Righteous Side of the Wicked – Jennifer Bray Weber

IN THE YEAR of our Lord 854, a wee lad by the name of Arthur MacAlpin set out on an adventure that would turn the tides of his fortune, for what could be more exciting than being feared and showered with gold? Arthur wanted to be king. A sovereign as great as King Arthur, who came hundreds of years before him. The legendary knight who was able to pull a magical sword from stone, met ladies in lakes and vanquished evil with a vast following who worshipped him. But while that King Arthur brought to mind dreamlike images of a roundtable surrounded by chivalrous knights and the ladies they romanced, MacAlpin wanted to summon night terrors from every babe, woman and man. Aye, MacAlpin, king of the pirates of Britannia would be a name most feared. A name that crossed children’s lips when the candles were blown out at night. When a shadow passed over a wall, was it the pirate king? When a ship sailed into port in the dark hours of night, was it him? As the fourth son of the conquering Pictish King Cináed, Arthur wanted to prove himself to his father. He wanted to make his father proud, and show him that he, too, could be a conqueror. King Cináed was praised widely for having run off the Vikings, for saving his people, for amassing a vast and strong army. No one would dare encroach on his conquered lands when they would have to face the end of his blade. Arthur wanted that, too. He wanted to be feared. Awed. To hold his sword up and have devils come flying from the tip. So, it was on a fateful summer night in 854, that at the age of ten and nine, Arthur amassed a crew of young and roguish Picts and stealthily commandeered one of his father’s ships.

They blackened the sails to hide them from those on watch and began an adventure that would last a lifetime and beyond. The lads trolled the seas, boarding ships and sacking small coastal villages. In fact, they even sailed so far north as to raid a Viking village in the name of his father. By the time they returned to Oban, and the seat of King Cináed, all of Scotland was raging about Arthur’s atrocities. Confused, he tried to explain, but his father would not listen and would not allow him back into the castle. King Cináed banished his youngest son from the land, condemned his acts as evil and told him he never wanted to see him again. Enraged and experiencing an underlying layer of mortification, Arthur took to the seas, gathering men as he went, and building a family he could trust would not shun him. They ravaged the sea as well as the land—using his clan’s name as a lasting insult to his father for turning him out. The legendary Pirate King was rumored to be merciless, the type of vengeful pirate who would drown a babe in his mother’s own milk if she didn’t give him the pearls at her neck. But with most rumors, they were mostly steeped in falsehoods meant to intimidate.

In fact, there may have been a wee boy or two he saved from an untimely fate. Whenever they came across a lad or lass in need, as Arthur himself had once been, they took them into the fold. One ship became two. And then three, four, five, until a score of ships with blackened sails roamed the seas. These were his warriors. A legion of men who adored him, respected him, followed him, and together they wreaked havoc on the blood ties that had sent him away. And generations upon generations, country upon country, they would spread far and wide until people feared them from horizon to horizon. Every pirate king to follow would be named MacAlpin, so his father’s banishment would never be forgotten. Forever lords of the Sea. A daring brotherhood, where honor among thieves reigns supreme, and crushing their enemies is a thrilling pastime.

These are the pirates of Britannia, and here are their stories… Chapter One 1730, Late October Isle of Man, Irish Sea “THE DEVİL İS afoot.” Coire might have laughed at the irony in Mr. Shaw’s remark had he not felt the same slick unease slithering up his spine. Minutes ago, they had weighed anchor and slipped into the night on a hushed breeze, his ship’s belly full of contraband. That they were smuggling gunpowder and firearms hadn’t mattered. Coire and his crew had done countless nefarious deeds, commissioned by landowners, powerful men, and scheming governments. ’Twas what they were good at, a prosperous pirate’s life. But tonight, something was…different. Before the sun tucked under the blueing horizon as the men loaded the last of the hogsheads and smaller barrels, he had noticed the change in the wind. He couldn’t put a finger on it, but the foreboding was there, clinging like thick soot.

