I had been captain for six years before we came across him, sharp and beautiful like the ocean itself. He was holed up in a dinghy which was all that remained of his sunken English vessel, a weeping woman at his side, and nothing but bread crumbs to sustain them. They both appeared haggard and half-starved, but he displayed nothing less than disdain when he recognized our pirate flag, and refused to step aboard our ship even though his life, and the life of his lady, almost certainly depended on it.
My men made contact with him first, and reported back to me of his stubborn nature. I didn’t give a damn whether he wanted our help or not: a good captain knows never to leave a man to die at sea when that man is not an enemy of the ship. Karma is a word that one hears whispered across the calm waters late at night, and to upset the surface of the millpond is surely to invite danger into the lives of my shipmates. Contrary to popular belief, pirates are not all just heartless pillagers of the innocent and the brave.
I descended the rigging and boarded his small boat like I’d been invited. He looked at me with disgust, but I didn’t let it wager in on my resolve to help him and his lady. She cowered away from me as if I were a beast, and he just looked at me through narrowed and appalled eyes which glittered like the buttons of his slightly unkempt Red Coat.
“Pirate.” He addressed me, when I held my hand out to him in an extension of hospitality. He looked at it and did not shake it. His lady looked appalled, and placed a gloved appendage against his buttoned chest.
“What’s your name?” I asked, hoping to implore him. He seemed merely ruffled.
“My name is William Arlington.” He reported, temple rising slightly in pride.
I could tell he had every intention of being difficult, and the thought of such company exasperated me. Nevertheless, I could not turn these lost souls away, knowing that they would surely die. Karma, I reminded myself grimly. I will gladly challenge a stranger on the land, but not at sea. I am friends with the sea.
“Come aboard. We have provisions and lodging to replenish both you and your lady.”
He narrowed his eyes. “Come aboard a pirate ship?” He asked, sounding disgusted by the very suggestion. “And betray my country in order to save myself? No thank you. We are waiting for rescue, and we will wait more gladly after you and your ship have moved on.”
I didn’t like that one bit, especially since I was under no obligation to offer him my kindness. “Your rescue isn’t coming.” I told him bluntly. “I can have you back on mainland by the end of the next month and you will not be treated badly during your stay. Perhaps you should consider the value of your lady’s life above that of your foolish pride.”
William looked slowly over to the woman beside him. Her eyes were wide, and she blurted in a whisper “William, I’d sooner die than become cargo on a pirate ship.” His expression cleared, and he was poised and proud once more.
“We’d sooner die.”
I shook my head at their idiocy. “Really?” I asked. “How noble. How very English, sir.”
He nodded curtly, eyes still narrow. I stood up and re-boarded my boat.
“They won’t come aboard?” My First Mate asked, looking down at the couple grimly.
“No.” I conceded. “He is stubborn and she is foolish.” I shook my head, and looked down at them again. “There is rope beneath the deck. Accost them. Detain them, if you must.” I turned away. “I shall be in my cabin if you need me.”
Rumor had it that the English soldier was not happy. He had fought off his apparent ‘captors’ until their numbers overwhelmed him, and for over a day now he and his wife had been kept down in the brig due to the fuss that he was causing. I had not been down to see him since it did not seem like a particularly appealing use of my time: I suppose that my disregard of his presence had driven him half-wild with annoyance. When my Second Mate took he and his wife their supper William demanded to see the captain instantly, and it was with a displeased sigh that I decided to heed his summoning.
When I descended the ladder into the brig I found that his wife had been released, and was free to roam the lower deck, while William himself had been tied securely to one of the bolted chairs. He looked enraged and his expression became only more incensed when he laid eyes on me.
“I asked to see the captain, not the ship’s hussy.” He snapped, “Sent you down to abate me once before and it didn’t work then, just as it will not work now.”
I rolled my eyes, unable to help it, and told him in a firm voice. “I am captain of this ship, not a coddler of ignorant men. I see you are no less of a pig than you were yesterday.”
