Fandom: Assassin's Creed: Black Flag
Spoilers: Postgame, canonical character death.
Summary: Years after the events of Assassin's Creed: Black Flag, Anne Bonny receives a letter and recalls an old life.
Never No More
An Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag fan fiction by xahra99
Charles-Town, South Carolina, 1736
Anne Bonny raised the black flag in Charles-Town at four on a Tuesday afternoon. She hitched the child up on her hip and tied the free end of the rope around the flagpole with a knot she had used in her sailing days. When she was done she stood for a moment with her back to the town and gazed far out to sea.
It was a good day to hoist the colours. The flag snapped in the wind; a bold black slash beneath a sun as gold as merchant's coin.
Joseph had argued for a red flag, but Anne had insisted upon black. The black flag was a message and a memory both. To Anne, the flag was a remembrance of times past. To the folk living nearby, the banner simply meant that their mail had arrived at Anne's inn. They'd collect their letters and stay for a drink or two and a bit of filthy gossip.
Anne had lived in Charles-Town for nearly half her life. There were people there who knew her only as a respectable woman; a wife and tavern owner with four young children and a hardworking husband. There were days when that was all she needed. If there were days when she watched the mackerel glitter of the Atlantic and thought of the Caribbean's blue seas, then no one knew it but herself.
Mary began to wail, and Anne dug in the pocket of her apron and handed the child a piece of coral to chew on. She lingered for a moment; imagining that the clouds on the horizon were sails.
"Morning, Mistress Burleigh," said a voice as cracked as old leather.
"Morning, Charles," Anne said as she turned. The movement made Mary drop her coral teething ring and Anne bounced the child in her arms before she could burst into tears. "Are you coming for your mail?
The old man nodded. His back curved like a sail in full breeze as he bent down and picked up Mary's coral from the floor. "Here you go, Mistress Burleigh," he said as he wiped the coral on his jacket and offered it to Mary.
"Call me Anne," Anne said automatically. She took the piece of coral and handed it to Mary, who stuffed the corner of the coral into her mouth and ceased her crying.
Charles shook his head. "Wouldn't be right," he said, gripping his walking stick like a cutlass as if at any moment he might be called upon to defend Anne's honour. "Not for a fine lady like you."
Anne stifled a smile. "Mr. Roper!" she said. "Should my husband be worried?"
"If I was thirty years younger," said the old man with a heavy sigh. "Maybe forty. How's that mailbag, mistress? Stuffed with letters, I'll warrant?"
"Aye," Anne agreed. She rocked the baby on her hip and set her course towards the tavern. Charles Roper was a familiar customer. He lived over the hill from the tavern and was always the first to arrive on mail day, though he rarely received a letter. Anne had pieced together scraps from the old man's conversation and had gathered that he had few family living, and none nearby. Roper had been a merchant in Charles-Town for many years. Judging from his stories, he had been a better pirate upon land than Anne had ever been at sea.
She accompanied him to the tavern door. The sign that hung above the ordinary announced 'J. Burleighs Inn,' to those that could read it. The painting was of Anne's design, and showed an eagle crouching, with mantled wings, spread claws and opened beak. Liquor and men were two things she knew very well, and the sign of Burleigh's Eagle was already famous throughout the fledgling Carolinas.
She deposited Mary behind the bar and emptied the mail-bag out on the counter for Roper. Mary crawled under the counter and began a game with her coral ring and a tiny ship Joseph had carved from a spare bit of kindling. Anne found a cloth and began to shine up glasses. She was well practised at polishing smeared crystal to a brilliant sheen. Like covering a dubious past, she thought.
Joseph smiled at her from the other end of the bar. Anne raised a tumbler to her eye and spied at him, squinting through the bottom of the glass. He was a big man, made larger by her impromptu lens, and he grinned as she watched him manhandle a barrel down from the bar.
"A busy time tonight," he said. "Randolph and Hurst have sealed a land deal, and Hurst has told me they mean to celebrate by ordering our biggest bowl of arrack punch."
Anne mentally began to number all the bowls within the tavern, and wonder where they could find one larger in such a short time. "Have we enough arrack?" she asked. The drink was brewed from coco-nuts and was often, like so many things within the colonies, in short supply. "If not, I'll add some cane-juice to the mix once they're well sauced. They'll be so far in their cups they'll not notice the change."
"That's hardly honest."
"It's for their own good," said Anne practically, "We'll give Hurst arrack, if he wants it, and as the evening passes he'll hardly notice weaker stuff. Mayhap he'll behave himself better this time, and be less likely to break all our good glasses."
Joseph grimaced. "Perhaps," he said. New tumblers were just another thing in short supply among the colonies. Anne often wondered at the effort required to run a successful public house. It was a pity, she thought, that you couldn't just ram your tavern into another and board her to take what you wanted, with bottles for bullets, and champagne for cannons. Piracy was much easier than bargaining.
She drifted into a reverie of rising tides and powder-smoke. Her hands carried on with their work, mechanically wiping glasses one after another. It wasn't until Charles Roper touched her on the arm and said "If you please, mistress, there's a letter for you," that she looked down at the bar and realised her work was almost finished.
