"Adrian, Trevor and Edward shouldered their way to the front of the mourners. They stood to the right of the bodies individually wrapped in burlap and tied to a weight to ensure that they would not bob up to the water’s surface." (Bronze bas relief of the burial of Sir Francis Drake at Sea in 1596 near Portobelo, Panama. Monument of 1883 in the privateer's birthplace of Tavistock, Devon, England by Joseph Edgar Boehm). Drake began his sea career with three slaver expeditions to Guinea and Sierra Leone. After that, he shifted to attacking the Spanish. A hero to the English, the Spanish had a price on his head.
Threatening hues of gray gathered in the skies over the Good Hope, which rocked with a stormy vigor. Yet, it was not the motion that disrupted the sleep of the experienced seamen but the cry of the sailor on early morning watch that did.
“Ship,” he shouted, at the sight of a mermaid prow sliding out of the cloudy mist into clear view.
“A ship,” one man after the other muttered as he left his rest and scrambled to appointed posts for changing the ship’s direction.
“Ho,” Adrian hooted loudly, quickly taking stock of the situation.
He directed Trevor and the men to give chase. They acted out of habit, their passion for the mission submerged by their self-absorption. Adrian, directing the attack from the upper deck, dwelled on the triangle he had created. Franz, cooped up in his safe and, now empty, study down below, mulled over his celebrated future. Several hoped that the ship did not carry slaves so that there would be no booty for them. The motives for everyone’s actions were becoming muddied. Where once the rigor of right pushed them forward, now the lust to win purely for the sake of winning beat louder in their hearts than any other impulse. Edward smiled at the diluted sense of purpose he perceived among the crew.
From afar, the two ships looked like fish, the Good Hope closing in on the other’s tail. Finally, they swam alongside each other. At that moment, a green-rimmed cloud swallowed the sun, casting a portentous shadow on the buccaneers who were lowering boats into the darkened water. Adrian and his men rowed toward the other ship in the midst of a storm of gunpowder. Misfired grape plunked into the sea around them, baptizing them at the start of the battle. Fittingly, the threat of death renewed their commitment to liberation of people from spiritual expiation. Their spirits soared with goodwill and the belief that they would win because they had to win.
Edward could not see the change of heart.
As the buccaneers climbed onto the ship, a sharp thunderclap startled the quartermaster. His hand holding the spyglass dropped a fraction, causing him to lose focus. When he readjusted himself, his men had reached the ship. He trained his sight on Adrian clawing his way onto the mermaid ship, nearly slipping twice on the mossy rope. Edward seethed with so much hate for the leader that he screwed up his face at the taste of the bitterness. He wished Adrian dead for all his do-gooding and highfalutin ideals. The captain was no better than anyone else. Yet, his men thought so. It infuriated Edward who reasoned that if Adrian were to die in battle, his name would be revered for all time as belonging to the good and courageous captain. There must be a way to take his place. He would find the way, he vowed.
“Difficult, but not impossible in due time,” he muttered.
Thunder rattled the decks of both ships. The angry sky burst open with a torrent of rain. Lightning bolts flashed above everyone’s head, coloring the domed sky an eerie purple. When their flicker dimmed, a darkness prevailed over the miserable, sunless morning.
The fury of raindrops drenched Edward’s clothes, which stuck to his frame. He rubbed the stinging out of his eyes. His sneeze, the only earthly sound in the din, quietly punctuated the thunder’s crashes and the guns’ steady firing.
The power of God spoke through the storm, but the men did not hear the voice deep within them, the voice with which they were born and which they had spent their lives trying to find again. The glory of God revealed itself in each thunderclap and in each drop of rain, but no one heard or saw the grandeur, which they would need to help them through. The wet, cold morning promised to deliver monstrous memories reddened by the blood of men. The blood of brothers.
The Good Hope unveiled its few cannons spaced evenly around the ship. The appointed men unlocked the small doors, which held back the big guns. Cannonballs dropped into the sea, making splashes large enough to douse the enemy ship’s deck and wash away the blood. Some men walked through the portals of death’s door. Skewered by swords, shot by guns, punched by fists, kicked by boots – this is how they made their way home. After heaving himself over the brass railing and onto the deck, Adrian killed his first opponent with one thrust of his sword. Then, he scampered about, backing up his men when they needed it. He engaged in several battles, the Good Hope winning each one, before a slaver the color of mahogany jumped him. Adrian threw him off his back and turned instantly to rush him on the ground. He could not believe what his eyes plainly showed him.
