As the group stepped from the murky depths of the fort out into the bright sunshine they hit the wall humid heat that layered the Caribbean in the summer.
“Captain, would you be so kind as to entertain my daughter, I have some things to discuss with the Commodore,” said the Governor.
“Certainly, sir. It would be an honour.”
The Governor turned to Amelia.
“Now don’t be a burden on the young Captain, my dear.”
“I’ll try, father,” despite trying her best, she couldn’t entirely hide her mocking tone, though no one seemed to notice.
They watched the two men slowly wander off to the Commodore’s office.
“Would you like to take a stroll along the battlements, the view is excellent?”
“That would be pleasant.”
Slowly they ascend the steps and break out onto the battlements which provide a clear view out over the bay between the castellations. They wander past the ranks of cannon, ready to rain down on any intruder in the area.
“The Commodore said it was you who caught Ardent.”
“Yes. Well, the traitor Roberts came to me, having heard of me. I then consulted with the Commodore as to the best course of action, but it was I who lead the squad that ambushed Ardent and his crew.”
“That must have been very frightening, taking on a pirate like Ardent.”
“Oh, he’s a fearsome brute, though not as murderous as many, but I knew I could handle him if the going got tough. Her Majesty’s navy is the best in the world, and with my careful planning, Ardent knew he was beaten and didn’t even put up a fight.”
“You show exceptional modesty for your actions, Captain. Tell me, what’s known about Ardent, was he always a pirate?”
“No my lady, that’s the thing, he was once a naval officer. He resigned his commission and sailed to the Caribbean to become a privateer, attacking ships in the name of Her Majesty. Many sailors did this, mainly the undisciplined or disgraced, after hearing stories of fortunes being made. He was very successful, his name became known throughout the Caribbean. He rarely killed crews, instead employing all manner of tricks to get on board and take control of a ship. That’s how he became known as the ‘Gentleman Pirate’. Then one day, a navy frigate stumbled upon his boat and one his ‘prizes.’ Everyone on board — man, woman and child — had been tortured and slain, the women had been violated, the decks were supposedly swimming with blood. The Captain of the naval frigate questioned Ardent, who denied any knowledge of the act, saying he had merely stumbled onto it but a half-hour before their arrival. The Captain of the ship wasn’t satisfied, but when he tried to bring Ardent in for questioning, Ardent shot him. The rest of the crew held off the pirates long enough to escape.”
They walk on in silence.
“He deserves to hang,” said Amelia, taken aback by the story.
“Is there much known about him before he left the navy?”
“Rumours mostly. He’s thought to come from a well to do family, which would account for him being an officer in the navy, and also explains his level of education. Other than that, details are vague, some say he was orphaned, some that his family moved to the Americas.”
Realising she is neglecting the Captain and constantly asking questions about Ardent, Amelia changes tack. “Well I’m very glad you were able to rid us of such a horrible man. I trust you will receive your share of the praise for apprehending him, after all, it sounds as if you did it all, not the Commodore.”
“Well, between you and I, the Commodore believes that this may be enough for him to make Admiral and he’s assured me he would recommend me to replace him as Commodore.”
“Commodore Morgan, that will be grand.”
They stroll on.
Meanwhile, in the Commodore’s office, the two men have taken seats around the Commodore’s desk, and are sipping from port from ornate crystal glasses.
“I wanted to talk to you about the treasury, Commodore. I see that we are preparing our largest ever shipment for transport back to England.”
“You’re quite correct, Governor.”
“Do we have adequate protection in place for the shipment, that’s what I’m concerned about. It’s an awful lot of gold and if word of it should get out, every pirate in the Caribbean, the Atlantic and beyond will be after it.”
“Don’t worry, Governor, I’ve taken every precaution. A decoy ship will be loaded during the day, and sent off with two small escort ships, both of which will be loaded with marines, tomorrow evening. Tomorrow night, the real shipment will be loaded onto another ship and escorted by Vigilant and Fearless, which I have requested from the Admiralty specifically for this task, plus two smaller vessels. Vigilant and Fearless are two of our finest ships, they could hold off an entire fleet of pirates. In the meantime, I’ve doubled the number of guards on duty in the treasury, where it will remain under constant guard. I’ve also taken the precaution of limiting the number people allowed into the fort to the bare minimum.
