I own nothing named in the Pirates of the Caribbean film(s) (unfortunately!) ;)
Well, I'm back! I hope you enjoy this story as much as you enjoyed my others – I certainly love typing it!Chapter one
Celia Hammond paused before knocking on the door to Father Bernard's study, going through her arguments one last time. She rapped sharply and entered when beckoned, smiling at the elderly priest seated in a large chair by the fireside.
"Ah, Sister Benedict…" He stopped, sighing deeply and with regret. "You're not Sister Benedict any more, are you?"
"No, Father," Celia smiled sadly. "Just plain Celia Hammond once again. How are you, Father?"
"I am well," he replied. "The pesky fever seems to be leaving me at last. It appears not to be the only thing leaving…"
"Why? Why on earth do you want to go to practically the other side of the world? Are there not enough vagrants and vagabonds to save here?"
"Yes, but there are also plenty of good people such as yourself and Mother Superior to save them. The pirates of the Spanish Main most likely have no one to pray for their souls."
"But why does it have to be you?" the priest pressed. "I know the Bishop called for volunteers to go over and save these heathens, but why do you want to give up all you have here and risk your life?"
"Because… I don't entirely know, Father," Celia sighed. "It's just something I feel very strongly about – as if it's what I'm meant to do."
"You said something along those lines when you took your vows…"
"I took my vows seriously!" she defended. "They were not taken lightly, as you well know."
"All right, all right," Father Bernard soothed placatingly. "I was not suggesting otherwise. I just think, and Mother Superior agrees with me, that you are being a tad hasty."
"Well it's too late anyway, I leave for Portsmouth in the morning."
"It's never too late if you have changed your mind," he reminded her. "You can always stay."
"And do what? I can't exactly retake my vows."
"You can work with the poor and disadvantaged."
"No," Celia shook her head. "I have told you, it's something I want to do, something I must do."
"Very well," the old man replied sadly. "I am sorry to see you leave – you brightened the place up with your smile."
"I am sorry to be leaving you all behind. Thank you for your guidance, Father."
"Take care, my child, and write to us, so at least we know that you are safe."
"It is a promise," she smiled, bending to give him a chaste peck on the cheek. "Goodbye, Father Bernard. God be with you."
"And with you, Celia, and with you…"
…Four months later
"Miss Hammond? We're approaching Nassau Port."
"Thank you, Mister Jenkins," Celia called from within her cabin. "I am just finishing my packing."
"Very well. I shall send one of the men to carry your trunks once we've anchored."
"All right." Celia stopped and brushed a stray strand of dark blonde hair from her brown eyes, half wanting to rush up to the main deck to catch her first glimpse of her new world, but also partly dreading it. She had had plenty of time during the uneventful journey across the Atlantic to contemplate her decision to leave the veil and go for a life of missionary work in the Caribbean after a plea from the Bishop. It was not a decision that Celia took lightly, but it was one that she took quickly for she had already begun to have doubts as to whether a cloistered life was really for her, having taken the veil after her betrothed jilted her a month before their wedding.
'Robert…' she thought sadly, having managed to more or less succeeded in not thinking about the love of her life during her enclosed time, but now she felt as if she was able to think freely once more and it un-nerved her.
'Come on,' Celia chided. 'The trunk won't pack itself…' she busied herself once more, packing her meagre belongings into the small trunk and shutting the lid firmly, biting her lip with indecision as to whether to go on deck or not. "You've got to see it some time…" she said aloud, shrugging her shoulders and reaching for the door knob, opening it slowly.
"Ah, Miss Hammond, can I escort you to the deck?" the bosun, David Cook, enquired as he passed her door, stopping and backtracking on himself.
"Thank you, Mister Cook, that is kind of you." Celia hesitantly put her arm through his offered one and allowed herself to be lead to the main deck, gasping as the burning sun beat down on her.
"You might find that your woollen dress will be a mite too warm in these climes," the bosun chuckled kindly, taking in her long, grey dress with its full length sleeves. "I'm sure you will find more adequate clothing once ashore."
"I-I'm sure I will," Celia stammered, wondering if the paltry allowance that the church had given her to live on would stretch to 'adequate clothing'. She had not wanted to ask her family for more money, determined to make her own way, as the other former nuns were having to do.