Even now, the dark waves glittering from the light of the full moon were subdued despite the swift currents. Hardly a sound could be heard save the creak of Kelpie’s hull, a twist in her braces, or the whisper of her shrouds. Or so it seemed. “Best we not get in his way, then, eh, Mr. Shaw? He might find us worthy adversaries to engage.” The haggard old sea dog’s bushy, graying brows rose as he slowly nodded in amused agreement. “That he may, capt’n. And a grand affair we’d give ’im.” Mr. Shaw cast one last weathered eye out to the darkness before leaving Coire at the railing.

He recognized the look in his first mate’s gaze. ’Twas one of longing for warmer climates and friendlier ports. Or maybe Coire directed his own wish upon his interpretation. He wanted to return to the West Indies, resume his privateering ways. And he vowed he would do so…soon. An unseasonal, low, wispy fog clung to the coastline. Up ahead, Coire could just make out the obscure outline of Peel Castle, the garrisoned administrative center, church, and prison of the west side of the island. Torchlight dotting the castle provided a guide to the open sea and the North Channel beyond. It had been brazen coming to Man under the nose of the British for more gunpowder to add to their haul. Brazen, but necessary.

He and his men would be paid a hefty sum to get the arms and ammunition to Scarba and into the hands of Jacobite rebels. And they had to do so ahead of planned attacks on key locations. Pockets heavy and lined with gold while aiding in the war against the British succession suited Coire just fine. Though he no longer claimed family there, or allegiance for that matter, Scotland was the home of his blood. She and her people deserved better than to be subjected to the whims of an English parliament and her abusive militias. But ’twasn’t his fight. Kelpie passed the tidal island which Peel Castle perched upon. More torchlight winked along the battlements. Odd so many lights would be burning at this late hour. A dark silhouette bobbed in the water between the ship and the shore.

Was that…a skiff? As soon as he questioned his eyes, his topman straddling a cross tree in the mast above him confirmed it. “Boat, two points starboard bow,” the topman called down. As the skiff neared, Coire grasped the rail and squinted hard, willing the thin gossamer veil of fog away. What kind of fool would be out in a tiny boat in the middle of the night? Aw, hell. His imagination must have been running rampant. Was that a…? Could it be? Mr. Shaw was once again by his side, along with Jonesy, Redd, and a few other crewmen, all wearing confused expressions. “Do me deadlights deceive me? Is that a…woman?” “’Twould appear so, Mr. Shaw.” Indeed, by the figure’s slight frame and long tendrils of hair lifting on the tender breeze, ’twas a female manning the oars.

That sinister unease lingering on the fringes of his conscious all evening suddenly pressed down upon him. Whatever this woman was about, whatever reason for her to be out in a rowboat in the middle of the night, it couldn’t be good. The lass waved valiantly between pulls of the oars while trying to intercept the ship. Coire ordered the sails reefed before they rammed into her and a line thrown. ’Twasn’t long before the girl had a grip on the rope. “Hello, there.” The woman’s words rushed out in her shortness of breath, yet she smiled. “A fine evening to ya. Permission to come aboard?” “What are ye doing out here?” In no way was Coire going to blindly invite someone on board whilst he carried sensitive goods, especially a crazy lass paddling out to sea at midnight. “Ah, well, ’tis a bit embarrassing, see.

I was to rendezvous with a, um, friend on the bank.” She swiped her shirtsleeve across her brow. Though the night air was cool, she would be sweaty from the exertion. “I fell asleep waiting and the tide must have come in.” A tryst, eh? She’d willingly admit to it? Coire wasna so quick to believe her story. “Why is it then, lass, ye are rowing away from the shore instead of to it?” “Please, sir. ’Tis a long way back and my arms are tired.” She glanced back toward the craggy shoreline and castle losing its shape in the thickening fog. “Nay, ’tisn’t too far” he assured her. “I’m certain ye can make it.

” “Capt’n.” Jonesy frowned, worry pinching his brow. “Aren’t we gonna rescue the lady?” “Rescue? The lady is hardly in distress.” Not when he had caught a glimpse of two pistols shoved beneath her waistband. In fact, he was beginning to believe she intentionally set out to board his ship. “I winna make it,” she called up. “This is not a vessel ye wish to board, lass. That be a veritable truth. I advise ye to return from which ye came before yer journey back becomes overly taxing.” Mr.

