Pirates of Pamlico Sound: Chapter 9

🏴 1716 * On the Pamlico Sound.

Hervé Grellier had a wild look in his eyes as he lectured Red Davies about slavery, about abandoning one’s responsibilities, about corrupting young unmarried women. Red was powerless, of course. He’d cooperated out of hope that they’d simply leave Brenna out of this matter, which they apparently had done. This fact was the only positive thought he had at the moment.

Blackbeard was not, as was commonly thought, the meanest privateer on record. In fact, for those who submitted to his raids, he normally spared their lives. That, in retrospect, seemed rather considerate, for an outlaw. But, Red also knew what the man did to those who crossed him. Without question, leaving the ranks in the way Red had done was a challenge to the man’s authority. Red could see no escaping the inevitable; this was likely his last few days of life. Making the situation worse, an eastern wind had sprung up, speeding their journey to his destiny even more.

“Blame her!” Grellier shouted at him, pacing the small ship’s deck in the full sunlight, enjoying the overall command of the vessel. He was waving his bow around, gesturing with it and tapping the deck rail as he spoke. “Blame the witch for your fate. Had she not seduced you, had she been able to contain her lust for just one evening, she would not have led us to you. We might have left Ocracoke and you might have lived peacefully for the rest of your life. How does that sit with you, I wonder?”

Red didn’t answer. While he didn’t blame Brenna, he’d nonetheless been broken — his strength drained, his capacity for hope fading as they progressed toward Bath. He lay face down on the deck, bobbing up and down with the ship’s motion across the choppy water. His thoughts turned to the surreal: How can my death come to me in the spring, he thought, on such a warm, fragrant day? What will happen to the world when I’m gone? Nothing, I suppose. It will remain. People will go about their business. Wars will be fought. Slaves will be captured. There will be intense pain for some and, for a lucky few, love.

Grellier continued to pace the deck near Red, stretching the bowstring occasionally. He’d even threaded an arrow and looked mad enough to fire it at Red. “Have you nothing to say for yourself, man?!” Grellier demanded.

Red remained silent, which enraged Grellier further. A loud crow circled directly overhead. “I believe this crow thinks you are dead, Mr. Davies,” Grellier said, taunting Red. “He means to swoop down and scavenge your remains like a vulture.”

Still, Red refused to speak. The crow began calling out loudly, which Grellier heard as a mocking. He pulled an arrow back to a fully extended bowstring and released it skyward, piercing the stately bird square in the chest, silencing it instantly. The bird fell in a disturbingly twisted manner, spinning in the air head over tail as its extended wing and arrow slowed its fall. It landed near Red, who catalogued this memory among the absurdities of life’s last moments.

Grellier gave up. He picked up the arrow and attempted to pull it from the bird. The longer half snapped off, leaving just the wooden rod embedded in the crow’s chest with the feathered end protruding. For a moment, he felt slightly ashamed of his behavior. He took the bird and wrapped it in a piece of white muslin he’d acquired during their expedition. He then tossed it onto the pile of clothes he’d confiscated from Brenna and Red.

When they arrived at the port of Bath, Grellier and his men dragged Red Davies to the home of Mr. Teach. Grellier went in alone, asking the men to stay outside.

Teach looked to have just finished lunch. He was reclining in a large wooden chair, holding a bottle of what appeared to be rum. In fact, Teach appeared ready to fall asleep, but perked up when he saw his guest. “I wasn’t expecting you back so soon, Mr. Grellier,” said Teach, groggily. “How was the hunting expedition? Did you capture your quarry?”

“We did, sir,” said Grellier, proudly. “He’s just outside.”

“You don’t say,” said Teach with interest, rising from his seat. He was an extremely tall and large man with a thick black beard braided in many places like scraggly ropes. According to others, he routinely wore multiple pistols, swords, and knives. However, today, he seemed to have opted for a more casual dress, sporting only two pistols and one large knife. He gestured toward the door and said, “Let’s have a look, then.”

Grellier exited the house first, followed by Teach, who immediately noticed Red Davies standing in the lane, shackled and dispirited. “Well, if it isn’t Mr. Red Davies after all,” Teach said. “And, where have you been hiding out?”

Red said nothing, though he made brief eye contact with Teach.

“We found him on Ocracoke,” Grellier reported. “It was our last stop before returning to Bath.”

“So that’s where you got off to, eh?” Teach said as he began to pace around in thought. “You know, I fancy that island myself. Directly on the sea, good harbor to the west, and some tricky shoals that could be advantageous in certain circumstances.” He paced around a bit more, intimidating Red (and likely the others) with his presence. “I’ve been meaning to take a closer look, maybe even walk the land a bit. What say you, Mr. Davies? Shall we return to Ocracoke?”

