Far below castle Harcourt in the dank dungeons the ancient sage Mervane places his hand over Captain Benito’s eyes and asks him to cast his mind back to the time when his curse was first inflicted on him; the years seem to fall away as Benito finds himself transported back through the alchemy of his memories to a time long passed.
* * *
Captain Benito stands proudly on the deck of his ship as he sails the seas just south of the Turtle Islands, the coast of Celonia lying within view on the horizon; accompanying his own vessel are two of his closest allies, on one side is the ramshackle but brutal ship of the marauding Pirate Lord Draven Naysus and on the other the immaculate vessel of Lord Lantino, crewed almost entirely by blue-skinned sailors of Atlantean descent. Benito instinctly touches the Piece of Eight signifying his position as Pirate King when a shout from the crows next warns him that there are three sails on the horizon, a gentle spattering of rain begins to herald a storm brewing out at sea. Benito orders his fleet to unfurl their sails and close on the, as yet unidentified, vessels.
Over on Lord Lantino’s vessel his second in commmand Hannibal Hawkins reminds his commander that, since the vessels are in Sword Isle waters that they are legitimate prey; nodding Lantino none-the-less says that they obey the will of the Pirate King and will await his order to attack.
Drawing closer it becomes obvious that the three vessels are Saxon ships, King Benito gives the orders to prepare cannons, for the crew to take up arms and board the enemy vessels; a random firing of cannons and violent cheering from Naysus’ vessel accompanies the order as his berserkers gnash their teeth and wave weapons, their patched together ship cutting through the waves towards their prey. Having a more tactical mind, Lantino orders his men to prepare the special cannon shot; numerous cannon balls with chains hanging from them are bought forward and loaded into the cannons, those of Lantino’s crew capable of breathing underwater thanks to their ancestry drop over the sides awaiting the sight of the chains falling into the water so that they can use them to climb aboard the enemy vessels. Meanwhile on King Benito’s ship his first mate Lord Shivers begins ordering the men to prepare themselves for a boarding action and start handing out cutlasses.
Onboard one of the Saxon vessels a group of shackled men is stood on the deck of the ship, they have been bought up from below after rowing for several days, amongst them is the grimey and bedraggled form of Moroveer, once a slaver himself, misfortune has found him confined to the fate that he has overseen for many others; infront of him is a ragged, blue skinned man known as Horningold Blythe, sentenced to a life of slavery on a charge of murder (although he claims it to have been self-defence). The slaves have been bought up following a shout from the crows nest, one of the slaves nearest the mast whispers to the others that the shouting is because pirate vessels have been spotted in the area; thinking back to his time as a slaver Moroveer is worried that the Saxon vessel will attempt to dump their slaves so they can escape the pirate vessels and he begins to hushedly discus the prospect of escape with his fellow slaves. Blythe is interested in Moroveer’s plans and has tells him that he can breathe underwater and is willing to help, nodding Moroveer turns to the three guards and tells them that they’re gonna die fighting pirates in his home waters if they don’t choose the right side and free him now. One of the guards looks a little uncertain and, when the other guards look daggers at him, says “Look boys, i’m not saying we should just let them go but we aren’t getting paid enough to die on this leaky tub. I’ve got a wife and child back home in Wulfricingas, I want to get back to them.”
Ignoring the protests of his fellow guard the worried Saxon unshackles the slaves and flees up onto the deck; the slaves quickly incapacitate the guards who resist and dump them over the side, a huge melee breaks out as more men rush from their quarters and engage the slaves.
From the crows nest on Benito’s ship a shout goes up that a mutiny his broke out aboard one of the Saxon vessel, smiling the Pirate King orders his crew to make all speed; ignoring the slave ship that is already incapacitated due to the mutiny, Benito aims his vessel towards one of the escort vessels smashing into the side of it with the battering ram mounted just below the waterline on his ship As he climbs aboard the enemy vessel one of the Saxon crew throws a small knife, it glances the side of Benito’s head and embeds itself in the mast. Seeing Naysus heading for the second escort vessel, Lantino has his own ship sail around the other side of the ship already engaged by Benito’s vessel; there is a cavalcade of cannon fire as Lantino unleashed a deadly broadside, inflicting heavy damage on the escort vessel, as the chains connected to the cannon balls fall into the water Lantino’s blue skinned buccaneers begin to climb aboard the Saxon vessel.