Shaw’s jaws flapped, wrestling with the moral obligation of plucking the lass from the water and the problem she would pose if they did. “This ain’t right.” “On many levels, I’m afraid,” Coire agreed. “We canna fish her out and go back to the wharf. ’Tis too dangerous and we must stay on schedule. We canna put the mission at risk.” “Please, captain—” She paused. “Ye are the captain, aye?” He nodded once. “I am.” The woman’s grin was gone, replaced by a bothered moue.

She flung another glance to the island. “There are sharks in these waters.” “And ye are in a boat,” Coire pointed out. “What if I sink?” “Ye’ve a sturdy craft.” Persistent little fluff. “Let go of the rope or I shall cut it.” Coire drew his dirk and gripped the cord. “But my boat is sinking.” “I dinna—” She tugged out a pistol, pointed it at the hull, and fired a shot. Bits of timber exploded.

A puff of smoke and the echo of the blast snagged upon the breeze. Water flooded through the resulting hole. “Shite! Are ya daft?” She was mad! Hell bent and mad! “My boat is sinking.” Her calmness was unsettling as she tossed the spent pistol to the floorboards. The lass had an unflinching composure given the speed her vessel took on water. And that she, herself, went to such lengths to board his ship was enough to set warning bells clanging loud between his ears. “Drop a ladder!” Coire ordered. He damned near growled at the sight of the girl standing ankle deep in the faltering skiff patiently waiting for the rope ladder. Her dangerous stunt reinforced why Coire did not trust women. They twisted and crooked circumstances to fit their fancy.

Manipulating anyone to get what they wanted, even young impressionable men. Most especially young impressionable men. Sour bile stirred in his gut as an image of his sister, Cait, flashed in his mind. Her betrayal was a wound that would not heal. Though he hated her, wholly and truly, he had to give Cait credit where credit was due. Had it not been for her, he wouldna have been ejected from his home in Malig and stolen away to a merry life at sea. Coire grasped the lass under the arm and helped her climb over the gunwale. Such a short, delicate thing. As soon as she found her footing, he relieved her of her remaining weapon. “All right, lass.

Ye’ve managed to get on my ship. What is this about? Who are ye?” She smoothed out her skirts, deftly scanned the faces that had gathered at the spectacle, and smiled. Holy hell, what a smile. Now that he could see her more clearly, he was struck by her beauty. Her long, dark tresses were a mess, though his fingers twitched to check if the curls were as soft to touch as they appeared. Her button-like nose curved up at the tip and her cheeks were high-boned. He couldn’t quite tell what color her eyes were in the dim light, but they were animated and bright. And her body, those curves… Fire and brimstone! What was wrong with him? He shouldn’t be admiring her looks. The woman damn near invaded his ship. “Thank ye for not letting me drown.

” Her expression of innocence grated upon him. “Somehow, I doubt the sea would have ya,” Coire groused, stuffing her pistol into his waistband at his back. Laughter bubbled from her in a lively melody. “Ye might be right.” She dipped at the knee in something of a ridiculously quick curtsey. “Treva Shawna MacDougall.” She paused, expecting his reciprocal introduction. “Coire Fletcher, Captain of the Kelpie.” If she wanted more, she’d be disappointed. As it was, he hardly managed to keep his anger at what she’d done corked.

“I’d welcome ye aboard but I’m afraid I’m in no mood to be hospitable. And we will not be returning to Man to deliver ye to yer companion.” “I have inconvenienced ye enough.” She tilted her head down as if she were a chastised child. The lass used the gesture to again scan her surroundings, as if gauging her next move should someone even flinch her way. “Drop me off at yer next port of call. I shall find my way from there.” “Without knowing where that may be?” Or without an escort? What was this lass about? “As ye’ve said, I’ve not much choice in the matter.” She stepped aside, deferring to the manner and stance of a lady that she’d been lacking all along, as he ordered his men to open the sheets and get back to their stations. They’d been gawking.

