A light breeze blew off the ocean and misted the beach with the scent and taste of salt. The quiet laughter of two cheery girls dissolved in the wind. They sat side-by-side in the warm sand, close enough to the waters edge so their bare feet could feel the water's cool wetness. A whispered secret between the young girls brought about another set of giggles. They were interrupted by a handsome, dark skinned, young man who had emerged from the bordering forest and crept up silently behind them. He stood, towering over them, smiling. The girls quickly stood and shook the sand out of their long dresses before greeting him with smiles. He bowed politely to them both but his eyes were fixated on the fairer of the two.
"Miss Marcett, the chief wishes to speak to you," he spoke with a deep and slow voice, carefully pronouncing each word. The fair Miss Marcett sighed and glanced longingly at the ocean before turning to walk with him back through the forest, which consisted mostly of palm trees; the other girl followed behind them.
"Penelope," Miss Marcett reached for her friend's hand. "After I speak with the chief, I should very much enjoy a swim!" With her free hand, she brushed her long hair away from her face. Penelope smiled in agreement.
They arrived at the large stone citadel, located towards the center of their island. The fort was encircled by a tall stone wall and more of the dense forest. An iron gate in the wall opened onto a dirt path leading through a collection of flower bushes and small palms. It led to the tall arched doorway of the building which always remained locked for security. The fort consisted of three main stories, a tower, and a basement. The first floor served as a meeting area when the chief summoned the islanders together. The second story provided living quarters for the chief, his family, and servants. The top floor stored weapons. The tower was built high enough to see to the ocean and so served as an excellent watch tower for unwelcome ships and visitors. The basement became a safe hideout for the women and children when the island was under attack. Outside the walls, scattered about the small island, were many small cabins made primarily out of wood. These were inhabited by the many families of the island.
They reached the door and the young man knocked loudly. The three waited a few moments before the heavy doors were pulled open and they were allowed inside. An armed guard stood next to the doors and bowed his head, "Miss Marcett, he is waiting for you." The guard motioned towards the stone steps that disappeared around the corner.
The young man who had found her on the beach started following her towards the steps. "Felix, it is unnecessary for you to escort me upstairs, although I appreciate the gesture." Miss Marcett smiled sweetly at him and he bowed his consent. "Penelope, please wait here for me. I shall return shortly." She turned and hurried up the steps. Her bare feet were silent on the cold, stone floor as she gracefully ambled down the long hallway. She caught her reflection in a mirror hanging low on the stone wall and gasped. The wind had tousled her long, strawberry blonde curls and her skin and dress were stained with the remains of dried salt water. She looked down at her feet and saw that they were caked with dried mud and sand. Just as she was considering stopping in her room to clean up, the door at the end of the hallway opened and the chief stood in the opening. She tried to smooth down her hair as she inched closer to him, but she could already see his disapproving frown.
"Come inside," he demanded. The chief was a tall man with broad shoulders and dark, slightly wrinkled skin. Even though his disposition seemed stern and exceedingly defensive, his hazy gray-blue eyes shined with kindness and compassion. Although a few of the islanders feared his strict demands at times, everyone respected him and appreciated the way he cared for his people. "Sit down," he pointed to a simple oak bench and she perched on the edge of it. "I see you have ventured down to the beach…again." He stood in front of her with his arms crossed in front of his long brown overcoat.
"I have." She stared at her hands, folded in her lap.
He sighed and seemed to relax slightly. "Pearl, my dear…I have asked you repeatedly to not go to the beach alone."
"Penelope and I were there together," Pearl smiled innocently.
"I understand that you ladies believe you are very brave," he smiled and it was obvious that he was trying not to laugh, "However, it is still not safe for you to be alone on the beach. What if an enemy tribe was to attack? Or a band of pirates were to sail into the harbor there?"
"Pirates?" Pearl chuckled, "You know, as well as I, that no pirates have dared sail into these shores for years! They all are afraid of you and your men!"