Red looked down, away from everyone. Clearly, Blackbeard meant to make a strong and visible example out of him. There are those in this world who experience good deaths — whether peacefully in old age or passionately when young. And there are those who suffer misery. Red knew that Blackbeard would arrange for an entire crew to be present to witness the punishment for insubordination on a ship run by the infamous Edward Teach.

Teach excused himself for a moment and went back inside. The men heard him yell “ready the ship” rather angrily to someone inside — presumably one of his crewmen. A moment later, he returned with a sea chest. “This is for you,” Mr. Grellier. “It belonged to Mr. Davies here, who I doubt will be needing it much longer. And, there’s a little something inside for your trouble.”

“The church thanks you, Mr. Teach,” Grellier said, turning to leave. He make one final pass near Red and said, “May God have mercy on your soul, Mr. Davies.”

Teach looked at the men. “I’ll take Davies from here, thank you,” he said. He then grabbed the chain they’d bound Red with and led the prisoner inside.

Within an hour, they’d boarded Teach’s largest vessel, a fine war ship with more than twenty canons. Teach personally dragged Red onto the main deck. “Since you’re so keen on the place, Davies, you’ll be the first one to arrive.” He turned to two crew members and yelled, “Tie him face-down to the bowsprit.”

Red had underestimated the torture awaiting him. After more than a day at sea, Blackbeard ordered the ship to a standstill. “Heave to!” he yelled repeatedly. When the ship sat motionless on the sound, he walked to the forecastle deck and called out again, “Gather round, crew. All hands hoy!”

The men promptly obeyed and gathered near the man. He began to address Red loudly and with great dramatic gestures as though her were on a stage performing for an audience. “There’s your prized island in the distance, Mr. Davies,” he yelled, pointing off at the horizon.

“Can you see it from that vantage point?!” Blackbeard addressed Red, but his speech was clearly meant for the crew. “It’s been a rough trip for you, I imagine. Look at you. You’re soaked through and through, probably unable to stand on your own feet. I can’t imagine you have much strength left.”

He turned to his quartermaster. “What do you think? Do you think Red Davies can stand up after the beating he’s received for the past two days?”

“I doubt it,” the man said.

“Aye,” called Teach. “Perhaps Mr. Davies has had punishment enough. Come to think of it, being the gentleman I am, I’m going to offer our ungrateful African guest a chance at freedom. Considering your offense, you’re to be bound and drawn beneath the ship from bow to stern.”

Some of the men began talking among themselves. They knew that no one had ever survived such a sentence.

“Now, now,” Teach said, gesturing for the men to listen. “Stop your blathering and hear me out. The terms of my gentlemanly offer are as follows.” He faced Red and angrily shouted, “If you can hold your breath for three short minutes and survive the barnacles slicing at your skin, then you’ve earned your freedom and I’ll personally escort you to shore. But, if you die on us you miserable bastard, I’m going to hang you from a yardarm until we arrive and dump your body into the harbor.”

“Ready about, men! Full sail!” He yelled as the crew scrambled to their positions to resume course. “Tie him off, boys, and feed him to the fish.”

Red’s last moments were cruel and painful. He’d thought of Brenna momentarily as they bound him and tossed him in; however, the end came far too quickly and suddenly for any further thoughts of his brief happiness. It hurt terribly hitting the cool water, the shock of which quickly eliminated any hopes he’d had of holding his breath. Struggling in vein, he panicked as the ropes dragged him under, smashing his head into the keel. Red Davies was unconscious and drowned within thirty seconds of hitting the sound.

* * *

Back in Bath, Grellier savored the moment of opening the chest that Blackbeard (or, “Mr. Teach,” as Grellier preferred to regard him) had presented to him. Inside, he’d found a small sack of gold, as expected — enough to keep himself comfortable for quite some time.

It had been an interesting turn of events, he thought to himself as he sat in his home counting the gold. One day he’s a minister, the next he’s off on a sabbatical as a bounty hunter. He recalled how he’d met Teach at the man’s own wedding ceremony. He’d found him civilized and with quite a charismatic presence unlike anyone he’d met before or since.

The two men had a number of brief opportunities to make small talk at the time. Grellier, having held a prominent position in the port town, knew enough about the sea to carry on a basic conversation with the imposing man. When Teach made the offer of a ship to command, a goal to pursue, and a reward to be earned, Grellier found it difficult to refuse.

In fact, Grellier had privately entertained the occasional fantasy of life on a privateering ship, although the lifestyle clearly was at odds with his own. Still, it seemed harmless enough to harbor the occasional imaginative thought along these lines. He was creative by nature, after all, and this is what creators do best. At least this is how he justified it to himself. He was creative … an artist, in fact. How many sunrises, still-lifes, and portraits had he painstakingly captured?

The sea chest was of little use to Grellier. He was a bit put off to have seemingly inherited the item — partially because of Mr. Davies’ rather unimportant status, and partially because of the role Grellier had played in bringing about Mr. Davies’ fate. He thought the chest may be useful in a utilitarian way, of course. After some thought, he decided that customizing the chest would be an acceptable solution. He’d carve his initials as well as the town name, he thought, and perhaps a cross as well. Grellier completed this work within the week and was rather pleased with his craftsmanship.