Heedless of the potential danger to their own vessel, Naysus’ ship plows into the escort vessel, Lord Naysus using the momentum to catapult himself onto the enemy ship; Naysus’ berzerkers begin swarming aboard, easily smashing aside the Saxon troops and beginning to strip the vessel to repair the damage done to their own done by the ramming. Meanwhile Moroveer is overseeing the mutiny, shouting out vulnerable targets for his fellow slaves as he punches the cruel overseer of the slaves, grabs the mans whip and cracks it in his face, he avoids a return blow, throwing his attacker off balance.
Naysus’ berserkers continue hurling themselves onto the escort vessel, some of them miss and fall into the sea but the rest don’t seem to care; taking in the massive brawl raging around him, Naysus sees that his berserker tactics have thrown the Saxon sailors into disarray, he stomps his way towards where he thinks the captains quarters might be located. Opening the door he sees that there is no-one in there but the porthole at the back of the cabin is open and he can hear the sound of quiet rowing from outside. Naysus shouts to his men to deal with it and runs up onto the deck, looking over the back of the ship he can see the captain and another man escaping in a rowing boat, the Saxon captain shouting “Quickly! Row you fool! Row!”
Without hesitation Naysus picks up one of the cannonballs rolling around on the deck and hurls it at the small boat, it smashes a huge hole in the boat with the sound of splintering wood, disappearing below the waves with its passengers; Naysus orders some of his men to recover them.
On the ship where the mutiny took place, the door of the captains cabin bursts open and a man wearing a black Saxon naval uniform strides forth; Benito recognises the figure as the Black Stone Admiral Dunstan, one of the most infamous figures in the Saxon navy, Benito tells his crew to finish off the escort vessel and engage the mutinying ship. Shouting that he’ll meet them over there Benito runns along the mast of his own ship, leaping the distance between the two vessels. He is just in time to spot Admiral Dunstan lifting a rare black powder weapon and aiming it at Moroveer who is cracking his whip and keeping the Saxons as arms length; Benito swings down from the rigging, slicing part of the sail free with a cutlass, it drops down on the overseer who is grappling with Moroveer. Moroveer smashes the overseer in the face with the butt of his whip, knocking him unconscious. Seeing Benito swinging in, Dunstan fires his black powder weapon at Benito, but the Pirate King rolls out of the way of the shot; there is the sudden crack as Moroveer’s whip flashes out and yanks the black powder weapon from Dunstan’s hand, taking advantage of the opportunity Benito knocks Dunstan to the ground and kneels on his chest putting a knife to his throat. Sneakily Dustan starts to slide a knife from his sleeve unseen by Benito, Moroveer cracks his whip and one of Dunstan’s eyes is snapped out, Benito stamps on Dunstan’s hand and the knife falls out onto the deck.
With Dunstan incapacitated his men lose heart and they begin to surrender, walking up Blythe shakes hands with Benito saying, “you couldn’t have arrived at a better time”, Benito introduces himself and Blythe seems impressed to be in the presence of the dread pirate king, introducing himself and Moroveer. Moroveer thanks Benito for distracting the man and saving his life, he says that he might have momentarily owed him a debt, but he now considers it repaid after dispatching Dunstan. Benito begin to talk about dividing the plunder but Blythe isn’t concerned about it, he wants to check on the other slaves to make sure they’re okay; Moroveer runs across to the ship rammed by Captain Naysus that is sinking to check there are no slaves still chained up. There are no slaves left onboard the ship and Naysus’ men are already stripping the vessel to repair their own.
