By Jackson Graham

1657 – Port Bristol, England

Those men attack ships and take their money—and kill the crew…”

Jade dove behind the trunk, stopping his ears against the horror. These brutes killed sailors and innocents alike. He squeezed his eyes shut, willing himself to disappear. Minutes earlier, savage freebooters had barged into his family’s home, demanding money in their drunken stupor. At his father’s flat refusal, the buccaneers drew their cutlasses. Muffled cries rang out. Then silence.

Boots thudded as the men staggered throughout the house, searching for valuables. One pirate flung open the lid of the trunk, further concealing the trembling child, and rummaged through an unrewarding collection of blankets. Another wrenched the family coin chest from its poorly hidden position by the hearth and raised it high. As the footsteps faded, the boy waited, then he backed out of his hiding place. Jade shuddered in relief—and despair—and raced to the door, averting his gaze from the bodies of his family.

He burst through the doorway and sped up the hillside to escape the terror of the house. Halting, he glared at his former home, clenching his fists and gnashing his teeth. Tears rolled down his thin face, his hazel eyes set like ice. Frigid. Sharp. Tormented. He vowed no pirate would hereafter escape his grasp alive.

Turning away, Jade crested the hill, branches scraping his arms. The terrain sloped downwards, and the underbrush rustled as he fled. Several times the unstable ground sent him sprawling. Regaining his balance, he fled the haunting sounds and sights. Memories flooded his mind. His thoughts darted back and forth between the horrible reality of his situation and the beautiful past he longed to return to.

The din of Port Bristol’s busy commerce resounding in the warm, salty air.

Jade kept running, the forest blurring as he passed.

The broad market overlooking the shimmering ocean…

Jade’s breathing became ragged as his lungs protested the long flight to the town below. He recalled how his family’s civilized apparel starkly opposed the outfits of the swarthy characters walking to and fro.

The iron stares boring into his back as ruffians paused to study his family…

The forest faded away, opening to a town shrouded in darkness. Only the occasional street lantern lit the night. The rollicking songs from a nearby tavern assaulted Jade’s ears and only made him feel worse.

His younger brother Caden straining against his mother’s firm and loving grasp, attracted by the exotic items.

Jade darted into the shadows as a group of drunken sailors stumbled out of the nearest tavern, yelling at the top of their lungs. The smell of the sea met his nostrils—another reminder of the past.

The gentle curves of the ships’ hulls, their bows boasting ornate decorations…

Keeping to the shadows, Jade crept across the street, avoiding the drunken sailors. He failed to see a spilt barrel and tripped. With a grunt, he fell, bruised and shaken. Sadness overwhelmed him as he searched for a place to mourn.

“Son, catch up! We don’t want to lose you in this crowd,” his father called. Peace filled him as their palms met and his father tenderly squeezed his hand. Jade’s eyes glowed as he gazed up into his father’s grinning face.

Jade spotted a darkened corner where stacked barrels would hide him. A tear trickled down his cheek as he sat in solitude. He remembered the disheveled seamen at this very port, their bright clothing ragged with overuse and hanging loosely over their tanned bodies. Weapons dangled by their sides.

Jade could contain his despair no longer. The pitch blackness of midnight choked him as he pressed himself into the corner. Deep sobs racked his tiny frame. The chilled cobblestone made him shiver violently. He sniffled, rubbing his nose with the back of his hand.

Jade gestured toward the men, but his father pushed down his extended arm. “Don’t attract their eye. Those men are pirates,” his father reprimanded him. Those men attack ships and take their money—and kill the crew.” When the explanation settled in Jade’s mind, he seized his father’s shirt in a death grip and hid behind him.

The memory brought comfort—but also intensified his pain. Footsteps echoed in the night. Jade retreated further into his corner, trying to stifle his sobs. A single lantern floated in the darkness—a scruffy face materialized from the shadows, illuminated by the lamp’s orange light. The young boy emitted a whimper.

The man stopped, listening for the sound again. “Who goes there?” he inquired, scoping further into the gloom with his lantern. Jade emerged, loneliness overcoming his fear.

“Please, sir! Don’t leave me!” he cried, crawling on his hands and knees to the man in supplication. Startled, the man crouched to meet the young man.

