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The Sails of Ashcroft Manor

A Swashbuckler Tale by Andrew Roberts

An Unsettled Debt
Portsmouth, 1695
I propose a toast; to many years of prosperity! Here, here! Reginald Ashcroft was leading the celebrations in his townhouse by the waterfront. His family was soon to be out of a colossal debt they owed to Lord Warwick, a debt they had taken an attempt to fund a shipping expedition to the Americas. The thought of sugars, tobacco, cotton, and other luxuries could grant a phenomenal return on their investment. It could be enough to pay off their debts and still leave them financially secure for years to come. The family were raising goblets of wine and basking in the warmth of their dining room as the heavy rain beat against the windows. Re ginalds son Edward Ashcroft was almost giddy with anticipation at any news. He and his wife Elisabeth could use the return to provide the finest education for his brothers children. They were all seated for a modest banquet to commemorate the occasion.

It wasnt anybodys thought or desire to have fate intervene. The speeches and feasting were cut short as the sounds of the storm were soon accompanied by a distinct thumping noise. This was not the echo of thunder, but of booted footsteps on wood. The double doors leading to the dining room swung open. Reginald immediately found himself staring down at a stone-faced man with an elegantly tailored coat and large black wig; Lord Warwick. Good evening, Reginald. He said, in an almost mocking tone, It seems like the Lord Almighty wanted me to be a bearer of bad news. There was a terrible storm in the Atlantic tonight, and your treasure fleet was caught in it. Everybody at the table fell silent. As Warwick was addressing them, an assortment of individuals made their way into the room. Many were finely dressed, but others looked like they had been picked off the streets. This fleet that was lost was financed using my money. Warwick continued, As such, I hereby declare that your debt to me is due. As you are unable to pay it, I have come to claim your home, and your assets. Unfortunately, that does not cover what you owe. Therefore, the balance is to be worked off.

As soon as Warwick finished talking, his followers drew swords and pistols, training them on the five members of the Ashcroft family. They were forced out of their seats and led out of the house where a prison wagon was waiting. Another well-dressed individual was waiting in the hallway. Edward immediately recognised him as Warwicks closest

supporter, known only as Raymond. He smiled sadistically as the Ashcroft family was ushered into the wagon, destined for parts unknown. It wasnt expected for only four members to comply. Edward and Elisabeths nephew William, a boy of only eight years, tried to make a break for it. One of Raymonds thugs drew a pistol, only to fail his shot as the hammer fell on the flint with no effect. The rain must have soaked your powder. One of the other thugs muttered. Get after the boy! Raymond bellowed, Cut him up if you need to, but bring him back! Several men took off after William as he fled around the corner of the street. His sister Mary watched the commotion from the bars of the wagon as it rumbled away.

William was running through the muddy streets as fast as his legs could take him. The shouts of Raymonds subordinates were not far behind. Thinking quickly, he dived into the back of a passing cart, his only hopes being that they wouldnt be stopped and searched. Peering out of the canvas, he saw the hunters searching the side alleys. The sound of the cart grinding to a halt alerted him. Hoping that nobody was looking, he slipped out and ducked underneath the wagon. Hey! A voice cried. William was looking to see where it came from. Had he been noticed? What is it? Another voice asked in response. Were on the lookout for a dangerous fugitive. Have you seen a smartly dressed boy around? About eight years old? William could almost hear his heart pounding. In the dim light he could see a pair of boots disappear at the back of the wagon. They were searching after all. Looking between the wheels, he could see a sign for a tavern. Removing his coat, he scrambled out from under the wagon and crept towards the door when a hand grabbed his shoulder. What are you doing out here boy? A figure asked, with a distinct Italian accent, You dont look like a vagrant. Bring that boy here! Another voiced asked, the man who had been questioning the cart driver. Mister, William pleaded as tears welled, Dont do what they say. Theyll kill me. Shut it! The thug shouted, drawing a cutlass, Hand that boy over or Ill slice the pair of you! Enough! The Italian raised his hand, I dont know who you are, or what you want this boy for, but you have to come through me! Oh, youve fucking asked for it. The thug warned as his friend arrived on the scene.

They had swords drawn and were advancing on this Samaritan with intimidating grins. The Italian immediately threw his cloak into the first thugs face, exposing a sheathed rapier. The second thug swiped aggressively at him. The Italian drew the rapier and deftly sidestepped the assailants swing before holding his own blade forwards. When metal came into contact with metal, the Italian pulled a swift spiralling movement which sent the thugs sword flying out of his hands. During the commotion, the second thug had managed to remove the cloak, only to feel the Italians rapier touching his throat. Now, I suggest you take your friend and go. He warned. The thug nodded qu ickly and obliged. These men are not fit to have swords. He said as William looked on. Now, what is your name? William. The boy stammered, William Ashcroft. I am Luca Rossetti de Firenze at your service. Now, what did those people want? I cant discuss it here. William replied evasively, There are more searching for me. Luca draped his cloak aver the mud-soaked William and led him into the tavern. They went upstairs to one of the rooms.

Half an hour later, William was sitting by the warm glow of a hearth with a small goblet of wine. He was shaking uncontrollably. Luca pulled up a chair and sat next to him. Now, you didnt answer my question. He reminded, What did those people want? They were in the service of Lord Warwick. William told him, The Ashcroft family have been struggling in recent years. My parents borrowed money from the Lord to fund a shipping expedition to the Caribbean. They were due to return on the morrow, but they have floundered in the Atlantic. Warwick appeared at our home and told us that our debt to him was due. My family has been pressed into indentured servitude. Luca sat and pondered Williams story. He didnt know what to make of it. William prepared to stand up. Where are you going? Luca asked. Im going to find my family. Warwick does not deserve his title. William said angrily, I swear that I shall find my family and end him. Luca stood in front of the door. Save your anger, boy. He advised, If you head out of that door, you will only get yourself killed. You must decide when the time is right. William sat down again. I leave it up to you.

Passage to the Americas

Ten years had passed since William Ashcroft had witnessed his family being taken from him. In that time, he had been adopted and home-schooled by Luca, while spending many hours practicing swordsmanship. As he grew older, he gained employment at the docks to work on his muscle growth. Unfortunately, Luca had passed away, and he was now on his own, making his way towards a tavern. There was nothing left for him in England, and sea captains were always recruiting in The Marlinespike. As he stepped inside, William surveyed the room. Dockworkers and sailors were mingling, sharing jokes over tankards of ale and grog. William made his way towards the bartender and placed a handful of coins on the bar. Id like a pint of ale and a captain on his way to the Americas. He requested. Looking for passage to the Caribbean, son? the bartender remarked, Look for the captains tables upstairs. Youll find at least one person happy to take you on. Thank you. William replied, taking a long drink from his tankard before heading upstairs. The tables were occupied by several more well-dressed patrons, who werent as rowdy as those downstairs. As William approached the table, all eyes turned to face him. What are you doing here, boy? One the men asked. I understand that you may be looking for crew. William answered, remaining level headed, Ill have you know I am ready and willing. Whats your name? A voice asked. William turned to see a gentleman seated at a table in the corner of the mezzanine. Laid out in front of him was a large tome, presumably a ledger of sorts. I am William Ashcroft. I am Captain Smyth. I still have some vacant positions on board the Hermione. Are you interested? I am prepared. Smyth jotted down Williams name in his ledger. You seem like an educated man. Perhaps I can persuade you to take up a position of boatswain. Very well, I accept the position. Smyth extended his hand. Welcome aboard Mr Ashcroft. We set sail at dawn.

As morning broke, William was standing at the wharf admiring the Hermione. It was a three-mast sloop which looked better suited as a warship than as a merchantman. He shrugged and walked up the gangplank.

I caught you noticing the design of my ship. Captain Smyth remarked, My contractors acquired it for me. There are a lot of pirates and privateers on the waters we sail for. Shell look like a warship and that might deter them.

As the Hermione sailed out of port, William was standing at the bow and taking in the horizon. Portsmouth was behind him, and the English Channel was ahead, later giving way to the Atlantic Ocean. William looked down at his only true possession; a locket containing an engraving of his family, a gift from his father before he had set sail for the West Indies all those years ago. He closed the locket and went to observe the crew members swabbing the decks.

The weeks slowly went by, and William was growing accustomed to his duties. The voyage started growing rougher, and the Hermione endured many storms. Water supplies began to diminish, and rations were getting smaller by the day. It was early on a wet morning as William was given a rude awaking by the ringing of the ships bells. All hands on deck! Captain Smyths voice bellowed. William followed the rest of the crew to see another ship closing in. It looked like a fast vessel, and was flying a black flag, indicating a pirate vessel. Amongst the booming of the thunder, another distinct booming sound was heard. A cannonball skirted the fronted of the Hermione. Warning shot across the bows! One of the lookouts reported, They look like theyre trying to board us! Make ready the cannons! Smyth ordered, We may not be able to outrun them! Another thundering sounded. The pirate ship was giving the Hermione a full broadside. Brace! William dived for cover. He felt the round shot flying over his head and the splinters raining down on him. Ashcroft! Smyth yelled, Get someone below decks and make sure were not taking water! William quickly entered the hold, accompanied by the Stephen, the ships carpenter. As Stephen went to work reinforcing the hull, William grabbed a cutlass and went back above decks. While Luca had taught him to favour a rapier, he was equally proficient with a cutlass.

