Wherein past and future arrive at the present. Masks are exchanged and brothers are reunited.
The Revenge made way quickly. The eerie wailing fading behind them did not fade quickly enough. For days, the men aboard would have an echo of it seize them. Only one serious injury resulted when a sailor fell from the rigging trying to cover his ears even though there was nothing but silence and sea on the wind. Mostly it would raise goose flesh and cause an involuntary shudder. At least there would be no positive gossip to lead others to One Tree.
Valerie, lone among them, did not appear to suffer any ill effects. The old woman had them bring a stool to the bow where she sat working her knitting. No one knew where she’d acquired the yarn or needles. Many of the crew thought she was a witch and dismissed it as one of the mysteries of witchcraft and gave her wide birth. (Sailors are a suspicious lot.) The other survivor had not left the captain’s cabin since he climbed aboard. When the witch was not sitting and knitting on her stool at the bow, she was also in the captain’s cabin.
Roberts set them adrift in a small row boat on the third day. They were not given supplies. The small woman at the oars as her frail companion slumped on the stern covered in a thick wool blanket. She rowed away without a word. The crew, being new, felt this was more than generous considering Roberts’ reputation. For much of the crew, this confirmed that the old woman was a witch. Everyone knew that witches could curse your tackle off if you looked at them sideways. They were grateful that Roberts had negotiated this curse-free release. When there was horizon between the Revenge and the small craft, Jean Argo gathered the men to the deck. This entire crew, 120 souls, with the exception of Jean Argo, was on their first voyage with Roberts.
The infamous Dread Pirate stood before them with the sun at his back. His position forced the men to squint or look elsewhere. He was dressed all in black including his trademark mask. The mask appeared to continue across his face due to his thick, dark beard. His hair was also dark and curling at the ends. It was held at the back of the neck by a black thong. A long sword hung at his side, it flashed in the sunlight even in stillness. The only light about his dark person. He was shadow made flesh. A portent of swift, silent death.
“No one speaks of this. We were at sea. We stopped no where. We rescued no one, freed no one.” Roberts spoke quietly, as though he was addressing a single man at his desk, not the full crew on deck. He had a slight accent. To a man they strained to hear him, willing their own breath and heartbeats to still. His voice turned the air itself into a weapon. Fear was in the air, in the lungs of each man, solidifying inside them. Roberts calmly surveyed them from behind his mask. Even his eyes were dark. Each man before the mast was fighting the instinct to flee. Trying to ignore the instinct gripping the base of their spines convincing them to be smaller. Desperate to avoid notice of the terror that surely awaited their future in the service of this man. They could feel death lurking within him. It oozed from him. He wore death’s cloak of shadows and he was comfortable wearing it. Each man stood taller and stared straight ahead, mastering their fear to survive. “Fortune awaits those who obey and are silent. Rumor brings death to you all.”
In the moments of their death, many men from Roberts’ crews would claim the sea itself was silent when Roberts spoke before the mast. This speech was so effective that the last word uttered by the men who heard it was “Rumor”.
“Aye! So say we all!” First mate Argo cast his voice among the terrified.
“AYE! SO SAY WE ALL!” The crew, synchronized by fear, vocalized their loyalty. Within their chests, they felt the fear soften and release into harmless air. They broke the spell of terror that had gripped them.
“We make for Spain.” Roberts nodded to Jean Argo then ascended to the wheel. First Mate, Jean Argo, set about his business.
“Right. Step lively men! You heard the Captain, set sails, catch the wind, prove your worth or prove you’re lubbers!” The men came back to themselves and got to work. Not one of them spoke to each other about their first week aboard the Revenge. Many had been legitimate sailors from the time they could remain upright and tie a knot. Each man had his reasons for signing with a pirate crew. Men signed on with Roberts for the payoff. Rumor around rough camp fires was one voyage with the Dread Pirate Roberts would end your poverty, if you survived. This was how the Dread Pirate Roberts had maintained his success for over two decades.
