Sunday Story at the Cove:
The Brotherhood of the Rose
By Sharon Ashwood
Summer days went slowly for those four young girls in Corsair’s Cove, melting away as sweetly as one of the treasures from Great Aunt Ruby’s famous chocolate shop. The cousins spent long afternoons romping by the creek, exploring in the attic, or running by the ocean where the sky was sapphire and the water a gypsy’s shawl spangled in sequins. Those times were solid and safe and filled with all the imaginative play that a child could desire.
Of course the chocolate shop was famous. How could it not be, when you were twelve or ten or even a wee little thing like Eloise? It was the center of all their worlds, for they were Great Aunt Ruby’s nieces and spent every summer there in her cocoa-scented wonderland. The place was called Red Gem’s after Ruby, and also after the pirate Ruadh Jem Finlayson, one of the scallywag founders of Corsair’s Cove. Ruby had explained ruadh meant red or ruddy in Gaelic, and he’d been as redheaded as any Scotsman could be.
A warm and laughing woman with a talking parrot and endless chocolates and stories of pirates? Surely Ruby was the best aunt ever.
And so it was one August found the cousins gathered on the front porch of the big house where Pru’s grandparents lived. Little Eloise was curled into an exhausted, sleeping ball, her corkscrew red curls sticking up like rays of sunlight. Livy had her nose in a book about birds and Pru hung upside down like a monkey from the porch railing. Only Brynn sat seriously, watching the screen door with the inscrutable frown of a cat. It was Sunday afternoon at two o’clock, and that could only mean one thing. None of them forgot Sunday afternoon stories, but Brynn had made sure they were ready and waiting so there would be no wasted minutes getting Pru out of a tree.
Great Aunt Ruby emerged at two on the dot with lemonade, cookies, and Bonney the African Grey parrot. Bonney was named after the pirate Anne Bonney and, in Brynn’s opinion, was better than any human at adding sound effects to Great Aunt Ruby’s adventure tales.
“What’s the story today?” Brynn asked as she poked Eloise awake. The younger girl sat up, blinking owlishly.
“Today I’m going to tell you about four friends,” said Ruby, settling into the bentwood rocking chair that sat to the left of the screen door. The rockers creaked against the old wooden boards of the porch in a slow, sleepy rhythm.
“Four friends like us?” asked Pru. She’d untangled herself from the porch rail and now sat cramming shortbread into her mouth. She ate her own weight in cookies every storytime, but never seemed to get a stomachache.
“Not quite like you, but friends all the same,” said Ruby. “Men were hard in the old days, and their concerns were different than those of sweet young ladies, but there’s a lesson here for you.”
“What lesson?” asked Brynn, who wanted to be sure she was on top of any important points.
“Friends keep us honest whether we like it or not, and you’d do well to remember that true hearts will last long after gold and beauty fade away.”
Once upon a time in olden days, Daniel Blackthorne wandered the streets of Tortuga like a man with half his heart torn away. He was handsome, with blue eyes and dark hair and a roguish smile that made ladies adore him and husbands draw their pistols. He was also the pirate named the Wolf of the West, which pretty much summed up his reputation. Only now things weren’t going well for Blackthorne. His pockets were empty, and he was in love with the most beautiful woman in the entire world—Mirabelle Lafitte, whom most people called Belle.
“I want to marry her,” he told his best friend, Red Jem, when they met in the local tavern. “I would lay all my worldly goods at her feet, except I don’t have any at the moment.”
“Arrrgh,” said Jem, growling at his cup of tea in best pirate fashion. “Details.”
“Cup of tea?” Pru protested. “Pirates don’t drink tea!”
“Daddy does,” Brynn said primly. “Every year during Pirate Fest. He wears an eye patch and a cutlass.”
“Real pirates drink rum,” said Livy, not looking up from her book. “But we’re too young to know that.”
“It’s too hot for tea in Tortuga,” said Pru. “Even I know that.”
“Tea in Tortuga,” little Eloise echoed, clearly liking the sound of the words. “Tortooooga.”
