A PIRATE’S OATH
1779 - Atlantic Ocean
The sun-bleached sails billowed in the bitter cold Atlantic winds, huffing and puffing against the strain of the weighted anchor, holding it stationary in the ocean’s murky depths. The sounds of shouting and screams of painful torture, echoed through the crisp morning air, cries tore at the walls of the aging ship with rigid claws of terror. The threat of rain mixed with the smoke from the cannons, and stench of sulfur mingled with the putrid odor of spilled blood and disemboweled organs, that hung heavy below the grey skies. Fear was an innocent word. Too simple a phrase for the horror raping the souls of those passengers and crew left clinging feebly to life.
The old captain had been killed with the first blow from the attacking vessel, mercifully sparing him from the nightmare being played out among those left to witness the battle’s end. The cannon ball that took the captain’s life shattered the top deck into a pile of worthless rubble and mortally wounded the first officer, leaving the vessel’s fate in the hands of those less experienced and just as terrified, as the innocent passengers.
With her arms wrapped tightly around the small, shivering frame of her young daughter, Sarah Langley prayed audibly as she clung to her rosary beads, begging an unseen God for deliverance from this horror; silently hoping for a quick and painless death for them both. The three weeks they had been at sea was a bitter irony to the last ten years of her life. Dysentery, brutal storms and contaminated water had the entire crew suffering violent fevers and illness, while four of the weaker passengers fell to the sorrows of death. Even the unnatural burial at sea, was more humane than what was now happening on deck above them. The fierce winds that had driven them off course had landed them in the laps of these savage pirates, now tearing the ship apart.
Sarah had endured this voyage, so she could escape the tragic death of her husband who had been barbarically attacked and butchered in the Americas, by a band of renegade Indians. Her only thought in life was to take her daughter back to England, where the people were civilized, and life was calm. London held all she had ever known. Her parents, her friends and hopes for a life in a less hostile environment. But that thought had been driven from her mind nearly two days ago, as the lookout shouted news of the ship in pursuit of them.
They had struggled to outrun the pirates and alter their course in hopes of making safe port in South America, but their vain attempt was for not; the passenger ship was larger and heavier than the pirate’s, forcing the captain to change his strategy and turn to fight. It was a decision the entire ships accompany was left to regret.
All there was left to do was hide. Sarah sat silently curled up in a human ball, sheltering her only child against a quivering bosom, in the corner of a small wardrobe that had served as her last breath of hope. Her sanctuary from hell. Her tears slid freely down her cheeks as she continued to pray. Images of why she was here filtered past her closed eyes as the pit of regret ate a hole in her stomach.
She just wanted to take her daughter back to the life she had abandoned twelve long years ago, when she married and set sail for the colonies. She had seen more savagery and suffered more pain in her brief twenty-nine years, than most women did in three lifetimes. All she had left to show for her life and the love of her husband was her six-year old daughter, having buried three infant sons within the past five years and then her beloved husband. There was nothing left for her in America, nothing but pain and sorrow. With a heart as heavy as stone, the young mother collected her measly belongings and boarded the first ship back to England, back to the safety and shelter of her father.
Tears continued to run unchecked down the young woman’s delicate, soot covered features and into her little girl’s dark-hair. Her daughter’s sobs soaked into the skirt of her gown as she buried her face deeper into the cotton folds. The life she had just escaped from was not unlike that, she now tried to hide from. Sounds of men’s screams echoed through the air as a painful reminder of that fateful day that changed her life and drove her to sea.
The clang of metal swords striking against each other mingled with the smell of gun powder and the loud explosion of pistols. Hard thuds on the wooden deck above them vibrated the small cupboard, as bodies fell to their deaths. All fatal indications that the pirates were in command of the vessel. Sarah continued to pray, pressing her child’s shaking body closer to her breast. It was only a matter of time now until the barbarians, her captain had tried so bravely to run from, found them. There was nothing left for her to do but wait, praying with her God for a swift merciful death, one she and her little girl would not be forced to endure for long.
Hidden behind the closed door, Sarah remained quiet, shushing her daughter to silence, hoping beyond hope for a reprieve. There was nowhere to hide. The odor of burning wood made her aware that the ship had been set on fire and would soon take them to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. She knew the pirates would ransack every corner of the ship before it sank, yet she clung to the slim chance they would pass her door by, undisturbed. The thought was quickly scalded from her mind. Her heart jumped violently in her chest as the wood framing of the door outside crashed open. Their time of hiding was over.