Horningold says there’s nothing left for him on the mainland, but the pirate king has impressed him, he’s half a mind to make a living on the Sword Isles; Moroveer seems less sure and says there’s good slaving still in Stygia, to which Horningold responds that he’s heard that the Timberwolf Norse tribe is planning to raid Stygia and that it might not be a very healthy place to be. Nodding Moroveer says he owes Horningold a debt and agrees to serve him faithfully for a year before returning to his job as a slaver, Horningold says that Moroveer’s financial acumen could help him establish himself in the Sword Isles and that he’s going to ask to keep the ship for his own.
As Benito’s ship pulls alongside the captured vessel a figure falls from the rigging of Benito’s ship – it is first mate Shivers, covered in knife wounds, he falls into the arms of Moroveer and Blythe, trying to speak but blood is bubbling out of his mouth and a Saxon blade protrudes from his ribs; looking up Moroveer can see a couple of Saxon seamen in the rigging of Benito’s ship.Benito shouts for a physician but the sawbones, after examining Shivers, shakes his head sadly; gritting his teeth Moroveer swings up into the rigging using his natural agility and his whip. Lantino and Naysus have rounded up the Saxons from the ships they fought and taken them prisone; spotting the Saxons in the rigging Lantino hurls a harpoon at them, one of the Saxons cries out in pain and topples to the deck pierced through his midriff by the weapon. Moroveer lashes his whip around the waist of the remaining Saxon and swings forward, the two of them topple from the rigging like some kind of human Newtons Cradle, swinging towards each other, the ex-slaver lets go of the whip and falls to the deck avoiding the Saxon’s clumsy attack, a few moments later the Saxon also lands on the decks
Benito runs towards the edge of the ship, grabbing the rigging he cuts it and catapults himself towards the Saxon circling Moroveer, landing next to him he draws his sword in one fluid movement and slices open the sailor’s chest, as the dead Saxon falls to the deck planks Benito’s crew let out a great cheer. Blythe shouts over that he doesn’t think Shivers will last much longer, Benito runs over, shouting for them to take him below deck and make it easy on him; Shivers has grabbed Blythe and is whispering something to him, Blythe looks confused, Shivers eyes look across at Blythe, then he dies.
Lantino and Naysus join them on the central vessel, Naysus seems non-plussed by the acrobats on display but Lantino reports that the day is theirs.
Blythe says that he’s sorry for Benito’s loss and that he didn’t really understand the last words Shivers said to him, he asks whether he can take one of the ships, Benito nods and gives Blythe one of the small escort ships, saying that he has to work his way up, the blue skinned ex-slave nods and says that Moroveer will be acting as his quartermaster. Benito warns Blythe that he must stick to the pirate code, at the mention of the code Blythe’s brow furrows and he says that Shivers mentioned the code in his last words, he reveals a piece of blue/grey metal that Shivers gave him with his dying breath. Benito nods as he recognises one of the legendary Pieces of Eight signifying the rank of Pirate Lord, “You have a steep learning curve ahead of you Lord Horningold.” Benito reveals that, in passing on the piece of eight, Shivers has made Blythe a Pirate Lord, dumbfounded Blythe asks Moroveer how much it would cost to employ him for longer than a year, but Moroveer suggests that is a conversation best had once they have all had time to absorb what has just happened.
Benito introduces Blythe to two of his fellow lords, Lantino and Naysus; approving of Blythe’s Atlantean descent Lantino introduces himself and offers 50% of his plunder to help set Blythe up, Blythe is glad to see another blue-skinned person explaining that he was the only one of his kind where he grew up on borders of Saxony and Celtia, he was attacked because he looked different, he killed one of his attackers and was arrested for murder. “It was the word of three of them against an outsider” he continues, relaying how he was sentenced to a life of slavery; Naysus introduces himself and says that he has no island and riches don’t matter to them, plunder is their reward, as he finishes speaking his men drag forward their chests of plunder and dump them at the feet of King Benito who distributes some of his share to his own crew to impress them, the crew cheer and shout his name.
Moroveer & Blythe head off with their crew (consisting of former slaves and some of the surviving Saxon crew who signed on) and as the years pass Lord Blythe settles into his role as a Pirate Lord, living on one of the smaller Turtle Islands, he adapts well aided in a financial capacity by Moroveer.
