New Standards

Even the wind dared not breathe. The horizontal white and green stripes topped by the cross of St George was significant, even to me. The lads had served the Realm, in the merchant navy, long enough to know a Navy battleship when they saw one. It was the personal standard of the Tudors that they, and I, found most surprising. I couldn’t help but wonder if she was aboard her, watching me. I more than wondered, in fact I prayed for it.
However, what had the boys all white-knuckled right now was the jagged red X that, seemingly, held my ship at a disadvantage.
Whispers of the Armada creaked through the knotted hardwood decking beneath my knees, I did find myself wondering of what business this was to the Spanish. Ha! Me in my ignorance.
Skelton prodded me in the back to warn me of their imminent boarding, I was ready. My bonds were all for show yet the dripping wound in my nose wasn’t. I had to make it look convincing.
Claric had vanished, again. I just hoped he was ready too. I never fully knew if he was listening to me when I spoke. I guess time would tell.
Hushed Spanish commands were barked as our lads assisted in tying them abroad our starboard side. They lowered a plank as Skelton rested my long knife in my hand. I whispered wait under my breath and watched from my pretend defeated, hanging head.
A very fine Spanish officer stepped aboard with his polished black pointy bloody things on, his face sneering in contempt like this deck was shit and he was forced to step in it. That was when Claric reappeared, singing and laughing. He stopped a couple of feet away from the Spanish officer who merely glanced at him before casting a dismissive flick of his waxed moustache. Claric must have said something untowardly because the Spaniards face began to change colour and he instantly reached for his sheathed sword, fool. Claric wasted no time in reaching over and expertly twisting his head, breaking the captain’s neck. I think I started laughing as I shrugged off my bonds and bounded forth towards the oncoming tide of angry Spanish sailors.
The Irish coast must have been close enough to swim, because when I turned around to see what my crew was doing, some of them, in fact, half of them, had disappeared, but not Claric, and Skelton and the Limper and the dark one, can’t remember his name now, oh and the guy who once told me to fuck off, yeah, he was still there, Kevin or Kelvin or Calvin or something like that, I just called him Gob. Anyway, there we stood, then rolled, and slipped as the decks of my ship were properly christened with the blood and piss from the tip of the Armada. That was the day that I realised that there was a whole domain out there that I had not explored. A kingdom upon which I could be ruler: the Oceanic Empire. Four of them surrendered and I let two of them join my crew, after they proved themselves by killing the two that didn’t. I desperately needed more men cause now I had two ships to command. Claric was still laughing and singing and I thought I saw him sticking up the middle finger of the stiffening dead Spanish captain before tossing him into the depths of the icy water. The green and white flag must have made a hasty retreat the moment we started fighting cause she was gone. Now I needed more men and Ireland was within reaching distance. Plus, I would be hard pressed to find a Island of people who hated the English monarch as much as I did, still do.
‘Captain, the red cross, what shall we do?’ It was Skelton. He had survived, to my surprise, maybe there was more steel in his spine than I had initially thought? Men were bleeding all around me, silently, even my own men. The Limper had collapsed on top of the white flag we had used to feign our surrender. I knelt beside him and gently freed the new standard of my company. The white square was dominated with dark red – signalling death like nothing I had ever seen before. Maybe I was beginning to let things get to me?
With two formidable vessels I had the beginning of something special before me, I had an idea but first I needed to unite the men, my men.
‘Tear it down and replace it with this.’ I handed over the blood soaked sheet. Skelton nodded once and began barking orders.
Blood usually makes people think about things.
‘One on both ships captain?’ I turned and nodded back to him. I knew I had chosen well.


