Pirates of Pamlico Sound: Chapter 20
🏴 Present Day * Ocracoke Island.
A dark-haired woman looked out over the depths of the Pamlico Sound. She had exited her car and was leaning on the ferry’s railing remembering unspeakable events that had transpired many lifetimes ago. So much had changed, she thought to herself. This ferry, she saw, was named the Kinnakeet. The people around her — tourists and vacationers, mostly — thought of this word as no more than a historic-sounding name applied to a boat to transport vehicles from one island to another. However, she associated the name with the memory of a neighboring Indian village — one with many tribal influences, once a beautiful place with tall trees and uncommonly friendly residents. So much had changed.
In the back seat of her car, there was a spectacular oil painting, newly framed at a shop in Nags Head. Though the painting was undated, she knew it to be from the summer of 1695, painted on the shores of the very island that could be seen now rising up in the distance. There was also in her car a shopping bag containing a diary from the early 1700s, a scrap of nearly washed-out parchment, and a jacket belonging to a man named Red Davies. He’d been a free man, a slave, a pirate and, most importantly, her soul mate nearly three hundred years ago.
Brenna had known many other men during her long, ageless lifetime. There is no question that many of them had been special and had filled her with warm, loving memories. However, she realized that none of them ever truly managed possess her in the way he did. The inspired lines she’d written and read from that scrap of parchment were never since repeated.
It would have been easy to move on, to force herself to eventually forget Red Davies had things been different. However, the stunning mulatto woman standing next to her made this impossible.
Brenna put her arm around the woman. “Thank you for coming, Camilla,” she said.
“I’d never have missed it, mother.”
“Have I ever told you why I named you Camilla?”
“Yes, mother, you’ve been telling me for centuries.”
The women laughed and zipped their jackets. The wind had grown brisk on the water.
Camilla continued. “My name was the name your mother’s teacher had picked out for you. She was French, and she liked the idea that the name meant freedom, which grandmother finally achieved for herself after the struggle in Salem.”
“That’s right,” Brenna said.
“But, when you were born, she remarked that your hair reminded her of a raven, and that your eyes seemed to match. So, she named you Brenna, which was an ancient Celtic word meaning Raven. And, you embraced the name, adopting the crow as a personal totem.”
“At least I know you’ve been paying attention all this time, Camilla.”
“Of course,” she said. “And you saved the name for me as a tribute to my father, who had once been a slave but eventually found freedom.”
When they reached the ferry terminal, the women drove south to the village. Brenna kept a secluded home along the Silver Lake Harbor. It was an overgrown place — an ancient homestead rumored by some of the locals to have been built over a pirate graveyard — with wild grape vines and ancient crepe myrtle. Now that the fall season was upon them, the annual milkweed pods were scattered along the walkway, casting their feathery white seeds like a coating of snow.
This wasn’t a place in which Brenna cared to reside full-time. For ages, she’d been drawn to appreciate the diversity of locales and climates available around the world. But, she maintained this place as a home base for herself and for Camilla.
There was a spot next to a built-in bookcase in the living room that seemed perfect for the painting. Brenna tapped a nail in at eye level and reached for the newly-framed painting. The man at the frame shop had strung a wire across the back for easy hanging. She grasped the heavy object with both hands, lowered the wire onto the nail, and stepped back.
“So, that’s grandmother,” Camilla said.
“That’s your grandmother,” Brenna said. “It’s interesting how life can often come full-circle, isn’t it? Here I am looking at, and even admiring, a painting of myself and my mother standing not so far from this very spot. It was painted by a man who drew a rage from me unlike any I’d experienced before. And yet, he captured my spirit so well, and my mother’s likeness.”
“Do you regret your revenge on that man, mother?”
“The human conscience, I learned, is a kinetic, dynamic phenomenon. Even those with our capabilities may sometimes act from a place of rage, of desperation, of passion. From my perspective today … yes, I admit an error of judgment. However, I believe these powerful emotions clear our conscience from full responsibility. It’s noble to rise above our emotions, but at the same time, I do not believe that the world holds us accountable for our own human nature.”
“So, this Mr. Grellier … he had it coming?”
She looked at the painting once again. “Let me put it as simply as I can, Camilla …” For a moment, Brenna projected back three centuries. She remembered the brutality Mr. Grellier demonstrated that morning on the beach, the undignified manner in which they dragged Red back up into the dunes like a savage, how they beat her and left her for dead — the humiliation, the patronization, the proselytization. She then simply said “yes” and casually pulled a small white stack of papers from her pocket.
“What are those?” Camilla asked.
“This is the master registration list from the auction,” Brenna said. “I liberated it because I needed an address.” She then began flipping through the papers and then said, “Ah, here it is. And, she’s from Nags Head. Spectacular. Now, where’s my pen?”