The success or failure of a crew was determined by fitness and discipline. In addition to the regular seafaring duties that come with keeping a vessel sea worthy and free of pests and disease, there were four core training rotations that the crew would endure or be thinned by; Fight, Flight, Raiding, and Navigation.
Fight training included hand to hand, close quarters, and sword fighting in addition to proper care and use of the ship’s long range weapons. The men spent four hours a day at what they all called Circle Time. This was in reference to the Master’s circle in which the fight training occurred. It was defined on the deck for safety. A ship was a busy place. You can’t just have random fights all over the deck. At the center of the circle, Roberts kept the men from accidentally killing themselves and others. The circle itself kept the men engaged in other pursuits from accidentally walking into a practice swing.
Boarding or ‘Flight Training’ was where they learned how to board and capture vessels while at sea and all the various ways to sink a ship without killing yourself. They would run mock boarding drills wherein every man would swing from the rigging and into the drink. The men would need to swim back to the ship or drown. No rescue or assistance would come from the ship. This was also a fitness test. To remain as part of the crew, all men must be capable of swimming at minimum five nautical miles and pull themselves aboard in under four hours. Some men were in the water four hours a day. This would be essential for the final stage of this voyage, however only Roberts and Jean Argo knew this.
Raiding was where the men were most familiar. In essence it is the efficient transfer of goods from land storage to the ship. It was day one of being a sailor. However, pirates needed to do it in the dark, silently, with minimum reconnaissance and personnel. They would also need to do it ship to ship, at sea, under challenging conditions. Unlike merchant ships, planning and execution of raids was expected of each man, not just the captain or officers. This was new to many of the men who spent their lives following orders that any fool could see would get them killed. They were in charge of the plan from beginning to end. The men spent four hours a day at these studies. They sat in clusters of three or four discussing the merits and drawbacks of plans while sharpening blades or swabbing the deck.
Roberts believed all men should possess a basic grasp of letters and numbers. Raiding and Navigation rotations provided the men with this instruction. Each man was expected to navigate using the stars, maps, charts, land formations, birds, aquatic plants, currents and wind, basically anything on hand to figure out where you were, how to get somewhere else and back again. The men spent four hours a day with the charts including rotations at the helm. If a man could survive a voyage with Roberts, they were prepared to captain a ship and lead a crew. Each maiden voyage had a six week window to test the fitness of those who had signed on. It was a grueling test of physical and mental endurance. There were only four hours a day allotted to rest. The matriculation from signature to first port was 50%, at best.
Roberts led the sword work. Each member of the crew spent four hour a day at the circle and sparing next to it with wooden swords. They were divided by skill level. In week one, those new to the weapon used only wood. By the second week, most of the men switched to blades within the circle. No blades were allowed outside the circle and any intentional injury of a crew mate was not tolerated. While he was armed at all times, Roberts never drew his magnificent weapon. He only ever used a wooden stick. All the men suffered minor cuts and a lot of bruises, Roberts was never touched by their steel.
Dressed in his customary black, Roberts demonstrated three combinations for the day’s practice with Jean Fleury. Jean Fleury was called Second Jean by the men as he was Second Mate and also a Jean. Jean Argo recruited him and pushed for his elevation to Second Mate. Fleury was a capable sailor and clearly educated. He was also not being entirely truthful about his past, nor would Argo discuss it. Roberts was hesitant but agreed when Valerie slapped him upside the head and reminded him they were on a pirate ship. The purpose of the voyage was to become pirates and pirates are not to be trusted.
Second Jean was better than most with the sword on day one. He had previous professional training but it was clearly exhibitionary and theoretical, more about the pageantry than anything else. His potential far outstripped the rest of the crew, yet he hesitated. He frustrated Roberts to no end. He signed on for Roberts himself and this circle. Looking for an opportunity to impress Roberts, Second Jean was trying too hard.
“How do you intend to hit your opponent while flailing your arms in that fashion?” Roberts asked. He swished his stick and delivered a welt to the top of Second Jean’s flourishing left hand.