Blood Is Thicker…

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Image courtesy of http://www.tonyjalicea.com

Silence echoed throughout the creaking groans of the Bloody Mary, as her presence intruded across the flaccid, still night. I dared not fall asleep. Not now, things were too quiet. Claric had successfully managed to destroy my bliss, my serenity, maybe I had started to turn soft?
Rome was but a memory now, maybe nothing more than a dream I once had. And all anger I had once harboured, deep within, like toothy snakes pumped with poison spitting and biting at anything to kill…well that, that was not even the ghost of a memory, not any longer. But now I could not rest…
I remembered a time before all of this…misery. Mucking out and herding sheep across the mountainous terrain of my childhood, or what awkward version of a childhood I experienced. It was simple and pleasant. Hard work favoured the needy and the needy did not go without. Father Game taught me that much before his, ahhhh. I blinked away that feeling again. Shit. I could feel it uncoiling within me like a filthy fucking robe of overcast skies. Except, the heavy clouds wore ominous but not with rain like you know it. I know what hung heavy inside them dark, dark skies.
Blood looks black at night.
I strained my ears and held my breathing, something approached. It sounded like, like, my first mate. Maybe he does not have the courage to betray me and comes looking to plea for his pathetic life?. I was right as there was a rapid succession of raps on the door quickly followed by his voice.
‘Captain, we have a problem, a b, b, big problem.’ Skelton stuttered as I pulled open my cabin door.
He lowered his gaze and I remember thinking that he had never looked so haggard and scruffy and…Skeltonish, why did I choose him as a first mate?
Skelton’s eyes quickly found the splintered deck beneath his feet. At least now he has some semblance of respect for me, unless, of course he doesn’t and he’s leading me into a trap? This was it, I had made my mind up, Skelton was about to commit his last mistake. I paused upon the threshold of leaving my chambers and quickly returned back inside to retrieve my blade, the one I pried from the Guardsman’s fucking dead grip on that hallowed hill, on the day all this started for me, for them, for everyone.
The tip and cut were far sharper than I had ever seen on any other’s blade. I kept it that way. I knew what killing a man entailed. Blades needed to be sharp, so it was.
‘After you then!’ I called as I tucked my sword into my scabbard. Claric had, at some point, disappeared from my quarters as I did not see him as I gave my room a quick scan, and gave chase to staying on the heels of Skelton, the snake.
The deck was deathly quiet and still, something unpleasant hung in the air. I realised the moment I stepped out onto the lower deck that this was not the ploy of mutiny. The looks on their faces were not of discontent, they were of fear. I followed there distant stares and saw what was keeping them all so quiet. It was a ship, a battle ship, to be exact, one of the Royal Navy’s. But surely that meant…finally I got it, but not before I saw the second battleship flanking us from the opposite direction. The green lawns of Ireland reached out to me from just beyond the limiting veil of darkness. No one spoke for a reason, they hoped the ships would pass us by, so did I, but they didn’t and guess who fucking came out from below deck singing and swearing on the top note? Yeah you got it, the same on who warned of a betrayal. I just didn’t see a betrayal from her is all, the one who’s my ship is namesake: Mary Tudor. Bitch had sent her ships to kill me!
I felt more than betrayed I felt insulted. If she wanted to kill me and I mean really kill me, why did she only send two ships?
Claric continued to sing as the shouts of orders could be heard across the water.
Skelton leaned close before whispering low enough for none to hear us, ‘what be your orders, Captain? Or shall I assume command, sir?’ Skelton looked me straight in the eye, he still had no idea who I was, am. I smiled and looked over to Claric, he smiled back and I knew he wasn’t drunk, not at all, he was very much like me, he liked to kill.
I spoke loud enough for all to hear me. ‘ You shall wave the white flag and let them board. I do not want my ship being torn apart by them!’ I said as a stabbed a finger across the water. Their silence was challenging, again it was Skelton to speak to me but this time he did not make an attempt to lower his voice. ‘You will have us surrender? They will take our ship and make us slaves, if we’re lucky. Have you lost your fucking mind, captain?’
I rounded on him and he quickly retreated a step or two. ‘Lost it, fucking lost it?’ I shouted back at him, ‘what the fuck makes you think I ever fucking had it in the first place? And no, I will not let them or anybody else take this ship from me. When they board they will fall and I will feed them back to the sea, their blood will settle on the seabed floor and nourish the sand. This new day you will meet the real Henry Game. Those who will fight with me have a place on my ship when this is over and they have met with death!’ I never intended to make a dramatic speech, but I guess I did anyway, because they were fucking loving it. All of them, even Skelton had brandished a weapon and cheered. Claric watched me with level eyes that spoke of readiness. I let my storm quieten for a moment as I began to relay my simple plans for Skelton and the rest of the men to follow.