Adrian stood frozen and, then, dashed over to him. On his knees, he begged:
“Brother, what are you doing here? Wha-“
“I know, I know, Adrian. You’re shocked. But life sometimes takes twists and turns.”
“Twists and turns! What are you talking about, Yusef? I don’t understand.”
“Oh, I think that you do.”
“No, I don’t. What’s happened to you? Have you no scruples?”
“Of course, I do.
“Not for me, they don’t. Principles do not change.”
“You are above compromise, Adrian?”
The question echoed in the captain’s mind. He saw himself a humiliated man with his owner and lover, Sarah, and a traitor with Yusef’s fiancée, Orelia. But he dismissed the images and the veiled accusation.
“I trusted you,” Adrian said in a wounded voice.
At this, Yusef took umbrage. His ears stretched back a little farther.
“I left the Good Hope. I left you. How have I betrayed your trust? I broke no agreement.”
“Broke no agreement! What about your deal with God, Yusef, to be moral, to be your best. Look at you! You’re a dirty slave trader.”
“And what are you, Adrian? The savior who makes everything all right for everyone? Not all of us can be quite so divine.”
“You said you were with me,” Adrian said. “You said you abhorred slavery. I kept your secret of slave trading in the past and, when it came out, I defended you. I believed in you. My God, Yusef, you fought beside – not against – me. Please, tell me that my eyes deceive me, tell me that it isn’t you lying there before me in the garb of scum. Tell me it isn’t you.”
Yusef’s voice and eyes lowered as he said, “I’m sorry that you found me.”
“I am, too.”
“I told you, Adrian, long ago that I’m a lesser man than you and always will be. It wasn’t me you were believing in. It was a man created by your imagination.”
Adrian clasped Yusef to his chest and then kissed him briefly, roughly on the lips. He stood and, with both hands, raised his sword up over his head.
“If I created you,” the captain said, “Then, I can destroy you.”
Yusef’s jaw dropped open. His mouth caught the rain that eventually spilled over after a gunshot separated his head from the rest of his body. Adrian, spared the killing of his friend, brought down his sword and walked away from Yusef’s body in a daze. His numbness kept him safe and unscathed from the circus of violence through which he walked blindly, but it could not protect him from the watchful eyes of Edward, who held a ringside seat to Adrian’s suffering through his spyglass. What satisfaction it was for Edward who had called Yusef an opportunist when the others had called him their friend. Everyone would be shocked by the news and Adrian’s bad judgment. The captain had been taken for a fool, his nemesis thought. How delightful! Drool and rain trickled down his chin before he caught himself in his revelry and closed his mouth. Then, he lost sight of Adrian, whose wandering brought him to the lower deck on the mermaid ship.
There, Adrian found a scene familiar, but still abhorrent, to him of bound human beings shocked by the inhumanity of their experience. They had heard the snuffled sounds of the pandemonium above them and hoped that it was their salvation. Although they sat shackled, their spirits readied to rise again. When Adrian and the buccaneers freed them, they all chose to go back to Africa, where they expected to be enveloped in safety.
The Good Hope had won an empty victory.
On the buccaneers’ ship, Edward took stock of the losses. A quick, walking survey revealed seven injured and four dead, the first fatal casualties. Then, Edward spotted what looked like a shadow slumped over a cannon. When he went over to it, he saw that it was a freebooter. Five dead, Edward recalculated. As blood oozed out of the corpse’s chest, the rain washed it pale. Edward held up the man’s head to identify him.
It was Robert. Young, innocent, theatrical Robert.
Who would cry for him? Who would write his epitaph? Robert would have wanted to be mourned and missed. Edward had no time. He had seen Adrian returning in a boat, and he wanted to confront him immediately. He laid down Robert and rushed to meet the captain, who was climbing onto the deck. Without so much as a greeting, Edward said accusingly, “You saw Yusef.”
“Yes. Yes, I did, “Adrian said in a surprised voice. “What of it?”
