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Being A True And Accurate Account of The Fate of His Royal Highness’ Prize Ship Marietta-Anna,
The events here described are a true and accurate account of the events which began with the pursuit of the notorious buccaneer Captain Cyril Rochelle by HRS Harbinger. Three days hence a Board of Inquiry will sit in Port Royal, Jamaica in order to ascertain the facts of the matter. The truth I record here; for the sake of posterity as well as my sanity. What tale I shall recount to my superiors I have yet to decide, though I do not doubt the truth would at best see me branded a fool and at worst a lunatic.
As well as an account of events, I have also recorded my observations, emotions and state of mind, as best as I recollect them. Although aspects of this account may appear fantastical or even absurd, I will swear upon the Holy Bible that sits beside me as I write that everything which follows actually occurred.
I have not recited events prior to the engagement of the Marietta-Anna by HRS Harbinger as they are a matter of undisputed fact and can be verified by Admiralty records and the Harbinger’s log, as maintained by Captain Charles Charde.
We had sighted the brigantine Marietta-Anna on the morning of June 12th, the year of our Lord sixteen hundred and seventy-seven, a vessel known to fly the black flag of piracy that had been recently preying off of honest merchantmen in the Caribee. The wind was to our backs and against the Marietta-Anna allowing us to close rapidly. On recognising us as a ship of His Royal Highness rather than some unfortunate trader the pirate turned tail and unfurled sail in an attempt to flee. However, we had gained much on the ship and she was too sluggish to out run us. By early afternoon we engaged the enemy.
As we closed I stood on the quarter-deck, the knot in my stomach becoming ever tighter, I had dreamed most of my boyhood away waiting this moment, the chance for glory, for danger, to win renown and reward. Now the Marietta-Anna hove into view such thoughts were being dissolved in the tide of my own fears.
The pirate sat low in the water, we surmised her holds must be fully laden with booty, although she was showing full sail, she could not throw our dogged pursuit. Harbinger had been careened but recently and her sleek lines cut through the waves at a fine pace. The buccaneer had only half our guns and a much broader beam, her lines were old and there was an air of age about her: old, but still dangerous. Like an elderly fox still canny enough to find her way into the chicken house. We were faster and stronger, yet still I felt uneasy, I masked my fear and put it down to inexperience. There would only be one outcome to the coming battle.
A sailor stood next to me for a moment; an old dog of a man, his skin burnt to the colour and texture of old leather by countless years under unforgiving suns; I recall his hair was incongruously white against his burnished skin. He screwed his eyes against the glare and viewed the Marietta-Anna through dark hooded slits.
“That’s a black devil of a ship...” he said, spitting on the deck to ward off bad luck, “...you watch yourself on that bitch Mr Lazziard sir.”
“She’s no match for us, Ramsey” I had replied, projecting a boyish confidence I in no way felt.
“Aye, right you are sir... best be safe an send her straight to the bottom though.”
Harbinger took some damage as we closed, but the pirate was no equal. Against lightly armed slavers and merchantmen she might be a fearsome foe, but matched against a modern English warship it proved a one-sided encounter. Though several of her shots found us and sent deckhands scurrying for refuge our first broadside of eighteen pounders tore through her gun deck and as we came about our Master Gunner sent shot tearing through her rigging, bringing burning sails and yard arms down onto her weather deck.
Unlike old Ramsey, the Captain wanted the ship taken in one piece, she would make a fine prize and we closed and boarded in good order, grappling hooks pulling the two ships together. The Harbinger’s company of marines leading the way; Captain Charde had done me the honour of giving me command of the second wave, I had begged him to let me go in first with the marines, fool that I was, but he would hear none of it. If he had done what I asked maybe I would not be sitting here today. Not all of me anyway. I believe he would rather have kept me safe aboard Harbinger far away from the perils of buccaneers; getting Sir Edward Lazziard’s little boy killed is probably something that keeps my good Captain awake at night, but I had no desire to be swaddled like a babe in arms, such was my hot headed desire for danger.
Somehow I managed to clamber across to the Marietta-Anna. Quite how I managed the feat I cannot say, for my limbs were like lead and my hands shook uncontrollably, as they had been from the moment the first shots were fired. I could barely lift my weapons, let alone use them. The reality of warfare was brought home to me in the starkest, most brutal fashion. The canon shot and musket balls ripped apart men around me, though by the grace of God I was left unscathed in body. However, now I look back, it is plain to see that my innocence was another casualty of the engagement, I had dreamed of the glory of war, but there was no glory here; only death and pain.
It is with great shame that I must record that my first taste of combat begun in farce for as soon as my boots landed upon the deck of the Marietta-Anna I slipped and fell heavily upon my arse; there was blood everywhere, blood and worse...
I could see little around me; thick choking smoke from the guns and burning rigging swirled around everywhere, obscuring the battle and smarting my wide terrified eyes. Dimly I saw the ghost-like forms of men moving through the smoke, sometimes joining and merging together as sword met sword, before the smoke thickened again to consume them. It was all but impossible for me to tell friend from foe. Pistols and muskets flared in the gloom and a stray shot splintered the railing above my head. For a terrible moment I considered the possibility that I had been delivered direct to the very furnaces of Hell; Old Nick himself could surely not have mustered more fire and brimstone.
The sensible thing would have been to keep moving, but I was beyond thought. I just sat there like some variety of idiot; listening to the sharp retort of pistols, metal clanging against metal or thudding wetly against flesh; shouts, screams, curses filled the air as thickly as the smoke around me. All I could do was sit and think about that safe comfortable desk my Father had said was waiting for me back in the Admiralty when I tired of all my foolishness.
How long I sat there I cannot say; it seemed like hours, but in reality was probably only seconds. Time becomes a meaningless concept in battle, a trivial invention of more civilised men. I was aware only of the moment and nothing else; thinking of a future, even one a few minutes hence, became a futility as there was a more than fair chance that I would not have one. Eventually I started to move, not charging forward like the daring hero I thought myself to be, but on all fours, scurrying like a baby across the nursery floor. I recall no real plan, just the thought that there had to be a safer place than this.
That was when someone kicked me, or at least I thought someone they had. I screamed and rolled over on the deck expecting to see a pirate’s cutlass sweeping through the smoke towards my skull. Instead my fuddled brain noticed the sprawled figure of a buccaneer near me, desperately trying to get to his feet; running in the smoke and confusion he had clearly not expected to encounter one of His Majesty’s officers crawling across the deck and tripped over me. His sword had fallen from his hand and he was struggling to regain his feet; I do not know whether it was because of all the blood or simply his fear, but he kept slipping on the slick deck. He looked up and saw me, eyes widening as I raised my pistol. I remember him mouthing the word “Please!”
As I pulled the trigger I felt my bladder loosen and my groin became hot and wet.
He was barely three feet away. I could hardly miss. Looking back at my memories I find I cannot remember what he looked like before I shot him, but I will never forget his terrible aspect afterwards. The ball must have gone through his mouth and into his brain; there were teeth, blood, bone and grey matter, everywhere. He slumped to the deck, his ruined face towards me; his eyes full of pain, accusation and no little surprise.
I am sorry to say the sight of him made me throw up all over my uniform. I had killed my first man but neither the butchery nor the vomit over my uniform had left me feeling particularly heroic.
Even though I knew he must have died instantly, as he lay there on the deck his eyes seemed to lock with mine, big black eyes; a woman’s eyes, almost. I thought of all the things those eyes must have seen, and the last was of me, William Lazziard, a terrified seventeen year old with piss stained britches, scrabbling around on the blood soaked deck of a pirate ship wildly waving a pistol at him. I sat there looking at him, puke dribbling down my chin and shaking like a Quaker.
That was when he winked at me.
I have heard corpses can do all kinds of twitching and bobbing about, sailors like nothing more than to share the most gruesome of tales with their rum. I had heard them say it is the man’s soul, not quite ready to meet its maker that makes a body dance so; it hangs to the flesh by its finger tips not wanting to release its grip on mortality. Such stories seemed hollow to me in that moment as I looked upon those dark eyes set above the ruin of a face.
I thought simply that it was the Devil playing a little game with me. The wink had seemed almost conspiratorial; the kind of wink you might give someone to let them in on a little secret. Like the Devil was saying, “This one will do for now, but don’t fret Billy boy, I’ll be back for you soon enough. I’ve got my eye on you boy...”
Such was my welcome aboard that accursed ship.
