I suppose, since I am here setting an account of myself, a sort of confession and will rolled together for you, my dearest friend and dreaded executioner, it would behoove us to go over how I met our master. At first there was little of him to interest me say that he was the only man Captain suffered as, well let us say, the only man ever to sail as a passenger aboard the Sisyphus.
You see, we sailed under the black flag. I had long been accustomed to blood, my own blood, animals’ blood, dried blood on stolen gold, but it was something else to see a man killed, to see him dying in a spreading pool of red. The dreadful thing was, I recognized the ship. She had harbored with us for three days, and, from that late night when they first arrived to that early morning when they set sail, their purses flowed liberally into Brother’s pockets as I made liberty of theirs.
I knew these men, served them drinks, watched them dance and play music, I listened to their dark sea legends. It was from their ship an old sailor, one with a pointy beard who had no hair to his head, brought out a banjulele. He sat in the tavern by the fire musingly, sleepily, tranquilly, strumming harmonious cords. Quietly they played through the night as the men grew tired, and a circle of sailors—believe you me I was in that circle—clustered around him in those early hours before dawn.
A pipe lazily moved in his mouth, its little puffs of smoke floating into the rafters. I thought we were only staying about him for the song—I had never heard music, music played, music that was alive—but his eye peeked open and he let out a smile.
Sitting up, he said, “I suppose it’s time for a shanty.” The pipe moved to the side of his mouth, and his strumming picked up a pace. I can’t tell you what that song was, it was so long ago, but he sang about the sea and her colors. The joyous green that bid brave men to bravery, the heartfelt blues that round the world drew wanderers to wander from land, and the passionate white surf bidding boys become men. Then he sang of the black depths were they would all sink, where light did not abide. Though I could not repeat a word of it, or hum a note, or tap out the rhythm, that song has forever played in my heart.
Before taking the ship we were having a session, Captain and I. In his cabin, with the curtains drawn all around, he had me sit by an orb. Across from me he stared into its light glow, greedily clenching his hands.
“Now, touch the eye, Boy,” he said, without glancing up. I wasn’t really listening, I was watching the billowing smoke inside the ball of glass. It was a soft pink in color, and overshadowed some light in the center, like clouds drifting in front of the sun. The curling wisps turned and turned inside, faster and faster. “Touch it, Boy!” he shouted. My hands seemed to spring from my sides and glue themselves to that orb. It was cold as ice. Inside, the curling wisps twisted. Like sprinting dogs finding the end of their chains they halted their mad race.
“Show me,” he murmured, “show me the cross.”
The fog faded away, revealing the light it hid. There was the cross, an image of the cross I think, surrounded in darkness. Captain sat back, wiping his brow with a dainty handkerchief. “Surrounded in darkness,” he mumbled, “lost to the darkest depths of the ocean.” He closed his eyes and the pink mists returned. My hands popped off the smooth glass as suddenly as they had been drawn to it. My palms were beat read, like they had been burned by a fire. A rattling knocking shook the door.
Captain arose from his chair, which made little difference to his height, and stomped over to the sound. He mumbled the whole way, still staining the white cloth with his sweat. “The greatest treasure of the world,” I think I heard, “Lost to the depth of the sea. There’s no time, no time.” He twisted the knob, and just as he entered that brilliant sunlight two things happened. He seemed to say, “No hope,” and the cannon fired. Following after him I found myself locked in the cabin.
Would you believe it of me? Remember the night we snuck into an enemy camp and I bet you I could slit more sleeping throats? You had to milk the goats for a week. Could you see me as a boy, view this harsh face still soft and full, red with newly minted scars, not a hint of a beard yet? Could you see me weeping as I watched from that window?
I pulled back those purple drapes and saw that ship, that tradesmen’s vessel, being torn asunder by volleys of fire. Faces I knew, torn from their heads, disappeared into that black ocean where no light resides. Amid the plunder they brought back, stacked atop the mounds of goods, goods bought from my brother, the broken banjulele stood. Its strings snapped, its white surface stained with blood, its neck oddly askew.
With his hands behind his back Captain marched around this pile, this hoard, stopping to inspect each crate and every sack. With disgust he snorted at the instrument, and, grabbing it, threw it off the portside. I heard its plunk and splash, and tried to remember the song it had played, the song that had so enchanted me.
Maybe, it started like this: “Men go to war in times of war, and to farms in times of peace. But in all times all men do yearn for the colors of the sea. The colors of the sea.” I think it might have been something like that, but I don’t know, I can’t seem to ever get it right.
And for three years it was like that. If it went well, that is a rich ship fell under his power, Captain would inspect the goods, throwing out anything broken or twisted, grumble, and stomp back to his cabin. If it went poorly, if the ship made retreat and he got nothing or the loot wasn’t to his liking, he’d have the whole of what was taken tossed overboard, and then he’d have some punishment for me.
When we weren’t marauding our way through the seven seas he’d hold session. He’d have me touch the eye, asking it questions about the cross. It only ever showed him the cross surrounded in the blackness of the grave. He started to write letters, and eventually he received one back. That was how our master came aboard. He wrote to Captain, saying he could take Captain down to the dark depths of the seafloor. I suppose, Master’s humor always shone through, that’s exactly what he did do.