Written by Kathy Pogge
Story Idea by Kathy Pogge
Mon pa mas que grande
ka na tapa ceu
No fist is big enough
to hide the sky
- Peasant saying
1720 The West Coast of Africa
"Sir, your prices are outrageous!" The English supercargo protested. He regarded his Calabarian counterpart with a level gaze and rapidly calculated a counter offer. "I really can't see paying more than five cowrie shells, a roll of tobacco, one string pipe of coral, a gun and three jugs of rum for each female, and the same, plus an extra length of brass pipe for the males. Two rolls of tobacco and five jugs of rum and ten cowries is just too blasted much!"
"Yes," the African agent agreed sadly. "Prices have gone up since the last time, friend. But the trading has not been good this season, and you do have your contract to fill, do you not?"
The African had him there. He had a quota to fill. It was getting late in the shipping season. He was stuck. Still he put on a great show of deliberation as he presented his final offer. They had, after all, been negotiating for over a week and the bargaining was mainly ceremonial. "All right, friend. I will give you the tobacco and the rum, but five cowrie shells is as high as I can go."
The dark man smiled, satisfied. "I accept your offer." He whistled and an aide came running. He switched to his native tongue and gave a rapid set of instructions. The man nodded and strode off. A few moments later a marker was posted over a large corral. A crew moved in to start branding the chattel. The two businessmen, one black, one white, retired from the beach to enjoy a celebratory dinner to seal their negotiations. They didn't notice the flare of Phoenix fire over the jungle beyond the encampment.
Brooklyn tumbled briefly, then landed with a splash, in the fetid swamp water. "Oh great!" he moaned as he attempted to brush the stinking water out of his hair. "Ouch!" He looked down to see several nasty looking leeches clinging to his legs. "Get off of me bloodsuckers!" He growled as he plucked the soft parasites from his lower extremities. The gargoyle made for shore with all haste. He heard voices and following them curiously, he parted the dense foliage and revealed the beachside encampment.
"What is going on here?" he muttered to himself. The beach was ablaze with torch light. A small but prosperous trading village was still hard at work, despite it being well after dark. In one corner, men worked efficiently with hot irons, goading animals down a shute and into the capable arms of a pair of wranglers. They restrained their charges until the iron was applied, then handed them off. Another pair of rough looking men shoved the creatures into a new pen.
Brooklyn couldn't see what type of animal the men were working on.
He thought it odd that they were so quiet. He move around the edge of the village to improve his vantage point. He heard the first low whimpers and cries. His rage blossomed. They weren't branding cattle, or any other type of animal. The pens were full of people.
A child screamed as the iron was applied to his chest. Brooklyn swallowed his disgust and his rage, trying to stay calm until he could formulate a plan. But what could one gargoyle do against a whole village?
He spent the next several hours surveying the encampment from the perimeter. Whatever was going on here was not new, Brooklyn noted grimly. On the hill overlooking the beachfront trading post was a stone fortress. The troops that manned it looked sharp and ready to defend their posts, despite the stifling heat. Brooklyn counted twenty-five cannons bristling through low gaps in the high wall.
The trading post was typical save for its commodity. Banks of pens, mostly full, surrounded the processing areas where the slaves were prepared for transport. A fleet of long boats waited patiently to ferry the slaves to ships anchored in the harbor.
Brooklyn crept underneath the window of a low, one-story building and listened. The rough sound of men's laughing carried clearly, as they discussed the day's commerce.
" I tell you, major, it's getting harder and harder to drive a fair deal." A voice, thick with drink, complained. "They won't take perfectly good beads and bangles anymore for their gold, they want guns and finished goods."
"I do commiserate, Goodfellow. Do you know how the price of ivory has risen since my last trip in-country? Outrageous!"
"Gentlemen, gentlemen, we live in difficult times," A familiar voice drolled. "You wouldn't believe what that bloody thief charged me for this last lot of slaves. It's going to eat into my profit margin dreadfully."
Brooklyn's eyes glowed white, but he surpressed his anger and crept back into the jungle to consider his options.
He was so engrossed in his thoughts he didn't hear the frantic pounding
of a small child's feet through the dense foliage
until it was too
*POW!* Brooklyn tumbled into the marshy water. He spit out the horrid stuff as he surfaced to face his attacker. He staggered, regained his footing against the uneven bottom, and scanned the area. A splashing to his left was the only sign of his mysterious assailant. He reached into the black water, ignoring the slithering thing around his ankles, and pulled a young boy out of the swamp.
The child coughed and shook his head. The impact with Brooklyn had stunned him slightly. Brooklyn made for higher ground and slapped the boy on the back, clearing foul water from his lungs.
"Hey, are you okay?" Brooklyn brushed leaves and debris off the child as he steadied him. The dark eyes of a ten year old regarded him steadily. They showed no fear. Suddenly he coughed and he spit the last of the swamp water on to the ground and shook his head.
"I will be all right. But we must hurry. I need to get help."
"You escaped from the camp on the beach." Brooklyn realized suddenly. "What's your name?"
The boy nodded and shook out of Brooklyn's grasp. "Jai." He scanned the jungle looking for the best escape route, "I have to go."
"No." Brooklyn corrected, glad that he could finally do something to help. "We have to go."
He crouched and gestured. The boy nodded and mounted. Brooklyn began to lope through the jungle.
Back at the camp a woman screamed.
"My boy! What have you done with my boy?" The sleeping camp was roused by the frantic cry from the pen of Mexico bound slaves. The handlers and guards quickly mustered to action. They checked the gates and perimeter for signs of escapees. Musketmen raised their weapons, discouraging those in the corrals from trying anything foolhardy. Searchers began to fan out into the woods.
The crash of Brooklyn's blind dash caught their attention almost immediately.
"This way! Come on, lads. Be quick now!"
Brooklyn glanced backward, caught the glimpse of a white stocking, and doubled his speed. He didn't see the low branch that unseated the boy.
He charged forward, not noticing the sudden change in weight on his back until it was too late. He spun about and watched in horror as the boy was pulled roughly to his feet and led back to the camp at bayonet point.
"No!" He moaned softly. "No!" He sensed, rather than saw, the coming dawn. Seeing no better cover, he climbed a stout tree, wrapped his tail around a branch to anchor himself, and hung his head as he was frozen in stone. The tree groaned, but held, saving Brooklyn from another dunking in the swampy water. The leeches, their meal suddenly quite inedible, dropped off in dismay to find better quarry.
"Come on now, let's be about it, lads. Keep those shackles coming. We haven't got all day."
The supercargo strode up to the first mate who was supervising the processing of the slaves. The mate barely looked up from his manifest, having no great love for the supercargo.
