The Birth of a Pirate by P.S. Bartlett
As told by Ivory Shepard
I can scarcely remember the fire back in Warwick, the year Great Uncle William brought us to the colonies fromEngland. The stories were vivid enough though, to leave the impression of those memories as if they were our own. A month after we’d lost our homes and our town was levelled; we were swept away by Uncle William and Aunt Margaret Shepard and brought to their home in Charles Towne, South Carolina. My cousins Miranda, Keara and Cassandra were barely walking and talking but we were completely adored and covered in their love and shelter. Our parents stayed behind to rebuild and planned to retrieve us as soon as they could. Sadly, that day was swallowed up by the sea during a storm and their ship was lost and never seen again on either side of the Atlantic Ocean.
Having been nursed and tended to by nannies, all four of us barely knew our parents anyway, so finding ourselves growing and thriving under the care of Aunt Margaret and two house maids didn’t seem strange to us at all. Aunt Margaret wasn’t blessed with children of her own and as such, she spent hours playing with us and giving us our schooling but it was Uncle William who left the greatest impression on me. For a man of wealth and means, he was loud and full of life and almost like a child himself. We were indulged and spoiled but Uncle William insisted we have chores, to teach us the importance of never feeling entitled to such an ideal life. One of my chores was as his barber and I learned I had a steady hand when he entrusted me with his pearl handled razor.
Stowed away in his den, was a trunk filled with treasures from the years he’d spent at sea. It was never discussed exactly what he was doing during those years but whatever it was, he’d amassed a great deal of wealth and acquired some rather unique and vibrant friends whom he’d entertain on occasion. We weren’t privy to those visits and were always shut away in our room with our ears pressed to the door, giggling, when they’d call on him. Their boisterous laughter and colorful expressions as they reminisced, kept us up way past our bedtime.
It was around the age of nine when he first placed a weapon in my hand. A cutlass he named it and I was to treat it like blown glass and not flip it about. He taught me balance and the fine art of sword fighting. I learned to pivot and lunge and all manners of guard and proper stance until at only thirteen, on a cool morning in early spring, as the first of Aunt Margaret’s rose bushes began to bud, with a swift deflection I disarmed him. His cutlass spun from his hand and his arms flew over his head in surrender. Granted, he was at least sixty-five years old at the time but still a devil of a swordsman. I bowed to him and he returned the gesture.
“You’re ready,” he said as he wrapped his big arm around my shoulder and shook me roughly. “Even had me nephew left me a son to raise, I don’t believe he’d have been a better student than ye.” That was the day he pulled his old cavalier hat from his head, plopped it on mine and smiled. “Ye earned this, lass and don’t ye forget it.”
“But Uncle, why do I even need to learn to fight? I’m afraid it could get me into a great deal of trouble,” I asked him.
“For me amusement of course,” he teased. “It’s just a game me love but remember, should ye ever need to defend yerself or them girls, ye’ve learned from one of the greatest and n’er a man shall step to ye in anger…or any other way, lest he step away disarmed…or not take another step at all.” He leaned in and winked as we moved on to our next lesson, hand to hand fighting. As always he went on and on about his glorious days in Jamaica as a sailor but once I gave in to my imagination, I believed there was much he hadn’t shared. However, regardless of what he’d done or who he’d been before, I loved him so.
After supper, Uncle William announced he’d be going out for the evening to join some of his old friends and requested a close shave. I’d been his barber for some time now and as always, I happily completed the chore. Once finished, he kissed the top of my head and marched off, whistling one of his merry sea tunes. As I stepped to the basin beneath the kitchen window, flames danced in the glass, searing my eyes with terror. Our barn was ablaze and I could hear the horses whinnies as they bolted but worst of all, I heard men, many of them, shouting in a foreign language to each other. I stuffed my uncle’s razor in the pocket of my apron and ran screeching for help. Uncle William met me in the hallway at the foot of the stairs already armed with his musket and sword.
“Get yer Aunt and yer cousins, lass and get them all to the cellar. Can ye do that for me child?” he shouted as he held me hard by the shoulders and shook the tears out of my eyes. “There’s no time for wailing and crying now. Go!”
I turned the corner at the bottom of the stairs but the girls had seen the fires as well and were rushing down them towards me screaming. “Ivory! What is it? What’s happening?” Cassandra cried out at me.
“Cass, take Aunt Margaret and the girls and get to the cellar, I’m going to try to catch a horse and run for help,” I said as I panted with fear.
“No, I won’t let you. You have to come with us. You’ll be killed,” she shouted back at me.
“There’s no time to argue with me now. Just get them down there. Use the hidden entrance in the closet and bolt the doors that lead out to the yard like I showed you.”
The sound of glass breaking and the smell of smoke permeated the air, increasing my urgency and sending a rush of terror up through my chest until I thought my heart would shoot out of my mouth. I grabbed Cassandra by the arm and pulled her as Keara and Miranda followed us.
