(For the previous chapters, visit the Lady of the Sea‘s main page)
Supper is always a pirate’s favourite time. After a hard day’s labour and maybe some plundering and canon-blowing, the men are finally able to rest their legs – be they wooden or otherwise – and gather around food and drink skillfully prepared by the master cook, who would conjure delicious meals from perishable goods stored in the hold.
But no pirate enjoyed their meal that night. The air was sullen and, even though the crew wasn’t silent, they were a lot quieter, whispering to each other instead of the usual loud and merry drinking.
Azov did his best to cheer up his men, calling out Robert the Robin to play them all some songs from his repertoire (which consisted mostly of shanties about women left behind in many a port), and the men obliged, but their heart wasn’t in it.
Eventually, Philippe LaFitte, the ebony-skin pirate, stood up and raised his mug.
“Captain Azov, sir, I would like to tell a tale, if I may.”
“A tale, before pudding?” asked Pardel, who was more observant than most to these formalities.
“Aye! The tale of the man who survived the Devil’s Passage.”
All his companions looked up in his direction.
“’Tis a legend, then. There never was such a creature.”
“Maybe so. But when have my seafaring brothers ever said no to a good tale just because it wasn’t true?”
Everyone shook their heads in approval and, a bit more relieved, Azov agreed to the story.
“Before I begin, rest assured this story is true. And I tell you this now, because you will not believe it, once you hear it.”
In the small village where I was born, there was once a boy who dreamed of sailing the seas to meet the strange and wonderful creatures everybody said were on the other side of the horizon: large beasts with coloured feathers, or with a man’s face but a lion’s body and scorpion tail – and even people with no heads and their faces in their chests.
One day, a big ship appeared on the shore and a large group of men stepped out. They were carrying big sticks of wood and metal, where they shot fire from. No need to pretend, we all know what happened next. They were not friendly. There wasn’t much of value for them to take, other than food, so they started taking the women by force. All the children were hidin’ and the young boy saw one of them men attacking his mum. Without thinking twice, he jumped at the man, to defend her. A wee lad wouldn’t have much of a chance against a rough beard, but the man, who was the captain, no less, was impressed at the child’s courage and decided to take him back with them on the ship. The boy went kicking an’ screamin’, but he went. And a good thing he did, because the entire village was burned to the ground, with everyone in it.
Philippe looked around at the faces in his audience and saw honest gloom. There was no pirate in that ship that didn’t have some sin which would lead him to the gallows, but they were only ever violent with other crews and other ships. Burning villages with women and children was not in their code of battle. Especially if there was no money to be gained.
The boy grew up as part of the ship’s crew, he continued. He hated every single one o’ them, but knew better than to be difficult, as it could cost him his life. He learned the trade, traveled like he wanted to, and, in his mind, planned to kill the man who took him when the time was right. But he never had the chance to do it.
One night, their captain decided to take a short cut to Black Bear Harbour by crossing The Devil’s Passage. He was afraid o’ nothin’ or maybe he was just mad. ‘Soon as they got closer, a big storm began. With the winds and high waves, the ship was moving like a whale trying to escape the harpoon on its back. They lost all control when the ship hit a big wall of rocks and men were falling overboard as she was falling apart. The captain was hit by the foremast didn’t move no more. When he saw this, the boy, who was now much older, decided to jump and, swimming as hard as he could, held on to a plank for his life. He saw the ship being chewed by the waves and the rocks, until it was completely swallowed by the sea. But the storm didn’t stop, and he was struggling to stay afloat, feeling weaker and weaker. His eyes started to close, like he was falling asleep, and his arms were letting go of the plank. He was so tired… so what if he died there in the ocean? He always wanted to be there anyway. Suddenly, he felt someone holding him and carrying him away. He thought we was dreaming, or maybe already dead, so he let himself be. After a while, he felt land underneath him, and the sun rising. When he opened his eyes, there was a beautiful lady standing next to him. She had long black hair covering her very pale skin. The boy asked who she was, but she simply smiled and left, back to the sea.
Fully awake now, the boy looked around to find he was back in his old village. He never left again.
“And that’s it. That is my tale.” Philippe takes a bow.
“That’s a lot of sea water that boy drank while he was drownin’!”
“Did she have a fish tale? Merwomen don’t save us, they ruin our lives!”
“That can’t be tru’! I’s just a tale!”
Philippe heard them all and, in the end, he explained:
“I know the tale is true because I heard it from the man who survived. It is true because the boy was my grandfather.”