The Fall of Captain Becks: The Final Duel
***A Tribute to S. Morgenstern***
The sea has the stories of a thousand ships, and all their crews. Under the moonlight, Captain Becks looked out across the seas and the stars from the deck of her ship and wondered what they would say of her. Becks had seen the known world, and even a few islands that weren't on current maps. And now her ship would sail into one more battle. One that would be fought for honor, not plunder. This battle would be settled between her and him. She knew he would come one day, she just never believed it. As the dark ship approached, her blood got cold.
She wasn't always Captain Becks. Once she was called Rebecca. Her father, Erik, was a farmer for the King, Rowland of Florin. His family had passed the legacy down through the ages. They loved working for the King. It was Humperdinck, the prince, whom they hated. Unfortunately, when he gained influence, as the King's health worsened with age, most of the farmers were fired from their jobs. Becks and her family spent their time in the King's orange groves and apple orchards. They were the few who remained-mainly because they were the only ones who could do the work. People called them the Groves. Though to Becks, it felt like a curse word rather than a surname.
She loved it....once. Time in the trees, the orchards, and with the animals became a burden. She wanted more than tree's. Her brother joined Florin's Navy. When he visited, he always had stories of the lands beyond. Hearing his stories, Becks realized that she wasn't meant for the land. So when she turned seventeen she ran away to the only place she knew she'd be free. The sea.
Florin's seashore drew the wealthy and poor alike. Poets and artists have painted and written its beauties. Its air and water are as clear as glass. Beck's could still remember the day she ran there. The clear air and the scent of the sea were intoxicating. All the children running in the white sand were alive. It made her alive. This was her home, and it was calling her.
The dark ship drew closer, and Becks came back to the moment. Standing on the deck of the Raven, her ship, she realized what she was doing. It was an old sea tradition. Like a doctor, the captain would inspect the contours of their ship before battle. Each floorboard, each sail, each rope, was examined. Not that she had had many battles on her ship. But a few stood out.
They once encountered a fishing ship from Guilder. The crew was made of former Guilderrian sailors. She tried to board the ship, but they put up a great fight. Becks had to call a retreat. She had lost Troy the Barber and her favorite dog in the fight. Their canons nearly destroyed the Raven. Becks had been badly wounded as well. It was Watkins who saved her that day. He was able to get the ships close enough to put one last canon ball through their hull. It was enough to give the Raven time to get some distance. Watkins called a retreat, and cared for Becks in her cabin. The first mate had drowned, so it was up to him to get them safe. Becks hated losing, but she hated the idea of dying as well, so she made him first mate.
What awaited her now? she thought. She had to do this alone. The dark ship was now a half days voyage away from them. She didn't need a spyglass to see it anymore. She knew it would be there in the morning. They had first spotted it earlier that day. Watkins told her the news. She woke up expecting her normal breakfast of oranges, oatmeal and tea. Instead, he had a report of the night before. The Sicilian spotted a ship following them. "I don't think I recognize it. But whoever they are, they're coming fast" he said. He usually had a snarky look on his face that Becks didn't trust. But the look on his face was plain for all," We're in more trouble than we know". He was still new to thre crew. A trader who was running from the police near the Port of San Pellegrino. He turned out to be a good guide. He knew all the trade routes, thus the best ships to attack for plunder. But she still felt uneasy about him. He always seemed to be hiding something.
When Watkins described the ship, part of her wanted it be be a Florin trade ship, or a Guilderian scout ship. Those could be handled. It was still too far to tell, she thought. But she knew. It was only a matter of time before HE came. She remembered the ship too well. Climbing the crow's nest, she began to get a clearer view of what she was looking at. Through her spyglass, she saw it. Her heart started to beat faster. It was the dark ship; the ship even pirates feared. It was also where Beck's learned to be a pirate. She called it home once. And now, the pirate ship Revenge was coming for her. The Dread Pirate Roberts was coming for her.
