With the release of The Fortune only two days away (October 21; currently available for pre-order in paperback and e-book), I wanted to whet your appetite with an excerpt from the novel. Below is the opening scene. SPOILER ALERT for those who have not yet read The Prodigal (book one) or The Alliance (book two)!!
Jack Mallory and six of his pirate crew sailed the Prodigal’s yawl across the long Atlantic swell toward their prey. The pink had struck her colors without a fight when the Prodigal’s ensign had billowed out at the masthead—a black flag that bore the images of a white stone gate and skeleton. Now, hove to, the coaster looked old and slow, not one to take as a consort to assist in Jack’s current endeavor, but she had what he needed most—spars for his damaged brig. On the pink’s deck her small crew awaited not only the yawl but the Prodigal’s pinnace as well, which also carried an armed boarding party and now sliced ahead of the yawl in a race to be first to board.
Sunlight off the indigo water reduced Jack’s mahogany eyes to mere slits in his young, darkly tanned face. From his place in the stern-sheets, he glanced back at the Prodigal where she rode the swells, hove to. She had been wounded cruelly yesterday by the eighteen-pound guns of the privateer Alliance, her fore topmast now threatening to go by the board with the first strong puff but for the boatswain’s double preventer stays. The spritsail yard had been shattered, and the gaff of the fore-and-aft main sail had been splintered as well. Then there was the sad main topgallant mast, originally fished after weather had felled her, then fished again after being toppled during the short, vicious fight with the Alliance. Fortunately the guns had not suffered beyond one six-pounder being dismounted, for what little ordnance the pink might provide would not be worth the time and effort to transfer.
As Jack studied his beloved brig, a slim female figure appeared on the quarterdeck. He strained to see if another, smaller figure accompanied Maria Cordero, but she stood alone, and Jack shrank with disappointment, frowning.
“First time she’s been on deck since the fight,” observed Josiah Smith, Jack’s quartermaster and closest friend, who sat one thwart forward. “I’m surprised she left Helen below.”
Jack’s frown turned into a scowl as he said, “Archer’s probably with her.”
The pinnace reached the pink first, and with shouts and roars meant to further terrify the coaster’s crew, the pirates swarmed up the side of the vessel, bearing pistols, knives, axes, and cutlasses. The Rat—a small man with a penchant for racing rats—grabbed for the main chains, somehow missed, and fell unceremoniously between the pinnace and the pink. Laughter from his closest shipmates encouraged shouted taunts of amusement from the closing yawl. The Rat bobbed up and reached for the pinnace’s gunwale, but the swell bumped the boat against the pink, pinching the Rat’s arm. His howl garnered the aid of the last pirate in the boat—a huge block of a man singularly named Bull for his size, lack of wits, and the ring worn through his broad nose. Bull grabbed the Rat by his wild dark curls and hauled him high enough out of the water to flop him back into the boat like a fish. The unperturbed Rat started his climb all over again, this time with success.
Jack smiled, a reaction foreign to him over the past few days. Smith reflected the smile through his dark, wiry beard, blue eyes crinkled. Jack knew Smith’s expression was more from relief at his captain’s distraction than at the Rat’s latest mishap. Like a concerned mother, Smith had fretted over him during the seven years spent together in Newgate prison. And since obtaining their freedom last year, Jack continued to give the older man plenty about which to fret.
Jack clambered up the pink’s side with natural ease, followed by the yawl’s party. The frightened seven-man crew bunched together in the waist. Their master stood slightly apart from them, harried by the Rat’s cutlass as the soaked pirate demanded the man’s clothing. The others from the pinnace laughed. The master, of course, was the best dressed of the crew—though not remarkably so—thus the Rat wanted to shift his clothes with this one. He already wore the master’s tan felt hat smashed upon his dripping curls.
Jack waved a discouraging hand at the Rat. “Not now.”
“But, Cap, we’s the first boat here so we gets first pick, ye know.” He used a particular scolding tone to remind his captain of the rules, as if Jack needed reminding.
Hiding his amusement, Jack responded with neither tyranny nor rancor, “Aye, but you’ll leave him his dignity until I’m through here.”
Crestfallen, the Rat frowned. He gave the relieved master a malevolent eye before sidestepping away, plucking at his own tattered shirt to draw attention to its woefulness, stained with blood from a superficial wound suffered in yesterday’s battle.