"Isn't this exciting?"
Celia looked around, smiling as another girl bounded towards her with an eager grin on her face. "Yes, Beth, it is."
"You don't sound very sure. I mean, look at the beautiful sunshine for a start!"
Celia chuckled and shook her head at her friend's antics. She was another volunteer, along with six other girls from different convents, but Beth Ashby had latched onto Celia straight away and taken her under her wing for which Celia was extremely grateful. Although they were of a similar age, Beth was more worldly-wise than she, having joined her convent simply to ease the family finances, preferring that to a life of servitude. Celia had come from a well-to-do family and had gone from her sheltered home straight to the nunnery, with little experience of the outside world.
'Whatever made me do this?' she wondered, not for the first time. 'I don't have a clue what to do.'
"How's abouts you and me stick together?" Beth suggested, as if she had read her friend's mind. "Be safer that way."
"Are you sure?" Celia replied. "I would prefer it, I must admit."
The two women fell silent as they looked out at the land looming large, marvelling at the vast stretch of sand and deep blue sea.
"It looks wonderful," Beth sighed, finally breaking the silence.
"That ain't it!" one of the crewmen laughed. "That's just Hog Island, Nassau Town is hidin' behind it."
"Do all the islands look like this?" Celia asked, dragging her eyes away from the seeming paradise. 'That's blasphemy!' she chided, crossing herself. 'There's only one paradise…'
"Nah, Miss," the crewman replied, looking oddly at her and wondering if she crossed herself every time she spoke to men. " Some islands are covered in trees an' shrubs an' suchlike. Some are practically bare rock – they're all different."
"Can't wait to see them all," Beth giggled.
"I really cannot imagine you in a convent," Celia smiled, correctly guessing that Beth's Mother Superior had her work cut out with the exuberant girl.
"Me neither, now," Beth laughed, threading her arm through her companions and hugging it to her. "I wonder what sort of life we'll have?"
"One of obedience and chastity…" Celia chided. "And saving the souls of the heathens and disadvantaged."
"Yes, yes, all that as well," Beth sighed, pouting at Celia's sternness. "Although quite who we're supposed to obey, I have no idea."
"God?" Celia suggested sarcastically then immediately regretted her sharp tone when she looked at her friend's crestfallen face. "I'm sorry, Beth. I suppose I'm just a bit scared, that's all."
"The pirates can't be any worse than the drunkards when they left the taverns, back home," the small, dark haired woman reasoned.
"I wouldn't know," Celia confessed. "Our village never had a tavern, and Papa would not allow drink in the house."
"Gawd, you really are a novice, eh?" Beth teased.
"Beth – don't take the Lord's name in vain."
"Sorry," Beth apologised, although she wished that her friend would not be quite so serious. "Look, Celia… I don't think you're going to save many pirates if you don't loosen your corset, so to speak."
"I intend converting these soulless men in the name of God – I do not intend to be jovial about it."
"Well, I wish you luck," Beth sniped, taking her arm from Celia's. "You're going to need it."
Celia watched as Beth flounced off along the deck and stood with a couple of other girls, ooh-ing and arr-ing over the sights. 'Well done!' she thought crossly to herself. 'Now you've upset Beth.' She walked slowly over, hesitating as she reached the group of women, before standing with them. "I'm sorry, Beth," she apologised as she leaned on the ship's rail. "Maybe you're right."
"I'm sorry too," Beth replied, moving to stand next to her friend. "Maybe we're both a bit nervous, eh?"
The women gasped as the town of Nassau came into view, taking in the numerous buildings of the prosperous town, and the many ships in the harbour. If they had known that most of the said ships were pirate vessels, their excitement may have been tempered slightly, but they did not and so marvelled at the sight, chattering excitedly to one another, and pointing out things which caught their eye, until finally, their ship came to her berthing point and the crew released the anchors, slowing the Serendipity to a stop.
"Johnny!" the bosun called. "Organise the ladies trunks to be brought up."
"Aye, Mister Cook," the deck hand deferred, hurrying to his task as his crewmates busied themselves with theirs, stowing the sails, making the Serendipity ship-shape, and lowering the boats over the side.
"Come on, ladies. There's a boat waiting fer you," the bosun chivvied.
