The pirate Bartholomew Roberts is an enigma. As a Calvinist Christian, he refuses his crew both strong drink and women on his ship. Despite his high moral standards, however, the lovely and seductive Lady Mary Jane Llewellyn, with whom he has a love-hate relationship, is aboard. Roberts wears the scarlet cape of a cardinal of the Catholic Church, with a large diamond cross blessed by the pope around his neck-and yet he conducts Protestant services every Sabbath. He confounds all expectations when, after attacking the ships of the Royal African Company, he routinely sets their "black gold" slaves free.
Roberts flies not the black Jolly Roger flag with its skull and crossbones, but instead a red pennant upon which are stitched two forms: a skeleton and a rover, both reaching for a gold chalice. Some say it is life and death reaching for a tankard of ale, but they're wrong. To Roberts, all of creation is a dance between life and death, and in the cup the answer awaits those brave enough to chase it.
For his actions and attitudes, both the king and the pope want him dead-but Roberts discovered that in death, he found the key to life.
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Pirate of the Red Pennant
By C. P. Willis
Abbott PressCopyright © 2014 C. P. Willis
All rights reserved.
Little Newcastle, South Wales - 1711
She were a slim craft with nice lines fore and aft. The girl had been standing in the shadow of the barn, but now she moved out into the light. She had pale milk-white skin, eyes as green as the Mediterranean, long black tresses, small pink lips that were smiling in jest. I knew from her garb she were of some importance. She had on a blue dress that was cut full in the stern and low in the topsails. I didn't mind staring at her bow from which her two jibs looked like they were about to catch the wind.
It was the first time I set my feet on the sod of Sir Llewellyn's estate in Wales. I was but a poor lad. Me family was before the mast; that is, we were lowborn cattlemen who worked our herd on the marsh grasses. Me father had sold his lordship two milk cows and took me along to deliver them. It was a right shipshape estate. His lordship's barn was a three - master compared to the dingy of a hut me family, including me three brothers berthed in. Whilst me father went to collect what was owed, I decided to get the lay of the land. Behind the barn, I found a water barrel. Settling on a seaman's bath, I took off my shirt and filled the ladle. Stepping out on the cut grass, I poured a dipper full over my head. I remember that my head was so filled with dust, the water that poured off was brown. It turned the green grass in his lordship's yard gray. I finished my hair and face with a second ladle, and then was drinking from a third.
"What a pretty boy you are!" she said. "How did you get so dark?"
Being young and insecure, I stammered out, "From being in the hot sun on the marsh."
She moved up and ran her fingers over my chest.
"Would you like to kiss me?"
"Never kissed anyone, not even me mother," I replied.
"It's not hard to do." She tilted her head, pressed her breasts up onto my bare chest, and placed her warm moist lips on mine. I instinctively grabbed her around the waist and pulled her body hard against me as I felt warmth in my loins and her hot breath against my face.
"What in the hell do you think you are doing?" At the same instant I heard the voice, a sharp sting tore into my back. I turned to face a trio of men. My father's face was drained of color. A frightful sight was next to him. Man or beast I did not know. He was as black as Welsh coal, massive in size, and possessed a face and wide nose marked with red swirling tattoos. The man whose voice was filled with rage had a hook-like nose and a face that looked like chiseled stone. He retrieved a leather riding crop and tapped it against his high leather boots.
"She ...," I started to say
"You black Welsh bastard! How dare you attempt seducing the daughter of Lord Llewellyn, partner of King James the Third ? I should have you put to the gallows now for such an insult."
"It was not I, your Lordship, which was doing the seducing!" I answered.
"Saidou," he called out, "bind him to the barn post!" The big black's eyes rolled, and he hesitated as if he feared obeying.
"Saidou, obey me now, or I'll feed you to the dogs."