Great Aunt Ruby pushed back a lock of silver hair, her expression harassed. “All right. Fine. His glass of lemonade.”
“With rum,” Pru insisted.
“Lemonade,” Ruby said in repressive tones. “This story has family-friendly pirates.”
Jem banged on the counter to catch the attention of the pretty wench who worked there. Her brown eyes and long legs made Blackthorne think of a fawn.
“Rosie, me love, bring another lemonade,” said Jem. “And while you’re at it, distract this young fool from throwing his heart away. Make him see what a true and simple girl is worth.”
“Sorry, Jem.” Rosie winked. “The best I can offer is sympathy. Liam is my love, and even if I were a free woman, the Wolf of the West wants more than a lamb like me.”
“Ah, but you’re a tasty lamb,” Jem said with an expansive gesture that said he’d been in the tavern a bit too long. Rosie gave him a peck on the cheek, but hurried away before he could turn the kiss into anything more. For all that she worked among rough men, she knew how to keep them in their place.
Blackthorne called for a drink of his own and slumped into an empty seat beside his friend. The place was colorful in all the ways pirates liked best, with dangerous customers, pretty girls, and barrels of smuggled refreshments.
“I’m serious about Mademoiselle Lafitte—I mean Belle,” he said to Jem. “What can I do?”
“The Lafitte witch is lovely enough,” Jem grumbled. He meant witch literally, because everyone knew that family had a library of old books of magic. “But I canna say that I like her for you. You need someone who will talk you around to mending your ways, to wanting children and growing old as a respected man.”
“But I’m a pirate!”
Jem shrugged. “That’s my point. She does not make you better than you are.”
“But Belle …” Blackthorne tried to think of a good argument, but Jem waved it off with one swipe of his big hand.
“That lassie will be naught but trouble, me lad. Give your heart back to the ocean where it belongs.”
“I would set to sea in a moment, but my ship needs repair. If I could pay the shipwrights, I could set sail and win my fortune. Then I could ask for Belle’s hand in marriage.”
“Is Mademoiselle Lafitte too proud to wed a penniless sailor?” Red Jem asked with an edge of scorn in his voice.
“Her father is,” said Blackthorne with a frown. “He wants a son-in-law with gold of his own.”
Her father was an important man whose maritime business meant he knew the comings and goings of every vessel in the islands and beyond. According to Belle, he’d caught wind of a shipwrecked vessel that had gone down far to the north some years ago. The captain had been Fergus the Black, and he’d been carrying chests of Spanish gold. If Blackthorne could reach it, his fortune would be made. Belle had urged Blackthorne to search out the sunken treasure at once. Sadly, he needed a working ship for that, which meant repairs, which meant ready cash. He was back to the same problem he’d been thinking about when he’d run into Jem.
He was too much in love to think about the fact that, instead of reforming him like Jem’s ideal of a woman, Belle was urging him to go steal the sunken gold. When it came to thinking ill of her, his thoughts tangled into a hopeless knot. Reason didn’t apply to her.
Besides, Belle was graceful and witty, elegant and accomplished as a proper lady should be. She spoke four languages and played on the harp and pianoforte. When she sang, the birds fell silent out of respect. At her side, Blackthorne felt both humble and bold, as though she made him a more exciting version of himself. Belle was his black-haired evening star, his goddess of the west wind, and he would stop at nothing to win her hand.
“You should come with me,” said Jem, breaking into Blackthorne’s thoughts. “My boys and I are leaving soon to see what the wind blows our way. There are bound to be seafaring fools ripe for the plucking.”
Blackthorne’s heart sank. “I still need a working ship for that.”
“Arrrgh,” said Jem, growling again. “Details.”
Blackthorne opened his mouth to argue, but never got to speak. Chaos erupted at a table of gamblers in the corner. A chair flipped into the air, only to smash to the ground in a dozen pieces.
“Liam!” Rosie cried out, running toward one of the men. Everyone knew Liam Rand had been her beau from the time they were old enough to like kissing.
