Per Swissy’s request for me to post excerpts from my books because we are running low on content, here we go.
From Dunham (← buy it there): 1780, middle of the Atlantic, in a doldrums —
Our heroine, Celia Bancroft/Captain Jack/Captain Fury, is an American privateer captain sailing a sixth-rate patrol.
Our hero, Elliott Raxham/Fourteenth Earl Tavendish/Captain Judas, is a British pirate captain and reluctant earl sailing a third-rate man-o-war.
A tertiary character, Maarten Gjaltema, is a Dutch pirate who often sails with Fury. He sails a fourth-rate.
The three of them are grappled together in the middle of the ocean whilst they are becalmed, to have a few days of merriment for however long they are caught without wind.
Elliott had never had better meals at sea, not even once he was promoted to fleet commander. Sailors—especially impressed ones—were resentful enough, and Elliott had learned that eating modestly, though a bit above his men, was a small way he could mitigate the anger aboard a ship and still display his rank and privilege appropriately. Fury, it seemed, took the opposite tack. Those pleasures she would not give up, she shared with the rest of her crew. Then again, she had one-fifth the complement he did and could afford such luxuries.
“I did not think your galley could outshine itself,” he said in wonder once he paused to take in the savory foreign dishes.
“Thank you,” she returned, picked up her cup of lemonade and drank it down, then poured another.
“I could never afford this.”
She shrugged. “’Tis a point of contention with my mother, who thinks I am too extravagant, but I have the funds and see no point in austerity if there is no need.” She pointed her spoon at him. “Pare down to a real pirate ship and you could.”
“How do you keep your secrets with four hundred men who could turn on you at any moment?”
“Five hundred. All my officers know who I am and why I have embarked upon this path. Indeed, they are as invested in doing so as I and for the same reasons. There are perhaps one hundred regular seamen who also know and have the same motives. I rely upon their goodwill and hatred of the Royal Navy to keep the rest in line.”
“Tell me: Barring soldiers, how few men would you need to sail and fight?”
“Two hundred fifty able seamen,” Elliott said, “provided they can also fight as well as my marines.”
“One hundred fifty, rather,” Fury drawled with a sidelong glance.
“You have that many here, and this vessel in no wise compares to mine for size.”
She smiled sweetly. “I like my extravagances, as you have seen, and I can afford them. I could sail this ship with forty persons did I have to. I like good food, good liquor, good entertainment of an evening, and good sleep. You, on the other hand, have a large secret to keep, which is an extravagance you cannot afford. You would have to give up sleeping, though, to pull one or more men’s share of the work aside from your own.”
Elliott would not dignify that with an answer, as he did not care being lectured to thusly as if he were a midshipman three days out and green around the gills. Oblivious, she continued:
“The fact of the matter is that you are not comfortable sailing any way other than how you were taught. Considering how soundly you sleep when in the bed of a pirate you don’t know, I would wager you don’t find much rest anyroad.”
She had noticed, then. “I cannot deny that,” Elliott murmured.
“You say you leave no survivors. Have you once taken a ship that required the use of a marine where an armed sailor would have sufficed?”
He pursed his lips and again declined to belay her assumptions.
“I thought not. The loss of your marines and the other two hundred men you don’t know and don’t trust would make this endeavor easier for you. Any seaman can be turned into a gunner.”
He laughed bitterly and sat back in his chair. “You must think me the stupidest commander who ever sailed.”
Her head snapped up from her bowl, her wrinkled in confusion. “Most certainly not. Why in God’s name would you think that?”
“According to you, I have done everything wrong.”
She scoffed. “If you had done everything wrong, you and your crew would be dead. You have met success after success, and your ship barely has a dent in it. ’Tis simply that you have done everything with more than you needed to be successful and thus laid yourself and your officers a heavier burden than necessary. But so what. ’Tis not stupid to take on more provisions than you need. Extra can be tossed overboard, but more cannot be found in the middle of the ocean. ’Tis a matter of degrees of efficiency, not fatal errors.”
She laughed without humor and took another bite. “I tell you … if Washington had men like you, Congress wouldn’t need to hand out letters of marque to any merchant who can pay the bond. He needs a navy he doesn’t have and cannot get. I dare say, whether you care or not, whether you intended it or not, whether you realized it or not, you make up a significant portion of our navy, and you, Sir, are no barbarian.”
