The Voyages of the Waved Albatross
Author's note: This is only the first two chapters of a longer book, which I am in the process of making, if you... Show full author's note »
The Siege of New Providence“In the month of July, three years ago, I stood on the paradise island of New Providence, at the mouth of the bay of Nassau, on a tall stand of rock looking out on the sparkling blue sea. Gulls filled the air, sometimes alighting on the beach and diving into the water. The wind was thick with salty sea-spray, stinging my eyes mercilessly. The blue sky, painted with frothing clouds, seemed to mirror the Bahamian sea that yawned up at me from the swirling abyss. I listened to the distinct crash
“I am a pirate. That must be made very clear. In my teens, I had been a deckhand aboard the Seeker of Fortune, a single-masted sloop that cruised between Hispaniola and Tortuga, and along the Windward Passage. That was back in 1698. When the War of Spanish Succession started (officially) in 1701, my crew enlisted to become privateers for England. The adventure in our spirits raged brighter than ever before, eager to win England the New World. Ship after Spanish ship we sank, howling at the top of our lungs vicious war-chants at those Spanish-dogs. I was three-and-twenty years old when England made peace with Spain, and cast us ruthlessly into the streets, barking that they had no further use for us. Most of my crew settled down on plantations in the Caribbean, while I stayed in Port Royal Jamaica, my young heart yearning for more excitement. It was in 1714 that I heard a rumor, nay, a declaration, that the pirates Thomas Barrow and Benjamin Hornigold, had taken for themselves the island of New Providence, and had set it up as the first pirate republic. I signed aboard a schooner bound for the Bahamas, and by some miracle that chance had the whim to bring about, the crew rebelled against their officers, and all at once I was thrown back into the midst of pirates. That was the day I met Jack Barker, a dark-haired man of about my age, steely-eyed and serious, a wizard with a gun, (any sort), and terribly obstinate when it came to all moral matters. He believed in justice and lawfulness, one of the many reasons he joined with the Brothers of the Coast, because he believed that the navy, and anything under the command of England was tyrannical and oppressive, sharing the opinion of most any pirate on the high-seas.
When we reached New Providence, I stayed with the schooner, plundering the trade-routes of merchantmen heading to and from the Caribbean. However, in the spring of 1717, my luck ran out. I lost nearly every possession of mine at the gambling dens; I even sold my position as quartermaster aboard the schooner to satisfy a debt. I spent my days drinking up what was left of my money, though much of it was donated to me by Jack Barker. And now, I was deep in debt to several pirates of New Providence, and they were out for blood. And so this fall…this swirling inferno of wind-battered waves, appeared as a white-washed angel to my eyes. I had thought about killing myself many times in recent months, I had even contemplated different methods of suicide: the hempen-rope, the sword, oh no! This seemed a more fitting demise for me. I had lived by the sea, and I was surely to die by the sea. Letting the mad instinct for self-preservation sap from my limbs and mind, I took a leaden step towards the abyss before me, feeling, in a paradoxical way, that this death was to give me life. But, coward that I was, turned, if a bit hesitantly, away from the cliff. Pointless loathing emanated from me, but I knew not what it was I hated, England, myself, I didn’t really care; I needed to turn my sorrow and disappointment on something.
“On my way back to the port of Nassau, I ran into my old friend, Jack Barker, who was, it appeared, on his way to his inn called the Lucky Ace.
“‘Ahoy there, Marc!’ He greeted me, with a wave of his hand. ‘I’ve been looking everywhere for you I have!’ It was funny listening to him talk; he mixed perfect grammar with the illiterate drivel that most pirates substitute for speech. Coupled with his clear, ringing voice that sounded like a hammer beating on steel, it made me grin every time I heard it. Except now. Grunting, I pushed passed him and shuffled through the crowded streets of New Providence. It was not as cheery as it had been in past years, the result of the impending arrival of His Majesties Navy, which was heading to the Bahamas in all haste.
To the left of me, drunk, boisterous men laughed at gambling-tables, eyeing greedily the women that walked past, while they spent everything they had on extravagant bets that may or may not reenter their pockets. An auction for stolen goods was going on at a storefront, displaying spices from the Sea of Gibraltar, perfumes from France, and other commodities of the kind. The pirates of New Providence had become prideful and arrogant, confident that the Crown of England could do nothing against their last and greatest stronghold.
I turned with a dismal sigh and stepped into the Lucky Ace Inn, which was situated facing the waterfront, with a good view of the harbor.
Plopping myself into a chair, I glared blearily around the spacious room, noting without much caring that a few pirates of distinction were there, including the former governor of New Providence, Benjamin Hornigold, who had been contemplating his retirement for a while. Beside him sat his good friend, Charles Vane, dressed in his finest land-clothes, though I can remember nothing of them, I was too groggy to really give credit to them.
