CHAPTER TWO
The Black Fury


It was nigh on three o'clock in the morning when the howling wind abated and Margaret was finally able to sleep. Only to be awoken an hour later by the sound of screaming and cannon fire. She jumped out of bed and flung open the window. What she saw made her gasp in horror though she should have been rather overjoyed.

A complete scene of terror and destruction lay before her eyes. Burning buildings, crying children, women running and shrieking in fright, and a couple of dead bodies lay strewn across the streets every few metres, some consumed by strangely blue flames. Impulsively Margaret raised her eyes to the ocean and her eyes widened in astonishment when she saw a ship bobbing in the stormy waves, so dark that it almost blended in with the pitch-black water.

Pirates.

Margaret's knees began to tremble. She had finally got her wish. There she was, watching the primary subjects of her imagination as they sliced throats, bombed buildings, and carried sacks and chests of loot back to their ship. And she had wanted to be just like them.

But they couldn't all be so bad. They had to have a captain somewhere and he might be better. After all, pirates weren't so different from the ordinary respectable citizens of Port Royal. They all did some kind of work for a living - pirates were thieves and Port Royalers were shopkeepers. The only differences were the morals of each party.

A loud thud and a high-pitched scream jolted Margaret out of her musings. The pirates must have broken into the Brooks' household already; she could hear them banging and yelling downstairs.

She stuck her head out of the window again, noticing that there was no one in the area below her window. She'd just have to climb down somehow if she wanted to stay alive after this adventure, for Margaret wasn't sure the pirates would be merciful with her.

Thankfully, the gardeners had not taken away the rickety old ladder that usually leaned against the wall just to the right of her window. Margaret leaned out as far as she safely could and snatched the rungs of the ladder, dragging the thing until it rested just below her window. She then hoisted up her nightgown and carefully lowered herself out of the window, making sure to hold on to the drapes in case she slipped.

When her slippered feet finally touched the first rung of the ladder, she let go of the drapes and slowly moved down, down, down, until she eventually reached the mercifully flowering garden surrounding the house and jumped off. Just so the pirates wouldn't be able to escape from the window the same way she had she pushed the ladder away from the window and onto the ground, felling a bush of rhododendrons in the process.

Margaret creeped through the garden, hiding in the biggest clumps of grass and flowers whenever someone came close, and broke into a full run when she reached the broken gates of the Brooks' house. She was able to dodge the pirates still on land as well as the bloody bodies sprinkled around the streets, and only stopped running when she reached the cover of the shadowed docks, panting and nursing a stitch in her side though otherwise quite unharmed.

She hid in the shadows beside a group of barrels, watching as some of the pirates began rowing back to their ship, laughing raucously, their dinghys fair to overflowing with stolen loot.

Margaret would later remember the moment and not understand what possessed her to do such a thing when she jumped down into a dinghy that had two large sacks in it. She peeked into one sack, which was full of artillery, and then the second, which was full of expensive-looking clothes. After digging a hollow amongst the clothes she stepped into the sack and covered the top of her head with the skirts of a dress, holding the ends of the sack in a tight grip.

She didn't have to wait long. A couple of minutes later she heard a four or five pirates step into the dinghy and a thump as they dropped their plunder on top of Margaret's sack, making her back ache terribly. The pirates immediately began rowing away, barking something unintelligible to each other at certain intervals.

Before long they reached the ship and the booty was hoisted up on deck and unceremoniously dumped in a corner, causing Margaret to cry out in pain though, thankfully, she wasn't heard above the din. She heard a lot of shouting and stomping about, as well as more thumps and clatters as an increasing number of sacks were thrown on the pile. Then, all of a sudden, she felt the ship lurch sideways and nearly cried out in shock. It seemed they were on the move, sailing away from Port Royal.

With young Margaret Brooks on a pirate ship. Margaret would have clapped her hands with glee if she could.