The pirates had managed to close in, despite taking heavy damage from the Hermiones guns, and now they were beginning to board. Captain Smyth was cornered on the poop

deck by three pirates, and was struggling to hold them off. William was running through the thinnest line of fighters to get there, going as far as to shove past several boarders as they engaged the crew. His path was blocked by a burly pirate who grinned sadistically as he tossed his cutlass from one hand to the other. As he swung, William deftly parried the blow and went for a binding manoeuvre, encircling his opponents blade in an attempt to lock it in place. As they locked swords, William was still worrying about Captain Smyth. He had been knocked to the ground by his three assailants. At the same time, he caught notice of the pistol in his own opponents belt. Thinking quickly, he snatched it away and shot the pirate in the stomach before running to Captain Smyth and impaling one of his attackers. The other two pirates that had crowded him were taken completely by surprise, giving William a chance to deliver a quick shoulder barge to knock one of them over the side while duelling with the other one. Smyth quickly got to his feet and thrust forward with his sword, delivering a fatal wound to the third pirate. Mr Ashcroft! He yelled above the noise of the fight, We may not be able to hold on for much longer. William could instantly recognise that he sounded in pain. A large splinter was embedded in Smyths abdomen. If you have a plan to help us, Im prepared to give you a raise. William ignored the comment and scanned the attacking ship. The magazine looked exposed, but none of the canons would be able to reach it. It wasnt until he spotted the loose rigging that an idea came to him. I have an idea! He yelled, grabbing the rope and swinging over to the next ship. He quickly set to work running across the deck and cutting the grappling lines before leaping to the helm, giving it a hard spin to turn the ship away before swinging back. As he jumped, he signalled the Hermiones remaining gunners to fire. A lucky shot hit the exposed magazine, causing a massive explosion which punched a hole in the side of the pirate ship. The fighting immediately stopped as everybody ran to the starboard of the Hermione to watch the ship sinking.

William clambered aboard the Hermione to be greeted by immense cheering from both his crewmates and the pirates. Boy, in all the years Ive been at sea, I have never seen something like that. One of the pirates remarked, If you were a captain, Id be happy to sail under you. The pirates remark gave William a grim sense of foreboding. He ran up to the poop deck where Captain Smyth had been left. He was bleeding quite heavily. Nice work, boatswain. He coughed, Im proud of you. Now take us to Kingston. I dont think hell make it. A voice said behind William. It was a deep voice, yet it carried hints of a French accent. Any pirates who remain aboard will be considered crewmen. William stated as he turned around. He was facing a large black sailor. Whats your name?

I was born as Adisa, but I was later given the name Grard. Given? William asked, I take it that you were a slave. My family were slaves in Saint-Domingue. They wanted to give me a Yoruba name, but I was christened with a French one by plantation overseers. Ive learned to respond to both. Adisa explained. Well, my name is William Ashcroft. William introduced, And Id like to welcome you aboard the Hermione. He went to address the crew and the remaining pirates. Captain Smyth is not expected to survive his injuries. He proclaimed, He has appointed me as the ships acting captain for the remainder of the voyage. In the event that he does not make it, I will agree to hold an election for a new captain. As for those who served aboard that other vessel, I am willing to let anybody that wishes to part ways do so once we arrive in Kingston. I wish to elect William Ashcroft as the new captain! One of deckhands called. Seve ral others joined in, chanting Ashcrofts name. William turned to Adisa. Adisa, I am offering you a position of First Mate. Do you accept? I accept the position, Captain. Adisa replied, shaking Williams hand. William turned to Captain Smyth. You have my blessing, Captain Ashcroft. He said weakly, Should I die before we reach Kingston, I want to make it clear that I am pledging this ship to you. Fetch some ink and parchment from my cabin. William obliged the order, watching Smyth sign a contract to grant William a captaincy. He took the scroll and pocketed it before turning to the ships helmsman. Helmsman, set a course for Kingston. He ordered. Aye-aye, Sir.

Welcome to the Caribbean

As predicted, Captain Smyth died from his wounds a few days after the battle with the pirates. After a burial at sea, the crew of the Hermione sailed on. Eventually, they were in the Caribbean, with the port of Kingston in their sights. When the ship was moored at the port, the crew were eagerly waiting for the customs procedures to finish. Rum and wenches would be waiting for them in the taverns and bordellos. As William stepped off the ship, he was met by several redcoats. Are you the captain of this vessel they call the Hermione? One of them asked. Thats correct. William replied, dreading what they were asking for. The governor has requested your presence at his home. William felt he had to obey. The soldiers carried muskets, but they werent primed or being aimed at him or his crew. They also werent waving any irons about, so he had the feeling he wasnt under arrest. He was taken into the town where a carriage was waiting for him. Stepping inside, he was surprised at how comfortable the seats were. A short ride later and William was in the highly ornate grounds of a large mansion. The redcoats had only escorted him to the carriage. The chauffer gestured towards the mansions double doors. William knocked, to be greeted by a butler. Im William Ashcroft, newly elected captain of the merchant vessel Hermione. He informed, I believe the governor has requested an audience with me. At once sir. The butler replied, stepping aside to let William into the foyer. Governor Beckett will be with you in a moment. May I take your coat and hat sir? William had dressed in a brown knee-length coat and a black tricorne hat to wear in town. He handed them to the butler and turned to view the staircase. As the butler left him, he turned to face a large mirror located in the corner of the room. He was wearing a white frilled linen shirt with a brown waistcoat, matching breeches, and white stockings with black buckled shoes. While he looked reasonably presentable, he could have looked smarter. Mr Ashcroft, I presume. William turned to see a well-dressed gentleman descending the steps, accompanied by the butler and another man dressed in a naval uniform. At your service. He replied. I would like to welcome you to Jamaica. My name is Governor Daniel Beckett. This ot her gentleman is Post-Captain Robert Hayes. Charmed, Im sure. Hayes remarked, I was under the impression that the captain of the Hermione was a gentleman named Smyth.

Im sorry to bring this up so soon gentlemen, William began, producing Smyths co ntract, But Im afraid Captain Smyth died on the voyage from England. We attacked by a pirate vessel during the Atlantic crossing, and Smyth was killed. He died during the attack? Hayes questioned intently. No. He was wounded and died several days lat er. We buried him at sea. I have his last written testament in my hands. Hayes studied the letter. I have been informed that several known pirates are serving on board your crew. That is correct, Post-Captain, we were able to sink their vessel, and they agreed to serve aboard the Hermione. This was no doubt to garner votes for yourself. Hayes suggested. That will do, Post-Captain. Governor Beckett interrupted, You can rest assured that Mr Ashcroft is not a mutineer. Im sure you have other duties to attend to. Hayes curtsied to the governor before making his way to the door. William couldnt help but notice the contemptuous look he was being given. Mr Ashcroft, can I offer you some tea? Beckett asked, We have matters to discuss.

As time passed, William was sitting in the Governors study while offered tea in an elegant cup and saucer, discussing business in Jamaica. The colonys original administrative centre had been Port Royal until an earthquake around fourteen years earlier. Since then, the administration had been relocated further inland to Spanish Town, yet the governor preferred to live away from the city. While the town of Kingston had been built over the ruins of Port Royal, it was mainly serving as an agricultural hub. Nonetheless, it was still a great haven for pirates. You have to be very wary of Post Captain Hayes. The Governor warned, He does not approve of the number of pirates I have performing services for the Crown. Well, I came here on a merchant ship. William argued, My actions in the Atlantic were acts of self-defence. I assure you that I am not a pirate or a mutineer. Im aware of that. Beckett replied, taking a firmer tone, However, many of your newly registered crewmen are known pirates. They were making up for crew lost during the attack. Besides, how are they identified as such? Well, French and Spanish coins arent often carried by English sailors. They also dont have their faces on posters in every town. I understand your concerns for them , and Im sure you dont want to see them hang, so let me offer you an alternative.

Im listening. William replied as Governor Beckett opened a draw in his desk and produced a letter. As your crew are pirates, I feel that they would be reluctant to serve honest shipp ing work. However, we have to pay attention to events back home; as you may be aware, the House of Bourbon are trying to lay a claim to the Spanish Throne. War is raging in both Europe and on the American mainland. He handed the letter to William. This is a Letter of Marque. He explained, By signing this agreement, your crew will have sanction to plunder the shipping of the Crowns enemies. Remember that Spain holds a vast empire, and if a Frenchman takes the Spanish throne, New Spain will become a dangerous threat. Furthermore, the current Viceroy is a known Bourbon supporter, so Spanish vessels are legal targets in addition to French ones. This seems very generous. William commented, Im sure that there is a concession on my part. Yes. Beckett replied, The Crown is entitled to a percentage of all plunder obtained by privateers in their service, and holds charge over any prisoners taken. Failure to fulfil this obligation, or an attack against any vessels belonging to the Grand Alliance, will result in immediate termination of the contract. William pondered his options. He was more or less in the governors pocket if he signed. If he didnt, he would lose the majority of his crew. I will agree to sign this if you promise me one thing. He stated. Go on. Im looking for two certain dark-hearted souls: Lord Warwick and a gentleman known only as Raymond.

