Stunned, I turned and surveyed the hold. I recognized some of the other passengers from supper, but I wasn't formally acquainted with them. They mostly stayed below, clutching their bellies and moaning with every roll of the ship. I preferred to be up on the deck, on the foretop, or speaking with the sailors on watch. I would even help out with some of the easier tasks, such a repairing the sails or splicing a line. The Bo'sun would cast suspicious glances my way as I did these monotonous jobs, as if he couldn't believe someone of my stature would even know what splicing meant. At first some of the sailors rejected my help, but eventually came to accept it after I proved to them I knew what I was doing. My father was a well-respected seaman and he had taught me well.
I sat next to my mother, on one of the seemingly endless crates. She was wiping her hands with a handkerchief and muttering irritably. It seemed as though she hadn't seen Noah kiss me. Thank God for small favors, I thought.
Mother glanced up at me and quickly stowed the handkerchief. She smiled at me and said, "Well, we certainly are in a right mess. We seem to attract trouble, do we not, Eliza dear?"
That had always been a special ability of my mother's, to look completely content while complaining. She used this tactic many times while gossiping with her friends back in Bristol. They had always seemed rather impressed by her talent.
I nodded distantly as she tittered on about the plantation house that was waiting for us in Carolina, all the fabulous parties we were missing, the new dresses she was planning on buying me; unimportant things. I knew she was trying to distract me from the imminent battle, and I was thankful for that, but I kept worrying about Noah. I tried to reassure myself he would be okay by recounting the seemingly ceaseless tales of battles he had bragged about to me, but I still feared for his life.
Mother was in the middle of an anecdote about when the cook had used salt instead of sugar in one of her cakes when the first shot came. It shook the ship with such a force, it seemed as if we would tip over. Immediately, all hell broke loose in the hold. The men jumped up from their seats in the various crates and barrels, the women screamed and swooned, and the children started crying. I seemed to be the only one unaffected. I had prepared, braced myself.
The thing I remembered most about the following battle was the noise. Not only the loud booms of cannons and the incessant pops of muskets, but also the human noise. The yelling of orders from the Captain, the screaming of the men fighting, the crying in the hold, not only from the children, but also from everyone, men and women alike. I remember hearing the wood of the masts splinter, the ship creak and sway, the waves sloshing against the sides. But through all that commotion I had only one thought: Noah.
Eventually I couldn't take the noise. I jammed my fingers in my ears and shut my eyes so tightly I gave myself a headache. I curled up in a ball and didn't move even when a cannonball crashing into the ship threw me off my crate. I hummed an old lullaby to myself and prayed it would all be over soon. I didn't care who won the battle, I just wanted…
Silence. I tentatively opened one eye. Could it be over already? I was afraid to breathe. The whole hold was quiet. Even the babies had stopped crying, as if sensing this was a time for silence. Everyone was waiting to see what had happened. And then, we heard a voice.
"TIE 'EM UP GOOD, I DON'T WANT ONE ESCAPING," an unfamiliar voice bellowed, "SMITH, BROWN, CHECK THE HOLD FOR ANYTHING WORTH TAKING!"
Suddenly it was all clear. The battle was over. The victors were the pirates. And we were captured.