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Changing Tides

by Rogue about a year ago in literature
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Every Step Takes Former Pirate Anne Bonny Closer to Redemption, A Second Chance to Make Things Right

Original Artwork by Rogue (Nikki Zelinger)

A beam of light glistens through a crack in the wall. I watch the dust particles, suspended in the air, spiral upward and get sucked out by some invisible current. I press my ear up against the crack, listening intently for faraway sounds of seagulls and the creaking wood of brigantines and galleons, the flapping of canvas on the warm Caribbean breeze. I inhale deeply, searching for the scent of the sea, but all I smell is rat piss and the pungent odors of my own unwashed hair.

I slump to the ground, dejected. It’s been 48 days since Calico Jack Rackham and the crew of the William hung for the crime of piracy, courtesy of Governor Woodes Rogers and his pet, Captain Jonathan Barnet.

A whole crew claimed by His Majesty and the noose - save for me and Mary Read, the only two woman aboard, and the only two able to plead the belly. Hanging a pregnant woman is where the line is drawn. It’s not something polite society is prepared to stomach. That, you see, is when the punishment becomes barbaric. So here we rot, in these stone cells. Or so I’m told. I haven’t seen hide nor hair of Mary since they cut us down from the block and dragged us off.

The heavy scraping of metal hinges startles me from my reverie. These weeks in prison have made me skittish, a shell of my former self. I scuttle back into the corner, pushing my spine against the cold, hard wall, hunching my shoulders and making myself small. As if that would protect me from any threat entering my cell.

Mr. Harlow, a sullen, lanky man with sunken eyes and pale skin crosses the threshold, towering above me. His blue velvet frock reminds me of the sea on a stormy day. “Miss Bonny,” drawls Harlow, sounding almost bored. My eyes flick from the frock to his face. “It would seem that you have been released.”

“R-released?” I croak, my throat tight from dehydration and lack of use. I run my tongue over cracked lips.

Harlow nods curtly. “Your father has secured you passage aboard the St. Augustine. He has also requested that you bathe and be dressed in manner ‘befitting your station.’” The corners of his thin lips curl into a mean little smile. A smile I would cut from his lips if I had my cutlass.

“Where am I going?”

“To Charlestown, of course.”

Home. Where I lived with my mother and father before Typhoid Fever took her from us. Before the bottle took Father from me. Before pride destroyed whatever was left. I wonder what life awaits me there, after all we’ve done to each other. After what I’ve become.

I nod, and Harlow waves in a couple of nuns to tend to me. I peek around them to say something to Mr. Harlow, but he’s gone. I’m not sure what I would’ve said to him anyway. What do you say to the man who holds the key to your cage?

My feet drag as the nuns yank me down the hall, knees knocking together. Weeks of huddling in damp corners has left my muscles feeling like I’m permanently gaining my sea legs. They shove me through a doorway into a bare room with a barrel inside, two rough wooden stools and a worn towel on the floor. A dress hangs on a cracked and tarnished mirror in the far right corner.

The tattered rag draped across my thin shoulders is ripped from my body and I’m shoved into the tub, splashing lukewarm water over the sides, no doubt soaking my towel. I throw my arms out, grab the edges of the tub and attempt to steady myself. As the nuns proceed to scrape the dirt from my body, my thoughts turn to Jack. To the baby.

I never wanted children. I never saw myself in the roles Ireland, The New World or my blessed Father saw for me. Thirteen years old and betrothed to a powdered wig, I chose instead to willfully disappoint my father and run away with a sailor named James Bonny. James was a romantic who whisked me away to Nassau with honey mead words and sweet kisses under canvas and moonlight. Until he turned out to be just another mean drunk. But Jack... Jack was different.

Jack began as my way out. I met him in the tavern of Nassau, where his captain, Charles Vane and the pirate ship Revenge made berth. I’d see him, off from his mates, sipping on rum and observing. He was an observer, Jack. Always watching and thinking on how things might play out. That was the thing about Jack. He liked to know what was going to happen, three steps ahead.

So he knew what I was doing when I’d lean across his table, touch his hand and tilt my head back as I laughed at his words, showing him the delicate skin of my neck. It was a dangerous game we were playing. One that led to us running away together to play pirate when we commandeered the William. The love, the passion, the pillaging and plundering - the life of a pirate, that was the role I found myself in, and I finally felt like myself. This baby... Well, it was certainly not part of the plan. But as it is the only thing I have left of Jack, I do find myself feeling a certain fondness toward he or she that I did not expect.

I’m pulled from the tub and rubbed raw with a damp towel before the nuns strap me into the first dress I’ve worn in over a year. As I stand in front of the mirror and survey myself, I see the dress fits my form well enough, but not the woman I’ve become. I slip into stockings and shoes before we’re off again, those callous nuns leading me in their busy wake, hauling me down the stairs. Stone turns to wood as I move further from my past and closer to redemption. At the doors to the Fort, the nuns are replaced by men with guns and red uniforms. His Majesty’s Royal Navy, here to escort me to my ship. Charming.

