
The wind was now picking up: the unmistakable north'erly trade winds for which the Caribbean had been deemed famous. A nearby metallic clatter and a subsequent uproar of men caused the two captains to cease in their nostalgia and address the interruption. After descending two flights of stone steps that protruded adjacently to the overlooking veranda, they entered the district of the secondary fort and, peering, over her inner walls, saw the source of the commotion: a larger saker had been torn from its holstering by the elements and now sat prostrate in the fort's centre. Presently half a dozen well-bodied sailors struggled to get the cannon upright and back to its original position.
A brawny man in a blue low-cut frock coat stood at the fort's edge beneath the walls, looking up from a paper he held to examine the scenario. Upon gazing up, he recognised Cannonwalker and Garland at once, standing atop the walls. "Ah!" he cried out as he hastily made his way up the nearest staircase to meet with the two captains. He carried the paper underneath his forearm, treating it with great care.
As the man approached, Cannonwalker at once recognised him, and turned to Garland.
"Mr. Garland, I don't suppose you remember Solomon Plankfoote, my first mate?"
"I believe I've met Mr. Plankfoote once before. Charmed, I'm sure," said Garland, turning to Solomon and lightly tipping his tricorn in salute.
"Yes, yes. A pleasure to see you well, Mr. Garland," replied Plankfoote, rather timidly. He produced the paper from under his arm and presented it to Cannonwalker.
"This just came in a few minutes ago, captain. You ought to have a look."
"Came in?" inquiried Richard, "What mean you?"
"Carrier pigeon, captain. We believe it was sent by a 'Captain Christopher Crane', sir," said Solomon.
Cannonwalker chuckled in amusement and turned to Garland, as he unfolded the letter. "Crane was always one for traditional methods."
"I'm just curious as to know how the 'ell he managed to find a pigeon in the Caribbean," said Garland.
"Either way," began Cannonwalker, "I do hope he makes it in time. Crane has a force big enough to storm Versailles, if he wished. Without him here, we're dead men."
"I believe we're dead men either way," said Garland gloomily.
More to come