It was strange to Becks, as she walked through the downstairs cabins, watching her crew sleep. She was trying to get a feel for her ships readiness. And all she could think of was the begining. When she ran to the Florin seashore, she found a trade ship, the Pegasus, and became its cook. She loved it, but at her age, she became tired quickly. She loved the ocean, but being a cook just wasn't enough. She wanted adventure. And she soon found it. While on shore leave, she met a man named Cummerbund in the Port of Turtuga. He helped her get a good price on some bread for the Pegasus. To thank him, she returend to the ship to make him an apple pie.
"Becks!" he cried,"join my ship". He told her she was the best cook he ever met. He told her he was the first mate on the pirate ship revenge. He offered her a job, and she took it. She finally felt like she was on her way to doign what she always wanted. Her brother would object, of course, to her being a pirate, but this was her life. She still remembered Cummerbund. He was an old sea dog, gray haired, sharp as a whip, short temper, and always ready for a fight. Roberts was something else.
She could see the Revenge without a spyglass, as it grew closer. Her heart was still beating fast. She could see the night lamps hanging on the sides. It was coming for her. He was coming for her. She knew the legends, she also knew the man, The Dreap Pirate Roberts. He wasn't wicked, but he was fierce. She could still remember when she first met him.
On the Becks first day, Cummerbund, introduced the new crew to the Captain. He showed great devotion to Captain Roberts. "Hear this once, sea maggots, Captain Roberts demands unquestioned loyalty. Betray him, or this ship, and it will be off to the bottom of the sea with you!". From behind him, came the man even pirates feared. Roberts was dressed in dark boots, a white shirt and three corner hat. He wasn't dressed to impress. Becks was surprised. He was tall and handsome, but he didn't look like a tyrrant. He didnt' look, like a pirate either. He spoke with a careful demeanor as one well read in the classics. Almost like a philospher. He was also one of the best military strategists on the seas. It was no wonder that he could take on the Florin Navy. He may not have looked like a pirate, but when he walked on the deck, he walked as one who owned the oceans. He had few words for them. Just a reiteration, betray him or his ship, and die. A lesson the crew soon learned.
After plundering a whaling vessel, Becks was aprt of the crew that counted the cargo. Whale flesh, trout as well as food from many countries. It was Becks who noticed on second count that a pound of spices went missing. They were from India, thus a rarity in Florin, and very expensive in an open market. Captain Roberts had the ship searched till it was found. They were found in the quarters of Vincent the Petagonian. He was also Captain Robert's valet. When he learned of this, Roberts changed course to the Gray Sea off the coast of Florin. It was not a place to get lost, or to swim in. Those were eel infested waters.
The night they got there, their shrieking filled the air. While still begging for his life, Roberts had Vincent thrown from the ship. The shrieks in the air were soon joined by those of Vincent's cries for help. The crew could hear them as they were drowed out by the shrieks of the eels as they ate dinner. And how they stopped as quickly as they started. That dreadful silence was etched into Becks memory, and the crew would never forget it.
It was that same silence that Becks could hear now, as the Revenge approached. Watkins came to her at the third hour of the morning. "You're troubled Captain, are you thining about the battle?" There won't be a battle Watkins" she said. He knew he might have to fight to the death this time, but Becks reassured him. This was a battle between her and Roberts. He tried to get Beck to get some sleep, but she still wanted to take a look at the ship. It was like the Revenge. Just smaller. She still missed it at times. It as where she learned to be a pirate.
After the incident with Vincent, she spent time learning the pirate arts. She learned to shoot from an old soldier named Hariss, he was the quarter master. His vision was the best in the crew. He could shoot an apple from your head at one hundred paces. Becks could use a sword, her brother learned in the Navy, and he taught her. But it was Roberts who taught her to use a sword to kill. Roberts saw her practicing one day with Fiona, the only other female on the ship. She could swing wildly, and run circles around the biggest member of the ship. As soon as she came in for a kill strike, Roberts called out to her "You're fast Becky, but your form is flawed".
He was right. Fencing was about proper form and fighting in war was different from fighting for sport. Roberts was the best swordsman on the ship. and he would know that difference. He was a student of the fencing arts. Some even said he went as far as Spain to learn to fight. So when he called her form flawed, it wasn't an insult, just a statement of fact. It was also his first lesson to her.