William figured his family would have been shipped to the Caribbean, as they would be away from any friends they had in England likely to shelter them if they tried to flee. Raymond was evidently Lord Warwicks right-hand man, and would be the person most likely to know where the Ashcroft family had been taken. And what is the purpose of this search? Beckett inquired. They did my family a great wrong in the past. Im looking for justice. He said. Beckett pondered the words carefully. Eventually, he handed William a quill. Given time, you will have information regarding those men. William said nothing, simply taking the quill and signing the Letter of Marque.

A Licence to Steal
William took Governor Becketts carriage back to Kingston and joined Adisa in one of the nearby taverns. What did the governor want? he asked. He was giving us an offer. William replied, Were now privateers. French and Spanish shipping are now legitimate targets. Well, the Hermione is quite well-armed for a merchantman. Adisa remarked. Shes a converted warship. Get the crew together, we set sail at once. Yes, Captain. Also, weve got some new people we can take on. Theyre waiting at the docks. Nice work. Well need all the help we can get.

In less than two hours, the Hermione had sailed out of the port and was on the open seas. The weather was calm, and a brisk trade wind was blowing. Many of the ships they passed were flying English, Dutch and Portuguese flags. As they sailed towards Hispaniola, they began to catch notice vessels flying French and Spanish flags. William viewed them all with his spyglass. He turned to Adisa. Take your pick. We need some prizes to for the governor and money to pay for some modifications. A lot of these ships are carrying sugar from the plantations. Adisa deduced. How much is sugar worth? For me, sugar is worth the blood of those who harvest it. These people did not deserve this fate. Well, what do you say we get revenge? William said. Adisa grinned. Aye, Captain. He said. Run out the guns! William ordered, We have a target! Everyone get to their stations! They slowly closed in on the French ship, eventually coming parallel to her. Fire! The Hermiones cannons let off a full broadside on the vessel. The round shot smashed into the hull with impunity.

Prepare to board them! William commanded, wielding a rapier in one hand and a cutlass in the other, twirling them interchangeably. A favourite party trick of Lucas he had been taught was to fight Florentine. While Lucas style involved fighting with a sword and a cloak, William found that style cumbersome, and preferred a more typical style of fighting with two swords. The crew hurled the grappling hooks and laid down the boarding planks. William ran forward onto the next ship and engaged the French sailors on board. They tried to strike back, but were unable to get past his flashing blades. Adisa was close behind him, carrying a hefty boarding axe. Any who tried to evade William found themselves facing him. He gripped his axe tightly and growled fiercely, unnerving many. As William faced his opponents, he caught notice of the ships captain fleeing into his cabin. He turned back to his opponents, slashing wildly. He primarily used the rapier to attack with, evading attacks with his deft footwork or parrying them with his cutlass. Adisa, find the captain! He ordered as he continued to fend off the sailors. Ad isa ran over to the cabin at the stern and hacked at the door with his axe. It gave away in no time. Meanwhile, the crew had suffered some losses and were laying down their arms. Adisa hauled the captain out onto the deck as the crew of the Hermione began to search the hold. Monsieur Capitaine. William began, Do you relinquish command of this vessel to me? Brler en enfer, Pirate. The captain snapped as he contemptuously spat on the deck. Adisa, do you know what this man said to me? William asked. He told you to burn in Hell. Adisa replied. William backhanded the captain and held his cutlass to his throat. I have a penalty for disrespecting a captain on my ship. He warned, I cut out your tongue. If you force me to do that Sweat poured down the captains forehead. He tried to speak, but found he couldnt get the words out. The cold steel of Williams cutlass pressed tightly against his skin. He was trying to barricade himself in his cabin. Adisa sneered. Is that so? William replied. He sheathed his cutlass and threw the captain down. So, youre a coward who prefers to hide rather than fight? What kind of captain are you? Captain, there is white gold aplenty on this vessel. One of the crewmen reported. So, youre carrying sugar? William asked the captain, Sugar that was harvested by those who were snatched from their homes and brought to the Americas by unscrupulous men such as yourself? Adisa, what did they do to the slaves on the plantations?

All manner of things, Captain. Adisa replied, None of them pleasant. Realising he was being offered an opportunity to carry out some of the punishments he had endured; he advanced on the French captain and grabbed him by the neck while grinning sinisterly. Non! the captain screamed, I surrender! This ship is yours! Wise move. William commented, You just had to say it. As you have surrendered, you have protection under the crown as prisoners of war. All your men will be released once we return to Kingston. Non, one of the French sailors interrupted, We dont want to sail with this captain. Hes a coward, hes greedy, and hes a bully. Well, youre unpopular. William remarked to the captain before turning to face the approaching sailors, This vessel still needs a crew. Any man who wishes to sail with me will receive equal shares of all plunder. All in favour step forward. One sailor took a step forward. Another one joined him. They were followed by another two, then four. They followed the pirates aboard the Hermione. William watched them as he made his way towards the captains cabin. Opening up the desk inside, he found himself looking at the ships log and the cargo manifest amongst the clutter of spare parchment, inkpots and quills. Next to the desk was a small cabinet. William opened it up to find several bottles of wine and brandy. Theres plenty of rum on board if you want to celebrate your first take, Captain. He reported. Do you want rum or wine? William asked, A couple of these bottles will fetch a good price for those with fine pallets. What about your governor friend? Ill spare him a couple of bottles, along with the new ship. Make for port, lads! More plunder awaits! The crew cheered at the promise.

The Lady and the Rogue

True to his promise, William had led the crew of the Hermione on a prosperous tour of the Caribbean. Two years of plundering French and Spanish shipping, accompanied by the occasional raid on coastal settlements and the Hermione had grown into a fine pirate vessel. A lot of the money was spent on modifying the ship with the finest sails and guns available. Anything left over from Williams share was invested into an estate he had been awarded in Jamaica. Williams crew made frequent visits to Kingston, along with the various pirate havens in t he Bahamas. It was the latest visit to Jamaica that William found himself being requested an audience with Governor Beckett. Once again, he was picked up by the governors carriage and taken to the mansion. Only this time, the governor was waiting for him on the steps. Stood next to him was a beautiful woman of twenty years with a fine dress. Good day, Mr Ashcroft. Beckett said, much more warmly than before, Id like to introduce my daughter, Lorraine. Charmed to meet you. William said, Now, I take it my summons has a purpose. Well, I am holding a ball to celebrate the expansion of our Empire. Beckett explained, As you may be aware, Scotland has joined England in an Act of Union. I originally offered an invitation to Post Captain Hayes, but he is currently at sea. Instead, I was wondering if you would care to accompany my daughter to the ball. William hesitated for a brief moment. He figured he may be able to learn something about Raymond or Lord Warwick. Id be delighted to attend. He said, taking Lorraines hand and kissing it.

Before he knew it, William found himself walking through a grand ballroom with Lorraine at his arm. Many of Jamaicas wealthier residents were in attendance, including East India Company directors, magistrates, diplomats, senior military leaders, and other local officials. A large orchestra was playing a Baroque melody to accompany the dancing couples. William was feeling slightly uncomfortable at his announcement as a privateer, but the guests didnt look down on him. After all, the plundering of French and Spanish shipping was making British merchants a more lucrative operation. On top of that, it was likely that Governor Becket funded the ball with his share of Williams plu nder. Would you care for the pleasure of a dance? William asked Lorraine. She curtsied and followed William to the dance floor. For a pirate, you seem very cultivated. She remarked as the dance began. I was from a noble family in Portsmouth. William replied, And as a captain, one never knows when hell be invited to formal occasions.

I hear stories about your crew performing the most unspeakable acts. But seeing you here, I dont believe it. Violence perceived is violence achieved. William explained, In fact, a lot of sailors dont like the way theyre treated on their own ships and a willing to join my crew at the drop of a hat. Slaves are quite supportive of this too. Anybody who boards my ship will be declared a free man. Youre opposed to slavery? Lorraine asked, That is something I have never seen out here. Twelve years ago, my family was pressed into indentured servitude because a debt they owed to Lord Warwick. It is my wish to see their freedom, which is why I came to the Caribbean. Naturally, I see slavery as the ultimate evil in this world.

As the evening went on, William and Lorraine continued to socialise with other guests. As the ball ended, William was preparing to take his leave when the butler approached him. Sir, Governor Beckett has requested your presence in his s tudy. He says he has some news for you. He was told. William was escorted to the study, where Beckett was seated with a glass of brandy. That looks like one of the bottles I gave you. William remarked admirably. Im just enjoying the spoils of war. Beckett replied, I have heard news of the man they call Raymond whom you seek. Williams felt a surge of anger flowing through him at the very mention of the name. Im listening. He said as it passed. I want you to sail to Nassau. Find a lady named Nancy. She will have the information you want. Nancy? Shes my spy in Nassau. Beckett explained One of the many wenches in the taverns which line that wretched hive. Thank you, Governor. William said softly, raising the brandy glass he had been given A toast to the Kingdom of Great Britain. To your family, Beckett toasted, Yes, my daughter told me the nature of your mission.

