Pirates of Pamlico Sound: Chapter 19

🏴 1716 * Bath.

Emptiness. Everyone Brenna loved had now disappeared. Red had been captured and taken against his will back to Bath. And, Chogan was no where to be found since that night either. As she’d done for the previous two days, she sat on the shore with her arms wrapped around her knees, staring desperately out over the Pamlico Sound toward the west where they’d taken Red. She longed to see him again, she missed Chogan’s wisdom and guidance, and she began to think about her mother, whose funeral pyre had burned only a stone’s throw from where she sat.

A ship could be seen looming the distance, near the horizon. She could faintly make out a grey topsail and topmast. The sight filled her with dread; it seemed to presage something terrible that would happen as the winds drew the vessel closer. Over the span of an hour, the mast and sail slowly grew larger.

When the ship had nearly reached the harbor, she recognized the strange shape she’d seen obscuring part of the main topsail. As it drew nearer, she saw that it was a human body — a dark-skinned man, lifeless and naked. She knew it to be Red and she began to scream at the ship. She could see the crewmembers scurrying on the deck, pointing at her.

She heard the captain yell something and the boat threw anchor out along the shoal. They lowered Red’s body from the yard arm and, moments later, dispatched a small rowboat toward the shore. As it approached, she could make out two men — one a horribly large dark man covered with wild facial hair. The other was a shirtless man rowing the boat with his back toward her.

When they came within shouting distance, the large man yelled, “Stop!” She recognized him from Red’s stories; it was Blackbeard. He stood up in the small dinghy and looked directly at Brenna, shouting “Here’s your drowned slave, lass.” He then threw Red’s body into the shallow waters and laughed as they headed back toward their ship.

Brenna panicked. She dove into the chilly harbor and swam toward Red’s body, finally grabbing it and struggling back toward the shore. After several minutes had passed, the Wokokon chief, Machk, arrived and helped her carry Red the rest of the way back.

As she stared at Red’s lifeless form, Brenna felt an overwhelming sadness at seeing him dead, but she also felt a rage toward both Blackbeard and Hervé Grellier. She began to visualize revenge against these men as a strong easterly wind rose up, forcing the ship back out into the sound. Drowning would be too easy of a death for that man. Blackbeard should die a horrible death, she thought to herself in a way that she understood to represent the first curse she’d ever wished upon another person. He should be shot, stabbed, beheaded — and his remains humiliated much in the same way he’d humiliated Red. As for Grellier, she had business with him still.

Machk put his hand on her shoulder. “I’m sorry, Brenna Reade,” he said. “We will prepare the necessary arrangements for a proper funeral ceremony.”

“No fire,” she said. “He is to be buried in the ground.”

“It is our custom to burn the dead,” he said.

“This is true,” said Brenna. “However, he was not of this tribe.”

Machk nodded. “Then, we shall set aside space for a grave near the harbor.”

“Thank you, Machk,” she said. “Have you seen Chogan today?”

“I have not seen Chogan since that morning when the men took Red from you. It is my belief that he may have attempted to help in some way.”

In the hours that followed, Machk arranged for four men to wrap Red’s body in linen and select a site near the harbor for a grave. Having little experience with European or African traditions, they did not know exactly how to send Red’s spirit into the hereafter properly. Their instincts were to handle the actual act of burial rather quickly, and then set about having a fire as well as a celebration similar to their normal custom. This was satisfactory to Brenna as well, even though Red had few belongings to offer up on the pyre.

During the ceremony, Brenna realized that she’d come to identify herself as an adopted member of the Wokokon tribe. Her mentor and teacher, Chogan, had disappeared likely in an attempt to save the man she loved from his fate. She sensed his disappearance meant he’d never return. As such, the funeral fire she stared into that night seemed to burn for two men — one a lover, one a beloved father figure.

She mourned the memory of both men for many hours. At the end of the evening, Machk approached her and asked what he might be able to do to comfort her.

She faced him with angry, determined look on her face. “I’d like two warriors to accompany me to Bath,” she answered.

Machk agreed.

Three days later, Brenna found no one present as she entered the church in Bath. A groundskeeper entered the building — a black man who looked similar to Red Davies. She wondered momentarily whether this man had also been a slave forced to serve Blackbeard at some point in his past.

“I’m looking for Hervé Grellier,” she told the man.

“Check the back room,” he said. “He spends a great deal of time in there.”

She nodded in appreciation and then set off for the rear of the church in a rage. She entered the room without announcing herself to find Grellier lounging on his cushioned deacon’s bench reading a book.

“I came for my dress,” she said sternly, “and for the clothes of Mr. Davies.”

“Ahh, Brenna, it’s nice to see you again.” He sat up, closing his book and placing it next to him.

She scowled at the overall scene, which seemed to her to be far more comfortable than someone like him deserved. “Leisure reading, I see,” she said.

“The subject of this book,” he said, picking it up again, “is ‘deathbed repentance.’ I’ve borrowed it from our fine library. You might consider paying a visit as well.”

“Perhaps another time. As I’ve said, I’m here on other business.”

“Yes, your clothes, you said?”

“And the clothes of Mr. Davies, if you please.”

“Impossible,” he said. “I … I threw them overboard — all of them.”

Brenna didn’t believe him. During normal circumstances, she’d have been certain of his lying. However, her inner rage worked against her, clouding the normal clarity of her judgment. Powerful emotions, she knew well, could bring about similarly powerful effects. She realized that she needed to leave the man’s presence and compose herself once again.

“I see,” she said calmly. “In that case, I shall perhaps call on you again this evening to bid you farewell. You will of course be at home?”

“Certainly,” he said.

