The First Mate

Once Upon a Tide….

The lanky boy darted along the wet cobblestones. A heavy-set, red-faced man puffed after him in pursuit.

The pursuer was remarkably fast for his size. However, just as he caught up with the boy and was reaching out to grab the back of his shirt, the lad leapt onto a barrel and sprang to a drain pipe, nimble as a cat. From there it was a short climb to a rooftop.

“Keep it then, you little shit!” the winded man called after the boy. “If I catch you around my shop again I’ll have you thrown in the stocks and whipped!” He turned and trudged back toward his shop, muttering under his breath.

Grinning over his escape, the boy scrubbed along the rooftops, returning to the waterfront and River Street. He found a way back to the street level and slipped along the shadows of an alleyway. Before long he reached the back door of the Black Flag Tavern.

Viktor’s sharp ears caught the yowling of a cat coming from the back alley. Looking to make sure the Captain wasn’t paying attention to the kitchen he slipped over to the stew pot and scooped out a couple of bowls. One more peek into the common room showed him that the old pirate was well into a bottle and busy with his gambling. He eased out the back door, careful to be quiet about it.

“So you got it, then?” he asked the boy hiding in the shadows.

“It’s still warm from the oven. I told you I could, Vik.” The boy pulled a loaf of bread out of his shirt. He tore it in half and handed part to Viktor, who passed him a bowl of stew. They both set to eating.

“Mmm! This actually makes it taste good!”

“Aye,” Viktor nodded around a mouthful of bread and stew. “Sadie’s a fair whore, but not so good of a cook. I’ve tossed rocks that were softer than her biscuits, Jim.”

“You know, you could have told me the fat bastard was so fast,” Jim grumbled, good-naturedly. “He damn near caught me before I could make it to a rooftop.”

Viktor chuckled at his young friend. “Lucky for you, he can’t climb.”

Jim made the mistake of taking a bite of the stew without the fresh bread and made a face at the taste. “Gah! Too much salt pork. How can you stand to eat this stuff every day?”

“Better than not eating. Every now and then I can talk Margory into fixing me something.”

“Why doesn’t the Captain make her the cook, then?”

“She makes more money for him on her back. Face it; men don’t come to the Black Flag for the food.”

They finished their meal in silence. Viktor watched Jim surreptitiously as they ate. He’d met the boy,  at the start of the month.  Vik had soon learned he was about four years older than Jim, as best as the lad could tell.

Jim had been a cabin boy aboard a merchantman out of Boston. Six months under the abusive master of the ship had been five too many. The man would whip him raw just for making eye contact. He’d jumped ship the first night in Savannah’s harbor.

Viktor and Jim had encountered each other when both were trying to burgle the same shop. He’d known right away that the younger boy wasn’t a local. He’d also been impressed by Jim’s bravado in standing up to his challenge over territory.

The boy was a fair wrestler and would have held his own if the welts on his back hadn’t been so fresh. Viktor had been quick to realize that. He’d recognized Jim as being of the same bent of mind as he was. It would be better to have him as an ally than as competition.

He’d snuck the boy back to his corner of the Black Flag’s storeroom when old Billy Black had been busy elsewhere. He’d only started working for the old pirate a few months earlier and didn’t want to get an ear boxing from him for another mouth to feed. To treat Jim’s welts, he’d used some of the salve Mother Celie had given him for the cuts and bruises he always seemed to be acquiring.

The boy had looked up to him ever since. Jim would do anything Viktor asked of him. Viktor discovered that he enjoyed the feeling of power that gave him. He found in Jim not only someone willing to be his tool, but the younger brother he’d never had.

Gathering up the empty bowls, Viktor came to a decision. Young Jim’s skills had proven equal to his loyalty.

“Jim, I plan to be a pirate captain one day. It’s why I work for the Captain now. He was the best there was in his day, and I mean to learn as much as I can from him. I know I don’t have a ship yet, but what would you say to being my first mate?”

“You really mean that, Vik? I’d be proud to call you Captain. Have you got a pirate name? All the famous pirates had pirate names.”

“As a matter of fact, Captain Black gave me one when I hired on. Brandee.”

“Bloody Vik Brandee. That’s a great pirate name!”

“What about you, Jim? You need a pirate name, as well.”

Jim shrugged. “Bugger if I know what would be a good one for me. I don’t even have a family name. Always been an orphan. I’ve been called several things, but Jim is the only name I have.”

“Well, we can figure one out for you later. Right now, we need to learn all we can about pirating and seamanship, before we take our own ship,” Viktor reasoned. “I know the waters along this coast for a few days’ travel in either direction. And I’ve been paying attention in the tavern. I know which trade houses aren’t too particular about where a cargo came from or how it found its way to them.”

“I picked up how to do the most-used knots and how to splice line, and I learned a bit of how to rig a ship without snarling everything up.”

“Good. We can teach each other what we’ve learned already, as well as anything else we can learn along the way.”

He stopped with the door half-open, a slow smile on his face. “I’ve just the pirate name for you, Jim. Since you know more of it than I do, I’ll call you Rigger.”

“Mr. Rigger. I like the sound of that.” The boy puffed up.

“I better get back to work before the Captain boxes my ear. I get my month’s pay tomorrow, as well as a few days off. Come home with me to Mother Celie’s, Mr. Rigger. She’ll feed you up good and put some meat on your bones. She’s always telling me I’m too skinny, and you make me look fat by comparison.”

“Aye, aye, Cap’n!”