A Den of Thieves
As the Hermione left Kingston for the Bahamas, William was stood on the bow taking in the scenery. Adisa was stood behind him, accompanied by many of the newer additions to his crew. William strode across the deck and joined the crews boisterous singing. Walking with them was the Hermiones new boatswain, a former Dutch smuggler named Cornelius Hendriks. How was the ball? Cornelius inquired. It was rewarding. William replied, The governor has pointed us in the direction of the man I seek. How much has the crew spent? Theres still money in the pockets, Captain. The carousing isnt great in Kingston. Then this next expedition will be rewarding. William replied, Ready yourselves, lads! We sail for Nassau. There was a cheer from the crew at the mention of the place many saw as Fiddlers Green. Rum and whores would await them.

As night fell, William was stood on the deck, watching the stars. Adisa was sitting against the mainmast with a flask of grog in his hands. What are you thinking about Captain? he asked as he poured himself another glass. I met a fine lady at the ball the other night. William replied, Lorraine Beckett was her name. Shes the governors daughter. We danced together. Are talking about love at first sight? Adisa chuckled, With all the other women you knew from your exploits. Well, you could put it that way. William replied, You could just say everyone needs a maiden. A maiden? A life of piracy can get you wenches anywhere for the right price, but a captain often needs a maiden; a woman he cant fuck for a few pieces of eight. A woman he truly loves.

Time passed, and weather had taken a turn for the worse. William was trying to steer the Hermione through the treacherous coves of New Providence as the rain beat down hard. Helping him man the wheel was Jose Guerra, a Portuguese navigator who was recruited during a stopover in Trinidad. Fortunately for them, the Hermione was a manoeuvrable ship which they had modifying to be able to navigate tight places. Adisa was helping to keep watch at the front of the ship, while Cornelius was organising the crew on the decks

to either keep the rigging secure or to bail the water from the waves that crashed down on the deck. When the storm died down, William and Adisa both climbed up the mainmast into the crows nest to see the town of Nassau before them. They were greeted by the sounds of three-stringed fiddles emitting various folk tunes, accompanied by drunken revelling and a few rowdy brawls. Truly we have the jewel of the Caribbean here. William remarked, sliding back down to the deck. As the Hermione sailed to shore, Williams crew were just begging to be turned loose. Have fun boys. Thats why were here. He said, prompting everybody to cheer and disperse to the various taverns and bordellos in town. William and Adisa strolled through the chaos in the main square towards a group of courtesans entertaining some lowlifes. They wore once-elegant dresses and carried fans which contrasted the caked-on makeup some of them had. Good evening boys. One of them slurred flirtatiously, Do want to take turns or go at the same time? Is Nancy around tonight? William asked. Oh, you dont like me? Another one of the courtesans insinuated. Captain Ashcroft knows what he likes. Adisa replied, If my coin is good, Ill offer it. William produced a small purse from his coat. I have a crew in need of wenches. I hope this covers that. He said. One of the whores snatched the purse away. Nancys entertaining another client at the Forgotten Wharf. Good. William replied, Im expected there.

The Forgotten Wharf was one of Nassaus mo re prominent dives, but to a newcomer it was no different from any of the others. William and Adisa shoved their way through the rowdy patrons towards the bar and the one-eyed landlord. Ill have two tankards of your finest produce. William ordered as he placed several coins on the table. Have you lads found anything lucrative? The landlord asked as he served them ale. Sugar and tobacco are quite lucrative in Hispaniola. William replied, Is Nancy working tonight? Shes over there. The landlord stated, pointing to the corner where a scoundrel was attempting to make a move on a red-headed wench. William strolled over to the table they were at. I was ere first cock robin! The rogue slurred as he saw William, Get your own wench!

Now Jeb, hes got an appointment in advance. The woman told him, speaking with a thick Irish brogue. Yeah Jeb, William added, tossing him a coin, You get yourself a drink while you wait. He grinned as Jeb stormed out. Nancy seductively beckoned him to sit at her table. Now, youve not come here for comfort, have you? She deduced. Not initially. William answered, I am looking a certain dark-hearted soul... Yes, youre looking for Raymond. Nancy interrupted, Governor Beckett told me everything. The man youre looking for is in charge of security details aboard the Calypso. Thats an East India Company trading vessel. Are you sure you want to square with them? Raymond holds information on the whereabouts of those I hold dear. William murmured, I will do anything for that. And your time with me might be up. Nancy commented, nodding over Williams shoulder. He turned around to Jeb coming into the tavern with four other sultry-looking figures: Isaiah, a short pirate with a yellow bandana; Scarred Jack, a tall figure of African origin covered with heavy scarring; Philippe, a skinny, blond haired rogue with a tattered frock coat; and Twigg, a balding man with an eye patch and rusty earring. Well, Ive got what I came for. William replied, taking a long drink fro m his tankard as Jeb forced a dagger into the table beside him. Any man who thinks he can pay someone to leave does not have the salt to be in Nassau! Jeb growled, I think someone needs to beat some sense into you.

William said nothing, simply grabbing Jeb by the shirt and slamming him against the table. Get on your feet, runt! Scarred Jack growled, hauling William out of his chair and holing him in place. As he was hoisted, William had just enough time to grab his tankard and throw the contents into Isaiahs face. Philippe tried to lunge at William, only to be struck in the face with the tankard. He fell backwards into a nearby table, sending drinks and coin stacks across the floor. William tried to escape Scarred Jacks hold, only to be hurled to the ground. As the pirate aimed to kick his ribs, William grabbed his leg and pulled, causing him to overbalance while he rolled away to quickly stand up. Twigg watched the scuffle with sadistic glee. As William stood up, he lunged forwards. William sidestepped Twigg, catching him with his boot and sending him into another table. As Twigg prepared to get up, William grabbed a chair and brought it down on the miscreant. Catching a breath, William grabbed a nearby bottle of rum took a swig of the contents when Isaiah grabbed him, only to be knocked to floor with a swift head-butt. Youve got the guts to be in Nassau. Scarred Jack remarked, You seem more of a man than Jeb there.

Are you sailing under anybody at the moment? William asked. Nah, Philippe replied as he dusted himself off, We were turned loose from our last crew when we made enough from our shares. Aye, but weve blown most of that in town. Twigg added. In that case, Id like to welcome you aboard the Hermione. William offered. The four pirates whistled and cheered, making their way out of the tavern.

You certainly have a way with people. Nancy commented, Im always on the lookout for able-bodied men willing to work for shares. William explained as they walked back to the docks. Right behind them, Jeb was back on his feet and angrier than a rabid animal, striding after them with a blunderbuss gripped tightly in his hands. Well, Jeb is one of those types who will really hold a grudge against people. Nancy warned. Im not surprised. William chuckled, I stole his wench, bought his friends, and made him look like a fool. If he plans on chasing me with intent to kill, he really is a fool. No sooner had the words come out of Williams mouth when, as if on cue, a smashing sound was heard followed by a wet thud. William and Nancy turned around to see Jeb lying in a crumpled heap in the mud. Standing above him was Adisa, holding a broken bottle. I was right. William noted, He really is a fool. Adisa had picked up Jebs blunderbuss and was polishing it, hoping to make use of it on whatever raids they conducted in the future. Nice work. William remarked, Well set sail in due time. I know a place you can stay in the meantime. Nancy offered.

A Hefty Haul
William was aroused from his sleep late in the morning by Adisas knocking. He had spent the night at one of Nassaus more up-market inns with Nancy. Still feeling groggy, he was reluctant to leave the comfortable warmth of the large bed, or the soft tenderness of Nancy and her friend Marie with whom he had shared it. Before long, he was once again stood on the deck of the Hermione, bringing in the Caribbean Sea on the horizon. What is our course of action, Captain? Adisa queried. We have a new target. William explained, The Calypso is reputed to carry a hefty haul, most likely someones supply of tea from India. Were attacking an East India Company vessel? You know how theyre well -guarded. What will Governor Beckett say? Governor Beckett was the person who told me about it. William retorted, There is a man I am looking for on that vessel. This is my chance to capture him and rescue my family. Besides, tea fetches a good price in these parts.