My revelation tossed him through a loop for only a moment. He shook his head, as if to clear it. “My wife and I will escape, and I assure you that you and your men will hang for your crimes against us.”
I dropped my hands onto my hips and fought the urge to roll my eyes again. “Terrifying.” I said, my tone portraying my complete lack of trepidation at his threat. “I’ve definitely not heard that one before.”
He looked bemused, and annoyed, but said nothing.
I picked up the dish he had refused at supper and approached him in three strides. “This food is a gift to you, and I don’t appreciate your wasting of it.” Then I looked over at his wife. She was sitting in one of the far corners with her arms wrapped around her knees. Her long green dress was tattered and beyond salvation, so I added in a kinder voice, “Your wife and I are almost the same size. I have clothing that she can use for the duration of her stay.”
William looked at me with his lip curled up, then he trailed his gaze slowly over my body. For some reason, it made me want to shiver. Until he spoke. “A woman in pantaloons is no woman.” He said, his voice dark and cold. “And a woman in pirate clothing is even less than that.”
He looked away from me, glaring down at the floor, and I took a step back.
“I respect your honesty, but I will not respect you.” I said, before turning abruptly and making my way back up the ladder and out into the fresh evening air. I dropped the hatch with a slam, and then turned the lock using both hands. The night was dark, but stars prickled above me. I was glad to be alone.
After a week, William’s wife was allowed above deck. Her name was Cecily, and she hated just about everything. She complained about the rocking motion of the boat, about the salty spray of the ocean, about the rudimentary food that she was graced with, and about the ‘unsanitary’ ship that was our home. I would’ve liked to have kept her below deck where I could not hear her, but she was not violent and did seem to complain less as the days progressed.
William, on the other hand, became only more volatile. I heard of him from others, as I had no interest in visiting with him again, but his threats and accusations had apparently neither ceased nor lessened. Even though I didn’t see or hear him, I still felt his presence on my ship, and it aggravated me. I wished the trip to mainland could be faster, so that I could be rid of him and of his prissy, whining wife.
Despite her wimpishness, Cecily seemed to have charmed many of my men with her fluttery feminine eyelashes, and this only served to add insult to injury in my opinion. The fact that they were acting as though they’d never seen a woman before was like a subtle backhand across my face. Still, I couldn’t let it hurt me because there was no time for that. There was no room for namby-pamby girlie emotions in my line of work. I tried not to resent the way they jumped to her beck and call whenever she raised one of her little white-gloved hands, and instead attempted to glean some satisfaction from the fact that she was flirting with these pirate men, and her stupid, arrogant husband did not know it.
Another week passed, and my First Mate told me that William had gotten sick and that he thought it best that I go and check on him before deciding what should be done. Cecily had taken up residence in one of the cabins now, and it had been cleaned out for her in order to make it “proper lodgings for a lady”, so William had been spending a lot of time alone. Cecily had not asked after him.
As much as I didn’t care to see him, I knew that I couldn’t have him dying in my brig, so I went down that ladder once again and turned quickly to face him. Of course, I was surprised to see that he wasn’t tied to his chair anymore, but was instead resting on the brig’s bed, facing the wall as if he’d known that I was on my way and did not wish to look at me.
“William?” I said, my voice ringing out through the silence. I got closer, he was worse than I’d thought. “William?” I sat down on the edge of his makeshift bed, and he craned his neck slightly to look at me.
“Not you.” He murmured. Then he closed his eyes. “Cecily.”
I sat up straighter, then took him up by the underarms. “Come on.” I said, “You need some fresh sea air in your lungs.” He groaned, but I got him over to the ladder and managed to push his body up ahead of mine. He groaned some more, but then emerged out in to the real world. It was dusk, almost nighttime again, and the air was brisk and welcome. William’s grumbles died, and he seemed glad to be free of the stagnant air of the brig.
