03/01/2007 - Special thanks to one of our faithful readers, Rachel Tenney, for her editorial comments and contributions
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When Duke climbed back on deck, it was with resolve. He looked around at his crewmates with a steadfast decisiveness in his countenance that did not betray his nervous emotions. "The next land we see you will have seen the last of Charlotte and me. I am leaving the Silverado."
Jikes was smiling. He had known for a long time, too long, that piracy was not the proper life to lead, and he desured to join Duke in that decision, but feared it was too late for his own life to be made right. Whichever way he would choose, he was glad that Duke was leaving, though he would miss him very much if he stayed, as Jikes had, in effect, raised Duke through the most tumultuous years of his young life.
Duke's decision caused an outrage among the rest of the crew and, for a moment Duke was up against all of them, but the captain arrived soon enough, having heard the commotion that the fight eased before it got very far out of hand. "What's this I hear?" he bellowed
The crew quieted down and lowered their weapons. Duke turned to face the captain, but his head was bowed, so the man could not see his eyes. "I'm leaving, Sir, at the next dock where we put down."
The captain was so angry that he began to tremble. The veins on his neck became more pronounced and he turned red. Duke was afraid that he would be forced to walk the plank. The captain approached him and gave him a slap across the face. Duke felt his hands being tied behind his back by one of the other crewmen. "Toss him in the brig with the lady," the captain shouted. "Those two are to be deprived of all our rations until I can decide what to do with them."
By then Duke stood no chance of fighting. He was unable to draw his sword and he could not stand up against the entire crew with his hands behind his back. The next thing he knew, he was shoved into the prison-like cell with Charlotte. The dirty, cold water splashed around him. Charlotte rushed to his side. "What have they done to you?" she cried. "Why would they turn on one of their own?" Charlotte helped him sit up.
"They are a harsh lot and would have no hesitation in taking one of their crewmates lives to spare their own, but I'm not one of them anymore," Duke replied. "I listened to what you said. I told them that I was going to leave the ship with you at the next dock, but they were not pleased. I'm afraid we're at their mercy now, and of mercy, they haven't much!"
Though night had fallen, it was bright below deck. The crew's bunking quarters were adjascent from the brig where Duke and Charlotte were being kept, and there were many candles and lanterns lit. The noise was indicative that the crew was not ready to turn in for the night. Duke did not mind. He knew there would be no sleep for him. Charlotte was in the half awake, half asleep phase. She was leaning against the cold metal bars because she was not used to being in the mucky water yet and was hesitant to lie down. Every time she began to drift off, some of the crew's commotion would wake her. Duke was consumed with thoughts of how to get Charlotte out of such a terrible place. He would sooner drown in the ocean than stand by and watch her starve to death. That's when Jikes arrived. Duke's face brightened at the sight of his friend, but Jikes held a finger over his lips, signifying to Duke that he was there on the sly. Duke crawled up to the bars and Jikes quietly passed him some food. It wasn't much – a couple of rolls and some old bruised apples, but Duke felt as if he'd never seen anything more appetizing in his life. "Best of luck," Jikes whispered and then he was gone.
For days Jikes continued to bring food for the prisoners until one day he did not come. Duke's hunger was the least of his concerns as he waited for hours past the time Jikes usually came. Duke didn't even see him go to his quarters for bed.
When this had continued for several days, Duke caught the attention of one of the crewmembers as he passed by. He inquired in regards to Jikes' health.
The pirate sneered. "Gettin' 'ungry are ye? He got the plank for what he did for ye, so ye'd best be grateful!" Then the man continued on up to the deck.
"Man overboard!" The cry rang out across the deck of the Charlotte. The Captain had named the most beautiful ship in his fleet after his beloved only child. While it was not nearly as fast as the lost Oceania, it was sturdy and could withstand harsh weather, which made it a good choice for being at sea for long periods of time.
The Captain quickly aproached the railing and sheltered his eyes as he searched the waves, but the waves were all he saw. "Where?" He inquired as he unrolled a rope to toss to the poor lost sailor, whoever he may be.
"He was right there!" the young soldier exclaimed, pointing eagerly into the sea. "He must have gone under!"
