03/01/2007 - Special thanks to one of our faithful readers, Rachel Tenney, for her editorial comments and contributions.
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Duke had never been to the Captain's quarters before, but that is where he found himself as he followed the pirate upstairs. The Captain motioned for Duke to sit down at the table and seated himself opposite the young man, looking deep into his blue eyes. The pirate Captain rarely made eye contact with Duke and it made Duke uneasy. He felt almost threatened and shifted in his seat, casting a glance to the side. There was an exquisite painting of an island tucked in the corner, partially covered with a tarp. The bottom of the painting said, Marooner's Point. Duke was intrigued and wanted a closer look, but didn't take time to examine it any further. He noticed some expensive jewelry on a desk. He recognized one brooch in particular because it had belonged to Mrs. Rogers, and there was a hat that looked strangely familiar, but he could not place it. It was a uniform hat similar to the one that Captain Rogers wore and he presumed that it just reminded him of that one, but there was something in the deep recesses of his memory that made him question his reasoning.
Duke did not expect what happened next. The Captain began to cry. For eight years Duke had lived aboard the ship and he had never witnessed this once. He was not sure how to react, so he just sat still until the pirate spoke. "Boy, when those foolish men brought ye back to me after the raid eight years ago, it was not the first time ye've been aboard my ship."
Duke's curiosity was aroused and he met the man's eyes as he continued with the story. "You were a baby the first time I met ye. I 'ad just taken over the position of Cap'n and it was one of me first raids with that title. I was naive. I 'ad been involved in many attacks, I 'ave been a pirate since I was a boy, just as ye 'ave, but the title o' Cap'n spoke to me humanity. I was 'power 'ungry'. I wanted nothin' less than to destroy everythin' in me path. As ye know from yer experience, the best way to overthrow an army is to shoot for the top. The enemy's leader makes the decisions in an organized manner, with careful plannin'. If the men're without their commander it can sometimes result in chaos. That is what I wanted, so I took the Cap'n of the Guard, his wife and son."
"The son was me?" Duke half asked, half knew.
The captain didn't reply, but he didn't need to.
"What happened to my parents?"
"They're dead," the Captain solemnly replied.
Duke's face flushed with anger. "You killed them?!" he fumed and arose from his seat. He reached for his sword, but his sheath was empty. He had forgotten that it had been taken when he was thrown into the brig with Charlotte. He sat down in a huff. "What did you do?!" he exclaimed.
The captain ignored his question. "That's why I don't take captives anymore. I couldn't bring meself to after seein' what 'appened to ye."
"I don't understand," Duke said, his eyes filling with tears.
"Ye were the only one that I didn't kill. I couldn't bring meself to kill a baby. I 'ave killed many people in cities from fires and raids, but never on a personal level with an innocent family. I almost quit the lifestyle, but I was too power-hungry and selfish. I wanted to raise ye and make good on what I did, but ye were so young ye 'adn't even been weaned and ye almost died. I decided ye would be better of with a family than a crew of angry men, so I dropped ye off back in San Mateo at the doorstep of a young soldier I 'ad seen who 'ad earned me respect. He 'ad a wife and I assumed they would make ye a good family. I disguised meself and took a lifeboat so that I wouldn't be caught. I recognized that it was ye they had brought me when ye called out after the ship because ye sounded much like ya're father 'ad when I left 'im behind. I decided I now 'ad my chance to raise ye like I wanted, now that ye were old enough that ye could survive with us. I didn't do a very good job. I'm sorry."
"Left my father behind? Where?"
The captain cast a glance to the side but looked back quickly, "I don't remember," he said under his breath.
"I don't believe you," Duke shouted.
"Ye don't 'ave to!" the Captain shouted back, "But that's all I 'ave to say, and ye'd better be more respectful or ye won't be goin' back to your little angel down there."
"But I thought you were going to let us go!" Duke exclaimed, still angry.
"And what, pray tell, made ye think that?" the Captain sneered.
Crayford staggered and grabbed the railing for support. The young soldier who had delivered the punch approached him winding up for another, but Crayford stopped him short when he drew his weapon. He began a slicing motion toward the man's middle, but hesitated before completing his action when he heard the swish of more swords being drawn from their scabbards. He looked up and found himself surrounded by almost every man on the ship, the closest ones with weapons brandished. "Matthew," one of them shouted to a man who still stood observing from a distance. "Throw another rope to the Captain," then, turning to Crayford, "You, come with us!"
When Jikes had awakened, he was in a comfortable bed in what appeared to be the living quarters of a battleship. A man had been sitting beside him, but stood up when he saw that Jikes was arousing and left the room. He returned shortly with another man in a Captain's uniform. "Well hello there," the man in the uniform said taking the seat the other man had previously occupied. "I'm Captain Rogers and this man with me is Matthew. You were spotted in the ocean by one of our crewmembers and you're now aboard our ship, the Charlotte."
"The Charlotte?" Jikes muttered under his breath as it sunk in. "Named for anyone in particular?" he asked sitting up slowly.
The Captain's face softened when reminded of his daughter, but he frowned with worry.
"She's the reason we're here," Matthew informed him.
"Maybe I can help you," Jikes said, growing more serious. "What does she look like?"
"Like an angel," was the Captain's swift reply.
Jikes didn't need to hear any more, but leapt out of bed and began to climb the stairs. "I know where she is!" he exclaimed.
Matthew and the Captain exchanged a nervous, but hopeful glance and followed him.
"Wait!" the Captain said, "I don't even know who you are!"
"I'm a friend of your son, Duke Rogers."
Duke flushed with anger and he slowly rose from his chair opposite the Captain. He was eyeing a table knife on the desk. It was small, but it was his only choice. He was just about to make his move when one of the crewmen burst into the room.
"Cap'n! There's a ship approachin'! Do ya want us ta raid?"
Seizing his opportunity, Duke threw his best punch while the Captain was turned away and pushed past the other pirate in the doorway, stealing his sword from the sheath before the man could even draw it. Duke feared he may not be able to risk showing mercy to the crew, but he could not bring himself to stab the Captain just yet. He believed that, though the Captain was wrong to keep Charlotte and himself captive, there was something deeper about the man than Duke had first been able to observe. He seemed to care, but just not know how to show it. He seemed to have a conscience, though it had undoubtedly been seared from years of ignoring it.
Duke swiftly made his way to the deck, his intent was to escape with Charlotte onto the opposing ship, whatever it may be – anything was better than this! He stopped short when he saw the ship they were nearing. For a moment he forgot his surroundings. There, in beautiful italic letters painted gold on the bow was The Charlotte. Duke knew that Captain Rogers had come for his daughter. Relief washed over him. Unable to stand against the pirate crew alone, now he wouldn't have to.
Suddenly recalling his mission he picked up the pace again, but he had paused just a moment too long. The sword was knocked out of his hand and stabbed into his back. He fell to the deck just as the ships drew near enough that members of each crew were crossing over. "Charlotte!" he exclaimed hoping to catch the attention of one of the soldiers. "She's downstairs! Save her!"
...continued next month