Chapter One

            He could almost taste it. There was nothing like it. The sounds, smells, and sights of a port: Overflowing with ideas as the hustle and bustle of trade between merchants, sailors collecting cargo for their days work, and loved one reunited after years spent at sea, off to parts less traveled, soaked the air. But as he walked across the port with his manifests in hand, something felt different for him: The battles between England and Spain, and their incredible war, had changed the engaged conversations to frightened whispers, loved ones were beside themselves in grief for news of their loss, and the sailors were lifeless as their work piled up with what seemed to be no end in sight.

But returning from being lost in his mind, fixated on the state of affairs, he focused back on the task at hand: collecting another shipment of rum from the Bahamas Islands. The shipment was to go to the wealthiest families in Suffolk, and he wanted to ensure that the crew he hired protected his investment. His rum business was something more than one group of important socialites in England, he made it so anyone who purchased rum, he would be the very last word on the subject.

“Keep the rum flowing lads! Canna keep out here for long now!” He shouted in a robust voice. “Spain thinks they can outperform us? Hah! Are we not Queen’s men?” he asked his crew. “Aye”, they responded. “Then this be the Queen’s mission, and if we finish up in one hours time, I’ll see to it you all get paid double your usual lot!” He proclaimed. “Three cheers to the Captain!” proclaimed First Mate Dunne. “HUZZAH! HUZZAH! HUZZAH!” the whole crew shouted in unison.

“Alright lads, best get back to your work, its getting dark out”, the Captain replied. So the crew offloaded all rum to the warehouse on the Thames, and with half an hour to spare, flush with coin, the whole crew flocked into the Blue Mermaid for a round of pints and jocularity. The Captain joined them, but after paying for his round of drink, he took to his own private corner of the bar, taking in the conversations of his crew. Until, he was joined by his First Mate, Howard Dunne: A average man of average height, no more than twenty years of age, charged to the Captain as a favor to his father, whom the Captain was classmates with at Eaton. “You ah-right Cap’n?” Dunne asked. “Aye lad, thanks, was just a long voyage this time” he confessed. “They get longer now don’t they? Especially when the Spanish perform their raids on the Caribbean terri-tries.”

“If I may Captain, we have an opportunity to-“ “Now hang on” The Captain abruptly stopped.  Now the Captain may have been a great inspiration, a large man with a large voice, stocky in size and tall in height, but he was not stupid. “Don’t be giving these men ideas Dunne” the Captain sternly advised “If they want to end up like those men brought home today, they can be more than happy to leave my charge and go off, and die trying. But half these men we got are NOT fighters, ye get it?” “But Spain controls more of the roots for rum production everyday, and other merchant ships are being robbed or destroyed ten fold!” Dunne nearly yelled, jumping out of his seat “WHAT IF WE ARE-“ “ENOUGH DUNNE!” the Captain dragged Dunne back into his seat, and his low growl turned into a near angry pique of rage. “I dinna build this business from not, for NOW going nary on ten years, to see it go away all because of a man who decides to get frightened of invasion, by a force that has only exchanged control of conquest between us!” “Look Dunne,” the captain asserted, “you’re a sensible merchant, taught by your father, who went back and forth with me over trade behavior of merchants, so do not worry. We will be okay, lad, dinna worry, lets enjoy this time while we have. If what youre saying is true, and Spain will make a move, we would know, my connections with the Sea Lords would let me know”

“Thank you Cap’n” Dunne replied with a sigh of relief. “All this drink and laugh, I almost forgot about some paperwork for the harbormaster” the Captain realized with surprise. “Make sure the crew gets home safe Dunne, yeah”, the Captain replied with a toothless grin. Dunne nodded and returned to the crew who was already engaged in song. Now, the Captain was a careful man, and posh from his blue coat to his stylish hair and sideburns, to his double-stitched trousers to his boots, and he made sure that all paperwork was in good order, so he stayed behind on his ship, the Troubadour, to tidy up loose ends. Filling out the paperwork, he was reminded of what Dunne was saying. “If Spain DID came back to the Caribbean again? Would my crops of cane get raided and burned?” He thought. “Nah, England would tell us, definitely me, cause that Sea Lord Arbuckle promised me a fortune in mercantile goods, and he kept good with information about trade routes” But the Captain was more concerned with his paperwork, just his mind going to mush was all. So he returned to the cabin of his ship, the Troubadour, hanged up his coat, and began going over manifests as they correspond to trade agreements with warehouses in both England and its controlled islands across the world. Lost in his work, the Captain became deeply engrossed when upon a sudden he heard a sound from the warehouse. Concerned, the Captain grabbed his coat and sword and made his way to the warehouse to investigate.

