Skull and Shackles
A tower rises like a solid block from the sea at the edge of this island. The pounding surf rolls around its base and partially covers the steps that lead up to its front gate. A few arrow slits pierce its walls here and there, and a single shuttered window opens high upon the face of the fortress. A roof of metal shingles rises from its battlements where sentries keep lookout and siege weapons stand ready on corner turrets.
This small castle commands a small, protected harbor on Windward Isle, south of Motaku Isle. It is said that anyone who can claim Tidewater Rock as her own will have good luck, as the castle makes a strategic watch point from which one can strike the nearby shipping lanes. Most Free Captains have better things to do than pursue old wives’ tales, but a new pirate captain would surely find a boost to her reputation were she able to claim that she had “cracked the Rock.”
Tidewater Rock is a fortified tower house over 70 feet tall, built upon the same stone shingle that makes up the western shore of Windward Isle. The tower house is composed of reinforced masonry walls atop a 10-foot-high stone base filled with packed dirt. A stone stair rises 10 feet to the heavy front door, and at all times but the greatest ebb of low tide, the shingle below the castle is a swirling morass of tide water. At high tide, the waves lap at the very lip of the door stoop, making assailing the castle virtually impossible.
Interior floors are built of heavy oak beams 2 feet thick, and the tower roof is sheathed in lead tiles. Ceilings are 12 feet high. Doors are of strong wood but only a few have locks (Disable Device DC 25). All the windows except one (in area B11) are narrow arrow slits, some of which are set into deep alcoves providing a broad shelf area that can be used for seating or storage. Lighting is provided by these arrow slits during the day and thick tallow candles in wall sconces at night. The entire castle has a feeling of cramped security but still manages to convey a sense of comfort and safety for those who reside there.
B1. Tower Entrance: The door to the tower is kept locked and barred. The chamber beyond is floored with the dirt filling the tower’s base and is used to store assorted supplies, spare timber, kegs of nails and tar, spare sailcloth, fishing lines and nets, lengths of heavy rope, and unused furniture. A rowboat hangs from the rafters. Alcoves in the walls and below the arrow slit hold more delicate items such as tinderboxes, tallow candles, and chipped crockery. A side alcove holds a staggered wooden ladder that accesses the second floor (area B2). The ladder is unusual in that its rungs alternate from side to side so that someone not paying attention can easily lose his footing and fall.
B2. Defensive Corridor: This corridor runs along the south wall of the tower and provides access to three arrow slits overlooking the shingle. The guard from area B3 moves here whenever a ship is spotted approaching the island. A chest at one end holds 150 crossbow bolts, and a tarnished silver ewer holding drinking water sits on a table at the other end.
B3. Guardroom: A few chairs and a table compose the furnishings in this room. A guard is always on duty here.
B4. Bunkroom: Narrow plank bunks are crammed into the room along with a few stools and an old sea chest. Four of the guards are quartered here in rotating shifts, and Royster McCleagh bunks here when not sharing Lady Smythee’s quarters. The sea chest holds the guards’ collected pay.
B5. Workshop: A small forge has been set up beneath the arrow slit, and worktables around the room are arrayed with tools for ironwork as well as carpentry and general repairs. A few wood planks are stacked against one wall, and a crate holds brass nails. Mardus the goatherd beds down beneath one of the tables here at night.
B6. Defensive Stair: This cramped stair spirals steeply up to the third and fourth floors (areas B7 and B11) and serves as a choke point for invaders. A large masonry jar in the corner contains alchemist’s fire that can be thrown from the arrow slit and affects a 10-foot-radius area.
B7. Privy: A stone privy has been built into an alcove on the stair landing. A clay pitcher of water rests on the floor beside it to wash any wastes down the pipe and out into the surf.
B8. Kitchen: A small fire pit has been built into the alcove below the arrow slit. A stack of driftwood rests nearby, while a kettle dangles from an iron brace above it. A table, chopping block, barrels of pickled vegetables, and alcoves holding dry goods fill out the rest of the room. Birney Siggs is usually cooking here during the day, and the scullion Clew beds down atop bags of grain in one of the alcoves.
B9. Water Stores: The door to this room is always locked. Fresh water is one of the most precious commodities on the island, and a dozen large barrels are always kept filled here in case of siege or fire. Several hogsheads of ale and rum are likewise stored here.
