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The mercenary arrived at the back gate as soon as the sun had set, as was planned. The intricate iron gate and high stone walls were attributed to a fairly wealthy merchant's estate. He was led in by a skittish family servant, one who was whispering words of another language that he could not understand. The short servant motioned to a small, shed-like room. He gave him a look of hesitant disbelief, but proceeded inside nonetheless. The nerve-racked servant realized the full breadth of their guest's looming figure, shut the sliding door and returned to his duties in the yard.
"We hope your travels have been safe and comfortable, Abram," the merchant father greeted. He was an aging man in his early fifties, already with fine with streaks in his wispy hair and beard.
"Yes, comfortable enough," Abram replied. He removed the cloth wrapped around his face and head, revealing his dark, thin curls woven tightly and deep brown skin tone. His light brown eyes were alert. The much younger son sitting at his father's left side. His leg bounced up and down impatiently. He was the pride of his father and that meant getting married to a respectable girl of another respectable family.
"This girl, Ismene Rothschild, we've been expecting her, as well. But she never arrived. You see, that is why we hired you, where you come in," the father explained.
"You want her dead or alive is the first thing I want to establish," Abram declared.
"Alive, please. Very much alive," the son replied earnestly.
"She was betrothed to my son. It was a deal between our families. Her family lives in a distant city. She's believed to have ran away during the journey between her hometown, and the Capital city here. We put a bounty over her head and received a few leads," the older man continued.
"Usually I am a mercenary, but you've hired the right man if you want someone tracked down. What do you know another her whereabouts? About her?" Abram asked. He needed all the information to complete the job.
"We were not hesitant with all of this. A runaway girl in the streets, away from her family...we are simply worried for her safety...and of course, the marriage and reputation of our families is at stake. It would be of no trouble to arrange another marriage but--" he continued. Abram believed the man's talkative nature stemmed from his dealings as a merchant.
"The neighbors would never let us live it down!" the son interjected. His father seemed peeved at his increasingly interrupting son.
"And what does she look like?"
"I've met Ismene once. She's quite nice and beautiful, but in a small, frail looking way. Her hair is a medium brown, wavy, and braided in a tail down her slender back. Her eyes are a rich green and her skin is olive toned, almost tan; quite odd for a young lady who has never had to work in the fields. Her face us round and she has a thin build. She also likes to wear loose shirts, if that helps.” he explained, as best as he could.
“And her age?”
“Her mother and father told us she was 17 years old. She must be almost 18 years old by now,” the son answered.
“That is a bit late to be getting married from where I come from. But is she here? In the Capital?”
“Yes, close to the docks, actually,” the father added, “We are baffled and at a loss of why she would do this.”
“What about my gains? How much of a bounty is over her little head?” Abram asked.
“We have wanted posters around the city saying one hundred bars of gold.”
Abram smirked crookedly and remarked, ”And gratuity is another one hundred.”
Like father and son, both of them dropped their jaws in disbelief. Abram could see the resemblance more clearly between the two.
“Please, you have to underst--”
“You’ve hired the best mercenary in the region and expect me to do charity work?! This is a ridiculous waste of time!” Abram slammed the table, causing the son to spill his cup of hot tea. The father began to plead as Abram rose and prepared to leave.
“Forgive me, sir. We should not have tested you. For your troubles, please accept two hundred bars of gold,” the old man begged on his knees and tugged at Abram’s long shirt sleeves. Abram pulled himself free and grunted.
“Let me be. It is a deal for now. But I make no promises. I am heading to the docks tomorrow morning. You will hear from me soon,” he stated. Abram shut the sliding door with a heavy hand. He did not need the servant to show him the way again.
~ ~ ~
Abram’s tasks took him around the world. He was always far from home. He wondered why this girl would run away from her new home, without have given it a chance. Her family definitely had money, not necessarily had been born into it but had earned it as entrepreneurs, like the merchants’ family. There would be no reason to run away, unless she was desperate. Abram had to work his way from the bottom up. He thought about this as he lay in bed at an inn.
“I’ll be down at the docks in the morning,” he thought sleepily, lying limp and tangled in sheets that needed to be washed.
Abram threw a cloak over himself after shaving the beginnings of a woolly beard. The docks in the harbor were busy, as expected, with all sorts of merchants unloading and preparing for shipments. Gulls cawed angrily in the salty air and the frothy waves batted playfully at the shoreline. No one would have expected that there was a girl on the loose and a man looking for her.
He made small talk with the locals. Most were too busy to stop in their tracks and answer his leading questions, having no choice but to ignore him. But on the sidewalks along the harbor, there were idle young and old sailors loafing around, each with all the time in the world. They played cards and dice on empty crates. Most were more than happy to talk to visitors.