 

Upon opening the door to the warehouse, the Captain was welcomed to the dark soundless space of the building, save for the faint chimes of a buoy heard in the distance. Sword drawn, the Captain moved carefully through the building, trying to stay out of any light that came through, moving his way closer to the back, where his rum was stored. Coming from the back of the building fell a dim light, and talking. It sounded like Spanish, but the Captain had to be careful. “Does he know?” A voice spoke. “No. He’s unaware. But Seville needs to be made aware of England’s plans” another voice responded. “No”, a very familiar voice spoke. “We move now. Send this to Seville, and then we move to the Sea Lords.” Before all three men adjourned, the Captain barged into the room “STOP YOU BLAGGARDS! I’LL SEE YOU HANGED!” He boomed. All three men ran fast out of the room, with the big man able to stop the familiar voice.

Holding down the scrawny rat with one arm and his gold sword in another “YOU! I know you” the Captain replied. “Dooley, carpenter’s mate”, he sneered. “You don’t know me English!” Dooley replied back. The Captain searched Dooley’s coat for any evidence of implication, until he stumbled upon a letter…from La Casa de Contracion in Seville, the secret colonial intelligence agency for the Kingdom of Spain. From what the Captain could ascertain, Dooley was nothing more than a pawn, paid by the other two men to sabotage the Captain’s rum business and make it look like an accident. Before the Captain could read the whole letter, blood began to run down his arm…Dooley used the Captain’s blade to slice his throat. Taking any secrets he might have had to his grave. The Captain saw his fair share of death, from duels he had between rivals and fighting off the Portuguese for control of his sugar fields, but seeing Dooley die unnerved him a bit. And now the threat was real, agents of the Spanish crown were coming to internally attack England, disrupt the flow of trade.

Within a couple minutes of Dooley’s death, men in red coats, armed and with lanterns in hand, they found the Captain lying in a pool of blood next to Dooley’s pale body. “Captain?” Mr. Dawes, the owner of the warehouse asked, “Are you okay?” Waking from a headache, the Captain nodded, and got himself back to his feet. A bit shaky returning to his feet, the Captain walked out of the storehouse, surprisingly with all of his rum intact, save for the one crate that Dooley and his ilk pried open for a sport of drink. Removed of his blood soaked jacket, the Captain cleaned himself up and sat in his black shirt laced with a yellow sailors knot. Sitting in his cabin, Dunne walked in to check and make sure the Captain was okay. “Funniest thing lad” the Captain replied, “Dooley was a good man. He never had any qualms with the crew, nothing. Someone must have threatened.” “Definitely” Dunne affirmed, “But we canna know for sure. Best thing is to keep moving”. “Aye, lets get some rest”.

The next day, the Captain woke up to the usual conversation of the port. Sill thinking about Spain’s next move, the Captain kept it in the back of his mind as he received his next charge from the warehouse: A 30 crate shipment of rum order going to a local townhouse in Brixton. So the crew of the Troubadour readied themselves for their voyage down to the Caribbean, and with the air clear and the wind in favor, the Captain was ready to set sail with his men. About half through the Atlantic, the Captain found himself reflecting on what his father told him about the merchant business: “Keep your wits about you laddie, business changes over the years, and sometimes you have to know who you’re selling to”.

 

But something about Dooley’s death bothered the Captain; that those scoundrels just happened upon his stores at this exact moment? And then they’re charged by Spain by disrupt local businesses? Odd. Spain would have certainly been more…vocal about their attack against England. The Captain saw many of his friends dead or destitute from Spain’s raids in the Caribbean, many of whom he tried to help financially. But the Captain was not quick to just give out his family fortune to everyone that got unlucky. But he was merciful to help out his friends; one of them was actually Howard Dunne’s father, who had faced financial ruin when the Rosario raid on Nassau destroyed the Dunne sugar fields, then reclaimed them as their own. The Captain gave the elder Dunne an estate in the English countryside, as well as a piece of his rum business so the Dunne’s don’t fall into destitution.

When arriving at his crop in St. Kitts, the Captain was taken to a bit of a shock: His sugar was cut down! Someone, who had known of its location, had the nerve to rob the Captain of his crops, and possibly sell them off as their own. But the question was who? The Captain went to the private house of his personal friend, Roger Thurmond, who also kept an eye on the fields, hung by his wrists, his skin from his neck down burned to a cinder, decapitated, with his head placed on the table. Frightened by the brutality, the Captain took a step back to regain his thoughts, when he spotted a note pinned to the table with a dagger bearing the Spanish crown’s insignia: Captain Alastair, they came out of nowhere, they killed all the workers, took the crop for their own. It is long sold, so there’s no point in figuring out where your crop went. They tortured me, and they have killed me. Im sorry, R.T.