"You can't stike to the side" he grabbed her arm, and pointed it straight at Fiona. "If you swing wildy in the hopes of killing, you will be easly blocked. He aimed her arm straight at Fiona's heart, and had her lunge slowly at her. "You must strike with the force of your body, right into the heart" he explained. Fiona was glad to know it was only practice, Becks was honored and at the same time felt like a school girl around Roberts.
From that moment, he became her teacher. He taught her a lot of what he knew, including a few languages like Patagonian and Spanish. He taught her the pirate arts, and she became his best student. Becks served him proudly. She knew that if he asked, she would even die for him.
Each ship they attacked was not foolish enough to fight the Revenge. But mostly it was because Roberts was feared for never leaving captives alive. It scared those who knew of the legend. But, those who dared fight him in the ocean, never left it. But as Becks came to know, that was only mostly true.
One day, they found a fishing vessel off the coast of Florin. As they came in, it did something they weren't used to. It fired on them. For three hours, the air went dark with smoke as lead balls criss crossed the sky. The Revenge was damaged, but Captain Roberts was able to get the ship close enough to get a raiding party on board. The crew put up another fight as they crossed swords on the deck. The spilled blood mixed with the gun powder and water on the deck. There were few survivors.The few who lived, were rounded up and placed on deck. Becks knew what would happen. She saw it a hundred times. They would beg for mercy, or attempt to bribe him, before they were cast off into the shark infested waters. Roberts walked down the deck; each step of his dark boots filling the silence. Nearing the end of the survivors, one boy, not much older than Becks said "Please". Becks found it humorous. Roberts stopped.
They found him in the sick bay helping the wounded. He was a blond young man with hazel eyes. Becks though it a pity for him to die so young. But she'd seen Roberts end the lives of young and old. His would be no different. Indeed Roberts always asked for a reason to spare the person's life. She knew it was a ploy. He didn't mean it. She thought he got a perverse pleasure in toying with his captives.
"Why should I spare you?" he said peering into his eyes.
"Please, I must live" pleaded the boy.
And it was the "please" that stopped Roberts. But his story would completely capture Roberts attention. The boy told of a girl from Florin. She was waiting for him. He hoped to marry her one day, and wanted the chance to return to her. He described her eyes, dark blue, and golden hair. And her faithfulness. Her enduring faithfulness. It was true love. The crew listened intently as Roberts did. All Becks wanted was for him to be thrown to the sharks. It was to her surprise when Roberts let him live. For the next eight months, Roberts trained the boy, Wesley, and Becks saw less of him. When Cummerbund left the ship, Wesley became as close to Roberts as Becks had been. The anger burned in her.
Captain Roberts taught him to fence and shoot. Wesley even scouted for new crew, a job for the first mate. Every night however, he would tell him, "Sleep tight Wesley, good job. I'll most likely kill you in the morning". It became a joke around the crew. Everyone knew he was becoming first mate. Becks could stand it no longer. Her hatred of Wesley had grown to make her sick.
One day while working on their fencing, Becks and Wesley were set against each other. Without a word, she lunged towards Wesley in a kill strike. The farmboy was fast. He parried the blow, and responded. Becks blocked his sword and kicked Wesley's stomach, watching him fall flat. She raised her sword ready to strike him dead. A bright sword flashed through the air disarming her. Blood trickled from her forearm as her sword dropped. Roberts attacked her, but he didn't kill her. Her outbreak cost her dearly. For a week, Becks was put in a holding cell with nothing but bread and water. Roberts came to her on her last day.
"Why Becks? Are you not my crew as well as him?" asked Roberts
"He's not your crew, he a boy who bewitched you with a story of true love. How could I repect even that"
"So you will not apologize, or make amends then?" Roberts was mad.
"Need you even ask?" she said. She couldn't look at him. There was still respect.
"An attack on my first mate is an attack on me Becks" he said solemnly.
It was her death sentence. She betrayed him. But he betrayed her first. He made the farm boy first mate ahead of her. Because he told the story of a girl?! This was the ultimate insult.