“Excuse me, sir, have you seen a girl running around these docks, alone? She’s said to be a little small for seventeen years old, brown hair, and green eyes?” Abram asked an elder man.
“Oh, I knew my daughter had been sneaking out to play with that boy! I advised her not to but she must have decided to anyway. When she returns home, she will receive the beating of a life time!” the old man raged.
“I am sorry to bother you, sir, but I do not believe that we are referring to the same girl. However, thank you for your time,” Abram politely excused. He was apt to retire for a midday interlude.
A young woman stepped from out of the shadows, revealing a fair face that Abram would have disregarded as ordinary, save for a delicate leather eye patch. She announced, “I have been searching for such a girl myself.”
Abram scoffed, “I’m sure.” He noticed the sun was ascending high in the sky, indicating noontime, and he turned to depart.
“You’re not from around here, are you?” her single grey eye examined him and it found no familiarity. She never failed to remember a face.
The young man replied, “That is true. But I do not know who you are, either. My name is Abram, if you must know.” He pulled away from the cloth concealing part of his face. He continued, “I am seeking a girl named Ismene Rothschild. She disappeared from her home and I must certainly find her...for the sake of her safety and well being.” It was beyond Abram’s ability to lie blatantly. He observed that this young woman was tall, her headline leveled with his eyes and her body was toned.
Celia smirked, perhaps this man will be of use. “I am Celia, Captain of the Red Rock, and notorious pirate of this area, if I may say so. I am also searching for Ismene and her crew.”
“That is astonishing. May I ask why you would be pursuing an innocent girl? And a crew, you said?” Abram came to realize that this task was becoming increasingly complicated by the minute.
“She, along with her crew, have recently raided my own ship. She pilfered a treasure precious to me, an emerald necklace, in fact. I saw the gold chain around her neck, shimmering brazenly, as she fled,” Celia paced back and forth. Her boots made distinct thumps upon the wooden pier. “Hunting for them would require a ship to sail and a crew to man it. It is probable that the kind you need are difficult to come by,” Celia was on to drive a hard bargain.
This was the lead that Abram had hoped for. He had foresaw that he would need help, but he did not expect that it would be coming from a pirate.
“You say that you are a pirate but you must know that I am a mercenary. I have captured a good lot of you,” Abram replied. He was not ready to accept the proposal yet.
“Oh, so you are a mercenary, are you? So you are getting paid for this?” Celia’s interest peaked, extra spending money never hurt anyone.
“A man must sustain himself, albeit it means chasing little girls who like to play hide-and-seek with pirates,” he said humbly, stepping into the shade of the small wooden house next to the pier.
“I demand half of your pay, and in exchange, I will offer my crew and ship’s hospitality, and we will find the girl,” she folded her arms over her chest. He would have to accept this offer, there was no other way.
Abram groomed the remnants of a shave on his chin with his thumb and index finger, pondering. He had encountered this young woman by chance. Opportunity seldom knocks twice. Reluctantly he agreed, “Fair enough, I find the girl, you retrieve your necklace, and we split the spoils. It is a deal.” He offered his hand for a handshake. His smooth hands was criss-crossed with dark creases, like the palm trees he’s so familiar with.
Celia extended her own hand, which was scarred with marks from skirmishes long past. “Deal,” and so it was.
~ ~ ~
Ismene could not exactly recall for how long she had been aboard this ship. “Perhaps a week?” she thought. She had unintentionally participated in a ship raid, a rite of passage of a pirate in the making. She wrapped her nimble fingers around the emerald jewel that hung from the chain on her delicate neck. Her first raid was successful. She would have no problem conforming to this lifestyle. The monotony of chores around the ship was bearable compared to an arranged marriage. Ismene vowed to never return.
The Captain of the Lady Raider was addressing the crew, she listened intently. “Fellow pirates, we are about to set sail. Take your places!” the Captain’s voice resonated through the ship’s creaky wooden holdings. Ismene helped raised the sails and the ship began to move slowly away from the port. The crew members were in a good spirit and conversing audibly amongst themselves. The clamor caught the unwanted attention of Celia and Abram, who bolted to the end of the dock at once. Ismene shivered as Celia glared at the emerald necklace, that was resting upon her chest, with her single eye; and Abram released a shout of frustration, somewhere between a groan and scream, from his thick lips.
“So this is what it feels like to be a pirate,” Ismene thought.
“Quick, to your ship! We can’t lose them!” Abram dictated. Celia led the way and Abram accompanied her.