“It’s on the kitchen table, mother. I’m going out for a walk on the beach, if you don’t mind.”
“Not at all, dear. I have a letter to write, anyway.”
She sat down and opened her fountain pen.
You do not know me personally — yet. However, in time, I believe we may come to develop a friendship. Before I begin this rather difficult letter, let me express my sincere wish for your speedy recovery. I believe you’ll find that you’ll heal remarkably well.
What happened to you at the Hitchings estate was no doubt as upsetting to you emotionally as it must have been physically. Please understand that it was never my intention to cause harm to you or to your friends. I attended that auction, Bernice, not to view or purchase the portrait of my mother standing beside me on the sunny shores of Ocracoke. (Yes, you knew the identity of the woman in the picture, didn’t you?) Seeing that painting was a glorious coincidence for me, and I’m thankful to have been reunited with the memory of such a beautiful day.
My purpose in visiting, you see, was to obtain my dress from you, as well as the set of clothes that belong to my husband — items that called out to me once again from across the sea. I see that you’ve made some alterations to the jacket, which I think are appropriate given the age. And, I thank you for retaining almost all of the original material.
As for the beautiful dress — the dress made by my mother, altered by me, and then altered again by you — I expect you may believe that I caused it to erupt into flames, burning it from your body. However, I assure you that I did not — although I believe that our proximity may have stirred something deep within your psyche. And, for that, I apologize. I didn’t know you’d be wearing the dress, or that the painting would be there. If it’s any consolation, I believe you’ll come to view the world in a new light very soon, if this hasn’t happened already.
But it has, hasn’t it, Bernice? I suspect you hadn’t told your two best friends about the diary or the parchment, had you? They must have been as surprised as you to have seen that painting. And then you did see it, and the part you will struggle to understand is how you came to cause that dress to spontaneously combust.
You’d no doubt read my mother’s diary many times by then. Am I correct? And, her words began to stir a power within you that you began to recognize and identify with the more you read. The fire was within you, Bernice, and the fire was around you. It was the ancient fire of Aithne Reade of Ireland, of Salem, of Boston, of Bath. Aithne of Salem, Aithne of passion, Aithne of fire. And I was her spark, her little raven.
I severed my connection with so many of these memories nearly three hundred years ago upon committing an act of utter rage. This error in judgment cost me a great deal. However, you have redeemed this act. You’ve given me a second chance at happiness, which alone fills me with a joy that you could not understand. Always look within, Bernice, for within your bosom lies the truest source of wisdom.
As for me, I have a certain spell to cast that was three hundred years in the making. We’ll talk again, my friend. You’ll have many questions, of course, which I shall be happy to answer in time. As my teacher told me so many years ago, I do not intend to teach you the hows, little raven, but rather I will help you understand the whys. If you understand the whys, the hows will fall into place naturally.
Brenna picked up the letter and reread it twice. There were a few items that she could have explained more thoroughly, a few items that she may have explained too thoroughly for the moment, and a few that would no doubt provide Bernice with useful details. Satisfied with her effort for the moment, she put the letter into an envelope, addressed it, and added a postage stamp.
Her goal in hastily writing the letter was to get that step out of the way. She didn’t want to forget to do that over the next few days because it was not in her nature to leave people like Bernice in a state of confusion. Brenna felt partially responsible, as she’d written, for the scene at the auction, and she wanted to do her part to speed along Bernice’s emotional recovery. If there was time in the next day or two, perhaps there would be some assistance Brenna could develop to expedite Bernice’s physical discomfort as well. Time would tell.
For now, she retrieved the shopping bag. Such trivial items, shopping bags, she thought. And yet this completely unimportant item, a throw-away from some retail mega-store, holds the most important collection of materials she could possibly imagine. There was her mother’s diary, which she’d found comfort in so often during the years after her mother’s death. There was the scrap of parchment on which she’d written such an impassioned spell centuries ago. And the jacket. After all this time, there it was, right in front of her — an impossible goal, given up on literally ages ago, attained.
Much of it was still soft. Feeling it, she recalled the incantation: “… the ancient power … entrusted to those who have been gifted with sensory powers of vision beyond sight, of hearing beyond sounds … I shed these words as we shed our clothes, asking an essence of myself and of this spell to reside within them as we demonstrate complete vulnerability …”
Brenna was excited and apprehensive. She knew Camilla would be away for quite some time this evening. Her daughter had known perfectly well the implications of retrieving her father’s jacket, and she planned to afford her mother the necessary privacy.
After all this time, Brenna thought. She’d kept this home through the ages, this small fortress built, as the local legend claimed, over a grave yard. Her jacket in hand, she stood at the door that led below, a door through which she never expected to walk.
Outside, a large healthy crow flew south along the shore high in the air. He circled in the sky above the Ocracoke inlet — an old magical friend and last of the mighty Wokokon who had found freedom anew.
☠️ 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).