A cold spray of rain and the smell of gunpowder, burning timbers and salt air drifted into their small refuge as the door was jerked open. A massive silhouette blocked out the dim daylight from filtering into the darkened room and Sarah gasped, as she willed the scream back down her throat. In his hand was clenched a bloody sword, the stench of sweat and filth nearly as nauseating as the sounds she had tried closing her ears to for the past hour. The man was large, well over six feet and nearly as wide across the shoulders, as the small door’s opening itself.
Sarah had endured nearly four days of horror in the Americas, as Indians surrounded her home, killing their livestock one by one and eventually torching the house and barn, forcing them into the open, where her husband was captured and drug away. This was what the Indians had claimed as justice for not surrendering their herd of cattle when demanded.
The renegades had raided every home within a hundred miles but did little more than torch the homes and run off with the livestock. Her husband was only one of a handful who had dared to fight them, and this angered the savages. His mutilated body was found three days later, naked and staked to the ground, his dissected, disemboweled corpse a warning to the other homesteaders of what would happen if they resisted the Indians in the future. Somehow, she had managed to remain brave. She had forced herself to stay strong for the sake of Elizabeth, then only five years old. This time, however, she felt as weak and helpless as a newborn babe. She knew there would be no way out for them, no compassion, no mercy.
Her captain had called these pirates, the crew of Blade the Barbarian, assuring those aboard that they would not stop until all English were dead. The pirate captain who called himself Blade - so named for his skill with a cutlass - was a Spaniard who fiercely hated everything English. Since the passenger ship sailed under the colors of the British flag, it meant they were to suffer his fullest wrath.
“Get up,” the pirate snarled, bringing Sarah out of her state of subdued silence.
He brutally pulled her to her feet with a rough jerk of her arm as she clung to her whimpering daughter. Sarah didn’t argue, as she followed the man’s orders, holding tightly to Elizabeth while they hurried out the door and up to the horror still playing out on deck.
The wooden planks of the once majestic British ship were pooled and stained with blood. Bodies lay dead about them, mutilated, some missing limbs, others in a condition that made Sarah’s stomach jerk violently. Her mind remembering the condition of her husband as his lifeless body was returned to her to bury. She hid her daughter’s eyes in her skirt, forbidding her to see such sights. The only other passengers still alive had been brought on deck to face their fate.
A priest, an old man named Marcus O’Leary, two young men on their way to school in London and the captain’s cabin boy. The elderly man sat crumpled in a heap of sobbing misery across his wife, Martha’s lifeless body. An obvious victim of a heart attack. The young men knelt in front of a large evil looking Spaniard, Sarah surmised quickly to be Blade.
His long dark hair hung in a tight braid behind his thick, sweaty neck. His cruel black eyes blazed sadistically down at the men, as a smile of barbaric pleasure curled his lips. The priest’s hands had been severed at his wrists. A rope tied tightly around his neck held him a few feet above the floor of the deck. His once kind blue eyes were nothing but empty sockets of bloody holes. His body twitched helplessly, his handless arms batted feebly for a moment at the rope, as he gasped his last breath before he went limp, allowing him to swing lifelessly from the mast.
The cabin boy’s dying body hung by a grappling hook protruding from his abdomen. Fluid mutters of pain echoed softly from his throat, while a massive puddle formed on the deck beneath his feet, as the dark red blood poured freely from his young, twelve-year old body. Sarah found herself swallowing back the bile that lurched up her throat. She turned her head in disgust at the sights around her, watching in horror as the Spaniard lifted his sword, still dripping with blood, high in the air and aimed it at one of the young men who knelt before him.
With a single swipe of the cutlass, the young man’s head became detached from his shoulders, thumping like a ripe melon across the bloody planks toward her. His lifeless body crumpled at the pirate’s feet, twitching its final moments, while blood flowed like a fountain from his headless neck. The terrible sights were worse than any nightmare the woman could possibly have imagined. Even the Indian massacre had been civilized compared to this.
Laughter erupted from the pirate. His head falling backward as he basked in the horrors he caused among innocent people, whose only crime was to sail on a ship that bore the colors of King George III. The old man’s sorrowful cries ceased momentarily, as he reached for a sword left lying on the deck near his wife’s lifeless body. He hurled himself toward it with the speed of a youthful hawk, plunging himself on the razor- sharp shaft, taking his own life in an act more merciful than any he could hope for from his captors.