“It is customary to keep your free hand…” Whatever the custom, Roberts disarmed him and delivered a swift swat to Second Jean’s head which silenced him.
“Custom will get you killed. Again, with Danglars this time. He uses steel, so I recommend eschewing customs.” Second Jean rubbed the welt blossoming at his temple. Danglars had stepped forward. His previous sparing partner was tending a wound to the hand and was relieved. Danglars was a big, petty man who enjoyed causing pain in others. He was the only sailor who had done time in the brig for instigating a fight outside of practice. The first offense you are thrown in the brig for a day. Second offense you’re thrown overboard. Danglars was a brute and had yet to be disarmed. Second Jean was the only member of their group Danglars had not pinked.
“You’ll be missing that gentle stick when we’re through, Little Jon.” A few of his mates chuckled at the jape. Second Jean was very young and unable to hide his aristocratic bearing. To the seasoned men aboard, Danglars among them, Jean Fleury appeared have bought his way into an Officer’s post. In addition, he had two swords, a clear luxury. To their eyes, he was green and untested. It caused tension. As did his innate skill with the blade and his rapid improvement at circle. Danglars spun his blade a few times as he circled Second Jean. Roberts assumed a casual observation point but he was anything but casual. Danglars claimed to have little experience with a sword but his movements betrayed him. Roberts could see him testing the balance of the blade as he spun it. He could see Danglars shift his weight to his back leg in anticipation of riposte.
“Danglars, the goal of this session is to improve our strength, not weaken it. Mind you do not injure another member of this crew.”
“Aye, aye, Captain.” Danglars slashed his sword and brought it to ready. Second Jean would bleed today.
Second Jean took a calming breath and brought his sword to the ready. Their swords met and sang. They separated. Again, the song rang out. Danglars attempted to disarm Second Jean using the same counter attack Roberts had employed. Second Jean was ready for it and feinted. His attack did not disarm Danglars but it drove him to the rail leaving him with no room to swing. “Good! Again.”
The men moved back to the center. Second Jean waited this time. He did not attack but waited for the larger man to come for him. He did not have long to wait. Their swords met and sang several times. Danglars again tried to copy Roberts disarming move but this time with more force. Second Jean was not disarmed but he was thrown from the circle and landed hard on the deck. Danglars did not relent. Second Jean could only block. The point of Danglars’ sword was at Second Jean’s throat. Danglars’ eyes contained nothing but blood lust. Then Roberts was between them and Danglars was disarmed. The circle gasped. None had seen him move.
“Danglars, how do you intend to deflect this ‘gentle stick’ without your sword?” Suddenly, two welts appeared on Danglars. One at his temple and one on the top of the left wrist. Identical to the welts received by Second Jean. “Jean, you did well. Had this not been a practice session, what would your next move be.”
“Hopefully, I’d have a dagger.” There were chuckles from around the circle. Second Jean had not attempted to stand. He fell hard and was taking time to recover.
“Aye, customary again. However, I did not need a dagger.” He held his stick up and smirked. Murmurs from around the circle. Roberts turned his back to Second Jean and spoke to Danglars, “What lies at Jean’s left hand?”
“First Jean’s dick? How should I know?” Danglars was winded and also enraged by the welts. He wanted blood on his blade. He had been close. He recovered his sword to the laughter of his mates.
“I see. Second Jean has discovered your flaw, Danglars. He will be able to disarm you from now on.” Roberts turned back to Second Jean and offered his hand to help him up. Second Jean took it but was shaking his head.
“I am flattered at my captain’s faith in my abilities but I do not share it.” Roberts placed his right hand on his shoulder. “Aye, that is why I’m Captain.” He smiled at Second Jean. “Now, again!” and he shoved Second Jean into the circle. “Remember the goal of this lesson.”
The men tested each other and their swords sang and separated and sang again. Roberts watched. Danglars attacked with vigor and customary recklessness. Second Jean countered and backed the big man to the rail again. Danglars kicked at Jean’s leg. Jean sprang back. He recognized the same movements from his trip to the deck. He countered and spun away. “Good!” from Roberts.
