Kaptain's Koffee Klatch
Spears of morning sunlight lanced through the gaps in Rickety’s guest house, one of them framing the halfling Rosie in a halo of gold as she lay sprawled and snoring on a rough table. The distant susurrus of the waves blended into the sighs and gentle snores rising from the sailors strewn about the place in various states of drunkenness and disrepair. The scent of coffee and bacon wafted through the still, heavy air as Brandr stepped in, shaking water out of his hair.
Captain Merrill Pegsworthy glanced up from his breakfast, waving over the young upstart pirate. “Rickety’s people lay on a surprisingly civilized breakfast. Join me!” The Andoran spread some jellied guava on a slice of grilled breadfruit before pouring a second cup of coffee. “Not a slave to the demon rum, eh, One Boot?”
Brandr picked his way carefully over a tangle of limbs and bodies, easily snagging a heavy bench on his way. He surveyed the extensive spread of food laid out before Pegsworthy as he settled onto the bench with a creak. Poached turtle eggs, thick rashers of curiously dark bacon, grilled slices of breadfruit, several whole, roasted fish, all laid out on an eclectic mixture of woven rattan, carved wood, and finely engraved silver. A brass coffee pot in the Qadiran style steamed gently over a tiny tray of coals. “Thanks kindly, sir. We’ve been living rough the last couple days, taking a bit of a safari to the interior. And no, I am not terribly partial to drink; at an early age, I saw the final result of a life devoted to liquor, and I am afraid it put me off the stuff for good. Not a terribly good trait in a pirate, I know…”
“Here, try a mug of this, then. Some concoction of coconut, orange and banana the locals whipped up. Quite tasty, if a bit rich.” After pouring the beverage, Pegsworthy speared a fish and tucked into it. “I’ve known many drunks, and many great captains, but I’ve never met a great captain who was a drunk. If you want to prosper in the sweet trade, you must keep your wits about you, but I imagine you already know that. No, I think you could use some advice in a completely different area.”
Brandr’s red hair literally bristled as momentary fury seized his features. Pegsworthy’s eyes widened, and his hand darted to the hilt of the great sword slung on the back of his chair, but suddenly the young captain composed himself, smiling as if nothing had happened. He awkwardly fiddled with the ruined pewter cup he held, before setting it down on the bench beside him. Pegsworthy noticed that juice was trickling from four holes Brandr had somehow punched through the metal when he crushed the cup.
“My apologies, sir. I’ve had to deal with a lot of second guessing from my shipmates of late, and it has been wearing on my nerves. I meant no offense.” Brandr scooped some eggs and bacon onto a plate, handling the utensils with a delicacy that seemed at odds with his rugged appearance. “Of course, I would appreciate any wisdom you would care to share with me.” The northman put on an expression of polite attention, but Pegsworthy’s years dealing with the Admiralty allowed him to easily see through the mask to the simmering anger and resentment beneath.
“Well, my boy, it bodes well that you can at least pretend to be civil. No, no, don’t get upset. You’ll never make it in the courts of Oppara or Egorian, but you don’t want to be too subtle here in the Shackles. That being said, I have noticed some tension between you and your senior officers. Perhaps I can help.” Pegsworthy leaned back in his chair, idly stirring sugar into his coffee.
Brandr scowled for a moment, then sighed with a rueful smile. "You are right, of course. I had always thought that a captain was a breed apart, possessed of special qualities that were obvious to others and engendered immediate respect. I believe I have the crew in hand, but I just don’t know what to do with some of my officers. We have been through a lot together, and I owe them a good deal, but they seem to think that I am just a figurehead, and they can do what they please.
“I’ve got a bosun who thinks she is captain, a master-at-arms who seems to feed on the pain he inflicts, a master of sails who can barely get out of his rack in the morning, and a first mate who seems dead set on talking me out of every decision I make.
“Take your friend Moussa, for instance. During our, ah, ‘disagreement’ with Mr. Plugg, he stood aside rather than pick a side, clearly showing that he didn’t consider himself a part of the crew. We needed all hands to recover from the massive storm that hit us almost immediately, but I had made it clear to the officers that when we reached a safe port, those who hadn’t demonstrated commitment to the ship would be invited to find another berth. Moussa seemed quite amenable, since I haven’t taken much trouble to hide my dislike from him.” Brandr scowled into his coffee at the thought of the oily former slave trader.
“Then, you showed up and expressed in interest in him, and suddenly Moussa is Gozreh’s gift to the world, Morgana’s best friend, and a valued and loyal member of the crew, deserving of my support and protection, according to Brook. So now I’m saddled with the slimiest creature I’ve ever had the ill luck to encounter, and half my officers are riled up because I wanted to get rid of him.
“Of course, the other half are not much better. Corvus is just creepy, and absolutely refuses to follow my desires for shipboard discipline, while Tragen can barely make it out of his rack in the morning. I like Tragen, and he is one of the most gifted sailors I’ve ever met, but he just doesn’t seem to have any ambition. Ahhh, I’m rambling.” Brandr wound down, digging in to a bowl of porridge with chunks of guava and papaya.