"Yes, Master," the black answered in a low soft voice and lunged for me. I tried to avoid the big monster's grasp; then to fight back but to no avail. He lifted me off me feet as easily as a shipmate at Bristol harbor loaded a hogshead of ale. He tied me to one of the posts used to fetter cattle.
"Father, help me," I cried. But me father, a timid and easily intimidated man, only attempted to fade back into the shadows.
"Saidou, forty lashes."
I could not see the big black behind me, but I heard the whistle of the whip as it sliced through the air.
I bit my lip in order to keep from crying out. Lord Llewellyn's eyes fastened on mine, reflected pure pleasure at watching my agony. He licked his lips at the first spattering of blood.
Again, the sizzling sound as the whip retrieved.
The crack of the lash as its tip licked my flesh.
"You bastard," I cried out through the pain, "by Christ I will repay!"
The whip fell repeatedly on my bloody and exposed back, the pain increasing until I wilted under the torment. Finally, I let out a scream and everything went black.
* * *
I regained consciousness, nauseated and vomiting, surrounded by the most putrid smells I had ever experienced. I was lying face down on slimy wooden boards. My body ached, and my back burned as if someone were pouring hot coals upon it. The boards beneath me were alive and moving; so were the slime and the vomit. I thought, I am dead and in hell or they think I am dead and have thrown me down a shit hole. I grabbed the edge of a board and vomited again over the edge of what seemed to be a moving, rolling trench. I could see that there were several layers of boards beneath me into what appeared to be a dingy, dark, cavernous pit. I could make out, however, a dimly lit stair that led out of the pit and into the light. Slowly, carefully I let myself down from each layer until I reached the bottom. The planking beneath my feet continued to move, making it hard for me to keep my balance. Painfully, holding on to each object I came to, I made my way to the stair and pulled myself upward, breathless. A cold, stinging spray of water touched the wounds on my back, but with each step up I gasped clean air. At last, I reached the top only to have cold, stinging salt-water splash my face.
"Ah, the lad lives!" a voice called out. "Bring him to my cabin but wash the filth off him first."
Two men grabbed my armpits and dragged me from the hole. I recognized one as the big black from the barn. I still could not get my footing for the moving of the wooden platform beneath my feet, but the two who held me seemed to have no problem. Someone splashed buckets of cold water over my head and body. Then the two men dragged me, lifted me up another flight of steps, across another platform, down several more steps, and through a narrow corridor before knocking on a door.
"Enter!" It was the same voice that I heard when I escaped from hell. "But give him a cotton towel to dry with and one under his feet to protect my carpet."
It was as fine a chamber as I could have imagined in my best of dreams. The room was clothed in paneling of rich cherry wood, a green plaid carpet, bookcases filled with leather bound volumes, a swinging brass oil lamp, steel sword on the walls, a large mahogany desk with leather chairs, and two large windows through which I saw for the first time the rolling blue and froth covered sea. The man who spoke was seated behind the desk. His hair was streaked white and black with a bushy beard to match. His face was full and jovial. His voice was deep but filled with compassion.
"Ye may sit, if ye be able. I am Captain Abraham Plumb, and ye are aboard the Princess, a ship of the Royal African Company. Saidou, a slave to the owner of this ship Sir Bilbye Llewellyn, brought ye aboard. I am to understand that ye were flogged and pressed into service because ye made indecent gestures to Sir Llewellyn's daughter."
"She asked me to kiss her!
"That well may be, but she is Sir Llewellyn's daughter and ye are a low-class Welshman."
"Tell me," he asked using the Welsh language, "was the kiss worth all this?"
"No sir!" I answered him in Welsh.
"Ah! Ye and I can speak what no other man on this ship can understand. Can you read English as well?"
"Can you cipher?"
"Enough to handle my father's books, collect his monies, and enough geometry to mark lands."
"Excellent! I will make ye my cabin boy and teach you navigation. It will keep your ass out of the hands of the crew for they will turn to that after a few weeks at sea. Are ye by any means a Christian?"