“What’s the matter with ye?” he questioned, an expression of concern on his face. The boy resumed crying.

“Come lad, speak up!” the man urged. Jade did his best to swallow his grief and related his story.

The man’s eyes narrowed in fury. “Those no-good buccaneers. I ne’er thought they would kill civilians in the king’s land!” he snarled. He laid his rough hand on Jade’s shoulder. Ye’d be speaking to Anthony Balfour. Hunt those buccaneers fer a livin’, I do! What be yer name?”

“Jade Adcock, Mr. Balfour,” the young boy answered. Balfour helped the boy to his feet and guided him along the street, lamp in hand.

“Since yer parents be dead, I’ll take ye as my apprentice and see that yer taken care of,” he declared, slapping Jade on the back. The boy naively believed in the older man’s good intentions. However, the glint of malice in Anthony Balfour’s eye, Jade Adcock did not see.

***

The noonday sun burnt Jade’s back as he stood outside Balfour’s office. Much had changed since the death of his family five years ago. His trusting eyes had darkened and bruises covered his arms and shoulders. Waiting for his master was not something he enjoyed—but he knew the consequences for not being where Balfour expected him to be. He was no more than a work horse—fetching ropes, documents, and drink for Balfour. Jade snarled bitterly at the thought. As he mused, his stomach growled in hunger. Balfour rarely gave him more than one meal a day, which barely filled his stomach. The cool ocean breeze provided some relief from the heat and cleared Jade’s mind, easing some of his apprehension.

That morning Balfour had received news about a ramshackle crew of armed sailors at the nearby wharf, and he’d left to investigate—but not without bestowing a few cuffs on his student to ready himself for a fight. Hours passed with no sign of the pirate hunter. Occupying himself by tapping a tune on the cobblestone, Jade studied the surrounding quay.

From behind a large stack of crates, a buccaneer stumbled backward, his cutlass wildly flying through the air and clattering to the ground. Balfour appeared with pistol drawn. Rising from his knees, the pirate massaged his bruised jaw. A hateful conversation bounced between the two men, but Jade was too far away to understand them. He prepared to assist in the foray, but Balfour rammed the man with his shoulder, causing the pirate to sink to the ground defeated. Holstering his pistol, Balfour seized the prisoner’s wrists. Running toward his master, Jade attempted to help—and received a blow to the jaw. The apprentice whimpered slightly. Balfour glared at him.

“That’s fer leaving yer post, laddie,” he growled. Balfour wanted to bring the prisoner in himself.

As they crossed the threshold of the office, Jade grabbed a chair and slammed it in the middle of the room, keeping a wary eye on his master. The office was dark and gloomy, with a desk in the shadows of the far corner. Balfour preferred to conduct business in secrecy.

Balfour shoved the freebooter into the chair. Jade retrieved a rope, which he wisely handed to Balfour to bind the prisoner. The pirate hunter tried to secure the knots, but struggled to keep the captive still. The very sight of this sea dog stirred Jade’s rage as thoughts of the past tragedy rekindled his anguish. He had been unable to save his family from the cursed freebooters. Now was his chance to unleash his anger and sadness.

Jade pulled a small dagger from his pocket. Leaping toward the prisoner, he held the weapon to the pirate’s throat.

“Sit still—you know the consequences if you don’t,” he ordered, utter hatred in his voice. The swarthy man exploded in uproarious laughter. Balfour glanced up from fastening the ropes, probing his apprentice with a surprised yet approving gaze. Holding a dagger to a prisoner’s throat was something he had never seen the boy do. Scrutinizing his servant, Balfour noticed Jade’s eyes were bloodshot. As the apprentice pressed the blade harder, the buccaneer realized the young man meant business.

Balfour remained still as he witnessed the ongoing spectacle, a new idea taking shape in his mind. If manipulated the right way, his apprentice could become a powerful tool. His reckless bravery and passionate hatred could be formed to match the most ruthless of pirate captains. Jade must be taught the wiles of the buccaneers and instructed in the methods of pursuit and capture. The pirate obviously feared the boy—whether from the knife or the animosity in Jade’s gaze, Balfour couldn’t tell.

“Lad, keep that wretched dog still,” he commanded, testing the young man’s threatening resolve.