“I can see that you have everything well in hand, Commodore. Well, now that that’s settled, shall we have another glass of port?”
“Excellent idea, Governor.”
The only way to tell it’s night in the cells is by the lack of any of the usual sounds of guards and men moving around, the silence is almost stifling. Ardent lays on the floor, head propped on the crook of a folded arm. His tricorn pulled low over his eyes. The sound of his deep, rhythmic breaths suggest he’s asleep, but his eyes are wide open under the brim of his hat, adjusted to the darkness, they miss nothing. An almost imperceptible muffle is heard, followed by very light footfalls as someone carefully negotiates the stairs that lead to the cells. Ardent doesn’t move, but he’s ready, his eyes search for the first sign of whoever is coming down the stairs.
Roberts appears, carrying a set of keys. Having checked to see if there are any guards about, he hurries over to Ardent’s cell and begins trying keys.
“Captain – Captain,” he whispers.
“You took your time, but it’s good to see you all the same.”
Ardent gets up as Roberts gets the right key and swings the door open.
“Go and free the others, we’ve not got time to waste.”
Slowly the other cells are unlocked and thankful pirates congregate around Ardent.
“All right lads, I think we did an excellent job of convincing the Governor Roberts here had turned traitor, so well done all round. Next up is the hard part. Remember, we’re here for the money, don’t kill anyone you don’t have to, and for God’s sake don’t be seen or heard.”
The group head out of the cells and split up. One group scale the ramparts, knock out and tie up the guards and booby tap the cannons. Another splits off to take out the roving patrols and secure the gate. The final group, led by Ardent, heads for the treasury. They take out the guards and each pair takes a large chest, laden with gold, between them. The boxes are so heavy they struggle to move them, but proceed to load the gold onto a cart that is commandeered from elsewhere in the fort. Once half a dozen boxes are loaded, not the full amount by far, they quietly leave.
As they’re leaving the fort a ship running a flag indicating it carries the plague slips into the harbour. Once inside it lowers two launches, which pull toward the dock with unusual speed and stealth. Ardent and his crew reach the dock as the ship they draw alongside. They load the crates quickly and head back to the ship, which weighs anchor and departs as fast as it can.
The Commodore is standing in the Governor’s study, sunlight pours in via a large window bathing the room in a bright light.
“Gone, what do you mean GONE!”
“Some of the shipment has been stolen. My guards were incapacitated. As best as we can ascertain, Ardent and his men either escaped or were released, and some of the gold taken.”
“And no one saw anything? I find that hard to believe.”
“Captain Hardmore was stationed on the Firefly just outside the harbour.”
“One of his men says he saw the plague ship that had been moored off the coast leaving but that it was the only thing on the water all night.”
“Then they must have been on it!”
“Unlikely, sir, that ship has been anchored off the coast for more than a week. Anyone who visited the ship will testify that it was infested.”
“So we don’t know what happened?”
“Not yet, sir, no. I’ve set Captain Morgan to it, sir, I have no doubts that he will find these criminals and bring them to justice.”
“He – Ardent — couldn’t have planned all this, from the start?”
“I don’t believe so, sir, no, he’d have needed to have had the plan in action for a month or more and we didn’t finalise the details until two weeks ago. Besides, who would let themselves be captured?”
“I can’t help feeling we’ve been duped here, Commodore. Put all the resources at your disposal on this case. If it’s Ardent, then fine, if it’s not him I don’t want you wasting time chasing him, is that understood?”
“Start with that Roberts fellow.”
“We already tried that, sir. He was killed in a drunken brawl last night, I have a body and witnesses.”
“Keep me informed of any news.”
“In the meantime, shall I continue with the plan for the rest of the shipment?”
“Yes, I don’t want the stuff lying around under our responsibility a moment longer, get it out to sea, it’s the navy’s fault if they lose it then.”