A Twist of Fate

You join the rest of the crew in a cheer as the Roman-style carack captained by Balastruse ignites in flames. Men leap into the water to escape the spreading fire, and the vacant helm results in the ship drifting aimlessly. Old Ironbeard’s ploy was successful, and the other vessels of the Venetian appear to be retreating. Laurelia approaches the captain. She smiles disarmingly and says, “I think it is time for a toast, Capitan de mi Corazon! Another brilliant victory to add to your little lock book.”

Old Ironbeard grimaces, “You mean my logbook, dearie. An’ it ain’t so little. But I think I must acquiesce with your proposal. Let us drink!” The ships anchor in the shallows of a nearby stretch of beach, and a plank is run between Deens Brand and one of the hijacked ships of the enemy. A barrel is brought aboard, and its contents distributed freely. It contains a higher quality of wine than you have ever tasted, and you can’t help having more than usual. You join the others in singing chanteys and telling bawdy stories. You see the pirates of other ships who follow Old Ironbeard celebrating, as well. Within a few hours, all the revelers are more than a bit squiffy, lounging about in variable states of consciousness.

Suddenly, a fish-faced man strides onto the deck from below and holds a falcata made of Toledo steel to the captain’s throat. It’s Giovanni Balastruse! He says, “Relinquish your command and you may yet see another day.”

“NEVER!” cries old Iron Beard, as he blocks the blade with his bracer and rolls to the side. The Venetian starts forward, then retreats a step as the cap’n fires a round at him and misses. He draws his falchion as you and your nearby crewmates clear-headed enough to realize what’s happening draw weapons and rush to the captain’s aid. Laurelia Cariño steps next to Balastruse, shouting, “Ayudame!” and various pirates move close to her. Your own crewmates are turning on the cap’n!

She says, “Put down your weapons, Mi Amor. We need spill no more blood today.”

Old Ironbeard is outraged. “You would betray me, wench!? How did this oaf get on me ship?”

Laurelia says, “I snuck him onboard last night when I returned from my visit to his carrack. Don’t take it personally, Mi Capitan, but Giovanni has much better connections.”

Giovanni steps in, “Our combined forces will be enough to restore my family’s land and reclaim our seat on the council.”

“Sorry,” says the red-haired pirate king, “but I don’t play nice with others!” He rushes forward, firing a volley at Balastruse as you and your mates attack the traitors. Laurelia darts about and parries with her rapier, slashing throats and piercing chests. Old Ironbeard cuts a swath with his falchion, then clashes steel with Balastruse. The two fight fiercely as the ship is filled with the noise of combat. You narrowly miss getting shot and focus your attention on your enemies.

Finally, Balastruse is cut down and Old Ironbeard decapitates him. The captain raises the head of the Venetian by the hair and shouts, “Lower yer weapons, lads, or ye’ll suffer the same fate as ‘im!”

Some of your treasonous crewmates drop their weapons, while others leap overboard. Laurelia is disarmed, and the cap’n approaches her.

“A shame it has come to this, dearie. We had a good romp, ye and me. Suppose ye just had to have more power, eh?”

Laurelia looks at him with sorrow. She says, “It wasn’t the power I craved, Mi Amor, but the freedom. I love the sea, but I wanted a quiet place of my own, as well, where I would not be hunted. I could have had that with Giovanni.”

Old Ironbeard appears distressed. Bowing his head and turning away, he says, “I cannot bear this. Sell her to the Haitians.” He heads toward his cabin. “And find the rest o’ the traitors,” he mutters to Ignaas. “I’ll reward handsomely any man who removes them from this world.” And with that, he disappears into his quarters.

Raiding the Gravier Estate

The Bokors did their best to hide the family estate, but with the aid o’ the Mysterious Coin to thwart their spells, Old Ironbeard’s Compass fer guidance, and a lot o’ diligent searchin’ (i.e. headbashin’ and general dastardliness), ye’ve found the place!  The Gravier estate be merely a league east o’ Grand-Goâve, in a cove sheltered by rocky cliffs. The only way into the cove is through the family’s personal collection of top o’ the line vessels. Beyond that, the estate is crawlin’ with guards, and they don’t take kindly to strangers!

It be time to prove yer mettle! Ready yerself and take down all obstacles, on land and sea! The victor will emerge with the skull of Laurelia herself!

