“Am I on the right lines so far, Master Kenway?”
“You might be.”
He nodded. “I thought so. How old are you, boy? What? Seventeen? About the same age as Miss Scott. Me thinks you’re nurturing a bit of a passion for her, am I right?”
“You might be.”
“I think I am. Now, I’m going to say this once and once only, but Miss Scott is promised to Mr. Hague. This union has the blessing of the parents . . .” He hauled me to my feet, pinning my arms to my sides. Too wet, too bedraggled, too exhausted to resist, I knew what was coming anyway.
“Now, if I see you hanging around her again, or trying any more stupid stunts to try and get her attention, then it’ll be more than a dip in the sea you get, do I make myself clear?”
I nodded. “And what about the knee in the goolies you’re about to give me?”
He smiled grimly.
“Oh, that? That’s personal.”
He came good on his word, and it was some time before I was able to get to my feet and make my way back to my cart. It wasn’t just my tackle that was injured—my pride had taken a beating too.
That night I lay in bed, cursing my luck. I had blown my chances with Caroline. She was lost to me, all thanks to that greedy urchin Albert, not to mention Hague and company. I had suffered once more at the hands of Tom Cobleigh, and Father had looked at me askance when I’d arrived home, a little later than usual and, even though I had a change of clothing, a little more bedraggled.
“You’ve not been in those taverns again?” He said, darkly, “So help me God, if I hear you’ve been dragging our good name . . .”
“No, Father, nothing like that.”
He was wrong, I’d not been to the tavern on my way home. In fact I’d not gone within sniffing distance of an ale-house since the fight outside the Auld Shillelagh. I’d been telling myself that meeting Caroline had had an effect on me. Quite literally a sobering effect.
Now, though, I didn’t know. I began to wonder—perhaps my life was there, in the beer suds, around the sloppy grins of easy women with hardly any teeth and even fewer morals, and by the time of my thirtieth summer hauling wool to Bristol market I’d be numbed to it; I’d have forgotten whatever hopes I had of one day seeing the world.
Then two things happened that changed everything. The first came in the shape of a gentleman who took his place next to me at the bar of the George and Dragon in Bristol one sunny afternoon. A smartly dressed gentleman with flamboyant cuffs and a colourful necktie, who removed his hat, placed it to the bar and indicated my drink.
“Can I get you another, sir?” he asked me.
It made a change from “son,” “lad” or “boy.” All of which I had to endure on a daily if not hourly basis.
“And who do I have to thank for my drink? And what might he want in return?” I asked guardedly.
“Perhaps just the chance to talk, friend,” beamed the man. He proffered his hand to shake. “The name is Dylan Wallace, pleased to make your acquaintance Mr. . . . Kenway, isn’t it?”
For the second time in a matter of days I was presented with someone who knew my name though I had no idea why.
“Oh yes,” he said, beaming. (He was at least of a more friendly nature than Wilson, I reflected.) “I know your name. Edward Kenway. Quite the reputation you have around these parts. Indeed, I’ve seen you in action for myself.”
“Have you?” I looked at him, eyes narrowed.
“Why yes indeed,” he said. “I hear from the people I’ve spoken to that you’re no stranger to a bit of a scuffle, but even so, you can’t have forgotten your fight at the Auld Shillelagh the other day.”
“I don’t think I’m going to be allowed to forget it.” I sighed.
“When I tell you what, sir, I’m just going to come straight out with it, because you look like a young man who knows his own mind and is unlikely to be persuaded one way or the other by anything I might have to tell you, so I’m just going to come right out with it. Have you ever thought of going to sea?”
“Well, now that you come to mention it, Mr. Wallace, I had once considered leaving Bristol heading in that direction, you’re right.”
“So what’s stopping you?”
I shook my head. “Now that is a very good question.”
“Do you know what a privateer is, Mr. Kenway, sir?”
Before I could answer he was telling me. “They’re buccaneers given letters of marque by the Crown. You see, the Dons and the Portuguese are helping themselves to the treasures of the New World, they’re filling their coffers, and it’s the job of privateers either to stop them or to take what they’re taking. Do you understand?”
“I know what a privateer is, thank you very much, Mr. Wallace. I know that you can’t be put on trial for piracy, so long as you don’t attack ships belonging to your own country, that’s it, isn’t it?”
“Oh, that’s it, Mr. Kenway, sir.” Dylan Wallace grinned. “How would it be if I leaned over and was to help myself to a mug of ale? That’d be stealing, wouldn’t it? The barman might try to stop me, but what if I was doing it with impunity. What if my theft had the royal seal of approval? This is what we are talking about, Mr. Kenway. The opportunity to go out on the high seas and help yourself to as much gold and treasure as your captain’s ship will carry. By doing so you will not only be working with the approval of Her Majesty Queen Anne but helping her. You’ve heard of Captain Christopher Newport, Francis Drake, Admiral Sir Henry Morgan, privateers all. How about adding the name Edward Kenway to that illustrious list?”
“What are you saying?”
“I’m saying how about becoming a privateer, sir?”
I gave him a studying look. “And if I promise to think about it, what’s in it for you?”
“Why, commission, of course.”
“Don’t you normally press men for this kind of thing?”
“Not men of your calibre, Mr. Kenway. Not men we might consider officer material.”
“All because I showed promise in a fight?”
“Because of the way you conducted yourself in that fight, Mr. Kenway, in all aspects of it.”
I nodded. “If I promise to think about it, does that mean I don’t need to return the favour of an ale?”
I went to bed that night knowing I had to tell Father that my destiny lay not in sheep-farming but in swashbuckling adventure as a privateer.