Slapping his fist on the table, Vane called Jack over from the counter, and by the time he had ordered his pleasure, my eyes had drifted around the room. It was a nice barroom, with a high ceiling, wide expanse, with low roundtables placed at regular intervals throughout. The wood it was made from had taken on a sort of stone gray hue, except around the tables and in some places of the walls, where spilled drink had darkened it to a soggy black. My attention was drawn slowly back to Vane and Hornigold as they conversed loudly at their table.
“‘By all we live and breathe for, what the hell are you talking about?’ Vane was saying, his wide jaw hanging slack as he spoke.
“‘You know, well as I that I have no more cause to stay On the Account, I’ve been looking for a way to escape the gallows and retire,’ Hornigold said flatly, twisting a diamond ring on his third-finger.
“‘Cause it sounded to me like you was thinking about surrendering to the Navy, but of course I knew, Ole Hornigold wouldn’t even think it, never! Heh, heh!’
“Hornigold shifted slightly in his chair, positioning himself, I thought, so that he was facing the door, and then directed his eyes at Vane. ‘Charles, we’ve been mates fer years now, and I’ve no cause to hide anything from ye. But, if the king offers a pardon, I’ll damn well take it.’
Vane started, scraggly hair framing his face for a moment before settling back down. The tall butterfly-winged hat he wore nearly fell off as he leaned back in his chair against the wall. His eyes sparkled dangerously as he opened his mouth to speak. ‘Now, Hornigold, my friend. In the adolescence of our success, ye begin to talk like a mutineer and a betrayer.’
“‘We will not be able to hold New Providence! Any that stay here and fight will die!’
“‘We may and we may not, but that would sure be a glorious thing. To die. But ye can be sure of one thing, governor: I will fight.’
“‘Please, Charles! Do not embrace calamity and sorrow! No one can win against the Crown of England!’
“‘Then I shall die trying, you smooth-tongued traitor! You bastard!’
“‘Vane…’ The friendly note in Hornigold’s voice was gone, replaced with mock-pity and boiling anger. ‘You will die by the sword, even as you have lived by it.’ Without warning, the former governor of New Providence hurled himself at Charles Vane, sending the chairs flying and the table upturned. Standing quickly, me, Jack, and several other men rushed over to separate the two. I found myself holding a snarling Benjamin Hornigold by the shoulders, with Jack and another man helping Charles Vane to his feet. He looked scornfully at his friend while he pushed his fallen hat back into place.
“‘Throw this thrice cursed dog into the street, and may he come here no more!’ He barked. None too gently, me and another pirate dragged Hornigold to the door and threw him roughly into the dirt. I couldn’t help but pity the poor man, I remembered him as being strong, confident, and prideful of his position amongst his brethren.
Wearily I turned from him and went back inside, where Charles Vane was meticulously brushing himself off.
“‘What do you think, Mr. Bones?’ He said as I approached. ‘Did I do the right thing?’
“‘If the Custom of the Coast* is the rules of piracy, then, yes ye did.’ I swayed slightly on my wobbly legs. ‘Though I’d say that he’s acquired enough gold to leave, according to the Code.’
“‘But if he would accept a pardon from the Crown, then there is no telling what he would do. A man who has lost the will to fight is as a snake in the hands of many men, and ye never know who, or when it’ll strike.’
“‘Maybe ye should go down to the harbor, get some fresh air, ye don’t look so good.’
I nodded and lurched out the door and into the street. The harbor of Nassau was formed by the island itself, and a long, thin strip of land that ran beside it, forming a perfect bay that allowed our shallow-draft ships to enter, but was inaccessible to large warships. It was protected by a small fort at the mouth of the harbor, where we always had several men posted. The water sparkled like a great aqua-blue gem, transparent all the way to the bottom, where veins of black rock and coral groped across the pure white sand. The blue sky above, with its beaches of cloud, hid whatever was behind it selfishly, until nightfall when it revealed the twinkling gems set within its vast expanse.
The sun shone gently down on me, making everything around me stand out in stunning relief. My mind was mostly cleared of drink when I reached the beach. And what a beautiful sight met my eyes.
A sloop had pulled into Nassau harbor, one of the ships that were highly favored by pirates. She was made of sturdy oak, had only one mast, the mainmast, which was fore-and-aft-rigged, meaning that it had a course, or mainsail, coming off of the mainmast aft, two topsails, which is a square sail facing the forecastle, on the top of the mast. In the front coming off of the mainmast, (which was positioned farther up toward the bow than most ships), was the staysail, the jib, and the jib-topsail, or flying jib, which would not have been there had it not been for the lengthened bowsprit, (which is a strip of timber protruding from the bow). Those three sails were triangular in shape, attached to both the mast, and the bowsprit by lanyards. She was small, and shaped like a dagger, and as dangerous as one too. She had no raised poop-deck or quarterdeck, they would make maneuvering onboard difficult, and so the deck from fore to aft was flat. Maybe what drew me to her was the likeness she had to the ship of my boyhood, the Seeker of Fortune.