"A letter?" she said in surprise. "What would I do with a letter?"
"I'm sure I don't know, mistress," said Charles.
"Well, I don't know either," Anne said. Letters were sent by a small group of wealthy people who could afford the ruinously steep postage to their friends who were educated enough to read them. "I can't read."
"Would you allow me to be of service?" the old man said courteously.
"I'm willing if you are," said Anne, and smiled. "There's a hot toddy in it for you if you do."
"Then I'm most willing," Roper said. He slid a knife beneath the flap of the letter and drew out a folded broadsheet while Anne fetched the toddy. She handed him the drink and examined the envelope uncomprehendingly. There was no accompanying note. The paper was of fine quality; flimsy, even, compared to that of American make. All four sheets were covered with closely printed text. The writing meant nothing to Anne, who could not read. Most of the people that she knew could not write. She had not expected to recognise the hand.
Charles cleared his throat and began to read. "The London Chronicle," he declaimed, "or Universal Evening Post." His brow furrowed. "It's like it can't make up its mind."
Anne shrugged. The titles of newspapers were no concern of hers. "When was it written?" she asked.
Roper searched for the date. "The issue is Friday, December 9th, 1735" he said. "That makes this last year's news, but I suppose we must expect that given the distance 'tween England and her colonies. It's a wonder this turned up at all."
"It's a wonder somebody sent it in the first place," said Anne. "Go on."
He scanned the closely packed pages of print. "Which part do you want?"
"All of it," said Anne. "I want all of it."
"Your wish is my command, dear lady," said Roper. He pushed his spectacles up on his nose and began to read while she perched on a stool beside him. He told her of a lost dog, "very fat, with a white Breast", a Fam'd Elixir for the Wind, a baiting at the Cock-Pit of the East India Tyger and Three Large Bear-Dogs, and an Entertainment, by Mr Clinch of Barnet, who Imitates the Flute, and the Noise of a Pack of Hounds, at 7 o' clock of the Cross Keys Tavern." It all left Anne none the wiser, except to think that London must be a very exciting and lively place to live. She wondered if she was not too old to go there still.
Roper read until his voice croaked and wavered and it seemed to Anne that a raven read to her rather than a human being. She had almost ceased to listen when Roper read the last article.
"On Saturday Died Mr Edward Kenway, a Gentleman, late of Queen-Anne's Square, London. A Seafaring Person of great Fortune, his life is at an End, but his Story will be told for some Time without Ceasing."
Anne dropped the glass she had been holding. She grasped blindly for Mr Roper's toddy and took a great swig of the drink. Sorrow grasped her like a cold hand, as if she was drowning deep beneath the waves. There was no land that she could see and all seemed turned to water.
London, she thought. I should have known. For all he played the wild rover, she'd always known that Edward's heart lay in the crowded lanes of England. It was only one of the reasons she'd refused him so long ago.
Charles Roper looked up at her from his barstool. "Someone you knew, girl?" he asked.
"Yes," she said, "but not like that." She left the old man at the bar with the paper in his hand and walked out from behind the bar and out into the sun without looking or caring much where she was going. She heard Mary cry behind her and Joseph called "Anne?" but she ignored him. She left the tavern behind and walked out along the harbour. The wind had died down and the bay shone mirror-bright in the sun. The masts in the harbour were thick as a forest and far taller than the steeples on the shore. The ships carried a freight of memory Anne had thought she had long lost.
It was 1736, and the golden age of piracy had long given way to iron. She had not heard from Edward in years, and most of the others were dead. Teach had died defiant, Vane had died mad, Rackham had died poor and in chains. No pirate had ever died rich and free.
Except Edward Kenway. But he was dead; had died nearly a year ago in London, and she had never known. It felt to her as if a hurricane had come howling from a clear blue sky.
"Anne?" she heard again, and Joseph was there, embracing her. "What's the matter?"
She looked into his warm honest face. "A friend I knew is dead," she said. "A pirate."
He frowned "I thought there were no pirates?"
"No," she said. "Not anymore."
He said nothing, then, and held her. Anne closed her eyes and breathed him in. She wondered, not for the first time, how much Joseph knew about her past. He'd been a different man before she met him. They both had pasts they preferred to forget; and the new futures they had gathered close around them chafed on occasion like garments newly sewn. The past was past.
He stroked her hair as they stood there, and tucked a daisy in behind her ear. At last she straightened. "Let's go."
"Shall we strike the flag?" he asked. "It's getting dark."
Anne looked up at the black flag dancing overhead. "No," she said. "Leave it up there."
He put his arm around her shoulders and they went back up the hill and back inside the inn to their children. The black flag flew cold and lonely in the dark. An epitaph, for those that chose to read it, to the age of pirates, and of one pirate in particular.
No pirate ever died rich and old and free.
Except of course Anne Bonny.
"I've been a wild rover for many a year
And I spent all my money on whisky and beer
But now I'm returning with gold in great store
And I never shall play the wild rover no more."
And it's no nay never, no nay never no more
Will I play the wild rover, no never no more"
Wild Rover-traditional Irish song.
"But what is become of her since we cannot tell; only this we know, that she was not executed."
A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates, by Captain Charles Johnson, on Anne Bonny.