The Spaniard showed no sympathy, no remorse. He simply continued to laugh. The cruel, disgusting sound of his mirth echoed around the stillness of the ocean. At last he spoke, his tone deep and thick with accent, as he ordered his men to take the last remaining man, who had been vomiting violently near his friend’s headless body, and place him on the gangplank, already set in place.
A large man, nearly the size as the one who remained with Sarah, stepped forward. His long red-blonde hair blew loosely about his sweaty face and bare shoulders, his sun aged face emotionless and as cold as stone on the frozen winter ground. He lifted the man up by the arm in a single jerk, ignoring his pitiful pleas for mercy and forced him toward the narrow wooden walkway, that was used to welcome passengers on board. He shoved the boy forward on to the plank, then raised his sword and made him walk forward toward the end.
The captain’s laughter ceased momentarily, long enough for him to pull a gun from his waistband and point it at the man’s back. A shot rang out as the bullet impaled the young man in the shoulder. He cried out in pain as blood instantly soaked his soot-covered shirt. His feet stumbled, as he fought to keep his stance, but too quickly the pain overtook him, and his knees buckled beneath him. The board was wet and slippery with the spray of the ocean’s water, and the narrow spacing of the plank made his ability to contain his balance impossible.
He stumbled over his own feet until he fell into the ocean’s relentless cold depths. Blade’s laughter erupted again, this time louder than before, while he watched his prisoner’s blood tint the green water of the sea, his body bobbing in the ocean as his gasps for life sounded audibly, up from the depths of Hades. His laughter continued as the pirates watched the man struggle to stay afloat, then the murderous sounds of screaming rose in the sky, as the man’s bruised and tortured body began to be devoured by the hungry sharks, brought up from the deep by the promise of fresh meat. The crunching sounds of bones breaking, and jaws snapping, caused the woman’s already queasy stomach to jerk violently as she clung to her child even harder.
It was their turn. There was nobody left alive to torment, and Sarah’s prayers came verbally to her lips again. Her only chance was to try for the knife hanging from the pirate’s side, killing both her and her daughter before the barbarian would have the pleasure. As if sensing the woman’s intentions, the man next to her leaned close, whispering against her ear.
“Don’t make it worse on yourself, Lass,” he told her, his hand moving to the hilt of his knife, assuring her he knew her thoughts all too well.
The woman’s tears sprang to her bloodshot eyes again and she hugged her daughter’s shoulders in a death grip.
“Well now,” the Spaniard said at last, his accented tone deep as he turned his menacing gaze to Sarah. “What do we have here, Amigos?”
He walked with deliberate slowness toward the woman, his tongue slithering out to wet his sun cracked lips, like a snake testing his surroundings. The woman remained silent, refusing to offer her name. What good would it do? There would never be any record of their deaths, no stones to mark their burial spot, nobody to mourn their demise or place flowers at their graves.
“Looks like we have ourselves a real beauty here, men,” the captain growled, reaching out a calloused hand and capturing Sarah’s quivering chin, tilting her head up so he could inspect her lovely, tear streaked features closer.
“What say we take this one back aboard with us?” he shouted, laughing at the horror shining in her blue eyes. “She could prove a rather nice distraction, but I don’t think we’ll need that one.”
He yanked Elizabeth free of her mother’s embrace, smiling as the child screamed for Sarah who reached out for her, struggling against the strong arms holding her back.
“No, please,” the woman pleaded through her tears, frantic to grasp her daughter’s hand. “You can’t do this, please, I’m begging you.”
“Why can’t I?” the captain demanded in amusement. He didn’t care much for being ordered around, especially by an English woman, but he did find her courage humorous. “She’s too scraggly to be of any use to us, and too young for our pleasures.”
“My family is very wealthy,” Sarah explained quickly. “My father will pay you ransom, just please don’t hurt my daughter.”
“Well, lads, looks like our little-toy is a debutant.”
The captain’s mocking tease ended in an outburst of laughter, exposing a mouth full of rotting teeth for Sarah to see for the first time.
“Could take us weeks to get paid and in the meantime, we’re forced to cater to you and your brat. How do you suggest you pay for your food and board?”
“I’ll do anything, just please don’t harm my child.”
The captain’s laughter exploded again, as he thrust the girl back toward her mother, who quickly wrapped her in a tight embrace.
“With luck this will be a very long cruise, Signora,” he snorted, watching as Sarah closed her eyes against images of his meaning. “Alright, Amigos,” the captain continued, looking at the woman with lustful eyes. “Let’s get what we came for and get out of here. This English barge is making me ill.”
