A/N: This story takes place several months before the fateful mutiny aboard the Black Pearl and the cursing of Barbossa and the rest of his crew after stealing the Aztec gold. It follows along in the history I've been writing for Barbossa in Naught But a Humble Pirate, but can be read as a stand alone story without having read the other.
I hope you have fun with this.
Chapter One ~*~
There are three things that I must say first, in order to begin the tale of my ordeal properly.
The first thing of some importance that I must tell you, lest you think me wicked, is that it is not my nature typically to be one to speak unkindly of other people. While admittedly I possess as much capacity as the next person for thinking hateful thoughts toward those individuals who may warrant it, I was blessed with the gift of being able to bite my tongue better than most by my dear mother.
The second thing that I must impart to the reader concerns the person of Cornelia Beckett, my traveling companion.
Cornelia was the sister-in-law of Cutler Beckett, with whom I assume the reader has some fair amount of familiarity. She had married his elder brother, Charles, one year before, and her presence on the voyage to England we were undertaking together was a treat from her very wealthy husband so that she might visit her mother, and spend time shopping in London for new furnishings for the Becketts' already most impressive home in Port Royal.
While I maintain vigorously that I kept my opinion to myself, there were those among the wealthier class of Jamaica that rumored Charles had sent his wife on the journey due to the fact that after only a year of marriage, he longed to be free of her presence for some months.
Although speculation among the same individuals established that it must be because Charles had married Cornelia for reasons of financial gain, and that he had taken a mistress, I knew my neighbors, the Becketts, better than that, and was sure the reason was not so complicated.
Of all the things Cornelia was –wealthy, educated, well-situated in society, as well as strikingly dark and beautiful, it was her most obvious straightforward flaw that was sure to be the reason for Charles to wish to send her away.
You see, Cornelia Beckett was a royal bitch.
Now you understand the reason for my first statement. While it would be quite beyond what would please my dear mother, God rest her, if I had ever uttered that statement aloud, I couldn't help that it was completely true.
Spoiled as a child, and spoiled still by her husband, Cornelia was also selfish, self-centered and extremely vain. Not that she didn't have reason to be –with a figure flattered by almost any style of dress, green eyes the colors of emeralds, and glossy dark hair that bordered on ebony and contrasted remarkably with her fine complexion, Cornelia was not the only one to be fascinated with her looks.
She drew second glances from men wherever she went, and she very well knew it.
I faulted her not for being blessed with such gifts, nor even her vain obsession with tending to every detail of her appearance, but my own biases toward Mrs. Beckett arose from her tendencies to be petulant and downright mean spirited, especially if she didn't get her way.
Flaunting her elevated status and enormous wealth to the rest of Jamaican High Society didn't bother me, but when she degraded and belittled her servants and the lower class of islanders that also lived in Port Royal, it really got under my skin.
The third topic I must discuss concerns my name and a very brief background about myself before I return to our voyage.
My name is Madeline Gray, and I am the third generation of a family of physicians. My grandfather was a doctor, as was my father. Of my two uncles, one would have also been a physician, but his love of lesser creatures led him to become a veterinary surgeon. The call of the noble medical arts was missed by my father's second brother, who was called instead by the sea, and led a life mostly abroad as a merchant sailor.
It was actually my uncle who had suggested that I look to establish a medical practice where it was desperately needed in the growing colony of Jamaica, and so, to make a long story shorter, I ended up here.
You are probably already considering the fact that given the knowledge of my chosen profession, it was something of a novelty to have a woman as a practicing physician, whether it was at home in England, or here in my newer home of Port Royal. This, as you may well surmise, caused me some degree of difficulty for at least the first half of my career, but I needn't go into that now.
What you need know is that there were three of us returning to England on the ship that day.
I had decided to give up my unsuccessful attempt at practicing medicine in Jamaica and was returning to my father's home. (Perhaps I shall explain more later.)
