Author's Note: Whew! Uni is proving fun so far, though hard work, of course. This chapter has been written in bits and pieces-- a paragraph every now and again, which was then revised a couple of weeks later… but it's finally done. Finally being the operative word!
Disclaimer: They are borrowed, borrowed without permission, but with every intention of giving them back…
Beauty lies inside the eye of another youthful dream
That doesn't sell it's soul for self-esteem
That's not plasticine
Beauty lies inside desire and every wayward heart redeemed
That doesn't sell it's soul for self-esteem
That's not plasticine
Don't forget to be the way you are
Don't forget to be the way you are
The only thing you can rely on is that you can't rely on anything Don't forget to be the way you are
Don't go and sell your soul for self-esteem
Don't be plasticine
And don't forget to be the way you are
The way you are...
The only thing you can rely on is that you can't rely on anything
Don't forget to be the way you are
Chapter Five: Can't Rely On Anything
No one ever denied that life was hard on board ship. No one really mentioned it, but they didn't deny it, and those were completely different things. It didn't do to complain about your conditions, especially when it came to piracy: pirates were a tough breed. Inhumanly so. It was an unspoken law that when it came to discomfort, to sickness, you either held your tongue or risked losing it.
There was one thing that piracy had in favour over merchant ships, or the Navy: fairness. Equal shares, democracy, no unjust punishments… and oftentimes, that made the extra difficulties all the more bearable. It was a commonplace fact, though, that any hard times were easier to handle when you had volunteered to be in the situation in the first place. When you had been forced into brutal circumstances… well, it was sometimes difficult to see why many sailors were so loyal.
The Creeping Giant's captain, despite having a secular inability to understand fashion and a ship which warranted disownment rather than pride, was unmerciful in his attainment of crew members. Pintel, of course, had volunteered his services mere days after leaving Sarendo and Sun Arise, and had thus rarely experienced the vicious side of Captain Sansome's nature. Ragetti, on the other hand, had started out with no reason to bear any love for the wooden world or the people who inhabited it. Pintel still occasionally felt stirrings of sympathy for his friend, but they were few and far between, as whenever he thought about that time he found himself preoccupied with the selfish thoughts that his loneliness had at last been dispelled.
Not that it had been comradeship at first sight, of course. The Giant had been ready to weigh anchor all morning, and Pintel was moody, impatient to move off from the Southern Barbados port. The staccato barks of the leftenant had permeated the bustling chatter of the crew, joined by the dull clinks and drags of chains.
"Get along, there! Move, lads, by the grace of God, move!"
Everybody's attention was on the three men who had just come aboard with the leftenant and Captain Sansome. Pintel turned away from the mist-covered horizon and leant back on the ship's railing, propping his elbows against it and resting on his heels. Through a veil of indifference he studied the three men as Sansome read the articles, setting down the law and punishments.
The first man was big, broad and battered. A cloth cap sat on his thick curly hair as he stared over Sansome's head, his face set and grim, fury written in the strong line of his jaw. His fists were clenched, his burly shoulders set back in a proud stance-- forced into another life he may have been, but he wasn't going to go quietly.
Nor, for that matter, was the second man. A tall Hispanic man, whose face was impassive but for the dark eyes which betrayed his curdling anger. As Sansome spoke, he crossed his newly unshackled arms; a slow, deliberate movement, and an unspoken challenge. Pintel allowed the barest sneer to flicker over his face: this next journey was going to be interesting.
The third man let down the pattern. He could barely be considered a man-- just a boy, really. Not that anyone thought anything of that; it was common for a lad to join a crew at only eight or nine, let-alone sixteen. This boy was chewing his lip, worried eyes peering through a mop of unruly blond hair. He had a wiry build, and looked under-fed; this appearance was only exacerbated by the slump to his thin shoulders, the way they curved about him almost protectively, and the nervous fretting of his hands.
So, two tough soldiers and a terrified waif. Well-chosen. Pintel gave an inward snort. A sorry lot to join the previous sorry lot. With a roll of his eyes he turned back to the horizon, though the early morning mist gathered over the surface of the water made it difficult to determine where ocean became sky.