Jade caught on. He had been around Balfour long enough to understand his master’s way of thinking. Balfour checked the knots one last time. Satisfied, he moved toward his desk, glancing over his shoulder at the captive. Gesturing for his student to relinquish the knife, Balfour tested Jade’s obedience. The boy handed it over, confirming Balfour’s plans.

Balfour tightened his hand into a fist. If the boy was to become an effective tool, his anger must rule him. A blow was always an easy way to stir anger. He punched the young man in the stomach.

Recoiling from the blow, Jade struggled to catch his breath, watching Balfour sit. “What was that for, sir?” he wheezed as soon as he recovered.

Balfour looked his apprentice in the eye. “That’s yer reward.”

***

1678 – Two miles off the coast of Barbados

Night descended upon the ocean. The pungent salt of the sea crowded Francis Goode’s nostrils. Pale moonlight filtered through the Ainsley’s rigging to her deck, extending his shadow larger than life, disparate to the smallness of his character. Goode regarded the length of the trade vessel he served on, watching shadows from the barrels dance as the ship rocked. The lamplit windows on the coast glowed. Water lapped at the hull in steady rhythm and seabirds bobbed atop the undulating waves.

Sailing filled a fissure in Goode’s soul, while widening another—his guilt. Deeply inhaling the sea air, he headed toward the captain’s quarters. While the crew slept or cast dice below, Goode thought it an appropriate time to visit his friend. He knocked and awaited permission to enter. Once bidden, he crossed the threshold and observed Captain Seymour sipping his tea. The captain’s expensive clothes were clean and neat, in sharp contrast to his ragged crew. He leaned over several charts and tools. On the wall behind him hung his own portrait.

Seymour smiled and delicately set the cup in its saucer with a clink. Goode noted the fine English bone china, its gilded pattern reflecting the lamplight. It reminded him of home, stirring mixed emotions.

“Francis!” Seymour exclaimed, standing to shake his friend’s hand. Goode returned the greeting as the captain sat.

“Not playing dice with your shipmates?” the captain probed.

Goode flashed a brief smile. “I’m trying to leave that life behind, Captain, for reasons you already know.”

Seymour took another sip of tea, still keeping his eyes on his friend. “Your five years of indenture are almost over,” he encouraged. “After we load sugar on at Barbados, you have only the return voyage until you are free.”

Goode sat in one of the nearby chairs. Seymour lifted his cup, silently inquiring whether the sailor wanted some. Goode shook his head in polite refusal.

“I intend to use my earnings solely for the payment of my debts. Gambling cost me much,” he declared.

With a nod, Seymour took another refined sip as the hull creaked sporadically in the background. He examined a chart and gestured for Goode to look on. “The Canary Current has aided our navigation tremendously,” he proclaimed, drawing the ship’s path from England to Barbados with his finger. If the Westerlies do not compromise our progress, we should reach Port St. Charles by midmorning. Rise early.”

Goode nodded once more to his captain and exited. His family would soon be returned to the position they deserved.

***

1678 – Port St. Charles, Barbados

The humid air rolled through the window of the austere office overlooking the harbor. The sunlight reflecting off the white clay walls lit up the humble room. Scattered chairs and a chart-covered desk cowered before the imposing Jade Adcock. An elegant dark blue overcoat exposed pistols fastened to a bandolier across his barrel chest. His hazel eyes perused maps of his jurisdiction. As he scanned the documents, his mind wandered back into the past…

From inside Balfour’s office, the waves lapping at the docks beat steadily in the background. The small flame from the lamp cast eerie shadows on the walls. He sat nervously on Balfour’s chair, hands tapping his thighs. Staring at the desk drawer, he restrained himself from cracking it open. Balfour was out for a night of drinking in celebration of his latest conquest and would not return until morning. Jade had the entire night without spying eyes constantly scrutinizing his every move. He looked at the desk drawer while unconsciously feeling for the knife in his pocket. Balfour never let him near his desk, upon the gravest of threats. Instead of deterring Jade, however, the threats only increased his curiosity. Perhaps something inside would give him some bargaining power over Balfour. Removing his knife, he reached to pick the lock with the weapon. Unsure, he paused.