Celia marched onto her ship and barked harsh orders in her crew’s direction. “We leave immediately, anchors up, sails raised! Move!” She tapped her foot impatiently as her crew scuttled about like busy beetles, making preparations. The first mate of the Red Rock, Dart, approached her, eyeing Abram suspiciously.
“Captain Celia, a moment please?” Celia nodded in agreement and asked Abram, “Would be kind enough to excuse us?”
“No matter,” Abram shrugged. He knew little about the workings of a sea vessel of this style, and left matters such as that to those who did know.
As soon as Abram was surely out of earshot, Dart spoke urgently with Celia.
“I lack confidence in his character. Mercenaries know nothing but money. He’ll betray us,” he warned.
“Dart, we are in need of a quick profit. Abram and I have an agreement. Becalm yourself.” She grinned reassuringly.
“I am merely concerned for your safety, my lady.” Dart dipped his head in gesture.
Abram slept below the deck along with everybody else in the crew’s quarters, a long hallway of miniature bedrooms. It was fortunate that he had brought his few belongings with him, or else they would have been abandoned at the inn. The nights at sea were cool and lost in the soothing sounds of the ocean. Abram was uncertain of the course they would take. This uncertainty of life was not necessarily unwelcomed. It gave him a sense of adventure and thrills. He lived for months between pays, and sometimes bounty hunting preoccupied his days. Nevertheless the money he made in this dirty job, he never failed to send it to his home village to his aging mother, Helena, and younger sister, Phebe. He wondered has she married yet. This would relieve him the trouble of worrying about her. This task was another job, bloodless for now and all to gain. Abram was not necessarily content with dividing the loot; but any money was good. There were other ways he had not considered before, no matter how lucrative.
~ ~ ~
Celia introduced Abram to her shipmates at the morning meal the next day. There was Roger, Titus, Clive, Rhys, Pascal, Cuthbert, and Dart.
“We’ve lost sight of the ship,” she announced. The crew groaned loudly in unison. Abram sipped at his drink before asking,
“Where do you think they’re headed?”
“My best guess of their destination would be St. James’ Harbor, which lies due West from here. It is a popular site for trade, and pirates are known to dock there after victorious raids in celebration.” Celia said vengefully.
“Let us go at once. But I am curious of how we lost their ship,” Abram said accusingly. He expected these sea-faring criminals to be the best.
“At night, visibility is low. We lost them in the darkness of a thick fog. It would have been foolish to have followed closely,” Celia replied tartly. A foreign mercenary had no privilege to question the Captain on her own ship.
“Excusable enough,” he muttered under his breath and finished the remains of his breakfast. He thanked the galley cook, Pearl, a middle-aged stocky woman with slowly greying, greasy-looking hair tied in a bun. Abram hesitantly smiled in return at her toothy smile.
She stood graciously at the bow, with Dart by her side, surveying the open sea. They were near St. James’ Harbor. Celia estimated that her party would arrive in a few hours. “When we approach the harbor, prepare to board the Lady Raider. They will not escape this time. Dart, prepare the crew.”
“Yes ma’am,” Dart would relay these orders to his subordinates.
Abram was below the crew cabins in the storage level, helping the other men transport crates and stack them. The count was short.
“Those other pirates took … what scum … stealing our …” he overheard from the other room. He wondered what was inside of these bulky crates. The pungent smell wafted throughout the room. Abram could not see through the crevasses of the wooden boxes.
“Ay you … are you done in there?” a gruff voice snarled. Abram was startled and scurried to the main room.
“Yes, I was tidying up,” he explained. He brushed his hands against each other, patting away the dust and dirt.
“Hurry up next time,” the other sailor growled.
“Watch your tone, sailor. Abram is a guest on this ship,” Celia warned. She had descended from the deck and Abram saw Dart tagging along obediently behind her.
“Abram, we will be in St. James’ Harbor within the next hour. If my predictions were right, we will find Ismene there. Let us not forget our deal,” she added, narrowing her eyes in suspicion.
He took notice to Dart’s presence, always following the Captain closely behind. He appeared to be her first mate, but Abram wondered what else he was. He nodded in agreement to her words. Abram had certainly not forgotten, but he had secretly hoped that she would. He hunted pirates and other criminals of her kind, but never imagined allying with them. Perhaps this piracy was simply a livelihood, just as his. Abram’s hands were not without bloodstains that he could never wash out.
~ ~ ~
It was nightfall by the time the Red Rock slipped unnoticed into St. James’ Harbor. The crew crept over to the Lady Raider. Celia signaled her crew to board the ship. They discovered that it was deserted.
