“Ah, Stevenport, yes…” Fiona picks up the tale quite willingly at this point. “We arrived in Stevensport, and within the first hour both Hawk and I were arrested (Jean Luc came along for good measure) by soldiers and brought to The Henrietta – a lovely fast little ship with ample cargospace – an ideal smuggler. We soone realized that the industrious Mr. Baird was behind our arrest, and that is was part of his plan in helping us rid ourselves of certain, hmm, unfortunate warrents of arrest for piracy on my part (you all know that that was merely a misunderstanding…) and smuggling on Hawks part (an interesting piece of information he had previously neglected to tell us).
Well, there we were on board The Henrietta on board which the customs had found 21 different sorts of foreign spices, silk and china, and some rather interesting pieces of handcraft certainly not from around here. The crew of The Henrietta had apparently taken a little trip to the Far East on a route yet unknown to our dear Queen (and to any other westeners as it were). Unfortunately said crew had abandoned ship or died protecting it, for there were none to ask now about the route and all papers had been destroyed, before customs had had a decent change to looke at them. Our task, if we agreed to take it upon us, would be to discover who was behind all this, and more importantly; discover what the route was! It was hinted to us, that should be figure it out, we woulde be considered as the firste official shippe to take the route and commense trading in our goode Queen Bess’ name! What an adventure!
We did of course accept – we would have been fools not to. To be given the opportunity to sail to the Far East! Do you even know how many riches they have? How rich someone who sailed the route might be? And it would be nice to be able to walk around in civilized cities again without risking arrest!
As it turned out, we even had a place to start; Hawk had a contact in his homecity St. Jamesport (of which we had no dear memories); a merchant to had good connections in the smuggling business.
While the gentlemen arranged selling our cargo and taking on board a new one, I tooke time to looke at Stevensport – quite a wonderfull city, with cobbled streets and city lights. Most amazing. I kind of felt an obligation to check the place out, since I had little thing to do with the destruction of it’s near namesake New Stevensport. I can only say that New Stevensport had a long way to go to match it’s big sister!
The next morning we set off for New Devinshire, first to Berkeley with a cargo of chairs… and then to St. Jamesport. But before Berkeley we put Hawk and a couple of the sturdier men off, so they could establish contact in St. Jamesport, before we showed up. We had decided that sailing into St. Jamesports harbour would be a mistake considering how well know be made ourselves at our previous departure from the city. So on returning from Berkeley we cast anchor on the other side of the island that protects the harbour, and Jean Luc and I left the ship to the rest of the men, and ventured to our meeting place; The Boatswain.” (I must here mention to the readers that the names of certain places and people have been altered as to protect the privacy of some of the participant of our story. J.W.).
“At the Boatswain Hawk had befriended the landlord, Michael Bull, who also seemed so likable to us that he within days became a trusted friend. On our first evening there one of my least favorite people in the worlde entered and began to bully Michael; Mr. Slythe – the father of our escapee, the fosterfather of one I refuse to consider as family (the loathesome Ebenezer – Cecilie’s twin brother) and the one who currently sat as master of my Werlatton Hall! It tooke a lot of us to stay low and not meddle, for had we been recognized then, all would have been lost. As it turned out, Michael was not only used to, but also capable of settling matters with Slythe, who considered The Boatswain a sinfull and morally destructive spot of dirt in his fine city. Where as we considered it one of the few prober places to be!
With Smythe out of the way we gathered all our information; in our quest to discover the Golden Gate to the East we so far knew this:
· Hawk’s olde partner Fallow (not a friend of his, I might add) presently sailed on the shipowner Tutton’s ship The Bull (Tutton interestingly denied knowing Fallow).
· The Bull every now and again sailed under the new moon on a journey that in time and distance was equal to the journey to the Bird Island (which was probably where they went – a well known place to take on smuggling goodes).
· Hawk’s olde connection the merchant FitzWilliam was dead, but his widow still lived and seemed to be a sly one. She rented storagerooms to Michael Bull, who served us very fine cognac in his inn…
· Hawk had seen my dear auntie Cecilie enter the Boatswain in plain clothes, and exit the back rooms in very fine clothes (worthy of nobility) and into a fine carriage without a crest…!
Well, that left us with a lot to ponder; our friend Michael Bull was somehow involved no doubt about that, but how to handle it best?
Jean Luc and I went to our friend Revlington to spend the night. We asked him what he knew of smuggling – he knew practically nothing. He did orcassionally find a bottle of fine brandy or cognac on his doorstep, but no matter what he did, he had as yet failed to discover who delivered it.
Very early in the morning we were woken by shouting and commotion downstairs. We got dressed in a jiffy and went out to discover what all the fuss was about; Hawk had been abducted in the middle of the night! Michael Bulls servant maid had heard a noise in the night and had gone to investigate and had found Hawk’s room a mess and hime gone! Michael Bull was getting together a searchparty and Revlington followed suit. At dawn some 30 men were out looking for our friend. Jean Luc and I tooke our sailors with us, but though we searched high and low in the countryside, and unused as we were to orient ourselves on land, our search was futile. There was talk of highwaymen in the hills, but why woulde they take Hawk? When dark fell we returned to the Boatswain, but no one had had more luck than us; Hawk was still missing!