"Even so, I do not wish to take that risk." The chief noticed her annoyed and defensive expression and so changed the subject. "I did not call for you to give you lectures, though." He began pacing as he continued to speak. "Today happens to be a special day for you, and for all of us. Do you know why?" He knew that she would have forgotten; she did every year. Yet, he waited for her to acknowledge this fact before continuing. "Today we celebrate you. It is the anniversary of when you came to us. This is your seventeenth year with us, dear Pearl."
Pearl smiled. Every year on the same date, the islanders would have a celebration for her, celebrating the original day the chief had found her on the beach. She had only been a small baby when she was found, so it was easy for the tribe to accept her as one of them; since she had grown up with them. Pearl felt loved and cared for, and she felt that she belonged even though she did not know where she truly came from.
The chief spoke again, "Since, you are so fond of the beach; we shall host the celebration there." She stood to leave but he stopped her. "My dear girl…about the lecture…I just wish you could understand how much I care for you, and how I worry about you." He cupped her chin with his hand and smiled down at her. "You have been my daughter for these seventeen years. I could not survive if anything should ever happen to you."
"I know father." Pearl wrapped her arms around his waist and hugged him tightly. "I shall be careful, I promise."
He kissed the top of her head. "Go now and dress for your dinner. I shall send Felix for you when it is time."
Pearl hurried to the door and waved before running out into the hallway.
Nothing could be seen in any direction except for shining blue water. A tall and handsome man stood strong against the blowing wind, gazing out from the bow of a large brigantine ship. Soon he was joined by a young boy, no more than eighteen years of age.
"To where are we sailing, Captain Valentine?" the boy asked respectfully.
"When it's decided, you'll be informed." The captain remarked without looking away from the hypnotizing white-tipped waves. The boy fell silent and left the captain alone. A few moments later his peace was again disturbed when a tall, tanned man approached. His black eyes shifted under his deep furrowed brows as he observed the captain's stillness.
"Cap'n, the lad says we ain't got no destination." His gruff voice sounded angry and irritated. When his question was ignored he repeated himself louder.
"Enough!" the calm captain interrupted him.
"Where're we headin'?"
"St. Marie," he stated simply, still scanning the horizon.
"Ye mad Cap'n?" the man jerked backwards in shock and obvious fear.
"Not mad mate, wantin'." The captain finally turned away from his steady watch on the ocean and grinned mischievously. "I've got to get me that gold, and if ye be wantin' it too, yer goin' to help with no complainin' savvy?" His voice boomed but his expression remained calm. Without waiting for a response he strode across the deck to the wheelhouse and gave the man there directions. Within the hour, a large island could be seen in the distance. The captain raised his eyebrow at it and called all his men onto the main deck for orders. Once all had gathered he explained the already well-known dangers of the distant island.
"Avast me hearties! We're approachin' the isle of St. Marie," a dense murmur spread quickly throughout the gathered crew. The captain raised his arm to silence them and continued. "Now, as y'all be well knowin', we can't merely dock at the harbor and walk onto this island, for a few reasons. Mainly 'cause it's heavily guarded and they won't allow us, 'cause they just don't like our sort. Attack ain't a possibility 'cause their defense is too great even for attacks from my ship." The captain's pride for his gloriously immense ship was evident as his deep, brown eyes observed the tall, ornate masts and large white sails.
"How does ye plan on aquirin' that gold then, Cap'n?" The insistent man with the gruff voice stepped up next to the captain and demanded an answer. The captain's irritation showed clearly on his face as he stepped towards the inquirer, towering at least four inches over him and frowning. He leaned close and whispered a barely audible threat into his ear. "Jose, ye may be first mate, yet if ye dare question me or my authority again you'll be off me ship, savvy?" Jose's already furrowed brow deepened as he stepped down onto the main deck with the rest of the crew. The captain's calm stare reassured the nervous crew while he explained his plan for stealing the gold from the heavily fortified island.