Sleeping Roses: A Poem

OK, so what was it she said?
With a bee stuck in her bonnet,
scribbled sonnets trapped in her head:
“Where do roses sleep?”
In the end she turned up dead, above
the blood-fat-roots of the flower bed.
and then,

Jolting, her words stab sharp in my eye.
Dreams orbiting time – watching the sun die.
Then magic ceased to exist because of they who resist, resist. What kind of labyrinth is this we live in?
It was the Devil you kissed and it cursed us to this forbidden earth.
So now,

we are but twigs in the dirt.
With words as our only weapon.
Fight the blind-raging-beast of oppression.
They aim us rifled toward depression.
So be the change you want to see and forcefully cause a blatant impression.
What d’you reckon?
Where do roses sleep?


With The Dawning Of A New Day

‘Listen up and listen up good, if that is fucking salted horsemeat on that fucking tray with a curséd piece of cunting hardtack and cat-piss cider!!’ The limping old fool, AKA “The Limper”, very creative I know, stopped in his tracks, tray still in hand, waiting. I continued, ‘ that you are holding, then you would be best throwing it, along with yourself, over the fucking rail, you creature of the sheep shagging variety!’ I finished, failing to hide my sarcasm and snorting out snot in the process of stifling my laughter. So far as to say, I failed.
The like-wise faux concern dropped from the Limper’s weathered face as he placed my meal of salted horsemeat and hardtack on the table before me like he was presenting the finest cuisine the world has ever seen.
My empty stomach gnarled in sullen contempt but my hands wasted no time in breaking the bland biscuit and stuffing it into my mouth, engorgingly so.
It doesn’t matter what you eat when the hunger has you, it tastes fucking sublime, you will just have to trust me on this.
‘I’ll bring a menu for t’morra’s scoff, if you want captain?’ He was joking, of course he was joking. We ate the same shit everyday.
I smiled back and nodded in feigned excitement ‘why that would be bloody marvellous of you, my Welsh friend!’
He responded by cracking his rotten grin upon me before speaking ‘would you like me to season that fish with a nice oceanic turd, captain?’
I considered it for a moment, doing my best to look truly torn by his gracious offer. I declined by explaining that I would be taking too much from him, he should keep his oceanic shit for himself.
Finally he withdrew, but not before bowing so low that his pubic beard brushed the piss stained plank of my captains quaters floor.
‘Ye will win the hearts o’men with ye steel on these tides.’ It was Claric, he hadn’t left yet. Ireland was just over the horizon and “with the dawning of the new day: Claric would be on his way”…or so he sang.
I offered him half of my tree-bark-biscuit, he declined and hiccuped loudly, like he does. I never saw him eat or drink a single thing, yet he always looked bladdered and was rather on the morbidly obese side of the scales. ‘And what does this bloody puzzle mean to me now? Now whilst I settle to feast?’
He laughed a hearty laugh that brought a warm smile to my face before he spoke, ‘with the dawning of the new day-‘
‘-yeah Claric I know this one. To be honest it’s getting a little old, with the dawning of the new day: Claric will be on his way! Won’t you let me dine in peace?’
‘Soft men will be won by warmth while hard men with steel. The new tide will be the catalyst: with the dawning of the new day, ‘Captain’ Game will be betrayed, blood will stain the waves.’ He was doing that thing again, that thing which was awfully confrontational and, to most people, scary. Not to me though, I just turned my back on him and shivered as I put another piece of cold fish into my mouth. I knew that Claric was different, and perhaps that was what made me pay attention to his warning?
I don’t know, but I do know this, betrayal came fast and cold, like the cold waves of the sea. The honeymoon period was over. It was time to get back to being me.


Over The Irish Sea

‘Woooooo!!!’ I screamed, yeah that’s right, I, me, Henry Game,  was having fun. I was fucking freezing but my god it was fun. That was until I heard Skelton’s snivelling approach from on deck behind me.

‘Captain, the men are starting to grow disgruntled. You promised them adventures, gold, tropical pussy?’

