PART ONE -- a fictional report
I was on a Spanish merchant ship travelling through the Caribbean. My father believed pirates were on the rise again and had prayed I would reach Mexico meeting none of the reckless thieves. Of course, most of them were privateers now and protected by the American government. That did not make them less reckless, though.
All in all, my journey wasn’t the worst. I had a hammock which swayed with the rocking of the ship, helping me forget I was in the midst of the ocean and aiding me sleep. The slaves aboard slept on the floor and felt every wave crashing into the ship. I inhaled the wind bashing my face—the sun burning my skin as always. It was fiercer here than back home in Spain.
Those in cheaper cabins weren’t allowed on deck, and I thought of them peeking out by cracks in the wood as I let my eyes be blinded by the sun. With no ventilation or water to spare for washing, and crewmen only coming once per day to empty the buckets serving as toilets, I inhaled the fresh air on deck deeper to push away the memory of the stench. Then I tried to think of something else.
Dinner. Sea biscuit and salted meat, as every day. The journey was long and beside a salted vegetable here and there, that’s all that was left. If I’d be lucky, there would be no worm in my biscuit tonight. I might even get a piece of egg if the chickens would lay enough. To eat chicken soup… But theft is too dangerous. They’d throw me overboard, likely. Besides, how would I even cook it?
I froze, spotting a ship in the distance. I threw my head into my neck, looking up—the crow’s nest was empty. The person supposed to be on lookout fell asleep and was laying inside the basket instead of watching for other ships. Great. This recent invention was supposed help merchants like us spot pirates in advance, not serve for curling up in sleep. I scoffed and ran to the captain. The crew moved quickly. In the seeming chaos, I stood rooted beside the ship’s steering wheel, eyes on the horizon and the approaching ship. It looked like a normal merchant ship.
I tried to spot a flag, but there was none. Then they raised one—red and yellow like ours. I exhaled, but the crew got ready for combat. We didn’t have much. A few muskets, two canons, one on each side so technically only one we could use, a few slim swords and three axes. I produced my dirk—mother had given it as a goodbye gift, with our family crest engraved on it—and moved closer to the railing to see how many canons the approaching ship had. Three on each side.
I crossed myself and mumbled Catholic prayers, sliding to my knees to feel safer behind the wood. If they fired canons, they would hit lower than this. Peering over the railing, I watched the ship approach. The wind hissed through the tiny cracks in the wood and brushed my ear. I discovered two women in distress, leaning over the rails and shouting in English that their crew and cargo were taken by pirates.
With a stern expression, the captain moved forward and, replying in English, demanded to know why they raised a Spanish flag. The women retorted that the pirates had taken their English ship and left them to their fate on this small Spanish one. The ships were getting close enough that we could see the women well—both wore ragged and torn dresses and their skin was golden from staying up on deck. Maybe they weren’t lying, I thought. Who knows how long they were on the lookout for help, unable to navigate themselves. The captain gestured the sailors to keep a distance from the small ship and demanded why one of them was wearing an eyepatch.
The two women looked at each other, then the one with the eyepatch replied that she wore it for the same reason his crewmen wore it. To see under deck. Only a pirate might profit from quick eye adjustment offered by an eyepatch, the captain shouted. I laughed out loud, and the captain turned his stern expression on me. I shrugged my shoulders.
A woman pirate!
Why was the captain concerned about two lost women at sea? I looked at the two women leaning over the rail, looking over our ship from one end to the other, eyes resting on our canon pointed in their direction. They were frightened that we would turn against them, too. The one with the eyepatch gave her companion a nudge with the elbow and then a lopsided smile. I swallowed.
A woman pirate?
The captain was now deep in conversation with two sailors who had moved close to him. They were debating what to do with the women. Suddenly, screaming filled the air. Where did all these men come from? They were pouring in from all sides, dripping wet and silent. The screaming came from our own men. I shuffled to the back of the ship, my dirk firm in my hand. My life flashed before me. Only sixteen, I had just begun life, and now it would be over before sunset. The women on the other ship waited for the ships to be close enough before throwing over the ropes which their accomplices tied to ours. Then they walked over the planks they laid across—their long, thin swords flashing in the sunlight before they joined the muddle on deck. Breathing heavily, I hid behind a crate in the far back.
A woman pirate…
I wiped my forehead with my sleeve, my skin tingling. The shouting below died out. Footsteps came closer. I felt a pinch at my right shoulder—the tip of a long, thin sword. The person holding it was standing behind me. I stood up slowly, the pressure of the sword poking against my skin under the shirt. Still facing away, I raised my hands to display my precious dirk. The dirk was flicked away with the tip of the sword and I saw it slide under the goods stored in cloth packaging to my right. I turned around to face my capturer. A woman pirate. The one without the eyepatch. She gave me a lopsided smile and nodded direction deck. Unable to take my eyes off her, I turned to see several fallen men, amongst them the captain. The sailers and merchants left alive huddled together, encompassed by the attackers.
Author: Mira Kanehl
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