Chapter 1: The Hurricane
August 14, 1689
Atia leaned over the railing on the forecastle of the Aeolus. She enjoyed being outside. The open air was invigorating. On the crowded main deck below, her mother, Lucretia sat holding Atia’s three-year-old half-brother, while her sister Livia chatted to other passengers. So many people about to start fresh new lives; Atia envied them. They didn’t have a price on their heads. They didn’t have someone hunting them down at every turn.
She shuddered in the Caribbean sunshine. A creeping sensation traveled up her arms and along her neck. The last time she felt the cold was back on Barbados, when a rainstorm pelted the island for almost a week. Now that had been refreshing, unlike the past five weeks. Sharing passage in cramped quarters with over a hundred others was hardly ideal, but the journey was coming to an end. They were only hours away from Morant Bay.
From Morant Bay, Jonesy, a lifelong family friend, would smuggle them to Hope Bay, where Atia’s father, Cormac O’Malley, planned to relocate them. Thanks to O’Malley’s contacts in Port Royal and throughout the Caribbean, they had been transported from Barbados to Saint Lucia, where the Aeolus picked them up to make the long voyage. Atia hadn’t seen Jonesy or her da for six years. What did they look like now? Jonesy’s hair probably went all silver, while Da’s is white as chalk!
A clergyman in a black cassock climbed the stairs and leaned on the rail beside her. She briefly caught his gaze. “Not long now,” he said. “We’ll be there by the morrow. Are you getting off in Morant Bay?”
“You’re Irish. How is it you made your way to Saint Lucia?”
“Sorry, sir. Me ma told me never to talk to clergy.”
“Didn’t mean to pry.” The clergyman half-smiled. “Let’s just be thankful the journey’s at an end. The food here’s rancid. It’s been causing me Hell’s own fury!” He turned to climb back down the stairs.
Atia smirked. He’s right about that, the food’s bloody awful! The wind picked up and the sun sank into the horizon. Atia collapsed her parasol. How she longed to see another sunrise in Hope Bay, a secluded fishing village on the north side of Jamaica beyond the Blue Mountains. She inhaled the salt air, imagining pink and orange hues seeping through the morning mist on the water.
Livia paused beside her sister. “What did he want then?”
Atia shrugged. “Who knows?”
Side by side, they were both beauties. At twenty, Livia towered over her sister by almost a foot. She had piercing pale blue eyes and deep chestnut hair. While seventeen-year-old Atia could pass as her mother’s twin with flaming red hair and dazzling green eyes.
“Supper’s soon,” Livia said. “Are you gonna come down?” She gave her sister a doubtful look.
Atia grimaced. “I’ll try.” The passenger hold reminded her of the times she’d been locked in a closet by Hansel Crisp.
Livia squeezed her sister’s arm before returning to the main deck.
A mantle of charcoal clouds stretched for miles across the sky and the wind rocked the small barque. Atia’s body stiffened. A gust whipped the linen coif off the top of her head, unleashing a mass of curls. Damn, another one gone! The embroidered cap stitched by her ma spiraled into the dark mass forming behind the ship.
The supper bell sounded.
“That’s seven,” an officer called. “Supper’s on, folks.”
Passengers filed down a narrow staircase to the hold.
The deep rumble of thunder echoed in the distance. The sea churned into an angry foaming beast. Atia gripped the wooden rail so hard it almost hurt. Her black boots tapped against the deck as Livia and her mother vanished down the stairwell. I should be with them. I need to be with them. She hated being afraid, but didn’t know how to control it.
The officer on watch sounded an alarm bell, and the captain emerged from his cabin. “Take in the sheets! Get the passengers inside and secure the hatches!” He ran up the stairs to the quarterdeck to peer through his telescope at the fast-approaching Jamaican coastline.
Atia felt the first of the rain hit her face.
“I’m sorry sir; it just came up on us,” the officer exclaimed.
Atia shook. A tremendous crack vibrated the ship and the ocean sprayed her face. Her legs shuffled slowly towards the stairs, and then froze a few feet away. She wished Livia were there to wrestle her inside.
Atia remembered the times when she was regularly locked in the dark attic at Crisp’s estate. Livia had loosened a ceiling board over the closet. With a candle to guide the way, Livia crawled on her hands and knees to bring her food and water. They’d pass the hours with stories and Celtic lullabies until Atia fell asleep.