"Mr. Forester will we..." The first mate cut the supercargo off before he could finish his sentence.
"Mr. Drake, I have yet to miss a deadline or a tide. The ship will sail tonight, with all of the cargo on board. Now if you don't mind. I've got to see to the livestock." He walked off quickly to another part of the harbor, where crates of chickens and hares were being loaded on to long boats. He watched with satisfaction as a small flotilla of laden craft passed their empty companions, waiting to be resupplied for another trip into the harbor. The supercargo, realizing that he would get no where by annoying the surly first mate, retired to trading post for a cup of rum punch to ward off the heat of the day.
As the last of the sun's baking rays faded from the jungle floor, the latest of Africa's tree dwellers roared his anguish.
"How could I have been so...STUPID?" He moaned, as he recalled the last frantic moments of his panicked flight through the jungle. "That poor kid, those people!"
He watched without interest as a monkey, in an adjacent tree, poked at an ugly looking grub. The creature screeched his frustration after his prize wiggled off of the stick, only to be gobbled up by a fish, in the river below.
"I've got to do something," Brooklyn decided. "But what?"
The monkey hooted triumphantly as he secured a new morsel and popped it in his mouth. For some reason that made Brooklyn think of Broadway and his overdeveloped sense of social justice. He smiled. "This one's for you, bro." He jumped out of the tree and started to make his way back to the encampment.
On the beach, the last of the good ship Freedom's cargo was being loaded onto a pair of hollowed-log canoes. The men and women sat quietly, comforting the children as best as they could without drawing the attention of the seamen. They needn't have worried. The sailors risked a taste of the 'cat if they dallied, so they hurried through their tasks, ignoring everything but their work. No one saw the red gargoyle break cover at the jungle's edge, or noticed the look of despair that transformed his features as he realized that he was too late.
Except for the boy. As he was secured into the canoe, his back to the ship beyond, he glanced up for a moment to take a last look at his homeland. He stared into the jungle. He hadn't imagined it. The jungle spirit who had tried to protect him last night was watching from the edge of his domain.
The boy, his hands shackled with heavy iron chains, could not gesture, but he smiled and hoped that the spirit would understand that he was grateful for the attempt made on his behalf. He shrugged resolutely. The white man's magic was strong, there was precious little anyone could do to fight against it.
The sailors shoved the laden canoes towards the deeper water of the bay and clambered aboard, one pair at the bow, and the other at the stern. No one saw Brooklyn withdraw into the forest searching for a tree that would give him enough altitude to glide to the waiting ship.
The Freedom was a whirlwind of activity. Not one of her crew of twenty was idle as they prepared to sail with the night tide.
"Handsomely, lads! Handsomely!" The first mate cautioned the seamen who were stowing the last of the barrels of drinking water.
The sailors swore back at the mate good naturedly, and bent their backs
to their task. Aloft in the rigging, salts checked canvas and lines making
sure that all was prepared for the captain's order to set sail.
The captain consulted his charts and made a few more notes in his log book. Then he leaned back in his chair, satisfied. The Freedom, bound for Martinique, would unload her cargo of two hundred twenty-five Negroes, then take on trade goods and head for the American colonies. It would be a very profitable run, if they could avoid the pirates that had been plaguing the area.
He sighed, and capped his inkwell, then carefully blotted his journal entry. He looked up at the moon beginning to rise and felt the shift of the tide below him.
"Time to be about it." He murmured as he rose from his chair, straightened his jacket and made his way above deck.
The captain surveyed his ship with quiet satisfaction. The eighty foot Dutch Flute, even in the harsh tropical moonlight, was a thing of beauty. His crew was a happy mix of old hands, and greenhorns pressed for service after their last trip home to England. They would do well this passage.
The only real thorn in his side was the African Trading Company representative Mr. Nathaniel Drake. The supercargo was a silly fool. Pike had sailed with him once before and had barely avoided throttling the man bare handed. "Oh well." He muttered "I'll be rid of him soon enough."
"Mr. Forester!" The captain bellowed.
"Aye, captain!" Forester replied promptly.
"Capstan crew! Heave!" Forester shouted.
A quartet of sailors bent their backs to the capstan bars and slowly the anchor chain began to crawl its way out of the ocean and into the ship.
"Come on you ladies! Put your backs to it!" Forester cajoled.
The sailors redoubled their efforts and soon the anchor emerged from the gently rolling sea.
"Avast there, men! Secure the capstan!"
"Capstan secured, sir!" The sailors replied and waited briefly for the next round of orders.
"Sailors aloft!" A group of men scrambled up the riggings, agile fingers and toes clinging to the ropes like giant spiders.
"Set sails!" Snowy white canvas unfurled from the mast head and The Freedom was away, bound for the Caribbean.
Brooklyn clung to the stern of the ship, sinking his talons deep into the heavy oak planks. Salt spray splashed up and drenched him. His long white hair became a sodden mess. His loin cloth clung to his skin uncomfortably and he began to itch from the reaction of the leather with salt water.
He heard the first mate call the watch. He snuck a peek over the edge of the railing and saw sailors bent to their duties.
"What is you're always telling Lex about thinking a plan through?" He chastised himself under his breath.
"Eight men on deck and no place to hide." He shot a hopeful look at the jolly boats nestled in their berths. "Maybe I can steal one," he whispered without much hope. "The crew can't stay up all night. Can they?"
He ducked his head against the side of the ship as the murmur of voices
"I say, Captain Pike, a word if I may?" The affected tones of Nathaniel Drake floated across the deck to Brooklyn's sensitive ears.
"What is it Mr. Drake." The captain's tones were clipped with impatience.
"Cargo report, sir."
"Very well. Proceed."
"We have the cargo loaded and secured, sir. It's a bit tight, but I don't anticipate more than ten to fifteen percent shrink. We should deliver at least one hundred eighty healthy slaves to the market at Martinique."
"One hundred eighty out of two hundred twenty-five?" The captain considered outloud. "We get a bonus if we deliver two hundred."
The supercargo furrowed his brow. "Do you suppose if we off-load a few now, before we get further out to sea, that the extra room will make a difference?"
"Don't be an idiot, man!" The captain chided. "The more we start out with, the better off we'll be. The strongest ones will survive providing us with superior product when we get to port." He turned away dismissing the supercargo with a wave of his hand. "Thin them early indeed," he muttered under his breath. "What a twit."
Brooklyn paled as he listened to the men argue. These were humans that they were discussing as casually as cattle. How could they be so cold? He shivered suddenly, his surpressed anger finding the only outlet it could. He crept up the side of the ship again to find the deck momentarily cleared.
