It was an exciting time in the Emerald City and the salt air tingled the way the air in boomtowns does when its populace believes. The mild climate invited a naturally calm demeanor and the people of that prospering harbor town smiled with relative ease. In the summer time, the locals emerged from their dwellings like so many bees, eager to receive in full the sun that spent most of the year teasing them intermittently. Townspeople peopled the town, fish throwers threw fish, and the baristas and baristos kept the mugs of the local caffiends filled from morning until night.
Summer marked the birthing of an annual fever there. It wasn't a sickness, per say, though the wives of the many of the men who caught it may disagree with that assessment. No the fever was one of anticipation, and the simmer that pervaded that city would froth into saturating boil come autumn. The energy this summer was particularly fervent, perhaps more so than any year these folks could remember. You see, while most outsiders saw Emerald City as a coffee town, its true energy came from its sea merchants.
Some time ago Paul Allen, one of the city's most successful barons, saw hope where most people saw a harbor, promise where most saw water. It was just recently that Mr. Allen enlisted the services of Carroll & Schneider, an ambitious merchant firm, to assemble a crew capable of bringing great wealth to Emerald. Allen spared no expense, equipping Carroll & Schneider with all of the tools at his disposal and the firm and they responded in kind.
It wasn't that Carroll & Schneider just went out and bought the finest crewmen from other heralded ships, although they weren't above pilfering a few good ones. Rather, the duo went looking where others didn't, finding capable deck hands and eager sailors where others saw only dishwashers and net weavers. One by one, the flock grew, teeming with young men filled with hunger and verve. The hum around their port had grown into a buzz as other crews became distracted and entertained by the loud music that they played and the hearty laughter that they laughed. That buzz, in turn, became a stir as those living and working nearby caught sight of the size of this new crew.
These were not the skinny greenhorns the city was used to; these were strap-muscled athletes filled with burl and swagger. They danced about on the deck of their new ship with wanton excitement, strutting around as though they'd been successful seamen their whole lives. This seemingly ragtag assortment of youngsters, the same that had gotten Carroll & Schneider mocked across the land for choosing, had taken on a vigor in assembly that had been nearly impossible to imagine had you seen them individually. When their ship was on the water they earnestly bustled from task to task. Instead of taking slow and measured steps across the deck, they seemed to fly from station to station, regardless of the weather and waves. The townsfolk took to calling them the Sea Hawks and their energy resonated throughout the city.
Their first two years showed promise, as that ship tottered off to other ports and back again, but those years were ultimately short and disappointing, having given more than they'd received. For every sign of competence lay two examples of inexperience, every whiff of talent countered by a lack of seasoning. The first year saw a mediocre bounty, but nevertheless one that would have been worse but not for some lucky circumstances. The second year's journeys delivered similar results, but the efficiency that the crew started to show towards the end of the sailing season was encouraging. They were long on brawn and swiftness but lacked a certain diplomacy necessary for real success in the nautical community. To put it frankly, they got out-negotiated more often than not, and none of the captains they employed could change that.
Those were testing years. Mr. Allen knew it, and so did the firm he hired. They never told the crew that, however, and many of them, perhaps a record number, lost their jobs. A feeling of urgency had begun to settle into the minds of the remaining Sea Hawks, as dozens of replacements came on board after those first two trips. Their core crew certainly seemed capable enough, but they lacked a true helmsman. For all of the strength and voracity of the men on and below deck, the ship still took circuitous routes and often had to dock early as a result of shaky navigation and hesitant commands.
The murmurs ran through the streets after that second season. The ship needed a true captain if it was ever going to bring home the big booty and Carroll & Schneider knew it. They knew it hard. So they brought in two applicants to vie for the helm. One was a well thought of yet largely unproven first mate from a ship in another town, the other a fresh-faced chap who, despite showing savant-like intuition and clarity, was passed over for the same position everywhere else on account of barely being tall enough to see over the wheel.
The practice runs went well for both of them. The first mate looked the part and had the benefit of experience, having filled in admirably for his captain the previous year, and was therefore tested in rougher waters than the rookie. The rook, for his part, handled the calmer conditions with such ease that observers began to wonder if maybe he wasn't more suited for the high seas. When his elder competitor got hurt in a training run one day, the youngster seized his chance.
What he did on his final practice runs was almost unheard of from a first time captain. Allen gave his blessing and Carroll & Schneider made him captain of the Sea Hawks. He immediately planted his roots firmly in that fine city, visiting the sick and bringing gifts to the poor. The citizens of Emerald City loved him instantly and amid tepid anticipation, wished him and his crew safe travels as the ship set sail for their third season. The Sea Hawks left their glistening home with smiles and a dignified air, more experienced than ever and flying a sail of bolder hue.