Their secret ritual continued for weeks until one of Crisp’s slaves turned Livia in. Cold dread consumed Atia when Crisp himself came to drag her sister from the attic. In the dining area of the slave quarters, he stripped Livia, hunched her over the table, and bound her hands and feet. Each slave took a turn at the whip. Atia screamed as she was forced to watch. Sometimes the sound of the whip haunted her dreams, intermixed with Livia’s cries.
The cold broke Atia’s train of thought. Tears flew off her face beneath a mighty gust of wind. She clutched the rail of the forecastle. Someone grabbed her arm.
“Atia,” Livia said.
“Liv,” Atia replied. “I can’t go down there!”
“I know, Atia. But it’s not safe up here. We must get below.” Livia tried unsuccessfully to peel her sister’s fingers off the rail.
The thought of the dimly-lit passenger quarters and people herded together in the shadows sickened Atia. The stale air reeked of perspiration, foul breath and worse. I’d rather die than go down there! She glanced over at the jostling crewmen securing the deck and climbing the ratlines.
Atia heard the yells of the captain shouting, “We’re drifting to starboard. Turn her to port.”
“Shouldn’t we stay on course for Morant Bay?” an officer argued.
The captain raised his telescope. “It’s too late for that. We’ll be thrown into Folly Bay sure as hell! We make for Port Royal.”
Atia met her sister’s eyes. “Leave me, go back inside.”
“Nay, I’m not leaving you.” Livia clung to the rail.
Damn it! Atia cursed herself. The water swelled, causing the ship to lurch upwards and crash down. Another vessel charged from the misty gray, flying a French flag with a gold fleur-de-lis at the stern. It came with such speed she thought they would collide. The men scrambled up into the ratlines and rigging to their stations while the vessel sailed north away from the rocks.
“Please, Atia, we must get below,” Livia insisted.
Atia took a few steps along the deck, and then froze, gripping the rail tightly. Nearby, stood the clergyman she’d spoken with earlier. Strange that he’d be outside in the storm.
An officer yelled at them all to get inside.
The clergyman gripped the rail of the forecastle. “To tell you the truth, I have a terrible fear of confined spaces.”
Atia faced the growing waves; she had never seen a storm like this before. Her senses churned like the tide and panic burned through her, yet there was no place to run and no place to hide. The ship slammed back and forth while water soused the main deck.
“Atia! Livia!” came a muted voice on the wind.
Atia squinted to see her ma struggle against the gale trying to reach them. “Ma!”
Crewmen screamed. The mizzenmast snapped and toppled over. Flailing lines whipped through the air like blades, tearing a man in half. His bottom half dropped onto the deck while his top half flew over the railing. Red water pooled and the rigging collapsed, crushing several officers.
“Hold on; I’m coming,” Lucretia called.
Atia gripped the rail tightly. To her horror, a brutal upsurge clawed the deck, dragging Livia over the side. Shock paralyzed her for several seconds. “Liv!”
The clergyman swiftly reached down. “Grab my hand!” He caught hold and raised Livia up. Before reaching the deck, another swirling swell yanked them both over.
Lucretia patted Atia’s arm and they both stared down into the foamy white.
“She’s there,” Atia exclaimed.
Lucretia reached down to grab Livia and lifted her back up. Manic fear possessed Atia. No matter how badly she wanted to embrace her ma and sister, her arms remained locked around the rail. They were all clinging on for their lives now.
The ship collided against the rocks of Folly Bay. The hull shattered, releasing a loud groan, akin to a wounded animal in the throes of a death blow. Frantic passengers spilled onto the main deck from the hold. They climbed over and pushed one another, until they were finally tossed side to side and slammed over the edge of the ship.
Atia was pelted by flying debris. Her eyes briefly opened to behold a mountain of water as it rolled upon them. There was no air, only the rushing garble of the tide. Water relentlessly filled her ears and nose. Her lips recoiled into her mouth and her teeth clamped upon them. The water receded and she gasped, simultaneously sucking in air and spewing brine.
The rail began to buckle. Before her was a dizzying display of lightning. A short distance away, the rocks flickered and shined. Someone scrambled upon them. She recognized her ma’s long hair. The ship’s bow, only a few feet away, approached fast. With a potent hit, the front of the ship broke apart and her ma was crushed beneath it. Passengers flew mid-air, some landing in the water, others splitting apart on the rocks.
Atia opened her mouth to scream, but nothing came out. The rail broke loose and she was propelled forward, catching a ride along the spindrift to the stony beach. She landed heavily, her arms still gripped around the broken barrier. The scream finally escaped her throat and she belted it across the landscape. After unhooking her arms, she rose slowly, vomiting mouthfuls of salt water.