He vaulted over the rail and ducked behind a coil of rigging.
He hid for several minutes, forcing his breath to a calm he did not feel, and plotted his course. It was forty feet, roughly, to the cargo hatch. He counted a man at the wheel, four aloft in the sails and one standing by the hatch door. His nerves screamed their frustration until the sailor pulled his pipe from his pocket and made his way to the wheel man. Brooklyn drew breath and darted for the cargo hatch.
It was dark, and as he ducked and cautiously crept down the narrow passage, he was greeted by a cacophony of sounds.
The ship was alive. Literally. Brooklyn jumped as a rat scurried past his feet. He hurried down the passage deeper into the bowels of the ship. He stopped to listen every few feet, hoping to hear some sign of the missing Africans.
It was quiet, save for the groan of the ship as she pitched and rolled. Occasionally, a sleeping sailor snored or cried out from a hammock hung in a convenient corner of the steerage.
He came to another gangway and climbed cautiously down the ladder. A stout door greeted his sight. He eyed it curiously. "A door between the decks?" he muttered as carefully put his ear to it. There was movement inside. Slowly he opened the hatch.
Constructed between the decks was a cargo hold. Inside, packed shoulder
to shoulder, were people. Already the stench of the close quarters was
overwhelming and he drew his head back reflexively. He filled his lungs with
marginally better air from the corridor and slowly entered the room. He struck
his head on the ceiling when he tried to stand.
The slaves became aware of his presence a few at a time. First one, then another, jostled his companions awake and pointed with shackled hands. Their voices murmured their astonishment and alarm.
"Uh hi." Brooklyn raised his hands nervously hoping that the captives wouldn't start screaming in panic.
"It is you! From the jungle. How is that possible?" It was the boy. Brooklyn could only see the whites of his eyes and his teeth in the dim light but the voice was unmistakable. "Are you not bound to the land?"
"Hardly," Brooklyn deadpanned. He began to cautiously make his way to the child. The men and women squeezed together as best as they could to let him by, but given that they had something less than three feet square per person in which to live, it was something of a challenge. An image of a rabbit in a movie theater rapidly apologizing as he made his way down row of seats came unbiddened to his mind and he nearly smiled, despite the dour circumstances. "Uh, excuse me, pardon me, pardon me excuse me." He muttered to those in chains around him. He regretted the levity immediately. "Sorry," he murmured ashamed of himself.
"Are you okay?" He knelt beside the boy, getting a good look at him for the first time. He wasn't more than ten or twelve years old, tall and sturdily build for his age. His close cropped hair capped his skull. In the dim light Brooklyn could see the healing scab of the brand burned into the boy's chest. He cringed involuntarily.
"I am no better or worse than those around me." The boy answered proudly.
"Right." Brooklyn tried again. "What is going on here? Why are you captives?"
Some of the others had taken an interest in the conversation. A tall
man, who bore a slight resemblance to the youth, spoke up. "I am Malo. This
is Kali." He indicated a young woman shackled to his left. "We went to war
with our neighbors to the north. We lost. They traded us to the English.
They got a good price, I hear." He looked sadly at Kali. "We shall never
see our homeland again."
The woman leaned against her mate and tried to smile. "There is always hope, husband." She indicated Brooklyn. "A spirit of the jungle has journeyed with us. Surely that is a sign."
"Yeah." Brooklyn encouraged. "Wait a minute. A sign of what?"
The woman smiled serenely. "We will make our journey safely." She looked at her husband again. "Our child will find peace in this new land."
It was only then that Brooklyn noticed the swelling in the woman's belly.
"Hold it. Why stop there?" He questioned. "Why allow yourselves to be transported like animals? There's over two hundred of you down here. I counted no more than fifteen or twenty sailors above." Brooklyn began to speak faster, a plan forming in his head. "You could take over the ship. You could go home, or find a new home, some place safe." He looked in turn at the boy, the man and the woman, and finally at the rest of the assembled cargo. "Don't you want to be free?" He grabbed the boy's chains and tugged. The iron shackles groaned and finally gave way with a snap and a clunk. He turned to the woman and the man, and one by one the slaves were freed.
His hands were tired. He did a quick count. He had broken the chains
of thirty of the toughest looking men and women. The rest would have to wait.
There was a key some place that would make short work of the others.
Brooklyn picked up a length of fallen chain. "It's not much of a weapon," he admitted. "But it's the only thing we've got." He looked at the rest of the slaves still shackled, but now wearing guardedly hopeful expressions. "We'll be back," he vowed.
The rebels stealthily departed the 'tween decks and began to hunt their prey.
They came upon the first men as they snored away in their hammocks. Common sailors, their lives weren't much better than those of the slaves they transported. The men turned and twisted fitfully, in their canvas slings, trying to take advantage of a four hour respite from their duties above deck. Brooklyn used a length of rough rope, that one of the men was spinning, to bind the pair into their bunks. He eyed the sea chest stowed against the bulkhead thoughtfully. After a moment, he threw open the lid and ransacked the contents. He tossed a pair of roughly sewn duck trousers and a striped shirt at one of the Africans.
"Here. Put this on." He followed it with the sailor's cap. "This too." There was one more spare set of clothing in the trunk. He tossed that to a second man. The others, getting the idea, raided the second sailor's sea chest. "Do the same for any others you find. Move!" He nodded for the others to move out and find other targets.
Silently they assented and moved up the companionway. There were a few muffled thumps and bumps as they neutralized the off watch crewmen.
Finally, they were ready. Brooklyn opened his mouth to give the attack cry and his voice was replaced by that of the second mate. "Larboard watch on deck!" He cried. "Starboard watch below!"
"This is our chance!" Brooklyn cried excitedly "Half of you men, the ones with uniforms, hit the deck. The rest of you, grab the sailors as they come below. You three," he motioned to the man and boy and a sturdy looking woman, "come with me. We have to find the captain."
The warriors in their ill fitting ducks and tee shirts stormed the deck. It was several moments before the second mate noticed that anything was amiss.
"What the blue blazes!?" He swore as the watch turned to and began to attack the crewmen who remained on deck. "Mutiny!" He cried and drew his knife, wishing instead for the pistol in his sea chest.
A shot rang out and the second officer slumped, felled by a blast from his own weapon.
Seamen who were still aloft in the rigging stared at each other in numb comprehension. The cry of mutiny spread rapidly. The men pressed themselves to the masts and hid as they pondered their course of action.
A splash and a scream settled the debate as a sailor was tossed over the side and met by a hungry shark. To descend now meant certain death. The sailors clung to the rigging and muttered seaman's prayers.