B10. Retainers’ Quarters: At night, Albers and Birney Siggs retire to this chamber with its simple bed, chest, table, and chair.
B11. Feast Hall: A long oaken table that can seat up to 10 fills this room, over which hangs a heavy iron chandelier. An arrow slit alcove serves as a sideboard and generally holds a tapped keg of ale for meal times and off-duty guards. A wide window — the only true window in the castle — overlooks the picturesque harbor and admits a soft southerly breeze, but has sturdy oak shutters that can be barred from within. A door to the north opens on stairs leading up to the battlements (area B13). To the east, a locked door leads to area B12. Albers Siggs can usually be found here during the day, serving as the lady’s chamberlain.
B12. Master Apartment: This is the most spacious room in the castle and holds the only true fireplace, a peat-burning affair that is rarely lit in these tropical climes. A comfortable but sagging couch stands before the fireplace, along with a small writing table and pair of chairs. An old sea chest stands before an elegant bed, next to an antique armor stand. The armor stand holds Iron Bert Smythee’s famed “iron shirt,” which he unfortunately forgot to don in his haste to depart on his last voyage.
B13. Battlements: Two guards are always on duty upon this parapet, day or night. The tower chimney rises 10 feet above the walkway, and the peak of the lead-shingled roof rises to a height of 7 feet. Two light ballistae, each with a barrel of 15 bolts nearby, have been set in turrets at the southern corners, overlooking the lagoon. The drop from the battlements to the ground below is 70 feet. On a clear day, a lookout with a good spyglass can see for miles out to sea from here.
When a Free Captain named Magna Stormeyes discovered the natural harbor on Windward Isle over 2 centuries ago, she immediately recognized that it would make the perfect haven from which to launch a pirate fleet. Starting with just one ship and a small encampment on Windward’s harbor, she began to ply the trade of piracy. With the plunder from her initial hauls, she set about building a keep, which she called Tidewater Rock. From the vantage point atop the Rock, she found she could pick out particularly ripe targets while receiving ample of warning of hostile ships approaching.
Over time, Stormeyes’ successes enabled her to build a sizeable fleet, as well as more strongholds on several different islands. She became the scourge of the southern sea lanes and eventually claimed the Hurricane Crown as her own. Shortly after becoming the Hurricane King and relocating to Port Peril, she was assassinated by rival Free Captains. Stormeyes’ burgeoning fleet fell apart among its squabbling captains. Gerta Frome, first mate of Stormeyes’ flagship, the Cocksure, seized control of the Rock. Within only a few years, Frome became a powerful Free Captain herself, and the legend of Tidewater Rock as both a powerful good luck talisman and an impregnable bastion was born.
Over the many years since, control of Tidewater Rock has passed from hand to hand, and its strategic location and practical defensibility have enabled its owners to enrich themselves substantially. With the rebellion of Sargava and its ostensible alliance with the Free Captains, Tidewater Rock became of less strategic importance, and its owners came to be of less prominence, but the age-old axiom of “Good fortune and sure sail await what one can crack the Tidewater Rock” has stood the test of time among the pirates of the Shackles and is oft-quoted — if seldom heeded — even today.
The most recent lord of Tidewater Rock was Bertram Smythee, captain of the Vale and three other brigs. Like his predecessors, he held Tidewater Rock as his seat, but controlled a few other small castles on surrounding islands as well. Over a decade ago, “Iron Bert” Smythee went to sea with his small fleet in a feud with Free Captain Carola Antiochus and was never seen again. Word came back that Antiochus had lured Smythee into the edges of the Eye of Abendego and ambushed him with the help of a previously unknown ally — one Barnabas Harrigan — and that Smythee’s fleet was cut to pieces between the enemy fleets. Though Captain Smythee managed to sink Antiochus’s Pergador, he was last seen on the deck of the crippled and sinking Vale at the mercy of the Eye’s hurricane winds.
Captain Harrigan claimed the remainder of Antiochus’s fleet and took control of several of Smythee’s undefended castles. He made an attempt to take the Tidewater Rock as well, only to discover that Smythee’s able widow had taken charge of its defenses. She managed to fend off his attack with such alacrity that Harrigan decided to leave the widow to rot in her tower.