Behind her, the ship continued to splinter under the pounding waves. Flames erupted from the hatches of the hold. Unfortunate souls hurled themselves off the vessel to extinguish their clothes, only to be caught in the grinding undertow of the current.
The tide tugged at Atia’s feet, toppling her backwards onto a rock bed. A hand grabbed her leg.
“I got you!” said Livia.
“Liv!” Atia clutched her sibling’s arm. Together they teetered to land. Another rush of water and curling waves towed them back into a sea littered with corpses. Arm and arm they fought towards the shore.
The water rose, driven by fierce wind. Atia was ripped away from her sister and stumbled over the surf. She reached out to grab at anything. Drenched in waves, her head was sucked under and she felt the brine plunge back into the ears, nose and throat. Momentarily she bobbed back up. Livia was only a few feet away.
Atia reached up and their hands locked. Together they hobbled madly for the beach, towing each other along. The instant the tide subsided they lunged onward to escape its grasp. Several feet away stood a jungle of trees.
Atia lagged, almost succumbing to the pelting wind and rain.
Livia tugged her arm and pushed her forward. “Move it, or we die.”
At the treeline, they found a path. Grabbing at branches, they followed a seemingly endless maze of mud, vines, and roots. They reached a plateau surrounded by dense bushes.
Livia collapsed, rolling in next to the undergrowth for cover.
Atia could see down to the beach. The flames from the ship lit up like a beacon for miles through the murk. Carried on the wind were the screams of injured and dying passengers. They scrambled along the rocks only to be butchered by the waves.
Atia turned away, trapped between horror and extreme exhaustion. Through a break in the trees, she spotted the sails of the French ship caught in the hurricane. Grief consumed her and she lay down to embrace Livia waiting for the storm to pass.
Capitaine la Roche stood on the quarterdeck of his brig La Lune, and scrutinized the storm. He was no stranger to hurricanes and stared defiantly into the murk. His vessel was rigged for merchant duty and they carried Cuban tobacco and ten tonnes of sugarloaf bound for Petit-Goâve.
The storm increased in its ferocity and water saturated the deck. The seasoned officers knew how to react, but he wondered how the new crew would respond to true danger. His thoughts turned to the English barque they had passed near the coastline. He tempered his sympathy knowing that death came fast to those who ventured near Folly Bay. La Roche lowered his telescope and turned to his quartermaster, François le Picard.
“North-northwest, Capitaine,” le Picard said. He looked to the boatswain, Martel, and ordered him to check the barometer.
“Dropping fast. It is a hurricane. A genius he is, no?” Martel grinned.
Le Picard gave an irritated smirk. “You were right, Capitaine.”
La Roche held out his hand.
“What? I’m good for it.” Le Picard gave a sheepish look. “Besides, it is frowned upon at sea.”
La Roche knew le Picard couldn’t resist a wager. “Only when you’re on account, you cheap bastard!” He watched the men hanging from sails, their bare feet clasping the ratlines. “Lifelines on deck, Monsieur Martel.”
“Oui, Capitaine. Lifelines!” Martel ran to the main deck to ensure crewmen roped themselves to the shroud pinrail as the wind and rain whisked over the ship.
“Don’t worry. A little rain, no problem,” la Roche assured as the sails flapped violently.“No, no! Take in the sheets!” He waved his fist at the men in the rigging. Fighting against the wind they struggled to tighten the lines. “Now make your course due north, Picard.”
Le Picard turned to the young, muscular black man at the helm. “Monsieur Delacroix, twenty degrees to starboard. North we sail!”
Delacroix heaved the wheel. “Oui, starboard.”
La Roche bobbed his head with a care-free smile. “Looks like it’s going west. Just remain on course. Everything will be fine.”
Le Picard cocked his eyebrow. “Going west, is it?”
La Roche shrugged. “Well, ‘shit we are fucked’ is not quite so uplifting! Yet we will try, Picard.”
Rain pelted and waves slammed into the ship’s hull.
Martel checked the compass. “Heading due north, Capitaine.”
Delacroix held the ship’s course. La Lune pushed through the Jamaican Channel struggling against the disparaging winds.
Martel scanned the coastline through a telescope. “Ship, port side aft!”
La Roche and le Picard raised their telescopes. A flash from a lantern pierced the haze.
Martel squinted. “I think it’s a fishing boat.”
“A lugger,” la Roche corrected.
The signal continued blinking.
“La Lune de Miel?” Martel said. “Looks like buccaneers, not fishermen.”
“De Kreep.” Le Picard sneered.
“That jerk buccaneer who is always sticking up for the Indians?” Delacroix asked.
