Power is a target.
Well, no, not exactly.
Having power makes you a target.
Anyone with real power, and knowledge, and common sense enough to keep their heads, knows that. And they take precautions against it. Precautions against those who would try to uproot their power.
Anyone with power knows: they’re a target.
Best to put the bullseye somewhere else then, right?
“We have to take precautions against the Sea Beasts!”
“They’re not actual beasts you know, they’re just men. And men can be stopped.”
“You’ve no idea what you’re talking about. These men don’t claim to be beasts. They are beasts. They’ve crushed entire ports in under an hour. You think we—with our minimal fire power and lazy foot soldiers—could stand a chance against them? That’s absurd!”
“They don’t have any reason to come here. This is the smallest port in all the continent. It doesn’t produce anything, and it doesn’t have any tourist attractions. It’s why we chose to hide at this particular port. Everything we have is safe here, including our own lives.”
The men argued on. Over and over again in circles. A bunch of hens pecking the ground, trying to pick up seed where there is none.
Worms will just have to do for them.
After three more hours of pointless talk, they finally come to a decision.
Arm the port. Hire more men out of their own pocket.
Protect their treasures at all cost.
As I exit the room, I’m greeted by my personal messenger, Hank.
“Sir, how are we going to proceed now? If they arm the port—”
“They still won’t have enough,” I reply, my voice short, curt, quiet. “Wait a moment Hank. Wait till we get to my office.”
Of course, I didn’t mean the office they’d given to me. I knew better than to trust that dusty old room. I had no doubt that someone was listening in, or watching me, while I was in that room.
No, we don’t go to that office.
We leave the estate entirely and head for the pub in the port.
When we enter, I nod at the bartender. He nods back, and I lead Hank to a room in the cellar where the rum and vodka is stashed.
Once the door is closed behind us, Hank begins again.
“We don’t have enough men to fight an entire port! We’re not really beasts! We can’t possibly accomplish something like this!”
As I put up my hand, Hank falls silent.
“Listen to me Hank: you’ve never run with the crew before. You have no idea what they’re capable of, and I don’t mean that to put you down. I only wish to point out that your experience with them is minimal. Messages relayed in passing. You don’t know what my crew is capable of.”
Looking cowed, but not completely eased, Hank sets his eyes to the floor. “Yes, I apologize sir. I’m merely afraid for our lives.”
It isn’t said with bite like you’d expect it to be. Rather, his words are genuine.
A smile escapes me a moment.
“Hank, we’ll be alright. We have the best of the best on my crew, and they’re all loyal to one another. And to me. As long as we keep moving forward, this will work.”
A thought occurs to me, and I voice it.
“We’ll move the raid up. Instead of a week, we’ll do it in three days. They won’t have it fortified before then. We’ll be able to pull it off easily. And half of the lords are still lazing about. Thinking they’re safe. Best to strike before reality gets here.”
“You mean, before the soldiers?”
I nod. “Precisely. If I were you, I’d set out tonight. The place they’re docked is far. And, if I were you, I’d ride on the ship back to port. It’ll be the quickest way, and the safest.”
The fear in his eyes is unmistakable. Hank is not a man of violence or impropriety. Certainly, he is no pirate. Taking messages to them is terrifying enough for him, and now I’m asking him to ride with my crew to a raid.
It’s funny, in a mean way.
“You’ll be alright Hank. They won’t hurt you. Besides, you’ll be riding with us on the getaway. A ‘captive’ on the ship. You might as well take a few days and get to know them.”
Unable to help myself, I guffaw once.
“The crew is rather nice. You’re just stuck in that old mindset, that’s all.”
“And what mindset is that?”
“That pirates are monsters.”
“Are they not?”
“That’s harsh Hank, you know I’m their captain.”
Again, Hank looks cowed. Like he knows he’s hurt my feelings, and in turn hurt his own. Though he hasn’t. I still have a smile on my face.
I shake my head.
“It’s alright Hank. I don’t expect you to fully understand yet. Stealing from greedy bastards, taking their power, it’s the right thing to do. To show them that they’re not completely in control. That there are those who are willing to stand against them. Willing to fight for someone other than themselves.”
“And what of you? When they find your crew and you among them? What will become of you?” he asks, his voice serious. Low.
“They won’t find me with my crew. Haven’t I already explained it all?”
Slowly, he nods.
He knows I don’t claim ownership of the ship anymore. That I reported it stolen by pirates. That The Sea Monster is no longer mine. Captain Undertow, and his beastly crew, claim it.
Nobody knows that Captain Undertow is me, but still.
That’s sort of the point.
Who would expect the wealthy son of a powerful lord to be a pirate?
Not in reality.
Maybe in stories, or fairytales, but not in actuality.
No one would suspect me to be the fiercest pirate. The most cunning. The most powerful.
And that’s the point.
Wealth is another power play. Another way to make others see you as higher, above them.
And wealth is easy enough to take.
You just have to know how.
And, out on the sea?
There are no rules to the game.
No rules at all, really, except the ones you can enforce yourself.
Power play, after power play, after power play.
I will wreck this game.
I don’t wish to come out the winner.
I just want the unworthy to come out as losers.
That’s why I keep my secrets. Why I am unafraid of the coming of The Sea Monster.
Why them guarding their treasure doesn’t concern me.
Pirates don’t guard treasure, because there’s no point.
They’re in the business of taking it.
Being privilege to these “secret” meetings the “elite” have…
…it’s going to make business good.
At least, for my crew.
“Get ready Hank. Leave at sundown. I want this over with as soon as possible,” I tell him.
With a nod, he makes haste. Harrying himself out of the cellar.
I grin at the rum.
“Tonight, there are going to be a lot of losers,” I remark under my breath.
And I won’t be one of them.
I’ve got too many plans in my playbook. So much more power to take.
Maybe one day, I’ll come out of hiding. Reveal myself to be Captain Undertow.
But not until all their power is gone.
Not until I sweep the board.
Until then, the bullseye won’t be on me.