Captain Pegsworthy had listened to Brandr’s monologue with aplomb, nodding occasionally between sips of coffee. "Well, that was a mouthful. First, you must realize that there are two paths to success as a captain: you can inspire, or you can terrify. In the Shackles, most follow the latter, because all it requires is strength, brutality, and a penchant for cruelty. You seem to want to be respected by your crew, rather than feared, but your talents don’t really run that way.
“We’ll get back to that in a moment. Now, would you call your senior officers typical sailors?” The Andoran leaned forward, staring intently as Brandr mulled over his words.
“Of course they aren’t typical sailors. Whatever we faced, none of them hesitated for even a moment. Cromarcky never backed down from a challenge, even when she was puking her guts out and barely able to stand. Corvus is a demon in battle, and seems to have some ineffable, dark power about him. Tragen has this uncanny connection with the sea, like Gozreh whispers in his ear. And Brook is just impossible not to like, and knows just about everything about the Shackles.
“Most of the rest of the crew just go about their duties, hoping for a bit of grog, or some luck at cards, maybe a chance to pick up some swag from a fat merchant, but with no real long-term plans or goals. Cromarcky has a destiny in mind; I think she wants to take over Riddleport for some reason, but whatever it is she is after, she won’t let anything stand in her way. Brook wants to chronicle the rise of a great captain, but however much he insists he just an observer, I think he will have a great influence in shaping the next legend of the Shackles. Perhaps once Tragen shakes off the loss of his friend Biter, I’ll learn what drives him, and I almost don’t want to know what dark purpose motivates Corvus, but they are all moving toward something greater.” Brandr tapered off again, appearing surprised at his characterizations.
Pegsworthy leaned back with a smile. "That is part of your problem. On a typical ship, everyone aboard has only one goal: do what the captain commands. That is fine for a navy, or a tyrant, but doesn’t tend to lead to greatness. You have mentioned several times that you sense your comrades have great destinies; if you harness those destinies, don’t you think they will lift you to even greater heights?
“Now, back to my earlier point. You have the desire to be respected, even loved, rather than feared, but you must admit that you tend to be a bit, shall we say, overbearing? You have already said that your comrades are a cut above your usual dock trash, so why not use their talents to supplement your weaknesses?
“Brook is a great teller of tales, and a master of smoothing ruffled feathers; if you trust him, you should heed his advice regarding the crew and morale, and definitely let him take the lead with recruiting and negotiations. I can see you have little patience for sweet words, so leave those issues to the people who are best suited to deal with them.” Brandr nodded slightly as he poured himself a cup of coffee. “Despite my own interests, he did give you good advice about Moussa. A captain who appears willing to hand his crew over to whoever wants them will have trouble keeping them. That being said, when Moussa inevitably jumps ship, I would appreciate a note with where you saw him last.”
Brandr laughed out loud before putting his solemn face back on. “Done. Just let me know where you take your mail.”
“Morgana Cromarcky carries a name with as much power as yours, but while you were raised at the feet of the great Bjorn the Bloody Axe, I gather she didn’t have the advantages you enjoyed. She has made a few sidelong requests for some lessons in sailing and command, both of me and my crew. Ahh, from your expression, I see she has made similar requests of you, as well. I would suggest you help her learn; include her in plotting courses, daily inspections, everything a captain does to keep the ship afloat. If she sees you as a source of useful training, you should be able to gradually gain her loyalty. If you survive long enough to capture a worthwhile ship, make her a gift of her own command. Nothing buys loyalty like a feeling if indebtedness.”
Brandr looked pensive as he idly tore a biscuit to shreds. “I had thought about giving her a ship, but I never realized she wanted me to teach her. Morgana puts on such a confident front, and makes such a big deal of her heritage, I always figured she already knew as much about running a ship as I.”
“To continue,” Pegsworthy smiled, "it is a fact that the sweet trade does tend to attract a certain vicious element. I have among my own crew a number of cut-throats and cold-blooded killers, even a few with appetites that would make a Chelaxian paracountess blush. The trick is to make it quite clear what behavior is tolerated, demonstrate your strength, and encourage them to focus their energies on your enemies. I believe that Corvus already knows how deadly your are, so lay down a code of conduct, and make sure you have a steady supply of foes to slake his blood thirst.
“Alas, I am afraid that I have no wisdom to deal with a companion in mourning. Try to keep him busy, I guess, and hopefully he will find his own way out of the depths. I see something in you, young One Boot, you and your companions. If Besmara is merciful, you will survive until we meet again.” Pegsworthy topped off Brandr’s cup and his own, raising his mug in a toast.
“To the sweet trade!” The clink of porcelain on porcelain startled Rosie, who rolled off the table to land on a sailor with a crash.
“What the fuck is this fish-kissing land-lubber doing with his poxy hand halfway up my Besmara-bedamned asshole?!”
“To the sweet trade, indeed!” said Brandr.