Losing everything, his crops, his workers, even his close business partner, the Captain, now known as Alastair, finds himself in a quandary: Why was he targeted? What made him be put on Spain’s list? He could not answer those questions. Enraged, Alastair went into a fit of pique, yelling in anger, throwing chairs, when he saw some writing underneath the table where his friends head was placed: The man with the scar must not be trusted, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. “Man with the scar” Alastair thought, “I must remember this, keep my wits about me”. Alastair returned to the ship, only to inform his crew of the loss of Thurmond, not a single man was not beside themselves in grief, because everyone in Alastair’s employ was always treated with respect, given a fair wage, and assured that their work was meaningful. Alastair did not employ slavery because he felt it an immoral service, and thought that there is a lot of starving people looking for a job. There was something to respect about that, even though he did not vocalize his abhorrent hatred for slavery.

Alastair remained quiet throughout the ceremony for his friend, shedding a tear for his loss, while his crew watched Thurmond’s body placed in the ground. Once the ceremony was complete, Alastair made the long trek out into the English wilderness to the estate of Theodore Roberts, where his charge of rum went. After making to the front door, Roberts’s stuffy butler opened the door, to which Roberts came to welcome Alastair to his home. “Back so soon Al? Awful short time compared to your usual voyages” Roberts cheerfully replied. “I lost it Theo, me cane for the whole season. Someone cut it down” Alastair woefully responded. “Can you make it through the season?” Roberts asked. “I should be…hang on” Alastair replied. He caught sight of rum bottles and went to the back of the house where the shipment was being stashed. “Where ya get them?” Alastair nearly railed at Roberts. “Purchased them four days ago, from a small time merchant who wanted to get started in the business” Roberts replied. “Sorry Theo, but dinna ye think it funny that I find strange men in my storehouse, lose all me crops, and now and find this herring of luck of my closest friend buying rum?” Alastair replied, growing bitter and bitter with each word.

Then without warning, THUNK! Alastair got knocked in the back of the head with a pistol. With his giant body on the ground, the only thing Alastair could hear, partly at best, was Roberts saying something to the effect of “Here? I was gonna invite him in and we do it then. No matter. Bring him into the cellar, we’ll do it there”. Alastair woke to find himself tied to a chair in a barely lit, dank room that reeked of rat and old wood, his face full of blood, only able to see out of one eye as the other was closed shut from injury. “That’s enough Milton. He’s awake” A voice replied. Milton, big man, strong, enforcer and first mate for Roberts, backed off, and out of the shadows came Dunne. “Dunne what-“ Alastair replied before being met with a slap across the face by Dunne. “You. Don’t. Speak.” Dunne said firmly. “Call this your retirement, Alastair, with me taking your business, your ship, your crew, everything”. “You are more stupid than you look Dunne” Alastair replied with a low growl. “I took you in, gave you shelter when things got tough, and this is how you thank me?! Just answer me why”. “Why?” Dunne replied sharply. “Why do I have to clean up your mess? Why is it that every time we finish a job your men offer you their lives for defense of your worthless cargo? Why do you get all the praise, when Im helping along the way?! You get everything and I have nothing for my own” Dunne yelled in pique. “Dunne, me boy, I gave you a home, and my employ to help you start your way to becoming your own businessman” Alastair sentimentally explained. “But it is YOU that gave me this! This is why I wanted you out. Because you treat me like a child. Not giving me the means to grow, on my own.” Dunne spoke in a calmer voice than before. “Why dinna you tell me?” Alastair asked. Dunne walked off in a huff, slamming and locking the door behind.

Alastair sat in that rank room for going on three days, when Dunne returned back with fresh cooked chicken and water. Overjoyed at the sight of sustenance, he still found himself bound to the chair. Alastair got the hint: The food was for the kid. “So lets talk about your penance” Dunne said with a half full mouth of food. “You will be transported to Whitehall, and you will be tried for engaging in trade between Spanish merchants for rum. And as you know, trade with Spain, in a time of war, is a capital offense. We dont trust the Spanish, they are our enemies, you know?” “But I don’t trade to the Spanish!” Alastair replied. “Oh? I have here a manifest for sale of land in St Kitts for sugar crops from one Hector Ros of Salamanca” Dunne sneered. “I also have hiring contracts from men in your employ from Rio Segura, Burgos and Gijon, all cities and small villages in Spain.” Dunne added “And if I were to recall, the personal effects of one Roger Thurmond, oh but his name is not ROGER, its actually Rafael Fajardo, a Spaniard forced to spy on English operations in the Americas” Dunne chortled with a stupid smirk of fortune on his face. “In other words, Alastair, you’re mine”. With a look of disbelief, anger and downright annoyance, Alastair only replied with three words: Shame on you.