"After the way of Calvin, sir!"
"Outstanding! We will then read the good Book and have devotionals together. I will have the ship's tailor make ye clothing to fit your station. Ye might as well take advantage of it, me lad, for the Good Lord has seen that ye will spend at least two years before the mast before ye see Wales again."
"Aye, lad! The Princess will be sailing down the coast of Spain and to the African Gold Coaft to carry mining tools, and take on gold. From there we will sail south of the line to the Congo to pick up slaves, then across the Atlantic to sell slaves to the sugar plantations."
Captain Plumb walked to a tan colored globe with a map drawn in black ink. He pointed to an area on the map and ran his finger down, then turned the globe to move his finger across it.
"We will catch the undersea river of the gulf"
His finger began to move toward the upper part of the map.
"It will carry the Princess to the Americas and sell slaves in Atlanta and Charleston, continue north to Cape Hatteras, and then east back to England, to bring our profit to the Royal African Company."
He looked away from the globe with a frown on his face, "If ye survive the journey then ye can attempt to take out your revenge on Sir Llewellyn. Hate and revenge can keep ye alive, but remember that when the Apostles James and John wanted revenge Jesus said to them, 'ye know not what spirit ye be.'"
"You've seen my back; you know what he had the black do to me!"
"His name is Saidou, It was not his fault that he was born in the Congo and is therefore black; and ye do not know what Sir Llewellyn did to him and all the other slaves belonging to the Royal African Company. He was drug in chains from his home and branded on the right chest with a red-hot branding iron marking the initials, D.W."
"D.W., what does that mean?"
"Duke of Wellington, young sir, the initials of King James III, who owns the slaves and even Sir Llewellyn. Why, he owns all of England, Wales and Ireland, this ship, me and ye!"
"No man owns me!"
"Defiant are ye, pup? Every man in the world is owned by some king or the other except them that be south of the line!"
"South of the line?"
"Ay, south of the line. The Pope of Rome drew him a line. Jus' like that!" Captain Plumb drew his right hand quickly across the circle of the globe. "Everything north of the line across the earth he says is the civilized world; and belongs to a Christian king. Everything south of the line is heathen and does not belong to Christianity. So, we have to watch out for pirates south of the line."
"Sea Rovers with no country, no king, and no law but their own - those who steal, kill, and rape and will take a ship like the Princess. If they take us, they will feed ye and me to the monsters of the deep, but they will not find our coin. No! I am not foolish enough to hide it in my quarters but have placed it safely under the spare timber in the bottom of the Princess." A big grin spread across the captain's rosy face. "The Princess is like a virgin, tight in the keel and her treasure hidden below her water line."
The captain pulled a line attached to a bell located outside of his cabin. "Saidou," he called out, and the black appeared at the door.
"I've decided that Mr. Roberts will be my cabin boy. Anoint his back as Jesus said was done to the Samaritan: wine to kill infection, oil to heal the skin, Sir Llewellyn flayed from his back, and cotton bandages to keep the wound clean. The tailor is to furnish him with proper clothing. He is to have the small cabin adjacent to mine. After his wounds heal, he is to stand four-hour watch with the rest of the crew. Ye will teach him to balance with the ship, to climb the masts and to walk the yards. Teach him all the lines, and knots; ye will instruct him in firing the cannon and using the sword. He will keep the logs for me and learn to navigate the ship. He will have devotions and Bible study with me. Inform the crew that he is my berth mate and any man who touches his buttocks will be skewered on the end of a pike. Understood ? "
The big black grinned from ear to ear. "Aye aye, Sir! Understood!"
Saidou indicated that I should follow him out of the captain's cabin. He led me through the small corridor, out the door, and onto the quarterdeck. From there, we descended to the main deck and aft to a door leading to the galley and dining room.
"Mr. Hancock, I want you to meet the Captain's cabin man and berth mate. He has been flogged, and the Captain wants you to tend to his wounds."