“Where’s Aunt Margaret?” I shouted at them over the roar of what sounded like what Uncle William had described to me as a bombardment.
“I, I don’t know!” Cassandra shouted back at me.
“Get inside and I’ll pull the rug over the hatch. If I can’t get away, I’ll join you as soon as I can,” I said as each head disappeared through the hole in the closet floor. I slammed the hatch door closed and pulled the rug back over it.
I raced to the weapons cabinet for my sword but it was gone. I waved the rising cloud of smoke and ash away from my face and saw Aunt Margaret, dragging it behind her as she followed after Uncle William to the front door of the house to meet whoever was bashing at it from the other side. I heard Uncle William shouting at her to get back, that these were Spanish raiders and they’d murder us all. I froze for an instant and then spun and ran back towards the kitchen.
I peered through the window and looked about at the burning glow of the fire which now surrounded our home and spied a lone horse stomping about. It appeared confused as to which way to run. I raced to the back door and pulled it open but I halted upon seeing that poor confused animal being chased by one of the raiders, straight back into the fire. I glanced down at the outside cellar door and thought to make a dash for it but it was already too late.
Out of the hellish night, a hand snatched me by the hair and pulled me from the doorway into the yard and tossed me face down onto the ground with great force. Stunned and with the wind knocked from my lungs I struggled to breathe but the thickening smoke only made finding even the smallest mouthful of air almost impossible. I struggled as hard as I could—as hard as a thirteen year old child could but he was a soldier…a man. I was but a rag doll tossed away. I remember him staring down at me when I turned over and peered up at him from the dirt. The fire from the stables reflected in his wild eyes or perhaps it was just the opposite. I watched something twist in his soul at that moment, as if I were looking right through him. It changed from a bitter and brutal sense of duty to something self-serving and perverse. I knew immediately what it was. I don’t know how I knew, but, oh, I knew alright, and I scrambled to my feet to get away. But he was already on me, dragging me to the side of the house. I clawed and I kicked and I tore the hair from his head, but I couldn’t stop it from happening. I couldn’t make it stop.
Through it all, the true horror I felt was in knowing that my screams would go unheard. I was utterly alone, trapped inside the boiling fires of hell and pressed beneath the smell of rancid breath and sweat, as a demon clawed and tore away at my innocence. I closed my eyes and held my breath as the pounding booms of the great guns firing on our town and the countless cries of everyone else disappeared. At the very moment of his triumph over me, I at last accepted my fate and knew that the cries of a lone, helpless girl being brutalized by a monster would simply go up in ash.
I thought I’d fainted or was succumbing to the smoke, when he collapsed on top of me and I felt a smooth firm and familiar hand dragging me out from under him. “Hurry! We can make it!” It was Cassandra’s voice. She dragged me along through the grass until at last I crawled to my feet and was able to run along behind her. I looked down at my apron and believed I saw the reflection of the flames until the skin beneath my dress felt damp. I was covered in the soldier’s blood.
The door to the cellar swung open and under the cover of the thickening smoke, which now engulfed the house as well, we made our way inside and barricaded the door until at last, sometime just before dawn the world fell silent for a bit. Just after sunrise, we began hearing the shouts of Englishmen and unbolted the cellar door.
As we were pulled one by one from our tomb beneath what was left of our glorious and loving home, my hand slipped into the pocket of my apron and found Uncle William’s razor. I’d forgotten I’d had it when I was mauled by that hound. I retched and vomited and my teeth ground hard against each other at the memory of it all. I backed away from the questioning soldiers and ran towards the river. Their calls to me as I raced off faster and faster in my bare feet, barely reached my ringing ears. My rage carried the flames of the night and I burned so hot I believed the steam that rose from my body and soul was visible when I threw myself into the cool water.
It was the shock I needed to bring me back to reality. When I resurfaced and gasped for my first breath of this new world I’d been baptized through fire into, I swept my wet hair back and began scrubbing away with my hands at my face, my neck every inch of my body. I watched the demons blood as it was drawn out and away from my dress into the clear water and I splashed it away as I submersed myself again and again until at last, I was clean.
As I sat there alone on the riverbank, I finally understood the education Uncle William had given me wasn’t a game at all. However, with all of my training, there was nothing I alone could do to stop the carnage. We’d now lost both of the homes we’d known to fire and this one had taken more than just our possessions; it swallowed up our lives and spat us out into the cold as orphans yet again, and stolen more from me than simply my pride.
“This will never, ever happen to us again,” I said aloud. With everything I’d been taught and all that I’d actually learned from Uncle William, I was still left unprepared for such an attack and I was through with being a victim. The more I thought of not only what had already happened but what could happen next, I grew more bitter and angry by the second. It was in those moments the true evolution of my soul and the path our lives would now follow began.
We didn’t learn how to hide and cower in the face of danger that night nor were we able to protect ourselves from murderous monsters. Instead, what we learned that day was that when caught in the claws of a demon, the only way out was to raise our own hell. From that day forward, we watched and waited for the devil but the next time, we were ready for him.
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