Suddenly her ears detected the silence that had befallen the ship. There was no other sound to be heard but the wooshing of waves, the flapping of the sails, and the creaking of the ship. No other human sound. Margaret could not understand what could have caused the sudden hush so she loosened her grip on the sack and, with one eye, was able to see a long row of legs covered in dirty, mismatched apparel.

All of a sudden her nose began to tickle; the dusty sack was inflicting its revenge up on her by trying to make her sneeze. She tried to move her arm to block her nose but it was stuck under something heavy. Finally she could take it no longer and, in complete dread, she let out a tiny sneeze.

It should not have been heard by anyone for it was so quiet. But heard it was and Margaret watched in terror as a pair of caramel coloured boots made their way over to her, clicking on the wooden deck. Right in front of her nose they stopped. Without warning one of them kicked her in the side, causing a yelp to escape her throat. But it was enough.

Her sack was picked up and emptied of all its contents, Margaret included. She fell on to her back amidst the fashionable garments and gasped when she saw who was standing over her.

The woman was obviously a pirate as she was clothed in midnight blue trousers, a loose white shirt, cream-coloured vest, crimson sash that trailed to her calves, brown leather belt, and a caftan of the same colour as her trousers over the lot. As with most pirates she wore a baldric over her vest which supported two pistols and a sword that she had fastened her hand on. A captain's hat sat jauntily atop her curly copper-coloured hair, and a forbidding expression on her face completed the picture.

"Well, what have we here?" she uttered, the dangerous softness of her voice betraying the rage in her kohl-lined grey eyes. Louder she said, "A stowaway, gentlemen! A stowaway on the Black Fury!"

Margaret got to her feet and looked around at the muttering men who were all glaring at her murderously. Then, it hit her and she turned back to the woman. "Black Fury? This is the Black Fury?"

"Well, it ain't very well the bloomin' Dauntless!" snapped one of the pirates.

"Then - then are you ... pirates?" Margaret asked nervously.

"Do we resemble the King's Navy in any way?" countered another pirate.

Margaret shook her head, her eyes wide with amazement. She was on the Black Fury, the legendary pirate ship of legendary accomplishments. The Black Fury was definitely one of the few ships to rival the Black Pearl in its fame and notoriety, and the crews and captains of both ships were desperately wanted for the gallows of Port Royal. Margaret looked up into the face of the pirate woman and was about to ask another question when she was interrupted.

"May I ask what exactly how you managed to creep on to my ship?" the woman inquired.

"I - I just snuck into the sack on one of the rowboats when no one was looking and - and hid in the sack until you found me," replied Margaret tremulously.

"And exactly what did a little minx like yourself expect to get out of the situation?"

Margaret chewed on her lip, apprehensive about answering. She didn't think the pirate woman would take very kindly to her pirate fancy. Nevertheless, she straightened her shoulders and took a deep breath. "I want to be a pirate," she said firmly.

A short pause reigned before the woman let out a derisive laugh. "You want to be a pirate?"

"Now ain't that a flippin' joke!" exclaimed another pirate and the rest chuckled.

"You'd be a pretty expensive pirate to be sure, what with that nightgown you're wearing. All ruffles and bows, eh? I'm surprised the bloody thing ain't pink!" More laughter from the pirate crew. "Whatcha name, girl?" Margaret remained mute though with anger at the woman's scorn. "What, cat got your tongue?" The crew laughed again.

"M - Margaret B - Brooks."

"Didn't catch that, sorry. I'd be amazed if the dust mites on your nightgown heard so much as a croak," the woman drawled.

"Margaret Brooks!"

The woman surveyed her through lowered eyelids for a moment before saying, "Bit scrawny for a pirate, you are, Miss Margaret. What are you, ten? Eleven?"

"Twelve."

"Twelve," repeated the woman, nodding. "I'd hate to imagine why the likes of you would prefer to starve yourself to death when there are people like us - " she gestured to the crew "- who don't get enough."