I knew this day was coming, and I suppose I was ready to start taking this pirating business seriously, kind of. I didn’t need gold, the men didn’t know that, but I didn’t. What did I need? Adventure? To see the world and conquer it? I rapidly drew in a ragged breath of shock as another ice cold wave sprayed across my naked torso. Living on the cusp of death is an addiction I have never been able to shake.

Now was the time, no more fucking around. I turned around and climbed up from the figure head kissing her head on the way up. I’ll come and see you soon…Mary.

Skelton stood before me with a dramatic look of horror on his bearded, haggard face. ‘B, b. but Captain you will catch your death!’ he proclaimed as he looked at my lack of attire. These men didn’t know me. I specifically wanted it that way, that was why I chose a boat that the mad Queen still had on duty. That was a surprise to her, let me tell you. Crazy bitch.

‘Aye? Remind me again why I made you my first mate and not that pissed up oaf Claric?’ I bit back as I slapped, bare-footed, past him to address my men, squandering on the lower deck, as expected.

‘Who’s ready for adventure!?’ I exclaimed in my magnificence. It seemed none of them had heard me. Except maybe one of them cause I could hear a sniggering beneath me, it was Claric, of course it was! I cleared my throat and tried again, louder. ‘WHO’S READY FOR ADVENTURE?’

‘Fucking heard you the first time, Captain, fuck off will yer? We’re busy here,’ replied one of the rag-tag bunch below me, I couldn’t remember his name. Another sound approached, it was Skelton again, he seemed pleased with himself.

‘And what are you so pleased about?’

‘Pleased? My Captain, me? Oh no, not me. Hmmm, maybe you could just jump off with your friend’ he said nudging his head toward the sleeping mess beneath us, ‘when we get to Ireland? No harm, eh? Some people are just not cut out to be sailors. I’m sure that your close friendship to the Queen will help soften your, ahhh, transition back into her court.’

I let him finish, normally I wouldn’t have and he would have been picking up his teeth before he finished asking his first question, but I had to remember that these men didn’t know anything about me. The hum-drum had died down as I noticed that the men had been watching our exchange. They looked happy. Claric started snoring again. One of the men, it could have been the one who had the nerve to tell me to fuck off, turned and hoisted the mop bucket ready to throw at the sleeping Irish man, except he wasn’t sleeping anymore and as he turned around to launch it he found himself stumbling backwards in shock, they all did. Claric had somehow closed the distance between them in no more than two seconds, a feat not physically possible, well maybe by me, but not anyone normal. And now he didn’t look like a drunken fool. He looked scary.

The men looked up at him, waiting for him to speak. I laughed and leaped over the balcony, falling at least thirty feet and landing on the lower deck with a crash. That had seemed to scare the men more than Claric’s lightning speed had. I stood and walked over to Claric and slapped him on the shoulder.

‘Who told me to fuck off?’ Fingers quickly pointed to a wet soapy fellow with an empty mop bucket on his lap. I smiled, it wasn’t a nice smile. ‘Get up, you are now Claric’s servant. The rest of you, well, after Ireland, who’s ready to see the world?’ Their response was a meagre ‘arghh!’ But it was an improvement so I left it at that, for the time being. Claric had managed to sneak back to his make-shift sleeping area. I met eyes with the only sailor still left not moving around frantically. I held my hand out to him and pulled him to his feet with ease. ‘Looks like he may need to be served upon, eh?’ I laughed as I left him to his sentence.

Skelton sensibly lowered his gaze when I reached the top of the steps.

‘After Ireland we go west. I want to see what this new found land is all about, what do you say?’

‘Aye Captain, aye. The lads will be glad to hear of it.’