The wide, empty, southeastern beaches of St. Marie had been transformed into a splendidly decorated land for the planned dinner party. Torches illuminated the border of the red sands and tropical forest. A large bonfire was burning in the center of the beach, around which young girls danced joyfully like small, flickering fireflies. Young boys were grouped close by banging on crudely made drums. The older men and women stood in small clusters laughing and applauding the merry young people. A few thick blankets had been spread out in a row on the smooth sand. Each was covered with savory meats, fried vegetables, spiced breads, and expensive drinks. Everyone awaited the arrival of their young guest of honor. Arriving late, as expected, Pearl emerged gracefully from the forest as silence fell over the gathered guests. A long dress, made of pale, green silk, draped perfectly on her delicate body. The gold cross, which hung on a chain around her neck, glowed from the torches' light. Penelope's arm was linked with Pearl's and together they joined the party.
Music and continuous laughter created an exciting atmosphere for the seemingly endless celebration. Pearl and Penelope, obviously best friends, remained inseparable during the night. During dinner, which the girls ate together and close by the chief, a toast was made by the chief to his adopted daughter. He stood tall and lifted his goblet, filled with wine, and lovingly recalled the day he first found his daughter. Everyone was silent as they respectfully listened to the story that all had heard many times before. Pearl stood appropriately next to her father, when he motioned to her, and smiled up at him. When he had finished, everybody cheered and stood in her honor. She always appreciated the care she received from the chief and his tribe, and she greatly enjoyed the annual celebration for her, yet something deep inside of her never felt fully satisfied. Pearl waited for the group to settle back down and begin their feast again before she subtly slipped away from the crowd to the edge of the beach.
Pearl cautiously climbed up the jagged boulders that created a divide between the large beach of her father's tribe and a private beach that remained vacant. People did not venture to this small alcove often because passage to it was difficult and it could not be seen by the tribe's fortress which left it unprotected. In fact, the only person who dared frequent its pure, sandy beaches was Pearl. Often she would traverse the unexplored forests and steep, guarding rocks in order to retreat to the isolated recesses of her personal beach. Once there she was free to lounge in the cool, soft sand or swim in the clear, shallow water without worrying about who might see her or reprimand her. Tonight, though, she chose to simply sit quietly in the growing shadows and ponder her life on St. Marie. Resting back on her elbows, Pearl closed her eyes and welcomed the breeze on her warm skin. Images flashed through her mind as she drifted into her memories. Recent, pleasant memories of relaxing afternoons with Penelope caused her to smile; however, farther back she could picture equally unpleasant ones that brought tears to her eyes. She squeezed her eyes tight, trying to block the images out of her mind but the tighter they shut the deeper she drifted. Fire and smoke blurred together, making her frightened as she relived the horrible night of her past. The details were vague and distorted as they darted through her mind like a sudden rainstorm. Faint screams emerged from someplace in her memories that she had tried to lock away and with them came more tears, now flowing steadily and unchecked down her cheeks. The events of that night had never been truly sorted out and although Pearl knew she could never fully remember what happened, she did have strong memories of the fear and sadness she had felt throughout it all. The fire grew more vivid and she could feel the heat as though she were actually there, living it all over again. Then the screams returned. They were louder and more distinct than before. When she was certain she had heard her name through the desperate cries, she forced her eyes opened and for a moment could only stare at the alarming surroundings.
The ship was speedily approaching the large island and the entire crew stood ready, waiting for the captain's signal. He silently observed the island's beaches from a telescope on the forecastle deck. He saw the flames from a bonfire and grinned slyly when he realized how many people were gathered at the beach. His eyes quickly scanned the young, pretty girls dancing around the fire, but he did not find anything to interest him so his eyes moved onto the groups of adults. He spotted a man he assumed to be the leader because of the decorative designs painted on his face and arms. Captain Valentine squinted to see more clearly and noticed that the man was staring at the group of girls. The captain returned his attention to them and finally saw what was holding the old leader's concentration. In the center of the crowd of girls was one who stood out among the rest. He was surprised to see an apparently English girl there with the African tribe and he wondered if she were a prisoner. Something about the way she smiled and laughed, however, convinced him that she was not being held there against her will. The captain leaned against the gunwall attempting to see more. He noted her fair skin and long, golden curls. Her hips swayed captivatingly to a rhythm she seemed to be hearing only in her own mind. She twirled, slowly bringing her slender arms above her head while her sheer dress flowed in the breeze, twisting around her body. The glow of the fire created radiance around her like an angel. He admired her beauty for a few more moments before turning to his crew who were waiting impatiently on the main deck below.