Hancock, a tall lanky man with reddish wavy hair that shouted "Irish," looked at me with a suspicious grin. "Flogged already and us only two days out, or did ye receive a beating ashore?"
"Ashore!" Saidou answered for me. "For kissing a lord's daughter."
The Irishman pulled me around so that he could examine my back, "Must have been quite a kiss!"
"No!" I answered, knowing the question, "it wasn't worth it!"
That got a roaring laugh from Hancock, and I knew instantly that I was going to like this man.
"Up on the mess table." He pointed to a long wood table with a raised lip several inches high going around its edge. "I'm both the cook and the surgeon aboard this vessel. The Captain, now, he don't allow no rubbing salt into the wound. Says it is another form of torture, but I have to clean these here stripes before binding them, so I pour them full of red fustian. Seems a great waste of port wine - it will sting you some."
When I lay face down on the table, Hancock began to pour the liquid over my wounds. It felt as if hundreds of bees were stinging. He then patted the wounds with a cloth and applied olive oil over the wounds before winding a cloth round my chest and back.
"Now, my lad, a glass of port or hot tea and hard tack. The Captain allows a ladle of rum and lime each day for the crew, but for those above the forecastle only wine or tea. The Captain only drinks tea."
"The tea and hard tack will be fine, Hancock."
"Good choice, Master Roberts. Saidou, give Master Roberts eighteen watches to heal, and he will be fit enough to have your canvas mate beat the hell out of him."
Saidou waited till I had wolfed down several hard biscuits and two cups of hot tea. Then he led me out of the galley, back up to the quarterdeck, and to a small room next to the Captain's quarters.
"You will sleep. Hancock will bring you more food, and you will eat. On the sunrise of the second day we will begin your training with the canvas mate."
Saidou left me to fall into a deep sleep, only to be disturbed by Hancock who fed me with a corn-meal mush, hard tack, and more of the drugged tea.
* * *
I had not really noticed my surroundings when I dragged myself from the filthy hold of the Princess, what with my nausea and pain. However, on the second sunrise, as I came from my quarters, I was confronted by a bank of golden clouds riding on the tops of purple mountains to the port side of the ship. Each deep blue rolling wave was topped with gold and pink mist and moving toward the ship. White canvas sails billowed with the breeze coming from the land and the colors of the sunrise played across each. I had never really seen the sea before, only the wind rippling across the grasslands of Wales, which was little to compare to the vista before me. The deck rolled and pitched slowly and I had to hold onto the doorway in order to keep my balance. Men scurried across the deck below with no apparent problem. High up on the crosstree above the poop deck, a man was walking like it was the most natural thing in the world to walk upright on a moving, swinging timber. Hanging from the lower end of the spanker beam by a rope and pulley was a circling canvas bag.
"Good morning, Mr. Roberts," Saidou called out as he pushed a square block of wood under the circling bag. "Before we have our breakfast this morning, we are going to play a little game. You will kindly place your feet on the block of wood, and then, without stepping from it, prevent the bag from knocking you off."
With that, he stepped up on the block and gave the bag, which was weighted with stones and bits of metal, a push. Looking only at my face as the bag swung up and past him, he moved to allow its motion. The bag swung in an erratic motion back toward him but again passed without touching his person.
"Now to the block, Mr. Roberts."
I moved unsteadily across the deck, trying not to fall, and slowly, cautiously stood upon the block. Saidou gave the bag a mighty push to the rear. I tried to turn and watch its flight so that I would be prepared for its return just to find myself brutally smashed from the block and onto the deck.
"Shall we try again, Mr. Roberts? Do not try to watch the bag, but to feel the movement of the ship that will direct its course. Watching the canvas mate will only insure that he hits you."
Excerpted from Pirate of the Red Pennant by C. P. Willis. Copyright © 2014 C. P. Willis. Excerpted by permission of Abbott Press.
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