A few days later, Edward Teach showed up at Grellier’s home carrying another box.

“Mr. Teach, please come in,” Grellier said, stepping back to let the enormous man through his doorway.

“Afternoon, minister,” he said, puffing a fat cigar. “I’m off to sea tomorrow, you know. My crew is busy readying my largest ship as we speak. They’ve been moving supplies from ship to ship and they told me these here items belong to you.”

He handed Grellier the box. “You’re a fair shot, Grellier. But, I wouldn’t make a habit of taking after crows. No good’ll come of that.”

Grellier fidgeted a bit. “Yes, I’m …”

“And besides, it’s stringy meat,” said Teach. “Tastes awful.”

“I certainly won’t do that again,” said Grellier, rather nervously.

“Don’t lose your head over it. It’s just a piece of friendly advice,” said Teach with a laugh, turning to leave. “Good day.”

When Teach left, Grellier opened the box and removed the items he’d taken from Ocracoke. He noticed something familiar about the dress. He’d seen it before, he thought. But, where? And then he remembered. It must have been twenty years ago, on Ocracoke Island. Aithne had worn this dress, and he’d painted her portrait on the beach. That painting, he remembered, is hanging in the back storage room of the church.

With that thought, he decided to go there and take a look to remind him of that time in his life. He packed everything Teach had brought, including the additional wooden box (which fit snugly inside the slightly larger sea chest), and headed for the church where he could be alone with his thoughts.

He stared at the painting there for several minutes. It wasn’t his best artwork, but it brought the memory of that day powerfully back to the surface. Look how the young child, Brenna, clings to her mother, her eyes piercing the artist with a darkness, a suspicion, and perhaps a fear of something distant in the future. As he ran his fingers over the dress, he remembered his first impression of Aithne — so beautiful, so alluring. Her passing was a terrible memory.

He looked again at the dress and became a bit disturbed by the embroidered crow, recalling Teach’s advice that nothing good will come of shooting a crow. Considering this, he began to sense some kind of hidden connection between all of these elements — the dress with embroidered Vs that almost resembled the silhouettes of flying birds, the embroidered crow shapes, the dead crow itself, the pirate’s clothing, the diary, and the parchment containing the mysterious language he’d overheard Brenna rehearsing.

These all seemed to be frightening omens, Grellier thought. He came to decide that, whatever the truth may have been, he would not pursue it. In fact, he wished he could forget everything he’d known about Aithne and Brenna. This was ancient history now, like the Tuscarora War. Some terrible things had transpired, and now they were finished. He had gold now, after all, and nothing but positive opportunities on the horizon.

He nodded to himself, having decided what to do. First, he took the smaller wooden box out of the sea chest. He then tossed the diary and parchment into the sea chest, resisting any urge he had to explore them; he folded the pirate’s jacket, placing that inside next; he folded the dress carefully and placed it on top. The crow seemed part of this chain of events — linked somehow. He wrapped it up again in the muslin and placed it on top.

The sea chest was a perfect size for all of these items and he’d thought of a perfect long-term storage place for the chest. A year ago, he’d spent a great deal of time building a deacon’s bench into a nook of this room under a window. He’d made the bench an integral part of the church itself, appearing original to the structure. It featured a large hinged lid and plenty of room for storage beneath the seat, which he’d had covered with large cushions, making it a great space to sit and watch the weather roll in.

With a bit of effort, he managed to fit the sea chest inside of the deacon’s bench. He also wrapped the painting in a large cloth and fit it into the storage space as well. While he wanted no further interaction with the items related to Aithne, he couldn’t bring himself to dispose of them completely. And, as an artist, he felt especially passionate about preserving his painting. Perhaps someone in the future might appreciate it. When he closed the lid again, he felt a bit of relief, but perhaps not the level of relief he’d hoped for after stowing everything away. It just wasn’t permanent enough, he thought.

A few moments later, he began eyeing the other wooden box that Teach had brought to him. He took the box and began examining it. A total of fourteen good-sized nails held the thing together — two on each of the four sides and a total of six holding the bottom on. A moment later, he knew just want to do. He grabbed a hammer and disassembled the box, retrieving all fourteen nails.

The solution he dreamed up seemed perfectly suited to the problem that had been eating at him ever since closing the lid on the deacon’s bench. He’d constructed that bench to be exactly six and one-half feet long — enough to accommodate his own full length comfortably for afternoon naps. If he drove a nail into each end of the lid, he could then drive exactly one nail every six inches along the lid, sealing the opening for ages. The symmetry inherent within this idea pleased him as a craftsman, and it pleased him aesthetically as well. He felt unsure as to whether anyone else would ever appreciate it, though.

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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).