"Belay ye swabs, avast!" the captain shouted when he noticed his crew misbehaving and not staying at the places he had ordered. "Listen up me hearties. We be runnin' a rig here, meanin' y'all may run shots 'cross the bow but no blowin' any men down, savvy?" He scowled at the disappointment the blood thirsty crew expressed when they realized they wouldn't be allowed to kill anyone, but that they were simply playing a trick on the islanders. "Silence or you'll be hangin' from the yardarm!" the men quieted down and listened to their captain. "I shall be puttin' out in the jollyboat while y'all shall be waitin' here on deck. Jose shall be watchin' from the crow's nest and when he sees me near 'nough to the beach he'll fire the first shot and then the rest of y'all shall start the rig. Listen to my warnin'. If any of ye swabs blow any of them down, ye shall be dancin' the hempen jig, savvy?" There was a loud response of garbled 'ayes' and 'arghs' before the captain was convinced that his crew understood his seriousness in his hanging threat if any of the islanders were killed.
As soon as the small boat was lowered into the water, he slid down the rope ladder that hung on the side of the ship and settled onto the center seat of the boat. The crew watched as their captain slowly rowed away from the protection of the ship, towards a small hidden cove by the crowded beach. He quietly dipped the oars into the water and then pulled them out again, being careful not to make a splash. He did not wish for anyone on the beach to notice him or the ship before he was in position. Once he had reached the far corner of the beach, under the shelter of the rocks he tied the boat to a low-hanging tree and climbed ashore. He raised his pistol to fire the signal to his ship, but before he pulled the trigger he heard a noise on the rocks behind him and quickly ducked out of site. The captain could just barely make out the shadowy outline of a girl climbing over the sharp rocks and lowering herself onto the sand below. He daringly climbed higher to be able to better see the intruder. She stepped into the moonlight and he realized it was the fair beauty he was admiring earlier. He watched silently as she relaxed on the sand. He was too far away to see her tears but even from his distance he recognized her sorrow. Knowing that the crew would become impatient, he regretfully pulled himself away from his view of the mysterious girl and crept back down into the shadows of the rocks where he could easily fire his pistol without being seen from either beach.
Immediately, shots were fired from the ship and the captain hoped that his crew had listened to him and were not aiming for the islanders. He heard the terrified screams of the women and the children and he had to hold back his laughter. He found it amusing that everyone was so afraid when the shots being fired were only a distraction. It was all a part of his plan and he was thrilled that it was playing out so perfectly. He inched up the steep rocks he was hiding on and watched the confusion on the large beach. Some men were ushering women and crying children into the forest, away from the threat of attack, while younger ones were taking orders from the chief before running through the dense trail back to no doubt their fortress for weapons; however, the chief did not follow. Surprisingly he stayed on the beach with another man and they seemed to be searching for something or someone. They began to call out a name but the captain had climbed back down the rocks making him unable to hear it. From a narrow crack in the rocks he was able to watch the chief and his loyal guards as they continued their frantic search. The captain continued to watch in excitement, expecting the chief's prized possession to be a leading soldier or a wife, but hoping it would be a child. If the chief had a child it would make the sly captain's plan more effective and easier. Cannons from the ship were now being fired into the water to add to the threatening commotion of gunshots and shouts that could be heard, carried by the wind. The captain panicked when he noticed that the two men had turned towards the forest and he was afraid that they had given up their search; however, before leaving they glanced once more towards the rocks and relief covered their faces. Breaking away from the other man, the chief ran towards the rocks. Surprisingly, he was met halfway by the young English girl that held the captain's fascination. She hugged the old man comfortingly and the captain could tell, by the chief's relieved tears, how much he cared for her. He kept a protective arm around the girl's shoulders as they hurried towards the man at the edge of the forest. The captain noted her curious glance back at the ship as the forest enveloped her and the two men in its thick trees. Satisfied with what he had discovered, Captain Valentine slid silently back into his small boat and fired his pistol to signal his crew to cease their pretend attack as he rowed swiftly back to his ship.