The ability to strike a deal with Balfour would be worth the risk of discovery. He gingerly maneuvered the knife, straining to hear the lock open. With a quiet click, the lock gave way, and he returned the weapon to his pocket. Sliding the drawer open, he reached inside and grabbed a handful of documents. As he rifled through them, a neatly folded letter that bore an impressive seal caught his attention. He noticed the wax was broken. Unfolding the paper, he read:

Charles the Second, by the Grace of God, King of England, Scotland, France, and Ireland, Defender of the Faith

To Anthony Balfour, Pirate of the High Seas

By order of the Crown, you have been sentenced to death by hanging tomorrow morning. However, His Majesty has considered offering you pardon. The requirement is that you come under His Majesty’s service as a pirate hunter, to rid the seas of vile men. You have until midnight to make your decision.

The letter slipped from his fingers, gliding on the drafty air and coming to rest on the floor. Snapping out of his stupor, Jade abruptly stood, knocking the chair backward. Hatred for Balfour surged in his chest, contorting his face into a scowl. Repulsed, he fled to his quarters. He must leave this place at once. Shaking his head incredulously, he stormed out of the office, his small collection of belongings under his arm. Balfour had gained his inside knowledge honestly.

After stacking his maps and charts in a neat pile, Jade Adcock paced the room. He had received word of armed and disheveled seamen disembarking a sloop flying the British flag. Although the money and paperwork for the sugar being loaded appeared legitimate, Adcock had posted several men in Port St. Charles to keep an eye on the sailors. He gazed out the window, admiring the glistening blue ocean. Conviction would require evidence, but his fierce desire for vengeance made it difficult to hold himself in check. Adcock moved to his desk, fingering the pistols across his chest and sinking into his chair with a sigh of restrained impatience. Sweat beaded on his forehead. Forcing himself to focus, he snatched up several charts and reviewed them again. His head snapped up as one of his spies burst through the door.

“Sir, those dubious British sailors uncovered your scout in the tavern. Heated words turned into blows!” he reported while saluting.

Adcock lunged toward the door, grabbing the cutlass hanging there. The palm jungle blurred as he rushed down the stone stairway toward the confrontation, guard in tow. Once on level ground, Adcock sprinted, his boots clomping on the cobblestone. Focused on the catch, he forced his way through a small crowd.

To his right, the masts of ships stuck into the air like the spines of a sea urchin. On his left, he eyed the tavern—a smug grin spreading across his face. A movement to the right arrested his attention. Several seamen dashed up the gangplank of the sloop. Escaping! Drawing two pistols, he rushed the ship. Sails half-raised, the vessel strained, tethered to the dock by a single rope. One of the men aboard pointed out the pursuer. The crew spilled over each other in their haste to board and man their stations. A buccaneer leaned over the bow and severed the taut rope in an explosion of fibers. The crew yanked on the halyard, pulling the gaff to full mast. As the sails filled, another kicked the gangplank free of the ship, and the last man leapt for the side. Adcock took careful aim at the pirate scrambling over the railing, and fired. A red stain appeared in the middle of the man’s back as he released his grip, splashing into the sea.

Dropping his arm, Adcock glared at the sloop speeding toward the harbor mouth. An opportunity lost—a chance to avenge his slain family. He contemplated his flintlock, used to execute justice. He cursed under his breath. Jaw clenched, he turned, his guard skidding to a halt behind him. Panting, the guard indicated a lone figure dejectedly standing nearby.

“One of the buccaneers, sir!” the guard wheezed.

Drawing another pistol, Adcock’s desire rekindled. Another chance for revenge! The downcast sailor did not notice Jade Adcock. With a loud click, the pirate hunter cocked his weapon. The stranger’s eyes widened.

“Shipmates leave you behind?” Adcock taunted.

Black hair blew across the sailor’s vacant, stubble-covered face. Adcock hesitated, noting a nasty bruise on the man’s cheek. The man reached into his loose white shirt. Expecting a concealed pistol, Adcock pulled the trigger. The loud CRACK of gunfire ricocheted across the cobblestone and hung in the silence.