"Will you kill me? Will YOU take me with YOUR hands and throw ME to the sharks?" she asked defiantly. Becks stared her cold eyes to him. His were soft, not like a pirates at all. Hers were the eyes of a woman scorned. And still, she knew she couldn't really defy him. She still respected him and hated him for it.
"In the morning, I will take you to the open waters, and your fate will be in God's hands" he said
"I'm sure he's the one who told you to throw me to the sharks" she snapped. He left her in the dark with her moldy bread and the rats. She could see out the porthole. They were headed north. Not far from the Gargantua Port. All she needed was to steal a rowboat and head west for a half day. Getting out would be hard. But she knew a few of the ships secrets. One she learned the day they fixed the holding cells.
Hax was the metalworker and gunsmith on the ship. She found him pounding on the bars, shooting a million sparks into the air. Becks could still hear the hammer strike against the hot metal. "These bars here Becksy, these will hold Davey Jones himself!" he boasted. The bars were strong, But the floorboards weren't strong enough to hold them. They had been rotting for months. All she needed was to dislodge one-with enough pressure. Using the bench in her cell, she broke off the seat plank and slipped it between the bars. Pushing with all her might, she was able to loosen one of the bars. She was thin enough to slip right through.
It was night, and she could blend in with the rags she was wearing, but she had to move fast, or her window of escape would close in on her. She ran to the only place she could. Slipping by the night watchmen, she got into the storage room. There she found it. Her source of escape. And she could only use it once. Success meant escape, and failure meant death for her and the crew.
Walking quietly through the deck, she approached the rowboat. It was to be used to escape in case of an emergency. Dying with the sharks was emergency enough for Becks. She started to lower the boat when she was spotted. "It's Becks! She trying to escape!" cried the guards. She took out a piece of flint and her knife and struck them together. Like magic, sparks flew from her hands. The sparks hit the trail of gun powder she left behind her. Like a line of fire, it traveled towards the storage room. Inside, Becks had poured powder over another keg. As the men came towards her, the flames entered the room, and a large ball exploded behind them. The Revenge was on fire. The ship even pirates feared, was a flaming ball of death in the ocean. As the crew scrambled to stop the fire, a few screamed out her name. Some screamed out in pain. It was hard to see her due to the smoke, so she took advantage. She untied the boat. It hit the sea with a loud splash. It didn't matter. Everyone was just trying to save themselves from the flames. As Becks got ready to jump she heard him.
"You can't escape Becks. Not from me!" It was Roberts. The flames around him shone the anger in his eyes. With sword in hand he lunged at her. Becks was unarmed, and she knew he was going to kill her. As he neared her, a flaming part of the mast fell on him knocking him unconscious. Without hesitation, she took one last look at him, and jumped.
She thought he was dead for sure. In the dark night all she could see was the ball of fire from the Revenge. The further away she got, the smaller it got. She wasn't sure it survived. Part of her hoped that it would be completely destoryed. She ended up in the Gargantua Port. She sold the boat and used the money to buy a new sword and boots. At the port bar she met an old Captain named Wild. He was the proud owner of a fast little ship called th Raven. He was in need of a crew, and she got herself in as a deck hand. She impressed Wild enough to become his first mate. During a storm near Petagoia, he drowned, leaving her as Captain. Half the crew was lost, but the few that survived, gave her unquestioned allegiance. That had been three years before.
Daylight was coming, and off in the distance, the ship drew closer. She almost didn't recognize the Revenge. It was darker in color, but that was from the fire. It made it look even more menacing. Now the Raven was prepared to be boarded by the Revenge. As the men gathered with weapons in hand, a white flag appeared from the mast of the Revenge. This was new even for Becks. She still had the men ready the canons. The ship got closer, and there was nothing but silence.
A small boat was let down from the ship, as as it made its way towards the Raven, she let down the lader. It wasn't Roberts, but the farm boy.
"Hello Becks!" shouted Wesley. She wasn't glad to see him. He looked different though. He looked like a pirate. "We mean your ship no harm. Bring it to a halt, and Roberts and I will board". Was he serious? she thought. But sure enough she stopped the ship. And as both ships were close to each other, a long plank was put out from the Revenge to the Raven. Bobbing up and down, in the middle of the sea, out came Roberts. Still as stoic and tall as she remembered. He came on baord with little fanfare.