"Thank you for all of your help, Mister Cook," Celia smiled. "Goodbye."
"Goodbye, Miss Hammond, and good luck." 'You'll need it,' he thought grimly to himself.
One by one, the former nuns and novices found themselves being lowered into a large ships boat via the bosun's chair, the luggage following after them, passed down from the deck, and four burly crewmen took up the oars once they were settled and started rowing them towards Nassau.
"I'm so excited I can barely contain myself," Beth giggled, wriggling on the bench she shared with Celia.
"Well if you don't contain yourself, you'll capsize the boat…" her friend remarked dryly.
"Oops, sorry!" the dark haired woman laughed.
"I wonder how we'll find Father Michael?" Jayne Browning, one of the other women, mused.
"Ask, I expect," Celia replied, subconsciously playing with her rosary beads the closer to the wharf they got. "I can't imagine there are too many Catholic priests in Nassau." She audibly gulped as the boat bumped against the docks, suddenly wishing that she had stayed with her convent in England. Celia waited until her friends had climbed from the boat then got to her feet, wobbling with the movement.
"Careful, Miss," the crewman nearest to her chuckled as he grabbed her arm. "Don't want ter be takin' a bath now, do we?"
"N-no," Celia stammered, trying to smile as she reached for a ladder on the dock wall, climbing onto it hesitantly.
"Come on," Beth teased. "It'll be nightfall by the time you reach here."
"Ha, ha!" Celia sniped, breathing a sigh of relief when she planted her feet on firm ground once more.
"Goodbye," Beth called to the men, as the group of women picked up their respective trunks and started off towards the town, laughing hysterically at their attempts to gain their land legs once more.
"So… you're the new recruits, hmm?" Father Michael looked the assembly before him up and down a few times, frowning. "A bit young, aren't you?"
"We have experience in helping the poor and destitute," Beth defended.
'I don't,' Celia thought to herself, trying to avoid the intense gaze of the priest.
"I'm sure you do," Father Michael nodded slowly. "But I doubt the poor and destitute you helped would have raped or cut your throats without a second thought…" He sighed heavily as the young women gulped collectively. "Never mind – I'm sure we can find some use for you all."
"T-thank you, Father," Celia stammered. "We will do our best before God."
"You will need all the help Our Father can give you," the priest replied sternly. "Brother Paul will show you where you are to sleep. I will see where I might send you in the morning."
"Thank you, Father," the women chorused before following their guide out of the priest's office and through the church, crossing a yard to a large house.
"Big enough, ain't it?" Beth commented, thinking that her priest back home did not have such luxurious surroundings.
"Father Michael arranges most of the missionaries that come over here," the young deacon informed her. "Therefore he needs to be able to put them up until he finds them passage to where they are to be sent."
"Pardon me," Beth replied ironically, pulling a face at his back.
"Beth!" Celia hissed. "Behave yourself."
"I hope we're not staying here long," her friend sighed. "A right miserable lot they are."
"It is a hard life," Brother Paul said sharply. "There is little to be joyous about…"
"Send me back home, please!" Beth replied acerbically.
"You will be wishing for that for real before long," the deacon told her as he opened the door to the house. "You are to cook and clean during your stay here and you will all share a room."
"Of course," Celia smiled, nudging Beth in the ribs lest she make another comment.
"How long will we stay for?" Jayne Browning enquired as she looked around the spartan hall.
"It varies. No longer than a month."
"Oh good…" Beth put in before Celia could silence her. "Are we allowed out to explore the town?"
"It is not advisable," Brother Michael told her. "Although this is officially an English naval port, pirates have the run of the town."
"What?" Celia exploded in shock. "But I thought… how can they?"
"They most probably pay the Governor and Commodore of the Navy to turn a blind eye. The Admiralty have not supplied the Navy with many ships, so pirates patrol the waters instead."
"Doing the Navy's job for them?" Beth enquired.
"Yes," the deacon shrugged. "It is not ideal, but there's little we can do except make the best of it."
"Ah well, it's not like we're going to be here long, is it?" Beth reasoned, a cheerful smile on her face.
"No," the young man replied with a knowing smile. "It isn't… I'll leave you to find your own way around. The dormitory is on the first floor, third door on the left – and Father Michael likes supper around seven thirty."