Through the thinning wisp of smoke, the man clutched his bleeding side and crumpled to the ground, a trembling paper in his other hand. Shaking, he extended the missive to his executioner. Bewildered, Adcock holstered his sidearm and took the paper. Unfolding it, he skimmed the contents. His expression changed from vengeance to worry. “Have you a family in England then?” he asked, whisking out his handkerchief and tossing it at the wounded man to staunch the flow of blood.

“Aye. A faithful wife and worthy son as ever a man could be proud of. Poorly have I used them these past five years. So near was I to restoring the good name they deserve! They wait for me—in the Fleet,” he muttered.

For several seconds, Adcock remained speechless. “Debtor’s prison?” he exclaimed.

“Aye. The name is Francis Goode. Dice have been my ruin—and my family’s chains,” he answered. “You’re wondering how I came to be with those freebooters. As a servant to Captain Seymour, I was scheduled to load sugar today bound for England. Pirates attacked early this morning. The good captain gave me my indenture papers as he lay dying. The buccaneer captain witnessed this deed and promised me safe passage to the colonies—provided I procured the sugar with the letter of order. They swore to leave me stranded if I resisted. With no means to pay the price of passage home, I was forced to bow to their demands.” Goode coughed as his face blanched. “When the pirates discovered a spy watching them, the fight led to a hasty escape. They left me—all hope is lost,” he croaked.

Adcock gestured to a civilian. “Doctor!” he yelled, shuddering.

Grasping Adcock’s arm, Goode shook his head. “It’s no use, sir,” he muttered. “This is my just punishment.”

Adcock kneeled beside him. “I was too quick to fire,” he cried, searching Goode’s wistful eyes.

“Even if I returned to free them, my family would see me only as a gambler bent on empty pursuits,” Goode whimpered, releasing Adcock’s arm in resignation. “For years my wife pleaded for me to seek out my true north—my guide to a righteous life. Now I realize she was the compass pointing me to that True North.” The man fell limp, breathing his last.

The pirate hunter stood, dismayed. Mortified. In his desire to avenge his family, he had robbed another. On that fateful night long ago, the love and affirmation of William Adcock died, and Jade realized Francis Goode’s son would face the same. Stricken with guilt, he sank to his knees, a loud sob bursting from his soul. Once word reached England of Francis Goode’s death, the man’s family would be devastated, doomed to life in the Fleet. Jade had become what he had tried so hard to fight—a murderer. Unbuckling his weapons, he violently cast them aside, sending them skidding across the cobblestone.

What to do? This must be righted by whatever means necessary. He must tell Goode’s wife. Jade hurried to compose his letter…

Mrs. Goode,

So often is a man blinded by his own desires and convictions. Only when those convictions cause another man suffering can he realize the error of his ways. As a child, pirates murdered my family. I swore to never let a freebooter elude me. For years I shot many a desperate buccaneer, but never have I killed an innocent man. Until now. I regret to inform you that your husband, Mr. Francis Goode, was killed by the very man writing to you. I mistook your husband for a pirate and shot him when he tried to reveal his letter of indenture.

With heavy guilt, I pray you forgive me the crime committed against your family. If you cannot, I understand. I could not let Francis die without your knowing it.

Hearing of your plight in the Fleet, I send money to satisfy your debts. As Francis lay dying, he told me you pressed him to search out his true north. With his last words, he said you were the compass pointing him to that True North.

Sincerely,

Jade Adcock, Former Pirate Hunter

Port St. Charles, Barbados


jackson_e-_grahamSixteen-year-old Jackson E. Graham lives with his parents and younger brother in northern Idaho. He started reading at age four and began to write soon after. Jackson’s main genres are fantasy and historical fiction, and he has written three novels (which he plans to self-publish) and several short stories. Besides writing, he loves reading, playing and composing music, and fighting with swords. He sings and plays the fedóg, guitar, and piano.

Jackson has had a lifelong love of dinosaurs and used to freak people out as a tiny tyke by spewing long names such as Pachycephalosaurus. He even created his own dinosaur name: Predominicus (yet to be discovered). One of his many dreams is to discover a dinosaur fossil.

Jackson firmly believes God has given us all a story—a story that glorifies Him to the utmost.

You can visit Jackson’s website here: http://jacksonegraham.wix.com/jackson-e-graham