In 1706, war still rages in Europe, and the tobacco planters of the Virginia colony's tidewater struggle against shrinking markets and pirates lurking off the coast. But American seafarers have found a new source of wealth: the Indian Ocean and ships carrying fabulous treasure to the great Mogul of India.
Faced with ruin, former pirate Thomas Marlowe is determined to find a way to the riches of the East. Carrying his crop of tobacco in his privateer, Elizabeth Galley, he secretly plans to continue on to the Indian Ocean to hunt the Mogul's ships. But Marlowe does not know that he is sailing into a triangle of hatred and vengeance a rendezvous with two bitter enemies from his past. Ultimately, none will emerge unscathed from the blood and thunder, the treachery and danger, of sailing the Pirate Round.
About the Author
James L. Nelson has served as a seaman, rigger, boatswain, and officer on a number of sailing vessels. He is the author of By Force of Arms, The Maddest Idea, The Continental Risque, Lords of the Ocean, and All the Brave Fellows the five books of his Revolution at Sea Saga. as well as The Guardship: Book One of the Brethren of the Coast. He lives with his wife and children in Harpswell, Maine.
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The Pirate Round
Book Three of the Brethren of the Coast
Thomas Marlowe was not studying a chart of the Indian Ocean. True, it was laid out in front of him, along with dividers and parallel rule and all those tools that a mariner might use to study a chart. A dagger, formerly the property of a lieutenant in the Spanish navy, held down the lower right corner of the rolled vellum. Holding the left corner were the sailing directions for that area, a volume he had picked up in Port Royal over ten years before, when he had first considered a jaunt against the Moors.
But he was not considering it again. It was foolhardy, unethical. It was piracy, and that was not what he did. He was not studying the chart. He assured himself of that.
He sighed, tossed the dividers aside, leaned back in the chair. August, hot and sultry in Virginia, a steamy heat after two days of rain. The windows to the library were flung open, and the lightest of breezes found its way in, rustling the papers on Marlowe's desk. Accounts that needed settling, mostly. Unencouraging reports from his merchant in England.
Marlowe ran his fingers through his shoulder-length hair, scratched his scalp. Until just the past few months he had worn it close-cropped to accommodate one of the many elaborate periwigs that his station in Virginia society had dictated he wear. Finally, a combination of creeping age (he was nearing forty), a secure position in Tidewater society, and a general disgust with the expense and discomfort of the things had led him to abandon the fashion and allow his own hair to grow back, as he had worn it in his days at sea.
With periwig gone and coat tossed over the seat of a straight-backed caned chair, Marlowe was about as comfortable as he was going to get on such a day. He stared out the window, across the wide expanse of lawn to the lush, green line of trees in the distance. It was his, all his. He felt the weight of it pushing him down.
Today was a day for packing tobacco for shipment to England. Through the open window he could hear the squeak of the lever arm used to prize the air-cured hands of tobacco into the hogsheads.
Marlowe smiled as he thought of it. When he arrived in Williamsburg in 1700, determined to give up a former life of piracy, he understood none of that. He did not know that tobacco had to be left suspended in a curing house to dry in the air after it was cut, did not know that it was bound up into little bundles called hands and then forced, or "prized" into hogsheads.
He knew only that he wanted a plantation, wanted to be lord of the manor. Money procured that. Once he owned the plantation, he set free the slaves that had come with the bargain and hired them to take care of the cultivation. That part of plantation owning, the agriculture part, did not interest him. Besides, the former slaves had forgotten more about it than he would ever know.
The squeaking stopped, followed a moment later by the peevish voice of Francis Bickerstaff saying, "No, no more. There is a finite amount these hogsheads will hold, you know. We shall blow it apart if we put one more hand in there. Affix the head now, cooper, and let us have another." He sounded like a schoolmaster lecturing a recalcitrant student.
That was hardly surprising. Bickerstaff had been a tutor to a wealthy man's children up until the moment his ship had been captured by the pirate vessel aboard which Marlowe was sailing. Marlowe had forced Bickerstaff to sail with him, to teach him to read, to speak properly, to pass as a gentleman. The two had become friends, the closest of friends, and remained so.
Bickerstaff had a curious mind, as befitted a scholar. While Marlowe was happy to ride around the plantation and enjoy his lordship over it, Bickerstaff felt the need to learn all he could about raising, curing, and selling tobacco. After five years of living at Marlowe House, he knew as much as any planter in the Tidewater. Between Bickerstaff and the freed slaves, Marlowe's plantation produced as much and as good tobacco as any plantation in Virginia or Maryland.
Thomas drew a deep breath. Along with the sounds of prizing, the breeze carried the scent of the air-dried tobacco being readied for shipment. It was the smell of money in the Tidewater. Or had been, until now, the Year of Our Lord 1706.
Now it was hard times for the once-prosperous colony. Queen Anne's War had dragged on for four years, with not the least indication that it would let up. The markets of Europe were closed to English tobacco, just when the planters in Virginia and Maryland were enjoying record yields.
Marlowe stared and pondered and idly massaged his right forearm. It had been broken four years before in an ill-advised attack on a French East Indiaman, and it still bothered him on occasion.
He had forsworn piracy, but on a few occasions since beginning his new life he had wandered close to the sweet trade -- and had made a fair amount of money in doing so. That booty had carried him through the hard times, had allowed him to keep out of debt and to pay his former slaves, as he had promised them he would. But his cache of loot was nearly exhausted now, and there was little money to be made from tobacco, and he did not know what he would do.
He sighed again, glanced down at the tempting chart and its promise of fat Moorish treasure ships running down the Red Sea and through the straits of Bab el Mandeb. Somewhere off in Europe, armies were beating each other bloody to determine who would sit on the...The Pirate Round
Book Three of the Brethren of the Coast. Copyright © by James Nelson. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.