They grinned and waved until the townspeople were out of sight, but as soon as their send off music had faded into the salty mist they seemed to transform. The smiles dissipated, the eyes narrowed. Hands that waved farewells to supporters took iron grips on the rigging. The Sea Hawks sailed forcefully, recklessly upon their huge redesigned ship; the speed generated by the feverish crewmen making it difficult for even the talented youngster to steer, though you couldn't tell it by looking at him.
Inhabitants of other towns had become accustomed to easy doings and general politeness when ships from Emerald City arrived, and they were doubtlessly expecting more of the same last year. You can imagine the consternation they felt when, instead of a friendly tugboat coasting into their port they saw a mighty bulwark careening towards them. This was no longer a sprightly vessel making a congenial visit from a laid back northwestern village, it was a floating army.
As the ship approached the towns it meant to negotiate with, local merchants were greeted not with affable handshakes but with icy stares. The young captain spoke firmly during those early negotiations, but despite his confidence, came up shorter than he'd like, as his vicious looking crew's still relative inexperience betrayed their efforts in three of their first four "visits". Then, something happened.
No one has been able to pinpoint why or how it happened, but a rigidity set in on that boat. The crew's steps took on a solidity they had theretofore lacked when springing about. The pauses upon receiving commands vanished. The Sea Hawks stopped imitating the actions of sailors and began acting like what they truly were.
The Sea Hawks became pirates.
Peaceful diplomacy had done okay in the past, but this team hadn't been assembled to do okay. From that point on, the crew became what the people at Carroll & Schneider had envisioned from the start -- a rowdy bunch of mayhem makers no longer willing to abide by normal rules of engagement. When they sailed into Wind City, the Sea Hawks didn't wait to barter over which goods they wanted, they simply set about taking them. The merchants of Wind City were taken aback; the good people of Emerald City had never been marauders, they were peace-loving folk. Wind City fought back as hard as they could, but they ultimately fell upon their own soldiers' field and the Sea Hawks set sail with their haul, clinking their new gilded chalices and beating their meaty chests.
The dread ship Sea Hawk continued to raid the cities they landed in, landing without resistance behind the easy smile and firm handshake of their captain. It was then that they would unleash themselves, the pent-up aggression of a fortnight at sea unloading upon the warriors who tried unsuccessfully to stop them. City after city was forced to deal with this renegade cauldron of ill intent -- 52 swarthy motherfuckers and one clear-eyed, full-hearted captain leading them with a marine wisdom the likes of which the citizens of Emerald City had never seen.
The Sea Hawks didn't win every battle on foreign soil, but nary a town escaped without scars. Others, unwilling to let the fight come to them, attacked* the Sea Hawks in their home port but it was there, in familiar quarters, that the Sea Hawks went from formidable to seemingly invincible. The would be invaders of Emerald City underestimated one thing: the noise. The geography of that port produced a reverberating acoustic effect so singular as to make even simple communication nearly impossible for those unaccustomed to it.
*It had become clear to all that the days of bartering with the Hawks were over
And so it was that whenever news of a foreign ship reached Emerald City, the entire population came out to lend the strength of their lungs to the Sea Hawks. Eight times the foreign boats and their crews clashed with the Sea Hawks and eight times their boats were sunk. Even the monstrously successful ships from Fox Borough, the Green Bay, and Golden Gates were turned away; what few survivors remained rowed back in lifeboats, licking their wounds* and mourning their losses.
*Presumably not each others' and also not literally. Presumably.
And so it went, long into the winter, the Sea Hawks robustly buckling their huge swashes in the faces of all who dared defy them. It wasn't until they were turned back in narrow defeat, just two stops shy of the ultimate booty, that they returned home for the rest of the year, vowing never to be defeated again and cheered thrice as lustily upon their return as when they first set out four months prior.
In the months that followed, more and more of the most talented sailors from other ports applied for service aboard Paul Allen's ship. After all, they reasoned, better to fight on the same side as these hell hounds than be caught between them and what they wanted. Some, the most ruthless and needs-meeting applicants, earned passage aboard the vessel for this year's run. Others have been and will be cast aside. The final few crewman spots are still unsettled, but the same core of remorseless raiders returns and they've been issued only a single charge from their employers: find the highest glory in the land and return with it to the Emerald City.
If you look down at the harbor now, you can see work being done on that beautiful blue boat. The hull has been reinforced, the rudders realigned, the rigging strengthened. The crew is put through their paces -- the mistakes that ultimately cost them their goal last year will not be tolerated during this upcoming season. Carroll & Schneider know there will be no sneaking up on anybody this time. Their opponents know it, too and they'll be more ready. They'll need to be because the Sea Hawks are bad men now, and this time they know what they're doing.