The smoke and fire from the cannons and gunshots grew thick as Pearl realized that she wasn't just reliving her memories, but that she was actually experiencing another night like the one she tried so hard to forget. She jumped to her feet and hurried to the rocks. She could hear her name being called out above the loud, angry shouts from the attacking ship and she was desperate to answer. Her tears caught in her throat as she climbed the rocks, ignoring the scrapes she was getting on her hands and bare feet. When she reached the top of the large boulders she saw the chief with Felix turning toward the forest. She called out to them but her voice was drowned by the loud explosions. As she began the climb downwards, she realized that she had been seen and the chief was now running towards her. Pearl dropped to the sand and ran to meet him.
"My daughter," He wrapped her in his loving arms and she could tell he was trying not to cry.
"Father, I am alright." She did not hold back her tears but allowed them to flow freely onto his shoulder.
"I thought something had happened to you. I knew that you had not returned with the others, but I could not find you! Where were you?" He stared into her watery eyes with concern.
Pearl sniffed, "I climbed over the rocks to the beach beyond." She knew he did not approve of her climbing on the steep rocks or venturing onto an open beach by herself, but at this moment he did not scold her. Instead he again embraced her, tighter than before.
"I do not want anything to happen to you." He said softly.
"Nothing will, father, nothing will ever happen to me. I promise." Pearl knew he worried about her because of what had happened to her parents and she was secretly worried about him for the same reason. She could not bear to lose another parent. He led her to the forest where Felix waited with a nervous smile. Before stepping too far into the dark trees, Pearl glanced back at the dangerous ship and wondered who they were. A part of her wanted to stay by the rocks and watch to see what happened, but the more responsible part of her knew that she should return to the safety of their citadel.
When they reached the tall gates of the fortress she was ushered inside and ordered to the basement with the other women and children. Pearl waited for Felix and her father to disappear on the stairs up to the roof, where they could fight the ship if need be, before dashing up to her room. Pearl was glad that her bedchamber had a view of the ocean and she could easily see the ship. She was confused when she realized that they had stopped attacking and were actually sailing away from the island. As the large ship floated past the island, the moon lighted the sails and Pearl gasped when she saw the flag. The flowing black material that was used only by pirates was decorated with a scull, signifying death, and the blood drops under the skull warned it would be slow and painful. Although the flag made her afraid, she still had a curiosity that would not be quenched. For some reason everything she had ever heard about pirates and their vulgar lifestyles enticed her, and she desired to know more about them.
Once he boarded his ship and they put some distance between themselves and the island, the captain addressed his crew.
"Avast me hearties, I got meself a handsome plan." He wanted to be alone so he kept his orders short and direct, making sure everyone understood. "Come sunset tomorrow we'll be havin' ourselves a fair prisoner. Y'all better be rememberin' the plan, and no ideas of yer own, savvy?" He saw the nods and heard the agreements before finishing with a 'yo ho' and retreating to his quarters. The captain sat at the window and stared out at the dark water. He remembered the grace and charm with which the English girl danced and he smiled. Even though she was obviously comfortable with the islanders, and her love for the chief was undeniable, he was curious as to why she was there. He had decided that she was in some way cherished by the chief and he knew that the chief wanted to protect her. The captain was confident that his plan would work if the chief did in fact care as much about the girl as he expressed earlier that evening. Still, there was an interest inside of him, disconnected with his desire for treasure, which wanted to know more about the lovely girl and her past.