Margaret frowned. The nerve of the woman to say that she was scrawny and even more for saying that she was starving to death! And how could the pirates never get enough when they raided ships and settlements at every given chance? "Who are you then?" she queried boldly.

"Captain Mary-Mercer Blaire, at your service," responded the woman, the beads and coins somewhere on her person tinkling as she gave Margaret a little bow.

"Otherwise known as Cap'n Mercy!" laughed one of the pirate crew, joined by the rest as Mary-Mercer Blaire smiled indulgently, a dimple appearing in her cheek.

"You're really Captain Blaire?" breathed Margaret excitedly, forgetting about the woman's derisiveness. "I've heard so much about you and your crew and this ship! But none of them were good things. You see, you have the worst reputation in Port Royal and - "

"Just like pretty much everywhere else in the world where there's a bit of land," shrugged Mercy. "Law-abiders think there ain't no good things 'bout pirates, love, and there ain't many o' the scoundrels who are favourites o' the law. Best remember that next time before you go gallivanting off to become an outlaw."

"But I don't care! Honestly, I don't care about the law! I really do want to become a pirate!" gushed Margaret, her face the image of eagerness and desperation. "I do, I do, I do! That's why I snuck on to this ship."

"Your parents weren't pirates, were they?" asked Mercy suspiciously.

"Unfortunately not, but - "

"Good. Then there's even less potential of you becomin' one," said Mercy. "Trust me, love, you'd never make it." And with that, she turned her back on Margaret and began issuing orders to the crew. "Oh, and next time we land to pillage and plunder, make sure to check all the boats for anything unusual and unwanted and throw it overboard. One incident like this is enough," she barked.

Before she knew what she was doing, Margaret sprang forward and was about to hit Mercy when the latter spun around in time to fasten her hand around Margaret's arm in a pincer-like grip.

"And no wild antics from you, hear?" Mercy growled, her eyes spitting sparks. Margaret's cry stuck in her throat and she nodded silently. Releasing Margaret's arm, Mercy turned to a man with white stubble and wispy hair. "Ackley, get this little cretin something to busy herself with. I shall be in my cabin and do not wish to be disturbed until six o'clock." And without another glance at Margaret, Mercy stormed off to her cabin, her dark red curls flouncing behind her.

"Get movin', wench," muttered Ackley, shoving Margaret forward. "Ye'll be scrubbin' the deck with Timothy an' I don' wanna hear a single peep from you. There'll be trouble otherwise."

A thin boy with dishevelled brown hair and freckles sprinkled across his nose gave Margaret a furtive look from his place on the deck and then went back to scrubbing it with a soapy brush. He looked to be a year or two older than Margaret and she could see a pistol and cutlass tucked away in his belt.

Feeling as though she ought to be friendly with him she smiled faintly and said, "Hello."

The boy looked up at her with one eyebrow raised as though he'd never been greeted politely before. He shrugged, seemingly lost for words, and carried on scrubbing.

"I'm Margaret. Margaret Brooks."

The boy sighed and ran a grubby hand through his hair, making it stick up slightly. "Look, if yer goin' to spend the whole day chirpin' pleasantries then we're never gonna get this done. I ain't got no other help today."

"Oh, I - I'm sorry." Margaret dropped down on her knees beside him, taking up another brush, dipping it into the water, brushing it across the yellow bar of soap, and began to scrub slowly back and forth, back and forth. "What about the other members of the crew? Why don't they help you?"

"They're stashin' away the swag," was the curt reply.

"Why aren't you allowed to help?"

"'Cause I got to do this." The boy paused. "I'm Timothy, by the way. Timothy Truax." He paused again. "Ye were leein' when ye said ye wanted to be a pirate, right?"

Margaret looked up to see him frowning at her. "Why does everyone think I'm so unworthy of being one?" she asked, irritated.