The battle for the Marietta-Anna was short and bloody, I would like to report I played some valiant part in that struggle and discharged my duty to King and country with honour, but I swore that this would be a true and accurate account in all respects and I will stay loyal to that one pledge, at least. Therefore, I must confess that I paid little heed to the battle. Instead I scampered across the deck with no thought but escaping a dead man. I had so little care that I smacked my head on a winch hanging from the damaged rigging. The next thing I recall was waking up in a nice safe little spot under some fallen canvas. It’s not the kind of act that fills me with pride, but all I could see was the grinning bloody face of the first man I’d ever killed, winking at me like he knew something that I did not.
Some distant sane part of me noticed the sounds of battle had faded; gradually the screams subsided to sobs, cursed cries were replaced with barked orders. So the terror that consumed my soul receded to be replaced by a sense of shame.
I was no dashing hero after all, just a simple coward.
I crawled out of the detritus of battle and emerged into the sunlight. The smoke was dissipating and though some fires were still burning they were being doused by hands from the Harbinger. Bodies littered the deck, pirates and King’s men alike; the broken remains of what were once men. Prisoners were being herded together and searched; the two ships were being lashed together. No one appeared to notice me crawling out onto the deck and blinking at the sun like a mole that has inexplicably found itself burrowing to the surface on a bright summer’s afternoon.
When the Harbinger’s First Officer noticed me, he began barking orders for me to take a party down to the holds to flush out any hiding pirates. When I had simply stared blankly at him he had asked me if I was injured, I’d muttered something about being hit on the head. Running into that winch was one of the more fortunate accidents of my life for it gifted me a handsome and vivid bruise behind which to hide my cowardice. I was sent back to the Harbinger with the other wounded to see the ship’s doctor, nobody commented on the piss and vomit that soiled my uniform; not a soul said a word to my face for they all knew who my father was, but I heard the sniggers still. Billy Piss-Britches, Lily-livered Lazziard, Chicken William... nobody saw my cowardice, but everybody knew of it still. It was as vivid and obvious to anyone who looked at my face as the sunburn that reddened my features.
I discovered later that the Captain commended my bravery; mentioning my valour in dispatches, recounting my glorious role in the taking of the Marietta-Anna and the capture of the notorious Cyril Rochelle with no subtle amount of varnish. The fact that I’d been lightly wounded in the battle receiving more comment than the men who had not cowered on the deck and paid for the victory with their lives. I once yearned for such praise, day-dreamed of such accounts of my heroism, but this was an empty shaming thing aimed solely at my father.
I believe Captain Charde fancied himself a more prestigious command and an Admiral’s hat one day; he had all the ambition of a man limited in every respect save for his own sense of self importance. I would rather have faced an honest man’s wrath than listen to the barren flattery the Captain hoped would reflect favourably upon him in my father’s eyes.
However much the crew might be laughing at me, the mood aboard Harbinger was good. The Marietta-Anna represented a fine prize with the holds brimmed to near bursting with looted cargo. Even after the Crown’s cut each man’s share would be enough to keep him happily in rum and whores for a month when we returned to Jamaica. Not to mention the glory to be had in bringing Captain Rochelle to the rope.
Not that he seemed a man worthy or such notoriety. I had imagined him a fearsome blackguard, a giant of a man with the look of murder about him. Surely the only way to rule a ship of cut throats was by being a greater villain still, I had assumed. On first inspection he proved to be as great a disappointment as my own cowardice. A long scrawny whip of a man, he would have looked more at home with a quill and ledger beavering away in some dusty notary’s office if it were not for his foppish attire. Rather than fight to the death they’d found him unarmed in his cabin, writing in his diary and sipping plundered French brandy. You would have thought a man destined to swing from the yardarm would have preferred to go down fighting, but he came as meekly as any lamb to the slaughter house.
We needed to make good the damage to the Marietta-Anna and it took a couple of days before she could be patched up by our carpenter and made fit to take sail again. Luckily we were blessed with light wind and calm seas allowing the work to be completed in short order.
Lt Fallion was given command of the prize ship; a career sailor he had worked his way up from midshipman without the assistance of a rich and influential father. He was by common opinion only a few years away from a captaincy. I found him to be a solid dependable kind of officer, no great imagination, but he knew the sea and the men who sailed it, knew how to get the best from a ship. He was the obvious choice; making me his second in command wasn’t. It was another favour that Charde hoped would keep him in my father’s thoughts at the Admiralty.
Captain Charde was more concerned in moving the gold into Harbinger’s holds than all of the Marietta-Anna’s scabby cut throat crew, so Rochelle and a few of his men were locked up in Marietta-Anna’s forecastle. I had supposed Charde thought it safer to keep the pirate’s captain apart from the majority of his buccaneers, and as we were less than a week out from Port Royal, with a fair wind, it would be plain sailing.
With Marietta-Anna seaworthy again we sailed for Jamaica, both ships flying the King’s flag. With the marines guarding the prisoners, the prize crew’s task was to simply keep pace with Harbinger until we reached our home port. There was a certain excitement with being second in command, but Fallion wasn’t one to let his feet leave the ground, we sailed by the book, no different from any ship in the Navy. He didn’t lavish me with praise nor mock me; to this day I do not know what he thought of me. He was not the kind of man who let his feelings interfere with anything greatly.
We were short-handed, just a skeleton crew to sail the prize, so we were all kept busy. One of my tasks was to fully inventory the Marietta-Anna’s holds before we reached port, any gold and jewels found in the initial inspection had been transferred to Harbinger, but everything else remained as it had been; bolts of cloth, cases of china, boxes of tea and spice, fine wine and brandy, furniture and much more besides all crammed into every spare nook and cranny of the holds. Captain Rochelle had been busy indeed, it was no wonder they had been unable to outrun Harbinger. We assumed they must have been en route to sell their booty when we found them.
It was thankless work, the holds were dark and stank of rot from the bilges below; the only sounds to be heard above the creaking beams of the swaying ship were the rats that scurried in the darkness. It was fearsomely hot in the heat of the day. The air was stale and heavy, its taste clinging to the palate long after you returned to the sunlit decks above. Being short of hands Fallion had given me only the two cabin boys, Hawkes and Peaworthy that had come over with us from Harbinger. The boys were just a few years younger than myself and it proved to be hard physical work, there was barely enough room to move and we could not haul goods out of the hold for fear of destabilising the ship. I quickly begun to suspect Fallion had simply sent me down here to keep me out of his way.
For a young man with dreams of adventure it was tiresome and unrewarding work; we could only make a rough estimate of the loot on board anyway. On the second day of inventory I found my curiosity getting the better of me and I left the boys to open and check some particularly large and unwieldy crates while I visited the live lumber in our brig. Despite my gory initiation into the world of the pirate, I still found the rogues had an aura of dark mystery about them.
Two armed marines were stationed outside the iron barred door of the ship’s makeshift brig, they made a cursory attempt of rising to their feet and showing the proper respect due to an officer, but I could almost feel their sneering grins when I turned my back on them.
The small brig was being shared by Rochelle and the cabin boys and musics from his crew. It is practice for all such boys to be pardoned for piracy on account of their youth; perhaps it was Charde’s sense of humour that made him imprison the pirate captain with the lowest members of his crew, those who would all be free to see him swinging from a noose. Whatever his reasons, after questioning Rochelle, Captain Charde had ordered he be imprisoned aboard the Marietta-Anna rather than being transferred to Harbinger with the bulk of his surviving crew; I noted there was an unusually large number of cabin boys for a privateer; I recall wondering if Rochelle’s devilment ran to a taste for young lads.
The boys had some kind of card game going to pass the slow hours, but Rochelle was taking no part, he simply sat upon the floor his back resting against the wall. Despite the hot close air below deck, Rochelle wore a long frock coat of crimson damask over his shirt and britches, a wig of dark curls flooded majestically to his shoulders, while his wide rimmed beaver skin hat rested in his lap. He was immaculately dressed and his long thin fingers were decorated with countless rings that no one had seen fit to take from him yet. His calf-length boots were highly polished and even in the dim half-light of the brig the silver buckles seemed to sparkle.
His head slowly turned and he examined me somewhat insolently, as if I were the prisoner and he the gaoler. He had a pinched, sour face that seemed strangely ageless, his skin surprisingly pallid for one who spent so long under the sun. He smiled a thin knowing little smile at me, which for some reason reminded me of the winking corpse, “Good day Lieutenant, I trust you are finding my ship sufficiently comfortable?” he spoke perfect English with only the faintest hint of a French accent. I noticed there was not a drop of sweat upon his waxen skin.