Danglars was at him again. Again, the same movements. Jean spun and countered. There was no way he could disarm Danglars. Danglars was faster and stronger than Jean. He lacked finesse and control of his emotions but he attacked relentlessly with total disregard for custom or rules. He clutched his left hand into a fist and felt the welt. Danglars attacked again. Now Jean was at the rail. His left hand. What was at his left hand? A fist? Suddenly, he did see Danglars’ flaw and his own. As Danglars shifted his weight, Second Jean delivered a left hook to the side of his face. Danglars sword fell to the deck, followed closely by Danglars himself. He was out cold.
Cheers ran through the circle. Many of the crew congratulated him with back slaps as he panted. “Excellent, Mr. Fleury. Please tell the group the goal of this lesson.”
“The goal of this session is to improve our strength not to weaken it, Sir. Mr. Danglars is stronger and faster than I. He relies on his strength, as is custom.” Jean paused to regain his breath. “Which, as you point out, is lethal.” A wave of chuckles whet around the circle. “The only way to disarm Danglars was to surprise him, he is too skilled at the sword for me to do that in the customary way. At my left hand is my fist. I have a surprisingly good left hook.” This was met with more laughter.
“Aye, that you do. Please assist in reviving Danglars. You’ve both earned a bottle of brandy. Hopefully that will ease the pain to his jaw and to his pride. As for the rest of you, Parry and Riposte until your asses cramp!” Roberts helped Jean lift the dazed Danglars from the deck and to his bunk.
Jean Fleury met with the Captain twice a day to discuss navigation and course changes. He knew his opportunity would come during this time. He’d lacked the courage to even ask for permission to speak, for three weeks. Forty two missed opportunities. First Jean had coached him to be direct. That the Captain prefers a direct question to clever or embellished politicking. “Permission to speak, Captain.” Jean (Second Jean) asked.
“Granted.” Roberts was chewing a piece of dried meat while reviewing a map of Spain.
“How did you disarm Danglars with a stick?” Jean had decided this was the best way to start this conversation. He had disarmed Danglars, using his sword, everyday since Roberts had proved it could be done with a stick. It was difficult and Jean’s blade suffered for it.
“Same way you did, by surprising him.” As if this answer was totally clear, he squinted and pointed at the map in front of him. “Do you think this is an ink stain or a lake?” Jean brought a lantern to the table and bent closer to the map. He picked it up and flipped it over.
“I believe it is an ink stain. You can see a bleed through the parchment and the color is not the same as the surrounding marks.” Jean dutifully studied the parchment and did not see Roberts’ keen and close inspection of his face. Genthus and Argo had passed on to Roberts the young man’s obsession with him. Genthus feared Fleury was a spy. Argo knew the young man from his childhood and swore he was not. His motivations were his own. The obsession was born of hero worship. It was not his place to give reasons, Fleury would do so in time. Roberts recognized the longing and drive. It was a mirror fogged by the difference in their ages. Regardless, Jean Fleury was hiding something and he was suspiciously tight lipped. He would know before Second Jean left his cabin tonight.
“See, same way.” Roberts poured brandy into two tumblers and handed one to Jean. The young man realized that the Captain did not need to know about the ink spot. “Sit. Let us discuss.”
“Sir, I’m on duty for a few hours yet.” Jean began. Protocol and custom. Jean’s breeding could not be hidden. Argo thought one bottle would be enough. Roberts was not convinced.
“Jean, you are on a pirate ship. I am the Dread Pirate Roberts. I assume you made your mark to escape a life of rigid protocol and duty, in search of more interesting adventures.” Here Roberts waggled the bottle. “Drinks with infamous pirate captains perhaps?” Jean took it and filled his tumbler. Then he sat on the edge of his chair with it in his lap. Feeling the years and experience between them overwhelm and silence him as it had every moment since he joined the crew. Roberts took pity on him. He raised his own cup in cheers to the young man and drank, prompting Jean to do the same. Custom.
