It’s early in the morning, the ship’s sounds are muffled, the men on duty yawning, knowing they will be relieved and headed for their hammocks sometimes soon, when the call comes: Ship ohoy! The Captain is called – he stands with his monocular a long while, his dark hair tied back with a leather thong, his legs wide apart. A huge black man approaches him. His voice is booming ‘Well, Captain?’. Without taking his eye from the lens the Captain says ‘Smell the wind, N’Gote’. The black man sniffs in the air and his looks darken. ‘Slaver!’ his voice is a growl. The Captain nods, lowers the monocular and nods. ‘Aye, a slaver’. He calls all men on deck and advises them: they won’t reach the slaver for at least a couple of hours yet. Those who had night duty are sent prematurely to their hammocks to get a little rest before the battle. Alejandro – the first mate – takes the wheel. The Querida is all abuzz with activity as the ship prepares for battle.
They gain faster than they had expected. The wind is to their advantage and the slaver lies heavy in the water. The Captain and N’Gote stands silently at the bulwark silently willing the slaver to come closer. The slaver is getting ready too now – not enough men are readying guns and working the sails. The Captain smiles ‘They’ll be easy – they’re greedy; loaded too heavily and low on crew to make room for more slaves’. N’Gote merely grunts. Alejandro calls out to the Captain who looks up. ‘Really sir, is this the time for such an endeavour? We’re low on gold, on supplies, on cannonballs even’. N’Gote sends a fierce look at the first mate, but knows his place well enough not to challenge him. Besides he knows his friend’s view on matters and knows Alejandro will be overruled. ‘I will free slaves even on the day where I’m starving, alone and unarmed’ the Captain calls back in good humour ‘Humour me on this one, Alejandro, the next one will be a fat merchantman’. Alejandro knows better than arguing. The Captain’s reputation for freeing slaves is only surpassed by his reputation as a womanizer and gallant piracy. A legend in his own worth, and one bound to die young, because people who are larger than life rarely live long.
The ship is still the moments before battle. The Captain looks to his left and can’t help smiling at his daughter’s eager face. She stands ready with her cutlass and a gun, and he knows she is as deadly as any boy her age. He looks back at the slaver and his smile fades; glints of steel, much more steel than anticipated. He speaks softly to Bosser Narwik at his side and sends him to pass on the message to the rest of the crew. ‘Fiona?’ The Captain’s eyes don’t leave the slaver ‘Hit the crow’s nest’. The girl gasps ‘But Da! I wanna fight! I wanna show those bastards!’. The Captain merely gives her one fierce look, and the meek ‘Aye Captain’ hangs in the air even after the sound of her running feet has disappeared. ‘Billy, join her and make sure she stays there’ he says over his shoulder, and the boy answers a bit too enthusiastically ‘Aye Captain!’ for his taste. He better watch out for those two – 15 is a difficult age… for a father.
The battle begins. Cannons are fired, and guns, the air is full of smoke, the smell of gunpowder, shouts, screams, orders being called out. The Captain is pleased; his crew is tough, hard, fearless and determined. One third of his crew are freed slaves and they hate slavers even more fiercely than he does. N’Gote is a whirlwind of danger, Bosser Narwik is focused and fast, Mute Salomon is as deadly as he is quiet. He was right to send Fiona to the top of the ship; there are many more enemies than first met the eye, and they fight with determination. Codorians the lot of them, even a few black men amongst them – blood traitors! In the end comes the epic battle at last: the peacocky slaver captain against the pirate Captain. He is handsome, our Captain, he strikes better poses, his banter is wittier, and he looks all he should be. His daughter in the crow’s nest beams with pride at the sight of him. As does his crew.
Finally the last enemy is thrown overboard, and the cargo hatches are opened. The stench! The pitiful people below have not seen the sun for weeks, have not smelled fresh air. The first one out is a large man, in much better shape than the rest. His teeth are rotten, but he bears the tattoos of a chieftain’s son. The Captain walks, no; struts, towards him, and he bows with a swing of his hat. ‘May I present to you, sir, your freedom!’ It is said in jest, in good nature, and the Captain doesn’t know it, but N’Gote does: a deadly insult has been made to the chieftain’s son. One who should’ve been able to fend for himself; the disgrace of even being on board a slaver! His physique tells a clear tale; others have died on the voyage so that he could live; others have given up their food, their water, the little space they had, so that he could be comfortable. And now freedom has been handed to him like a gift, one he should have taken for himself, but didn’t. Maybe the chance just didn’t present itself, maybe the opposition was just too hard, maybe he just didn’t bother. And here he is; unharmed, unhungry, and everyone on board knows it. He will make them forget! He starts barking orders, and people, weak though they are, jump to. He shakes the Captain’s hand and smiles, falsely, N’Gote can tell. The Captain starts his usual speech: they can be escorted back, if they like, or they can be set ashore and start a new life on an island somewhere, or they can clean up the ship, make a future for themselves as pirates. He, the Captain, will show them the ropes, teach them navigation, and be any kind of service that they want. He knows sudden freedom after so much toil is a shock, maybe even scary, but he and his crew will set that right. Food is made, water is distributed, the sick are tended to.
When the night falls, decisions has been made; Most of the former slaves wish to be set ashore – they want no more sailing if it can be helped. Some of the harder cases wish to take the slaver – now named ‘The Fury’ – and sail as pirates. The big man with the rotten teeth is named captain of the Fury. The others call him Tsotse, but in time he will be known as Goldmouthe. The Captain, Carlos Blackwell, will think him a friend, until the day he is killed by him, though Goldmouthe never felt anything but hatred for the white captain who carelessly ‘gave’ him freedom in front of everyone.
A few days later, when the freed slaves are set ashore, Goldmouthe catches a glimpse of a white girl. A dark haired lass with gleaming blue eyes. She fools around on the beach with a boy her own age. She is slender and beautiful, and Goldmouthe wants her. And when told she is the white Captains daughter, he merely smiles. Oh, he will get her one day, he will – and she won’t like it!
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