As the years roll by Benito starts hearing rumours about some of the Captains who owe him personal loyalty disappearing, the odd loss of a pirate ship is nothing unusual, but as the number of disappearances grow Benito finds himself troubled; Moroveer watches as Blythe forges a strong relationship with Lord Lantino and slowly but surely he replaces the non-Atlantean crew members with those of Atlantean descent.
Worried Moroveer seeks out Benito in a small drinking establishment, to attract Benito’s attention he refers to the Pirate King as a slave and mentions his heritage, Benito attempts to draw his sword to discipline Moroveer but (drunk) he stumbles and the sword ends up sticking out of the wall, Moroveer gives his some rum and Benito swigs it back, the altercation of a few moments ago seemingly forgotten. Moroveer assures Benito that he has his best interests at heaty and points out that there are people out there more concerned with power and not bothered about money and that they covet his position. Moroveer asks Benito who takes his place when he dies and says that there’s probably a queue of people wanting to take his place, pointing out the antagonism between those of Lemurian and Atlantean descent. His warning given Moroveer leaves, Benito slumps into the vacated seat and continues drinking.
Over the next few months the number of Captains who owe personal loyalty to Benito who are disappearing continues to grow.
One morning on patrol Lord Drayven Naysus comes across the wreckage of a ruined ship, his crew find a single survivor clinging to a barrel, Naysus has the survivor pulled aboard, he is weak from dehydration and exposure, the survivor gestures with a shaking hand. Lord Naysus says “Speak before it’s too late, what happened?”
The survivor mouths the words “The black corsairs” and dies; Naysus’ and his crew search the surrounding waters but find nothing, it seems as though the attackers have just wrecked the ship and killed everyone on board.
Two days pass as Naysus returns to port.
Naysus makes his way to the island of Crown Port and Fort Crown, in a nearby tavern he finds King Benito regaling the locals of his daring exploits, it is a tale Naysus has heard before, each time it is told it gets more exaggerated; Benito has only seen Naysus onshore once before at his coronation as Pirate King, realising it must be urgent news he beckons Naysus over and the two head into a private booth. Naysus explains the incident he had a couple of days earlier with the wrecked ship and how it just seemed to be an attack designed purely to destroy. Benito knows that the Black Corsairs are the Sword Isle bogey men, a ghost story about a pirate crew that was so cruel and evil that when they died hell itself wouldn’t take them, forced to sail the sea forever looking for evil people to pressgang into their crew, he is dubious since the locals are very superstitious suggesting that it is more likely someone in local waters is posing as the Black Corsairs.
A salty old seadog know as Old Seamus has overheard the conversation and stumbles in to the booth shouting “Did I hear you mention the black corsairs King Benito?” Benito nods, telling him to keep quiet but to tell him what he knows, the old seadog doesn’t appear to be aware of how loudly he is talking and says that he heard the Black Corsairs were evil spirits and not mortal men, they don’t just kill you but that they bind your soul into their crew for the rest of their days.
Moroveer has been managing Horningold Blythe’s assets and has noticed that most of the Pirate Lords have been unaffected by the recent attacks, only those who owe direct fealty to King Benito have been targetted, he also notices that Blythe hasn’t been moving as much wealth through the books as expected; realising that something underhand is going on he goes to confront Blythe, who is in conference with Lantino. As he enters they are in discussion with a brown cloaked and hooded figure, the conversation stops as he enters; Moroveer tells Blythe that Benito wants a report on the books and asks what Blythe wants him to say, he continues that they all know what is going on but he wants to know how close their plan in and that he doesn’t want to be hung if they aren’t ready. Blythe says that he values Moroveers service and that he may make his report to the Lemurian pretender to the throne as he sees fit – he will not be Pirate King long enough to take advantage of anything in it anyway, “Now is the time when Atlantis should rise again.” Moroveer hear’s a wheezing laugh from the hooded figure and, thinking he may be a shaman of some kind, he exits the room quickly.
