Baltazar was led to a large building that was surrounded by guards and draped in lavish tapestries. It was an old building constructed out of mortar and wood, nothing all that special, but it was also the largest building in the city and thus the only one that could house the King’s entourage. The hall was large enough that a single footstep could be heard echoing off of the walls.
Baltazar had an emotionless expression on his face as he passed through the bare hallways. He looked as though he was being led to the gallows to be hung. In his own mind, that very well might be the case if he was not careful.
The next set of doors were large and ornate. Two guards pushed them open and stood aside, allowing Baltazar to proceed into a large audience chamber that had quickly been adorned with riches. No doubt to make the Philip look more opposing to whomever he met with, or at the very least, it was to make him feel more at home.
Baltazar stood still with his sword at his side, looking around the room. This level of luxury was gawdy to an almost obscene level. He could not believe that anyone that he was related to would insist on being surrounded by such needless luxury. Philip was the king, and was thus entitled to his wealth, but showing it off like this was just blatantly unecessary.
Finally, the sound of a door opening at the back of the room drew his attention. A man dressed in beautifully crafted black and gold armor entered the room. The voice of one of his assistants echoed throughout the chamber, “Hail, Philip III, King of Castile, King of Aragon, King of Portugal, and the Algarves!”
Baltazar bowed as was expected of him, albiet unenthusiastically. Philip nodded, “Arise.”
Baltazar rose to his feet and crossed his arms as his eyes met Philip, “You summoned me, your majesty?”
Philip was a well groomed man with dark brown hair and a very light beard that didn’t cover his long chin. He spoke with a slight slur and wiped his mouth with a white hankerchief when he spoke, “Yes, it’s good to see you, my dear brother.”
Baltazar shook his head, “I don’t know what you are talking about. You are no brother of mine.”
“Indeed,” Philip smiled, “your humble origins on your mother’s side ban you from any title of nobility.”
“I would take her family over the Habsburgs any day,” Baltazar replied.
“I don’t blame you for that.” Philip agreed. “When our father found out about you, he had you and your mother banished to prevent embarrassment, but yet here you are causing us even worse trouble.”
“Glad to be a thorn in your side.” Baltazar replied with a smile.
“Well,” Philip replied with less of a smile, “let us dispense with the pleasantries and get down to business.”
Baltazar nodded, “As you wish, your majesty.”
Philip opened his hand and reached over to one of his assistants who handed him a piece of paper. He then held it up in front of Baltazar, “Are you familiar with this parchment?”
Baltazar shrugged, “Regrettably, your majesty, its purpose escapes me.”
An annoyed look passed over Philip’s face as he spoke, “It’s a Letter of Marquis. What this means for you is that you will be pardoned from the crimes you have committed against my crown and free to attack shipping without fear of a hangman’s noose.”
Baltazar frowned, “What’s the catch.”
“The catch,” Philip repeated, “is that you will agree to stop sinking Spanish ships and start going after the true enemies of our great land.”
“I see.” Baltazar said thoughtfully. “In that case I must refuse.”
“Refuse?” Philip scoffed. “Are you mad?”
“Allow me to explain,” Baltazar replied, “I consider you and your family to be true enemies of our great land. Your group of inbred degenerates has been plaguing our country with war and poverty for years. I cannot ignore that.”
Philip sneered, “Mind your tongue, brother. I have made you this offer because the blood of our father, Philip II courses through your veins, but if you turn me down, I will see you pay for it in the most… offensive manner possible. Even my tolerance has its limits.”
“I appreciate the warning, dear brother.” Baltazar said with a smile. “Give me some time to think about it. We are talking about a rather huge change in strategy.”
Philip nodded, “Fair enough, you have until sun down the day after tomorrow. If I have not heard back, you will be arrested for piracy and, blood or no blood, I promise that you will be hanged!”
Baltazar bowed, “Then you shall receive my response in haste.”
Philip returned the bow, “Good day to you. I eagerly await your reply.”
As Baltazar turned and left the room, a second man appeared from behind the throne. A menacing smile appeared on the man’s face, “I told you he wouldn’t accept it, your majesty.”
Philip nodded, “If he doesn’t, you know what you have to do. He’s a loose end that must be tied. I can’t very well deal with our enemies while my own kin is pillaging our supply line.”
The tall man bowed, “Yes my lord, I will take care of it.”
Baltazar stormed out of building and headed back to his ship. He had a feeling that he may have even less time than his half-brother had given him. He’d never trusted anyone from his father’s family and he was not about to start now. Given his history with them, they’d most likely invalidate the letter at the first oppertunity.
The moment he was outside, Baltazar began to run for his ship. He ran through the streets and passed by of his men standing in front one of the taverns either drinking or conversing with the locals. When they saw Baltazar run by, many of them looked at each other strangely, but got up and gave chase.
It took about 20 minutes, but Baltazar got back to the Specter and climbed aboard. Only about half the crew was present, including Melchior, Papi, and Melisande. Baltazar leaned on the railing to keep his balance as he caught his breath. His tanned face was bright red with beads of sweat forming on his forehead.
Melisande turned to him and patted him on the back, “Are you okay?”
He nodded as his breathing slowed, “Melchior.”
His first officer stepped forward, “Here sir.”
“Get a search party together.” Baltazar ordered. “We need to get the men back here now! We’re shoving off tonight with or without them!”
Melchior looked at his men and then back at the captain, “Did something happen?”
Baltazar nodded, “Yes, but I’d rather be underway when I tell you about it…. It’s bad.”
Melchior promptly turned to the men, “You heard him, look alive there! Go and get our boys back!”
The crew scattered down the walkway and disappeared into the town. Melchior turned back to Baltazar, “Captain, what is it, where are we going?”
“The king has offered me a full pardon if I stop sinking Spanish ships,” he replied, “but he told me if I don’t take it, we’ll be executed. I have no intention of working for that scum even if I were the fool enough to take him at his word, and I don’t think he intends to give me the time I asked for.”
Melchior nodded, “I don’t disagree with ye sir. Them royals be not known for their honesty. I’ll have this ship ready to go by sun down. Ye have me word.”
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