She turned to leave and his lip curled into a deviant smile. He returned to his cushioned bench and, as he savored the power he felt over Brenna, he enjoyed how the soft pillows made him feel as though he were truly the determiner of his own future. He leisurely picked up his copy of “Deathbed Repentance” once again and continued where he’d left off.

Calming her anger, Brenna realized that Grellier’s rather selfish moment of false importance had become the man’s final mistake. He greatly underestimated her resolve in this matter, and he also unknowingly handed her the key to his vulnerability. She would bewitch him, she decided, leveraging his natural love of authority.

That evening, a thick fog rolled in across the water, blanketing the colony. The Wokokon warriors obeyed Brenna’s request to wait for her at the docks. She knocked at Grellier’s door unseen by anyone else and was promptly asked to enter.

Inside, Grellier led the conversation for a few minutes, discussing the merits of repentance. In response, Brenna stuck to her plan. She looked directly into his eyes — those same piercing black eyes that had haunted him every time he’d met them, the same eyes of that strangely fearsome child he’d captured on his canvas on the shores of Ocracoke, the eyes he couldn’t bear to meet for long out of fear they might see through him.

She lured his continued gaze with words he’d be overjoyed to hear. “Mr. Grellier, I humbly thank you for seeing me this evening.” She’d begun to hypnotize him with her constant glare, with words that sounded polite and earnest. “While I cannot stay here much longer, I wanted to make a confession to you.” Her tone was soft and gentle, drawing him in further. “You see, I wished to confess that, since that terrible morning days ago, I’ve realized the error of my ways.” The more she spoke these words, the more vulnerable and susceptible to suggestion he became.

He’d soon become utterly captivated by every syllable she uttered, even if there was still enough of himself left to reply with similarly gentle and polite niceties. “I’m glad to hear that, my child,” he said in a dreamy, monotone voice that adopted some of his usual religions affectations.

“We must walk,” she said, rising up.

He followed without question. “Yes, let’s have a nice walk, shall we?”

Outside, she walked him past a stone wall on the way to the dock. She maintained eye contact much of the time and spoke in quiet, suggestive tones. “We must carry a large stone to the river, don’t you agree?” she asked him.

“Yes,” he agreed.

Her voice seemed to reverberate as she spoke. “That one,” she said, pointing to a large, long flagstone that must have weighed thirty pounds.

“Of course,” he said, gently pulling it from atop the wall.

The two walked a short distance through the heavy mist to the shore where the Wokokon warriors stood at the large fishing boat that resembled a massive canoe. Brenna made a waving gesture at the men, who silently entered the boat as if obeying some unspoken command. She motioned for Grellier to step into the boat and he did so, thanking her politely.

The Wokokon pushed off and began paddling into the darkness. Grellier sat opposite her still holding the stone, still completely entranced and showing a pleasant countenance as though the group were enjoying a tour of the water on a sunny summer afternoon.

When they reached the sound, Brenna handed Grellier one end of a long, sturdy rope. She nodded slowly as she spoke. “We must tie this rope tightly around the rock, mustn’t we, Mr. Grellier?”

He smiled and, following her suggestion, said, “Yes, of course.”

As he did so, Brenna tied the opposite end into a large slip-knot. She placed it around Grellier’s neck, tightened it, and said, “That is a lovely necktie you have, Mr. Grellier. Do you know where we are right now?”

He looked at her slightly confused. “We’re comfortable, aren’t we?”

“Yes, we’re comfortable,” she said. “Where are you most comfortable, Mr. Grellier?”

He smiled gently. “I’m most comfortable on the soft pillows.”

“Yes, in the church,” she said.

“Yes,” he said.

The Wokokon continued paddling the craft deeper into the heavy fog on the sound, completely oblivious to the conversation taking place in the middle of the boat. Grellier looked entirely calm and at peace with himself.

“Mr. Grellier, let’s talk about something else, shall we?” Brenna said.

“Of course,” he said. “Of course, Brenna.”

“The clothes that you took from me and from Red Davies on that horrible day so long ago. Could you tell me where they are now?”

Grellier gazed around him, looking off into the fine grey mist. “I’m afraid your clothes are forever sealed in darkness, Brenna. They lie … within the dark chest of the sea, just below where we’re sitting now.”

Brenna might have understood what he meant, might have recalled almost immediately that Grellier understood himself to be sitting comfortably in his church. But, he then added something unexpected. In his dreamy voice, he said, “I am sorry about the crow.”

“What do you mean, the crow?” she asked.

“I … pierced its small heart with an arrow,” he said.

The words sank in immediately, filling her with both a profound sadness and a renewed rage. At once, she understood something she should have realized long ago. She lowered her head and began to cry intensely. Large tears welled in her eyes and dripped to her feet for almost an entire minute.

“What troubles you, my child?” Grellier asked calmly.

“I’ve lost … a rock,” she said, looking into his eyes once again.

Grellier peacefully surveyed his surroundings and said, “Here is your stone,” gesturing at the large flagstone sitting on his lap.

“Shall we drop it into the water?” she said.

“Yes,” he said. “Yes, of course we shall.”

With no resistance, he obediently dropped the heavy stone off the side of the boat. The rope made a peculiar noise for perhaps two seconds as it quickly uncoiled and scraped the side of the boat. When all of the extra rope in the boat had been pulled under, the heavy stone and rope instantly and unmercifully snapped Grellier’s neck, pulling him into the depths of the Pamlico Sound.

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☠️ Jim Dee maintains his personal blog, “Hawthorne Crow,” and a web design blog called “Web Designer | Web Developer Magazine.” He’s also contributes to various Medium.com publications. You can reach him at: Jim [at] ArrayWebDevelopment.com. “Chapter number” background photo atop piece is adapted from “Light Reading” by Martin (Flickr, Creative Commons).