As I admired her lines, a spark went off in the loaded cannon deep within my soul. My mind cleared completely, and I felt an uncontrollable desire, excitement, and power flare in my heart. Unable to remain still, I ran to have a look at what her crew was doing. I heard the loud voice of the boatswain (bosun) giving orders at the top of the gangplank that ran down from the sloop to land, while many other men rolled barrels and hauled crates down the bridge and to carts waiting on shore.
“‘Up on your end, Chauncy!’ I heard someone shout. I turned and beheld two men struggling to lift a crate onto a cart. One man was on the wagon, while the other held the bottom end of the box from the ground. The man on the buggy was tall, with plump, squashed features nicely rounded, with curly, red-brown hair covered by a Monmouth-cap. His body matched accordingly, except for his hands, which were long and boney. The second man on the ground was shorter, with an angular body-build, large, twinkling eyes set in a long face. He had a bushy brown mustache and sideburns, and he was prematurely losing most of his hair. I hurried over and flung my hands under the crate.
“‘Thank ye, mate!’ Shouted the man beside me. ‘Now, heave!’ With a tremendous effort, we lifted the chest onto the cart, leaving me panting for breath. The shorter man wiped the sheen of sweat from his brow, and glanced sidelong at me. ‘We could use a pair of strong arms like yours aboard the Albatross.’
“‘That’s her name is it?’ Said I, gesturing to the sloop.
“‘Aye, the Waved Albatross.’ From the wagon jumped the tall man, who introduced himself as Geert Visser. The short man was called Alden Chauncy. ‘He’s the best coxswain there is, ain’t ye, Geert?’ He grinned.
“‘Yer praise of me is ill founded,’ Geert said, scuffing the ground with a foot. ‘Anyway, we need to get to the market; the captain hopes to sell the cargo by noon.’
“‘Aye, Mr. Visser!’ Chauncy vaulted onto the cart and inclined his head towards me. ‘What ship do ye belong to?’
“‘None on the water at the moment,’ I said with a frown.
“‘Well, as I said before, we could use an able-bodied man like yerself onboard. What’s your name mate?’
“With a friendly nod, Chauncy whipped the reins of the carthorse, and he and Geert Visser cantered off towards the town of Nassau. I stayed in the harbor, looking with longing at the Waved Albatross.
“Morning wore on into noon, and another ship arrived in the bay, a schooner called the Harbinger, whose captain, Rem Blanc, was always the bearer of some kind of momentous news, good or ill, none could ever tell. He stepped off the ship into a crowd of curious cutthroats, all of them interested in news of the fleet headed to New Providence. Edging my way through the swarm, I got close enough to hear the burly man speaking in his rough, loud voice.
“‘They’re less than a day behind us,’ he said tensely. ‘Many, many warships…and a few cutters, brigs, and other smaller vessels that can get into the port. They be led by a man named Rodgers, Woodes Rodgers. He’s to be the new governor of New Providence.’ Many angry and defiant shouts accompanied this remark, my voice added to the din. The noise died down after Captain Blanc left to help oversee the Harbinger’s cargo being taken to the town.
“I returned to the Lucky Ace late that night, pondering Chauncey’s vague offer for me to join the crew of the Waved Albatross. I felt a stirring of restlessness in my gut and a flutter of excitement in my heart, a longing that drew my mind back to the Albatross again and again during the night. The low, austere ceiling above me seemed to grow larger, and press in ominously on me, striving to suffocate the life out of me.
“I went out into the streets early, at around five in the morning. The sun had yet to appear on the watery horizon, but a gray glow lightened the landscape with dusky fingers that foretold its coming. A mist had risen from the streets that were wet with glistening dew, winking up at me in the dawn. The sky was white and colorless, lending the world a feeling of freshness, and of rebirth. Before going out I had strapped my pouch to my belt, and now I took out the hard-leather flask that I carried everywhere, and took a deep draught of rum.
At the edge of the harbor, I stopped and paced before the sea, drinking sometimes from my bottle, while taking in my surroundings admiringly. The tip of the sun protruded from the horizon’s never-ending line, as if beyond the bowl of the skyline was a rising sea of light, and it was beginning to spill over the rim into the world. Florescent tendrils radiated from the bright arc of the sun, seeming to hold back, and beckon me to follow them up into the vault of the sky. My eyes slowly roamed over the glistening sea, feeling drawn by the powerful attraction of the rising waves. They stopped, hovering over a group of sails just below the horizon, like a flock white gulls soaring over the ocean.
Frantically I rushed back through the town, shouting as I went: ‘The fleet is here! Ready yourselves, His Majesties Navy is here!’ Windows were opened, and men and women alike rushed into the street and down to the harbor, pulling out their spyglasses and scanning the sea for the sails of the fleet. The Siege of New Providence had begun.