A Pirate’s Life
THE WICKED MAN FLEES
THOUGH NO ONE PURSUES,
BUT THE RIGHTEOUS
ARE AS BOLD AS A LION
“Ahoy on deck, we’ve a need. Shan’t we come aboard?” With hands cupped around his mouth, the young boy shouted frantically, kneeling in the bow of the dingy as it twisted in the churning sea. Behind him, a determined friend rowed frantically. They battled for hours, the cresting waves growing increasingly capable of swallowing up and crushing their small craft like a wooden match. The two were exhausted and frightened. They fought the powerful sea, rapidly daunted in their plight, and searching beyond hope for a rescuer.
The unforgiving ocean thundered in white-tipped squalls. It was restless and churning. The sea was agitated, much more since they first spied the huge sailing ship. That ship now seemed to represent their only thready hope. Upon beginning their trek, the sky was a brilliant azure blue. However, as they approached the massive vessel, the sky became overcast and covered with the reddish haze so common of late.
With determined skill, the two paddled the dwarfed craft to flank the mighty sailing craft. The leader boy grabbed frantically for a rope ladder lowered for their ascent. He secured the boat, and the two boys began scampering for apparent safety to the deck above. The ladder twisted in the howling wind as the last rungs approached. A strong arm grasped the scruff of their shirts and rudely pulled the boys, one by one, sprawling to the wooden deck.
Whether they expected such a welcome was not apparent from the boys’ valiant expressions. Thrown tumbling to the deck in a tangled pile, they looked up with brave but tentative countenances. A less than welcoming crew surrounded them quickly.
The two young boys dressed in simple common garments. Clothed in salt-water-drenched, rough-cut, brown, cowhide cotes, they wore frayed, braided ropes tied loosely at the waist as belts. Each seemed to have outgrown their well-worn trousers. They reached mid-calf, stretched, and constructed of coarsely woven cloth. Bare, near-frozen feet, completed their ensemble.
The boy, who seemed to be the leader, had light brown hair with sun-bleached ends, short and spiked on top with a dab of pine tar. He had dark piercing brown eyes, with the hint of a dimple in his chin. His suntanned shoulders were bare and muscular. There was a crude black insignia smeared upon the left. The second boy carried slightly darker, sun-streaked brown hair with a wisp falling over his brow. The two were cold, wet, and frightened as they looked upon an ominous welcome.
Towering before them stood the buccaneer known as Balaam, captain of the sailing ship and self-proclaimed master of the sea. Seldom mistaken for handsome, the crude man owned a deeply lined face, chiseled and coarsened from years of sun and sea. His left nostril was devoid of its lateral attachment to his cheek, residual gifts from a previous sword fight. A dirty black bandanna adorned his balding, mangy head. He was toothless, a fact only evident during the rare event of a smile. A black stubble of beard covered his grubby mug. Foreboding in his black frock uniform, an unsheathed dagger dangled ominously from a thick and greasy stained leather belt. A ragtag, filthy, salty crew, neither looking upon the new passengers with any fatherly love, completed the welcoming party.
Out of place on Balaam’s greasy being sat a brilliantly colored and manicured parrot. The bird’s radiant appearance seemed to mock the captain’s primitive facade. The parrot continually walked side to side on the pirate’s shoulder in a frantic pace. Its sharp bill made one wonder whether the story of Balaam’s nostril might reside with the beak of this powerful bird.
The man’s appearance was frightening for sure, but what distinguished Balaam was a severely diseased respiratory system. His breathing was labored and rapid, which the pirate cultivated in almost glee. The coarse man suffered from bronchiectasis, a chronic disease in which there is destruction of the lung tissue. Resulting large lung pockets collected pus-filled bronchial secretions. Bronchiectasis is the result of tuberculosis. In Balaam’s case, he seemed well compensated. He functioned admirably, seeming almost happy for his disability, save his continual wheezing and coughing.
Characteristic of the disease, Balaam was an accomplished creator of thick, purulent sputum. With camel-like ruthlessness, he could launch these projectiles. Without warning, he could nail with pinpoint accuracy, whatever or whomever he decided to purge his wrath.