A few days at sea followed, until the Hermione caught sight of the Calypso. It was a large merchantman flying a red and white striped flag with a small Union Jack in the top left corner; the flag of the East India Company. William surveyed the deck with his telescope, noticing the redcoats patrolling around. Theres a large contingent of marines on this vessel. William reported to his crew, But Im sure they will yield a mighty prize. All who are in favour of attacking speak out. There was a collective Aye! from the crew, who immediately went to their posts. Stepping out on deck was a burly giant with blonde, braided hair and a variety of tattoos. This was the vanguard of Williams boarding parties, known to everybody as The Nord. Also joining William and Adisa was Delgado, their master of the guns. Delgado was an officer in the Spanish Navy when he had been impressed by Williams actions during a raid. Ready the guns! Set full sails! Hoist the Black Flag! Catch up with them! William ordered as he took the wheel. The Calypso was beginning to flounder. William gave the wheel a heavy spin, bringing the Hermione parallel to the East Indiaman. Shes stuck on the reef! William shouted to the joy of his crew, Delgado, knock out her sails. Chain shot! Delgado ordered, Fuego! There was a roar as the higher positioned cannons fired. Small cannonballs affixed together by lengths of chain span through the air, ripping through the Calypsos sails and rigging. On board, the marines were assembling at the side, muskets at the ready. William had already gotten to a higher position in the crows nest, while Adisa was on deck with

Delgado. Williams crew were firing muskets and blunderbusses at the redcoats on board the Calypso. We have to clear the decks! Adisa stated, Do we have any grapeshot? No, Delgado replied, as muskets and cannons thundered. Then well use a langrage. Adisa ordered, Get nails, splinters, any kind of scrap at the ready.

The two vessels came together. Williams crew were firing at the swivel gun operators on the Calypso, while their own swivel guns fired a devastating barrage of improvised shrapnel which tore through the marines on the deck. As grapple lines were thrown and boarding planks were laid down, William swung across on one of the ropes and landed on deck. Behind him, Adisa and the Nord were ploughing through the marines that had turned to face him. William scanned the deck and caught sight of Raymond directing the crew against the boarders. He drew his blades and ran for his enemy. Raymond noticed him running and fired his pistol at the young scoundrel. William felt the shot skimming dangerously past his head as he ran to the poop deck to confront Raymond. Youll regret this, Pirate. Raymond growled as he drew his rapier and advanced on William, flanked by three senior officers. William advanced, once again using his Florentine style to fend his attackers off. In a short space of time, he had managed to put the officers out of action with some slashes from his cutlass and fatal stabs from his rapier. Finally, Raymond was the last standing. He swung his rapier to Williams left, catching and disarming his cutlass. Now were equal. He commented, holding his rapier forwards. Metal struck against metal as they both swung, parrying each others blows. Raymond had demonstrated to be a master swordsman, and Lucas training was narrowly keeping William alive. However, William was used to fighting more experienced swordfighters, and had self-taught a few sneaky tricks. As they locked swords, William made a flicking movement to distract Raymond, and promptly slashed upwards in an arcing motion at Raymonds head. The blade failed to make contact with skin, but succeeded in dislodging Raymonds wig. As the hair went over his eyes, Raymond stepped backwards to allow himself room to adjust. Seeing an opportunity, William raised his shoulder and barged Raymond, knocking him down the stairs onto the quarterdeck. While Raymond tumbled, William grabbed his cutlass and jumped down to face him. At the same time, Williams boarding party had subdued the marines, who began to lay down their arms.

The Hermiones crew began to plunder the Calypso, pulling tea chests from the hold. Raymond crawled across the deck to face them, only to find him staring up at the Nord. Adisa hauled Raymond to his feet while William trained a pistol on him. Tell me Raymond, William began, Does the name Ashcroft mean anything to you?

They were a family who failed to pay their debts. Raymond sneered, I took them into a debtors prison over a decade ago. Unfortunately, I failed to bring in a boy of eight. Nonetheless, he had a sister who pressed into servitude. William promptly struck him. I know the whereabouts of the young fugitive. He replied, Hes the one who is aiming a gun at you. Go ahead. Raymond snarled, Fire it. Kill me. Youll only hang for piracy. The East India Company will put a bounty on your head. Captain! We found a woman down here! One of the other pirates reported. William turned to see a brunette in her late twenties being led out of the hold. She immediately noticed him. William? Is that you? she asked. Mary, Im so glad youre safe. William breathed, moving forward to embrace his sister, What about the rest of our family? Are they here too? Tears welled in Marys eyes. Theyre not. I dont know where they are. She wept. Dont worry. Ive found you and Ill find them next. William promised.

William watched the Nord carry Raymond back to the Hermione. As his captive was hauled, he noticed something fall out of his pocket. Examining it, he found it to be a gold ring with three rubies embedded in the centre. That would make a great present for a lady. He said to himself as he pocketed it. Theres plenty of tea aboard the vessel, Captain. Adisa reported, Along with food to restock our own hold. Excellent, William replied, East Indiamen dont normally go around this well protected. Since when do marines get posted on a merchantman? Theres a naval squadron coming at us from astern! One of the lookouts called. William and Adisa ran to the stern. True to the report, three large frigates were closing in, bearing the Union Jack. William raised his spyglass to view them, noticing Post Captain Hayes looking through his own spyglass. Set full sail! William ordered, We can try and outrun them! He turned the wheel rapidly, pulling away from the Calypso as the frigates began to close in. Thankfully, the Hermione was a nimble vessel which was able to navigate the tight channels of the nearby island chain. The HMS Concorde was following close behind. Marines were running to the bow and readying their muskets. The channels between the

rock formations became narrower. The Concorde was struggling to keep the pace, eventually dashing against the rocks, prompting the crew to abandon ship.

As the Hermione was once again sailing on open seas, the other two ships in the squadron were once again in sight, having tried to flank them. The crew of the Concorde were making their way out of the passage on the longboats, prompting the HMS Achilles to turn and help them. Only the HMS Bulldog remained; the ship Post Captain Hayes was serving on. Load the guns, boys! William ordered, only to be stopped by Adisa. Captain, weve got more trouble. He warned, Theres a French warship coming at us from the starboard bow. They ran to see the new contender. It was a large man o war, bearing the French Royal Standard. Cannons thundered, but they were not directed at the Hermione. The Bulldog had broken her pursuit to engage the French vessel. Guerra set a course for Kingston. William ordered, I have to take my sister to our new home. He looked through his spyglass again to see Hayes looking at him with a furious glare. Seeing it, he stood on the edge of the stern and waved his hat with a grin.

A Forbidden Love
It was close to nightfall as the Hermione weighed anchor near Jamaica. Adisa had deemed it unsafe to sail into port, so William had opted to use the keelboat and row ashore with his sister and first mate in tow. Mary had covered herself with a cloak to hide the tattered dress she was wearing. A pair of horses was tethered to a nearby tree. The siblings mounted them and rode away into the night. Eventually, they arrived at Williams quiet estate. Youve been busy. Mary commented. This shall be the familys new home. William replied, The governor generously donated it to me a year ago. Youre friends with the governor? I work for him. Or at least I did. As long as I give him a share of my income, hell let me operate with impunity. William turned his horse back towards the road. Where are you going? Mary asked. Im going to do what I have to do. William replied, I want to everybody home safe, and I want to see Lord Warwick pay for his sins. He walked his horse away, leaving Mary at the estate.

It was a short trip back to the shore, but that wasnt Williams destination. He was going to Becketts mansion. The gates were closed and locked, but the wall wasnt too high. Standing up in his saddle, he clambered over and dropped down into the courtyard. Creeping up to the mansion, he saw the balcony. Lorraine was standing there in her nightgown, admiring the stars. Lorraine, William said softly. She looked down and saw him. William She replied, You shouldnt be here. I just wanted to see you again. William replied, I cant say how much I enjoyed meeting you at the ball. He climbed up the ivy and joined Lorraine on the balcony. I have a gift for you. He said, handing him the ring. She tried it on her finger. Its beautiful. She said with a smile, But I must tell you, Im already engaged. To whom?

Robert Hayes. Hes an officer of the Royal Navy and a gentleman. Im sure he will be a great husband for you. William replied. Hes not the scoundrel you are. If he knew you were after me, he would kill you. Lorraine warned. Im a pirate. Hell want to see me hang anyway. Consider the ring a wedding present from me. All I ask for is a parting kiss. I will. Lorraine replied, placing her hand on his shoulder. He turned and embraced her, finishing with a passionate kiss. Footsteps were heard nearing Lorraines bedroom door. William quickly left and jumped from the balcony, running to shadows where he was out of sight. Lorraine watched him climb over the wall and disappear into the night. A soft smile came to her lips.

William rode back to where Adisa was. You were seeing Lorraine, werent you? He asked as they rode back to the Hermione. Of course I was. I dont think you should be seeing her, Captain. Youll land in a lot of trouble. We risk death every day since we chose to go into piracy. Our death warrants were signed long ago. Adisa laughed. Thats true. I have nothing to lose, but you do. My family William said blankly, I wont be able to settle down with them anyway. All I want is to make sure they can rebuild their lives. And now we have a way to find them. Do you think Raymond will discuss that freely? Well, he might. William replied, At the end of it, hopefully.

