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an ocean away

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Alfred stands at the bow of his ship, relishing in the feeling of the sea air whipping his hair back and forth, his eyes fixed on a sail on the horizon. The Andromache; they’ve been tracking her for weeks, and the journey has somewhat tested the patience of his men, but with the prize in sight, they have redoubled their efforts as they push their ship to its limits in pursuit.

“What’s the plan then, Captain Pelides?” George sidles up beside him, tipping his hat mockingly.

Alfred eyes the Andromache again. “It’s all in the timing. If we can get it just right then we might not have to fight too hard to take her. Avoid a struggle.”

“It might be a good thing to give the men a fight – might help them let off a little steam, make sure we all arrive on dry land safe and sound.” George glances at Alfred a little warily. 

“Out with it, George, say whatever it is you have to say.”

“The men have been whispering. Billy’s stirring trouble, speculating about where you go when we’re on land. You should be more careful, Alfred, it’s almost too easy for him to make you sound like a traitor.”

“Perhaps Billy should keep his nose out of my business. Lord knows I pay him enough.” Alfred says, rolling his eyes, before taking his telescope from his belt and inspecting the Andromache again. 

“You know Billy wants your captaincy. He won’t stop until he’s seen you deposed.”

“I can handle Billy.” Alfred tucks his telescope back into his belt. George glances at him, eyebrows raised. 

“I didn’t think you had it in you.” 

“Oh don’t look at me like that, George, I’m not going to kill him. I just mean him and I will have a conversation, and if he can’t be brought to see reason then he might be asked to leave the crew.”

“If he leaves, you know he’ll take a good chunk of the crew with him.”

Alfred shrugs. “It is much easier to find new men than to resuscitate a dead captain. Besides, I’m the one who helps these men win good prizes, I’m the one who tracks down our leads, not Billy. Perhaps, when we take the Andromache, I can remind them of that.”

“Why exactly are we chasing her, Alfred. You’re being very cryptic about all this, and I can’t say it’s helping your case with the men. If she’s not loaded with gold I suspect your position as captain might be in jeopardy, and not just because of Billy.”

“Are you warning me as my Quartermaster, or as my brother, George?” Alfred nudges him playfully.

“I just want to make sure your head stays firmly on your shoulders.”

“You’ll find out what’s on board the Andromache soon enough.” Alfred smiles, before turning to face the stern, leaving George as infuriated as ever. “Raise the black!”

Just like that, the crew descend into a flurry of activity, as their flag is hoisted and the men begin to ready canons and guns and any weapons they can find, in case the Andromache’s crew decide to put up a little more of a fight.

In the end, it turns out to be surprisingly easy to take her. It seems her crew hadn’t really prepared for the possibility of a pirate attack, and, as a consequence, were almost completely unarmed, brandishing kitchen knives and frying pans, and maybe three pistols among them. For some reason – most likely an inexperienced captain – they had chosen to fight, against their best interests.

Perhaps it was because of the valuable information they were carrying. No captain wants to return to dry land and admit that they gave up such precious cargo without a fight. This captain seems to have decided that death would be an easier fate than shame.

Alfred only really feels sorry for the crew. He strides along the deck, taking in the bloodied and mangled corpses left behind in the wake of the massacre. A pity, really– some of the men could have become good sailors under his employ, if they’d chosen to surrender. England must be running a fierce campaign against them.

“How many men did we lose?” Alfred turns to George, who’s been trailing behind him since the fight ended.

“Just two, both new hires unfortunately. First timers.”

Alfred purses his lips. “Either of them have wives? Children?”

“Not that I know of.” 

“That’s good, I suppose. We’ll bury them tonight; can you see to the arrangements?”

“Of course.”

“Anything else?” Alfred asks, itching to escape these formalities.

“3 men seriously injured.”

Alfred nods. “That’s not so bad. Are they being taken care of?”

“Brodie’s seeing to them, reckons they should make it back to Nassau. We’ll have to pay for the doctor though.”

Alfred curses under his breath, before rubbing a hand over his forehead and through his hair. “Nothing we can’t handle, right Georgie? Once we get our hands on everything this ship has to offer, we’ll have no need to worry about paying doctors and crew.”

“I’m not sure the Andromache is loaded well enough for that, Alfred.” George rolls his eyes.