Cornelia, as you already know, was heading for her shopping spree, and although she still considered me somewhat beneath her station, she deemed it acceptable to associate with me as I was an educated woman and somewhat of a curiosity to her.
The third woman on board that day with us was Lydia Thomas, a woman some years younger than myself, newly a mother, and newly widowed. She too, was leaving an unsuccessful attempt at living in the Caribbean, and was returning home with her three-month-old daughter.
The ship was called the Essex, and I would love to say that I knew then what I know now –that she was a ship of some notable tonnage, square-rigged at her fore and mainmast, and rigged fore-and-aft on the mizzen, but it would be a lie to say I even knew what the mizzenmast was that day. My strengths lay in knowing the anatomy of the human form, and not in knowing the anatomy of sailing vessels.
Her captain was an old salt named Silas Flint, and he had crossed the Atlantic more times than he could remember. It was a comfort to the three of us, especially Lydia, to have such a courteous and experienced sea captain as the leader of our ocean-bound journey.
While space is severely limited, even on a ship the size of the Essex, he had managed to secure our belongings and our persons in a small secondary cabin that would give us at least a sense of privacy.
Lydia, for the three days we had shared the cabin to that point, was soft-spoken but pleasant, and spent most of her time attending her infant daughter's needs.
Cornelia, on the other hand, was an endless fountain of complaints about the cramped arrangements, the lack of her own space, and about the food, which, from what I can tell you now, was considerably better than what most of the crew got.
As for myself, I tried not to think about the fact that I was a little seasick most of the time, and to ignore Cornelia as best I could. I spent whatever time I could manage reading and avoiding getting caught up listening to one of her petulant tirades about the captain not taking into consideration just exactly who she was.
I would have liked to have pointed out to her that more space was not about to manifest itself out of thin air, regardless if she were Cornelia Beckett or the queen of England.
Late in the afternoon on our third day at sea, I managed to convince Lydia that some fresh air would do both her and her daughter some good, and had her accompany me to the deck. While I was every bit convinced that my advice was true, I also took her topside with me to try and dilute some of the negativity that followed Cornelia around like a swarm of angry bees buzzing about the rose bushes.
Lydia, the baby and I had just made it up in time to witness the beginnings of a fine sunset, when Cornelia discovered our whereabouts and bore down on me with that self-righteous look that was becoming a nearly constant feature of her person.
"Ah, there you are, Madeline," she said, obvious irritation in her manner. She hardly ever addressed Lydia, who was beneath her station and a necessary evil in her mind. I daresay that Lydia and I both felt she was the luckier of the two of us.
"I have just had the most exhausting conversation with that man, about our unacceptable situation, again." She rolled her eyes and very nearly stomped her foot in frustration. I knew 'that man' meant Captain Flint, and I felt sorry for him.
"Cornelia, it really isn't all that bad..." I began, but she cut me off with an impatient wave of her hand.
"Oh, Madeline," she began, her attitude if not her person looking down her nose at me. "You wouldn't understand. You're used to not having a lot of space to yourself," she said.
While it was true that my small house attached to the clinic was far from the ostentatious villa that the Becketts owned, it had more than enough space, and it certainly had more space than the cabin we shared.
"It's only temporary," I reminded her, not buying into her pessimism.
"Why Charles didn't make better arrangements is beyond me," she snipped. "Although, I am quite sure he would have insisted on a private cabin. It must have been a mistake by the crew."
I reached over to coo at the baby, who had woken up at the sound of voices, and managed to roll my eyes at Lydia before turning back to where Cornelia was still in a huff. This was the third day of her attempt to change her lodging arrangements, and thankfully it appeared that she was finally getting the message. She fumed for another moment or two and then dropped the subject.
I rather wish she hadn't.
"So, Madeline," she began, falling into that syrupy manner that she thought people found endearing, "now that you're done playing at being a doctor, do you think you might just think about being more realistic and getting married?"