Good Intentions
I think theatrics will win the day again. William muttered to Adisa. The Nord had pulled Raymond from the brig and lashed him to the mainmast. William strode across the deck towards him. Now, where are the rest of my family being kept? He asked. You abandoned your family. Raymond snarled, As you didnt join them, they had to work for much longer to cover Warwicks debt. Are you trying to make amends? Im not looking for redemption. Im looking for retribution. Im going to find my family with or without your help. Once Warwick has lost his captives, Im going for him next. Thats your ultimatum? Raymond asked, What makes you think Ill support that? Ive not started to convince you. William growled before turning his back on Raymond. He cackled at Williams lack of persistence, only for it to be cut short by a dagger embedding in the mast narrowly missing his ear. The crew burst out laughing. Youre not laughing any more, are you? William sneered. He drew another dagger and threw it the mast. Raymond grimaced as he tried to relax. Well break things down. William said, Where is my uncle? Where was he taken? If throwing knives at you wont loosen your tongue, perhaps arrange for you to have a boxing match with the Nord. The Nord grinned at the idea. Raymond shook his head. Edward Ashcrofts whereabouts is something I can answer. He said, Your uncle is being held at Fort George in Antigua. Hes working as a clerk for the commander. Good luck getting him. That wasnt hard, was it? William asked, Take him back below.

It took a long time to reach Antigua thanks to the westerly winds. Eventually, they arrived at the port of Falmouth. William had made sure that the Hermione was flying the Union Jack as they sailed into port. He had made himself look presentable as he stepped off the ship, and kept a scroll case in his pocket containing his Letter of Marque. Falmouth looked a lot more prosperous than Kingston, primarily due to the lucrative sugar trade. William hoped that he wasnt as well-known around this part of the Caribbean. Simply opting to brazen out, he made his way towards Fort George. It was an intimidating structure, with coastal batteries ready to fire at a moments notice. Several redcoats were standing guard at the gates.

Who goes there? One of them asked as William approached. Id like to speak to the Forts commander. William answered. Hes not available. What do you want to see him for? The meeting was interrupted by a kindly man in a typical butlers garb walking to the gates. Whats going on here? He asked, falling silent as he saw William. A grim-looking officer was following close behind. I think it should be an enlisted mans duty to say that this place is out of bounds. He said angrily, Who is this boy? His name is William. Edward answered. I didnt ask you. The commander snapped, How do you know who he is? Hes my nephew. Williams hands twitched. If the commander knew his identity, he was in trouble. The only thing to do was to fight them and run away with his uncle. So, youre an Ashcroft. The commander observed, I thought the family had gone bankrupt. They had, William replied. Yet, you dont have your master with you. I was never a servant. William stated, I built my own fortune. The commander noticed the scroll case in Williams coat. He snatched it out and opened it. Youre a privateer? He asked, Then why are you in Antigua. I can have you arrested for conspiracy to plunder. I steal enough sugar from the French. William argued, There is no need to raid your plantations. I come with good intentions. I see that this has Governor Becketts signature. That hedonist is lining his own pockets as always. Thats why I preferred Antigua to Jamaica. I came here specifically to negotiate with you. I found my fortune so I could secure my familys freedom. Ill invite you to my estate in Jamaica and we can discuss it. What if I refuse to release Edward from my service? The commander asked. Then, Ill sneak into the fort in the dead of the night and spirit him away. William sa id quickly, And depending on what mood Im in, I may or may not sneak into your quarters and slit your throat while you sleep. The guards at the gate raised their muskets.

Hold your fire. The commander said, barely keeping his rage contained, You know what? Take him. Hes not a good servant anyway. I can afford to lose him. I dont want Beckett on me because I shot his tax collector. Just take your uncle and leave Antigua. If you ever return, I will not hesitate to have you hanged. William was just as shocked as his uncle. They promptly walked away from the fort and back to Falmouth.

Later, the Hermione was sailing back to Jamaica. Edward was wandering around the ship, watching the deckhands. Cornelius was watching him with a friendly grin. Your nephew is a great captain. He said. Yes, but hes still a pirate. Id rather see him as an officer in the Royal Navy. Edward replied. Uncle, Ive been trying to do whats best for the family. William told him, as if he was pleading. But you made your money by stealing from others! Uncle, England is at war. Im doing a service for the crown by disrupting the enemys flow of commerce. Would you want to see the Sun Kings grandson inherit Spains empire? No, I just dont think this will end well for you. We still have a debt to Warwick, even if you set everyone free. Hell send Raymond after us again. Mary is living on my estate in Jamaica. William explained, And Raymond told me where to find you. I captured him some time ago. As for Warwick, once hes dead, the debt will be settled.

The Flashing Blades

William was unable to say anything to his uncle by the time they sailed into Jamaica. The governors carriage was already waiting for them at Williams estate. He was once again taken to Becketts mansion. Beckett was waiting for him in the courtyard with Lorraine, Post Captain Hayes, and a naval Lieutenant that accompanied him. Welcome back, Captain Ashcroft. Beckett said once again. William was preparing for some kind of ambush. There were no soldiers around, but he felt something about to happen. Id like to thank you for the present you gave to Lorraine. Hayes said. He promptly removed his glove and slapped William with it. I believe that you have been pursuing her as well. I do not want to think of my beloved Lorraine as unfaithful, so I am under the impression you made improper advances. So your response is to slap me? William asked cheekily. He already knew what was going on. With the governor, his daughter, and Lieutenant Coleman as my witnesses, I challenge you to a duel. Hayes declared. You deem it fit to duel me? William asked, I think you should try and back down your accusations. I am appointing Lieutenant Coleman as my Second to make arrangements. Who is yours? I have no second, and I elect that the duel be fought right here, right now. William growled, drawing his rapier and holding it under Hayes. Hayes was not taken aback by Williams theatrics. He drew his own rapier. Very well. He said, Alea iacta est. Thats right. William said, The die truly has been cast. In pace requiescat. They touched steel, and the duel began. Hayes demonstrated expert swordsmanship, but William knew he was no match for him. Feints, thrusts, and parries were exchanged with continuing fury. The duel spilled out of the garden and into the foyer of Becketts mansion. Hayes continued to step backwards, aiming to be on the stairs in order to have the higher ground than his opponent. William saw his tactic and ran past Hayes. Enough of this! Lorraine screamed, but to no avail. The spectators flocked up the stairs to see fight develop. Lieutenant Coleman drew his own sword and prepared to enter the fray, only to be stopped by Beckett. At the same time, William was cornered on the railing by Hayes, with nowhere to manoeuvre. He had been outwitted. Looking behind him, he noticed the large chandelier hanging from the ceiling. He turned to prepare to leap, only for Coleman to draw a pistol and shoot it. William and Hayes both watched in stunned silence

as the chandelier dropped from its mooring and hit the floor with a clatter. William quickly used the opportunity to attack, cutting off the buttons on his opponents shirt to expose his chest. They fight resumed, but William still had tricks up his sleeve. He threw Hayes off with a sudden stamp of his foot, and then slashed downwards with his rapier, leaving a gash in his chest before shoving him to the ground. Well consider that the first blood. He said, That means I win. Hayes was furious, but he was tired. Very well, I yield. William sheathed his rapier and gave a flourishing bow. Lorraine was breathing a sigh of relief. Thank you. Beckett said, Now you can stop destroying my house. Hold on father, Lorraine interrupted, I think that the se two gentlemen need some wine and rest.

William sat in Becketts garden with a goblet of expensive wine, enjoying the afternoon sun. So, how well is your mission going? Beckett asked. My sister was recovered from the Calypso when I captured Raymond, and I found my uncle in Antigua. William replied, All that remains is my aunt and my grandfather, and then Im going after Lord Warwick to make him pay for his wrongs. Well, just remember that Ill be waiting for you at the end. Lorraine promised. If things were that simple. Governor Beckett interjected, The Calypso is an East India Company Vessel. They may want me to have you arrested should they trace this back to me. Well, why dont you? William asked. Youre performing a valuable service for the crown. Beckett stated, Youre a menace to French and Spanish shipping in the Caribbean. I said that to my uncle. He didnt believe me.

William paused for a moment to contemplate what he had said. His uncle had been reluctant to know him after finding out what he had become. The rest of the family would be saying the same thing. Even if they were reluctant to join him, he still wished to see them home.

A Futile Cause
As William made his way back to the Hermione, he was met by Cornelius. Captain, Im so glad youre back! He panted, We need you! Whats happened? William asked. Its Raymond. Cornelius told him as they ran aboard into the hold. Two bodies were lying in the brig. One of them was Raymond. There was a pirate sitting there being held by the Nord. He strangled my brother and made a break for it. The pirate said, I had no choice but to shoot him. Let him go. William ordered. I do have some news though. Cornelius stated as the two bodies were taken away, A Dutch trader talked about a friend in Aruba for whom an English maid has entered service. Did he mention a name? He said she was called Elisabeth Ashcroft. Williams face lit up. We set sail at once. The two bodies will be buried at sea.

