Prologue - A Gentlemen's Wager
"Shall we say, hmm, five thousand?"
The air was tense. The young captain stared a hole in the wall, just past the waiting eyes of the port's governor. Five thousand pounds was more money than he'd ever seen in his life, and the governor just proposed it as the prize in a very serious game of chance...
"M'lord is certainly aware that, as a merchant captain, such a price is far beyond my existence to match up. I still stand by my word, however."
The governor met eyes with the upstart. "Your word
," he leered slightly, "that your little 'vessel', that garbage the savages think so highly of, can out-maneuver and out-trade any ship in my fleet..."
"With all due respect," replied the captain of the Honu Iki
, "it's what we do, M'lord. From a year or so before the Crown took interest in our little sea port, to this very day, my crew and I have given our all maintain this town and its economy. Since your fleet's arrival, M'lord, I'd say that the landscape of commerce has only changed in the percentage of taxes paid on each load..."
It was an intentional shot, and it struck a nerve. The young captain knew his place in society, and as far as the town's residents were concerned, there wasn't a punishment the Governor could dole out on this island that wouldn't provoke civil unrest. 'Still,' he thought, 'this level of power shouldn't be trifled too severely, lest his punishment be a touch more creative than that...'
Fortunately, the captain's instincts were right again. The governor was angered by the arrogance of the retort, but he was far too clever a man to simply throw this peasant into jail for boasting, not without gaining a little measure of recompense first.
"So," the Governor began slowly. Though the tone of his voice remained steady and aloof, the pacing of his words was more deliberate. "five thousand pounds is a fortune too vast for the esteemed
merchant... well, let's make this more interesting. If you can deliver on this outlandish boast, if you can actually bring in some cargo worth unloading... then perhaps we can offer you a kinder rate of exchange on your deliveries, in the name of the Crown, of course. However, on the very likely chance that this talk is doing more to elevate this room's temperature than to establish fact, perhaps your side of the wager could be covered by... the enlistment of you, your crew, and your vessel?"
The captain bit his lip. "Enlistment?"
A smile betrayed the Governor's projected boredom. "As opposed to simply being pressed into service, of course..."
What choice did the poor young lad have? He was cornered. His eyes darted to the east wall. There had been a movement, one not previously noticed during this tense discussion. His eyes met with the tranquil azure pools from which Theresa, the Governor's daughter, had anxiously spied the encounter between her distinguished father and this strapping rogue. Now, both men were smiling.
"M'lord, your wager is excepted, upon two conditions: First, allow me to choose a mate of any free sailor in the town..."
"Agreed," replied the Governor. "To be fair, I shall allow the captain of the HMS Bolingbroke
the same courtesy. Now, your other
The lad shot another look to the east. "Please, give my kindest regards to your lovely daughter."
For a moment, the air itself froze.
The Governor's outrage was apparent. His only daughter was engaged to the chief officer aboard the Aberdeen Baron
, the very ship that brought him to this wretched port. Everyone knew this, and this brazen little twit had the gall to up and...
The Governor waved his hand, only missing the gesture's recipient by a narrow margin. The meeting over, the peasant captain was dismissed. With details to work out, the Governor called for his Lieutenant.
"Bring me the captain of the Bolingbroke
, and have her and the Aberdeen Baron
outfitted to sail at dawn!"
"M'lord, both ships?" the lieutenant asked.
"I said he'd get his choice of any free sailor, and that the Bolingbroke
's captain gets the same, yes? Well, I've simply narrowed the options for our dear captain, and as reward, his choice will come with a ship of its own! Let's see the fisherman best that!"