“Come, Catharina,” his voiced echoed in my mind, “breathe with me from the opium pipe, darling. Have a little more of the wine I brought for you.”
I obliged, reluctantly at first, then slowly obeying his command. I knew he loved submissiveness, although it was not why I obeyed.
“Now,” he said, yanking a gold medal from his pockets, “Pay your respects to the gold, and to me, for this is a badge given unto the most respected of men only.”
I clasped the cold metal with trembling hands and pulled it close to my mouth. As I did, a current rocked the ship and she swayed abruptly, making me drop the precious trinket on the hardwood floor. A swish, a flash of jewels, and I was on my knees, my side burning. The captain growled in what seemed to me a most majestic of roars and stormed out of the cabin. I wiped my eyes, picked up the medal and returned it gently to the display case in his quarters. Then, hearing some ruckus outside, I stepped out on deck.
We have been moored on Cape Good hope for a week now and I could see the captain was getting restless. He loved the sea, the ship, the crew, and ached to see them anchored on dry land. His thirst for adventure had brought him all the way to these forsaken shores, yet he was stuck here. He loathed abiding the law of the lands. Above all else, he cherished his freedom – the freedom to travel, to plunder, to pillage.
There was no shred of the old trader left in him. The glittering gold, trinkets and baubles had corrupted his will and resolve, and he had paid for them all in blood. His madness had spread among the crew as well, infecting them with bloodlust and greed to the point where some of them resembled rabid dogs more than they did people. Nonetheless, the swabs bathed in the glory and infamy their newfound buccaneering life, imposed by the darkened captain, had brought them. They worshiped and loved him. And I, falling suite while trying to keep my sanity, did so too.
I could hear him holler and yell at the crew. His patience had run thin and he had set his mind on leaving this Godforsaken place, this much I was certain. After all, I wasn’t his concubine for nothing. It seemed, however, that there was a glimpse of reason left among the mariners.
The storm hit early that day. The skies thundered, the wind howled and the seas were raging. I heard him call out his pirates to set sail, trying to outshout the tempest and clattering. He had been docked for far too long, bound to the port grounds, and could clearly hear the siren’s call. The helmsman did not see eye to eye with his superior, however. He was a religious man and God had forbidden him to sail off on Easter Sunday.
This pathetic excuse outraged our captain and his gleeful mask dropped and shattered with the clap of thunder. The crew was dumbfounded, for few had seen him throw a tantrum such as this. He barked and yowled at God and his nonsense, at the helmsman and his superstitions, at the world and its rules. Few of the swabs tried and appeal to his reason, begging him to spare them the madness of sailing thru these restless seas. Blinded by rage as he was, their pleas fell on deaf ears. The helmsman, realising his captain would see no reason, sought resolution in force instead, brandished a cutlass and pounced. The captain unsheathed a dagger and met him with a quick jab to the throat. The crew froze as the helmsman gurgled and choked on his own blood, collapsing on the main deck. Wiping the blood off on his coat, the maddened commander dragged his victim by the collar, tossing him overboard.
The memory of the shock and terror on their faces, the hapless scurrying onboard, the shouts and barks, the thunders and tremors, the sway of the galleon, the sinister, deranged look in his eyes, all burned deep into my mind.
Yet I still loved him.
The church bells tolled, signaling our departure, and so we left the harbor of Cape Good Hope. I knew by then that no glory motivated the crew anymore; no gold piles, no fame, not even the thrill of the journey could spark such obedience and expeditiousness. Fear ruled all and the ship felt like their – and my – personal slice of Hell, with him as the devil.
The squall hit hard. Hardly have we left portside when we lost one of the sails and the mast cracked. The boards were creaking and the ship moved sluggishly through this tempest, but the worried looks on their faces did not sway his determination as he carried on hollering orders. We were to round the cape and sail back home, even if it meant that would be the last thing he ever did.
How long we sailed I do not recall – weeks, months maybe. The storm died out just as suddenly as it had hit, and we were drifting across the liquid ground, groping our way thru the darkness that had befallen us. Heavy clouds had blocked out the sun and without a helmsman, we could only pray to whatever God had ordained for us.
Fear reigned supreme yet its kingdom was to be crushed under anguish as most of the food supplies putrefied, giving way to disease and pestilence to roam free on deck. Suicide became preferred over starvation, driving some crewmen overboard or leaving them suspended. The rotting carcasses did not help with our predicament, as more and more fell victim to the spearing contagion. We managed to wrap the bodies of the deceased in cloth and hammocks and toss them into the vast of the sea, but that did little to stop the infection, although it did ease the guilt a notch.
I was guilty too for my inaction. I could have been the voice of reason, the one that he would actually listen. For I loved him and knew he loved me too, despite what he had done to me – because of what he had done for me. But I was afraid, much like the rest, albeit for different reasons.
I feared his love of the sea would trump the one for me.
He barged out of his cabin one day, having spent a significant time out of reach with his crew. His flintlock steady in one hand, brandishing a sharp dagger in the other. The swabs had already significantly dwindled in number and, seeing the glimpse in his eyes, I dreaded what was coming next. I could see madness had overtaken him completely and no space for any humanity was left inside his heart – or his soul. I watched in terror as he sistematically slaughtered and shot what little remained of his crew, shouting and cackling maniacally. I knew him violent, murderous, but there was a new look to him; as if some eldritch force had taken hold of him, pushing him over the edge of the darkest abyss of his conscience.
And yet, I still loved him.
Answering his gleeful cries, thunder roared and a storm hit anew. He darted past me, ignoring my presence – for better or worse, – and, rambling blasphemous cusses and curses. headed for the rudder, rope in hand. As he swung by me, I knewt he was all gone and I had lost the man I loved for good. Forces of devilry had gripped him tightly in their malevolent grasp and had no intent on letting go. So I did what I would never have done otherwise and bolted for the lifeboats.
I knew little of sailing, but the raging seas seemed like a better alternative, given my circumstances. I was certain I could not save him, so instead I chose to preserve the memory of him – the dauntless, unyielding, infamous captain, most feared and respected pirate of the seas. It was all I could do to honour him one last time.
To show him my love one last time.
Preparing the boat, I saw him tie himself to the wheel, his curses outshouting the bellowing thunders. Lightning struck down the galleon like divine punishment, charring the woodwork breaking off the top mast. The gargantuan spike dived down, impaling him as he stood. I swallowed a cry as a tear espaced my eye, and released the lifeboat into the water. All I could hear was the wind, the flames and the crackling of wood, coming from the boat. And yet, I could swear hearing him cackle, defying the forces of nature and of God.
I yanked my hand off of the lady’s wrinkled palm. Her eyes no longer staring blankly at the wall behind, but fixated unto mine. I took a deep breath, still awash with a mixed sensation of love, fear and regret, sweating profusely, and gulped hard. As I stood up, her gaze followed me and a tear long surpress trickled down her cheeks. I tried to smile but managed to only let out a smirk, which, I hope, she had not misunderstood. The whole experience was nausiating and I could only feel pity over her fate, but could not express it properly. She was beyond it anyway and somehow I knew she was not long for this world. Her retreat into this asylum was but waiting for the right person, and I felt like I was just that. The right person to share her fears, her regret. The right person to heed on her warning.