“You know,” Edward hissed, grounding in the pain. “He wasn’t in chains. Or did you manage to save him, too?”
Adrian’s body collapsed. His chin fell to his chest, his shoulders compressed and his arms dangled at his side.
“I . . .he . . .”
“What was that, Adrian,” Edward taunted.
“I couldn’t save him. I couldn’t save him,” he kept saying.
The captain broke into loud sobs of anguish, loud enough to rival the sounds of the storm.
Edward stood tall in front of the crumpled man. In a mean and gravelly voice, he said, “Can you save yourself, Adrian?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know.”
“Robert’s dead, too,” Edward said, in an attempt to push Adrian down on his knees. Instead, the abruptly announced news stoppered Adrian’s tears.
“Robert is dead,” Adrian repeated slowly and disbelievingly.
“Yes, his body is right over there,” Edward said, gesturing to it like a merchant steering a customer to his goods.
Adrian said, “Dear sweet Robert is gone, and we’re still here.”
Edward pressed on, “Don’t you think you deserve to live?”
“That isn’t my decision to make.”
“No. But you make decisions about which fights are worthy of being taken on to the death. The fight for liberty from slavery. The Good Hope lost Robert and four other men that I’ve counted so far to that good fight today.”
“Ten of our men are dead. There were five slain on the slaver and twenty of the enemy,” Adrian said, in a stupor.
“Ten dead and nothing to show for it. No rings, no necklaces, no bracelets. No gold, no silver, no coins. Nothing but spilled blood and guts. The men are tired. The intangible moral gains from this mission won’t keep them happy and cooperative much longer.”
“Has there been talk of mutiny,” Adrian asked, anxiously.
“Not that I’ve heard. But I wouldn’t be privy to that sort of conversation because of my position,” the quartermaster lied, stressing his loyalty.
“Of course,” Adrian agreed.
His men bustled around him, sweeping up the debris of the battle and carrying the casualties down below to dry quarters. Adrian was overwhelmed by the morning’s occurrences.
“Carry on, Edward. I’m going to my cabin,” said Adrian, who had grown pale.
“Aye, aye, captain. Happy to,” he answered, with a beaming face because he had succeeded in unsettling Adrian.
“Hope you feel better,” Edward lied again.
“I’m not feeling sick. I just want to be in a quiet place.”
“Of course, captain. Of course.”
Adrian retired to an afternoon of fretting about his life. Wracked with guilt, grief and disappointment, he took to his bed and flinched under the onslaught of his thoughts. He questioned the fight for freedom, his feelings for Orelia and the very worth of his life. The search for Yusef had come to an unexpected end. Accustomed to taking the easy way out, Yusef had submitted to the prevailing order of the day. When he arrived in Virginia, he needed money and a way to earn a living. The opportunity arose for a job as a slaver. He grabbed it. The man had no fortitude.
Trevor knocked on Adrian’s door. When he got no answer, he pushed his way in.
“I heard about Robert and Yusef. I don’t want to be alone. I thought that if you didn’t mind, I could –“
“Please stay, Trevor,” Adrian said, as he got up and hugged him tightly.
When they broke away, Adrian reached for his violin under his bed. He unswaddled it caressingly from its crimson wrapping and played a dirge. The slow melody comforted the mourners inside and outside the cabin. Crew members retreated within themselves as they got on with their work. Franz attended to the wounded in the general sleeping area. The injuries were exotic enough for the patients not to suffer the doctor’s impatience at being diverted from his path to glory. Despite his academic bent, he possessed the skilled hands of a technically excellent physician, hands which saved the lives of all the wounded.
The corpses awaited a proper burial at sea.
“When shall we bury them, sir,” one sailor asked Adrian through the cabin door.
“When the rain stops,” Adrian shouted. He wanted to hold onto the body of his friend.
“Aye, aye, sir.”
The response satisfied the buccaneer. The rain did not stop that day. Or the next. Or the next.
The bodies, covered with a funereal sheath of purple, filled a large space in a corner of the sleeping quarters. Although they had not begun to disintegrate with a putrid odor, they were impossible to overlook. The corpses reminded everyone of their own mortality and kept some men awake during the night. It was eerie trying to doze next to friends who had succumbed to eternal sleep.