To her surprise, Timothy chuckled. "Eh, don' think it's 'cause yer a girl. Cap'n Mercy made it an' so did the likes of Anne Bonny an' Mary Read afore her."

"Then why can't I?" Margaret inquired angrily, scrubbing the wooden floor with ferocity.

Timothy heaved another sigh and ran his hand through his lanky hair again. "Yer wouldn' be able to take it, fer one thing." He shook his head. "Jus' from lookin' at ye I can tell that ye'd never 'arm a fly. So how d'ye expect to go 'round killin', eh?"

Margaret's shoulders drooped. Timothy was right - she wouldn't be able to kill anyone. She had never liked the idea of murder, moreover it if was she who was committing it. She barely repressed a shudder at the thought. "Tell me about Captain Blaire," she said instead.

"Ol' Mercy?" Timothy grinned toothily. "Finest female pirate in the Caribbean, I'd say. In the 'ole world even! Ain'tcha never 'eard the stories 'bout 'er?"

"Only a couple and they weren't much," mumbled Margaret, flapping her hands in hope of taking the soreness away.

Timothy shook his head again. "Well, I'll tell ye. This ship ain't called the Black Fury fer nothin', ye know. I ain't never seen a worse temper than Cap'n Mercy's. When she flies into a rage there's nothin' and no one as can stop 'er. Best not to get in 'er way when she's loik that. She'd kill anyone when she's in a temper, whether they be 'er crew or 'er prisoner. Not that she wouldn' do the same in cold blood, though." Timothy scratched his head. "Eh, it's so scary when she kills in cold blood. 'Sloik she's jus' doin' it fer the fun o' it." He shuddered suddenly. "She's killed children, too. Even little babes wot still inside their mams. I ain't never seen nothin' like it."

Margaret shuddered herself. She could barely believe her luck in escaping from the clutches of Captain Mary-Mercer Blaire alive when the latter had even taken to killing unborn children. She couldn't understand why her life was spared but she was doubtless grateful for it. At least she'd get to breathe fresh air a little longer.

"Look! Look out there!" Timothy suddenly cried out, pointing towards the horizon.

A thin pink line bordered by orange below and purple above stretched the whole length of the visible horizon, making it appear as though a gigantic star was about to explode instead of a ball of gas rising to give way to the day.

When the burning head of the sun began to peek above the skyline, Timothy nodded, the liquid-like light reflecting in his dark eyes, and said comfortably, "Eh, I wouldn' give up this life fer anythin'. There's no freedom or power anywhere else as in a pirate's life."

Margaret turned back to him. "How did you become a pirate?"

A slow smile spread over Timothy's face as he went back to his scrubbing. "Eh, it was sort of a dream of mine. An' Cap'n Mercy has my deepest gratitude for makin' it come true. Me father was a pirate, see, but 'e was killed afore I was born an' me mam died jus' after I was born, so I never knew either of 'em. I'd worked as an apprentice to a blacksmith 'cause I was rather good wiv me 'ands. But then I ran away and got picked up by the Cap'n." Timothy grinned wider. "Best day in all me fourteen years."

"Have you actually killed someone already?"

Timothy nodded grimly. "Aye, an' it was a pretty 'ard job, I can tell you. I didn' wanna shoot 'im but 'cause I did, I saved a life. An' that's the on'y good side of it that I can see. The Cap'n doesn' make me do much killin', thankfully. She un'erstands."

"But I don't think I would be so understanding much longer if you spent most of your time chattering instead of working," said an amused voice.

Margaret whirled around to see Mercy gazing at them through lowered eyelids, her lips curved in a small smile. "Breakfast is served, Timmy lad," said Mercy.

Timothy grinned at her sheepishly and scurried off below deck, giving Margaret a curious look over his shoulder before he disappeared.

"How are you getting on, then?" asked Mercy, leaning against the side of the ship and not taking her eyes off Margaret.

"My arms are sore, my legs are numb, my mouth tastes of salt and soap, and my hair is full of knots and tangles!" complained Margaret, pouting.