The two boys seemed like baggage before the ruthless group. Soon they were questioning their wisdom and choice of this savior. After examining the cowering boys tossed unceremoniously at Balaam’s feet, an insincere toothless smile greeted the boys.
“Me… nice… young… laddies,” Balaam questioned with sarcastically concerned glee. “What has you’ se to say fer you’ se? What cause has the likes of you’ se fer a sea like this?” He raised two greasy hands as he questioned the boys. “Passengers, mighty poorly they do on the Boar’s frigate. Aye mates?”
With that, the pirate turned to his semblance of a crew, gathering to surround the two helpless boys. Tossing a self-serving wave of his hand, he expected and received dull nods of approval and ghoulish laughter. This response might be as with a neighborhood bully, comforted by a besotted gang.
Quite a tattered group gathered to support the captain. Most dressed in plain black knickers. Shirts, when worn, were torn and soiled with sweat and gunpowder. Primitive tattoos, most vile and suggestive, decorated the majority of the filthy sailors. The motley crew brandished swords to the boys’ dismay, and musket-pistols within their belts suggested that this was not a pleasure cruise.
One such person wore a wooden peg leg. Carved upon it, was a scantily clothed miss for all to worship. Not a clean-shaven face decorated the crowd. Most of the sailors displayed poorly trimmed mustaches or ragged beards.
As Balaam spoke, the parrot squawked, the bird appearing to add punctuation to the captain’s tortured words. The bird insisted as well on summarizing the captain at each pause. “Poorly they do-Mates,” the parrot repeated.
Each squawk and comment received a grimace of displeasure from the captain. The parrot’s last remarks were all that he could stand. In disgust, Balaam turned and, using the back of his hand, struck the bird, knocking him to the deck in a cloud of feathers.
“Vile creature… torment me no more,” said the pirate, as if this was a common but intolerable nuisance.
The parrot shook off this insult without a beat. The bird ruffled its feathers and tossed back its head. Clawing upright, the bird stood, and then rose confidently from the deck. Unfazed, he flew with some caution back to the captain’s shoulder.
Balaam paid little attention to the parrot, concentrating now on the two visitors. The gang closed in on the boys as the interview continued. The group drew tighter, encircling the captives, as the ship tossed in the rough sea. Staring hungrily at the boys, the crew seemed to expect some response.
The leader boy now rose and stood stiffly at attention. He motioned to his friend and helped him to his feet in deference to the captain. With reluctance, the two beleaguered boys now faced the threatening scene.
“Captain, sir,” the leader said to Balaam with a hint of fearful hesitation. “To your great ship and capable crew, we are beholding for our lives. Not more than an hour ago, my father’s ill-fated ship ran aground and alas, is now helplessly doomed to this thrashing sea.”
Dropping his head in palpable anguish, a silent sob came to his lips as the boy continued his saga. “To you, sir, we beg for assistance. My father may soon be in a watery grave, and as for the ship, its contents, we must not lose, for the good of the kingdom!” The boy now raised his head bravely to face Balaam with a tearful but determined eye.
Following with interest the course of the boy’s sad saga, the pirate seemed to relish their hopeless plight. There grew, on Balaam, an increasingly sarcastic grin. The sickeningly despotic crew met this by supportive hoots and howls. The parrot squawked in a rhythmic avian pattern. Pacing back and forth on the man’s shoulder, the bird brandished his menacing beak. The man deftly caught the boy’s trailing remarks. With the suggestion of the ship’s precious contents, a benevolent change came over the toothless countenance of Balaam.
The parrot was a quick study, rapidly grasping the statement’s significance as well. “Squawk, treasure…Balaam needs treasure,” screeched the rainbow-colored bird.
The remark again brought quick anger to the pirate. He controlled himself for the moment, however, reconsidering the case. An idea now coursed through Balaam’s mind. He tolerated the bird temporarily, silently scrutinizing the boy’s account. The pirate smiled, and slyly approached the boys. Placing a soiled, gnarled hand on each of the boy’s shoulders, he went on. “And to what might be on that ship? Oh, such young laddies, and in a sea such as this? It saddens me, heart, it does,” Balaam said with his most sincere visage.
