Smarmbeard: A Prelude to an Echo

They came at midnight.

Old George had drawn watch duty that evening. As he looked over the port settlement of Old Mandre, he could see all was quiet, all was calm. The sea below lapped and washed across the dark stones of the foreshore like a hungry dog licking its master’s boot.

Yes, all’s safe and sound. As usual.

George sighed. He carefully lit his pipe, then peered down again from his perch on the high wall.

A metallic sound echoed off in the darkness.

He scrambled to his feet, dousing the flame. He squinted, night-blind, closed his rheumy eyes and then peered wide.

A minute passed. Nothing. A hissing in the black was all.

That damned cat.

George sat back down, wiped at his sweaty neck, and fumbled with his pipe. As he brought it to his lips, a soft scuffling sound behind alerted him to the danger. He turned, saw the dark figures scaling up over the wall, and reached for the bell, but it was late, far too late…

*             *             *

They took the gold. They took the silver. They took the fancy spoons and family portraits. They took the pots, the pans, the weapons pulled out of fumbling hands. They took the town cat’s collar; then they took the cat. They took liberties, they took prisoners, but­ – strangely enough – they took no lives.

They came and were gone before the tide turned. Those they’d tied up were left to wonder why.

*             *             *

When Old George woke, head still smarting and a lump on his temple, he was the first to see the dark mark on the wall of the town square.

The hat. The beard. The sneer.

The old man gasped, his voicebox rattling in his throat. It was true, then. He was back.

The Pirate-chief. The Captain.

Smarmbeard.

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