Brooklyn and his band crept back down the companionway. The sounds of struggle were muffled. He crossed his talons. "I hope the captain is a heavy sleeper," he muttered. They made their way towards a set of compartments that seemed better maintained than the rest of the crude accommodations. They had reached officer country. One door was distinguished by a small brass knocker. This had to be the captain's cabin. Who else would be given such a measure of respect? Brooklyn nodded to his co-conspirators and they prepared to rush the compartment. They were nearly bowled over by the supercargo, as he rushed panicked down the companionway.
"Murder! Mutiny! The cargo has escaped!" Drake was clad in a long linen nightshirt and his cap was askew. Brooklyn grabbed him by the neck and shoved a hand over his mouth.
"Yeah, well, try not to spread it around," he deadpanned.
Drake got one look at his captor and his eyes rolled back in his head. Brooklyn had to shift his weight as the hysterical man suddenly turned into an oversized sack of potatoes.
"Do I offend?" Brooklyn mused. The three Africans shrugged and the woman reached for the supercargo. Brooklyn, didn't notice the ivory handled knife until it was too late. With a matter of fact economy of motion, she slid the knife between the slave agent's ribs, then removed a bunch of keys from the man's fist.
"Hey!" Brooklyn shouted, startled. "Why did you do that for?"
"We can take no prisoners, and he was the man who caused our grief."
A numb realization slipped over Brooklyn. "Do all of your people feel this way?"
The trio nodded puzzled. "Of course." The woman replied. "It is our way."
Brooklyn realized he didn't have time for a philosophy debate. He eyed the captain's door, "Do not hurt him." His eyes glowed white, emphasizing his words. "Do I make myself clear?"
The trio nodded and held the door as the captain, awake at last, pounded and demanded to be freed. "Let me out of here!" He roared with anger.
Brooklyn spared a final glance at the boy. "Go see if those keys fit the shackles. Use them if they do."
Brooklyn loped up the companionway above decks. The splashes and screams that met his ears confirmed his worst fears.
"Stop! Stop this now!" He grabbed the cabin boy out of the grasp of dark hands and shoved him behind his back, out of harm's way. "We need these people."
He was too late. Besides the cabin boy cowering behind him, he saw no other sailors.
"Great. Just great." He turned to the boy and knelt trying not to frighten him any more than he already had. "It's going to be all right." The boy nodded, but his chin quivered as he held back his fear and tears. "Good boy." He patted him awkwardly on the back then turned to face his 'crew'.
"The boy is under my protection. You will not hurt him. Do you understand?" He swept the deck with glowing eyes. "Any other sailors you find, they are also under my protection. There will be no more killing."
The sky was beginning to turn from inky black towards the grey of false
dawn. He had to hurry.
"You're free now. Find food and water." A steady stream of people began to appear from the cargo hold. "Rest. Tomorrow's gonna be a busy day."
The last of the ex-slaves made their way on deck at last. The boy joined him at his side. "Jai," he said pointing to the cabin boy. "This is ..." He trailed off. "What is your name anyway, kid?"
"Timmy, Sir!" he piped in his best imitation of the older salts.
"Jai, this is Timmy. I want you two to look out for each other."
The boys eyed each other distrustfully.
"Yes, sir." Timmy said at last. A lock of pale hair fell over his eyes as he nodded.
"As you wish it, jungle spirit."
"Just call me Brooklyn," he sighed.
The sunrise was growing nearer. Though the ocean was calm, he didn't quite feel comfortable with the idea of sleeping above decks.
"I'm going below for a little shut eye. I'll be up after dark. You two
check on the captain. Tell Malo to keep him locked up, but feed him. If there
are any survivors among the crew, confine them with the captain,
but don't hurt them."
"Sir, someone should look after the wheel." Timmy suggested timidly.
Brooklyn didn't have much time. "Kali," he called to Malo's wife. "Are you there?"
She was at his side a moment later. "Help the boys," he ordered gently.
"Timmy, help Kali with the wheel." Brooklyn instructed. The grey
of the false dawn was beginning to pink with the coming of the new day. If
he didn't move now he'd turn to stone right there in front of everybody.
"I'll be up at sunset." He crossed the deck quickly and barely made it into
the steward's compartment before he was overtaken by stone sleep.
Back up on deck the cabin boy was sizing up the new crew of the Dutch Flute Freedom. Timmy Small had run away to sea for adventure and it looked like he had finally found it in spades. He squared his scrawny shoulders. The odd red creature that the Negro boy had called a jungle spirit had given him orders to carry out and he'd best be about them. He nodded to the lady that Brooklyn had called Kali and averted his eyes when he realized that she was unclothed.
"There's some bolts of cloth down below, you might be more comfortable if you had something to wear."
She smiled gently at the boy's attempt at kindness. Finding the cloth and making some garments would give the others something to do. She nodded and smiled again. "It seems that we have much to do, young sailor." She clapped her hands together and called several of her clansmen.
Together, they watched as Timmy demonstrated how to steer the ship. Leaving her cousin Mata at the wheel, she followed Timmy down into the hold where the stores were kept. They spent a long morning dividing the former slaves into work groups. Some were put to work with cloth and scissors; others began the work of preparing the yams and chickens to feed the rest. The activity helped a little, but it was soon evident that life on the sea was going to take some getting used to.
The sun set, sinking into the horizon and Brooklyn awoke. He hummed to himself, feeling pleased that he had actually danced into a situation where he had done some good.
"Against pretty incredible odds too. Not bad, Brooklyn, not bad."
He found his way to the captain's cabin and found two guards he didn't recognize on duty. He greeted them casually, despite their bows of respect, and lifted the brass knocker to announce his presence to the captain.
"Well it's about bloody time!" The muffled curse floated through
the thin walls.
"Good evening, captain." Brooklyn entered the cabin and was forced to
duck. Even though these quarters were substantially nicer than the crude
living spaces of the crew, they were nothing to write home about.
Sparely furnished, bordering on spartan efficiency, the captain obviously didn't believe in frills. A plain wood framed bunk took up one corner of the room, keeping company with an equally plain desk and straight backed chair. The ensemble was completed by the captain's sea chest.
"Nice digs," Brooklyn commented.
"Who... what are you and what do you want?" Demanded Captain Martin Pike as he rose from his desk and glared at the monster who had over taken his ship.
"You can call me Brooklyn. But that's not really important right now. What is important is that your...cargo," he spat out the word with distaste, "is now in control of this ship." He gave the captain what he hoped was a reasonable look. "I want you to take us some place where they will be safe, where they can start over, out of harm's way."
"No such place exists. The captain glowered. "Where's my crew? Who's sailing this ship?" He demanded. "You can't sail a ship without sailors."