"We'll see to it," Jayne assured him as he turned and headed for the front door.
"Thank ga… goodness he's gone," Beth sighed as he shut the door. "Come on, let's take our trunks upstairs then explore."
"Bags the bed by the window," Alice Johnson called as she and Beth raced for the stairs leaving the others trailing in their wake.
Celia looked up as she and Beth scrubbed the kitchen floor, scrambling to her feet as she saw Father Michael approaching them, hands behind his back.
"Father," she smiled, giving a little bob.
"I have some good news," he informed them, looking acerbically at Beth as she was slower to rise – much slower. "I have found a ship heading for the Virgin Islands in the morning. I have booked you both on it."
"Great!" Beth beamed. "What is it like there?" she asked, eager to be gone from the strict and austere man, especially now there was just she and Celia left, the other women having being sent to various islands during the past two weeks.
"This is not a holiday for you," the priest snapped. "You are here to do the Lord's work."
"Yes, Father," Beth muttered sourly. "Sorry, Father."
"I wish you would not antagonise him," Celia sighed as the priest took his leave. "He's probably sent us to the worst hell-hole now."
"At least the atmosphere will be better than this place!"
"I wish I could have gone to town to buy some cotton dresses," Celia lamented. The group of women had planned on going into the town of Nassau, despite Brother Paul's warning, until a woman had been brutally raped and murdered the day after their arrival, some three weeks ago. So Celia had made do with the thick, woollen dresses she had brought from England, sweltering in the hot August sun.
"Maybe we can buy some when we reach the Virgin Islands?" her friend suggested.
"If I don't faint from the heat first!" Celia chuckled, kneeling back down and picking up the scrubbing stone, setting to her task once more.
Three days later
"Stow th'sails! Batten down th'hatches!"
Celia and Beth looked at each other in alarm as they heard the panic in the man's voice, even from the confines of their cabin, having been ordered there by the captain who feared that a storm was on the way. Now it seemed he was correct and even Beth's natural exuberance was dampened by fear. The two women clutched each other as the ship swayed violently, first one way, then the other, throwing them both to the floor.
"Ow! Bloody hell!" Beth swore, rubbing her head where she had bumped it against the bunk as she fell. "And don't you dare tell me off for swearing!" she warned, glowering at her friend.
"I wasn't going to," Celia assured her. "In fact, I almost feel like swearing myself."
"We must be in trouble then," Beth joked, managing a weak smile. "Here, help us up…" She took Celia's hand once her friend was standing and gingerly got to her feet, wincing as her head throbbed.
They both shrieked as the ship pitched and groaned, sending them flying around the cabin and things that were not fastened down, flying around with them.
"Celia!" Beth screamed as water started to pour into the cabin through the ceiling and door, which had burst open.
"Come on," Celia urged, grabbing her friend's arm. "We have to leave the cabin…" She struggled through the rising water, keeping firm hold of the smaller woman as she fought her way through the corridor towards the steps.
"I can't!" Beth gasped, the water already reaching her waist. "You go on."
"No!" Celia declared. "I am not leaving you."
"I'll take her, Miss," a crewman said as he approached them, scooping Beth up in his arms and wading through the tide. "Will you be all right?" he called back.
"Fine," Celia assured him, grateful for being a good six inches taller than her friend. She caught her breath as the ship listed and more water poured through the hatch that her friend had just been taken through. "Beth!" she shrieked, striving to stay upright as the corridor was swamped. "Help!" Celia cried as she found herself being lifted and pushed against the low ceiling. "Help me…"
"It's all right, I've gotcha," a voice somewhere near her left ear announced, and Celia found herself being dragged along, hitting various parts of her body on the beams. "Up yer go." A hand shoved her up the steps of the hatch, which was awash with foamy, wild water, and Celia grabbed the rope rails, hoisting herself up until she found herself on the main deck.
"Thank yo…" she looked in bewilderment as she found no-one behind her, and prayed that her rescuer was safe. "Beth?" Celia yelled vainly, her voice lost in the wailing wind and thunderous seas. She gaped in horror as a huge wave came hurtling towards the ship and crashed down on it with its full force, all but snapping the vessel in two, sending Celia unconscious into the violent ocean.