"Master Pintel!" Shit. Don' even think about involvin' me…
Sansome's hands were on his hips, watching Pintel as though sizing him up. Pintel stood up straight, carefully levelling his gaze some six inches to the left of Sansome's left ear. "I want you to look after this one," he jerked his head behind him, indicating the boy. "Show him how things are done." He paused, the faintest glimmer of a smile at the corner of his mouth. "No complaints, sir, or it's the lash for you." Right. No complaints.
"Aye, sir." Sansome nodded at Pintel's impassive agreement, and turned on his heel. The lad shuffled uncomfortably, looking nowhere higher than the wooden decks.
"What's yer name?"
"R-R-Ragetti." Brilliant. One that can' talk.
"You Italian?" Sansome hadn't said anything about making the lad feel welcome. Pintel was rather enjoying the new recruit's nervous squirming.
"Um, yes. Half."
"Right. What's the other half?" Pintel kept his voice brisk-- the questions were not asked out of genuine interest, but more out of a curiosity as to just how far Ragetti could be pushed.
"English." Christ. What a mix.
Neither spoke for a while. Pintel felt slightly amused that Ragetti hadn't even asked for his name. Though Sansome had probably introduced him. Probably warned Ragetti that he was a 'difficult bugger' (as he was often known) as well.
"I don' bite, lad." Ragetti glanced up at him, and Pintel got a good look at his face for the first time: his cheeks were hollowed, his nose almost over-long, and his blue eyes wide and scared. Pintel caved slightly-- he had to admit that it must be daunting, suddenly being dragged into this whole new existence. Though Ragetti had barely seen the start of it.
"I'm Pintel," he offered, allowing something close to a smile. Ragetti actually met his gaze, considering him.
"W-w-where are y-you fr-from?" Cheeky bastard! Pintel gave a harsh bark of laughter and Ragetti flinched slightly, though an uncertain smile crept over his features. Maybe the lad wasn't that much of a pushover after all.
"I'm French," Pintel said, pushing himself off the bulkhead once again. He grabbed Ragetti's shoulder, turned him around, and marched him off down the deck. "Don' hold that agains' me, though."
Despite his mixed heritage, Ragetti had been born and brought up in the Caribbean and, until becoming a sailor, had never left the island of Barbados. His father, a proud Italian man, had come to the Caribbean during the War of the Spanish Succession as part of Spain's colonization in the islands. During a brief respite on land he had met Ragetti's mother, a poor woman recently arrived in Barbados from England.
Guido Ragetti was a merchant sailor, and as such was away from home for long periods of time, and Ragetti knew very little of him; brief memories of a man quick to laugh and scold, of whom he was both admiring and frightened. He had always brought back gifts for Ragetti and his older brother, Carlos: musical instruments, wooden toys crudely carved. Carlos was five years older than Ragetti, and treated his little brother with disdain, and so Ragetti spent most of his time with a street gang.
The family lived in the poor area of Holetown, the English settlement, near to the Southern ports. They were not so poor as to be in poverty, but still their lives were meagre. Sarah Ragetti was a house proud woman, who believed in keeping 'standards'; as far as Ragetti was concerned, this meant that his clothes had to be clean and neatly mended, and that he had to learn to read and write. She despaired constantly over his habit of 'rolling around in the dust', as though he were some sort of naughty pet. The children of the area all belonged to gangs, which none of the adults understood-- they did not see the importance involved in such warfare.
Nobody in these gangs were known by their forenames; somehow an importance was gleaned by dismissing Christian names. Ragetti learnt dirty fighting in the streets, the rules of which were to use anything to stop the other one winning. He had always been the smallest, skinniest and quietest, but he had won a fair few fights through sheer lack of reserve: he kicked, scratched, elbowed and even bit his way to victory, with all the desperation and quickness of a cat. At home, he was always scolded for fighting:
"Honestly, Giorgio, how many times do I have to tell you? This is unbecoming behaviour, and I expect better!" What 'better' pertained to he had never been told. When he came home bruised and battered, he would have to do extra reading and writing before supper. Not that he minded much; he enjoyed letters.