Without hesitation, the Captain pulled the rope back out of the water and tied one end around his own waist, handing the other end to the nearest crewman. By then there were many gathered around him and Crayford was the recipient of the wet, fraying edge, but instead of beginning to let the rope down, he grabbed the Captain's arm and forcefully turned him around. "Wait! What do you think you're doing?" he chastised.
"I'm helping him! Let me go!" the Captain replied, jerking his arm out of Crayford's grasp and taking the rope back to hand it to a more compliant recipient.
Crayford took hold of his shoulder again. "I saw him, too. He's a pirate! We can't bring him onto the Charlotte!"
"He's a person, so we most certainly can!" The Captain replied angrily. He thrust the rope back into Crayford's hand pointedly and proceeded to climb over the spindled rail.
"If it was you in the water and a pirate saving your life by letting you board his ship would you accept the help?" after a pause the Captain returned to the task at hand. "I rest my case!" he said as he took the leap.
Crayford's face was sullen as he purposefully let the end of the rope slip from his grasp. "God rest your soul," he muttered as he let the rope disappear into the water.
Duke was watching his angel as she slept for the first time in days. He had not gotten his share of rest either, but he preferred to stay awake for now, so that nothing would happen to Charlotte while he slept. As he watched her he thought back over his years on the Silverado. What had they accomplished? Lost lives, lost homes, lost possesions, lost hopes, lost dreams, including his own. When he was a young boy he had been full of dreams, hopes, and life, but now he felt empty and lost. He knew that it was his fault Charlotte was here. If only he had stayed strong as a boy and not given in to the ways of piracy. Maybe if he hadn't done those things he would have been able to return to her. If he had not been of any use to the crew they may have let him go free. Or maybe he would have had to walk the plank, but even then she would not have seen him again and decided to come after him, so he could not shake the guilt that overwhelmed him.
The captain's heavy footsteps sounded on the creaky stairs as he descended from his cabin above deck. It awakened Charlotte and she scooted closer to Duke for protection. Duke pretended to be brave, stong and angry, partly for Charlotte's sake so that she would feel safe and partly for his own, thinking he may be able to intimidate the captain a little bit. The captain was not coming with hostile intent, but his countenance was harsher than he had meant and did not ease the prisoners' concern. He unlocked the brig and motioned with his arm that he wanted to be followed. Duke and Charlotte obeyed, but the captain gave Charlotte a look that said more than his words would have had he spoken.
Duke broke the silence. "I will not go if I can't take her with me."
The captain drew his sword. "If ye want 'er life spared, ye'll leave 'er 'ere!" he warned.
Duke looked at Charlotte and, like the captain, she could read from his eyes that he was telling her to stay behind, though his manner was much gentler.
Charlotte threw her arms around Duke and began to cry. "No! Please take me instead! Take me with you! I can't bear for you to take him away!"
The captain pried her away from Duke pushed her back into the cell. "Did ye not hear what I said? If ye comply, ye may get 'im back."
Charlotte pulled her knees up to her chest and bowed her head to cry, though she surrendered to the captain's orders. Duke looked in at her from the other side of the cold, metal bars and whispered, "I love you," before he followed the captain upstairs.
The Captain plunged into the sea below, knowing the breath he took before entering the water could be his last, but considering it a worthy trade to give this pirate, who had undoubtedly lived a very wayward life, a second chance. Unaware of Crayford's disloyalty to himself, the Captain was angry because Crayford had delayed the rescue, possibly costing the unknown victim his life and it made it harder to stay focused on the task at hand. Crayford had often shown signs of immaturity and as promising as the young man's gifts were, Captain Rogers feared he had been a bit hasty in considering him a worthy candidate for Charlotte's hand showing partiality because of the chivalrous act he had performed during the pirate raid. The Captain tried to avoid opening his eyes because of the salt in the water, but groped around blindly until he found the man he was seeking. He wrapped his arms tightly around the pirate and began to kick toward the surface. He was tired and with the added weight of his companion, it was very difficult. He grabbed the rope and gave it a gentle tug as a signal for Crayford to pull him in. Feeling no resistance, he opened his eyes just in time to see Crayford's end of the rope drift in front of his face.
...Continued next month