“Why gold, silver, and jewels such as I have never seen, master,” the leader boy responded. “To Alucemet with haste, we must return, securing our contents within the castle hold against sure and certain pilfering. But sir, our ship now lies in the sea unprotected and my father!” With that, the boy dropped to his knees in respect to the sailor hoping for merciful intervention, bravely quenching back tears.
The friend now dropped quickly to the floor to comfort the boy with a gentle hand. Adding quietly in the leader’s ear, just audible to the group, he reassured him. “Nicholas, the treasure was lost once. It may be lost again. That is of no importance. Your father, he will be saved, of that I am certain!”
Silence followed, punctuated only by the bronchiectatic wheezing of the man. The captain pondered his predicament. The parrot stopped his pacing for the moment, turning an intelligent eye and considering the boys as well.
For the pirate, his labored brain was only now realizing this fortunate turn of fate. Here was a man who sailed the seas, dedicated to the theft of treasure. Could this story possibly be true? Had fate finally cast itself in his deserving direction. Did providence drop into his lap what he so nobly stole at every opportunity? He scratched his half-shaven beard and turned to the crew. Staring in disbelief, he tried to hide his growing excitement.
The boys jumped nervously, as the pirate returned to examine them again. Without warning, the shabby man produced a purulent sputum. He expelled the package with violent force. Skimming over their heads, it dropped harmlessly in the crashing sea.
The parrot spoke up. The bird seemed to know the man as dim-witted. It knew the situation and wished secretly to signal a possible windfall. “Balaam loves children, squawk.”
The captain grimaced with anger, turning his head toward the bird. He caught himself suddenly, now adopting an attitude of agreement. He nodded in response to the statement and seemed to look approvingly upon the bird.
“Yes…. Balaam do. Yes… yes…. Balaam do like children he does. Love… loves children, me do. And, be clear on that, my little ones.” Balaam returned his attention once again to the boys with an overly concerned voice and sickening smile. “My dear laddies. Worry, not your head. Balaam will serve you.” He turned to the motley crew, expecting a show of support for his newly found benevolence.
The crew was neither the brightest nor the quickest group to sail the mighty seas. Their lues-infested minds were even slower than the dull-witted captain’s. It seemed that the bird possessed the only brain capable of tax returns. Slowly, the crew began to understand the change in the captain’s goal. Menacing scowls then melted into concerning smiles of insincere love. Punctuated by blackened and missing teeth, their devious smiles exposed a malodorous bouquet to the young boys.
“And where might one search out a ship such as this?” the captain questioned. “Ah, we aims only to help you’ se poor shipwrecked father, mind you’ se laddys,” The crew agreed in unison, nodding their heads in the affirmative supporting their suddenly loving captain.
With rapidity, as if memorized, the boy fired back. “33 degrees north latitude by 118 degrees west longitude! Ah… that be if I’m not mistaken… ah… sir.” He added as a second thought looking down now at the deck.
Balaam thought for some time, chewing on a stubby nub of a finger. The boy’s quick response troubled him, and he seemed concerned with its details. Staring down at the captives with a questioning scowl, he considered the two frightened boys. The parrot, always the conversationalist, was silent. The bird seemed to examine the two cold and wet refugees. Perhaps the bird’s silence assured the captain. After some consideration, his toothless smile slowly returned. Now quite confident and delighted in himself, he turned quickly to face the crew.
Smiling a toothless confident smile Balaam yelled. “We’ se a mercy mission we’ se do.” With a dismissing wave of his hand, the captain dispersed his men to their stations throughout the ship.
The sky grew darker, and the sea more ominous during this discourse. The wind was now blowing with gale force. The huge sailing ship twisted on the restless sea. Thick rusty haze surrounded them, blotting out the overhead sun.
As the crew spread out along the ship, the leader boy turned and delicately addressed the pirate. “Captain, sir…” he said in a quiet but sure voice. Balaam stopped and turned a questioning eye to the boy. “If I may be so bold, my mightiest of captains as if curtained, the sky darkens with each moment!” Expecting a response, the boy stopped at this point without finishing his thought.