"We need to talk about that. Look," Brooklyn said reasonably, "it's awfully cramped down here. Let's go above and discuss this."
"I see I have very little choice in the matter." Captain Pike conceded. He picked up his hat and walked very carefully out of his cabin.
The two guardsmen fell in behind Brooklyn. He noticed that their color didn't look good. "Are you two feeling all right?"
The pair nodded, but remained silent, jaws clenched shut.
Brooklyn's feeling of elation evaporated as they at last found their way on deck. Nearly half of those who were above decks were hugging the railing along the sides. He was about to ask what the attraction was, when the sounds of coughing and gagging assaulted his ears.
"They're all sick!" He whirled and spun on Captain Pike. "What did you do to them?"
"I?" He inquired bewildered. "I have been locked in my cabin since you mutinied and took over my ship. They're all sea sick, you fool, it's common enough. They'll get over it in time."
"Great. A boat load of sea sick passengers and it's two hundred years
before they invented a cure."
"Timmy! Jai! Where are you two at?" Brooklyn bellowed.
Kali greeted him instead. She was resplendent in a new shift of coarse calico. "The children worked hard today. I sent them to rest." She pointed to a corner in the stern of the ship. Brooklyn could see the two boys curled together in the dim light. Their two heads, one the color of corn straw and the other dark as coal, were pillowed by a bolt of cotton cloth.
"When did this happen? The sickness, I mean." Brooklyn clarified.
"Not long after morning. We made a stew of yams and the chickens. The ocean began to roughen and the wind blew. The ship began to rock. The motion was new to us and many became unwell."
"This is not good." Brooklyn moaned.
He knew that sea sickness was usually a temporary condition, but the Africans had been weakened by their imprisonment and the poor treatment they had received. It wouldn't take a lot for them to become seriously ill.
A stray thought danced on the outside of his consciousness. Elisa had had the stomach flu once. "Think!" He commanded himself. "Think!" He paced the deck for a minute. "Crackers! Kali did you come across any bread or crackers when you were going through the ship's stores?"
"There was a hard bread. It hardly seemed fit to eat."
"That will work. Boil water. Give the sick some hard bread and
hot water. It will calm their stomachs."
She grabbed several able bodied assistants and they ran for the ship's stores to carry out his instructions.
"Very good, monster." The captain commented dryly. "But you've got a lot of ocean to cross. Keep feeding the cargo that way and you'll run out of food before you run out of sea."
"I am not a monster and who said where we were going?" Brooklyn growled.
"Don't you think you'd best figure that out? Of course the tides might make up your minds for you." He glanced idly up at the sails. "The rigging's getting a bit slack. You might want to tend to it before you have a right royal mess on your hands," he observed calmly.
Brooklyn looked up trying to see what the captain meant. The sails were starting to flap in the breeze. Too much wind and they would likely be torn from the lines that held them fast. A slight movement from the crow's nest caught his eye. He shoved the captain at one of the Africans.
He leaped up the mast and began to climb steadily upward. The smell of sea air combined with wood and tar into a heady mixture. He began for a moment to imagine that he was in one of those old black and white movies Broadway loved, playing a part once done by Errol Flynn. He smiled involuntarily and wished for a dagger to clench between his teeth.
He reached the crow's nest and peered in cautiously. Crouched in the observation tower were four men, the last survivors of the crew. "Hi fellas." He tried to look both fearless and reassuring at the same time. "Olly, olly, oxen free. You can come out now."
The sailors just stared, trying to decide whether to surrender or attack. They opted for the former. Slowly they raised their arms, holding their palms out to show that they were empty.
"Great." Brooklyn relaxed slightly. "Now if you'll just climb on down, I'm sure we'll all get along fine."
Slowly they climbed down the rigging and joined their captain on the fo'c'sle.
"Captain Pike!" The quartet of sailors stiffened to attention. "Are you all right, sir?" The most forward of the four dared to ask.
"As well as can be expected. This is a direct order. You are not to assist this demon or his servants. The first man who does, I will flog until he's nothing but a bloody rag." Pike vented his frustration on the remnants of his crew.
"Begging the captain's pardon," the bravest of the sailors countered. "But they 'ave us out numbered, and we 're in the middle of the 'lantic sir. If we don't 'elp them, then we'll all die."
"Better to die like men than help a bunch of cargo."
Brooklyn had had enough of Pike's vile attitude. "If you won't help us you can stay in your quarters until we get where we're going. The rest of you, we'd appreciate any help you'd care to give. Get yourselves something to eat and then I'd like to talk to you further."
Under the baleful gaze of Malo, the captain was marched back to his cabin and put under guard. Brooklyn watched the captain disappear and then turned his attention back to the ailing ex-slaves.
Kali and her helpers had brought up several casks of ship's biscuits and were offering them to her extended family. Another woman brought a large pot up from the galley and handed out ladles full of steaming water in whatever containers her helpers could find. Several people passed the containers around as they gnawed at their hard tack. A few gave Brooklyn wan smiles as they looked up and saw him watching them.
The sailors having endured the sickness themselves once upon a time, smiled and joked at the misery that surrounded them. But they did it in such a good natured way that no one took offense. Brooklyn shook his head in amazement, then wandered off to consider his considerable list of problems.
Things were not much improved the next night.
Brooklyn roared and shook off the remnants of his stone skin. "Oomph!" he cried, as he bumped his head on the low ceiling of the steward's compartment. "Ship as big as this you think they'd have more head room," he groused, as he stretched cautiously.
There was a timid knock on the door. It was followed a moment later by one slightly more assertive, as though the party knocking was gaining courage.
"Yeah. What is it?" Brooklyn opened the door to find two small faces, one dark brown with a sailor's tan and one ebony looking up at him. "Hey fellas, what's up?"
"Beggin' your pardon Mr. Brooklyn, sir. Jones, the mate, sends his complements and requests that you join him on deck. He says there's a bit of a problem with the sails."
"And Kali needs to talk to you too." Jai chimed in.
"Lead the way."
The trio navigated the narrow passage way up on to deck. The ship pitched violently as Brooklyn made his way to the wheel. A delegation waited. An English sailor came to stiffly, as he prepared to deliver his report. Brooklyn recalled him from the night before as the sailor who had stood up against Captain Pike.
"You're Jones?" Brooklyn inquired.
"Yes sir, Second Mate Charlie Jones, reporting."
"Relax, Jones." Brooklyn replied, getting in to his part. "What's going on?" The ship pitched, tossing the little group against each other as they fought to gain their footing.
"Squall coming up. Looks like it might get nasty. We need to get a few men aloft and reef the tops'ils. Problem is sir, they're ain't enough salts about to do a proper job."