When he was ten years old this life, which had a certain idyll to it, was forcefully interrupted by a new arrival. Sam Baker was an older boy, hardened in a way beyond that of the street gang children; he was tanner's apprentice, but he spent little time doing his duties. Nobody knew the full truth, but it was widely known that Baker had been rescued from pirates, whose company he had been in for several months, and brought to Barbados to learn a proper trade.
"That poor boy!" Sarah Ragetti had exclaimed when Carlos brought the subject up over supper one evening. "Imagine how relieved he must have been to have been rescued from those evil scoundrels. At least he'll be able to pick up his life now." Baker hardly portrayed himself as a victim, though, boasting about his time with the pirates and the things he had seen-- Ragetti was unsure about believing him, but the stories had been good. Fights and brawls, a stern captain and rowdy crew, storming ports with blasting cannons, hand-to-hand fighting aboard deck… it was the sort of thing he had read about in books.
Baker was certainly vicious enough to be pirate; he had broken the arm of the oldest boy in the Tanner Street gang, and had somehow asserted himself as their leader. However, his dominion was not one focused on waging war on the other gangs, but on gaining more and more power over his group. Ragetti, as the smallest and youngest, was his especial victim.
It had started off with vague taunts about his speech impediment, cruel laughing when this worsened the stammering, and gradually Ragetti learnt to submit, to keep his head down and do as he was told, or risk a beating. These beatings were not the same as fights, wherein you began on equal footing, but instead began with threats, which the other boys took to joining in with-- anything to gain popularity with Baker-- and ended, always, in violence. Ragetti tried secluding himself, but Baker took to seeking him out, seemingly too addicted to the power he held over Ragetti to leave him alone.
A year later, the small family was shaken by the arrival of a simple telegram. Guido Ragetti was dead, killed in a skirmish with Spanish privateers. A silence descended on the small house; Sarah remained in her bedroom, locked in her own despair and grief. The two boys were quiet, uncertain, filled with a distant kind of sadness and worry for their mother. Only months later, Carlos had announced that he was going to join a merchant ship. Sarah did not try to stop him; they needed the income, and Carlos was set on the idea. Apart from the money they received and the occasional letter, Ragetti never heard from his older brother again.
It had been a fairly friendly start, all things considered, but there was a difference between a distant friendliness and actual friendship: that had taken time. Then, after four more years aboard The Creeping Giant, things had taken a turn for the much, much worse.
Two days into a crossing from Guadeloupe to Tortuga, The Creeping Giant had received a cannonball over the bowsprit, preceded by a cry of, "Enemy fire! The French are attacking!" Pintel and Ragetti had manned their cannon until the last, but the fight had been lost almost before it had begun: the enemy ship had been lined up for a broadside before they had even gotten to the gun deck. Inwardly cursing Francis, whose nonchalance on watch was now costing them dearly, Pintel lit up their cannon and stood back as she blasted off. Their shot found its mark in Le Jubilance's hull, but it was a mere bruise compared to the damage done to the Giant; everybody on board could feel how low she was listing.
It was over as soon as it had begun. The gunners were practically dragged up on deck, where they first met Captain Leonard, a tall, imposing man who, it seemed, was the carrier of a Letter of Marque from the King, and as such was now taking property of the Creeping Giant. He set his First Mate to captain the Giant back to Guadeloupe for necessary repairs-- she would require some emergency work there and then of course, but unless a major storm hit she should otherwise remain seaworthy until she was back in port. Then Leonard chose members of the Giant's crew to join his own, far more efficient, men. Pintel and Ragetti were among those to board Le Jubilance.
Dun dun duuuuuuuuuuun. I can't believe how long it's been since I've updated this! I had some teething troubles with Ragetti's backstory, and I'm still not entirely sure whether the pacing is right. Please let me know, as I'll no doubt be revising this at some point. Cheers!