I took him over to the port-side railing and leaned his body against it. He looked out across the darkening ocean, and was quiet, like a man in the presence of poignancy. He still wore the red, buttoned jacket of an English soldier, but there was something softer about him now. The sharp edge had been dulled by two weeks of solitude, and he didn’t seem to hate me just for being. Or so it felt.
I was glad for his quiet, at least.
He leaned his head back, holding on to the railings and looking straight up. I glanced up to see what he was seeing. The stars were out in all their dusky glory. “It’s a pretty night.” I said.
He looked at me, appearing perplexed. “Why did you stop for Cecily and I?” He asked, for the first time sounding genuinely confused by the concept. “We should be enemies.”
I shook my head. “I know my enemies,” I said, “I can count them on this hand. It doesn’t sit well with me to have too many of them, and I am content to say that as of right now, the sea remains my ally.”
He looked no less confused. “It doesn’t make sense to endure difficult guests.”
“It doesn’t make sense to refuse help when it’s offered.”
We looked at each other for a long time, and then he murmured “Touché” and shook his head.
I looked out to the ocean again after that, and saw that the colors of that water were also in his eyes. I didn’t need to see his face again in order to confirm this belief. I kept my eyes on the waves which broke against the side of the ship and thought about the weeks until mainland came into sight. “We’ve quite the journey ahead of us,” I said, “Maybe you might start behaving now?”
He quirked a smile, but didn’t reply. “You prefer the ocean to solid ground?”
I glanced at him. He was not looking at me. “I cannot imagine life without the adventure.” I said, half-absent. “My life before this was dressed up in lace and silk. I wouldn’t go back to it now, even if there was something to go back to.”
Now he was looking. “You weren’t born into piracy?”
I laughed. “No, though it often feels like I was. Like the years before my capture were all just a dream.”
“Capture?” William repeated, sounding astounded.
“Oh yes,” I said, “When I was fourteen. My father’s status made me a most valuable prize. Wouldn’t think it to look at me, then?” William was quiet, and offered no response as he continued to stare. I laughed. “I wouldn’t change it, William. The ocean is where I belong.”
I looked away from his face, and made eyes at the dark waters again. “You are a man of the sea, too?”
He followed my eyes. “Yes. Fourteen years now.”
“You understand, then.”
“I understand.” He conceded, with a quieter voice. “I…” He hesitated, “I had hoped that Cecily would feel as I do. It has always been so hard to be away from her.” He paused, then admitted, “It was a cruise ship that we survived.”
“A cruise ship?” I repeated, with an almost muffled snort. William looked at me sharply. The movement of his swift turn was, apparently, too much for him though in his sickly state. I watched the color drain from his face, and knew that he was about to pass out. “William?” He slumped against the ship’s railing and hit the deck with a dull thud.
I had neither the heart nor the desire to have him taken back down into the brig that had sickened him in the first place. Instead, I had intended to have him moved to his wife’s chamber, but when I approached her allocated room I heard distinctly adulterous noises coming from within. The sounds she and her bedmate were making made me shudder violently, and I no longer felt self-satisfied by Cecily’s ill-treatment of her faithful, albeit irritating, husband.
Instead, I had him taken to my own humble chamber. He was placed upon my bed, and I took up vigil at the bedside. I watched his face, peaceful in unconsciousness, and thought about how the ocean breezes had brought him to me for some reason. He was bearable in slumber. He looked inoffensive, and so very young.
I took off his Red Coat and cast it over the back of my chair. Beneath, he wore an earnest shirt of light brown and a pair of black pants. My hand brushed his clammy forehead, and I fought the immediate impulse to unbutton his shirt some of the way. Had he have been one of my shipmates I would not have thought twice, but as we stood, I knew that undressing him would certainly be taken the wrong way, should he wake up.
Instead, I sat back upon my seat, and looked at him some more. He did not look well, though the sea air must certainly have done him some sort of good. The wind had put a little color back into his hollow cheeks, but he still looked malnourished. The fool needed to eat. Too bad he’d been refusing my generously provided food for two weeks now. It was almost as if he had a death wish.