"Who are the other sailors left?" Brooklyn inquired his mind turning the problem over rapidly.
"Avery, McKimson and Davis. They're already explaining to some of the lads what needs to be done."
"Good. I appreciate the initiative." Brooklyn commented.
"No thanks. If this ship goes down, we all go down with it." He gave the angry waters a fearful glance. "I don't fancy swimming with sharks about."
The rain picked up and heavy drops slapped at the deck. The Africans braced against the railings, sick again from the violent motion. Brooklyn's own stomach began to flip flop and he swallowed hard to keep the bile from rising in his throat. A second English sailor joined the cluster at the wheel.
"Davis, sir," he reported. "The lads are ready to go aloft." He looked nervous, crumbling his watch cap in his hands as he shifted his footing from side to side.
"Relax, Davis." Brooklyn said trying to relieve the sailor's tension. "I rarely bite."
This earned a bit of a grin from the reluctant sailor. "Good to know, sir, our last captain was a quick one with the cat, if you catch my meaning."
Brooklyn shook his head bewildered. "Uh uh, tell me."
Instead Davis turned and lifted his shirt. In the pale lamp light he exposed his back. Dozens of weals, still healing, marked his flesh. Davis dropped his shirt.
"The captain has a bit of a temper. We're not all that sorry to see him go."
Brooklyn shuddered involuntarily. "I'm sorry," he apologized automatically. The ship began to pitch violently. They all looked up at the sails starting to bend under the wind.
"Looks like we'd best be about it, sir." Jones prompted.
"Right. Uh, go for it." Brooklyn commanded.
Davis made for the masthead. "Sailors aloft!" he commanded.
A team of the more fit men made their way cautiously up the riggings. Davis's colorful encouragements drifted in bits over the scream of the wind. Jones, at the wheel, scarcely paid attention as the ship bucked under his hands, like a nervous colt.
Brooklyn turned his attention to Kali. "How is everyone else doing?" He shouted over the wind.
She pulled her sodden scarf closer to keep the rain from beating her directly in the face. On deck, only a few of the hardier members remained about. The rest had crammed themselves back into whatever space they could find down below.
"The ship's bread and water helped with the sickness until the storm rose. "Most were able to eat a little today."
The talk of food made Brooklyn's stomach rumble, but it caused another small alarm bell to go off, as he remembered, too late, the pig pens and livestock quartered in the stern of the ship.
"The animals!" He bolted aft to find the deck had been wiped clean. All that remained was a single rabbit cowering under the scuppers.
"Aw man," he moaned, as he cradled the long eared creature protectively under his wing.
Jai, following at a distance, caught up a few moments later.
"Here," he said handing the boy the sodden rabbit. "Take him down stairs and dry him off in my cabin." He caught a look at the soggy child. "And keep him company. He looks like he's had a rough night."
"That oughta keep him out of trouble." Brooklyn thought with satisfaction. He knew that giving the boy responsibility for the creature would keep him off deck and away from the swelling seas. He'd nearly lost him once; the last thing he wanted to do was see the child go overboard.
"Tell Timmy I want him on this detail too."
Jai sprinted off, pulled Timmy away from the wheel where he was keeping Jones company, and the pair disappeared from view.
Dejectedly Brooklyn returned to Kali. "We'll have to be a little careful with the food. All of the fresh stuff is gone."
"There is plenty of food in the hold. Much of it is strange, but we will manage." She said bravely.
"Sure we will." Brooklyn said determinedly, not feeling it. "We can call for take out."
Brooklyn woke the next night to calm seas and a wreck on deck. Moonlight poured over the open ocean. His breath caught in his throat at the unexpected beauty. The devastation on deck only served to heighten the contrast. "What happened here?" He moaned quietly.
Malo put a broad hand on Brooklyn's shoulder steadying him.
"The storm was fierce. The white sailors tried to steer the ship against the sea. Two of them fell from above and were lost." He raised his hand to show where they had fallen from. "The man Jones and another. Several of our people fell as well as they tried to help. The sails snapped free of their masts and then the mast fell. Those who were trapped underneath its weight passed to the new life quickly."
Brooklyn's knees buckled under the weight of the shock. "No! No! No!" He railed at the sky. "This is not happening!"
Kali joined them as they paced the foc's'le and surveyed crews at work trying to make sense of the damaged lines and sails. "There is more ill news."
"What now?" Brooklyn looked down at her listlessly.
"The white man's food. We tried to prepare it for the people. Those that ate the dry meat got very sick. Those that only ate yams, the children and those that feared the strange food, are all right. But the warriors, those who needed strength to help with the work..." She trailed off and Brooklyn finally noticed the high proportion of children and women who were tugging at the masts and canvas.
"Not good," he concluded. "Not good at all."
"Brooklyn," Kali began carefully. "We know that you have tried to help us. But perhaps your magic is harmed being so far from the forest. The people are saying that perhaps they shouldn't have fought the white men. Perhaps they should let the captain - god of the ship have control once again and accept the journey as our destiny."
Brooklyn's jaw dropped. He knew things were bad, but to willingly accept slavery as an alternative?
"No. I won't believe that. Gather all the people, everyone together. Except the sick," he amended. "They need their rest. We have to work this out here and now."
Kali and Malo passed the word. Slowly the people gathered, crowding together on the fo'c'sle where Brooklyn paced impatiently trying to gather enough courage to lie to the people who trusted him.
Finally, they all settled down, the murmur of their voices a soft cadence over the lapping of the sea. Timmy and Jai had found seats up front and Brooklyn noticed absently that they held the rabbit between them, stroking his long ears as they waited to hear him speak.
"My...friends," he began, and cleared his throat as the words caught. "It has reached my ears that you are dispirited, that you are losing the determination to maintain your quest for freedom." He realized that he sounded like a political jerk and tried again. "Look," he implored. "I know that this hasn't been easy. That the food has been lousy and the trip worse." They seemed to puzzle for a moment over his odd words until whatever the Phoenix Gate did about language kicked in. "But I've got news for you. If you had stayed in that cargo hold, chained together like a bunch of animals, it would have gotten much worse." His words came quicker, as he warmed to the subject.
"When I first stowed away, looking for Jai, here," he nodded to the boy, who waved in return. "I overheard the captain and that guy, Forester, talking about you. They were trying to decide if it made more sense to toss some of you overboard or just let you die along the way from starvation and disease. They decided to crowd you down there in the hold because the strongest would survive the trip and make better slave labor when they got to where ever it is they're taking you." He drew a deep breath. "Is that what you want for yourselves?" He scanned his audience. "Or your children? We have to keep trying, keep fighting. We'll catch a current and eventually we'll hit land. When we do, you can start over again. Build new homes and live in peace and safety." He pleaded with the ex-slaves. "Isn't that worth holding out for?"