“A little optimism never hurt anyone. Besides, it’s not cargo we need, George, it’s information. And I know just where it’s hidden.”

“You sound like a madman, Alfred.” George frowns a little.

Alfred smiles. “Just you wait, Georgie. Can you handle things here?”

George shakes his head a little, as though he can’t quite believe his brothers antics. “Whatever you need, Captain.” 

Alfred leaves George in charge, shooting him one last grin and making a beeline for the captain’s quarters. He’s expecting a bit of a mess, perhaps a crewmember or two cowering below deck in the hopes of avoiding the bloodshed, or left behind to destroy valuable information.

He’s most definitely not expecting to encounter a woman, perhaps no older than 20, cowering in the corner, hunched over the captain’s log.

Alfred’s hand twitches towards his cutlass. He doesn’t want to kill her, but if she’s going to cause trouble for him then he might be forced to.

“Stay back!” The woman yells. “You’re here for this, are you not?” She gestures to the captain’s log. 

Alfred weighs his options and settles for nodding silently.

“I’ve destroyed the information you’re here for. You could check every page of this book and you wouldn’t find it, which means you’ll need to keep me alive.”

“And why is that?”

“Because every last detail is right here inside my head.”

The poor woman looks terrified, but Alfred has to give her credit, it’s a bold move, and a smart one at that. She also seems to be holding her own remarkably well, even if she does look as if she might faint if he got any closer.

“You will return me to land unharmed, and if you do so swiftly then I shall consider giving you the information you seek, when provided with generous compensation for my trouble, of course.” She tilts her head up. Clearly she is a woman of high society of some sort, and a well-educated one too, though Alfred wonders what mystery forces have brought her to take to the seas. He cannot help but be impressed by her bravery.

“And what is to stop me torturing you for the information instead?” Alfred stares her down, as though he is attempting to pin her to the wall with his eyes. He likes it better when she’s afraid, and he is still firmly in control of the situation.

The woman’s lip trembles, and she looks as though she might burst into tears, but she stands her ground. “You don’t look as though you want to do that, and I pride myself on being an excellent judge of character.”

“You don’t know anything about me.” Alfred’s lip curls into a snarl, hand twitching again towards his cutlass instinctively.

In an instant, the woman pulls a dagger from a small belt around her waist, and places the blade against her own throat. “If I die, you will never get the information you’re looking for. I suggest you make a decision, and make it quickly. I will not be tortured by you.”

Alfred can see her hand trembling, yet something in her eyes assures him that, if it came to it, she would slit her own throat without hesitation. “Well then, I suppose we have a deal.” 

The woman’s body seems to sag with relief as she drops the knife from her throat, sliding it back into its scabbard. It appears she had expected a rather different outcome.

“Do you have a name, then?” Alfred watches her pull herself to her feet and attempt to walk across the room with a semblance of dignity.

“Wilhelmina Coke.” The woman replies. “And what am I to call you?”

“Captain Pelides.” Alfred sees her face blanch as she takes in his name, practically hears the thoughts rushing through her head as she connects his reputation with the man stood in front of her. “You’ve heard of me, then?” Alfred chuckles. 

He sees her hand settle again on the knife tucked into her belt. 

“I wouldn’t use that if I were you, Wilhelmina. It’s certainly not in your best interests to try and take me on in hand to hand combat. You may keep it with you, though, if it will bring you some comfort.” Alfred flashes her a mean grin.

Wilhelmina stammers a little, but is interrupted by George’s arrival.

“We’re all finished up, Captain, are you- oh.” George stares at Wilhelmina for a few beats.

“George, this is Wilhelmina, she will be returning with us as my own personal prize. Could you please ensure the men are aware of this?” 

“They won’t-“

“If they are unhappy with me laying claim to her then tell them I will surrender my share of the profits of this vessel to them. That ought to buy them enough fucks to forget all about her once we’re back on land.” Alfred brushes off his brother’s concerns, while Wilhelmina appears to grow increasingly pale with each passing word.

“Aye aye, cap’n” George tips his hat mockingly. “Did you get what you were looking for?”

Alfred glances briefly at Wilhelmina. “It’s a little more complicated than I anticipated. I think we ought to discuss our next steps. I’ll explain everything properly later, when we’ve a little time alone.”

George’s eyes flicker between Alfred and Wilhelmina as though he’s trying to connect the dots that lead to an explanation. “Of course.”

