Fandom: Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag.
Spoilers. Edward Kenway has a ship and a quartermaster' That's all you need to know.
Warnings: Violence, swearing, and sea shanties of questionable taste.
Summary: Adewale is injured. Edward Kenway's solution? To steal a surgeon, of course!
The Little Fishes and the Sharks
An AC4 fan fiction by xahra99
Chapter One: The Pirate.
West Indies. 1715.
The two ships rocked gently in the waves; bound together by a tangle of grapnels, ropes and boarding nets. Dead men floated face down in the turquoise water. The bright Indies sun cast a net of shadows across the deck and trapped the captain of the Marianne where he knelt in the centre of a ring of grinning pirates.
The captain was as battered as his ship; his face a chart of purple bruises, blood and black powder. Sweat ran down his face and striped his cheeks. His velvet coat was torn; the silver braid at his cuffs and hem unravelled. His person, his pride and his vessel had all taken a hammering they would not soon forget.
"How do you sleep at night?" he asked, bitterly.
Edward Kenway grinned. "In a hammock," he says, "with the waves rocking me like a baby and a bottle of rum in my hand."
The captain spat upon his ship's stained deck. The Marianne's surviving crew muttered dire curses under their breath. Kenway cocked a pistol and waved it in their direction. The sailors fell silent.
"Loot the ship," he called to his crew. "Seize what you can."
"Give nothing back," shouted Adéwalé as he drew a cutlass and hacked through several of the ship's lines.
The Jackdaw's crew flew into action. Men poured from the decks of the pirate brig. They crossed the ropes nimbly and vanished down the Marianne's hatches like tropicbirds beneath the waves. Moments later they clambered out again, each man weighed down by booty. One sailor carried a goat across his shoulders. Another clutched a box of candles. A pair of pirates manhandled a spar between them, and another brought a chest full of carpenter's tools. A haphazard pile of coiled rope, spare hammocks, sea-chests and barrels formed upon the Jackdaw's deck as the pirates looted the Marianne of her goods and provisions.
Edward Kenway eyed the cargo with pleasure. There were few chandlers in the Indies. The supplies were more valuable than gold in a land where the closest source of wood for good masts could be more than two weeks' sail distant. One man brought him a handful of pearls, which he tucked into his coat for later auction at the mast. Adéwalé claimed a dozen pairs of shoes for the common chest while Edward thrust his pistol into his sash and leant on the rail, whistling.
The captain of the Marianne was less contented. His face darkened by degrees as the pile of plunder on the Jackdaw's deck grew and the Marianne's hold emptied. "My God, man!" he snapped as the Marianne's water casks were tossed one by one onto the Jackdaw's deck. "Would you leave us nothing?"
Edward's hand strayed to his cutlass hilt. "Your lives?" he suggested. "Although I may be persuaded to rethink."
The white feather on the captain's hat trembled as he shook with rage. "Kill me," he snarled, "and the Navy will hunt you down."
"The Navy," said Edward precisely, "will not know."
"The fleet will catch you-"
Edward's grin reappeared. "They can try."
"They will hang you." When this did not provoke the hoped-for response, the captain added "By the neck, until dead, as is customary."
"So have said many men," Edward watched the last of the pirates crawl from the Marianne's hatches with an expression of supreme disinterest. "It is cursed long in coming."
"Are you finished?" The captain's shoulders slumped like the slashed lines of his ship. " I'll be lucky to make it back to port. You've taken everything!"
"Not yet." Edward's gaze rose from the porthole and settled on the captain. The decks were bare. Everything of value that could be looted had been, and the Jackdaw's decks creaked with the strain. "I'll take your hat."
His crew cheered as he plucked the captain's plumed hat from his head. The man was balding and had dispensed entirely with a wig. The sight of his hairless head gleaming in the sun was an unexpected bonus. Edward gave the man a mocking bow before he turned upon his heel and leapt onto the Jackdaw's deck.
"Cast off," he called as his pirates climbed aboard. "We have what we need. Let the captain keep his ship." He gave the feather a flick. "In return for his fine hat."