The men began searching the ship for anything of value, while the captain turned to the man holding Sarah’s arm.
“Take her to my cabin and see that you scrub that English stench off her before I get there. I don’t like bedding putas.”
“And the girl?” asked the man.
His features were stern and set, his long sun-bleached white hair blowing freely about his shoulders, tangling in the gold loop earring hanging from his ear.
“So long as the wench does as she’s told, the brat will live. I don’t care what you do with her so long as you keep her out of my sight. Consider it an act of generosity, Signora,” the pirate sneered to Sarah as he reached out a hand and squeezed a breast that strained against the material of her sweaty bodice, then turned and left his man to carry out his orders.
The white-haired man walked forward, pulling her and the sobbing child along beside him as they crossed the bloody deck to the side of the ship. Sarah looked down, thinking briefly about jumping over, taking her chances with the sharks still circling about in the water. She glanced up at the large man next to her, realizing how pointless the attempt would be, as he bound a thick rope tightly around the woman’s waist and instructed her to hold on tight. He pushed her forward, swinging her across the distance that separated the two vessels and into the waiting arms of his fellow shipmates on the other side. Sarah looked back in time to see the pirate follow her on another rope, his arms wrapped tightly around Elizabeth’s tiny body.
“Keep your mouth shut and do as you’re told, Lass,” the pirate warned Sarah gently, the look in his eyes both sympathetic yet stern. “If you want your daughter to live, you’ll do what he wants. You have my word. The girl will be safe and unharmed.”
With that said, he pushed her into the captain’s cabin and locked the door, leaving her to fear her fate alone. She listened through the closed barrier as the man barked orders to bring water for her bath. Tears once again sprang to her eyes. Sarah slid down the cold wooden door, her arms wrapping around her bent knees.
“Dear God,” Sarah prayed, “Please protect my little Elizabeth, and please give me the courage to face this purgatory set before me.”
Four months had passed, but still there was no word from England. Sarah had kept her promise to Blade, the pirate captain. She never fought his attentions, never argued his advances, even when he took her by force on the deck in broad daylight, with his crew standing to watch. As a little girl of six, Elizabeth couldn’t understand any of what was happening, yet the crew tried their best to ease her fears, and keep her spirits up, until the ransom demanded by their captain arrived.
The pirate who had found them hiding on the British ship, was Blade’s second in command, Stormy. The name earned because of his white hair, stern eyes, and unusually cold disposition. He appeared menacing as he barked orders to the men, his tone filled with warning and venom. A true pirate by nature. Elizabeth was terribly frightened to be so far away from her mother, and was terrified of the Spaniard, who was keeping them apart. She avoided the hateful man at all costs, which wasn’t very difficult, since he never sought her out and the crew seemed to go out of their way to keep her hidden. She wasn’t sure if the captain even knew she was still on board.
Stormy’s cold disposition quickly warmed around the girl and his manner became kinder, helping to ease Elizabeth’s fears, somewhat. He treated her with the gentleness of an old uncle, bringing her food and water and holding her tight when she awoke with nightmares, wiping her tears and soothing her fears, away as the ship rocked and groaned against the ocean’s waves.
He would sneak her in to see her mother as often as he could, usually after the captain had fallen into a drunken state of unconsciousness. He was stern and harsh with the other men, yet Elizabeth knew by the way they treated him that he had earned their respect and admiration, even more than the captain himself did.
The other pirates were somewhat younger than Stormy yet experienced in the ways of the sea. They were all rough and vulgar in their actions. Swearing, spitting, fighting and drinking, but they were never anything but kind to Elizabeth and her mother. Each took turns keeping Blade busy while Sarah was taken extra rations of food and water, or given secret visiting sessions with her daughter.
Nearly every day, Elizabeth would overhear one of the men tell Stormy, he had heard Blade threaten to kill her mother again, stating her family hadn’t sent the ransom she had promised. Then another would swear he heard the man vow never to let her go, telling her she was the most beautiful woman he had ever known. Elizabeth herself, had heard him state - rather vulgarly - how enjoyable her mother was to have around. This bothered the child in ways even she could not understand.
As the days turned into weeks, and weeks into months, Elizabeth found her fear of Blade turning to anger. The burning hatred began to consume her every breath, until her nightmares turned from blood covered retreats, to the man’s demise. She dreamt of his death in the many ways in which she had seen him kill the people, of the ships they would challenge, and her heart was beginning to harden with the experiences she encountered.
