With George’s help, I have managed to rendezvous with Ludo, formerly King of Castle Marsh, now just a pirate. He sent a message to meet him at the Isle de Giens, in the Central Sea south of Gaul, on the coast to the east of a major port there. George spoke to his flying friends who gave him directions. It was a long flight. We flew across the water to Gaul, stopped five times, including overnight, and followed a large river south for most of the second day until it split into many channels. We took the easternmost one till it spilled into the sea, turned left, and stopped at every island till we found the right one. George has taken a ferry back to the mainland in search of stocks of strawberry juice, while I sit with Ludo at a beach table under a cloth awning, drinking the local wine. I ask him how the pirating business is going, and how he got into it in the first place. He glares at me a lot.
“I was the legitimate crown prince of Castle Marsh, going about my business in safety and according to the rules laid down by others involved in commerce. They were happy for me to take their produce across the water and bring back the profit to them, with a little charge for the service. Then they accused me of smuggling. I believe it was because I found out something about them. Then they accused me of piracy, robbing castles indiscriminately. There was nothing indiscriminate about it. Then they closed off my source of business and I formed a plan to survive in spite of them. And because of them. And they called that piracy.”
“Do some proper investigative journalism”
This all sounds very interesting, I say, there was nothing about this that came out in the trial.
“Pah, trial. One step away from a lynching to save certain people’s skins, I say.”
I ask him to name names, but he declines. “You’ll have to do some proper investigative journalism, instead of cosy fireside chats.”
Give me a lead to work on, then, I say. He looks skywards for a bit. I’m not sure whether I’ve called his bluff or whether he really is thinking. As he ponders I appraise what I see. He is a big chap, an imposing presence. His tan is an even deeper red than it was when I last saw him at Dimerie, at the trial. His black eyepatch is just as rakish. I’m not sure he actually needs it. He has a very stylish hat with a wide brim, which currently lies on the bench next to him. The feathers in it look somewhat bedraggled though. I wonder if he still uses his alias, Feathers McGraw, and where it came from, since it sounds familiar.
“I’ll tell you what,” he says, coming to a decision, “if I tell you that all my crew that stayed with me after the trial, bar two that came from Marsh originally, the rest came from Humber, but they weren’t born there. If I tell you that, and then you look up where the pirates that were, hmm, repatriated after the trial, where they originally came from… well, you just work on that.”
“Someone did the dirty on me”
He sits back, folds his arms across the barrel of his chest and glares at me again. I’m interested, and he can see that. I’m not going to leap into action right now, though; I have another task to complete first.
“I’ll follow that up, thanks,” I say mildly, and ask him how he came to take up sailing in the first place.
“Oh, it’s a popular pastime round the coast of the realms. Got in with a sporty crowd down at the Big Water to the south of Marsh, then we raced small boats when I was young, then got onto one of the big ships and loved it. Told grandfather I was going to take a year to sail on these big ships, then come back and be crown prince properly, and he wasn’t bothered, so I did. Took me six months to get my own ship and crew together, get the business going nicely, earning lots of gold, then, as I said, someone did the dirty on me and turned everyone against me.”
“So you think you should still be king of Castle Marsh?”
“Of course I should. Mind you, it’s a bit of a bind having a castle to look after. I’d rather have the ships. Free to roam, no responsibility except to your crew and they obey you anyway. I’m doing well now, thank you!”
I get the impression that while he doesn’t want anything to do with Marsh, any responsibility for it, he still wants the recognition and the title. I wonder if Fred has some trouble brewing for the future.
The prejudices of an outcast against the system
I look at my list of questions and decide to skip the next two. Then decide to ask them anyway. He doesn’t have any contacts in the realms he wishes to keep up, “although Uncle Vlad is a good sport.” It occurs to me that a good pirate might keep up with some friendly landlords in coastal areas, handy for any smuggling that might be needed in the future. His most exciting moment was the first time he took part in a full gun battle at sea. “The cannons were amazing,” he says, eyes glinting. He surprises me by recounting an embarrassing moment; I had expected him to be one of those that didn’t have them.
“I was very young, maybe three or four years old. My father had taken us north to see one of his brothers, my uncles, who had left Marsh some time before so as not to get involved in any rows over inheritance. That was me and Gamesman and Locksley, my brothers. Cornelius stayed at Marsh. He wanted to leave the three of us there but I didn’t like it there, I wanted to come home again. I cried and kicked up a fuss, and there was a row about who was staying and who was coming home. In the end we all came home, although Locksley went back a few years later. But they teased me about being a cry-baby ever after that. I hated it so I learnt not to cry. Gamesman had a game he’d play of making me cry. He tried lots of things to hurt me,” (he gives me some examples), “but after that first embarrassment I never cried again.”
I am shocked at this. Ludo’s father is a shadowy person, listed as missing in the annals and so, for all intents and purposes, considered dead since Ludo was about eight years old. I wonder if the trip north and his ‘death’ are connected, so I ask Ludo. He shrugs. “I was happy he had gone, Gamesman went looking, I was happy he had gone. Locksley went and I was happy he’d gone too. I went sailing and kept out of it.”
I move on to the other questions. He’d most like to change the power play in the realms so he can be king again. He does not want to explain what he means by ‘power play’. If you consider that the organisation of the realms through the Council of Kings deems that he could not live in harmony with them, are we hearing about an outsider who sees authority working against him, or is there actually some power play at work in the Council that undermines the peace of the realms? I don’t think I would have considered this alternative seriously had I not already interviewed Lord Smallweed. I am unsettled by Ludo’s accusations. Yet they are not accusations, they are merely insinuations, the prejudices of an outcast against the system that banished him. Aren’t they?
There is no-one he’d like to say sorry to. That is my interpretation of the laughter with which he greets my question, anyway. He’d like to be with his crew in a life or death situation. “I am, frequently, and it is always the opposition in the death situation,” he says with a cynical sneer.
I’m not sure whether I should prolong this interview, since I am getting increasingly uncomfortable with his style. The ferry is docking at the quay just along the beach from us, and I can see George disembarking, stacking up some crates which I assume are strawberry juice. “One last question,” I ask him, “if you weren’t you, who would you like to be?”
His grin is almost a leer. “Lord Smallweed,” he says, and spits on the ground, away from me, fortunately. “And if you don’t know why, find out.”
We exchange thanks in a formal manner for the interview, and I get up, somewhat relieved to leave him. He has a casual manner that could lull you into thinking he’s a playboy, an anachronism, playing at being a pirate. But he’s not. He’s the real thing, and he’s dangerous.