“I think you will find this ship now belongs to Charles Stuart, by the Grace of God, King of England, Scotland and Ireland” I corrected him formally.
Rochelle’s little smile cracked a fraction wider, “Ah of course... though I like to think of that arrangement as being purely temporary.”
The little man might have looked like a ledger scribbler incongruously dressed in a dandy’s clothes, but he was putting on a good show of bravado despite the hangman breathing over his shoulder.
“You expect to be acquitted? If not, the rope will make this a most permanent arrangement,” I retorted, somewhat smugly.
“Come, Lieutenant, lets us not mention such disagreeable things. We are civilised men, are we not?”
“That would depend on your definition of civilisation.”
Rochelle’s laughter was rich and melodic, “Oh, how I love to debate philosophy. It does so pass the time. That is the trouble with sailing, don’t you find? Time can so drag.”
“I find I can keep myself busy.”
“Alas, there is little for me to do here, other than share in the innocent games of these young rascals,” Rochelle waved airily at the boys huddled in the corner, who looked at me and sniggered in the manner I imagined my ship mates did behind my back. “As you appear to be a rather considerate young gentleman, perhaps I could beg a small kindness from you? I have always suffered a fondness for the written word; I have kept a diary since boyhood. No great work of penmanship, but my humble scribbling brings me comfort. If my journey is coming to an end, I would so like to complete my tale. If you could fetch me my journal, ink and quill I would be so very grateful.”
Rochelle’s words were soft, measured, almost rhythmic; there was something about the way he spoke that made you want to do as he asked, made you want to please him. He was a peculiar chap indeed, not the brutish cur I’d expected at all. How a man of such evident education and breeding - albeit French - could fall to the diabolical business of piracy was a puzzle that I could not fathom.
“I will have to ask the Captain,” I replied. My voice seemed empty and hollow compared to the rich luxurious tones of the pirate.
“The Captain? Oh you mean Mr Fallion, is he not a Lieutenant too? Do you have to ask his permission for everything?”
“He is captain of the Marietta-Anna for this journey.”
“I think you will find there is only one captain of Marietta-Anna,” Rochelle said, his voice taking a darker edge. The cabin boys giggled in the corner.
I suddenly felt hot and uncomfortable, sweat making my scalp slick beneath my hat and trickling down my temples, my collar was chafing against my neck and my tunic felt unbearably tight. I suddenly wanted to be away from this man very badly, there was a wrongness about him, it was a feeling I could not express in any logical manner, but it curled and writhed within me, making bile rise to my throat. Rochelle’s gaze held my own; his eyes were like dark opaque beads, bottomless and unreadable. His mouth curled into a crooked half-smile and he winked at me, before carefully placing his hat upon his flamboyantly coiffured wig and tipping the brim down over his eyes to signify my audience was over.
“I-I will see what can be done,” I managed to say and turned on my heels, I remember the sound of Rochelle’s extravagant articulate laughter merged with the high-pitched squeals of his boys to echo around the worn timbers of the brig. The marines glanced at each other as I brushed past them, but at least I did not hear them chuckle too.
Once out of sight I took deep gasping breaths of stale torpid air, pulled off my hat and loosened my tunic. Panting, I desperately tried to dab the sweat away with my handkerchief, but too little avail. I desperately wanted to go on deck, but I didn’t want any of the crew to see me so distressed. Instead I stood there until my face began to cool and my heart slowed. I tried to push away the thought that Rochelle’s wink had looked so much like that of the pirate I had killed. It was coincidence of course, he could not have known, no one but God, the Devil and I could have seen it and I doubted very much Rochelle was on speaking terms with God.
It was just a coincidence.
Eventually I regained my composure, deciding work was the best way of keeping such idle malevolent thoughts from my head I hurried back to the hold to continue assessing the Marietta-Anna’s cargo. I descended further into the dark bowels of the ship, my body swaying in time with the pitch and roll of the ship as it moved through the light swells of a Caribee summer.
There was no sign of either boy when I returned to the hold and I cursed their idleness; no doubt as soon as my back had turned they had skulked off to share a pipe. I called out for them, but creaking wood was the only reply to reach my ears. I peered into the gloom beyond the swaying lantern light; there were countless secluded corners the boys could be hiding in, though I doubted they were so insolent. The ledger I had been using to document the cargo was where I had left it and I stuffed it my satchel along with the ink and quill, my irritation exaggerating my actions.
The hold was stifling and I assumed the boys must have gone back up onto the weather deck; thinking I would be gone for longer than I was they had grasped the first possible opportunity to neglect their duties. The impudent lags would feel the back of my hand when I found them! I stood for a moment, seething at my two errant charges. I called for them to show themselves, making no attempt to mask my irritation, but again there was no reply. The lantern light seemed to barely penetrate the thick oily darkness of the hold, its light petering out within a few yards, leaving only different shades of darkness beyond its feeble reach. The boys had been at sea long enough to know better than leave a lantern unattended; a sudden swell or wave could have sent it crashing to the floor. A fire down in the hold could consume us all.
Taking the lantern from its hook I held it above my head and moved forward tentatively into the cavernous depths of the hold. Dark ominous shadows loomed above me, twisted monsters from my unintended lantern show. How thoroughly had these holds been checked? I wondered. Was it not possible one or two cut throats could still be down here, hiding away in the hope of avoiding the noose? Did not some of those shadows bare human form? Did they not move independently of my swaying lantern light? I blinked sweat from my eyes and peered harder into the blackness.
I shook the thought away; the ship had been searched thoroughly from top to bottom. There was nothing down here but rats, all else was simple imagination. Those boys were going to get the hiding of their lives when I found them, I decided. Carefully I retraced my steps, though my fear made me reticent to present my back to the darkness, so I turned in slow circles as I moved towards the ladder that led up to the next deck. I felt a great sense of relief when I reached it; a feeling I immediately chided myself for. I was behaving like a babe afraid of the dark and the monsters he thought lived there.
I took a deep calming breath of fetid air and placed the satchel over one shoulder while gripping the lantern in the other. I am not quite sure what happened, but as I begun to clamber gratefully upwards the satchel must have caught on a nail. As I had neglected to buckle it in my haste, the satchel tipped over and spilled its contents onto the deck of the hold.
I cursed my clumsiness and clambered down to retrieve them, grateful the fall had not smashed the inkpot. I hurriedly recovered the inkpot and quill from the grimy floor, before retrieving the ledger. The book had fallen open at the point I had been working on before going to see Rochelle, as my eyes fell upon the paper a cold awful dread filled my soul, for below my small orderly unfussy record of bolts of cloth and crates of china another hand had written a single short line in a bold flowing and elaborate script.
Dying will become you...
From somewhere the sound of laughter reached my ears, I tried to tell myself it came from the decks above, but I knew it did not. I tried to tell myself it was Hawkes or Peaworthy laughing at their prank, but I knew it was not. I knew because neither of them could write, and I knew because the laughter was that of a woman. Not a cackle or a belly laugh, but a soft flirtatious giggle; the sound a young lady might make to let her beau know he was doing well, but had yet to win the prize.
In terror I dropped the ledger and scrambled up the ladder as fast as my hands and legs could propel me, when I scrambled onto the next deck I slammed the hatch down behind me and carried on going until I found the sanctuary of sunlight...
I desperately gripped the rail of the ship to stop myself from shaking, my knuckles turning as white as I imagined my face to be. I greedily drunk down great shuddering breaths of clean salty air and lifted my face to feel the warm sane caress of the sun upon my skin. Slowly I regained some degree of composure and forced myself to focus on the sails of Harbinger which lay half a mile or so off our larboard bow.
In the bright Caribbean sunshine my fears begun to seem foolish, those two little runts were trying to make a buffoon of me. Even if they were unable to write there were others on board who could, it was clearly a conspiracy of low fellows to mock and belittle me. It was no more than petty jealousy of course; the money and position associated with my family name. I looked about the deck, but all was as it should be, nobody appeared to be awarding me much attention.
I stood there a while, feeling the wind and savouring its salty taste, watching first the sea and then the shifting shadows of the sails upon the deck, convincing myself that all that had occurred was no more than jest and foolery. My fear was replaced by anger that I should be so little respected. So little feared. They think me a coward and try to scare me with cheap tricks. Such nonsense.