Balaam returned now to the boy’s side. He wheezed impatiently, “get on with it, boy, what be’s in you’ se minds?”
“Well, forward it is for one such as I to suggest to one of your stature sir… but why must you and your crew go to all ends of this vessel?”
Balaam took delight in what he felt was the boy’s ignorance. The pirate laughed at the child fiendishly. Placing a greasy hand upon his shoulder, he responded, “a ship has many a job, my boy.”
Before the captain could continue, the boy spoke again with bravery. “With reluctance kind sir, but may I be so bold? For it strikes me, experience in these matters I have none mind you, but it seems that in a sea such as this more eyes rather than less are worthwhile to locate a ship so small and so precious, I might add.”
The captain now barred down on the boy with impatience. A malodorous cascade caused the boys to grimace. The pirate seemed to consider and then decline the launch of his ample supply of sputum. “Babble no more boy. What’s you’ se to say!”
“It would strike me, so honorable captain, that just for the moment, if you would, to the foredeck, move all of your devoted crew. With eyes trained at our goal, would we not sight that goal more surely? Instead of breaking up to their usual posts, that is…kind sir. We have no enemy to fear other than visual contact; I would venture to guess.”
With an evil twisted smile, the captain pondered the boy’s suggestion. He rubbed his scraggly beard for a long, thoughtful moment. He seemed to be enjoying his position of intimidation. He reeled in it really, playing this point of control, towering over the boy. In truth, the pirate could not have cared less about the youth’s predicament, save, of course, the treasure.
On cue, a stridorous roar began as the pirate produced a wad from deep within his rattling lungs. Rolling his tongue around, he examined the result. Expressing apparent dissatisfaction, Balaam swallowed the tenacious wad of sputum rather than expectorate an inferior product.
Without acknowledgment of the boys, Balaam turned to the crew, denouncing them for their mistake. “You foolish brood, he screamed! We’ se need more lookouts we’ se do see to it.” As he yelled, he directed the crew to the forward deck for trained observation upon the source of their rescue attempt.
As the captain moved to the helm, Balaam dismissed the boys without a nod. Pointing a greasy finger, he directed the peg-legged crewmember to take the boys below. “For ther’ se protection,” he added with an insincere snarl. Finally satisfied, Balaam produced a greenish wad of sputum. He launched it with a forceful spit. The package flew across the ship, dropping to the sea below.
The two boys appreciated the warmth of the hold. They sat and huddled together around a small burning torch, rubbing and blowing on their frozen fingers. From their sojourn within the small craft, both were soaked and exhausted. Dwarfed in the belly of the huge craft, the two-eyed with curiosity a latched porthole. Above their heads, the thick glass window gave a clouded view of the ocean outside. The leader boy nodded in its direction, his friend shaking his head in silent agreement.
It was not to be a long reprieve. The two just began to warm from the harrowing experience, when they were rudely returned to the deck for a second audience with the captain. Pointing excitedly off the starboard bow, the pirate looked to the boys for confirmation that a visibly scuttled ship was the intended prize.
A few hundred yards across the sea stood a stranded sailing vessel, twisting and moaning in the heavy sea. The ship appeared deserted and wrecked, having journeyed too close to the mainland in low tide. With lowered sheets, the craft labored in the heavy winds. Seemingly abandoned, the ship’s crew, father included, were nowhere in sight. The captain was quite excited and proud of himself when he heard the boy’s affirmative reply.
“That is our vessel, sir, but my father seems already lost!” Dropping his head in dismay, tears began to form. The brave boy tried to fight them away. His friend turned to comfort him, placing his arm upon his shoulder.
The captain had another question for the boys. “And to what might all those nets be me, lad?”
Balaam was referring to a dense collection of fish netting hanging bow to stern just above the waterline on the shipwrecked craft. On a ship of this sort, their function was not immediately apparent to the wizened old captain. The pirate turned to the boys, towering over them with intimidation, demanding an explanation.