The men who occupied the ship were becoming her friends, rather than her captors, and she was even shown how to repair the sails, braid the ropes that were left weathered and worn by the sea, and swab the deck. Much to Sarah’s ignorance, Stormy was teaching her to wield a weapon and hold a sword, though the latter was extremely heavy and difficult to lift.
After weeks of confinement, and three British ships sank by the barbarian’s hand, Blade eased his stern hold on Sarah, allowing her a few hours each day to sit on the deck of the ship, but always within his sight. He didn’t trust her by any means, mainly because of her English heritage. Yet he didn’t trust that his crew wouldn’t be tempted to trespass on what he felt was his private property. He knew, as did the men who served him, Sarah was possibly the most beautiful woman they had ever encountered. Blade’s lust for her was becoming an obsession and this began to bother Stormy. He feared that when the time came, his captain may not let his prisoner leave, and this would certainly drive Sarah to attempt an act, sure to get her and Elizabeth killed.
Late one afternoon, Blade found Sarah sketching the scenes of the crew at work, with bits of coal from the fire in his cabin and scraps of wrapping paper from her supper’s rolls. She drew everything she could see or think of, images of their daily life, the ship, the ocean, and even images of her home in England. It was at this time his vanity grew, ordering her to paint his portrait. He was uncharacteristically impressed with her talent and unique style of making her drawings seem to come to life.
One of the treasures claimed from a ship they had attacked some weeks prior, was a suitcase of art supplies, its dead owner an art student from France, according to a journal found among the belongings. Sarah was an accomplished artist in her own right, who loved to draw and paint, but giving into this man’s desires was difficult.
At first, she had refused. Her talent was far too special to her heart, to allow her to sketch any part of this madman. But after a very serious beating that left her with a black eye, several bruises and a jaw that felt broken, she reluctantly relented. She sat for hours every day sketching the man, drawing him at work, and even in bed, as his perverse arrogance insisted an intimate portrait was also needed.
Life on board the pirate ship actually settled into a barbaric-type of a normal routine. One that Elizabeth easily adapted to. She would see her mother daily, learn what she could from the pirates who tended her, and hid when the time came to attack another ship. She no longer feared death and rarely felt frightened when Blade ordered the plundering of another ship. She even found his relentless bellowing rarely bothered her as much as it once had. She still had a problem with the sounds of torture, though, and hard as she tried, she could never develop a skin tough enough to shield her from it.
One of the pirates Elizabeth liked a great deal, was called Laddie. He was naturally good-natured, with long blondish-orange hair and a rough Scottish accent. She enjoyed talking with him at length, and even won several rounds of dice, after he reluctantly yielded to her insistence to learn. He was kind and funny, telling her tails about fairies and leprechauns. He tried to keep the child’s spirits up by teaching her to play poker and giving her a doll confiscated in one of the raids.
He would tell her jokes and made up stories and whittled a small flute that he was teaching her to play. Like his friend Stormy, Laddie sported a large gold ring in his left ear. He told her it was to let all who saw him know he had survived capture from another pirate. He assured her, it was rare to live after a pirate captured you, then instantly regretted his comments when he saw the horror on the little girl’s face. Weeks passed by before Elizabeth was comfortable enough to talk with the Scotsman again.
One night, not long after being put to bed, Elizabeth overheard Laddie speaking to Stormy, about how long it was taking for a reply from England. They had stopped several times over the months in different ports, had attacked more than half a dozen ships, and yet they had never received the demanded ransom from Sarah’s father. Stormy stated his concern, worried that the captain would become bored with his English play-toy and dispose of her.
The idea didn’t set well with Laddie, since that meant killing both mother and daughter. Remarkably, the long months at sea had made the crew grow very protective of the small child. Her dark auburn hair reminding all of them of a girl, or a mother, or a sister they had left somewhere long ago.
Elizabeth curled into a tight ball, in the hammock Stormy had made for her in the crews hold, and bit back her anger and pain. How much longer before her grandfather sent the money the captain wanted? How much longer must she see her mother abused, hear the pain in her voice when they spoke, and hide the tears when they were forced apart again? Why didn’t her grandfather send word? Why didn’t he help them? How could he be so mean as to turn his back on them, when her mother needed him so badly?
Silently she vowed, as she had heard the crew do so many times before. If they ever got out of this alive, she would kill her grandfather for his neglect of them. He would pay dearly for turning them out and forcing them to endure the evil torments of Blade the Barbarian.