Dying will become you...
I felt foolish for being so quickly put to panic and realised I would need to retrieve my ledger, as its defacement was the only evidence I had to present to the acting Captain of this conspiracy to belittle me. I remember staring at the dark shadow filled doorway that would take me back down in to the bowels of the ship.
I decided to find Hawkes and Peaworthy first.
With growing irritation and anger I searched the ship for the two boys, from the top gallants to the sweaty gloom of the gun decks, but I could find no trace of them nor any man who’d seen them since that morning. Eventually my search was curtailed by Lt Fallion, who called me to my watch. I reported dutifully that the inventorying of the ship’s cargo had been delayed by the slovenliness of the two boys. Fallion agreed to discipline them accordingly, but he was not unduly concerned. I neglected to mention the strange passage added to my ledger or the laughter I had heard echoing around the hold. By now I had half convinced myself I had heard nothing but the groaning of the ship’s timbers distorted by my own imagination.
I busied myself with the mundane and sane tasks of the watch, standing at the Sailing Master’s shoulder as he held the wheel. Despite my efforts to lose myself in my work I continually felt the mocking eyes of the crew upon my back whenever it was turned.
All was as it should be, until early evening when a hush fell upon the ship. It took me a moment to realise the wind had suddenly died. Not reduced to a breeze, but completely gone. I followed the Sailing Master’s gaze up in to the rigging where the sails hung limp and lifeless.
“We’ve lost the wind. Sir,” he reported, rather needlessly.
I made no reply as I stared out across the sea which had become so becalmed there was barely a ripple to be seen upon its surface.
That evening I dined in the Captain’s cabin with the other officers, the ship unnaturally still beneath us as we ate. Rochelle clearly had a taste for life’s finery for his cabin was far more luxuriant than that of Captain Charde’s on board Harbinger. The larder was also found to be well stocked with delicacies and fine wine, which we saw no reason to waste and consumed with some gusto. For myself I had little taste for such things, and excused myself as early as was polite.
The Captain had refused Rochelle’s request for his journals as they would be used in evidence at his trial, though as they were written in some manner of code how likely that event was I did not know. Fallion however was happy to provide blank paper and writing materials. “All men should have the opportunity to settle their affairs before leaving this world,” he had declared.
I took the opportunity to take the paper down to Rochelle, my mood was poor and I craved the comfort of my bunk. My earlier enthusiasm for inspecting the pirate had evaporated, but it provided an excuse to be free of the idle gossip of Fallion’s table.
Rochelle was much as I had left him, though now his boys were sprawled around his feet like so many sleeping dogs, their blankets drawn up around them as they slept. As I approached the pirate placed a long slender finger against his lips to indicate I should be quiet lest I wake his boys.
“We are becalmed?” He asked me softly.
“The wind died late this afternoon,” I replied.
“Perhaps it will take a little longer than expected to deliver me to Port Royal, no?” he smiled devilishly, “I hope your executioner is a patient man?”
“I’m sure the wind will return by the morning,” I said evenly, sliding the writing materials through the door for him.
“We will see...” Rochelle said, languidly stroking the hair of the nearest sleeping boy in a manner I found quite inappropriate, “thank you for the paper, though I had hoped for my journal?”
“The Captain feels it might be of use at your trial.”
Rochelle emitted a growl of a laugh, “I doubt you will find any alive who can read those words.”
“Most codes can be broken eventually, no doubt your own words will hang you as effectively as the testimony of a dozen witnesses,” I said trying not to stare at the boy’s hair being looped around Rochelle’s long sensual fingers.
“Codes yes, but I write in no code. It is an old and ancient tongue, long forgotten by even the most arcane of scholars.”
“You are a strange man Captain Rochelle; I had not supposed to meet a buccaneer with a taste for dead and pointless languages.”
“Such presumptions are unwise young Mr Lieutenant; you never know when you will need to speak to the dead,” there was a cold edge to the pirate’s voice that carried no hint of mockery or jest. Not for the first time I wondered if he was insane.
“I suspect that is a talent you will require far sooner than I.”
Rochelle simply smiled his knowing crooked little smile before returning his attentions to the cabin boy’s hair.
I stood awkwardly for a moment, thinking there should be something else to say to reinforce the fact that I was in a position of authority while the pirate captain was heading to the gallows; no matter how hard I tried my callowness and unease conspired to knot my tongue. Instead I beat a hasty retreat and made for my bunk.
I would be taking the early watch and I needed to rest, but more than that I desired the solitude and false comfort that only the darkness and a blanket can provide. The ship was unnaturally still on the windless sea; distantly some tar was singing a mournful shanty up on deck and I sank quickly to a troubled sleep, plagued with strange distorted dreams that slipped from my memory as soon as my mind approached wakefulness, leaving me slick with cold sweat and a sense of unease I could not attribute.
Sleep left as suddenly as it had claimed me; I found myself sitting upright, panting hard, some strangled cry stillborn upon my dry lips, the terror that had conceived it already lost to me. I sat like that for a while, blinking into the darkness letting my heart calm and hoping I had not cried out loud enough for my ship mates to hear. I dreaded the thought of over hearing tales of Billy Piss-Britches crying for his Mama during the night.
Once I had recovered something of myself I found my pocket watch, opened the face and felt the time. My watch had started thirty minutes before! I was aghast, missing your watch is of course a most serious matter and I could not believe I had not been hauled from my bunk. Victor Penny, the Midshipman who had the previous watch, was an insolent cur five years my senior. His resentment of my position was a fact he seemed unable or unwilling to even attempt to conceal. With a sinking heart I imagined he had gone gleefully to the acting Captain bearing word of my languor and as I pulled on my uniform in the darkness with all the haste I could muster I could almost feel the weight of Fallion’s disapproval upon my back. This would at the very least provide a black mark upon my record, not to mention another reason for whispered mockery.
I hurried from the tiny cabin to which I had been billeted, still buttoning my tunic and perching my hat upon my head as I staggered on to the weather deck. The air was unnaturally cool and my stumbling hasty steps came to a halt as I looked around me. For a moment I was returned to the hellish battle to take the ship, until I realised it was not smoke that billowed across the darkened deck but thick moist curls of fog, so dense that the structure of the ship was no more than indistinct shadows, rough dark forms lost in the luminescence of the vapour.
I could see distorted patches of light ahead of me, the quarterdeck lanterns producing blurry halos in the wet cloying air. With slow deliberate strides I moved across the main deck, fearing it would be all too easy to stumble upon a discarded bucket or coil of rope in the eerie murk. I shivered. The night felt more like late autumn in England than early summer in the Caribbean. I could make out the dim outline of the shrouds disappearing up into the rigging and the main mast, but even these were obscure uncertain things.
The lantern light coalesced with the mist as I drew closer, the heavy vapour refracting their light into sombre bleached rainbows. I clambered up to the quarterdeck; the wooden railings were wet with moisture. The fog must have appeared soon after I had retired. “Ahoy the watch!” I cried. My call seemed to fade away as soon as it left my throat, as if dampened by the heavy wet air.
I waited and listened, but no reply from the watch came out of the mist. In truth the only sound I could hear above my own rasping breath was a faint creaking sound. There was no wind to rustle the sails, no voices calling in the dark, no footsteps upon boards. Even the sea was silent.
“Ahoy the watch!” I called again, noting the edge of uncertainty in my own flat damp words. Surely this could be no prank, my call must be acknowledged. Tentatively I moved forward, it was protocol to await a response before approaching the officer of the watch, but none had been forthcoming. A wild distant part of me wondered whether this was some dark game; perhaps Penny would claim I had issued no cry, hearing my unannounced approach he had thought I was a boarder or an escaped prisoner. My muscles tensed as I anticipated the flash of a pistol in the murk.
Could they really hate me that much?
I shook such thoughts from my head, however devious Penny might be, I doubted he could have conjured such a fog to conceal his dirty work. No shot came, and through the fog the ship’s wheel loomed up before me, for some reason the darkness and the fog conspiring to make it seem both larger and somehow sinister, as if it were not just a simple tool for steering the ship, but some terrible and ancient instrument of torture.
The creaking I had heard since mounting the quarterdeck became louder and clearer as I reached the wheel; it was both unmanned and untethered, the creaking was the sound of the wheel turning of its own accord in response to the tides and currents pressing against the rudder.