“Why with only those could the treasure be brought to the deck, sir. Fail you to recall the shipwreck, Bailsmith, scuttled at sea in the year of our Lord, eight hundred and fifty-eight? Why just where we stand it was, and in a sea, much as today it seems. The noble ship went down to its fate. Loaded with treasure, goes the tale. My father,” the boy’s words stumbled before he could continue. “A good… and fair man. King William commissioned him to search the bottom to right that tragic loss for the glory of our Lord. And right it, he did, were it not for this sea.” The boy now looked to the pirate for reassurance. “Sir, I am troubled, though. We must hurry. I see, not my father!”
The boy’s response lifted the captain’s last ray of suspicion. The excitement was building with his good fortune. With a long rattling wheeze, he produced a foul gob of decaying lung. With violent accuracy, he powerfully expelled it. The package flew, just by the boys’ heads, splashing with ceremony into the sea.
Quite elated with these events, Balaam motioned to the one-legged crewmember. With an evil laugh, he spoke to the leader boy. “You’ se shall see that father, straight away, you’ se will. Purneshench, me vile, and wretched friend. Show me friends, a nice swim in the drink will you’ se? Methinks they honor the plank. Yes sir, and delightfully, they do.” With an aside, the captain laughed, “and of course, methinks it for the glory of our Lord!”
With that, the captain dismissed the boys to an uncertain fate. Moving now with quickness to the forward deck, he seemed to dream of ill-gotten gains and gold. The buccaneer’s luck for once matched his misused talents. He nearly ran to accept the scuttled ship, lying in wait for easy taking.
The wooden-legged pirate jumped forward with glee, turning his ghoulish attention to the convicted youngsters. Pruneshench was quick for a peg-legged man. He took his job seriously, for torture was his chosen profession. He pushed the two boys roughly across the craft and forced them to their wobbling knees. The crew quickly produced two narrow wooden planks laid just so over the edge of the ship, each counterbalanced by the weight of a gleeful sailor.
It seemed all too clear now to the young boys. A foul pirate, with malfunctioning lungs, betrayed their faith. The trusting eyes, so true of childhood, now changed to a countenance of frightened terror.
In silence, the men directed each boy, forced at sword point, to the edge of their respective planks. They had a desolate date with a churning watery precipice. Their outcome, it seemed, now bleak and forlorn. Two boys, whose only fault was misplaced faith.
Pruneshench wasted little time. Drawing his sword, he coaxed the two trusting boys out onto their plank. “Say you’ se prayers laddies,” followed the poor boys as they fell to their fates into the unforgiving sea.
The man turned quickly from his beloved task. His destination, the stern, and the deck below’s beloved band of canons. Had he been more cautious and attentive, the lack of two splashes might have caused curiosity even in his laboring mind.
It seemed as if the parrot had no such pressing assignment for the time. It had observed with interest all of these activities from a nearby mast. The bird now flew and perched upon the ship’s edge above the lost boys. Turning his head first one way then the other, he eyed the sea below with each eye. “Well, I’ll be, squawk,” but no one else seemed interested.
Now content with his view from his telescope, Balaam cast it aside quickly. For good luck, he reached deeply, producing a green, foul specimen, quite pleasing to the pirate. With violent force, he launched the projectile over the side of the ship, his package striking the ocean with a proud splash. Expectantly, Balaam moved quickly to the deck’s edge to view his canonry bank. With rage, he returned and called through the speaking tube to his head gunman below. “Open the canon doors, you dimwit!” Waiting, he heard no reply, and his anger grew.
Pruneshench hobbled with amazing speed, reaching the captain in a total panic. As he approached, the unfortunate man’s face intercepted a flying wad of spit from the captain. A common event, it seemed, for he wiped it away with nary an acknowledgment of the insult. “Captain, the hold’s a-locked and jammed shut from inside, it seems! We shan’t get to those canons fer now.”
Like cogs in a nearly unwound clock, questions now floated slowly through the demented gray matter of the captain’s irate brain. With little time to think, a voice boomed from above. Looking up to the sound, he saw his two former captives, beaming free and defiant.
“Balaam,” the leader boy spoke proudly. “Little Andy, and I wish to thank you for your hospitality. We are beholding to you! Thank you, sir, for your kind and fair treatment.”