Machinations

The fight against the ships of Giovanni Balastruse lasted weeks. The Italian privateer was well-outfitted, and it took every trick in the book to match him. Your hands were raw from handling the ropes as the vessels sought to outmaneuver one another, firing cannons and pistols, positioning to board, and occasionally ramming each other. It looked like no victor would emerge. But Old Ironbeard had a few surprises up his sleeve…and one of them came in the form of a sensuous Spanish lass.

Laurelia Cariño was said to have shared her bed with the most powerful mortals of the day, and even some men who were not so mortal. She had an allure that was difficult to ignore. The sun is setting, and it brings a glow to Laurelia’s features as she passes you on her way to the captain’s quarters in the fo’c’sle. You can’t help watching her, admiring the way she walks. She has a dancer’s body and a whore’s curves. Seeing that the killick, the captain’s backup anchor, is in need of maintenance, you lean against the side of the captain’s quarters to drop some eaves as you clean it. There are few words at first, but plenty of other noises. You imagine what you might do in the captain’s stead, given a private audience with such a woman. Finally, genuine conversation begins.

Laurelia says, “I think it’s time I make my offer to Giovanni, Mi Capitán. If you are ready to roll over.” You wonder if there’s a double-entendre there. Old Ironbeard says, “Don’t mind at all, lass,” followed by a muffled noise. “It’s only a show o’ weakness, after all. ‘Nuff to lure in that fish-faced mongrel, Balastruse.”

Laurelia replies, “Sí, Mi Amor. I will have him eating out of the palm of my hand.” She giggles. More noises follow.

The Cap’n growls, “And when the bilge rat moves in, he finds ‘imself in the jaws o’ me trap. Har har! Let’s see how ‘e likes me cannons from close up!”

You recall the Cap’n using this trick before. He had few ships customized to shift ballast in such a way that the vessel would heel to one side as if sinking. An overeager assailant would then ignore the ship to his detriment.

Laurelia says, “Only a fool would believe I could sabotage your ships, Mi Amor. Now, let us speak of this no mas. I wish to enjoy my time with a real man before I must sneak over to the ship of the little boy.”

You continue listening as long as you dare, then head below to relax before the action starts. With any luck, tomorrow will be the final battle with Balastruse.

Maritime Rivalry

You wake from your snooze as someone swings you out of your hammock.  You quickly take to your feet, ready to take down the offender, but see Old Ironbeard’s son, Ignaas, standing in front of you. You’d rather leap into shark infested waters than tangle with him! All of Old Ironbeard’s followers have been leary of the lad since his recent resurrection. It was just a bit too disturbing. And the pirates, being a superstitious lot, had rapidly spread rumors of all kinds of ill fate that awaited them for changing the natural order of things. After all, shouldn’t a dead man stay dead? You get chills just looking at him.

Ignaas says, “Calm down, knave. I’d hate to have to watch all the rum in yer belly drain out of a new bodily orifice.” He points his saber meaningfully at your midriff. Then he sweeps it sideways, encompassing the remaining pirates relaxing on the shore. “I care not if yer all loaded to the gunwalls! We’ve new orders. My father is sending us to eliminate the ships of Giovanni Balastruse, his long-time rival. Balastruse has come with a letter of marque from Venice, and he intends to rob us of our hard-earned gold! Ready yerselves and the ships, and let us weigh anchor! And remember, no prey no pay!”

The Haitian Bokors

After survivin’ numerous Kraken attacks, ye thank the sea gods upon reaching the safe harbor of Grand-Goâve. The Haitian city is bustlin’ with activity, not to mention temptations of all kinds. But afore ye enjoy yer stay at the local pleasure house, ye’d best be huntin’ down Laurelia Cariño’s skull. The Gravier family, who own one o’ the skulls, is most elusive. They have bokors keepin’ ‘em hidden, it seems, an’ ye’ll have to ransack both city and wilderness in huntin’ down their whereabouts. Leave no stone unturned. Question the bandits in the hills, as well as those behind bars. And don’t be afraid to put down any wild boar that gets in yer way! Let no Imperial Guard or Jester go uninterrogated! Ye might have to cause a little trouble. And ye may also be needin’ to bust yer mates outta jail, or have’em do the same fer ye! A little teamwork ne’er hurt anyone. Now, sharin’ the pie…that’s another story!