The journey to Aruba was slow and rough. The Hermione was beset by rogue winds and storms. As William slept in his cabin, he was given a rude awakening by Adisa. Captain, how much longer will your crusade take? he demanded, The men are getting tired of it. I admit that the plundering has been somewhat slow recently. William replied, But I have to find my family. Theyre all I have to live for. He took a long drink from a bottle of rum by his bed. I never really intended to go into piracy. I came to the Caribbean on a merchant vessel, which I became the captain of. The authorities suspected me of being a mutineer, so Beckett roped me into his service to grant us immunity. You knew you were going to get your hands dirty when you vowed to find your family. Adisa reminded him, And theyre not very accepting of your path. Why dont you give it up? Thats true. William said, holding his prized locket with the engraving of his family.

Aruba was a relatively quaint island, but surprisingly had no plantations. Instead, a lot of the Dutch landowners had opted to raise cattle. William and Cornelius had no trouble reaching the farm that the trader had mentioned. Welcome, gentlemen! He said as they arrived on his property, You must be hungry! Cornelius, its great to see you again. Its great to see you too, Mr Goonham. Cornelius replied, Im serving under Captain Ashcroft here. The farmer looked at Ashcroft with great awe. Youre William Ashcroft, the notorious pirate? he asked, in perfect English. Thats correct. William replied. One of my hands is called Ashcroft. Are you related? Yes. She is my aunt.

Mr Goonham invited the pair to lunch at his almost opulent farmhouse, while Elisabeth sat with them. William had told him about the familys debt to Warwick, and their subsequent abduction. Mr Goonham was quite taken. Mr Ashcroft, I am shocked by your misfortune. I never knew Elisabeth was traded like that. He said. My mission in life has been to reunite my family under a single roof. William stated. You know, I believe in a mission like that. Mr Goonham commented, Elisabeth, what is your choice? I want to see my husband again. She said. I thoroughly understand. Mr Goonham replied, William, I am sad lose such a faithful servant, but I am aware of your reputation, and I respect your aunts decision. William shook the landowners hand before standing up.

After making sure the vessel was well-stocked, William ordered the Hermione to set sail. As they reached the open seas, they were greeted by a large man o war, the HMS Invincible. William looked at them through his spyglass. Hayes was on board, accompanied by Governor Beckett. He looked at the ships colours. Oddly enough, it was flying a white flag of truce. Drop the anchor! William ordered, Theyve not come to pick a fight. Launch the boat. William rowed towards the Invincible in a keelboat with Elisabeth and Adisa. They were brought onto the deck where Hayes and Beckett met them.

Its good to see you again, Hayes. William remarked mockingly. Its Commodore Hayes now. Hayes replied, And it isnt a laughing matter. The governor has a matter to discuss with you. Beckett looked very sombre, almost trying to stave off tears. Mr Ashcroft, I have some news of vital importance. He struggled to say, My daughter has been kidnapped. William fell silent. A few weeks ago, the island was raided by Spanish privateers who took Lorraine. Beckett continued, I know that youre after her heart, so I came out here to tell you. Why do you tell me this? William queried, Surely Hayes would be leading an attack on Havana in response? We dont want risk good sailors on what turns out to be the wrong decision. Hayes explained, And I may be called to fight elsewhere. It brings me great pain to say this, but I need your help. Very well, Commodore. Ill find any information which may lead to her safe return. You do that, and Ill do what is in my power to secure amnesty for your crew. Beckett promised. In the meantime, Id like to introduce Elisabeth Ashcroft. William stated, Id like you to see her back to my estate in Jamaica. I agree to your terms. Beckett replied. William nodded as he and Adisa rowed back to the Hermione.

William summoned the crew to the decks. Governor Beckett is offering amnesty if we succeed in a mission to recover his daughter from the Spanish privateers who raided Kingston in our absence. He proclaimed, Do any of the Spaniards among you have any knowledge of those daring enough to pull off such a feat? Delgado stepped forward. I believe there is one fellow: Capitan Mendoza. He suggested, His vessel, the Venganza. Well set a course for Havana. Theres bound to be information there. William said. Not so fast! Isaiah yelled, Why do we have to follow your pointless crusade all the time? Yeah! Twigg added, Weve not had any good plunders since that East Indiaman! William turned to Adisa, who simply shrugged. He was in a bad position.

Once I set foot on Cuba, Im stepping down as captain. He said, You can hold an election on the way. The crew were surprised at his words.

As the Hermione sailed to the shores of Cuba, William stood on the deck. Adisa had now been elected captain, narrowly beating Cornelius and Delgado. Night had fallen, and the lights on deck had been put out. I hope you know what youre doing Captain. He warned, Youre on your own now. I dont want to risk a mutiny. William replied, I want to find Lorraine, and Havanas the best place to start. Someone will know what I want. Youll risk being captured. Letter of Marque or not, youll still be executed as a pirate. On the off chance that Im given a trial, the cards will be stacked against me. Im English, so the jury will look down on me. If Im proven innocent as a pirate, theyll hang me as a spy instead. Adisa rowed ashore on the keelboat. William stepped off and helped him push it back, extending his hand. This is where we part ways, Captain. He said. Good luck, William. Adisa replied, shaking his hand. William watched as Adisa rowed back to the Hermione. Take good care of her. He said quietly before making his way towards the beach. By the time the morning had broken, William had managed to slip into Havana unnoticed. The city was vastly from different from Kingston, adopting a more Renaissance style of architecture. There was a large stone wall undergoing construction which surrounded the city, while the bay leading into the city was defended by two mighty fortresses. Another noticeable difference from Kingston was the more significant military presence in the streets, with Spanish soldiers on patrol in every part of the city, doubled in the wealthier portions or the docks. William made his way through the crowded streets, doing his best to blend in with the crowds. Finally, he made it to one of the taverns near the docks. Inside, it was just like any tavern in any other port. William had a few Spanish pesos on him, deeming it risky to use English coins. A group of sailors were playing dice at one the tables. William sat with them, only to be earned a few hard glares. Their expressions changed immediately as his purse touched the wood of the table. Did you hear about the raid on Kingston? One of the sailors asked. Si, it was Capitan Mendoza in the Venganza. Another replied, The English never saw it coming. They heard a French fleet was preparing an attack and moved to engage them.

Once they left the port, the Venganza sailed in and bombarded the town. Mendoza himself marched to the governors daughter and whisked her away. That sounds impressive. William remarked, What do you think hell do with his plunder. I got a good share out of that one. One of the other sailors remarked, As for the English lady, shes in good hands. Williams knuckles began to whiten. Youre not one of Mendozas boys. The first sailor chuckled, Youll claim to be anything. Its not wise to claim. William warned the sailor. The other players looked at him in surprise. And why not? The tale teller demanded. Because one day, someone will come for and ask for information. William told him. The tale teller did not react. One of the other sailors was taking a long drink from his tankard. A bead of sweat trickled down his forehead. He promptly burst out laughing. You have to excuse my friend. He chortled, Hes just drunk. Pay his stories no heed. William nodded, a small grin appearing on his lips. Perhaps you might know. He said. The sailor knew he was rumbled. He pushed his chair back and leapt to his feet, drawing his sword only to find himself staring down William s pistol. The tale teller reached to grab the pistol lying by his tankard, but William saw the movement and trained his second pistol on him. Everybody in the tavern was silent, standing back against the wall. William realised that he was in the open, when he noticed a mysterious figure in a black cloak and wide-brimmed hat emerge from an alcove in the corner and run for the door. If I were you, Id stand down and let me through. William growled. The sailor with the cutlass shook his head and prepared to swing. William pulled the trigger on the first pistol. The sailor stumbled back and hit the floor with a dull thud. The other sailor grabbed his pistol, but William fired his second pistol. The shot entered his forehead and the sailor fell back through his chair. William stuffed the empty pistols into his belt and ran after the stranger, barging through the growing crowd.

Outside, William could see the cloaked figure gaining distance. He took off after him, bobbing and weaving through passers-by. Focused on his prey, William hadnt noticed everybody running to clear the street. It wasnt until he saw the line of Spanish soldiers formed down the road, muskets poised at the ready. Fuego! William dived over a nearby market stall to avoid the oncoming volley. Hoping to cut the stranger off, he dived into a side alley, only to find himself in a dark, winding maze. With no

other option, he continued to run, only to be sent flying as something caught his leg. Reaching for his sword, he froze in place when he felt cold steel against his neck. The figure had emerged from a corner with his rapier drawn. Capitan Ashcroft, I presume, He said with a deep voice, El Diablo Ingles. William prepared to respond when something hard struck him on the back of the head. He keeled over and hit the floor. Hasta luego

The Hanging of William Ashcroft

A cold dripped roused William out of his stupor. He had a splitting headache, and felt himself lying on hard wood. Opening his eyes, he could make out a stone wall and a barred window. He had been sleeping on an uncomfortable wooden bench, and his muscles were aching as a result of this. Footsteps on stone brought his attention to the cell door. A burly jailer was approaching, accompanied by the man from the tavern. Wake up, pirate! The jailer yelled in broken English, Youve got a visitor. Captain Mendoza, right? William slurred. My reputation precedes me. The stranger replied, Thats correct. I am Captain Mendoza. Where is Lorraine? William demanded. So, you have the heart for the governors daughter? Mendoza giggled, The lady and the scoundrel. Shes being well looked after, I assure you. I am still a gentleman thief after all, unlike you. Why am I here? This is the condemned cell for pirates. Did I sleep through the trial? Mendoza didnt answer. Youre going to ask to see Lorraine, arent you? Youd only refuse it. I want to know how much youre demanding as a ransom. William said. I didnt go through the trouble of kidnapping her for a ransom. Mendoza explained, Im promised the sum of 10,000 pesos, but that is not a ransom. Thats the price the governor of Cuba put on my head, isnt it? Thats correct. And Lord Warwick is involved behind the scenes? Id rather I didnt reveal my association, but you already figured it out. And where is he? Hes not a gloater. As for the beautiful Lorraine, she has served her purpose to me. Your friend Hayes would be happy to see her again. With a sinister grin, Mendoza turned and left.