High above the deck on the main mast crow’s nest, the two boys stood now splendidly. The leader boy no longer dressed commonly. He wore a white silken shirt, now blowing in the sea wind. Around the boy’s waist was a bright blue sash tied over his hip as a belt. Within it, a sword holstered without a sheath. Confident brown eyes stared down in defiance at the wheezing pirate.
Little Andy, his fellow stowaway, reached for a rope secured just below the nest. This boy as well brandished steel, and an odd black patch covered his left eye. The two beamed here-to-fore hidden smiles as they swung without hesitation from the mast. Flying with obvious experience down upon the bewildered captain, the two boys landed with agility at the foot of their apparent prey.
The first cannonball struck as Balaam fully realized his critical error. It shattered the deck, sending crew and wooden fragments flying in a fiery ball of flame. Several more hit their target in rapid succession. Soon the ship and crew were in a frantic condition.
The captain turned his attention from the insolent boys. He stared in horror out over the sea to his shipwrecked prey. Baring down upon the pirate was the same ship obviously without disability and sailing now full of sail with canons blasting. The supposed treasure gathering nets were now swept away. Replacing them, just below the deck, was a bank of twelve blazing cannons, each rapidly punctuating the circumstances with fire. They had turned a trap on the pirate. With his canon hold locked, and the deck braking up, blazing flames began.
The captain returned in a frenzy to face the boys. The circumstances had now rapidly changed. Balaam stared in horror upon them, realizing his mistake. The leader boy stepped forward, and he motioned to his friend to see to the boarding. Coughing and sputtering, the angry pirate was now surrounded by enemy cannon fire, a sinking splintering ship, and this rogue of a boy with whom he must deal with quickly. Balaam drew his saber standing his ground.
The boy seemed amused at the thought, smiling quietly at the captain. He drew his sword slowly, looking to savor the moment. With confidence and glee, he moved to engage his prior captor.
The boy’s determination was too much for the cowardly pirate. Once the master of the sea, a ship full of booty had almost been his. Now his world was splintering and ablaze around him. How could a boy outsmart me, a seaworthy giant? The captain thought in horror. Balaam was not about to be run-in by the boy’s blade. He did what he did so often before; he turned to run.
Balaam dropped his blade, planning to exit quickly. Before he could, the determined boy was upon him. Grabbing his belt and collar, he hauled the man to the ship’s edge. Here he threw the degenerate captain, wheezing and hacking, into the icy sea below.
The barefooted boy jumped to the deck rail and spied with delight the defeated captain. The pirate was floundering in the rough sea below. He watched the sight for a moment. Then he jumped from the rail to the deck, just beginning to break up from descending cannon rounds.
The boy reached for a filthy life preserver attached to the burning cabin. He lobbed the ring without hesitation over the ship’s edge toward his pitiful defeated prey. “That’s more than you intended for us! To your good health, mate,” he said quietly to himself.
The boy turned his attention now to the burning ship. He rubbed his hands together in anticipation, joyful of his impending capture of an enemy vessel. Instead, he stood on a ship, reeling towards its death. Seawater rushed in through a shattered hull. The ship was on fire, the mainmast crashing to the splintering deck.
Little Andy saw to the ship’s boarding with evident experience. Over the starboard side, twelve pirate boys climbed on board, amid cheers of victory.
When the battle began, Balaam’s entire pirate crew were above deck. They were camped out and vulnerable, at the insistence of the now-defunct captain. Not only were they denied access to the cannons, but they were also unable to maneuver the ship from the deadly enemy fire.
The crew now stood helpless on the bow of the ship. They were in disbelief, the ship breaking up in total disarray. Overwhelmed with surprise, their tide changed from one of absolute victory in a matter of moments to one of inevitable defeat. The first cannonball shattered their hopes and dreams.
With swords and fists, the boys made quick work of the dismayed crew. As with their captain, they were ultimately cowards. One by one, they ran. They found the same fate as Balaam. They abandoned ship with the boys’ help, resigned to floating in the brink with their sinking captain.