The captain scowled as Adéwalé leaned casually across the Jackdaw's swivel-gun. He gave the captain another mocking bow, turned on his heel, and leapt onto the pirate brig's deck. The crew drew cutlasses and hacked free the boarding lines. Freed from her bindings, the Jackdaw gained speed. Edward turned to Adéwalé. "How'd you fancy my new hat?"
The big man rolled his eyes. "It doesn't suit you. Looks like a triangular apple-pastry, if you ask me. "
Edward reached up and pulled the hat from his head. He spun the feathered tricorn in his hands. "Maybe you're right," he said, and tossed the hat over the side. There was a splash as the hat hit the water. A flying-fish leapt from the waves in an attempt to avoid either the hat or the school of sharks that had gathered to feed on the Marianne's dead crew. "I find that I prefer a hood."
An angry shout drifted across the water from the Marianne's bow -now some distance behind the Jackdaw's stern. Edward never knew if the drowning of his hat had been the last insult that the captain of the Marianne could stomach, or if it was merely a coincidence. The captain leant over his ransacked ship's railing, fumbling with a pistol and pointing in the general direction of the pirate brig.
Adéwalé cursed. "How did we miss that? I'd have thought we stole everything worth taking."
"He'll have a hard time hitting anything at this range," Edward said.
The weapon barked. Adéwalé cursed and clasped a hand to his side. A spot of blood showed upon his linen shirt, although it seemed that his leather jerkin had protected him from the worst of the impact. Edward had already drawn a pistol. He sighted down its muzzle at the captain, aimed and fired. The captain threw up his hands as if appealing to an unmerciful God, crumpled, and disappeared over the railing.
Edward smiled. He replaced his pistol in its sling and turned to Adéwalé. "Trouble, mate?"
Adéwalé shook his head. "Less than a mosquito." He had a queer, dazed expression on his face; as if searching for something just over the horizon. But every man aboard the Jackdaw knew that Adéwalé was not in the habit of lying. Edward took him at his word.
They sailed on.
Those were pleasant days for pirating. The Jackdaw slid through the water like a sharp sword through a Spanish soldier. Life was good, and when the money and the rum ran out there was always another wreck to dive upon; another prize to plunder or another plantation to loot. Adéwalé kept the crew in good order, and Edward maintained the Jackdaw in proper Bristol fashion, careening her hull, tightening her ropes and coating her keel with wax until she could outrun half the ships in the ocean and outfight the other half. Her crew had mastered the art of entering battle looking as if they were capable of anything and therefore hardly had to do anything at all.
The name of Kenway did not yet rank with Kidd, Teach and Morgan, but, as Edward said, that meant they just tried harder.
They had three days of good sailing; slipping through waters so clear it seemed as if the Jackdaw was floating upon air. Edward was charting their course in his cabin on the evening of the third day when Thomas the ship's cook knocked on the door and said "You should speak to Adéwalé."
Edward's eyes narrowed. Thomas was generally a reliable fellow, and not known for tall stories. "If you've got something to say to him, you should go and speak it to his face."
The cook twisted his cap between his hands as if wringing out a dishcloth. "It's not that."
"Then what is it?"
Thomas glanced over his shoulder. His cap was a tight little ball in his hands. "Look, captain," he said. "Just you go and speak to 'im. You should. That's all."
Edward frowned. As the captain, he was in charge of the ship. Adéwalé was the quartermaster. He was in charge of the crew. "This better not be some petty quarrel."
"It's not, captain." Thomas' grizzled expression was imploring. "Just speak to him."
Thomas nodded. He smoothed out his hat and tugged it on, gave Edward a nod and vanished through the doors.
Edward picked up his chart. He mapped a course for a while, but found himself unable to concentrate. The lamplight tinted the parchment bright gold, the colour of the promise that waited in the Observatory. None of the charts held the secret of the Templar hoard. They were as useless as leaves. Edward found himself charting a route through channels that would have scraped the Jackdaw's hull, searching the maps for an X to mark the spot, for buried treasure which existed only in men's minds. He found nothing to help him.