A few heads began to nod accepting the gargoyle's words of encouragement. Slowly a few more fell in line. Brooklyn took a deep breath and let it out through his beak. For the moment, he had regained the support of the crew. He watched the people disperse, some to the endless work that seemed to go on aboard the ship, others down below to rest or care for the ill. So absorbed was Brooklyn, in his post-speech thoughts, he didn't hear Timmy as he approached with a mug and a kid full of beef stew.
"I brought you some dinner, sir. You look like you could use a bite." He shyly offered the tin mug of tea to the distracted gargoyle.
"Thanks, kid." He took himself and the mug and sat on the deck. He motioned to Timmy to join him. The boy sat gratefully and handed Brooklyn the stew. He watched silently as Brooklyn cleaned his bowl at first reluctantly, as he tasted the odd meal and then with speed. The bowl was empty in moments. Brooklyn looked at it surprised. "I guess I was hungrier than I thought." He took a swig of the tea, startled by the sweetness of the brew. "Molasses?" He inquired.
"Sorry, sir. The captain keeps the sugar locked up for 'imself."
"You don't have to call me 'sir'," he said gently. The boy looked like he was expecting a sharper rebuke. "And molasses is just fine." He eyed the boy sitting next to him. He was a miniature version of the sailors Jones and McKimson who had died so abruptly the day before. "So you been at sea long?"
"Going on two years. I 'ave a birthday next month," he replied proudly.
"So you gonna be what, twelve, thirteen?" Brooklyn guessed.
"Blimey, no sir. I'll be ten. Though it's nice that you thought me so mature." Timmy laughed.
Brooklyn was shocked. "You went to sea when you were eight years old? What did your parents say?"
"Couldn't say a word. Dead they is. At least I think so. Dad was a sailor, mum 'adn't heard from 'im in a long time. Then she died. 'ad a choice, I did. The work 'ouse or the sea."
He gave Brooklyn a look that told him the choice should have been obvious. "I signed on the first ship that 'ave me. And 'ere I am. Now beggin' your pardon sir, I need to get back to me chores." He rose to go, gathering Brooklyn's empty dishes as he did so.
"Wait a minute." Brooklyn put his hand on the boy's forearm. "You said that the captain kept the sugar in his own cabin. What else does he keep?"
"Oh all sorts of thing I reckon." The boy pushed a stray lock of hair under his watch cap.
"What about maps?"
"Of course. 'e's got charts and the sextant, all sorts of things like that."
Brooklyn got up. "I guess it's time to talk to the captain again."
Brooklyn tried to think reasonable thoughts as he made his way down the companionway to meet with Captain Pike. None of the surviving crew had anything kind to say about the man and his own perceptions had been colored by the conversation he had heard while eavesdropping. But he needed the man's help and demanding it didn't seem to be a logical course of action. Perhaps appealing to the man's survival instinct would work, he mused, as he approached the captive captain's door. He waved the two guards aside and knocked.
"Captain Pike? I need to speak to you."
The door swung open. "What is it you want, monster?" He didn't invite him into the tiny chamber.
"Time to put things on the table." He looked at the spartan surface. "So to speak."
The captain crossed his arms over his broad chest. "I'm listening."
"It's gotten a bit rough out there." Brooklyn began tentatively.
"Couldn't handle the storm, could you, demon." He sounded smug. "You've lost the sails, and..." he paused for a minute, feeling the carriage of the ship for effect. "The masts are down as well. So you've come crawling to Captain Pike to save your red hide from the brutes who would mutiny if they had the courage or intelligence to band together. You're lucky they haven't thrown you over board already." He sat down on his bunk and put his hands behind his head, confident of his assessment.
Brooklyn stared down at the captain. His knowledge of the ship's condition was just short of miraculous, considering he'd been locked in his cabin the whole time. He waved the admiration for the man's skill away and tried to focus on swaying him to his cause.
"Well you're kind of right. About the ship anyway. The storm was terrible and the damage was extensive, but the crew, what's left of them is united. But we need your help. Please help us to get to land. Help us get to shore so that these people can start over again. Once we do, we'll give you provisions, help you find your way back to civilization. Whatever you want. It's your life too, you know. If we founder around out here. You'll die with us."
"I'm dead already." The captain finished. "My crew is gone and those so called people of yours would sooner kill me than let me live. I'll not save a ship full of cattle."
"They're not cattle!" Brooklyn stormed, his patience snapping. "They're people. Just like your crew were people, though you didn't treat them like they were."
The captain raised an eyebrow. "And what do you know about the rigors of command? About keeping a lot of scurvy dogs in line so that they do their duty every day of the blasted week! Not a bloody thing I'd wager." He dismissed Brooklyn with a wave of his hand. "Sink this ship or try to sail it. But you won't do it with my help."
"Fine." Brooklyn countered, not understanding the man's irrational attitude. "Then give me the maps and compass. We'll work it out on our own."
"I'd like to see you try." The captain rose from his bunk and picked up his sextant and compass. They were delicate looking instruments of brass. He handed them over without comment. He reached for the map and paused. On his desk was his pen and inkwell, evidently Brooklyn had interrupted him as he was writing in his journal. The map was spread out as well, perhaps he had been attempting to guess their position from the feel of the currents against the ship. Brooklyn thought he was a competent enough sailor to do so. He gave Brooklyn a look of resignation, then casually brushed against the inkwell, knocking its contents on to the map.
"Hey!" Brooklyn yelled outraged. "You did that on purpose!"
"You insult me, sir." Pike said, as he dabbed at the map spreading the ink further. "It was an unfortunate accident. I assure you."
"I don't know what your problem is man, but you've probably just killed us all." Brooklyn narrowly missed slamming his head against the threshold as he stormed from the compartment.
He stalked on to the deck and watched grimly for a long moment as a crew of men and women worked with quite determination trying to free the main sail from the mast that pinned it to the deck. The canvas was shredded, that was obvious even in the dim light, but perhaps it could be patched and the mast re-erected. He joined his crew in their back breaking struggle and for the next several hours the tedium of hard labor clouded his troubled thoughts. It was only when the sun began to break over the horizon that he fled to the steward's cabin, reluctant to give up the tasks that he knew would fill the next twelve hours.
They fought with mast and sails for three days and nights. As one work crew cleared a section of deck, another began the task of salvaging the torn canvas sails. They knew that they had another set of sails stored safely in the hold and they banked on using them when they got the masts rebuilt, but the canvas could be used for shelter against the beating sun and so sails were converted to tents. As they struggled, the ship sailed resolutely onward, carried only by the ocean currents and one small forward sail.