Later in the evening Revlington showed up at the Boatswain as well to coordinate the search in the morning. In his opinion Jean Luc and I were better of staying in the city, while those who knew the countryside searched it. We did not object.
And luckily we didn’t; the next day at noon Hawk returned in his nightshirt and a very foul mood. His olde ‘friend’ Fallow had been amongst those who had abducted him. He had been blindfolded and taken for about an hours ride out of town in a waggon. Fallow had wanted to kill him, but a voice sounding a lot like a woman, wanted to hear ‘the paymaster’ first. They talked about meeting this ‘moneyman’ the next day at 2 pm at Pembleton Hall, owned by the Earl lord White. While they talked Hawk manage to saw through the ropes that binded him with a sharpe rock. He was so engulfed in telling us of his escape that he didn’t remember the fact that the bad guys was meeting the man behind it all today at 2 pm – he didn’t remember until 12:45, and it was a two hour ride to Pembleton Hall! And I do so hate riding! Jean Luc on the other hand had been born on a horse apparently, and he was soon way ahead of us on the horses we had borrowed from Revlingtons stables. I won’t even begin to describe my personal ride – it was less that epic, believe me!
Jean Luc’s ride on the other hand was epic. He was there way ahead of us, and the following is was he tolde me happened at his arrival; He left the horse in the forest outside Pembleton Hall, climbed over the wall to the gardens and crept up close to the house. At the sound of voices he ran around a corner and finding himself suddenly in a hot spot, he climbed in a window only to find himself in a large diningroom in the company of the Baron lord White (the Earl’s cousin), Cecilie and some henchman. He first considered escaping, but as Cecilie recommended that he gave himself up, a dozen men came into the room. So he surrendered. At this time Hawk and I had reached to gardenwall. When we suddenly saw a lot of men running to the house, I had a gut feeling that something was wrong, so I ran after them. Hawk and I reached the house at the same time, saw Jean Luc’s predicament and entered to room to stand by him. Lord White assessed that we were not dangerous, he sent his men out, and we had a little chat about smuggling, and hangings, and favours from the queen. It turned out that he was very much involved with Michael Bull, and the Far Eastern traderoute (as well as some sordid characters like Fallow). Underways we struck a deal; If he gave us the description of the route to the Far East, we would put in a goode word with the queen (as if we had access to her! We would ask Mr. Baird), so that he might be allowed access to the route. We would of course say absolutely nothing about his involvement in The Henrietta. Finally he gave us a note to take to Michael Bull. Jean Luc told me it said: “Michael, telle them what they need to know. W.”. We said a prober goodbye to auntie Cecilie and we wished eachother good lucke (I was sure she woulde do well), and I tolde her about Grandpa’s treasure, and that money would pour into her bankaccount in a couple of months’ time. She was delighted, but seemed capable of feeding herself untill then.
So we returned to St. Jamesport and The Boatswain, handed Michael Bull the note, and received in return and olde Epriotic booke whiche described the route. To celebrate the happy outcome of Hawk’s abduction Bull threw a party. And what a party! There were drinking and singing and dancing on the tables, and that was just me! One toast followed the next, but the loudest one of them all, was the one they threw to the Blackwell name! Grandpa would have been so proud! I know I was!
When the party was nearly over, the hours so late that it was early, and the only ones left standing was Hawk, Jean Luc and myselfe, the keeper of godde moralle and lousy livin’, Mr. Slythe entered the inn with a handfull of militias. They had come to arrest us for kidnapping his daughter. I’m sure we probably coulde have solved it with taking him to Revlington and shown him the piece of paper the kid had signed saying that she left of her of free will, and that we were innocent of kidnapping, but the man was just too annoying. Even in our drunken stupor we had only little difficulty beating his soldiermen to pulp. In the end Jean Luc had Slythe in his collar up against the wall, banging him against him to get him to shut up. But he just kept on yelling at the top of his lungs about what sinfull creatures we were, how we would burn in Hell for all time and such charming things. Personally I know only one way to shut someone up (apart from killing them, and he just wasn’t worth the bother, you know?), so I went up to him, hanging on the wall as he was, and I knocked him out. I telle you; I have never been more satisfied knocking someone out, than I was knocking out him! What an ass!
We decided not to linger any longer in this Godforsaken town. We said goodbye to our friends; Michael Bull and his staff and Revlington and his men. Revlington even lend us a coach to take us as close to the Fortuna as possible.