Jean Fleury recovered himself. He’d been preparing for this conversation for much of the last four years. Roberts was not the man he thought he’d be asking. He was terrifying but he was the best and Jean needed the best. Now that the moment was upon him, he lacked the boldness needed to ask the question. He was moments away from stepping closer to the center. He stared into his tumbler. He just needed the right words. “I, ugh…” Eloquent.
“I will help. First, the sword is not your primary weapon. Second, it is not your only weapon. Danglars knows this. It is how he dominates the circle.” Roberts paused. Jean wore a look of confusion. “How do you disarm him with your sword?” The captain asked.
“With effort and great difficulty.” Jean answered honestly. Roberts laughed.
“But you do it.”
“Aye, sir, but I want to know how you do it with a stick.” Jean stated this with such unbridled enthusiasm and eagerness that Roberts laughed again. Argo swears that Jean had seen his 18th birthday. Roberts was not convinced.
“You know how. Do not disappoint me by confessing your ignorance of the first rule of winning a fight.” He raised a questioning eyebrow at the young man.
“Aye. You must strike where your opponent cannot defend.” Roberts circled his wrist indicating he should continue. “Observe their weakness and their strength then adapt to counter. Strike with confidence. Reveal nothing.” Jean deflated somewhat as he recited these tenants. Though his posture never eased beyond rigid.
“How old are you, Jean? I will know if you lie.” Roberts’ eyes captured Jean’s. Jean was momentarily off guard but recovered. He assumed the indignant posture of youth questioned by experience. Namely, he attempted to appear larger than he was.
“I have seen 18 summers, Captain. I served two seasons aboard the Dauntless under Captain Jones. He provided a letter…”
“Yes, keep your shirt on. I do not question your skill merely your time among the living. Jean Argo vouched for you. Your past is your own. If you do not wish to talk about it, you do not have to. However, it is my responsibility as Captain to know my crew. I can also count and figure age based on ability and experience. Despite what you disclosed when selected for this crew, you have had more than just ‘some’ training with the blade. My guess would be four years with a tutor and some independent study. Perhaps a year with a Master, but no more. Let’s say four years beginning around age eight or nine, as is custom for third sons. The Dauntless sails out of Southampton, the Earl requires a minimum age of 14 summers. Leaving you, Jean, at a two year deficit in my book” Roberts watched Jean closely. He knew he was close to the truth, especially when he mentioned third sons and Jean clinched his jaw involuntarily.
Jean sipped his wine with petulance and tried to get back to the relevant question that was burning his brain to ash. He would prove that he was worthy. He had to. There was no other choice for him. “Will I master the circle?” This was not the question he had intended to ask. Of all the questions swirling within him! It slipped out. He could feel his skin warm to blush.
“Only you will know when you reach the center of the circle. For some reason, you do not apply your full attention to the circle and this delays your progression.” Roberts was direct and honest. This was a young man’s question.
“That is not true! I’ve come farther than Danglars and he still has not pinked me. I spend all circle time at the blade.” Jean’s eyes flashed. Roberts saw a lot of himself in his Second Mate. He was searching for a teacher. It made Roberts feel all the years he’d lived from Jean’s age to his own. He was exhausted by it. He rubbed absently at his midsection. The numbness behind a scar.
“This is true but not an answer to your question. You carry a Yeste.” Jean’s jaw clinched. “The blade was not made for you. You are too young for that.” Emphasis on ‘are’. “You also do not practice with it but with a lesser blade. Which I suspect is because it has a proportional balance to your current size. You have skill and show promise. If you used the better tool, Danglars would have been pinked by you two weeks ago and you would stand at the center of the circle. Besides, the circle on this ship is not for mastery, it is to prepare you to survive when others try to kill you. Despite what he disclosed when selected for this crew, Danglars has had a modicum of training in this area.”
“How did you know?”
“I observe, same as you. You recognized Danglars’ pattern. From his”
“About my sword. I’ve never told anyone about it, not even Argo.” Jean, who was inspecting a spot on the floor in front of him, did not notice the flash in Roberts’ eye nor the second it took for him to recover.