“How were the takings?” Alfred quickly changes the subject, sensing George’s confusion.

“We’ve taken several barrels of good tobacco, a couple of decent canons, a good deal of rum, and a rather nice stash of gold.”

“Very good, ensure the rum actually lasts the journey back, will you? I’d quite like to greet Victoria with a reasonable haul this time.”

“I’ll do my best.” George nods with a cheeky smile, turning to head back to the crew. The last time their crew had taken rum, they’d arrived in Nassau without a single drop left.

“Remind them that for every drink they have, they get one less fuck back on land,” Alfred calls after him, before turning back to Wilhelmina. “We ought to get going. If you want to make it back to land unharmed, I suggest you stay by my side and do as you are told, when you are told. Are we quite clear?”

Wilhelmina nods quietly, but blanches anew when Alfred produces a bundle of rope and grabs roughly at her wrists.

“I can’t have my men thinking I’m soft, now can I? I will untie you once you are safely inside my cabin.” Alfred ties her wrists as gently as he can, just tight enough to look convincing. “I have no desire to harm you. Just do as I say.”

Wilhelmina glances at him, and then down at her bound wrists. She tests the knots a little, and finds that, while they aren’t uncomfortable, they are firm, and she isn’t likely to be able to escape without help. It appears she no longer has much choice in the matter, so she nods again.

Alfred offers her a tight-lipped smile, before turning and tugging her out of the captain’s cabin and up on deck.

“Welcome aboard the Myrmidon, Wilhelmina.” Alfred glances back at her terrified face as he drags her across to his ship.

 


 

Wilhelmina has made some poor choices in her life.

She’d climbed a tree that couldn’t support her weigh and broke her leg. She’d fallen in love with a man whose heart was set on someone else. She’d agreed to go on a trip to the Americas to visit her uncle. But truly, this was one of the worst choices she’d ever made.

She doesn’t know quite what compelled her to find the captain’s log, to seek out the information she knew was carried aboard this ship, and take it upon herself to memorise it. She remembers her father’s instructions quite clearly. If, by some unlucky coincidence, pirates were to take the ship she was travelling on, she was to surrender immediately and pray to God for mercy. 

And yet, here she was, making bargains with the pirates and placing herself wholly at the mercy of their common decency. And with Captain Pelides, no less, the most notorious pirate known to sail these waters. This is something of a predicament she’s found herself in. 

Still, Captain Pelides doesn’t seem entirely monstrous. There was something in his eyes when he first discovered her; regret, perhaps? For all his threats, he certainly didn’t seem particularly inclined to kill her in cold blood.

Unfortunately, however, while he’s being polite to her for the moment, or at least trying, Wilhelmina is painfully aware of the fact that she has utterly disrupted his plans, and that the information in her head is the only thing currently keeping her alive. That being said, he is being rather courteous, and he’s certainly taking measures to protect her from his crew. It could be far worse, she suspects. Something about him still carries the air of a gentleman, in spite of his dirty face and greasy hair and bloodstained clothes. It is as though he doesn’t quite seem to belong here, somehow.

Still, that doesn’t stop her heart from pounding in her chest as he drags her past hordes of pirates, leering over her with predatory smiles. She tries not to listen to the conversations being whispered around her. She’d rather not hear the unsavoury things the men are whispering about her, the things they want to do to her, if only Captain Pelides was willing to share.

“Through here,” the captain mutters gruffly, tugging her into his cabin, and quickly closing the door behind them. “Bed’s over there, keep quiet and don’t draw attention to yourself.” He gestures vaguely at the corner of the room, before busying himself at his desk, checking maps and papers.

Wilhelmina sits quietly on the edge of the small bed. The mattress is a little lumpy, but it’s better than the bunk she’d been sleeping in on her previous ship. She supposes the captain can afford himself certain luxuries. She wonders if he will talk to her, address her at all, or if she is expected to just sit here quietly until they eventually reach land.

Captain Pelides hardly even glances at her before he strides back out of the room. She hears the click of the lock behind him, and then he’s calling out commands on deck, presumably ordering the men to get moving before another ship comes across them. She fidgets uncomfortably, the rope around her wrists beginning to rub a little as she does. He had yet to make good on his promise to untie her, and, from the sound of things, he wasn’t likely to return anytime soon.

This was likely to be a long and tiresome journey.