“Officer of the Watch!” I cried desperately, lashing the wheel as I looked about. Of Mr Penny or any of the watch crew there was no sign. My heart was pounding now. The watch would never be abandoned in any circumstances, but in fog like this men should have been sent fore and above to watch out for rocks or other vessels in the murk.
With the wheel secure I stood for a moment, unnerved by the utter silence of the night. I must raise the Captain, that was the only course of action. Fallion would know what to do. Perhaps one of the jack tar’s had found some stash of grog and the watch had drunk themselves to a stupor. I had always thought Penny a fool, but the Bosun’s whip would take every shred of skin from his back for such a dereliction of duty.
My mind focussed solely on the Captain I scurried away from the quarterdeck, of course I should have simply raised the alarm there and then, but my mind was already losing its grip in that oppressive heavy fog and giving way to panic. I hammered on Fallion’s door, desperate for him to rise and take charge of the situation, but there was no response no matter how hard my fist pummelled the door.
All the time I looked about me, staring into the thick air for sign of another soul, but I saw no one. Eventually I pushed the door open, perhaps Fallion had drunk himself into too deep a sleep to hear my hammering.
Candles still burned on the heavy ornate desk, but the chair behind it was empty. The dinner things had been cleared away and the dining table was stacked with charts. The room was large and sumptuous, far more splendid than any Navy cabin. Silver candlesticks adorned the desk and table while a fine crystal chandelier hung grandly from the ceiling; beautifully carved French furniture filled the room while silk tapestries hung from the walls.
All thoughts of decorum forgotten I pulled aside the curtain that separated the bed from the rest of the cabin, expecting to find Captain Fallion curled in a drunken slumber. Instead I found the bed empty and undisturbed. The bed was huge, I swear I have never seen one larger on board ship, fine silk sheets encased it and I noticed with disgust the walls were lined with prints of the most debauched and vile acts imaginable; images of naked men and women copulating in every possible manner and combination. Such perverseness I had never believed imaginable. That Rochelle could want such abominations upon his walls did not unduly surprise me, but why Fallion had not had the depraved images destroyed as soon as he took residency in the room I could not fathom.
I pulled the curtain back in disgust and looked around the room once more, as if by some slight oversight I had not noticed Fallion sitting quietly in one darkened corner or another. Heavy velvet drapes obscured the cabin’s windows and for some reason I pulled them back, but the Captain was not hiding from me there. Outside there was nothing to be seen bar the fog pushing against the glass; like dead wet hands splayed wide, trying to force their way in.
I dropped the drapes and stepped back towards the sanctity of the candle light.
Upon the desk a decanter of brandy sat unstoppered, a half drunk glass by its side. Like everything else in the cabin it was of the finest quality. A heavy, leather bound ledger sat open upon the desk and I imagined Fallion sitting hunched over the book, his hand curled round the glass as he read the book, his heavy brows furrowed in concentration, no doubt lapsing into frustration for the words written there were gibberish.
Strange twisted characters were scrawled across the vellum pages in a wild and flamboyant hand, like no alphabet I had ever seen. Though no great scholar I had learnt some Greek and Hebrew along with my Latin and French at school and these words bore not the faintest resemblance to any of those tongues, even the strange barbaric writings of the Moors were utterly different.
Although the meaning was lost to me, I was certain of their ungodliness. To my eye those words seemed as unclean and filthy as the images Rochelle had surrounded his bed with. I realised this must be Rochelle’s journal and the words were of the long dead tongue he had spoken. Despite my revulsion I found myself turning the pages of the book as Captain Fallion must have done earlier. Each page felt uncommonly heavy, as if every peculiar character was written in gold rather than ink. Although the words were meaningless, at certain points there were sketches and drawing inserted between the gibberish; these were far easier to interpret for Rochelle had a fair drawing hand. I had thought the pictures on the wall were foul enough, but these were images of the most dreadful abuse; torture, rape, murder; death and sex mixed together in the most wretched of nightmares.
I knew Rochelle had a reputation for cruelty, but these drawings were beyond imagining. I could only wonder if they were some manifestation of his sick mind, or a record of actual events. I slammed the foul book shut.
I had no desire to venture out into the fog, but neither did I want to remain in this cabin surrounded by such abominations. I had to find the Captain and the watch. Ignoring the shaking of my hand I opened the door and allowed the fog to consume me once more. I stood there awhile, listening for some sound, some sign of life, some movement.
My heart wavered as I heard a faint sound, so distant I could barely be sure I had heard it. I stood as still as I could, straining to listen until it came again. Normally even the faint noises of a calm sea would have masked the sound, but on this strangely silent night it could just be perceived; a ship’s bell ringing despondently somewhere out on the shrouded sea.
It must have been Harbinger, calling us through the fog so that they could mark our position. The fog could have been muffling and distorting the bell, but it sounded so terribly far away. I raced back up to the quarterdeck to ring our own bell in reply, the thought of Harbinger being so far away unsettling me as much as the strange fog or the missing watch.
The quarterdeck was as deserted as I had left it, the wheel still tethered securely. I made to ring the bell, but instead I simply stood and looked dumbfounded. The bell was not there. For a moment I presumed I had lost my bearings and was looking in the wrong place, but the rope from which it had hung remained. The bell had been cleanly cut away.
All had returned to silence and I could no longer hear the faint toll of Harbinger’s bell. In that moment I felt a terrible certainty that I was the last man on God’s earth.
Someone had cut away the bell; either to ensure the alarm could not be raised or that we could not signal Harbinger in the fog, probably both. Part of me wanted to cry into the veiled night in the hope Harbinger would hear me and find us, but I knew the chances of me being heard by my ship were negligible, while being heard by whoever had removed the bell and left us to float adrift though the fog was a certainty.
I drew my sword and held it before me with a trembling hand, though there was nothing to strike bar the moist tendrils of mist that floated all around me.
The ship was under attack and I was the only man aboard who could fight back, whoever our enemies were they had not counted on me. I would show my mettle by driving these blackguards back into the sea. All my previous cowardice would be forgotten, Captain Charde and the rest of my crewmates would see my quality at last. Here was my chance!
I hurried back to the Captain’s cabin and locked the door behind me.
For a moment I stood with my back to the door and wondered how long I could hide unnoticed. The door and lock were sturdy enough; I closed my eyes and shuddered. I had come to sea to be a hero not a coward. Hiding here might prolong my safety, but it would only delay the inevitable. If I attacked now there might be time to save the ship, by morning everyone could be dead or in chains - I felt my eyes drawn to Rochelle’s book - or very much worse.
Sheathing my sword I found a brace of Fallion’s pistols which I loaded and put into my belt, searching further I found two exquisite duelling pistols that had to be the pirate Captain’s. I loaded them too, and even in my fear I marvelled at their lightness and balance. I drew an unwarranted sense of comfort from those pistols; with weapons such as these surely a man could achieve anything.
I eyed Fallion’s unfinished brandy and downed it in one burning swig; I felt its smooth heat flow down to my belly and managed to resist the temptation to drink more. I unlocked the door and moved cautiously out into the fog again. Whereas before it had unnerved me, now I was grateful for the cloying screen, in truth its protection was probably more effective than the pistols I clutched in my sweaty nervous hands.
Keeping low I moved along the waist of the ship, close to the rail and the invisible sea below, towards the Marietta-Anna’s forecastle. My only plan, if you could call it such, was to find the remainder of the ship’s skeleton crew and repulse the invaders.
Momentarily I thought I spied a figure ahead of me, but I was unsure, it could have been no more than a shifting pattern in the fog, different shades of faintly luminescent grey conspiring to deceive; my mind painting pictures out of water vapour and fear. I paused; gripping Rochelle’s pistols all the more tightly, my only anchors of certainty on board that increasing ghostly ship.
Finally, when no more ephemeral figures appeared I moved forward again, but I had taken just a handful of short crouching strides when I was brought to a halt once more, not by a figure this time, but the faint sound of soft flirtatious laughter. The disembodied gaiety chilled me far more deeply than the cold un-seasonal fog had managed; the terror that had filled me that afternoon in the dark of the hold engulfed me once more. Events had conspired to muffle its memory, but now they returned to haunt me, the bitter coppery taste of terror filled my mouth. I wanted to run, to hide, to scream for help, but I knew none of those choices would save me because...
...dying will become you...
...there was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide and no one left aboard that damned ship that would respond to my screams, except with that ungodly laughter.