“That’s him!” le Picard snorted. “Probably on his way to attack Port Royal with a fishing boat and twenty guys!”
La Roche paused. His right hand trembled slightly and his throat tightened. De Kreep was as a brother to him and saved his life long ago. He shuddered, not from the weather, but the memory of a doomed raid that ended in the Darien Jungle in ’68.
He would never forget the screams of his crewmates, the wet tearing of bloody flesh, and the scent of scorched human meat skewered over a blazing fire. His wrists burned from the rope. He sat within a circle of wooden pikes, next in line to be slaughtered. That’s when de Kreep arrived with several Arawak elders. At first la Roche didn’t understand why they were there, but soon his life was negotiated for and he was led away. To his shock and amazement, they reunited him with La Lune.
“Prepare to come about!” la Roche ordered.
Le Picard closed his eyes a moment in dread. When he opened them again, he gave an understanding nod. “Prepare to come about.”
La Lune turned hard to the port side, leaning dangerously, beaten by the gale. Crewmen clung desperately as they followed the flashing light. Officers fixed their telescopes ahead.
La Roche observed the men on the lugger bailing the boat out frantically. “Signal them. No grappling hooks.”
“Oui.” Le Picard took the signal lamp and flashed the message.
La Roche wiped the water from his eyes and squinted through the viewer. The buccaneers chopped down the rigging and the yard arms. The top sails fell and lastly the bowsprit was broken off the front of vessel and left to sink in the ocean.Good man, Dashiell, he thought, keeping his trembling hand in his pocket. One shot at this – we must get them quickly, and then head to open water. Rocks are everywhere! The wind and rain hammered the ship. He squinted at crew trying to furl the sails. “Beat them!”
The crewman struck the sails with their fists to purge the water.
Struggling against the elements, La Lune slowly fought her way to the lugger. The brig plunged into a large swell, and then propelled upwards, soaring into the air. Crewmen clung on for their lives. She slammed back down, causing an explosion of white water.
La Roche scrunched up his face. “That hurt!”
“This is going to get a lot worse. The storm, she is here. We should not be attempting this!” le Picard said. “Ready ropes and netting. Starboard side. Double quick!”
Martel and several crewmen prepared ropes, while others readied the nets. Men with axes stood alert. “Ready on main!” Martel signaled with a thumb up.
Le Picard turned to la Roche. “Main deck ready, Capitaine.”
La Lune came alongside the lugger. The buccaneers leapt off and clung to the netting. De Kreep jumped last, just before the small vessel was sucked beneath the waves. When they reached the top, they hurled themselves over, landing on the deck.
“All aboard, Capitaine!” Martel shouted. “Cut the ropes. Throw it all over!”
“Turn due south for open water,” la Roche ordered.
“Turn to port. We head south for open water,” le Picard called, and then leaned to the Capitaine. “You know, having armed buccaneers climb aboard is not recommended even in nice weather.”
De Kreep staggered up the stairs towards la Roche.
They shook hands.
“I knew it was you. How do I ever thank you?”
“Even, this makes us.” La Roche nodded, and then eyed Martel. “Get these men below, get them rested up.”
“Hold this course for as long as she can take it.” La Roche addressed de Kreep, “Take your men below and take it easy. Then join in on the pumps. Martel will show you what to do. It’s going to be a long fucking night, uh?”
De Kreep and his men followed Martel inside.
“Where will we put in, Capitaine?” le Picard asked.
“Let’s survive the night first. Then if we have to, Port Royal.”
Waves crashed over the deck.
“Nice knowing you,” le Picard said.
La Roche relieved Delacroix at the wheel, tying himself to it with a pull knot. “If our time it is, c’est la vie!” He grappled with the helm. La Lune fell upon the back of another potent wave that drove the ship upwards and crashed back down. The sky lit up with brilliant slivers of lightning.
Rain pounded and howling gusts of wind blustered through the trees and bushes. Lightning cracked in the distance. Ma smiled and ran a brush through her fiery red hair. The sun rose over Morant Bay. Ethereal beams of light broke through the mist. Da smoked fish wrapped in tobacco leaves over a small fire. Her stomach grumbled.
Atia’s eyes opened sluggishly. The cold damp ground made her body ache. “Ma?” she cried hoarsely and sat up. The hanging sleeves of her dress had been torn away. Atia massaged the cuts on her exposed arms. Her left arm had been branded with an iron cross by Crisp. In retaliation, her ma had ankh symbols tattooed on their arms to cover the scars.