"Hello Captain Becks" he said. His voice almost mocking her. "It seems we have a score to settle" he said. "We have to talk" She walked him around the Raven's deck. "I've heard tales of your little ship Becky"
"Little?" she said
"Well you've made a name for yourself". He stopped and turned to her. "I thought you had died"
"I thought you died" she responded.
"I almost wish you had died" he said to her surprise
"I'm sorry to dissappoint. But I guess that beats the sharks" she replied. She almost felt bad about that last remark. But she had to show courage in front of her crew.
"You know why I'm here" said Roberts. Becks knew. She knew he would come for her, but she never believed it.
"The code" she replied. It was the code of allegiance that every pirate swore to their ship upon entering. She swore allegiance to Roberts and the Revenge. She burned it and left him for dead. The Pirate's Code bound her to certain repricussions.
"I always thought the code was more of a rule of thumb" Becks said.
"You burned my home and left me for dead," said Roberts "The Dread Pirate Roberts won't let that be".
"So what? Will our ships shoot each other till they sink?" Becks replied. She could fight the Revenge, but they had a bigger crew. Roberts had the advantage.
"The code says that if two of the crew have a dispute, it is up to the quarter master to help settle the dispute, I call on Hariss your quarter master to help end this dispute" said Becks.
Hariss died last month" replied Roberts. A shame, thought Becks. He was almost smiling. "And the code also states that betrayal is only punishable by death, or marooning" he added.
"I don't see an island nearby Roberts, so you'll have to shoot me and be done with it" said Becks.
"I won't make it that easy for you Becky" said Roberts. "You nearly destroyed my ship, and left me for dead, hence I am the wronged party and the one who decides how this will end" He thought. Looking at Becky, he removed his black glove and threw it on the floor. She looked at it. Picking it up meant she was going to run the gauntlet with Roberts. This could only end one way.
"A duel then?" asked Becks. It could be pistols at fifty paces, or a sword fight. Becks was hoping for pistols. Her shooting had improved with time.
"Swords in the morning. The Revenge will not attack your Raven. But run, or try and void our duel, and I will take your crew, your plunder and your ship, and this time, the eels will shriek for you". Roberts voice brought a chill to her.
Roberts and Wesley left the ship. Becks was left to prepare. In her cabin, she practiced her sword thrusts, parrys and blocking. Watkins was almost as good as her and was easily able to keep up with her practice. But she knew she had to fight differently. After resting for a while,Watkins brought her some food. It was still nightfall and Becks hadn't slept or eaten all day. "You should eat" he said. He was trying to encourage her. He was the best fist mate she'd ever had. Her last one was only in it for the money. SHe liked Watkins because he was in it for the adventure as well. He was from Guilder, but no one held it against him. He was also an excellent navigator and a pretty good swordsman. He wasn't a pirate, not really, he was an explorer. Somehow he always knew what to say when she was vexed. Though she tried to hide it. He brought her the usual oatmeal, oranges and toast. She ate, not because she wanted to, but because she knew he worried. She also knew this could be her last meal. In front of the open sea, she ate. She peeled her oranges and for the first time since she left, Becks remembered home.
In the morning, she got ready. "Bring me my sword" she told Watkins "And Watkins" he stopped. He knew what she was going to say. "I'll take care of the ship" he said solemnly. She took her sword, and hugged him.
Morning finally came, as the sun shone around both ships. Both crews were standing around hurling insults at each other. But when the Revenge released its plank over to the Raven, everything stopped. Roberts came onwith Wesley. She knew Roberts's movements, his style, and his flaws. He was strong, but not fast. He was a tactical fighter, so she would have to rely less on form and more on instinct.
It was Wesley who officiated as quartermaster. "We are here to witness the challenge set forth by the Dread Pirate Roberts for damages done to his ship, crew and himself by Captain Becks of the Raven. The Pirates Code demands approrpiate action to settle this dispute. As such, they will settle their dispute with a duel. A fight to the death". Oddly enough, both crews shouted cheers, they did get such little entertainment out in the ocean.
