Captain Dreade is the first novel in its series
By E.A. Bundy
A page taken from the cabin boy’s journal discovered on a Caribbean island—formerly known as the West Indies—dated in the year of our Lord, 1688:
Cap’n Dreade, so they say, feares no man, no wheres, no time, under what’ere conditiones. Nay—tis the wee-little thingies what bothers him.
Tis for sure, there’s ever-so-muche ta see, bein’ me captaine’s lad. More even than me older shipmates & the story I be puttin’ down here—what none ‘r likely ta belief in if’n they was ta uncovere—t’woulde curle the bark righte off’n ye olde oak tree. For oure shipe this frigatte Sea Eagle be not like moste. Tis a pyratical vessele if’evere there be one. Not no reglear pirates’ ship she be. Fore she belongs ta the strangeste captaine what’e’er plied yon sevene seas. Cap’n Scruffy Beard he be called—but not to his face, mind ye. Nay, we be addressin’ him right proper, ere we be marooned on a deserted isle, or pitched over the rail fer a wee visite ta the mermaides lande. Aye, that we be--
Chapter One: “A Sail...A Sail”
The early morning sky above the West Indies was tinged with pinks and blues overlaid by long wisps of clouds that had stretched beyond the point of breaking by an overnight storm. A weary Caspian Tern slanted its wings and tilted into a gradual dive from great height toward the three-masted ship dead ahead. A second boat sailed at a greater distance, appearing as a large spot near the horizon.
On the nearby frigate’s deck, a dozen chickens acquired by raiding a merchant ship fluffed their feathers in a sturdy cage. Davy the cabin boy had just anchored their pen to the ship rail for some early morning sun. He barely noticed one of the pet monkeys waiting for him to leave, biding its time to start some mischief with the hens. The poultry’s heads turned upward, their feathery bodies frozen in alarm at the sight of a possible bird of prey diving toward their boat. Davy lost interest, however, because high in the crow’s nest a lookout called below, “A sail…A sail.”
After a fruitless scanning of the surrounding seas for the telltale white canvas, Davy raced toward his commander’s quarters, remembering the man’s wig was still drying on the makeshift clothesline where Cap’n Dreade would never find it.
Davy heard the few crewmen aloft unfurling square sails after the night’s storm quicken their pace, and others on the deck noisily hauled themselves up to ready their ship for flight or pursuit, whichever it was to be.
"Comin’ sir,” Davy yelled as he neared the cabin, hoping to calm the man even before entering. Lunging through the doorway, he called out, “They’ve sighted—”
“Me mop!” the captain bellowed. “Where in the depths of Hades have ye hid it?”
Davy raced for the wig-burdened twine strung in the corner, ignoring the bald head and pathetic facial hair their captain tried in vain to promote into a beard. Long ago, the man had set fire to his bushy face while trying to light a cannon fuse. The flame flashed upwards to the top of his head and burned his hair clean away, permanently scarring his pate in the process. A vain man, he’d coifed his unruly mane with pig lard, which everyone knew was highly flammable.
Whitish wig in hand, Davy hastened to his captain. If only there was time to dry it properly. They’d run out of white powder for freshening wigs and it was such a dingy mess by the last week, Davy decided to clean it, which led to washing. He’d rung it out as best he could by hand, but--
The captain snatched his hairpiece from the boy and flung it over his head, leaving for the upper quarterdeck. Davy felt moisture from the matted curls and saw drops of water cascading down his commander’s back. Cringing, the lad slowly followed, hoping there was a battle not far off to keep Captain Dreade’s mind away from his saturated wig.
Typically, their ship's leader wore a bright red neckerchief over his skull, like many aboard ship. Only on formal occasions or impending battle did he don his white wig, taken from a past prisoner.
Still trailing his commander, Davy knew the answer to the day’s unfolding events lay far out to sea. Glancing up through the ship’s rigging, he couldn’t spot their lookout, hidden behind full sails. Davy clambered the steps and found the captain already braced against the fore-rail, locating the far-off vessel with his spyglass. Their leader could view clearly, aided by the telescope on this semi-calmed sea, since the ship’s movements were small. However, even a mild shiver on deck created a tempest up in the crow’s nest.
“She be French,” the captain called out. “Strike our colors.”
The first mate commanded, “Raise Jolly Roger.”