Fort Charles isn’t far from the docks, but you have to cross through the town square to reach them. In the town square, I see from here, stand the gallows. As we close the distance, the looming shape of the structures come into sharper focus. My breath catches in my chest and lumps in my throat as I realize these gallows are a permanent feature. A main event, a form of entertainment for the civilized people of Port Royal.

“Anne Bonny, step forward,” the executioner calls. “You are charged with the crimes of piracy, looting merchant ships, stealing from The Crown, pillaging, plundering, and otherwise unsavory behavior not befitting a woman.”

The hangman tightens the noose around my neck, and I can feel its rough fibers tickling my skin. Hands bound behind my back, I strain my neck from side to side to try to relieve a bit of the itch. No luck.

“How do you plead?”

I look at Jack, his pained expression tearing at the edges of my heart that already feels as though it might burst. I open my mouth, knowing what I have to say next will break his heart further. I didn’t want him to find out this way.

“I plead the belly.”

Gasps and screams from women erupt from the crowd, shouting men and banging fists on wood, all rising in a cloud of confused outrage, confusion, and contempt. They came to see a hanging, a spectacle, but no one wanted to hang an unborn child.

I chance a look at Jack, but I can’t see him. I feel my rope being cut. The executioner is speaking again, his voice raised to project over the cries of the crowd. “Anne Bonny, you are sentenced to indefinite imprisonment with a stay of execution, pending medical examination of your claims. Next.”

As I’m being led away, I throw my head over my shoulder to get one last look of Jack, the father of my child, the love of my life and partner in crime, partner in all things. The pained expression is now mixed with one of pride and mischief. A look that clearly says: Live. Whatever it takes.

“Watch your step, miss,” mutters the guard to my right. “Up you go, now.” I lift my eyes a see the towering masts of the St. Augustine before me. “Now, miss Bonny,” he says a bit more gruffly, elbowing me into action. I stumble forward, not used to heels and a thousand yards of fabrics crowding my ankles. We ascend the ramp and spill onto the deck, where we are received by Captain Hornsby, a portly man with rosy cheeks and good nature. He reminds me of a pirate Jack and I once sailed with, who sadly met the noose in Nassau when Woodes Rogers did his first round up there.

“Welcome aboard the St. Augustine, Miss Bonny,” declares Hornsby with a grin. “I can’t say we’ve had any passengers as infamous as yourself.” I say nothing, yet his smile never fades. “You’re free to roam about while we’re at sea - no place for you to get off to out there, I daresay!” He laughs, and I offer him what I think is a polite smile in return. I can’t be sure. I haven’t seen my face in a month, save for the quick glance in the mirror today.

“Thank you, Captain,” I say, “Your hospitality is welcomed and appreciated.” This is my best attempt at playing English society. I do hope it goes over well.

It has. Hornsby smiles. Waves his hands about so that the lace of his sleeves swing with fervor. “Off you go then, explore your new home for the coming weeks. And you,” he gestures to the guards, “I suspect we are no longer in need of your services. Thank you.”

I’m already off, gliding along the deck, moving to the bow of the ship. Running my fingers along the smooth, polished wood - a dark mahogany, I’d wager - I get the first whiff of it: the sea. I breathe in so deep, my lungs can take in no more air, and I feel it’s the first real breath I’ve taken in weeks. As I look over the bow, toward the horizon, I can’t help but feel that perhaps the tides are changing, and I might leave this whole nightmare behind me.

A flutter of wings and feathers sends me reeling back, tripping over my skirts and grasping for the edge of the ship. I catch myself just in time, before any real embarrassment has set in, and stand. Straightening my dress, I look up to see a barn owl staring back at me from the bow, its yellow eyes penetrating.

One doesn’t think of barn owls when one thinks of the Caribbean, but they’re here all the same. Just a rare sight, I’ve found, for the last time I saw one was the night Jack and I had stolen the William and docked outside Port Royal. I’d come to associate barn owls with good luck, since one was also present the day I ran away from home to be with James Bonny, for that decision carried me to Jack. Though it was far from a fairy tale, it was my love story, and I wouldn’t trade that for a thousand happily ever afters. All I could do is take this second chance and do the best I could with it, for me, the baby, and bring honor to Jack’s memory. The tides were changing, and the presence of this owl, as I looked into those big, amber eyes, told me that they were changing for the better.

literature

About the author

Rogue

I’m Rogue, an artist and storyteller, creating a graphic novel series called The Rogue Spirit. I infuse the depth of the cinematic experience into the medium. My interactive live streams invite my fans to contribute to the story's creation.

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