He didna blame them. ’Twasn’t often a bonny lass foxed her way onto their ship in the middle of the night. Not that it hadn’t happened before. But this was different. No one had ever done something so asinine as to blow a hole into their boat just to get on board a ship full of unsavory men. Still, he was sure to hear from a few of the more superstitious lads about how unlucky ’twas to have a woman on board. Mr. Shaw was one of them. He was slow to return back to work as he circled around her. The lass, with her hands clasped in front of her, simply smiled at the old tar, unfazed by his best evil eye.

“Captain Fletcher.” She leaned in, almost conspiratorially, when he returned to her side. “May I ask ye for a private audience? I should like to explain my,” she spun her hand upon her wrist as if to curtail her actions, “reckless behavior.” “Yer reckless behavior extends to yer request, Miss MacDougall. To be alone in the company of a stranger, with no reference to his character, and trust me, my character is to be questioned, is beyond foolhardy.” Her head bobbed in agreement. “Perhaps. But considering ye did just rescue me, I’m thinking ye might be honorable enough.” From the way she kept eying the dwindling shoreline, not as if reconsidering what she had done, but rather as if she were relieved to be putting distance behind her, he suspected he had saved her from more than sharks and a watery grave. And that made him curious.

“As honorable as a privateer might be.” Her gaze flipped back. He may have startled the lass, but her eyes lacked any fear. And that might have been a trace of a smirk cross her lips. Maybe she really was daft. “Will I be gaining yer ear, captain?” “Come.” He led her across the deck to the ladder leading down to his cabin where he snagged a lantern at the hatch and lit it. “Stick close. Ye dinna want one of the men to nab ya.” None would, of course.

The punishment for violating the Articles was severe. They may all be the scourge of the sea, but the men on his crew valued their brotherhood over impulsive carnal urges. “Oh, thank ye for the warning.” Instead of keeping on his heel, she fell back a step. The lass was a contrast to everything a woman in her position should be. She didna tremble from fear nor show any sign of regret for her rash behavior. Instead, she seemed to purposely spurn his directive. Coire loathed defiance. Had no room for it. Had killed because of it.

It rankled him even more when the fairer sex displayed any amount of it. He’d not allow another woman the opportunity to disrespect him. But with this lass, he wondered how much of it was intentional. Coire opened the door to his quarters and allowed her to precede him. Once inside, he hung the lantern on a hook overhead. “Have a seat, Miss MacDougall.” He motioned to a chair at the table that doubled as his desk nailed to the floorboards in the middle of the room. She tucked the skirt of her drab brown dress, the hem wet and tattered, beneath her and promptly sat. He’d consider that a win. He had a feeling in his gut this night was about to get worse.

He amended that. It most certainly would get worse, now that he had gotten a good look at her. In the dancing firelight, he could make out the smattering of freckles sprinkled over her nose. Her eyes, which followed his every movement, were the lightest of green—the color of feathery fern fronds on a moist forest floor. Mesmerizing… Coire gave her his back, determined not to forfeit good judgment for a pretty pullet. A stout swig of whiskey would do. He retrieved two cups from their secured spot on a shelf. “I’ve a pitcher of fresh water, if ye’d care—” “Whiskey, if ye please.” His surprise must have shown. She added, “I’m a bit chilled from getting wet.

” He filled her cup halfway, handed it to her, and filled his own tankard to the brim. The lass raised her mug to him, smiling her thanks, and threw back the entire contents in one swallow with nary a winch from the hard liquor. “Ah, I needed that. My thanks, sir. Ye’ve been my salvation twice this night.” The women Coire knew who could drink whiskey like that were cut from the same hard-bitten cloth of the wretched dregs of society, often thieves and whores. He didna get that undercurrent from her, but the girl called for closer scrutiny. “Salvation. Quite a choice in language. One that belies ye didna just happen upon misfortune, finding yerself carried out by the tide.

Ye are running. Why? And dinna lie. I’ll excuse no more of them.” She sighed, for his benefit, surely. Any other typical captain might have believed her original story. But Coire thrived amongst liars, rooks, and politicians. Taking strangers at their words was an occupational hazard.


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