One crewman lowered their misleading flag as another mate stood by to attach the skull and crossbones to the rope. Usually, they waited to get closer to another ship before announcing their true identity and intentions. Davy noted his ship currently flew a French flag. Depending on the waters they traveled, their false colors of nationality changed by the week, if not the day.
“Storm damaged,” Captain Dreade proclaimed. “Easy prey.”
By now, the man’s back displayed a darkened and ever-widening patch of damp cloth. Thankfully, his ornate coat was several layers thick so he might not notice. Davy pulled nervously on the copper ring fitted through his ear lobe. Compared to his mentor, Davy’s clothes were but tattered rags for he did not benefit as regular crew would from a share in whatever bounty they stole off other ships.
Across the water, the disabled boat made a futile attempt to lumber away from her pursuer. Despite her efforts, the distance between them lessened and she became more visible to the naked eye.
“A corvette,” said the captain. “Never catch her undamaged. Tis not military…but once t’was. Some cannon still aboard, I wager.”
Davy squinted at the other boat. He knew the smaller French corvettes were among the fastest of that navy’s ships, on a par with English and American sloops. Typically, they had a dozen guns or less, and were utilized for reconnaissance by the bigger ships of the line—the first or second raters--what the English called Men of War. Those behemoths carried upwards of one hundred large cannons each. “Will she turn ‘n fight, cap’n?”
“Perhaps,” the pirate leader focused his spyglass on their quarry. “Bring forth me pistols.”
Davy returned to the cabin and lifted the twin firearms by their shoulder-sling from a peg on the wall. The leather strap had two holsters, each holding a matchlock pistol. When he rejoined his pirate captain and handed over the weapons, the man slipped them in place over his shoulder and resumed his surveillance.
Without being asked, Davy went back to their quarters, where the captain had several more pistols in a locked arms drawer. Having access to the key, Davy soon had three more pistols and a short-barreled blunderbuss placed on the square table anchored to the center of the floor. He checked the weapons’ powder and shot loads, then retrieved a lengthy Spanish-made rapier from its mounting place on the wall. The captain customarily wore his cutlass, but he was a deadly hand with the rapier, and preferred having it nearby. In the unlikely event that an enemy force swarmed the Sea Eagle’s deck, he could duel in “gentlemanly” fashion with a rival officer. Davy had this pre-battle drill down pat, and slipped the thin-bladed sword into the slot specially made for it just outside the cabin door.
“They’re turning,” the captain said as Davy climbed to the quarterdeck. “Mr. Heinz…fire a warning.”
The trio of fore-guns mounted near the ship’s bowsprit were primed to shoot. The first mate shouted to the master gunner, “Give it your best, Mister Bristol…across their bow.”
A flash briefly replaced the cannon’s shadow on the deck and the first gun recoiled against its tether rope in a cloud of smoke, followed a second later by the sound from the explosion reaching Davy’s ears, and then the whistle of the departing three-pound ball through the air. Two men tending the cannon reefed on the smaller ropes to return the gun to firing position. Another deckhand removed remnants of smoldering fabric from the cannon’s mouth, and prepared to load a new round of shot after his mate added powder.
Davy stood on tiptoe at the rail and saw a splash ten yards shy of the other boat’s stern, not the hoped-for shot over her prow. The Sea Eagle’s reloading forward gun was a prize from raiding a Spanish naval vessel. The English-made barrel was extra long, with thicker metal than similar sized cannons, allowing for a larger charge of powder. With it, they could hit ships beyond normal range; even the mightier six-pounders could not match its distance. It was mostly for intimidation, since the three-pound ball could do little damage.
When the Sea Eagle’s course corrected, the captain said, “Again, Mr. Heinz.”
“Fire second round!” the first mate ordered.
That shot sailed with deadly purpose, their frigate having altered course and the distance between vessels narrowed. It slammed against the side of the other ship. Davy heard the delayed sound from the impact even that far away. However, the ball was another three-pounder and the point of collision on the corvette was strongly reinforced so the wood held.
“Higher,” the captain said.
Heinz shouted, “Up a notch, mates.”
The cannon tenders quickly hammered wooden wedges under the heavy barrel, near the mouth to raise trajectory, and after the master gunner checked its aim, the third gun fired. Davy watched the distant ball arc over the corvette’s rail, coming down somewhere on the main deck, he thought. A moment later, there was a visible disturbance aboard the other craft. The mast, which had already been storm-damaged, sagged farther. Lines meant to anchor it fouled with other ropes and the rigging danced madly about.