“They must be in the city, we will wait for them. Someone keep watch. They will not leave this harbor without learning their lesson! No one raids the Red Rock and gets away with it!” Celia raised her cutlass to rally her crew.
Abram covered his face with part of his headdress. His identity was precious. The folds in his loose clothing were ideal to conceal a flintlock pistol, and Celia had reluctantly allowed him to temporarily wield a rapier from her arsenal. He took notice that Dart had several throwing knives and a hatchet. Abram wished that there would be no need for these weapons to be used. Dart kept watch in the crow’s nest. Celia and Abram hid in the Captain’s quarters on the deck while the rest of the crew waited below, equipped for an ambush.
The suspense of the wait was agonizing. Abram’s breaths were rapid and shallow, his blood laced with adrenaline, his stomach twisting into a tangled knot. His nostrils snarled. His legs stiffened and he nearly nodded asleep, until he detected indistinguishable shouts and laughter from a short distance. He rose into a crouched position and shook Celia awake, alerting her of an invading presence.
“They’re back,” Abram whispered, cocking his pistol and putting his free hand on the handle of his rapier.
“My crew best be awake,” Celia hissed. They could hear the heavy footsteps of men marching aboard and feel their stomps vibrating the pliable planks of the wooden deck. The dark figures loomed closer, edging nearer. They cheered merrily and had what appeared to be jugs and bottles in their hands. They moved about haphazardly.
“Looks like these fools have been to the tavern,” Celia remarked.
“It is two of us against … nine of them,” Abram pointed out. He was counting on Celia’s crew to rush out from below on time, but there was no way of signaling them.
“Sounds fair,” Celia motioned upwards, reassuring Abram. “We have got Dart in crow’s nest, have you forgotten?”
The largest figure was moving towards the door of the Captain’s quarters. “Someone’s coming!” Abram aimed his pistol. The brass knob rattled furiously. He caught a glimpse of his target’s face, haggard and terrible. Before the man could alert his crew mates, Abram fired a shot at his chest. The bullet shattered the glass and pierced his heart. Abram shielded Celia from the bursting glass shards with his thick cloak. Celia shoved him out of the way and kicked down the door frame. The Lady Raider’s Captain lied limp against the deck’s railing with the door at his feet and a bloody hole in his body. A young girl shrieked.
Dart proved true to his name and was already on the deck with the Red Rock’s crew behind him. The drunken sailors drew their swords but could barely manage not to injure themselves in their stupor. Abram’s eyes looked back and forth frantically for the girl but all that shown in the moonlight were the silvery slivers of swords and knives. Abram and Celia were back to back, positioned to hack whatever came at their way.
“They’re drunkards, let’s capture them alive,” Abram suggested.
“But what fun is that?” Celia replied innocently.
“I don’t want anymore blood on my hands!” Abram screamed. It was too late, Abram impulsively drove his rapier through another man. Blood splattered on his cloak sleeves. The man’s scimitar fell to the floor; he held at his side, as if to prevent any more bodily fluids from spilling out. He staggered and braced himself against the rail. Abram threw him overboard. The sound of splash was eclipsed by the screams of slaughtered men. Abram saw a small, thin figure jump off the bow of the ship and onto the pier from the corner of his eye. He raced after her. The blood trailing on the deck made it a slippery battlefield. Time slowed as he sprang off the bow.
The small figure fled in a frenzy. The face looked over its shoulders and shrieked again at the sight of its predator. Abram’s leather moccasins made grungy red foot prints. The prey was loose in the streets in any direction. It was a residential road that was silent at this time of night. He listened keenly between the pounds of his heart and the breaths he took, and detected the jingling of a chain … the necklace!
Abram was catching up, his powerful legs thrust him forward. Sweat drops beaded at his temples. He catapulted himself, tackling into the girl. He locked his arms around her tender throat, squeezing out a strangled cry. They fell to the ground.
~ ~ ~
Celia’s crew reclaimed their lost treasures, save for her prized emerald necklace, and plundered whatever was of any value on the Lady Raider: gold, spices, and any alcohol. She had sustained a light cut on her arm, she gave it no head as she continued to command her crew, “Secure the cargo and the ship. Make sure the captives are accounted for.” She took note that Abram and the girl were nowhere in sight.
“Your orders are being carried out, my lady. How--you’re hurt!” Dart exclaimed with wide eyes. He bandaged her arm at once.
“I’m fine, Dart, don’t bother,” she chided, but allowed him to tend to her wound. She had lost a good deal of blood and felt a bit light headed and weakly sat down in the Captain’s quarters. She would live, the sword had not cut too deeply, but there would be a scar.