Moroveer tracks down Marcus Dunstan, Benito’s current first mate, Dunstan is a loyal but not particularly intelligent person, he spends a lot of time gambling in the port-side taverns, he is playing blackjack with some of the other sailors, including Old Seamus; as Moroveer enters Dunstan is bemoaning his luck as Old Seamus scoops up his winnings, Moroveer gives Old Seamus five gold coins to give him some privacy with Marcus. He tells Marcus to let Benito know that “He has succeeded keeping his friends close and his enemies closer” saying that the message comes “from someone who always thinks he’s always going to be a slave.”
Later, as Benito is heading back to Fort Crown he is approached by his first-mate who passes on the message given to him by Moroveer, Benito is puzzled but gives Marcus a coin as a reward and goes about his business; Benito visits Naysus who is onboard his anchored ship, he plans to get Naysus and a couple of his men together so that they can pay Moroveer a visit and get some answers, before they can do so they spot a local sailor running towards the ship and trying to attract their attention. He comes aboard (obviously out of breath) and says he was sent by Capt Jereboam of Benito’s fleet, ships bearing black sails have been seen off the coast of Crown Port, without wasting any time Benito runs to the nearest alarm bell and begins to ring it.
Looking out across the dock of Crown Port he finds it odd that these Corsairs seem to have abandoned their previous hit and run targets and then he realises suddenly that almost the entirety of his own personal fleet are moored in Crown Port and that they are more or less defenceless, he shouts for all hands to ready themselves to defend the port. Suddenly he experiences a flash of pain and he sees a vision of a large circular chamber where a brown robed figure steps forward towards a huge object on an altar, it seems to be a huge crab claw the size of two men laid end-to-end, the figures pulls it’s hood back and to reveal grey skin and a face combining the worst features of shark and man; it begins to chant in a whispered language over the object.
Snapping back to his present surroundings Benito hears a cry of pain from behind him and something heavy hits him on the back, he turns round to see Naysus is still stood there, blood fountaining from his severed head, his first-mate Cragg pushes the old lord’s body out of the way, pulling his axe out of the corpse. Grappling hooks come over the side of the ship, Blythe, Lantino and their men swarm aboard the ship; Benito plans to attack Lantino to pay him back for his betrayal but he knows that he has only one chance before he’s overwhelmed and it is obvious that Naysus’ crew are loyal to their new Captain Cragg. Benito glances ashore looking for help from his men but a melee has broken out on the gangplanks leading to Naysus’ ship between those loyal to Benito and those attempting to overthrow him. The Pirate King draws his cutlass and attempts to throw some coins in the face of Lantino to distract him, the blue-skinned Lord ignores them and kicks Benito between the legs, he collapses down on one kneww.
Blythe steps forward and, on the wind, Benito hears the strange voice pronouncing some whispered syllables, “It’s already too late for you Benito, surrender and we’ll make your death quick” says the mocking voice of Horningold Blythe. Benito lashes out but his muscles cramp and a pain comes across him as Blythe reaches towards his neck and takes his Piece of Eight. Through the pain Benito feels himself raised into the air before Cragg hurls him over the edge into the water and, unable to sink, he begins to sink, the last thing he hears is the mocking voice of Blythe saying “The curse will take him now, he’s already dead” and a ragged chorus of buccaneers crying “Long live King Blythe!”
* * *
Back in the present Mervane removes his hand from Benito’s face as the vision of the past finishes, Benito shudders as he remembers the chanting of the robed figure over the giant claw, he doesn’t remember seeing that originally, was that some side-effect of Mervane’s magic or did it really happen?
At the back of the cell, previously unnoticed and swindled out of his money by the Regent sits Moroveer, he has been councilled by Mervane to bide his time and that an opportunity to escape would present itself; hearing a familiar voice he runs forward and in a disbelieving voice asks Benito how he survived. Moroveer says he is in jail as a result of being a slave to money and offers 2 years loyal service for his freedom; Benito nods and has Gunnar Kron bend the bars far enough to release him.