“How old was that?” asked Pru, who was just starting to notice things like boys and pretty wedding dresses.
“Shut up,” said Livy, who had finally put down her book. “I want to hear about the fight.”
“What fight?” asked Pru in annoyance.
“There are pirates. There’s always a fight if there are pirates.”
Blackthorne waded into the fracas. Rosie could look after herself, but there were too many big men with bad tempers for him to feel good about letting her handle this alone. Liam stood with his hands braced on the gaming table, a pile of silver and gold in front of him. Someone at the table must have raided a paymaster’s chest, because there was a fortune there. It was more money than Blackthorne had seen for a while, and the gleam of it stirred his pirate’s soul.
If only he had that pile of gold, he would have everything he needed to marry Belle.
“I won this fair and square,” Liam said to his opponents, his voice only a little unsteady. He wasn’t a big man, but he was scrappy.
“No one wins like that without cheating,” said one of the others with a face like thunder.
“I don’t cheat.” Liam’s smile was wry. “And I don’t usually gamble. Perhaps Cupid smiled on me, because I’m going to use this to take my Rosie away from this place and buy a snug little house, all respectable-like.”
It would buy more than just a house, but Liam was too poor even to understand the value of what he’d just won. He pulled a ragged purse from his jacket and swept the coins into it. They made a pleasant clinking sound as they fell together in the drawstring bag. His opponent’s eyes went wide and dark with this evidence of his loss.
“Of course he doesn’t cheat!” Rosie protested. “That’s nonsense!”
“Is that so?” the man scoffed. He was bald and tall, with an emerald stud in one ear. “He may not cheat, and he may not dice, but I don’t lose. Not like this. You’re scum, Liam Rand.”
“Those are fighting words,” said Blackthorne, who’d known both Liam and Rosie from childhood. Liam was an ordinary sailor, too honest to be a pirate, much less a cheat. “Liam is one of ours.”
“Aaarrrgh,” growled a handful of local pirates, and two stood up to saunter closer to the table. They circled around Liam like protective mongrels, scruffy and hairy but loyal to a fault. Jem stood to one side of Liam, Blackthorne to the other, and all three of them scowled in expert pirate fashion. That was all it took to start the fight in earnest.
Now, on a regular day pirates liked nothing better than a good battle and were quite happy to test their skills, but this wasn’t business as usual. Everyone knew Rosie, and they wanted her to be safe and sound with a good lad like Liam. So, when the man with the earring grabbed Rosie by the throat, the pirates stopped punching and drew steel.
There was little room for a proper sword fight inside the tavern, but logic rarely stops men when their blood is up. A few took the argument outside, but more barged between chairs and tables, breaking furniture as they went. When Jem tried a fancy bit of footwork, he fell and toppled the table and Blackthorne along with it. Blackthorne’s sword went spinning out of his hand as he landed on his backside. Then the Wolf of the West rolled through the dirt and crumbs and bits of old sausage littering the floor until he collided with the wall and the bag of coins that had gone flying along with the table.
He scooped it up automatically and got to his feet. Once again, the thought came to him that he had everything he needed in his hand. He could have his ship repaired, the gentleman’s life he’d always wanted, and most of all, he could have Belle. It was there, clinking and heavy inside the soft fabric purse. He had no right to Liam’s winnings, but then he was a pirate, wasn’t he? What did it matter that Liam was a friend?
But then, for once, his thoughts untangled. However much he loved Belle and wanted her, friendship mattered and the right kind of pirates had a code. Shame speared Blackthorne, striking deep to the core of who he was. This was Liam’s fortune and future, and Rosie was screaming in terror as her captor put a knife to her throat. Blackthorne swung the purse like a weapon, clubbing the man in the temple. His opponent dropped to the floor, stunned and moaning, and Rosie sprang to freedom.
After that, the fight was all but over. Violence had blown through the tavern like a sudden squall, leaving some cuts and bruises but no lasting damage except to the furniture and those few villains who would spend the night in the stocks.