The laughter came again, louder, nearer... perhaps. The fog made it difficult to place anything with certainty, though to my panicked ears the timbre was different, deeper, still a woman’s, but not the same as the first. I cowered there, clutching those pistols and peering into the fog. All manner of demons moving around me, wrapped in whorls of grey. I still do not know which ones were phantoms of my mind and which were real. The laughter danced around me, out of sight, but not so far away and within the beat of the laughter came a lament of pain; screams and cries. Some loud and brief, some pitifully low and lingering in the air. I found myself whimpering in time to that ghastly tune.
As much as fear consumed me I knew I could not simply crouch there forever, I had to act to save myself and my crew. Slowly I began to move, ignoring the strange awful sounds that swelled up out of the fog I headed for the hatch that led down to the Marietta-Anna’s gun deck. As unsettling as I found the fog, I realised it was a cloak I was wary to discard. My only hope lay in raising the crew; whatever stalked the decks I could not fight alone. The off duty hands would be bunked down in the gun deck, the old crews quarter’s in the forecastle had been damaged in the battle to take the ship and only rudimentarily repaired.
Carefully I pulled open the doors, revealing the hatchway black against the grey of the night; it seemed as likely to lead to the bowels of hell as those of the Marietta-Anna.
A board creaked nearby and I whirled round, my eyes wide with fright, but there was nothing to be seen but the shifting banks of fog. The laughter came again, followed by a sobbing cry that seemed to hang in the very air about my head for a moment before the utter stillness of that terrible night returned.
Moisture run into my eyes, whether from the air or my own cold, terrified sweat I did not know. I wiped my eyes clear with the back of my sleeve before scurrying down the hatchway. I paused on the stairs, still crouching, listening for movement from either behind or ahead, but all was silent; as if the fog and the Devil had conspired to rob the world of even the slightest of sounds. It was unnerving and unreal, but infinitely preferable to that haunting laughter upon deck.
In the wretched hush the leather of my boots seemed to creak as loudly as the planks of a storm tormented ship, my clothes rustled like sail cloth ripped by a sudden gale, every board I trod upon groaned like a tortured spirit. Even my poor frightened heart pounded like a timpani drum in the hands of a maniac to my own ears.
My hands shaking wildly I finally reached the gun deck. A single dim lantern glowed at the far end of the deck where the sailors had strung their hammocks. I took one deep breath and then another. It would do no good for the men to see my fear; I needed them to follow me without question if we were to deal with whoever stalked the decks above.
I shook the thought away; I had no time to fathom out what was happening. All I knew for certain was that both the watch and the Captain were missing, someone had taken the ship’s bell and there was something in the fog that should not be there. Something that laughed with the voice of a woman, something that made men scream.
With as purposeful a stride as I could muster I moved towards the light, my eyes darting from shadow to shadow, my guns swivelling from one imagined form to the next. So unnerved that I do not doubt I presented as much of a threat to any friend that crossed my path as to a foe. I moved past the brooding forms of the sleeping guns, careful not to trip or stumble in the dark. I wished the lantern were brighter, for its light was so dim it revealed little to my frantic eyes. It was a poor and feeble star to lead me home.
As I drew closer I could make out the dark forms of the hammocks strung from the beams and posts of the gun deck where the hands slept. I could faintly hear the sound of dripping water and my heart pounded all the faster, with the crew roused there would be some hope and this madness would be all the more bearable.
As I reached the lantern I fumbled with the wick and basked in its sane glow as the darkness was pushed back so that I could rouse the sleeping men. Except of course, they were not sleeping at all.
What I had thought in the darkness to be hammocks strung from the rafters were something else entirely. At least twenty men had been hung from the ceiling by their feet, their throats slit from ear to ear and a bucket or bowl placed beneath each corpse to collect their blood. It had not been water I had heard dripping, but fat heavy droplets of blood splashing into the assorted containers.
I think I tried to scream, but no sound emerged. I just stood agape amongst those hanging corpses, some distant part of my mind recognising the fact that I was rooted to the floor in some kind of human abattoir. I reached out to touch the bare chest of the nearest man, a bald sinewy deckhand called Jenks, the flesh was still warm to the touch. They were not long dead.
For some time I simply stood and stared at those poor men; I had spent months on board ship with them, I would not describe them as friends for they were a lowly sort for the most part. Pressed into the King’s service from various ports across the Kingdom, they spent their spare time drinking and whoring, they were rough men, blasphemous and sinful for the most part, but they deserved no such fate as the one they found aboard that dreadful ship.
I should have said something, some prayer or blessing, I should have asked God to take a care with their souls. To my shame no word could take form on my lips and I turned and ran with no thought for where I was going or for what had done this terrible thing. I just wanted to be off this ship.
I ran back up the stairs and into the cold embrace of the fog. I would launch the ship’s gig and take my chances on the seas, with luck I would find Harbinger or at least some outpost of civilisation. At worst a slow death in an open boat was a thousand times more preferable to whatever hideous fate would await me if I remained aboard the Marietta-Anna.
I ran along the side of the ship, head turning wildly about me, towards the ship’s boat when I suddenly became ensnared in hands which pulled back at me, wrenching my hat from my head. I staggered back and lifted my guns to fire at the wide dead eyes of Victor Penny. He had been hung upside down like the poor souls below, his feet tied to the to the ship’s shrouds. He languished in mid-air like some discarded puppet; his ashen white face floating before me in the heavy grey air. Penny’s head hung strangely from his body and it was a moment before I realised his throat had not so much been cut as torn out. I glanced at the deck, but there was no bucket to collect his blood, and only a few small droplets had splattered on the wood.
I left the Midshipmen to his final watch. There was nothing I could do for him, or anybody else aboard. Save for possibly myself.
When I finally reached the gig, which hung from hoists on the starboard side of the ship, I stood panting and shivering before it in the fog. It would normally require several men to run the pulleys and slowly winch it down to the sea, a noisy and cumbersome task to accomplish in any circumstances; an almost impossible one to do alone. Exchanging pistols for my sword I began to hack wildly at the holding ropes, I had no time for care. I would cut the boat free and let it drop to the sea before jumping after it, hoping it wouldn’t be damaged or overturned by the fall.
“I would wish you take a greater care with my ship...”
I span round, sword out stretched and scrambling for a pistol to see Captain Rochelle standing casually before me, one foot crossed over the other, resting his weight against a gold tipped cane. Six boys formed a semi-circle behind him, each armed with knives or swords, each one was bare-chested, their skin slick with the blood of my ship mates.
“It would be very unsporting to shoot a man with his own pistol, would it not?” Rochelle smiled his tone as frivolous as any refined gentleman at the dinner table.
“What have you done?” I hissed.
“I told you there was only one captain of this ship,” the pirate replied as a long dreadful scream pierced the fog, seemingly from somewhere high in the rigging, “as Lieutenant Fallion is currently finding out.”
“What are you doing to him?” I virtually sobbed, the pistol shaking all too visibly in my hand.
Rochelle smiled good-naturedly, “Believe me my boy; you really do not want to know...”
The boys were fanning out around me, spectral figures in the mist, their eyes the only part of them seemingly not obscured by the fog. Dark, malevolent points focussed intently upon me. Hungrily upon me.
“Tell your dogs not to come any closer, or I will kill you,” I said, trying to sound defiant, though the words were but that of a frightened child’s to my own ears.
“And my boys would rip you to pieces.”
I shrugged, “I have seen what you’ve done to the rest of my crew; I’m going to die anyway. At least that would be quick.”
“There are... other choices,” Rochelle said, arching his eyebrows to emphasis his words, “you are young; there is no need for you to die. My ladies like their men young, strong, virile... they have been watching you. They judge you… adequate.”
As if at his command other figures coalesced out of the fog; two women, tall and beautiful. Their bodies shrouded in strips of fabric; silk, lace, muslin, chiffon, gauze... others I could not name, the fabric flowed about them as they moved with the grace and poise the highest born of noble women would kill to possess. In parts their attire was transparent, offering glimpses of smooth ochre skin beneath, but the fabric seemed to shift and move with each step as if dancing to some breeze only they could feel. One woman wore white, the other grey; it was difficult to tell where they began and the fog ended. Only their hair stood out against the fog, perfectly black, it hung about their faces, quite straight and past the shoulders; as if they had stolen a piece of the night with which to frame their beauty. Strands of gold and jewels were woven into each woman’s hair, sparkling like the stars in contrast. Heavy gold chains were worn tight around their throats, while jewels hung from their ears.
