03/01/2007 - As Duke stood at the bow of the Silverado and looked out across the miles of water in every direction, his heart was in as much unrest as it had been the day he arrived and for the first time in eight years, he cried. Many tears made their way down his cheeks and he did not realize that Jikes had come up behind him.
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" If ye're gonna be cryin' like a baby now 'twould be better for ye to be drowned in the depths. This ain't no life for a sissy," he said, repeating the line Duke had received as a boy.
"I know, Jikes, it's not like me...but I saw my angel."
Jikes ears perked up. Over all of the years Duke had been aboard the Silverado, that was his one soft area – the one the crew would dare not speak of unless they wanted to cross swords, and, after all of these years, Duke was one that even the most hardened pirate dare not challenge.
"If ya don't mind my askin', 'ow do ye know that 'twas her, Mate?" the old pirate inquired warily. "I'm 'alf inclined to think she'd be dead." When Duke reached for his sword, Jikes backed up and put his hands out in defense. "Easy there, Mate, I was just askin'!"
Duke slid his sword back into his sheath and sighed as his mind traveled back in time again – this time to the moment he saw her.
When they pulled in at the dock of San Mateo Duke did not recognize his old home. It had been eight years since he'd set foot there and all of the buildings he was used to had been rebuilt because of the damage that ocurred during the raid. As usual, being the most skilled with a sword, Duke was sent straight to the top...to the enemy's leader. When he burst through the front door he was met with another sword in his face. To Duke, it was a welcome sight, for he loved a good clashing, but the man brandishing this opposing weapon had a strange effect on Duke. Duke had often looked at men like this throughout his years aboard the Silverado with secret envy. He was handsome and tall. His uniform betrayed that he was in the military or some such position. What a life that must be Duke had at many times thought. To be able to fight without losing your honor. Whether it was noble or not, Duke loved to fight. He always had. Even as a boy, he got into more trouble than he feared the Rogers would think he was worth at school and at play. As mentioned before, he was wild at heart. So, whenever he saw men like the one before him he immediately developed a respect for them, but that only made him more determined to overcome, and he always did.
He thought this circumstance would be no different as he looked his adversary in the eye and smirked, but the man took an action that he did not expect. He did not drop his sword, but lowered it and humbly said, "You may do whatever you please with me, but please, don't hurt m'lady."
"Walton, no!" a young woman's voice came from behind the man and she rushed to his side. "Please don't hurt us!" she begged through tears.
Duke remembered the voice before he even saw the face and the angel-like appearance confirmed his suspicions. Without making another move he dropped his weapon and ran with all of his might back to the ship to wait for his crewmates down below. It was her.
His reply to Jikes was simple and had been heard by the crew many times before, "I know an angel when I see one."
"I believe thanks are in order," the Captain of the Guard in San Mateo was saying to one of his soldiers. His young, beautiful daughter stood at his side, but her heart, like Duke's, was miles away. Hers was on the open sea, searching for her long lost friend. "How may I repay you?" her father continued.
"If I may be so bold, by giving me your daughter's hand in marriage, Sir,"
Captain Rogers looked at his daughter with deep fatherly affection. "I would consider it a great success to have my daughter marry someone as fine as you, Sir, but I believe you are aware of her heart's fragile state at this time and I feel it would be unwise."
The young soldier grew red with anger. "Fragile state! It's been eight years since the boy was taken. With all due respect, your daughter needs to move on with her life!"
"Sir! I'll not have you speak to me that way if you desire to keep your job! To be sure I owe her life to you. I could very well have seen the last of my daughter yesterday had you not jumped to her defense, but I'm afraid that who she marries is my decision and my choice will be for the man's own good as well as her own. You are dismissed and we will discuss this further another day...I'm not entirely closed to the idea, but you'll forgive me if after such a close brush with losing her forever I'm not inclined to give her away myself just yet! Good day."
The young soldier left in a huff and the father and daughter were alone in the house for the time being. "Thank you, Papa," she whispered as the tears made their way down her cheeks.
He turned and laid his hands gently on her shoulders. "My child," he said, "Mr. Crayford is a fine man and I would have no hesitations about turning you over to him today. What is causing the distress I sense? Do you not deny that, sad though it is as we all loved him very much, young Duke has been long dead?"
"But I do, Papa," the girl, whose name was Charlotte, replied. "I saw him. He was the one who threatened me. He recognized me and that is why he ran. It was no thanks to 'grand Mr. Crayford!'"
"That young man risked his life to save you. Whether or not he succeeded does not affect the heart behind the action. Thanks are indeed in order!"
Charlotte dropped her eyes again. "I'm sorry, Sir, but I am indeed not willing to give up on the idea that Duke may yet return."
"If you'll recall, Child, we had the finest search and rescue teams comb first the town and next all of the ships within miles. He would have been discovered if he had survived. It is well time you began to accept the truth."
Charlotte's sobs grew more intense and her father held her close. Finally she said, "Dear Papa, I will agree to marry Mr. Walton Crayford if I can indeed be sure that Duke is dead, but until that day my heart cannot travel on. Would you permit just one last search? He was here just one day past. If we begin now, we'll surely find him if I am not mistaken. If after a month of search he has not been discovered I will recieve Mr. Crayford with pride, for I do not deny that he is a fine man and one worthy of a prize. I shall strive with all that is in me to be worthy of him! And this way you may grant his request and give him me as your prize if Duke is not found."
"I will grant your request child, now off to bed with you!"
"Wait, Sir, I have one more!"
"And what is that, my dear?"
"Might you consider permitting me to accompany the assigned team?"
"My child! After what your poor father has just been through will he be expected to send you off on such a mission?"
"You may accompany and watch over me, Papa," she replied with so much hope in her eyes that it was growing more difficult for him to refuse.
"I'm afraid that I have been in the habit of granting you far too many wishes, of late, but as you are the only child I have it is difficult for me not to dote upon you. Very well, we'll leave tomorrow. Good night."
Charlotte's angel face lit up with such a glow that it could enchant any heart and after she kissed her father on the cheek she stole away gracefully up the stairs to her room.
After all of these years, for some reason, Jikes still had not figured out how to reply to Duke's certainty concerning this angel he spoke of, but he was relieved to see something that could be used to shift subjects. "Ahoy, is that a ship I see? Shall we 'ave ourselves a little fun, then?"
The mischievous smile that usually adorned Duke's face had been absent since their departure from San Mateo but it returned and he ran down below to find the captain.
Jikes stepped forward and assumed Duke's former position at the bow of the Silverado. "Aye," he muttered, "There's no life better than this."
The crew filled the deck within minutes and one of the men up in the crow's nest shouted, "Aye, she's a beaut! Speed 'er up! We'll catch 'er yet, an' load the cannons!"
The familiar excitement that always accompanied an event like this was filling the crew and Duke nearly forgot all of his sorrow in the action.
The Silverado was one of the fastest ships ever to sail the seven seas, so they were quickly gaining on the one Jikes had spotted. Duke positioned himself by one of the cannons down below and was, as always, ready for the fight.
...continued next month