Atia rose to her feet, kneading her bruised ribs. The stern sat half submerged on the beach below. Corpses and wood fragments scattered everywhere. Behind her a field of sugar cane and patches of jungle lay in ruins.
“Ma?” Atia called softly.
Her sister moaned and rubbed her eyes. “Atia?”
Livia rolled onto her side. “She’s in Elysium. No more harm can befall her.”
Atia turned to face the sugar field. Wherever home was, it had been swallowed by the storm. If I had just reached out my hand to grab her, she might be here with us now.
Livia whimpered, trying to stand. “Bloody hell!” She vomited salt water, doubling over in pain. “Can’t…breathe.”
“I’ll find clean water.” Atia hoped rainwater was trapped within the cane. Lifting long broken leaves, she managed to suck back small mouthfuls. When she had her fill she brought over a few stalks for Livia.
Atia braced her ribs with one arm and knelt beside her sister, trickling water down her throat. She cradled Livia’s head and gently brushed hair away from the gash on the side of her face. From behind them footsteps sloshed through the wet mud. A voice said, “I hears something!”
The splashing and rustling drew nearer. A group of emaciated slaves in torn rags emerged with their ankles bound in shackles. A short, portly white man covered in dirt pushed his way through, whip in hand.
“What is it? Who’s there?” He grinned through yellow teeth and rubbed his hands together. “Well, lookie here, tasty little morsels. And who might you be, me lovelies?”
Atia trembled. “Please help us, sir? We’ve been put through the mill.”
“Irish as four-leaf clovers too,” he jeered. “Immigrants? Indentured pikeys?”
“We was on a ship,” Atia explained. “It broke up.”
“Ah, the shipwreck. You could fetch five hundred pounds apiece! Who needs crops when ya got pikeys, eh? Bring ’em to the ship!” he shouted at his slaves and then kicked at their chains.
The slaves grabbed at Livia, who screeched with pain.
Atia pushed them. “Get away from her!”
The slaver struck her across the face. Atia recoiled, touching her split bloody lip. She reached for her sister’s arm.
A slave pointed at Livia. “This one’s hurt.”
“Of course she is, ya imbecile!” the slaver bellowed. “Bring ’em. She only need live long enough for sale.” He yanked the chains and the slaves hauled Atia away. She tried to fight them off. The slaves lifted Livia as carefully as they could and the girls were transported through the field down towards a small dock, where a weathered lugger sat. Upon its missing nameplate at the stern, a mossy stain formed the name Sweet Dreams.
“Ready to make sail!” the slaver hollered to the workers aboard, who were in the midst of repairs. “We’re going to Port Royal.” He pointed at the slaves before heading towards his house. “Put them in the hold!”
Atia stumbled along to the dock. A short distance along the beach sat a village with a dozen storm beaten cottages and a stable. Fishing boats sat tied up at a wharf. We could escape on one of those boats. Atia glanced back to the house, where the slaver entered the front door.
One of the slaves stopped. “No one is watching. Go now, run.”
Atia rushed to Livia’s side and tried to lift her.
Livia writhed in agony. “Go on Atia, leave me!”
Atia tried to lift her sister again. “No! I’ll not leave you.”
“Save yourself, Atia,” Livia insisted.
She wouldn’t leave her sister. They always watched over and protected one another. They survived the worst kinds of trouble because they stayed together. One such instance was back on Barbados when they carried out their cleaning duties on Crisp’s boat-house. After removing weeds and overgrown vines from outside, they swept the interior and polished the windows.
Crisp arrived to criticize and hassle them. Atia was grabbed by the hair and tossed to the floor. It gave him great pleasure to remind her that she was breeding stock as he raised her skirt and spread her legs. She didn’t hesitate for a second and clawed his face with her nails.
Livia joined in with a boat-hook off the wall and lunged at Crisp. She managed to gash the side of his head. He fell, clutching at the wound. Livia grabbed Atia’s hand and they ran for the door. Their retaliation was short lived however when they came face to face with Crisp’s slaver captain who stood over seven feet tall and wore barbs on his knuckles. Atia and Livia were soon locked up to await punishment.
Atia knelt on the dock beside Livia. “We go together or not at all.”
One slave motioned to the others and they lifted Livia down the beach towards the village.
The dirt covered slaver emerged from the house with a bottle in his hand and two ruffians at his side. “Ya ungrateful savages!” His thugs seized the chains. The slaver approached Atia, uncorking the bottle and pouring in the contents of a vial. “Just don’t know when to quit, do ya?” He revealed his yellow teeth and forced the bitter liquid down her throat. “We’re all going to Port Royal now.”