I had been down this road with her before, and kept my temper in check. "I hadn't really given marriage much thought at this point, Cornelia," I stated matter-of-factly. "I don't even know anyone that I would even think of..."
She cut me off with another dismissive wave. "Oh, pooh, Madeline," she laughed. "Even you can find someone, I'm sure."
I wanted kick her in the shin. Knowing the way Cornelia's mind worked as well as I did after knowing her for two years, I knew that she had just implied that I was somehow inferior and would have to settle for some less than ideal man.
While I certainly didn't have her breeding or her money, I came from a respectable family and managed to take care of myself on my physician's salary, even if my practice had been less than blooming. While I might not have been blessed with the stunning looks that statuesque Mrs. Beckett possessed, and tended as a result of my profession to be a bit bookish, I knew my lighter features were fair enough that no one had ever implied I was hard to look at.
I contented myself with the fact that I was probably smarter than Cornelia, and a good deal nicer, and gave a light little laugh at the comment that she had deemed witty.
I thought then and there that it was going to be a very long trip.
After dinner, which by the way, was completely unsuitable to Cornelia, I managed to escape from listening to her litany about the proper way to prepare game hens, and headed once again to the deck with the excuse that I was feeling a bit seasick and needed some fresher air. It wasn't a complete fabrication.
The evening was mild since we were still in the Caribbean after only three days into our trip, but I needed to keep my shawl close about me as the air was decidedly cool on the deck of a sailing ship.
Any of the crew I encountered would offer a polite nod or greeting, and I think most of them were sympathetic to the fact that I was coming on deck so often because I would otherwise be stuck below listening to Cornelia complain about them.
I was feeling relieved that I had managed to dodge Mrs. Beckett for a while, and was lulled by the sound of the waves washing past the ship. I became absorbed in the amazing stellar display that had manifested itself in a remarkably clear, but dark, moonless sky that night, and was lost in my musings about the constellation overhead, when the men's voices from the port side of the ship rose suddenly in both volume and urgency.
The next thing I knew, men were shouting all over the deck, and it became clear that urgent was not the word to use to describe the way they were shouting.
Panicked would probably be the more appropriate.
Of course, my instantaneous reaction was that there was something wrong with the ship, and that the men thought we were in danger of sinking. For someone whose only other experience with a ship had been the voyage from England to Jamaica, you can readily understand why this was the first thought that rose with my own wave of panic.
When Captain Flint appeared next to me, grabbing my arm and shouting at me fiercely to get to my cabin, I'd realized that I'd been mistaken about the ship sinking, and that the reality of what was really happening was quite possibly even worse.
It only took the one word I heard shouted across the deck to make me hike up my skirts and run for the stairs, and that single terror-filled word had been pirates!
The first canon blast I had ever heard suddenly ripped through the darkness, making me nearly burst into tears as I reached the stairs, it was so close. I nearly fell in my eagerness to get off the deck, for although we were not struck by the cannon fire, (I know now that it was a warning fired across our bow) the muzzle flash that preceded the sound had lighted the source of the attack just long enough for me to take the nightmare image below decks with me.
It was a black shadow of a ship, emerging from the darkness to our port side, and she'd been close enough for me to hear the fierce screams and wicked cries of men that I couldn't see all along her deck.
I rushed to our cabin, and collided with Cornelia, who looked wide-eyed and terrified, reflecting, I am sure, the expression on my own face.
"What's happening?" she cried, even as I grabbed her arm and dragged her back through the door and slammed it shut. Lydia was sitting on her cot, crying and rocking her baby who had started screaming when the cannon was fired.
I was still processing the terrible image of the black ship that had been bearing down on top of us, when Cornelia grabbed my elbow and repeated her question.
"Pirates," I said in a voice that was too strangled and choked to possibly be my own.
Lydia let out a wail and clutched her baby closer as she rocked. Cornelia looked like she was alternating between being frightened half to death, and completely incensed that someone had the nerve to interrupt her trip.