Well, what followed was something I’d rather forget. On our way a couple of unusual highwaymen stopped us with the usual ‘stand and deliver!’ cry. I was getting pretty pissed with the landlubbers by then. The ground under my feet had been too steady for too long. So I jumped out of the coach and meant to supriseattack them. They were less than surprised. One of the buggers shot me up close, tearing my vest (not the good one, fortunately) and my shirt and the bullet passed right through me bending a rib on the way. I tooke little heed at first, angry and high on exitement as I was, but afterwards I was only worth two spits and a penny. Jean Luc and Hawk killed the two would be assassins. We discovered that they were far too clean, shaven and dressed to be real highwaymen (who often have to attack upwind as to not be discovered before time). They also carried quite a large sum of money, another unusual trait in highwaymen. Someone had sent them to… what? Kill us? Steal from us? Ask us silly questions? Who knows? They were dead, and good riddance!
We had no rum, cognac or proper liquer with us to clean my wound (only lukewarm bear and I’ll be damned if I’ll let that stuff anywhere near a wound of mine!). I bit in the pain, and bit at Jean Luc and Hawk, who both clearly sensed that I was less than alright. Jean Luc had bound the wound, but blood was seeping through the bandaged, and I must have been pale as a northern fish, when we finally arrived at The Fortuna. Our capable physician took a looke at it, clucked his tongue, shooke his head and showed me a hole in my shirt that was quite large. Someone who has never been shot may not understand what that means, but I’ll tell ya; threads from the shirt had entered the wound and had to be removed as to not cause infection. He did the best he coulde – I’ll give him that. Hawk held me down, while Jean Luc captained the ship out to sea. Afterward the physician treated Hawks bitemarks (they might have given me a piece of leather or something to bite down on, but I only had Hawks arm).
The Physician ordered me to stay below deck for the next week, but after two days I could stand it no longer. Gaston helped me up on deck, though the captain yelled at me a bit for getting out of bed. I growled, stayed a little longer just to show him I could, then returned to my bunk, in fever and in pain.
A little week later against a slow head wind we finally reached Stevensport. We looked up Mr. Baird, who was difficult to access, since the parliament was in session and no one was let in. Finally someone was talked into letting us into Mr. Baird’s office, where we waited a little while, before he showed up himselfe. He was delighted to hear our news! He agreed to speak for us to Her Majesty the Queen to let us be the ones to attempt the venture to the Spice Lands. He insisted that the crown would finance 80% of the venture (and thus would cash in 80% of the profit) – we could finance the rest.
He also, and pay attention to this ladies and gentlemen, handed pardons to Hawk and myselfe – so that we were no longer wanted by the crown. I was yet again allowed to go anywhere and not fear some stupid officials hindering my doings!
I also asked Mr. Baird if he would ask Her Majesty the Queen about that thing, you know”. (I don’t know! She never tolde me what it was! Some dark secret from the past that had to do with the Blackwell family and the Venduer line, that’s all I know. Fiona always clammed up about it – calling it ‘that olde business, you know’ without telling me what it was. I’ll figure it out somehow someday and write yet another booke about it! JW). “He promised to put it to her. He also sent some pretty heavyduty guards with us, just in case. Not that they turned out to be any goode, when it came down to it.
The next morning heavy knocking at my door woke me up at dawn. Some darkclothed seriouslooking men whom Mr. Bairds guardsmen had let right through, asked for me and threatened me to never, ever mention that thing, you know, to anyone ever again. On Her Majesty the Queen’s order and on pain of death! Just wonderful! I was only a little curious about it before, imagine what such a threat would do to me: you’re right: it made me really, REALLY curious. They could have said ‘oh, we’ll looke into it, don’t worry about it, we’ll let you know eventually’ and then not let me know – I would never had thought about it again! But NO! They had to do it the stupid way. Well, Manuon help us in that business, and I’ll say no more!
We started hiring people. Even if we were not pointed out to take the trip to the Spice Lands, we were still a few hands short. We went to ‘The Anchor’ – the most likely place to pick up capable sailors (a few of the navy ships had resently let a lot of their people go, and had put good men into the market).
I was healing badly. My wound was hot to the touch and I was just generally in pain and beginning to have a really foul disposition. I knew already then that we had not managed to get all of the threads out of the wound. I also realized that we would have to reopen the wound, get out the last threads, cut away rotten flesh, disinfect the wound (probably burn it) and bind me back up. I also knew that I would be no good to anyone for at least a week after that it it was to heal and I to live. But I still had a job to do, and I was determined to do it, before I put myself out of the game.
Just when I thought I could stand it no longer, Mr. Baird summoned us again. With dirty clothes and tousled hair we hurried to see him, only to be presented to Her Majesty the Queen… We cannot have impressed her. We looked a complete mess. But at least I can say that I have met Her – the olde harpy. Nevertheless we were given the task of attempting the journey of our dreams. We sailed as the Queens champions!
The following days we hired crew (23 new ablebodies sailors in all), bought cannons (Jean Luc kept dreaming of more firepower) and purchased maps of the lands we would sail past. A rumour had it that Lord Greystoke wanted to take on the same journey on the West Indianman “The Sophia” and lo and behold, soon he announced that he would attempt the journey, and thus stole the Queens thunder, when she later let it be announced that she too was sending out an expedition. Personally I didn’t care. A little competition is always fun, and there was profit enough to go around. So soon there we were; ready to set sails and head East.
But first a little operation and bedriding for me…