“I observe. I’ve seen my share of swords. Was it your father’s.” Jean nodded. He didn’t trust himself to speak. “You need not worry. I have no interest in holding you for ransom or collecting bounty on runaway royals, I’ve had my fill of that lately.” Jean chuckled. He leapt at the opening to discuss Roberts’ infamous exploits.
“Is it true that you fought Inigo Montoya, the greatest swordsman alive?” Roberts choked on his brandy. He stood coughing, and poured himself another. “He is rumored to be a Wizard but you defeated him. Didn’t you?” Roberts, his back to Jean, contemplated his brandy, threw it back, and poured a third. He returned to his chair. “I did. I can tell you, I wish I’d had your left hook.” Roberts rubbed the back of his head remembering how the duel actually ended. He passed the bottle to Jean and sat down.
“You have great potential with the sword.” He did not know if he was up to talking about the duel atop the Cliffs of Insanity. He could feel the blade at his hip. “Tell me about your practice.” His hands itched to feel its weight. He picked up the piece of amber being used to keep the maps and charts from curling up on themselves. He toyed with it then put it in his left hand and squeezed it. It was about the size of an apple. Jean remained silent, struggling with how to answer. “Or you can tell me about your blade and how you acquired it.”
“I studied fencing with Volman, near Paris.” He began, quick to avoid the topic of his sword.
“Volman? V-v-v-v-Volman of Paris? That Volman?” Roberts exaggerated the stutter the man was known for. He came around the table and filled his glass. He leaned casually against the table and offered the bottle to Jean.
“You know him?” Jean forgot to be intimidated, they had something in common! He quaffed his wine so he could fill his glass. Roberts’ sword was directly in front of him at Roberts’ left hip. He could see the fine hilt glinting eerily. He had never been this close to it. It made him nervous. He slid back in his chair to give the predatory menace some space. Roberts noticed this and smiled.
“If it is the same Volman. The Volman I knew was a twat, an obsequious noble, no offense, and only passing fair as a swordsman. He became a Master?”
“HA! You do know him! And none taken. My uncle sent me to him when I…” Jean cleared his throat. “was 9. Odd, he did not brag of knowing you.” Jean was earnest in this observation. Not suspicious. “He went on endlessly about having studied under the Wizard Bastia and his tutelage of the Florin, Guilder, and French royal families.”
“Well, I was not a Dread Pirate when I knew him. If he studied under Bastia then he’d be a hundred by now and he is but 50. He lies worse than…” Roberts’ turn to trail off and recover. “Doesn’t matter. How long did you suffer under his super taxing regime? I assume he had you practice all the most recent bows and gentlemanly banter in between circles.”
“Ugh, three unbelievably tedious years. I’ve learned more in the last three weeks than in all my time with him. You are correct, he is not a Master of the sword.”
“But you learned so many valuable customs! Three years, that is fortitude.” Roberts raised his glass and they both drank. They laughed about the inadequacy of the so called Masters of the ‘noble art of fencing’ for much of the next hour. Roberts was surprised to find he enjoyed talking to this boy. Jean knew a lot about fencing. It was clear that he had dedicated years to his study. It was practice and experience he lacked. Jean drank more than was wise, but it made him bold enough to voice his heart’s desire.
“Sir, I wish to be a Master swordsman. It is why I signed with you. You defeated the Wizard Montoya, I will do anything to be your apprentice.” He dropped to one knee and held his sheathed sword on upturned palms above his head.
Roberts stood. This was what he had suspected from the first. He had been expecting it since Jean had disarmed Danglars. Roberts felt stone under his knees, the weight of his own sword across his palms, the sun on his neck. He felt every scar, from every duel, throb against his clothes. He could not do it. “I’m sorry to disappoint you. It cannot be done.” He was surprised at his own disappointment. The paperweight had fallen from his hand to the floor. He knew this blade. Even in the sheath, the steel whispered to its brother at his hip. His hand was above it. His fingers twitched. They ached to touch it. The twin lines pulsed under his beard.