It was a shame to manhandle a young girl in such a way, however, Abram had little patience. He repurposed a rope that was fastened at his waist and tied it around her dainty neck, just above the emerald necklace. Her struggling ceased as they approached her repossessed ship. She hung limply, slung over his shoulder. The gold bars were as good as his.
The Lady Raider was relatively quiet, apart from the sounds of boots and murmurs.
“It’s Abram,” he announced as he climbed up the side of the ship on a stretchy rope ladder. The burden of Ismene’s weight slowed him down. The rope burned his hands. The tails of his shirt were bloodstained and dipped into the water. He saw the dark shadow of a sunken body, but quickly looked away.
“I have her … and the necklace,” he groaned. He stumbled over the railing. Abram secured the other end of Ismene’s rope to the pole supporting the crow’s nest. She awoke and her agape mouth was gagged before it could release a shrill screech. She attempted to stand up, but the rope yanked on her neck. Abram subdued her and gazed at her eyes. Ismene’s long hair was no longer in a braid as the merchant’s son described, but a seawater washed mess. She returned a horrified stare as he slowly took away the cloth from her mouth. She gasped for air and coughed pitifully. Abram unlatched the necklace and held it up to the moonlight. The large emerald glistened beautifully. He made sure that it was in Celia’s sight. He knew that she desired it more than anything else.
“You got it, well done, Abram,” Celia congratulated, smiling hesitantly, “I will be expecting my cut of the pay soon.” She extended her arm to retrieve what was her’s. Abram cringed at the last remark and let the necklace slip away between his fingers.
Celia beamed happily at her treasure and added, “You are dismissed, Abram, but I warn you, break our deal and I will have your head. However, I trust you.” Dart nodded in agreement and moved beside Celia like that of a guard dog. Abram was surprised that Celia would say this. He could sense that Dart did not trust him, but for good reason.
“It is late and I am convinced a good lot of you are as fatigued as I am. We will settle all other matters in the morning,” Abram suggested.
Abram tied Ismene to the post of the small bed in his tiny cabin in the Red Rock’s crew quarters. Her wide eyes, skittish nature, and trembling body indicated that she was deathly afraid. The scratchy rope fibers irritated her neck.
“Do not worry. You will be where you belong tomorrow,” Abram said monotonously as he removed his cloak and hung it on a hook. Ismene stared at her captor. The baggy clothes he wore draped over what appeared to be a somewhat slim body.
“And where is that?” she whispered. Abram kicked off his shoes and locked the door with a rusty iron key. He wore it on a cord around his neck, tucked under his shirt.
“At the Capital, your fiance’s estate,” he said. He sat on the bed and smoothed the sheets with his rough hands. The lone candle in the corner of the tiny room kept it dim.
“That is not where I belong,” she corrected him. He loosened the rope around her neck and tied her hands together. He stripped the bed of its blanket and carefully laid it over Ismene. “They hired you to come for me, did they not?” Abram simply nodded.
~ ~ ~
“If I could, I would free myself and swim away,” Ismene said to no one in particular. She sat in the shade of the crow’s nest with her arms and legs crossed. The Red Rock was making a short sail to the Capital. Ismene was allowed on the deck.
Abram rattled the gate of the merchant’s estate. It was the fearful servant who welcomed them again.
“Master Richards! Master Richards!” he called to his Lord.
Ismene stood solemnly. “Why must you do this to me?” she hissed.
“I am sorry, but they will take care of you. I can assure you,” he apologized. The servant led them across the open courtyard into the main house building. There was the father, the son, the mother, and the rest of their children.
“Ah, Abram! We were beginning to worry about you,” the father greeted warmly, patting him on the back. Abram maintained an emotionless expression. “And welcome, Ismene! We’re so happy to see you.” She did not smile either. The father snapped his fingers. His servants brought out the gold.
Abram took a late afternoon promenade along the cobblestone streets. An obscure paper attached to an oil street lamp caught his eye. It was a wanted poster for Celia. Under her portrait and description was a bounty listed for five hundred bars of gold. He tucked the document in his pocket and continued along his way.
Abram gladly accepted his reward for Ismene, but he had a different idea of how to manage it. He gave the local police force a lead to Celia’s whereabouts. They were ambushed. Although most of them fled for their lives, Dart chose to stay with Celia. They were together until the end, convicted for high treason and hanged in the gallows. “I regret nothing, a life of piracy is lived to the fullest,” she finally said. Ismene was soon wed to the merchant’s son, but she grew happier as the months dwindled by. She took her own life by poison. Her soul was now free to wander the seas. When he grew too old to continue his work, Abram had amassed a small fortune in his home village. He died a content and wealthy man.