The pirate crew cheered. It was a lucky hit since the light three-pound cannon balls were mostly anti-personnel weapons.
“She’s a nice prize,” the captain muttered.
Davy wondered if their leader meant to convert her into a second pirate ship. A few famous privateer and pirate chieftains had three or more such vessels, and buccaneers were noteworthy for traveling in deadly boat packs. As the boy watched, the limping craft steered even farther to larboard, attempting to turn broadside to the Sea Eagle. All but one of the pirate’s forward guns had reloaded and the third was nearly ready.
“Daft is this one,” the captain said angrily. “Raise me flag, Mr. Heinz.”
“Aye sir,” the first mate replied.
Davy knew his part and went down inside the cabin to fetch the captain’s personal colors. They seldom flew this white pirate face on a red background but Davy decided their leader wanted to announce who he was to encourage surrender. The notorious Captain Dreade was also famous for the fair treatment of captured crews, and returning ransomed captives unharmed--most of the time. Perhaps this signal cloth would soften resistance.
By the time the red and white banner was high in the air, the corvette had turned fully broadside and Davy saw the smoke blooms from five enemy cannons. He ducked down and kept the ship’s rail between him and the approaching danger. A seeming eternity later, large metal balls pelted his ship. The resounding impact splintered wood in numerous places. One mast twitched and its rigging swayed, although it remained sound.
"Curse the fools,” said the captain. “Let ‘em have a real taste of it, Mr. Heinz.” Under the direction of the master gunner, the three bow cannons fired almost as one, and while the Sea Eagle continued coming about for a broadside of her own, the three nearest swivel guns fired as well. Although their one-pound shot could do no real damage to a ship, they effectively peppered a crowded deck.
The pirate frigate had suffered little actual damage from the corvette’s opening salvo, and rapidly completed its turn, bringing its twelve starboard guns on the main deck—eight of which were yet to fire—into shooting range of the smaller ship. At thirty-five cannons, the Sea Eagle was a force to be reckoned with, although Davy knew the Captain wouldn’t use the six biggest cannons on the lower deck. Those and the oar ports on that level were for close-quarters fighting with a larger vessel.
Captain Dreade commanded, “Fire!” His strident voice caused those manning cannons to set off their weapons without awaiting word from Mr. Heinz. The Frigate seemed to yaw briefly due to the force of exploding artillery, although Davy knew that was rare. The firing recoil was mostly absorbed when each gun’s four small wheels allowed it to roll back until the heavy safety rope brought it to a stop. Thus contained, the large gun would not careen across the open deck. A loose cannon could be a disaster on a pitching ship, even more than a free-rolling cannonball.
What happened next was so unexpected, the cabin boy stood with his mouth open wide. The corvette went up in a great flame, her remains mostly hidden beneath a haze of smoke. The deafening blast assaulted the ears of the Sea Eagle’s men.
The entire crew of the frigate stood still along the rail, reminding Davy of ale bottles lined on a shelf. They all watched as their hoped-for prize disappeared into the sea. Sinking masts carried sails and rigging beneath the rising cloud of smoke, down into the watery depths. The visible debris that still floated was composed mostly of wooden fragments, for the ocean had fully swallowed its prize.
The first to move was Captain Dreade. He yanked the curly white hairpiece from his skull, flung it on the deck and proceeded to jump up and down atop it, screaming obscenities. The crew’s heads swiveled as one—from viewing their lost treasure, to staring at the apoplexy of their leader.
Davy rushed forward and grabbed the man by his flopping pistol sling, leading the irate figure to the nearly vertical steps, and the cabin door below. The captain kept bouncing angrily, but allowed Davy to guide him away—his bald head bobbing and glinting in the sun. Once their leader was inside, Davy quickly retraced his steps and retrieved the abused wig, hoping that most of its water had squished-out on the deck.
Returning below, he slammed the cabin door shut, and wiped his sweating brow. He’d noticed with some trepidation the chicken cage was absent from the deck. Hopefully, a seaman had lowered the hens safely into the hold, but Davy didn’t have time to worry about that now. He had a much bigger problem to deal with—a problem known by the name of Captain Dreade—the entire crew counted on Davy to calm the man down at such a time....
Website copyright © 2011-2013 by EA Bundy. All rights reserved. None of the text, photos, or illustrations may be used without the author, and/or publisher’s—Singing Winds Press—written permission. (Please note, Singing Winds Press is closed to submissions.) Captain Dreade was published in paperback and as a Kindle eBook in 2012