Speak to Adéwalé, Thomas had said. Why not?
Cursing, he rolled up his charts, pulled his hood across his face and slipped through the cabin door onto the weather deck of the Jackdaw.
It was a fine, fresh night. The moon gleamed like a silver coin above Edward's cowled head, bright enough to throw shadows on the planks at his feet. He evaded the few crew on deck easily, and did not hold it against them. He was a thing of ghosts and shadows, slipping from the shelter of mast to capstan to railing as silently as a fish through the water. Shadows were an Assassin's element, and Edward was a good Assassin despite his disreputable origins. He reached the hatch, and climbed down to the gun deck.
It should have been impossible to pass unnoticed in the crowded, creaking space below. The space was packed full with the goods and provisions which had overflowed the Jackdaw's hold. Edward set a course between spars, sea-chests, hen coops and parrot cages. He slipped through the shadows as silently as if he flew on sable wings.
It did not take him long to find Adéwalé. The quartermaster had a cabin of his own; but when awake and not at labour he could most often be found on the berth deck below. There he gauged the temper of the crew, mended boarding-nets, carved ivory, played at cards and did a hundred and one smaller jobs that were necessary to the smooth and constant running of the ship. Tonight he had rigged a hammock by the door of his cabin in order to gamble with the crew. Their voices echoed though the ship, murmuring in many different accents. Bone dice clattered on the decking.
Adéwalé was far quieter than usual, but nobody commented. Likewise, no man mentioned how the quartermaster made no movement more vigorous than leaning forwards to toss the dice. Sweat glistened on his temple, and he kept his left hand tight against his side. Edward frowned as he tossed back his cowl and straightened. He moved into the small circle of candlelight and trapped the dice beneath his heel as they rolled across the deck towards him.
"Out," he said, jerking his head in the direction of the hatches.
The crew obeyed. Adéwalé watched them flee but said nothing, turning his head so that the whites of his eyes glittered in the lamplight. Edward picked up the dice and made them run over his hands like water before he handed them back to Adéwalé and hunkered down besides the hammock. He waited until he was sure the crew were out of range before he turned to his quartermaster and said quietly "What the hell are you doing, man?"
"I was winning," Adéwalé retorted. His face was grey as a fish belly in the dim light.
Edward leaned back against the hull, shaking greasy hair back from his face. "You haven't been up on deck much, mate."
Adéwalé sighed. He loosened his bandana and used the silk to wipe his brow. "A man is entitled to a rest now and again."
"That depends on why he's resting. How bad is it, Adé?"
The quartermaster's dark eyes were unreadable. He loosened his jerkin, shrugged the vest from his broad shoulders with a wince, and lifted the bandage he wore underneath his shirt. Edward saw torn flesh, blood and pus, glistening greasily in the candlelight. The smell below decks, never pleasant, thickened with the smell of rotting flesh. He recoiled, and Adéwalé replaced the bandages without a word.
"Damn," said Edward after a while. "You should have told me sooner."
"We are ten days out from any port," Adéwalé said quietly. "What would you have done?"
Edward scratched his chin. "Well, I'd have killed more of those bastards, for a start," he said. "Damn it, Adé. I could stand to lose near any other man. We both know you'd've been commander, if the crew'd been able to stomach a black man at the helm."
Adéwalé shrugged. "Perhaps. But you know the way those sails set."
"Is the bullet still in?"
"Must be, for the wound to turn so bad so fast."
Edward cursed again. The Jackdaw had no surgeon. So far there had been no need. The tailor had sutured more than his fair share of flesh, and the carpenter could saw a leg like wood if needed. The captain of a ship was physician to his crew in a real physicker's absence, and Edward knew just enough to realise that Adéwalé needed more nursing than he could provide. Surgeons were in short supply in the West Indies, where most men died fast.
"We'll find you a physician," he promised.
Adéwalé shook his head. "You'd sooner sight a mermaid around here. Where are you going to find a surgeon?"
Edward grinned. "We're going to steal one," he said.