Elliott couldn’t help but laugh.
“Such a large crew also necessitates you lead by fear, and I suspect this is not to your taste or your nature.”
“I very rarely flog anyone.”
Her eyebrow rose. “Oh? Then how do you keep order?”
“Ball ’twixt the eyes.”
She stared at him warily for a long moment. “Oh,” she said in a very small voice.
“Minor infractions I care naught for so long as the work gets done. But— A shot through the head for cheating at games. The kind of insubordination you showed Dunham. A threat my identity will be exposed. Theft. Rape. I’ve no time for formalities.”
She glared at him suddenly. “I hope you are as careful about enforcing that if the victim is a woman as you are if ’tis a man.”
“I make no distinction, nor do I make a distinction whether it happens aboard ship or ashore. Or even if ’tis against a whore.”
She nodded approvingly. “That is efficient,” she murmured. “What more?”
He shrugged. “I cannot think of anything else that has been done to warrant that. I had no reason or desire to do that whilst in the Navy, but I underestimated the influence of government sanction on men’s behavior.”
“What do you fear most that you lie awake at night?”
Elliott looked at her and wondered if he should tell her all his worries. It was not one or two things. Nor was it five or six. It was a dozen, and a dozen more on top that, worries major and minor. ’Twould seem all he had done in the last four years was worry.
Finally he sighed. “Too many things to list. One of them is the fact that the Navy now knows Captain Judas and the Silver Shilling actually exist. Another is that both Rathbone and Bancroft may have seen me. If they did, the question is whether they can identify me or not.”
Fury chewed on her tongue a bit. “They know you, don’t they? In your real life? They have sailed with you?”
“Aye. I served under Rathbone and trained Bancroft. Further, I did a favor for Rathbone when I was a very new captain that I soon came to regret deeply.”
She said nothing, though the question in her face was plain. He refused with a shake of his head. “I don’t speak of it. ’Tis one of very few things I am ashamed of in my career.”
“Rathbone is my adversary, if not my enemy, but his reputation is that of an honorable man. I cannot imagine him setting you upon such a dishonorable task.”
“He did not know what it entailed and he did not know what it cost to have it done. He still doesn’t.”
Elliott was not aware he was clutching his spoon so hard he was bending it until Fury laid her hand over his fist. “Judas,” she said softly with a comforting smile. “I ken. You are not alone anymore.”
“Would you care to sail with us?”
Elliott blinked. Was she was offering exactly what he needed but was loath to ask after she had all but charged him with stupidity? He could not find words.
“Judas?” she said carefully. “Have I offended you or made you suspicious of me?”
“Nay,” he lied. “I have not sailed in a fleet in years. ’Twould be a nice change.” He slid her a glance and smirked. “Why should I trust you?”
“I haven’t killed you.” Elliott’s smirk turned into a laugh, but realized she had not caught his jest. “I have killed men for lesser offenses than what you dealt me by stealing my figurehead.” Or mayhap she had. “Yet here we are after that, of four days’ acquaintance, having fucked to hell and gone—after you sneaked aboard my ship—sharing meals and secrets, touring each other’s ships, and leaving our crews to their pleasures.
“You are heavy in the water, Sir. You have something very valuable in that hold of yours, because cotton and tobacco do not weigh that much, and you do not have enough armament and ordnance to displace so much. Do you think Maarten and I could not take you to find out what? You are bigger, true, but we are seasoned pirates, having together taken ships bigger than yours. And my hold is utterly barren, as I sent my last prize ahead of me to Rotterdam.”
He drew in a deep breath.
“I might not know your name, Sir, but I know you are of the upper classes, a merchant or landowner’s son. I know that you were not born your father’s heir, and that you have been somehow charged with continuing your line or you would not be obligated to wed. I also suspect a few other things of you, which I will allow you to wonder over. With what I know, it would not take me but half a glass in London to learn your name. Questions of trust are moot at this point. You have no choice but to trust me, and, I will submit, you would not be here—and sleeping so well in my bed—if you did not already know you could.”