Becks could feel her heart racing, as she felt the weight of her blade. It was a light and sharp blade. It would help her stay ahead of him. This was going to be an improvised fight. No fancy moves, no set forms. Becks wasn't going to let him have the advantage.
"Are you ready?" yelled Wesley.
"Yes" said Roberts
"Yes" said Becks
"There is only one rule, fight to the death" he said. "Begin!"
Both crews cheered for their captains. Becks could only hear silence as she peered into the white of Roberts eyes. They circled eachother, testing who would strike first.
"En guarde!" cried Roberts
His blade was menacing, it was almost as long as her. He positioned himself to strike, but she made the first jab. He blocked and countered. "That almost seemed slow Roberts" taunted Becks. "Try it again then" he said. She struck at him again and he blocked and parried. They clashed swords again, and Becks slashed him, almost cutting his shoulder. "That was sharp Becky, but I'm sharper". He returned by slashing at her, it was almost elegant. Both swords cutting through the air. Their feet shifting with each move. They danced around the deck of the Raven as their swords moved . She was running out of moving room. They were near her ships mast.
"Nowhere to go eh Becks?"
"I don't know, maybe we can take this to your ship" and with a jump, she grabbed for one of the ropes tied around the foremast and sliced it with her sword. She used it as a swing to get to the deck of the Revenge. Roberts followed and both crews cheered. They continued their fight.
"Splendid move Becks" said Roberts. He meant it too.
"You too" she said "Lets see if you can keep up"
Their battle raged on with Becks dancing around Roberts fancy footwork. He had taught her well indeed. Both swords clash and clang enough to actually spark at one point. At that they both stopped. And the crews cheered yet again.
She struck at him, but be seemed to be able to block every shot. It was his stance. He was taller therefore had the better advange, so she attacked his leg. She struck his left leg hard. He was able to jump away. But Becks drew first blood.
"Bad form!" he cried. He slashed at her arm, now he drew her blood. She cried out in pain, an with fury returned to the fight.
They made their way to the plank connecting the Revenge to the Raven. They drew a cheer as they both crossed swords while walking the plank. The confined walking space made it hard for Roberts. He was bigger than Becks (and hobbling a bit) but she was able to maneuver her way around him. As they stepped back onto the Raven, her crew cheered. Everyone but Watkins. He could only look in intently.
"Tell me Becks, did you really think you would get away from me" asked Roberts as the thrust at her stomach.
Blocking his thrust, and responding with a swipe to his neck, she said, "I figured you'd be retired by now, and too old to care". He parried and redirected her enough to get face to face with Becks. Both swords pressed against eachother, who would break first?
"Age has taught me how to win Becks" he said. She kicked him to break his hold. They both fell dropping their swords. They were tired, but Becks knew she had to reach her sword first. She reached for it as Roberts grabbed his, she spun around, ready to go for a kill strike. But as she turned, she saw Roberts sword in hand. She stabbed his shoulder. He croud out in pain and fell to the ground.
The cheering was at an uproar, and Becks saw victory in Roberts fall. She lunged at him, ready to strike him down. He moved. She missed. He didn't. The sharp steel cut through her stomach, and Becks fell to the ground. It felt horrid going out as it did going in. Roberts stood above her. His crew cheered as hers looked on with horror.
"Captain!" cried Watkins. He ran to her. She was lying in a pool of her own blood. She could feel her life slipping. Roberts turned to her, and his eyes were lost. This wasn't a victory he relished. "It is finished" he cried out. He walked on board the Revenge with Wesley.
Watkins was holding Becks, and she could the loyalty in his eyes. "It's over" she whispered. "Its your ship now". She could see the ocean, and the air was comforting. She took one last breath of it and her life came to an end.
That night, as the Revenge slipped away, Watkins officiated a ceremony for Becks. Even the most hardened of the crew had a tear in their eye. Watkins returned her body to Florin, to her family. Erik was grived to know what had happened. Yet he was glad to know she lived an interesting life. He and Watkins buried her under an orange tree. The scent would always remind him of Captain Becks of the Raven. The legendary pirate who dueled against the Dread Pirate Roberts. And Watkins was happy to think of it that way.