Mercy grinned. "Such is the life of a pirate. Perhaps now you'll be dissuaded from joining the noble race of scallywags and rascals."

"Never!" Margaret shook her head vigorously. "I shall be a pirate no matter what you say. I'll try my very best."

"Your very best won't be much good," sighed Mercy, "if you haven't got the pride and passion flowing in your veins and pulsing in your soul, savvy? It won't matter how hard you try, lass. I tell you, you'll never be a proper pirate."

Margaret crossed her arms, a mutinous expression crossing her face. "Why do you keep trying to change my mind?"

"Because the pirate world does not need any pretenders. It's either the best or nothing. Otherwise you won't survive. Trust me on that one if on nothing else."

A brief taciturnity hung in the air as Mercy examined the burning sky facing her. "Aurora australis. Southern lights. Also known as the sunrise," she said. "If there's one reason people become pirates, it's because of the primitive natural beauty that the occupation offers. You'll never find anything like this in boxes of rouge or powder, or in bottles of perfume, or delicately coiffured hair. This is the life." She turned her gaze back to Margaret. "I suppose you think that's part of the reason why you want to escape your reality?"

Margaret nodded silently, perching herself on her knees. She cocked her head to one side, studying Mercy through slightly narrowed eyes. "You weren't always a pirate."

"What makes you say that? Of course, we're all pirates from the moment we're born, didn't you know?" commented Mercy sarcastically. Then she turned back to the sunrise. "No, I wasn't always a pirate," she sighed. "No more than most of the crew of this ship, to be honest. There was not enough freedom in my life, you see, and I had to do something about it. I couldn't really live otherwise."

"I'm amazed that the whole world isn't solely populated by pirates," remarked Margaret. "Doesn't everyone want freedom?"

Mercy inclined her head in agreement. "Aye, but there's something that you haven't taken into account, Miss Brooks. The population of the world can be divided into two groups (although I don't particularly agree with that): the so-called good people and the so-called bad people - the good ones being the morally correct and the bad ones the opposite. Now, do you really think that the morals of certain people would allow them to turn into murderous thieving pirates? I don't."

Margaret stayed silent, mulling the words over in her mind. She was very surprised to be having such a conversation with the Captain of the Black Fury. It was unheard of! What the people back home would say! Suddenly, she felt a pang of regret and sadness. She was sure it would be a long time before she got to see the remnants of her family again ... though it would be much more easier to deal with for those who didn't have families.

She fastened her eyes on Mercy and voiced a question that had been buzzing in her brain for a couple of minutes. "Don't you miss the life you had before you became a pirate?"

To Margaret's astonishment, Mercy laughed albeit bitterly. "Miss it? No, I don't miss it at all. I see so many more benefits in this life than the other, and if I was given a choice to return I would never accept it. Not even if the devil himself was striking a bargain with me. Tell me, why would I want to leave all this," Mercy stood and twirled around, "for something that I never even wanted?"

"What about your family?"

"This," Mercy spread her arms wide, indicating her surroundings, "is my family, lass. My ship is my love, and the crew are all the family that I'll ever need. This is my life. Sailing for adventure, hunting for treasure, getting drunk off my head on rum, and all on the big blue ocean that I call home. Savvy?" She walked across to the helm and lay her hands on it. Margaret noticed how lovingly Mercy's hands ran along it and suddenly understood: the woman would give her life to save her ship. How odd.

"Enough talk for now," barked Mercy, seemingly settling into a bad temper after a peek at the compass she procurred from somewhere in her vest. "If you want to stay hungry for the rest of the morning, go ahead, and if not, then you'd better hurry off to the kitchens down below. I told Cook to leave a few scraps for you."

Margaret painfully got to her feet and, after a giving a small smile and nod to Mercy, followed the same path Timothy took to the kitchens. She didn't want to be accused of starving herself to death again.