I am quite sure that my own expression had settled firmly into the realm of frightened half to death.
While I witnessed none of what was taking place over our heads, some of the events I was able to surmise, and some I would learn about later.
We could hear little from above except lots of muffled shouting for several very long minutes. It was after that the gunshots rang out - a volley, I learned, from our defending crew as the black ship drew alongside and pirates actually began boarding the Essex.
What I also learned later was that although our crew was trying valiantly to defend the cargo and the passengers, the buccaneer crew was a group of organized, seasoned rogues that knew their business.
While the deck of the Essex was being overrun with pirates and the sailors trying to defend her, a small group of cutthroats had been given very specific instructions to avoid engagement topside, and to quickly retrieve any passengers such as ourselves that might be aboard.
The screams that the three of us let out when the door was kicked in filled the cabin, but only for a moment before the wicked blades the pirates held before them silenced us with even greater fear.
I remember being half-dragged back up the stairs behind my two companions, and how Lydia managed to hold onto her daughter as they shoved her viciously out onto the deck, I will never know.
The intent was that bringing the passengers out on deck would get the attention of the captain and her crew, effectively inducing them to surrender lest we be harmed, but the combat that now raged across the deck hand to hand and blade to blade was too far out of control for any of the participants to pay much attention to us three women.
While I must tell the story as it happened, I realize that time has dulled the terror I remember from that night, and my narrative may not do it justice. Let me just say that I do not remember any night more terrifying in all my years.
Cornelia, to her credit, had stuck close to Lydia on the opposite side from where I also tried to do my best to lend what meager moral support I could. As the nightmare played out around us, those next few seconds felt like an eternity.
The first moment I ever saw Captain Barbossa is seared into my memory with such intensity, that if I live to be one hundred years old, the vision I maintain will still feel as real as if it had happened only the day before.
Many of the specifics of his appearance I could not tell you at that moment, for although the ship was lit by lanterns and by starlight that shown on the combatants on the deck, it was not bright enough to allow me to see much detail.
We were essentially tethered alongside the pirate vessel that had ambushed us on that moonless night, and like the black ship, her captain stepped out of the darkness that surrounded us and onto the deck.
Tall and wearing a broad plumed hat that kept his face in shadow, the man gave not a second thought to the noise and the fighting going on around him a few feet away, and stepped down onto the Essex as if he owned her. He strode swiftly across the deck in a manner so self-assured it might have actually been a bit of a swagger.
The pirate captain quickly crossed to where our group of captors had us off to one side of the fighting, ignoring them as much as he ignored the clash of steel on steel next to him, and did the most horrid thing I could imagine.
His movements were so sudden, that in the poor lighting it was Lydia's hysterical scream that told me what he had done more than anything. Quick as a snake, in two moves he had yanked the baby from Lydia's arms with one hand and then drawn the pistol he carried at his hip with the other.
It took the men who held Lydia and myself, and even Cornelia, all they could do to hold us back when the hammer on the gun cocked, but hold us back they did. The terror that gripped my heart at that second was unbearable, and I can only imagine what Lydia was going through as she screamed hysterically.
I jerked involuntarily, even though I knew the shot was coming, and I can still almost feel the tears that were pouring down my face, and the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach when I think of that sound. Lydia would have collapsed at that second if it weren't for the two men that held her so cruelly.
What followed was complete silence for a couple of heartbeats, as the entire company had instantly stopped what they were doing and whipped about in the direction of the gunshot.
The next second a baby cried, and jerking my head up from where I stood sobbing, I realized what Barbossa had done. The pistol had been fired in the air, instantly grabbing the attention of sailors and pirates alike across the ship.
What held their attention, however, was the fact that Barbossa, face still in the shadow of the hat set at a slightly jaunty angle on his head, now stood holding the child dangling from one hand out over the railing of the ship.
He waited a few beats more to ensure that he would have everyone's complete undivided attention.
There was no doubt whatsoever that he had it.