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Liberty and Power

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"In honest service there is thin commons, low wages, and hard labour. In this [the life of piracy], plenty and satiety, pleasure and ease, liberty and power… No, a merry life and a short one shall be my motto."

John 'Bartholomew' Roberts aka Black Bart (b.1682, Wales), the most successful European pirate.

Midshipman Fick had been schooled and talented enough, and possessed an aptitude for navigation that made him useful. His greater asset, however, was an aptitude for human communication. The ability to command respect from raucous sailors proved especially valuable, nay, vital when the ship he had been sailing, HMS Freedom, was boarded by pirates and the crew was forced to join the ragtag bunch of vagrants and bandits.

Adjusting to a life of ambushing and ransacking demanded precious time that Fick most certainly did not have. Neither did he have money to pay off his freedom, his wages as low as any other midshipman's, nor a perverse obstinacy or nobility that would demand he rather walk the plank than survive. What he did have was sailing skill, and a little Greek and Latin, and he turned out to be a bold fighter. The first was indispensable; the second enabled him to have secret conversations with the Captain of the pirate vessel, Ferrando, who had been similarly educated though no one knew how or where, and this lucky circumstance served in advancing Fick to the Captain's inner circle; and the third earned him the respect and rowdy affection from the thieves and killers with whom he'd happened to throw his lot.

It would not do to dwell on the relative right and wrong, Fick reasoned with himself: as a man in the navy, he had been in muddy waters from the start, and it was definitely better to be alive rather than dead, to command rather than be commanded, to get rich rather than stay poor. He saw not much more murder and deceit as a pirate than he had before he began sailing under the black flag, and there was a particular precious sliver of his conscience that had been scourged clean of blood when he had secured the lives of almost two dozen men from HMS Freedom, and with all their limbs intact to boot.

Discreetly, Fick thought of the remnants of the old crew as 'his' men, and some of them displayed truly admirable loyalty. For instance, Joshua, who had promptly changed his name to 'Ray', taken to wearing a headscarf in a jaunty fashion, and needed no further urging to talk a mile a minute than a hearty sip of dark rum. Or quiet Walter, who was partial to a merry bawdy song and still had sunlight lurking in the corners of his eyes, but whose fingers were thick, blunt and callused, holding a promise of death that would be eagerly kept. Or Colbert.

Fick was an insightful strategist, both in battle and, perhaps more importantly, on the deck, forestalling mutiny and keeping order among the men, as it seemed, through presence and inspiration alone, while Colbert showed himself a fierce disciplinarian. In truth, their positions were reversed: Fick knew how to be ruthless and cold, for had he been unable to learn, the only way out of the ranks of the freebooters (or the navy, for that matter) would have been a watery grave, and so he had acquired a skill of acting as if he were omniscient even when his awareness of the matters at hand was severely limited – which so far instilled enough trust in his men to limit their carousing and enhance their dexterity in fighting and seafaring. Colbert, on the other hand, was far from merciless, his taciturn demeanor a rather cracked mask hiding the sentimental nonsense of a handsome lass at home who'd moved on long ago, a childhood of squandered opportunities and a severe dependency on the navy to bring order to his life. If anything, his being called 'the Iceman' was more of an aspiration than an actual description.

The Iceman's blood ran hot and his heart beat true.

Occasionally, Fick would try to catch his eye in the thick morning fog instead of fruitlessly toying with the spyglass, or they would stand close by on the deck, the whisper of the wind toying with the buttons of a fine waistcoat Fick had claimed with one loot or the other, that same wind sliding under the loose silk of Colbert's white shirt to caress the vast expanse of colourful ink on his back, and they would have entire conversations in silences. A trickle of those conversations would become a torrent during one meeting with the Captain or the other, eventually washing over the crew like downpour – with gambling forbidden and heavy drinking frowned upon, a ban on robbery, a death sentence for rape.

Fick thought of Colbert as one of his men, perhaps more than others, and yet it was only Colbert whom he would consider his own man entirely. Gold, jewellery and finery were all very well, and the rush of blood to the heart in the heat of battle, even more so, but the lives of men Fick thought of holding in his hands were his greatest treasure. The kind of bounty he would never squander in a riot, or trying to run off with one of Ferrando's ships, like McGraw. The thought of Ray's, Walter's, Colbert's lives slipping through his fingers, lost like coins escaping a drowning man's clutch, was abhorrent and unnatural in a way that drawing a cutlass or poring over maps to set entire ships ablaze a couple days later never felt.

And so Fick went on about living his life, with as much diligence as before but getting infinitely more boons for it, and striving to seek enjoyment where he could. And with a strange certainty he knew that as long as Colbert was there, wherever it was, there was some enjoyment to be found in life. He was assured of it.