A lot of things were going through Alastair’s mind, he was in disbelief at Dunne’s betrayal, the fact that he would give everything and lose it all by the same man, that he would groom this once sniveling sailor to become a professional merchant one day, who did not want that? He could only listen to Dunne’s outlandish accusations, knowing this will lead to one result: He’s being buried. “So, do you have anything to say traitor?” Dunne proclaimed. “Lord Alfred Tomlinson, Sea Lord of the Caribbean” Alastair spoke, in a near threatening voice. “He will vouch for me and your myriad of false accusations you cur!” “Oh! You just reminded me”, Dunne snapped. “Ready for you sir” In walked Lord Tomlinson in his wig and blue uniform, disgusted but no surprised at the sight. Upon his entrance, Alastair had a smile of relief, which quickly changed to a saddened look of disbelief. “What a piece of work you are, Mr. Groovybeard” The Lord said in a state of disgust. “When Dunne told me about this, I remind myself of the weaknesses that set men loose, but not this. This is treason! I’d see you hung had Dunne not suggest to me you be buried. The Crown will not allow your death to be seen by the public, because of your garnered support as a rum merchant, the people would ask why. An outcome I’d like to avoid” The Lord elucidated. “Okay. Fine. What is going to happen to me?” Alastair asked in an annoyed voice.

Pulling out a piece of parchment, the Lord delivered the official letter of intent: “The accused, Alastair Groovybeard, is hereby placed under arrest for the crime of sedition against the Crown. The accused has also been charged with the additional following egregious crimes: Hiring citizen representatives of the Spanish Empire for financial gain, as well as their willful, and fully knowledgeable participation, in the purchase and/or any and all financial exchange with representatives of the Spanish Empire. The execution of these charges henceforth will be remand of all wealth to be distributed at the discretion of the Crown, and any next of kin will be notified and be considered party to this betrayal. The accused will be forced to carry out his days in the custody of the law, to be imprisoned until such as time as the accused has come to terms with his crimes, in the hope for a commuted sentence that will be revisited by the courts with tenderness and mercy.”

“You got to be joking” Alastair replied with a breathless laugh. “Mercy? All I have to do is get on my knees, beg for forgiveness, and that’s it? No way. Nobody can grant me forgiveness. Im already being framed, and theres naught I can do to stop it. Mercy? You lot want ME to show YOU mercy for crimes this snake cooked up so he can have my fortune, instead of earning it like everyone else” Alastair chided back in anger. “That’s enough from you scum!” Tomlinson said, slapping Alastair in the face. “No, you just think you’re going to act like you’re exempt from this? This is civilization, sir. You are not entitled to freedom from the law because you are good at making this country a little bit of money. No. You will be presented for trial, and like any criminal, be prosecuted for such.” “Then if you’re committed to make me then what you say I am, then so be it”, said Alastair, content in his predicament, accepted his fate.

Padlocked, shoved into the back of an iron box on wheels, Alastair Groovybeard was being shuttled by armed guards to his trial at Whitehall. Brought out in handcuffs that chained his neck, he was being howled and hissed, spat on and disgraced by thousands of his former customers. A once heralded merchant in rum, one of the best that England ever had, reduced to a monster, paraded in the street like some animal for all to ogle and spectacle at his grotesque figure. Every step closer to the courthouse, Alastair was either insulted or debris was thrown at him. Three Hours. Three hours past by like the wind for the courts to seal Alastair’s fate. From that moment on, in one stroke of the pen, and with many lashes of the tongue, Alastair Groovybeard would become an enemy of his home, viewed as a spy for Spain, to be locked away for eternity. Upon existing the court, Alastair had no words, only a look of disappointment as his friends, friends who stood on council against him he had done trade with for years, now see him in a different light. “Shame”, Alastair thought, “I thought friends were supposed to mean something. Guess not”.

Heading back to the iron box that rode him in, the riot in the street that once jeered him, changed to cries of cheer and reverence, jovial spirits abound over the imprisonment of the “Scourge” Alastair Groovybeard, criminal of the Crown for working with Spain. People roared with cheers for a safer England, people bid the poor man farewell as his carriage hauled him off to prison. Still in shock of the lack of support, Alastair found himself completely alone. Politely robbed of his earnings and his charge, hard earned at that, cast as an agitator, deemed an agent of an enemy the country was at war with, alone…he was now no longer of any import to the world. Just another criminal, caught in the act, left to die. Yet still life went on in that harbor Alastair found those men that one night, as if none of the events that transpired ever happened. He was not ready for the horrors of prison…but even more terrified of what came next.

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