Little Andy now returned to his leader with a broad smile. They confidently exchanged looks of victory, as the pirate ship began to break up. The vessel was taking on water quickly, the deck starting to roll with each moment.
“Open that hold if you will Little Andy and make a point to hurry, my friend,” the leader boy instructed. As an afterthought he noticed something on the boy. Stopping his friend for just a moment, he moved his eye patch to the right eye. “There, much better, you hooligan.”
“Hooligans, we be, and proud of it, I should say.” Little Andy laughed, straightening the patch. Referring to his previous order, the boy followed with, “Aye, sir.”
Without hesitation, Little Andy swung over the deck rail, where the boys faced certain death on the plank. Finding his objective, the oval window stood agar below the deck. The boy agilely kicked in the window and scrambled inside. It was a route only designed for a boy.
Inside he moved to the hold’s door. Jammed from within with a wooden post, it purposely denied the defeated crew’s access to the cannonry bank. Little Andy jumped as high as he could and grabbed the oaken beam with both hands. He swung his legs up to push on the massive door. Using all of his strength, he slowly moved the post free of the runners. Abruptly, the beam came loose with a grunt, and his force threw him to the floor below. Twisted, more surprised than hurt, Little Andy looked up as the hold’s door slowly rolled open. The sky was clearing with the victory. Sunlight beamed and blazed through the open hold door. Little Andy squinted as he looked up, flat on his back, and smiling.
Staring down at the fallen boy, the leader boy smiled and shook his head in jest. “Had you needed rest, you had only to ask, my patched friend! A better way to open a door I have never seen, though.” The boy bounded down the ladder to his fallen friend. With a strong hand, he helped him to his feet.
“Thanks, Nicholas,” the patched boy said.
As each moment passed, the shipped reeled, its watery resting place moments away. Smoke began to fill the deck below, as the fires above roared out of control. The two boys moved through the ship quickly. “Just a might much from Sam’s cannons, I would say Little Andy, but we’ve treasure to find,” spoke the leader boy over his shoulder.
The ship was rolling now, making their travel difficult. In front of the boys, water began entering the craft through a broadside canon rent. The blast of water roared, and the boys quickly ducked under, moving toward the ship’s stern. Nicholas slipped on the wet deck. “Wow,” the boy yelled as he slid on his back. He quickly regained his footing, and the two hurried towards a closed-door ahead. They were climbing in elevation as they traveled rearward, along the gloomy hall, the ship’s bow now wholly submerged.
Reaching the vestibule of the passage, a thick heavy door stood, blocking their intended path. Nicholas tried the door’s lock to no avail. He motioned to Little Andy. Using shoulders and body, they both pushed and strained, opening the door. From far above, a huge cracking sound roared as one of the large masts, now afire, fell crashing to the deck.
Once through the door, it became apparent that they were in Balaam’s cabin. Dark, dingy, and thrown in disarray, the stale room reeked of old tobacco. Along one side, a broken wicker hammock swung ajar. It stood partially covered with water, its fall indicating the exaggerated draft of the sinking ship. Cast aside were half-eaten stale crumbs of bread and cheese, littering the plank floor. A small circular map table occupied the center of the cabin, many of its documents now strung out over the deck.
Tucked deep in one corner of the room stood a small-closeted door. Using his blade, Little Andy made quick work of its lock. The door swung open to reveal the source of their dangerous pursuit. A small wooden box rolled out by its weight at their feet. Dropping to his knees, Nicholas opened the trunk. The dim light was sufficient to reveal glowing, precious contents. Gold, silver, and jewel purloin, pinched without permission from the King’s navy, lay within.
The boys were jubilant. They were laughing with big smiles now from ear to ear. “I knew it, Little Andy. Ours again. Bet on this. Balaam tells the Boar nothing of these!”
With the ship sinking rapidly, Nicholas closed the trunk. He then turned with his treasure to their escape. As the boy passed the map table, he stopped abruptly, startled by the document that had rolled open.