They were so similar in look and expression they had to be sisters, there were slight differences between them, but too few to mention. They bore the same thin arched eyebrows, the same dark consuming eyes, the same elegant cut to their features, high razor-sharp cheekbones, small upturned noses, full sensual lips. They wore no powder or paint I thought, save for on their lips which were darkest red. It was only as they came closer that I realised it was not rouge that coloured their lips so...
Each woman carried a rope loosely in their hand; the other end tied around the necks of two scurrying forms in the manner a lady of quality might walk her poodle. I did not instantly recognise my two errant cabin boys, when I did I went to call for Hawkes and Peaworthy to come to me, but my voice died in my throat as I saw them looking up at those dark wanton creatures, their eyes full of nothing but devotion.
“What have you done to them?”
“Done? Why nothing at all, they serve the Ladies of their own free will.”
“The rewards for service are great; are they not boys?”
“The pay is much better Billy,” Davey Hawkes giggled as his lady let her long tactile fingers run through his mousey hair.
“What foul enchantment is this?”
“There is no enchantment, they have simply seen the truth, they have felt the power and beauty of worshipping a true god.”
“Not at all. Let me introduce my Ladies, this is Marietta,” he said, indicating the woman in grey who toyed with Hawkes, “and this is Anna.” The creature in white smiled haughtily at me, her eyes full of dark fire and damnation.
“Of course those are not their real names, you would not even be able to pronounce those, but you must have a name for your god, must you not? These beings have been worshipped for longer than you or I can even imagine, they have had many names, many glories. Whole nations worshipped them and made sacrifices for their favour, temples and cities were built in their homage, mothers would gladly give up their babies as tributes, to die for them was the greatest of all honours. They grew strong on the love of their people; they drank blood from the still beating hearts of their sacrifices. Rich fare indeed! Goddesses and priestesses, they have seen such things William, such wondrous things!” Rochelle leaned forward on his cane, his eyes ablaze with righteous fervour.
“Now their world is no more - Cortes and his gold hungry mercenaries came to the lands of Mexico and destroyed their ways, cast down their temples and enslaved their people; all in the name of their pitiful deity, a paltry skirt behind which they hid their greed, lust and avarice. Now I carry my dark brides across the seas; in search of blood and gold and vengeance for the injustices done to their people, their subjects who loved them so greatly they were happy to die for them.”
“You are all monsters,” I cried, waving my pistol from target to target.
Rochelle shook his head sadly, “No, I am but a man, mortal and weak; as are my boys. Marietta and Anna are goddesses; they keep us young and cure our ills. They do not bow before time, they are strong and beautiful and terrible. They know the workings of the world; they understand the sun and the moon, the sea and the land, the mountains and the skies. They understand creation for they were here to see it. Blood is a small price to pay for their wisdom, their beauty... their love.”
Madness swirled around me as surely as eddies of fog that obscured the world. From Rochelle’s evil blasphemous words to the vacant beatific expressions of his blood-stained boys; such insanity I had never dreamed possible... and yet through my fear and horror I felt my eyes continually drawn to the two women. My will became an irrelevance; my soul was crying out for me to fight, to do my duty, to die with dignity and take some of these deluded dangerous fools with me. Yet my eyes betrayed me, all they wanted to do was linger on their lithe, wanton bodies, to gaze upon their disconcerting arrogant beauty as if some understanding of things could be gleaned from the pout of their lips, the sheen of their hair or the mote in their eyes.
Anna moved towards me, leaving Peaworthy forlorn upon the deck, she moved with unnatural grace, as if her legs made no movement beneath the flowing swirls of her strange white dress that at one moment looked no more than an ill-matched assortment of rags wrapped loosely around her body, and the next appeared to be the most elegant and lavish attire ever to be draped upon a female form. The fog seemed to move around her as if it were no more than an extension of her costume, the natural and unnatural merging together as one.
I felt myself backing away from her, my legs hard against the rail of the ship. My pistol was levelled, albeit unsteadily, at her forehead, all I need do was squeeze the trigger and she would be dead. Whatever she was, she was responsible for slaughtering my ship mates. I did not believe Rochelle’s ludicrous tales of her divinity, or her cities and temples. Cortes had conquered Mexico one hundred and fifty years ago, even if it were possible to live that long then she would be a withered old hag, not a beautiful woman only a few years older than myself.
The blood that stained her lips however suggested Rochelle had not been lying about everything.
“Stop!” I pleaded, “I will fire!”
“These guns slaughtered her people, but they cannot harm her,” I heard Rochelle say, distantly.
She stood before me, my pistol only inches from her face, but she showed no fear, or even concern. A ghost of a smile played across her face and deep within her eyes there was laughter. When she spoke, her tone was soft, soothing, but utterly alien to my ears. All I could do was stare at her crimson lips, watching them move, purse and crease, compress and pucker to form each new and strange sound. I had no inkling as to her meaning, but in that moment to my ears they seemed to be the words that a lover might whisper in the dark. Words of tenderness and care, lust and promise.
Words of adoration.
I felt my sword tumble to the deck, I became aware my gun was no longer in my hand, but I do not recall what became of it. All the world had become her face, her voice, her words; and at the very centre of the world were her eyes. Rich mahogany rings circling pupils so dark they were virtually fathomless. In that moment I believed all that Rochelle had told me, for these were eyes that could consume the very world itself, eyes that reflected all of creation in their inky pools. Eyes that saw me in all my vanity, folly and cowardice. Eyes that drank my soul.
Her hand stroked my cheek, her touch as cool as the fog, but dry, like fine sand poured across my skin. Her fingers moved up through my hair, gripping the bow that tied it and pulling it loose so my hair fell about my face. She smiled, her white teeth contrasting vividly with the burnt ochre of her skin, as if she liked it better that way. Her hand still gripping the back of my head, she pulled me towards her until our foreheads were touching and I could feel her breath upon me, slow and measured it caressed my lips, cool of touch, but hot with temptation.
Her free hand gripped the small of my back and pulled my groin against hers; all fear had left me now and it is to my shame that I record the lust I felt for this creature, this demonic temptress. I was engorged and insane with desires that had risen from some sunless and dreadful place inside me, swamping all decency and reason with its need and want.
She spoke again, softly, little more than a breath in fact, but this time in English, the accent strange and exotic.
My hands eagerly fingered her body, I wish I could say they moved without volition, but that would be a deceit. I knew what I was doing, the small sane part of me knew she was going to kill me, but I did not care. This was a creature like no other I had ever known and even if she meant to consume me, then in my madness it seemed but a small price for such immoral knowledge.
My hands explored her, brushing the many textures of her dress, coarse and smooth, flimsy and fine. Lace, silk, chiffon and calico moved between my hand and her body, but all the time it was the flesh underneath I wanted. My fumbling became less gentle and more urgent; I heard her gasp slightly as fingers dug into to her breast and rump, the flesh firm, enticing.
She moved slightly so her mouth was against my throat and my face was buried in her long jet hair, as luxuriant as any of the fabrics that clothed her body. I could smell oils and herbs I could not name, a heady drug that made me swoon, I took great lungful’s of air, drinking deep of her scent. I could feel her tongue upon my throat, my neck. Her hand grasped the front of my tunic, ripping it open along with the shirt beneath as if they were made of the flimsiest paper. Her hand caressed my bare chest, long painted nails scratching deeply, leaving vibrant red trails across my pallid skin.
Reason was lost to me; I cared not for the eyes upon us, my duty, my honour, my dead crew mates. This woman was everything. Everything there ever was, everything there ever would be.
Anna’s hand went lower, the flat of her palm rubbing my aching manhood roughly and in that moment I felt a pain in my neck, deep and hot. For the barest of instants I resisted, though perhaps I resisted not at all and it is just my sanity insisting I did, then the world turned and swam about me, the fog crashing over me like waves in a storm, clouds whistling about my head as if chased by all the demons of hell. I shuddered and convulsed and knew pleasure that I cannot find the words to describe. Utter and total. If every happiness of my life, both past and to come, could be distilled and purified and taken in an instant it would still not equate to one fraction of what I felt in that single moment.
I could hear her at my neck, sucking, slurping. I could feel the heat around her lips as I felt a wet warmth spreading across my groin as her hand continued to rub and grind. I felt blackness creeping across my senses and I did not know whether I was dying or my mind was simply unable to cope with the joy that I felt.
