A Pirate's Life

Updated: Mar 14, 2021

A Pirate’s Life






“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 produc