“But you said I show promise! I could be a Master with training. I need to be a Master. You must train me!” He raised his palms and the sword a bit higher. Jean bowed his head and closed his eyes. Roberts knew that he was praying. How many times had he presented his sword in this manner? Closed his eyes and willed the Master to lift the burden from him. To accept and move him closer to the center of the circle. His own heart grew warm inside his chest. It pushed gently at the edges of his private suffering. Jean did not understand what he had asked of him. He could not do it. With effort, he reached past the blade and put his hand on the youth’s shoulder. He mastered his breathing.
“I am training you, to survive as a pirate. I am neither Wizard nor Master. It is impossible for me to take an apprentice.” He was not unkind, just honest. Jean stared into Roberts dark eyes. “I am sorry.” And he was.
Jean was looking for a window, a glimmer of hope, around the door that had suddenly slammed shut in his face. Roberts indicated to the piece of amber on the floor. Jean picked it up and handed it to him. “Please, sit down.” Jean resumed his seat. He had failed to impress Roberts. He had embarrassed himself. He was a little drunk. He sat back and slumped, looking even younger than ever. His sword forgotten on the floor.
“All is not lost. This is the first time in three weeks I’ve seen you remove the stick from up your ass. That’s progress. I’ll make a pirate of you yet.” Jean couldn’t help but scoff a bit at this.
“Pick up that sword. You don’t have to be a Master to see that blade deserves more respect than the floor.” Jean obeyed. He laid it across his lap. He had not revealed the blade outside his own cabin. Yet Roberts recognized its make from the hilt alone. Montoya would have as well. This man beat Montoya, which means he has skill beyond him. This is the Master he was seeking. Jean was terrified by him. He was ashamed by the part of him that was relieved at the refusal. “Jean Argo speaks highly of you. It was my understanding that you were close? Did you not trust him with this plan of yours?” He refilled Jean’s cup and handed it to him.
“I did. He told me you were likely to refuse.” Roberts nodded.
“Did he mention why?”
“He said you were a pirate captain, not a professor.” Jean aped First Jean’s voice and tone. It was a good imitation. He had more to say and Roberts watched the internal struggle play across his fine features. Fleury reminded him of someone but he could not place him. The sharp, unintentionally haughty cheek bones. The auburn hair and intensely green eyes. “With respect, he is wrong and so are you.” He looked up at Roberts then. The defeated sorrow present a moment ago had been supplanted by passion and anger born of youthful confidence. “Sir.” He added. Making a point about returning to protocol. He assumed his previous rigid posture. Roberts was amused.
“You know my mind then? Please, enlighten me.” Roberts returned to his chair on the other side of the table. He stretched out and kicked his feet up, resting them on the edge of the table. “Tell me, The Dread Pirate Roberts, how I am not a Pirate Captain.” He reached behind his head and grabbed another bottle of wine having found the current one empty. “But drink first, as the stick has found its way back up your ass.” He threw the bottle across the table at Jean. Who caught it reflexively using his left hand. There was an odd half smile on Roberts face. It made Jean hopeful for some reason.
Jean lifted the bottle in Roberts’ direction, pulled the cork with his teeth, spat it out, and took a long pull directly from the bottle. He pulled his chair forward a bit and then mirrored Roberts with his feet perched on the table. Roberts laughed richly. Jean grew bolder and more confident. Jean filled his cup and placed the bottle on the table. He held his cup with both hands, fingers laced around it in his lap. Again, mirroring Roberts. He closed his eyes and rolled his head back from shoulder to shoulder, relaxing the tension in his neck. A perfect reflection of Roberts. Roberts guffawed. Jean looked askance at him and raised an eyebrow. Roberts lifted his cup in Jean’s direction signaling his approval.
“I observe.” He began in perfect imitation of Roberts’ slight accent. Roberts choked on his wine. Jean peeped at him wondering if he’d gone too far, but Roberts was smiling and laughing so he continued.
“First, it is customary to address the crew on the first day at sea. However, you did not.” Roberts raised his glass and said, “Pirate.”