It was later in the evening. William was trying his best to sleep on the rough bench when he heard a rattling sound. The door to his cell was being opened. He sat up to find Lorraine walking in. She was dabbing her eyes with a silk handkerchief. William. She snivelled, I never thought it would end like this. Lorraine William began, only for Larraine to raise her hand for silence. Im leaving tonight. She said, Mendoza is taking me back to Commodore Hayes. I dont William, please. Once Hayes takes me back to Kingston, I am getting married to him. What? William snapped in shock. Lorraine placed her hands on his face and kissed him. Goodbye. She said, leaving the cell. William stood up and tried to follow her out, only for the jailer to punch him in the stomach.

The next morning, William was once again woken up by his cell being opened. The jailer entered the cell, accompanied by two soldiers and a Catholic priest. The soldiers hauled William to his feet while the jailer bound his hands behind his back. He was promptly escorted from his cell while the priest recited the last rites from his bible. As he walked, he realised he was in the great fortress of El Morro. They came to a mighty set of double doors which opened to reveal a courtyard full of onlookers. In the centre lay the gallows. The two soldiers marched William up as military drummers played a beat. A hooded executioner was waiting with a herald. William was directed to stand where everyone could see him. The herald opened a parchment and began to speak. Although William could understand Spanish reasonably well, he wasnt able to understand the herald word-forword. It didnt matter anyway; he could guess that it was the charges against him being read, flowed by a description of his sentence and a warning to anybody thinking of choosing a life of piracy. As the herald finished, the executioner pulled William back so he was stood on the trapdoor, and then fastened the noose around his neck. You know, you could be like Judas hanging in the great storm. The executioner said sadistically. William smiled at him; he could hear the sounds in the distance. Thats not thunder. He replied. True to his words, the distant sounds of cannon fire were followed by round shot scoring the battlements. Everybody screamed and dived for cover. The executioner yanked the lever to open the trapdoor. William shut his eyes as he dropped, but quickly felt his feet hit the ground. He opened his eyes to find that the rope had snapped. Cornelius saluted to him from the battlements, a smoking musket in his other hand. A Spanish officer near the gallows fought his way through the crowds towards William, only to be tackled to the ground and punched out by Adisa.

Welcome, back Captain. Adisa smirked, cutting Williams bonds. William shook his hand and grabbed the officers cutlass. They say that Toledo steel is the best in the world. William replied as he examined the blade. A line of Spanish troops were preparing to open fire, only to scatter to avoid the falling masonry. The Nord emerged from behind them with his sword and axe, growling fiercely and prompting them to flee in terror. William surveyed the carnage to see Captain Mendoza fleeing, and gave pursuit.

The surprise attack on the fort had prompted most of the Spanish garrison to man the cannons and return fire. William and his companions ploughed through them with ease as he cornered Mendoza at the edge. Metal struck against metal as swords clashed. As William fenced with Mendoza, several Spanish soldiers attempted to crowd him. Thinking quickly, William slashed at the moorings on one of the cannons, prompting it to fly back as it was fired. Mendoza tried to keep close and prevent him from moving, but William had prepared, vaulting backwards over the cannon. Mendoza stepped over it and continued his assault, but William now had the room to encircle him. Finally, he gained the upper hand, cornering Mendoza on the edge of the battlements. Enough. He said, I submit. Where is Lord Warwick? William demanded. Hes holed up in a fortress in Southern Florida, surrounded by native mercenaries. Mendoza claimed, Along with your grandfather. William smiled and withdrew his blade, but Mendoza grinned and drew a concealed dagger. Seeing it, William barged into him, sending him plummeting off the battlements. Adisa joined William as he watched the Spaniard land hard on the jagged rocks. Its great to see you again. William said to Adisa, But did you choose to come back for me? Youre my friend. Adisa replied. I have a lot of friends. I didnt until you made me First Mate. Now, lets sail away from here.

Remember My Family
William had thoroughly enjoyed being back in command of the Hermione, and his crew were happy to see him again. They had sailed north almost immediately after leaving Cuba, and were now coming ashore in the southern part of Florida. Make use of whatever the forests provide, lads! William said as the shore parties landed, Once we find Warwicks fort, theres bound to be plunder for us aplenty. The crew had taken the opportunity to attack the Venganza before leaving Havana. During the raid, William had found a map leading to the fortress. The route was treacherous, and attacks by the natives had occurred, but some real treasure had been discovered in the form of fresh fruit and water. Eventually, the expedition reached a run-down Spanish fort. Only a handful of troops were guarding the gates, and they were in no condition to fight. The pirates rushed the gates and were already swarming the fort. Lord Warwick was stood on the walls watching the carnage. William spotted him immediately and raced towards him, only to be grabbed by someone. He turned to find Reginald Ashcroft holding his arm. Granddad? He queried, What are you doing? Im stopping you from going after Lord Warwick. Reginald explained. Warwick stood there, watching them climb to the wall. William, this is an affair of honour. It must be settled in a duel. He took Williams rapier and approached Warwick. My lord, I want to settle this once and for all. He said. You wait twelve years to tell me? Warwick sneered. Very well, lets end this. They touched swords, and the duel began. Reginald was struggling to parry Warwicks blows, due to his age and his inexperience with swords. Granddad, hell kill you! William protested, but to know effect. The pair sustained the duel for nearly an hour before Reginald began to wear out. Breathing heavily, he lowered his sword, only for Warwick to thrust forwards. The rapier entered Reginalds chest, and he dropped his sword with a clatter before collapsing to his knees. The affair is settled. Warwick said bluntly.

William was unable to say anything. He was trying to hold off his tears as his grandfather died in front of him. Warwick turned to face him as the crew of the Hermione began to surround him.

You are defeated, boy. Warwick said, I killed your grandfather in an honourable duel. I will challenge you as well if your scum refuse to leave. You say you want me to have a duel with you? William asked. Do you accept the challenge? Warwick countered, pointing his rapier forwards. I want to restore my familys honour. William replied, However, that isnt my honour. As Warwick pondered Williams statement, William drew his pistol and pulled the trigger. Blood seeped through Warwicks shirt. He stumbled backwards into a nearby magazine. That was not honourable! He shouted in pain and anger. No, but it was effective. William sneered, Bollocks to honour. For a man who didnt gloat while I awaited the gallows, you should know better than to duel a pirate. They fight dirty. You wont cheat the gallows a second time! Warwick screamed, Your time will come! Yeah, Ill deal with that when it comes. William said. He grabbed a burning torch and threw it into the magazine as the crew scattered and ran. William leapt off the wall as the powder kegs exploded, silencing Warwicks cursing for good. We have found a great haul, Captain. Adisa reported. William followed him to where a massive hoard of gold and silver was kept. Bring this all back. William ordered, This is our greatest find ever. Well get back to the Bahamas and spend it. There was a mighty cheer from the crew at his words.

The journey back was uneventful, until they returned to the beach. As the last of the gold was taken on board the Hermione, William and Adisa were confronted by Commodore Hayes. Have you come to collect Becketts share? William asked cockily. Beckett is not asking for a share. Hayes replied, Your Letter of Marque has been revoked. Im here to do what I swore to do for the Crown. You have an appointment with the hangman. He raised his pistol. Go ahead. William egged, Pull the trigger. Bury me at sea. Ive nothing to live for. My family have turned their backs on me, but theyre safe at home in Jamaica. The woman I loved is now married to you. And she still loves me. You d be breaking her heart by killing me.

Hayes lowered the pistol and contemplated the words. Seeing his chance, William scooped up a handful of sand, throwing it in the Commodore s face. He then barged into Hayes, knocking him to the ground. As Hayes recovered, William trained his pistol on him. Im not going to kill you, because I dont want to break Lorraines heart either. He said, I suggest you give me and my crew a head start. Hayes said nothing, simply nodding. William smiled and rowed back to the Hermione with Adisa.

Back at his ship, William was being cheered by his men, who raised bottles and tankards to his return. What are you going to do now William? Guerra asked him, Are you going home? I am home. William told the crew, This ship is Ashcroft Manor for me. So, whats the plan? Bring in that horizon, lads! William barked. His crew immediately went to work, dropping the sails and raising the anchor.

William stood by the helmsman and smiled as he watched the sails of Ashcroft Manor catching the Caribbean winds.

The End

Written by Andrew Roberts, based on a concept by Sid Meier