To Edward's surprise, the crew were enthusiastic about the prospect. Adéwalé was popular, and a ship rich enough to carry a physician might well have other prey. As it was, all Edward had to do was promise a pair of pistols to the first man who sighted a sail, and the crew were his.
Edward set the Jackdaw cruising on the trade winds out into latitudes where they could find the choicest prey. They found a ship the same day, although it had no surgeon. The second had none either. Edward looted rum and sugar, but kept his pillaging speedy, and that evening he went below again to visit Adéwalé.
The quartermaster was failing, no question about it. He had moved into his cabin, no longer able to sit a hammock without toppling. He took a little water and puked most of it across the deck. Edward handed him a bottle of cheap rum in its place. The rum was not the best to clean a wound, but it was all they had.
"You don't have to do this," said Adéwalé. He soaked a rag in the liquor, applied it gingerly to his side, and took a long pull on the bottle. "Crew won't tolerate a long sail without a prize at the end of it."
Edward hunkered down beside the quartermaster's bunk and Adéwalé passed him the rum. "They will if I tell them to."
"We both know a pirate ship don't work like that. Pirates're like fine ladies. They need wooing with plunder and pearls, and sailing in these latitude ain't getting 'em either."
"True." Edward took a long drink. "It's lucky you're a popular man, Adé. What sort of pirate would I have been if not for you?"
"A piss poor one." Adéwalé said through his teeth.
Edward shrugged. "Less effective, certainly." He handed the bottle back to the quartermaster, who sighed but made no move to drink.
"D'you want my advice?"
"Regardless," Edward said, "I have a feeling I'm about to get it."
"Then give up the chase. 'Tis a fool's errand, and will gain you nothing in the long run. The crew will only stay loyal if you find them rich prizes, and you'll not get them in these latitudes. You would spend their loyalty on false hope and earn nothing."
"I won't lose the crew," Edward said. He turned from Adéwalé's bunk to pace the tiny room like a caged leopard. "And you won't die yet. I will not have it. I need you here."
"All men must die, my friend," Adéwalé took another swig of rum, and coughed. "I'd rather die free on the deck of a ship than live a long life slaving for another man."
Edward paused. "Devil take you, Adé, you're not going to die. And if you're not going to drink that, I will."
Adéwalé chuckled and tightened his hand around the bottle. "I'll die, and they'll depose you," he said. "I said you were a piss-poor pirate."
"They wouldn't dare. We'll find a ship soon. I feel it in my bones."
You lie badly, Englishman," said Adéwalé. "You've a face like shallow water. Any man might read your secrets."
"I'm Welsh," said Edward. It was a familiar argument, as comfortable as an old shoe. "And you're not dying. Not yet."
"Yes, Welsh." Adéwalé's deep voice had dried to a whisper. "I would have liked to visit your land."
"There's more than enough of us in the Indies," Edward took another swig of rum and passed the bottle back to Adéwalé. "There's no need."
"Tis hard to judge a place only by the men who choose to leave it." Adéwalé lifted the bottle to his mouth, pulled a face, and let the bottle drop untasted. "And I've heard the women are comely."
"Aye, you're right. Tits like the mountains of Snowdon."
"I like the sound of that."
Both men paused to consider the possibilities. In the sudden silence, the cry was clear.
"Sail! Sail ahoy Captain!"
Edward thrust the bottle of rum back into Adéwalé's hand and was on deck before the Devil could lace his boots. The blue sky and clear water near slapped him after the dim and stinking confines of Adéwalé's cabin. "Where?" he asked, squinting at the horizon as the lookout handed him a spyglass, and then "Yes. I see. Raise the flag. Run her down."
The crew rushed to obey. They piled on every scrap of sail to fill the Jackdaw's wings. The luckless sloop trimmed her sails and ran before the wind as soon as the Jackdaw showed her flag, but the Jackdaw crowded after the vessel. Edward raised the spyglass and watched the dismal expression on the sailors' faces grow nearer as they realised the Jackdaw sailed two foot to their one.
"Pile on every inch of sail," he ordered as the merchant ship drew near. "Keep at her. We'll have her in the end."