“Yes, Pirate. Second, you hide in your cabin for five days before” Jean, remembering the terror that radiated through him that day, cleared his throat. “You are shorter than the man at the inn with whom I signed. I observe and I have a gift for mimicry. While you are of a similar build, dress all in black, and never remove your mask…” “Pirate.” from Roberts. “you have a slight accent.” He demonstrated by addressing himself in first one voice, then in Roberts’ voice. “Jean Fleury, Second Mate. Jean Fleury, Second Mate.” Jean took a drink. “Third, the slight limp to the right, present at the inn and the few moments I observed the ‘Captain’ on deck in the first five days, is no longer present. Ergo, you are not the man I signed with.”
“So I am an impostor?”
“No, I believe the other man was the impostor. For reasons I refuse to guess at, under pain of death,” he raised his glass to Roberts, who raised his in recognition that he was right not to follow this train of thought. “you could not be present at the selection of this crew and trusted it to the discretion of your First and Second Officers. I was promoted after we made way, as you know. Anyway, you are Roberts.” Roberts bowed his head in recognition. Jean was beginning to slur his words slightly.
“You are also beyond a Master level swordsman even though I’ve yet to observe you hold a sword. You’ve stood in the circle for twelve hours a day, everyday, and disarmed every member of this crew using a stick, a STICK! Without breaking a sweat or suffering a single cut, nick, or bruise. You move like lightening, did you know? and Danglars!” Jean was sitting forward now. He ran a hand through his hair. He wore it short. Roberts had seen Argo help him cut it three days ago. “He’s been trying to kill you at every practice yet you are unscathed and he is covered in welts. I would be dead had you not intervened. Do you know how close it was?! Of course you do. I tell you, there was a single second during which to act. His blade takes a piece of mine every time, he strikes with such force. Then you step in with a bit of wood and he is disarmed and the gentle stick is unscathed.” Jean was working himself into a frenzy. The wine had blurred his focus. He looked at the dark eyes across from him.
“Pirate.” Roberts replied. “Now, my young friend, you have not proved your point, merely reinforced my previous answers to your request. I am the Dread Pirate Roberts. On this ship, in that circle, men become pirates, not Masters. I am not the Master you seek.” He quaffed the last of his wine.
“No! You knew my blade was a Yeste by hilt alone!” He placed the sword on the table with more force than he had intended but he did not care. “You have never seen the blade, yet you KNEW. Only a Master, or beyond. Damn my luck! I was seeking the Wizard Montoya! Did you kill him? If only I’d known him before you! If you do not train me in his stead then I have failed!” Jean was standing and shouting into the face of the Dread Pirate Roberts. This message took a moment before it reached his wine addled brain. Suddenly, all the wine was on its way back up. The sailor grabbed the empty bucket and did an accurate imitation of a fountain. “Oh gods! I am sorry, mother. I have failed.” Jean Fleury passed out.
Jean Argo stepped from behind the screen and looked at his friend. “Well, that took slightly longer than expected.” He and Roberts picked him up and dropped him into the chair. “He won’t remember much. Shall I put him in the brig?”
“No. His motivation is his own, not another’s. Put him to bed.” They lifted him to standing again. He was conscious enough to be completely useless. Mumbling incoherently as Argo half carried him to the door. Roberts could make out the words ‘mother’, ‘failed’, and ‘sorry’ as he opened the door for the Jeans. “Argo, put him in your quarters. His tongue is too loose for general quarters.”
“Aye, Captain.” He dragged drunk Jean to his bunk.
Roberts opened the windows of his cabin and tossed the contents of the bucket into the sea below. He turned back to the table. Jean’s sword was there. Yeste. I am sorry, mother. I have failed. Not Yeste. Roberts’ eyes blurred with tears. The cabin smelled of sick and lamp oil. He fled the cabin in search of a fresh bucket and a rag or two. The air on deck was also welcome and helped to clear his head. He walked the deck and checked in with the commander of the watch and the crew on duty. Danglars was at the wheel. They would make port by morning.