Restless spirits of men cut down before their time roamed the ship, pricking consciences and penetrating dreams. Trevor stayed in Adrian’s cabin during the November deluge. The two men talked deep into the night every night. Edward hovered outside Adrian’s door, hoping to be invited inside. Finally, on the third night, he was asked to join them.
“I never trusted Yusef for a moment,” he said.
“Clearly, I did,” Adrian said, already regretting that he had asked the man in.
“That’s part of your problem, Adrian,” Edward spat out. “You trust too easily.”
“Thanks for the warning, Edward.”
“I’m just trying to help you, Adrian.”
“No, you’re not.”
“What? You trusted Yusef, but you don’t trust me?”
“You’re right. I shouldn’t have trusted Yusef. But that hardly means that I should take you into my confidence.”
Trevor interjected: “I think we all could use a change of scenery. It would be good for us to put in at a port somewhere and relax. Any suggestions?”
“Port Royal,” Adrian said, immediately.
“What! Not Charles Town,” Edward asked.
“No, not Charles Town,” Adrian said. “I’ve been thinking a lot about Sarah lately, Edward. I’ve been thinking that I’ve been deluding myself into believing that Sarah has been waiting for me. Why should she be? I abandoned her five years ago the way that Yusef abandoned Orelia. I didn’t lie to her; I didn’t say a word to her before leaving. I simply disappeared. I’d be lucky if she didn’t hate me.”
“Aren’t you curious to find out,” Edward pushed. “Why don’t you go see her for yourself?”
“Because, Edward, that part of my life is over. I can’t make it come back by returning to the scene of it. All this time, I’ve been carrying on a relationship with Sarah in my mind and in my dreams. It hasn’t been real. Not like my last trip to Jamaica.”
Trevor smiled at the reference to Orelia. Edward probed. “What do you mean ‘my last trip to Jamaica?’ Why do I feel like I’m missing something here?”
“I found myself attracted to Orelia.”
“Attracted to Yusef’s fiancée,” Edward asked in a gasp.
“Yes. That’s what kept me from staying around. That’s what set me on this journey to find Yusef and ascertain whether he still had any intentions regarding her.”
“You never quite found that out,” Trevor said.
“I found out more than that,” Adrian said. “I found out that Yusef is not a man of his word. Even if he had escaped death, I could have cared less what his feelings or plans were for Orelia. I doubt he had any plans. I just don’t know what to tell Orelia about him.”
“Tell her the truth,” Trevor said.
“It’s going to hurt her deeply.”
“As it has hurt all of us,” Trevor said. “If you don’t tell her, someone else will. You can’t keep secrets like this. The truth always reveals itself.”
“Yes, it does,” Adrian agreed. “Yusef told me the kind of man he was long ago when he first regained consciousness. I refused to hear him until he showed himself for who he was again.”
Edward said, “Sometimes memory becomes a matter of convenience. Did you, Adrian, forget that Orelia was Yusef’s fiancée?”
“On my way to her house, I did not forget. On my way from her house, I did not forget. While I was there, I did. Orelia and I became close. I felt so guilty afterwards. I wanted to find Yusef and –“
“Confess?” Edward asked.
“Yes, confess. To a no-count scoundrel of little consequence.”
“Do you feel vindicated because your opinion of Yusef has dropped so low,” Edward asked.
“No. But now, nothing is blocking me from Orelia.”
“And what do you want with Orelia,” Edward challenged. “Do you want to love and protect her and have her do the same for you and, then, leave her?”
It galled Edward that Adrian could commit such a transgression and not be condemned for it. Why was Adrian, but no one else, allowed to make mistakes?
“No. No,” the captain said. “I don’t want to hurt her any more than she already has been hurt.”
“I suppose you want the same for Sarah,” Edward said.
“What’s so wrong with that?”
“Nothing, Adrian, is wrong with the impossible,” Edward said. “Your concerns are all very gallant sounding, but you have to make some decisions concerning these women. What would you like to happen? What are you going to try to make happen? It’s time you owed up to your feelings. Maybe Sarah has forgotten about you, and maybe she hasn’t. You should find out. You should see her. You should let her know where you stand. You should be a man about it.”