Crowning Achievement

‘No, she is innocent in this. It’s that inbred lot, the Dudley’s of Suffolk who are truly the guilty party, I see that now.’
This was a side I had not seen: Mary being reasonable and logical. Maybe our shared experience had softened her up a touch?
‘But my Queen, your reign is too fragile to risk taking on the Dudley’s…Guildford! He is a Dudley-‘
‘-He is also husband of Jane Grey. No, them two will not be harmed! They mustn’t, I do not think I could live with myself…’ She trailed as her eyes lingered over to me, again.
I was starting to think I was in trouble. Her chief advisor must have noticed the Queens lovestruck glances because he huffed, loudly. It was a noise of impatience, a noise of disapproval, in essence, it was precisely the wrong noise to make at that exact moment. The Queens chief advisor was advisor no more, he didn’t know it yet but I did. It was made official when his head fell off in the not too distant future.
‘Leave us and ensure that Jane is kept comfortable at the Tower.’ He was dismissed and after a minute dip of his head he left, sulking all the way.
Again it was just us two.
Nine days in total it took for Lady Jane Grey to be removed from power. Such a short reign.
I had been under Mary’s employment for five days and it was I who spear-headed her loyal force upon London. News spread of Mary’s challenge to the throne and this successfully, yet not surprisingly, managed to gain support, officially, from the public. Unofficially, the Royal Guard had heard whom was marching their way, me, and they decided to jump ship, so to speak.
Did I win this battle without having to slay a single foe on the battlefield? Maybe, but I’m not the boasting type.
Mary was doing that thing again, that staring thing. I also noticed that her breasts were showing a little more. My job here was done as far as I was concerned, all I now required was my payment.
‘Now you are Queen, I believe I am due my ship, your majesty.’
She stopped in her tracks, a moment of doubt flickering across her hard face softened her up a little. ‘Lord Game, as agreed, you will have the pick of the bunch. However, you still have one more duty to fulfil, me.’ Her garment dropped to the stone floor around her ankles. It seems I did have one more duty. That was the first time I shagged reigning monarch. And let me tell you: she was worth it. The ship I mean, not the woman. What do you take me for, a sap?
Please! I think you forget who I am, Henry Game only cares for one thing: Henry Game.


Summoned.

‘Ah! Look at the wee little ol’ darlin will yer! Hiuh!’
The old man seemed to be talking to a plant. Mary shook her head and for the briefest of moments, she smiled. She must be fond of him, I surmised because a smile on the soon to be mad Queen’s face was about as rare as a smile on, on, on mine…
‘Is he constantly drunk?’ I asked keeping my voice low, I didn’t want him to turn around and start talking to me, again.
‘Claric is eternally in a state of perpetual drunkenness!’ She replied louder than I wanted her too. As if broken from a trance at the mention of his name, the bumbling Irish man made his way over to us, again. I sighed. I found him annoying, yet surprisingly, I didn’t get urges to kill him, which is rare, very rare, maybe I liked him too?
‘Is it a little ol’ Game of Lords, or blood my fellows? Hiuh! Queens can be mothers, seduced to madness you know? Hiuh!!’
‘Claric leave us!’ snapped Mary suddenly. He smiled at me and for a moment I saw something different from the drunken idiot, but just as quickly he hiccupped again and set about his drunken retreat. I watched him leave with fresh eyes, the drunken act was well played, but I hadn’t see him take a drink all evening. I wondered if the horn, hanging heavy around his tubby waist, was still full.
We listened to Claric’s retreat , noisily singing and jeering through the hallways, and suddenly, I realised, that left just the two of us.
The silence stretched on and with it, so did the wordless staring of the mad Queen. I was beginning to feel uncomfortable, to be honest. I stood up and helped myself to the goblet on the table behind me, momentarily turning my back on her.
But a moment was all she needed. I felt her breath on the nape of my neck as she whispered to me, ‘since the moment I saw you defy my father I knew, I knew that I must have you Lord Game.’
I hurried up and finished pouring my wine and turned away from her to put some distance between us. It didn’t work. Again she advanced on me and I noticed one small, yet crucial, detail: she had loosened the front of her blouse and was now flashing her ample cleavage at me. And she sure did have a decent pair! I reassessed the situation, we were alone, the fire was roaring romantically, wine was in abundance and again, we were alone. I squared my shoulders to hers and had a good long look down her blouse. Satisfied I stepped back half a step and put forward my terms:
‘You will not speak, or kiss me. I will not be taking off my weapons. Do you understand…my Lady?’
She did because before I had finished listing my terms she had managed to undress and now stood before me in all of her coppery glory. I nodded my head once in approval before she closed the distance between us.


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