Jack approached the master, a man probably twice his twenty-one years. He appeared afraid but not overly so; whether from the Rat or simply his situation Jack could not tell.
“We’ve no intention to harm you.”
With Jack’s assurance the pink’s crew stood a bit easier.
“’Less you don’t gimme them clothes o’ your’n,” the Rat interjected then backed away from Jack’s glance with a weak, gap-toothed simper.
“We’re in need of spars and cordage,” Jack continued. “And a carpenter. Ours was killed yesterday. Which of you would that be?”
The men exchanged anxious glances but said nothing.
Jack scowled at the delay. “As I said, we’ve no intention to harm you…unless you’re disinclined to cooperate.”
Six pairs of eyes turned to those of the seventh, a man who did not appear pleased with their betrayal. He was the oldest, missing most of his light brown hair, the sun bouncing off his head, his mouth momentarily slack when Jack’s attention rested upon him. He crumpled his hat in his weathered hands, shuffled a step forward, made a nervous, ridiculous bow.
“I’m carpenter,” he mumbled. “Name’s Hanse.”
“Right, then.” Jack nodded to a young black pirate. “Billy, fetch him back to the brig and get him working on the fore topmast.”
Billy stepped over, but Hanse’s round face fell into panicked despair, and he reached for Jack’s sleeve. “Please, sir. I—I’ll help you however I can, but you don’t mean to press me, do you? I’ve a family to provide for.”
Jack felt Smith’s gaze upon him like a tactile conscience. It was not their practice to force married men. The Prodigal had had only two, and they were now free men at his stepfather’s plantation outside of Charles Town, Carolina, awaiting the arrival of their families from England.
Refusing Smith’s stare, Jack replied, “You do as I say, Chips, and you’ll have more money for your family in a couple of days than you’ll make in years on a tub such as this.”
Anger darkened the man’s green eyes. “And a noose to go with it. Then what will happen to my family?”
Joe Dowling, the Prodigal’s hairy gunner, warned, “If you don’t like it, mate, we can arrange for that noose right now, can’t we, lads? No trial holdin’ things up, eh?” Grinning, he flicked his gaze to the yardarm above him.
The carpenter blanched and swallowed hard, then turned back to Jack, all impertinence gone. “You’re just a boy. You don’t understand what it’s like to care for little ones, to put food in their mouths.”
The words kicked Jack in the gut as he thought of his orphaned six-year-old half-sister aboard the Prodigal, silent and traumatized by the death of her father the previous day, and now frighteningly dependent upon him in all earthly ways. He growled at the prisoner, “I understand better than you think.” He jerked his chin at Billy, and the black man grabbed Hanse by the arm, brandishing his pistol, and led him toward the entry port. Jack ordered Dowling to go with them then turned back to the master. “Your men will assist in the transfer of your spars, sails, and cordage. We’ll leave enough to get you ashore.”
“What about the cargo?” Sullivan—a red-haired, perpetually sunburned pirate—asked. “Hold’s full of sugar. That’d fetch a fair price up the coast.”
“No time for that,” said Jack.
“Mebbe we should take the time,” an unseen voice grumbled, but Jack ignored the dissenter.
“Now, Cap, now?” the Rat asked with a spark in his small eyes. When Jack waved his hand, the Rat chortled and jabbed his cutlass at the hapless master. “Drop them breeches.” He never took his eyes off the master’s fine gray coat with its gilt buttons on the cuffs. “You’s gonna lose more’n yer carpenter.”
Willie Emerick pointed out, “His rags’ll be too big for you, Rat.”
“I can sew, can’t I?”
“Not without bleedin’ all over.”
Laughter roared across the desk.
“Lads, get the spars lashed together and floated across. Ned,” Jack said to his enormous boatswain where he stood with sunlight shining upon his shaved head, “see to the cordage. Sully, you and Willie are in charge of the sailcloth. Let’s get to it.”
Jack stepped to the railing to watch Dowling and Billy give way in the yawl with the carpenter. The white-faced sailor looked with longing at the pink. Jack quickly pushed aside the weakness of sympathy. If they were to attack that convoy of merchantmen expected from England and if he was to locate the Alliance and exact his revenge, he would need a skilled man directing and accomplishing the repairs to the Prodigal. There was neither a minute to lose nor a man to be spared.