Danger in the Deep

Ye stand on the deck o’ the ship, peerin’ over the gunwale at the wide ocean, not a speck o’ land in sight. Other vessels accompany yers, part o’ the big expedition to recover Old Ironbeard’s treasure. Pirates rarely work in tandem, but there’s a kind of agreement between the captains. A fightin’ man’s fist is more effective with many fingers, an’ ye hope to deal harshly with any outside interference that arises. Beyond that, it’s every Jack Tar fer ‘imself!

It’s been clear sailin’ for some time, but now the skies are clouding. Before long, a thick mist rolls o’er the ships. Cries of warning are heard from the lookouts, but since the water is deep, ye continue on yer way, hopin’ the helmsman can keep a steady course. Lanterns are lit and the crew goes about its business.

Then a scream is heard, followed by a splash. One o’ yer men has vanished! Ye scan about fer the cause, fearing the worst. Yer fears are confirmed as ye spot a massive tentacle coiled around the midmast of yer ship, and a second tentacle latched onto another ship. Using the vessels as leverage, the massive sea creature draws its head and body to the surface of the water, its wicked teeth gleaming in the lantern-light, bloodied by its recent kill.

“It be the Kraken, Cap’n!” hollers yer first mate. Ye know not what ill fate put this creature in yer path, but it’ll take the combined might o’ this makeshift fleet to put it down!

The Skull Bearer

After breakin’ heads, liftin’ iron, and rollin’ the bones so many times yer gettin’ rheumatism, Hammerhead delares a winner! He shouts, “The skull o’ the gamblin’ prince ‘imself is awarded to none other than The Pope! Yes, he may have a disturbing fascination with goats; and let’s not get into his religious fetishes an’ such; but he knows how to get the job done. There are few buccaneers out there worth as much salt as he is!”

He invites The Pope into a back room, and the rest o’ the contestants, as well. The walls are lined with mercs to keep order, and on a pedestal on the far end lies Black Jack’s skull! Or is it? Surely he weren’t no pygmy! This has to be a joke! Then Hammerhead reminds everyone that the Shuar shaman shrunk the skull. The Pope walks forward to collect the skull. Is he humming Always Look on the Bright Side of Life? The Pope picks it up, grinning enigmatically. Then he peers more closely at his prize, and his smile fades. He looks dubiously at it, and then nearly drops it. He swears there was an evil gleam in those bare-boned eye sockets! He shivers and quickly tucks it away in a knapsack, then tries to pretend everything’s okay.

Beneath the skull lies a map of the Isle of Chiloe, off the coast of Chile. Hammerhead says, “Now that the matter of the first skull bearer is decided, ye can all mount an expedition to take back Old Ironbeard’s stolen treasure! When I pilf…I mean, purchased this here skull from a notable antiquary, he told me about the legend he heard from the natives down there, the Mapuche, they call’em. He said that after the fall of Old Ironbeard’s empire, his treasure was all gathered up by the beings who sail the Caleuche. Some kinda water spirits er somethin’. Anyhow, the thing I recall best is that he said the only way to find the Caleuche now was by bringin’ the ‘skulls of the traitors’ to the Chilote coast.”

Hammerhead waits for all that to sink in. “Now, as fer myself, I’m a bit too seasoned fer a romp like this’n. But all you youngins can have at it. I’ve had my use outta this stuff, so good luck an’ all that! The skull o’ the Spanish lass, Laurelia Cariño, is supposed to be in Haiti, held by a family of Vodou priests. Some o’ them are said to be bokors, or Haitian sorcerers. An’ if yer runnin’ light on Mysterious Coins, I may have a service ye can do fer me, ‘cause ye’ll need ‘em. Those coins were fashioned by the Mapuche people to protect them from the warlock, so they oughta shelter ye from the dark magic of the bokors. But I ain’t takin’ no chances! Take Deens Brand and find the skulls yerself!”

He walks toward the door.

“Oh yeah. And we’re closed! My mercs’ll show ye out. So skedaddle ‘fore I take some skulls ‘o my own!”

And with that he stomps off. Looks like all that loot may be a bit harder to come by than ye thought, but ye already hold a small piece o’ the pie. Why not go for the rest?