Little Andy was already at the door when he noticed the boy’s delay. Turning to his leader with concern, he said, “Nicholas, we must make haste sire, or we shall soon be with this ship on the bottom of the sea!” The boy slipped on the wet floor, grabbed for the door, and righting himself. Looking now to his friend with concern, fright for the first time appeared in the eyes of the brave boy.
Nicholas did not respond. The document had caught his attention, for he stood holding the treasure chest, staring at the parchment with dismay. Again, Little Andy voiced his concern loudly. Nicholas, at last, lifted his head, silently responding to his devoted friend. Something seen had a profound effect on the spirited boy, for suddenly he seemed solemn and changed.
Once one of strength and confidence, Nicholas now stood meek and troubled. Glassy eyed, he stared upon his friend for a moment. Obviously upset, the boy slowly recovered his composure but did not move. With authority, he firmly instructed his friend. “I want you to go on ahead. I shall follow presently. Little Andy, do as I say.”
Something in his tone told his friend that this was not debatable. Little Andy was reluctant. Standing in the door, he wrestled with the command silently. Suddenly he turned and was gone.
Nicholas set the cask on the floor and moved to the flickering candle on the wall. The ship cracked in agony again, twisting and filling with cold ocean water. The boy seemed not to notice. As if in a trance, he removed the candle from its stand and returned to the table. Now with adequate light, Nicholas examined the document. Spreading out the parchment, he slowly drank in its content. Here was a printed proclamation, dark gothic letters describing details of great import.
Sir Alexander of Alucemet Slain at the Hand of Nicholas the Blue
Nicholas stared at the document in disbelief. With an irritable shake of his head, the boy tossed the candle across the room. It immediately was extinguished by the flooding waters now covering the cabin’s floor. Nicholas grabbed the parchment. He stuffed the document in his open shirt. Moving now to the open door, he dragged the trunk behind him.
The situation in the passage had changed for the worse. Flooded now, the boy moved with difficulty along the hallway in search of the open hold door. Soon he was swimming in the icy waters that engulfed the doomed ship. With each moment, the water level rose, debris and fractured pieces of deck floating and clogging his escape.
The boy paddled and reached the hold door, now submerged and swallowed by the sea. Nicholas viewed the scene with horror. The ship had reeled, the bow becoming deeper. The fall of the ship caused the massive oaken hold door to roll shut again. To lift it against gravity and the sea, opening an escape route was impossible. The seawater continued to swell into the craft, a head’s space of air only remaining. Nicholas looked around for an avenue of escape. To return towards the rear of the ship and air would only prolong the inevitable. He remembered their previous entry to the ship. A porthole allowed Little Andy’s entrance somewhere if he could find this only route of escape.
Nicholas made several dives in the dark water, each time frantically exploding back to the surface gasping for air. It was black, deep, and the boy was beginning to tire. With one last effort, he was able to feel his objective, the open porthole. Stretching and straining, he reached for his treasure chest, dragging it close to the opening. Moving quickly now, Nicholas pulled himself through the open porthole to the open sea. His lungs nearly burst as he bobbed to the surface with a gasp. Diving again, returning to the sinking ship, the boy reached within the porthole. Feeling around feverishly, he was at last able to retrieve his treasure chest.
Throwing the chest to the nearly submerged ship’s deck, he pulled himself up. With great difficulty, he stood upon the doomed vessel. Quickly he searched the sky for something. Raising his fingers to his mouth, he let out a long whistle. “Rainbow!” the boy yelled at the top of his lungs. From the single remaining mast, the parrot flew. As if reunited friends, the bird landed gently on the pirate boy’s shoulder.
“Balaam loves children, squawk,” the bird mimicked once again with an ironic bark.
“No longer, I’m afraid, Rainbow,” Nicholas said, shaking his head and laughing intensely to no one but his irascible bird.
Nicholas now searched the sinking ship’s deck. Finding a small piece of planking, he freed it with a deft kick. Moving to the ship’s edge, he placed the trunk on the floating plank. Just as the vessel reeled for the last time, the boy put his sword in his mouth. He then dove from the ship into the swirling sea. With strong strokes, the boy made his way towards the ship in the distance, dragging his captured treasure chest on the floating wooden plank behind him.