“You should, you should, you should! I feel like a boy being ordered by his tutor, Edward.”
“I’m sorry, sir,” Edward answered as sharply. “I didn’t mean to order you. I was speaking to you as a well-meaning friend.”
“I hadn’t told you before because I was embarrassed,” Adrian began, “Sarah owned me. She, legally, owned me. We were chattel and mistress. And I refuse – as God is my witness – to take up that demeaning position again.”
Neither Trevor nor Edward spoke a word while they collected their thoughts. They were shocked by Adrian’s admission. Both had assumed that Sarah had been another indentured servant. Compassion welled up in Trevor while the fire of bitterness spread in Edward.
“She may not put you into that position,” Trevor, who had never known the yoke of slavery, said consolingly.
“How do you know, Trevor? You don’t. I’m not going to take that chance. I am no one’s slave, do you hear? I am no one’s slave!”
Adrian shouted his last words at a nearly hysterical pitch.
“No, sir,” Trevor said, swallowing his further arguments. “You are the captain of this ship. No one can dispute that.”
“No one will dispute it,” Adrian said, “Because I’m not going to give them the opportunity.”
“All right, Adrian,” Trevor said. “You’ve made your point. We won’t be going to Charles Town. We’ll go to Jamaica.”
“Drat,” Edward thought. “Adrian has triumphed again.”
Edward jumped in, saying: “To Jamaica,” his resolve hardened to topple Adrian.
All three said in a chorus: “To Jamaica.”
Thunder bellowed above them, commanding a lull in the conversation.
“When will it stop raining,” Edward asked, bemoaningly.
The sailing master answered: “We’re lucky that the winds haven’t gotten any stronger and turned the storm into a hurricane. It looks as though this wet, dreary spell will end tonight.”
“The burials should take place tomorrow,” Adrian said.
“Tomorrow morning?” Edward asked, eager to rid the ship of its dead.
“Tomorrow morning,” Adrian relented.
“What if it’s still raining?” the quartermaster checked.
“We’ll bury them in the rain,” Adrian answered in a voice strengthened by his fresh decision regarding the ship’s next destination.
Another thunderclap rolled above their heads with a sound that deafened all others. The rain fell with a rat-a-tat insistence. The three friends planned the mass funeral to the rumble of the same storm that had roared during the killing of the ten men.
The next morning, the sky had quieted down. It had swallowed the lightning and smothered the thunder. Below the celestial canopy, the buccaneers dressed in black from head to toe and lined themselves in short, straight rows. The funeral could have taken place in a church, it looked so highly stylized. The twenty survivors nervously awaited the official farewell to their shipmates. They coughed and cleared their throats; they scratched and rubbed their heads. The past three days, they had been dreading and desiring the final ceremony.
Adrian, Trevor and Edward shouldered their way to the front of the mourners. They stood to the right of the bodies individually wrapped in burlap and tied to a weight to ensure that they would not bob up to the water’s surface.
The captain surveyed the horizon, so near. For a moment, his mind wandered as he contemplated the surreal quality of the past few days. Then, all eyes were on him; it was time for him to deliver the eulogy. Most would hear only some of it because they would recite, in their minds, their own personal tributes to the dead.
Adrian reached for his shaved moustache and began:
“These men, our colleagues, waged a good fight to win the liberty of others. Little did we know that they would lose their lives behind it. We thought the course to be so pure, so right, that we saw it as being above death. We forgot our own mortality, and now we are humbled by it.
“These men, our friends, fought bravely; they fought selflessly. Their proud spirit kept us moving forward toward triumph. Under the auspices of the worldly crown, they battled in the service of God in the pursuit of earthly, and everlasting, freedom.
“The kidnapped men and women now are sailing back home to Africa as our friends head home to their Maker.
“May God have mercy on the souls of Jonathan Mayfield, Christopher Hayden, Mark Blyth, David Shoring, Bernard Matthews, Hubert Taylor, Ephraim Stevens, James Fox, George Cousins and Robert Berry.”
A heavy silence fell like the thud of a stage curtain before a cannon rent it, paying an earsplitting tribute to one man. Nine other blasts acknowledged the rest.
Ten splashes followed.