The next thing I can recall was sitting upon the deck, my back against the rail. The fog cool against the perspiration that slicked my bare chest. I looked up at the figure of Anna who loomed over me, white against the grey world, my blood upon her lips, trickling down her chin. Her sister joined her, Marietta slipping an arm loosely around her waist, Anna said something shadowy and incomprehensible in her own language and Marietta laughed softly, the haunting flirtatious laugh that I had first heard in the gloom of the ship’s holds.
The two women looked at me, then Marietta took her sister’s chin in her hand and kissed her slowly upon the lips, her tongue darting out to lick at the blood that smeared Anna’s smooth skin. My vision swam for a moment, I raised my hand to my neck, I could feel two small wounds, but a scab seemed to have already formed upon them, which seemed to be madness unless I had somehow passed out for days. I blinked and looked about me at the same heavy fog, the same surreal figures, the same accursed ship.
Marietta moved to stand over me and I heard Rochelle’s voice command me, “William, kneel before your Goddess, worship her and accept her gifts willingly. I did as he commanded without thought, pulling myself feebly up to rest upon my knees; my head swimming from the blood Marietta’s sister had taken from me.
She looked down upon me and smiled, for I had pleased her with my obedience and I found joy in her pleasure. She stretched out a long graceful hand in Rochelle’s direction and the pirate Captain placed a long thin dagger into her hand, its jewelled hilt sparkling in the mist.
“Raise your head to her and open your mouth,” he commanded.
I thought she was going to slit my throat then; that I would be hung from the shrouds and my blood drained away like poor Penny, but I did as I was instructed for it allowed me a better view of my Goddess. However, instead of placing the blade at my throat she run it swiftly cross the tip of her index finger before returning the blade to Rochelle.
She took a step forward, I could feel the flowing layers of her dress pressing against me and I yearned for the touch of the smooth cool skin beneath. Slowly she placed her finger above my lips and I could see a thick ruby droplet of her blood hanging from it.
“’tis time to kiss the vein William,” Rochelle said gently.
Without question I reached up and kissed her finger and felt her blood, damp and cool as the mist upon my lips.
She smiled, radiantly at me and spoke again, her voice as dark and intoxicating as her sister’s.
“Drink from us,” she commanded, “and know the bounty of our love.”
Carefully she pushed her finger into my mouth and I tasted her blood, my whole body shook with joy for it was like no sensation I can truly describe, sweet, illicit, rich and vibrant, it set first my tongue afire and then my whole body. It was the sweetest nectar, the darkest most forbidden of fruits and all my other senses faded before the overwhelming taste of her blood for I needed not sight, nor hearing, nor smell, nor touch, for they were puny clumsy sensations next to the rich impossible promises of her blood. I knelt there and sucked her finger with wanton abandon, like a demon child feeding upon the devil’s teat.
I heard her laugh, that rich flirtatious laugh that any man would die for, would gladly die for.
It was but a small cut and I could surely have drunk no more than a few drops of it, but it felt like gallons flooded down my throat and I was filled with such energy and strength my mind and body could barely comprehend it as if the few drops of Marietta’s blood had replaced all of my weak puny blood that Anna had taken and in those few drops I had gained the strength of ten men.
And then it was gone, her finger slipped from mouth and I fell backwards as if I had been kicked in the face, such was the shock of being denied any more of her sweet vitalizing blood.
I lay sprawled upon the deck my heart beating so furiously I feared it would explode, unable to cope with the heady brew that now coursed through my body, I closed my eyes and tried to calm myself until I realised I missed looking at her.
“William?” A voice said distantly.
My eyes fluttered open and I saw Captain Rochelle squatting in front of me. I tried to focus beyond his shoulder, but I could see no sign of the Ladies, “Am I dying?”
Rochelle shook his head and smiled, “No my young friend, you are not. They like you, like the taste of you. They have great power William, but they have a need of mortal men too. Like me. Like you. The sun is envious of their beauty, and they cannot bare its hatred. They need us to toil in its glare when they cannot.”
“They see something in you William, something they saw in me once before; a long, long time ago. They can look at a man and see what lies in the darkness of his soul the way you or I might see the colour of a man’s hair. The young can love more fiercely and my Ladies do so like to be loved. They see a darkness in you William; you are capable of doing what needs to be done.”
I laughed mockingly, “I am a coward.”
“They believe in you, even if you do not believe in yourself. That is why they spared you. They do you a great honour to bestow upon you the gift of their blood. They are merciless and terrible to their foes, but to their friends they will give the greatest of gifts. They can slow time for a man William; the reaper need not take you for a long time. Serve them well and he may never have you, they could make you like them if you please them well enough, for long enough. Above all they can give you their love William - and you have felt their love, have you not?”
“We are exiled from the world; we do not follow any rules but our own. None hold sway over us. We owe fealty to no one. Join us and sail these seas; kept forever young by their love and their blood...”
Rochelle held out a hand and helped me to my feet; I recall his touch was warm, human.
“‘’tis a sin,” I murmured weakly, all the time my eyes darting beyond the pirate Captain, yearning for a glimpse of those two demonic women.
“We are free of sin,” Rochelle whispered fervently, “do you not see? Sin is just a label, created by men to force the ignorant to bow before their false god, but we have real gods to worship William. Real and beautiful. There is no sin in loving them.”
“I want them,” I heard myself say, knowing I was all but lost to their wickedness, their wanton enchantment. I would do their bidding, whatever deed they asked of me. I would kill for the briefest of smiles, and I knew there was no exaggeration in that thought. I would kill.
“I know you do,” Rochelle said, smiling encouragingly, “and they want you.”
“I came to sea to be a hero,” I laughed bitterly, and knew I had but a moment to act or I would be lost forever, “I see now that I am just a weak and foolish man. There are no heroes here, only the damned...” I pushed myself backwards, feeling myself topple over the rail towards the flat sullen waters below.
“William!” Rochelle cried reaching towards me, for a moment our fingertips brushed, but it was not enough. I remember his face, eyes widened in surprise, mouth turned to a startled O, my name upon his lips. Then I was falling through a grey featureless world, falling from damnation and the dark joys of that accursed ship.
I recall little after that, the hard slap of water knocking both wind and sense from my body. I swam as best I could once I regained the surface; in my pride fearing I was important enough to pursue, in my weakness hoping that they would...
There was no sound, no cries, no slap of oar on water. I did not risk looking back to try to make out the ship’s dark shadow in the fog. I swam as hard as I could, Marietta’s blood gave me strength and I swam far and fast before exhaustion took me; Eventually I kicked off my boots and floated on that flat grey sea, the fog and the night robbing me of all sense of place and direction. Instead I simply kept my head above the water as best I could and tried not to paint pictures of strange haunting women out of the grey whorls of the night.
I carried no hope for life; waiting instead for the sea or the sharks to claim me. Death would come for me in one guise or another, all I could hope was that I had done enough to save my immortal soul from the wicked desires those creatures had unleashed in me. All my dreams were shards, broken by a dark lust that nearly consumed me. I had not lied to Rochelle in the end; I had lived my life to be the hero, but in reality I was first a coward and second a creature of godless desires. I should have been repulsed by the creature’s touch, but I had not. I had lost myself in her and had I stayed aboard I would have been forever a stranger to both God and men; wanting only their favours, their bodies and their blood.
Still, as I floated in that unnatural sea awaiting my death, I mourned not my life, but that I had not given myself to them. In the end I could not decide if it was strength or weakness that had pushed me over the edge of that ship.
Of course death did not come for me, the fog lifted as suddenly as it had arrived, the dawn brought both a wind to disperse it and a Dutch slaver en route to Port Royal. Why God had the grace to save me, when I had come so close to abandoning him, I cannot fathom, but surely he must have some purpose for me. It cannot be chance alone that saw me plucked from the great expanse of the oceans so fortuitously.
I sat upon the Dutch ship’s weather deck, blankets wrapped round me, squinting into the sunlight I had thought never to see again. I scanned the sea from horizon to horizon, but of the Marietta-Anna there was no sign. Every day since I have looked to the sea in search of her, but not one sign have I seen, not one word have I heard.
Save when I close my eyes or extinguish the candle by my bed, for in the darkness I see them well enough and fear I always will...
Third Lieutenant William Lazziard, of His Royal Highness’ Ship Harbinger
this day, 17th September, the year of Our Lord Sixteen Hundred and Seventy-Seven