Brooklyn stepped out onto the deck and threaded his way through the makeshift tent city that had blossomed over the last day or so. He headed for the wheel, where the two remaining sailors, Davis and Avery bent their heads in grim discussion. Brooklyn wondered what could possible be wrong now.
"Hey fellas. Isn't one of you supposed to be sleeping?"
"It's my turn to go below." Davis agreed. "But we wanted to 'ave a bit of a word."
"All right, I'm listening."
Avery stuck his finger in his mouth then held it to the air. He frowned as if confirming his worst suspicions.
"Do that." He pointed his stubby finger at Brooklyn indicating that he should mimic Avery's finger sucking.
Brooklyn gave the sailor a shrug, then carefully stuck one talon in his beak. He then lifted his wet digit into the air. "Okaaay."
"Feel that?" Davis asked.
"Feel what?" Brooklyn replied, bewildered.
"Exactly." Avery chimed in. "There's not a breath of a breeze. 'asn't been all day. We're becalmed," he finished grimly.
Brooklyn ran to the side of the ship. In the dim moonlight he saw the water lapping at the ship's side. Except for the constant bobbing, the ship itself was motionless, abandoned by both current and wind.
"We're not moving at all."
"Well," Davis amended with sailors grim cheer. "let's just say it's going to take us a little longer to get wherever it 'tis we're going." He pulled his pipe from his pocket and began to chew on the stem.
"Great. I need to think." He broke away from the two men, ignoring the pleas and questions of the people around him and climbed on to the bowsprit. He dangled his feet over the edge and stared out onto the open sea. So engrossed in his thoughts he didn't even notice that he wasn't alone.
"Eve'n, sir." Timmy and Jai scrambled forward like a pair of young monkeys until they were sitting side by side with the big red gargoyle. Underneath them the canvas of the remaining sail flopped listlessly. "Nice view from 'ere ain't it?" Timmy commented as he lounged recklessly.
"What are you two doing out here?" Brooklyn demanded. "It's dangerous!"
"Nonsense, sir. Why I've been doing this since I was but a greenhorn. All the lads do. Jai here, well he's getting the 'ang of it quite properlike, a natural 'e is."
Jai nodded and scooted forward so that he could join in the conversation.
"Timmy says that someday I can be a sailor just like 'e is. A right proper life it is to." Jai chimed in, mimicking his friend's Cockney patter.
"Sure it is." Timmy seconded "Where else would a man want to live his life but on the open sea?"
"Are you two trying to cheer me up? 'Cause if you are it's not working." Brooklyn grumbled to the lads. "I got us stuck out here in the middle of nowhere and we don't even know where nowhere is!" He drew a deep breath realizing that he was about to take his anger out on the two youngsters. "If you don't mind. I'd really like to be alone right now."
"Ease up mate." Timmy consoled. "Things of this sort always 'appen. Even 'appened to ol' Pike. So don't take it so personal." He smiled with an old salt's perpetual optimism. "It really can't get much worse. Can it?" With that the two boys withdrew, leaving Brooklyn to his thoughts.
Three nights later they were still adrift.
Brooklyn stood in the companionway girding himself to go on deck. He took a deep breath and then another. He could tell from the rock of the ship that they still weren't moving.
He sighed. The grumbling had started two nights before with the first deaths. The harsh treatment by the English on shore, coupled with the sickness and deprivation since they had been on board, had added up to a lethal combination. Realizing the night wasn't getting any younger, he joined the crew. He was greeted by an increasingly familiar funeral song and a series of splashes. He watched as a small bundle wrapped in sail cloth was consigned to the sea. His stomach clenched as the funeral rite continued and another bundle went over the side and then another. He forced himself to stand among the mourners.
He was engulfed by silence as the grim business finally concluded and the people turned to their tasks. The atmosphere was decidedly chilly and a few of the people made warding gestures as they turned their backs on him. Knots of conversation began to form here and there, and there were definitely more than a few hostile glances shot in his direction. Brooklyn ignored them all. They had a right to be angry with him. He had failed them. All of them. He should have done things differently. "What right did I have to interfere anyway?"
Brooklyn continued to wallow in self pity as he climbed onto the bowsprit. He stared out onto the water. "Why did you do it? You worthless hunk of junk. Why did you send me here and let me mess up these people's lives? Weren't they in enough trouble before I showed up?"
The hours passed slowly and the big red gargoyle sank further into despair. Brooklyn was so wrapped up in his pity party that he nearly missed the lantern lights that twinkled playfully in the distance. They finally registered just as Timmy piped out. "Ship ahoy!"
The murmur of the people swelled to a roar. "A ship! A ship in the distance!" The cry spread from one end of the boat to the other.
Brooklyn leaped from the bowsprit and ran to the cluster of hopeful faces. At last a chance to redeem himself in front of these people who he had so grievously wronged.
"Timmy! Can you see who they are? Are they headed this way?"
"I can't tell sir. They're too far off yet." The boy reported. "But they're 'eaded this way."
Brooklyn grabbed a lamp out of the hands of Malo.
"I'll make sure they find you!" he vowed.
He leaped again for the bowsprit and hurled himself off the bow of the ship. Catching the slight current, he dipped as he unfurled his wings, then soared over the ocean. He held the lamp high and signaled the foreign ship.
The ship grew closer and slowly Brooklyn could make out the lines of her masts and sails. He breathed a sigh of relief. She was big, plenty big enough to take on the survivors of The Freedom. His people would be all right.
He glided closer. Close enough now that he could see signs of activity
on her decks. Her crew was scrambling for action. They knew The Freedom was
in trouble, and they were going to help.
The tightness began to ease in Brooklyn's chest as responsibility was lifted from his shoulders. The flame in the little lamp he held flickered and died, as the lamp ran out of oil. But it didn't matter. The rescue ship was on course and tracking The Freedom. He dropped the lamp into the sea.
He felt the familiar pull of the Phoenix Gate begin to tug at him and this time he welcomed the inevitable dance. He was close enough to the new ship now that he could hear the murmur of voices across the sea and see the shapes of men begin to form on its deck. He picked out the form of the man who must be the ship's captain giving orders, mobilizing his crew.
Brooklyn puzzled over his odd clothing. It was somewhat flamboyantly tailored. Was that a cutlass in his hand? The man waved the sword at one of his crew members and the Union Jack was struck from the mast. In its place the leering face of a skull smiled across the sea. Brooklyn's victorious smile fell from his lips. His cry of agony was lost in the maelstrom of the Phoenix Flame.
"No! Oh, please, no! They're pirates!"