“Here you are,” Blackthorne said, handing Liam his bag of gold and silver with only a tiny twinge of regret. “Use it well.”
But Liam was no fool. “I know you could have taken this for yourself. Let me give you enough to put your ship back to sea. There is more than enough here for both our needs.”
“We accept,” said Red Jem before Blackthorne could protest. He gave Blackthorne’s shoulder a hearty thump. “We need him and his ship riding the waves, and I will stick with him to make sure he remains the pirate he should be.”
Blackthorne considered the offer. The money Liam offered wasn’t enough to win Belle, but it was enough to put him on the path to success. “I will pay you back,” he said, to preserve his pride.
And so Blackthorne’s ship was repaired and rechristened the Belle Swift, in honor of his ladylove. Soon after, the companions who had defended Liam and Rose met again in the tavern. The place was much the same, despite the mended furniture and a new wench pouring lemonade for the men.
“Where shall we sail?” asked Jem.
“I have a grand plan,” said Blackthorne, and he told them about Fergus the Black’s sunken treasure. He hadn’t intended to share the information, but seeing familiar faces around the table put his thoughts in order. The sunken treasure was far away, and he needed help to reach it. If there was a fight—because wherever there were pirates, fights seemed to follow—he needed help with that, too. And, he needed friends to remind him of who he was.
The men included Arnaud Fabien le Sauvage, Red Jem, Blackthorne, and Robert the Berserker, better known as Pirate Bob. They made a pact that day to share all the dangers they might face, and to share all the rewards equally. Plus, even though they were rough-and-tumble thieves of the ocean, they also had good in them, the way an abandoned garden might still have glorious flowers among all the weeds. So the captains called themselves the Brotherhood of the Rose, in memory of Rosie and to remind themselves of the good things they fought for.
Those men sailed for many years and had many adventures and eventually founded the town of Corsair’s Cove.
“So what happened to Belle?” Brynn asked, always one to check carefully for flaws of logic. “If she was so important, why did he just sail away?”
“She wanted him to, because Daniel Blackthorne had to make his fortune,” said Great Aunt Ruby. “Her father wouldn’t let them marry unless he was rich.”
“And did Blackthorne marry her?” Brynn demanded.
“No,” said Ruby sadly. “By all accounts, Belle was heartbroken. Some say she used her witch’s powers to curse him and then she died.”
“Why didn’t he return?” asked Livy, scandalized.
“He sailed as far as Corsair’s Cove, but he was shot as soon as he landed.”
Livy opened her mouth to ask more, but Eloise interrupted. “Did he ever find the treasure?”
“Maybe, maybe not. Some say it’s buried in the town, but no one knows where.”
The girls’ eyes got wide and round at that, and each dreamed of what they’d do with a chest of Spanish gold.
Bonney the parrot, however, bobbed up and down on her perch. “True hearts,” she said in a good imitation of Great Aunt Ruby.
“True hearts will last long after gold and beauty fade away,” said Livy slowly, repeating Ruby’s words. “I don’t understand. Blackthorne helped Liam and Rosie by staying true to his friendship with them, but he didn’t get what he wanted, did he?”
“A true heart can be a friend, or it could belong to a love. Soon you girls will need to decide who is in your life because they want to know you and who is there for their own purposes. It’s not always easy, so I hope you learned from the pirates that sometimes it’s good to fight for the truth.”
“Did Daniel Blackthorne ever know if Belle was true?” asked Pru.
Great Aunt Ruby gave a gentle chuckle and rose slowly from her rocking chair. “There is a lot to know about the Wolf of the West and what happened to him. Some say his story didn’t end with his death … but that, my dears, is a story for another day. Besides, there are other tales to tell about happier things—about weddings and parties and secret loves.”
“Secret loves?” With a dubious expression, Livy reached for her book again.
“No one wants a box of chocolates with just one filling,” said Great Aunt Ruby. She opened the screen door and turned to face them, a smile in her eyes as the warm breeze ruffled her soft gray hair. “Anyone for more lemonade?”
The End … for now