Friday, 29 May 2009

The Convict

The Convict

He stood casting his gaze out over the rolling waves. His heart, once encaged, was now free to rule this vast ocean. An overwhelming calm slid over him as his body swayed with the swell of the sea. A familiar feeling he had not realised how much he missed. What lay ahead of him he did not know, but his first objective was merely to sail as far away as possible from this god forsaken land. The year was 1702.

The cliffs dropped away to the left of him. The rope around his wrists chafed his worn skin, a single line of blood trickling down his fingers before splashing on the tanned earth before him. He walked, head held high, as the guards marched him towards the ropes. A navy tradition at Port Esquivel, any man convicted of piracy was sentenced to hang on the cliffs, a warning to other pirates. Looking forward, the sight of past comrades, now just bones, sent a chill down his spine.

He was one of the best shooters in the south sea, a match to be reckoned with when it came to swordsmanship, but he had been caught out by the drink. One rum too many had given him no chance of fighting them off when they came for him. Fifteen men had raided the inn, swords brandished. The cuffs had been on him before he was even able to stand up. A night he would not easily forget. They didn’t treat pirates kindly round these parts. He was beaten to within an inch of his life, bruises painted his skin a tinge of purple and his bones ached with every move.

The noose came slowly over his head, tightening uncomfortably around his stiff neck. The rough material scratched at his skin as they moved him closer to the cliff edge, small rocks gave way beneath his feet as he lowered his gaze towards the now threatening waves. When dropped he would enter the water, the soldiers always took this precaution, just in case the neck didn’t break, the water would finish them. The sharp prick of a sword jabbed into his back. It was time. Might as well do it with dignity, he thought. Moving one foot precariously close to the edge, he leaned forward, allowing his body weight to take him over. The wind hit him in the face as he fell through the air, the rope tightening before jerking his head backwards. Pain shot through his neck and spine but he remained conscious. The water came up fast and the chill of it stung his skin. He cursed himself, why couldn’t his neck of broken, now he would suffer the longer process of drowning.

Under the water everything blurred into one, but a glint in the corner of his eye caused him to turn. A line of shining metal was propped against the rocks. He kicked out with his legs, inching his way towards it. His thoughts had been right! A rusted sword, lost in battle long ago. Reaching out he rubbed the bonds holding his wrists against it. Slowing the rope began to fray, finally giving way and loosening before falling to the sea floor. He grabbed the sword, flinging it upwards toward the noose. He let out the last of his breath just as his neck fell free. Quickly pushing off the rocks he swam towards the surface, the cold air filling his lungs as he gasped, the pain in his chest dissipating, replaced with a welcome first breath. Above him the guards’ shouts and yells merged with the crashing of the waves on the cliffs. He swung his arms through the water, heading along the coastline towards the port.

           Reaching the harbour he pulled himself up onto the shore. His heart told him to rest but his head insisted on moving. If he stayed too long the guards would arrive. A small frigate rose up in the water, unmanned but ready to go. Hauling himself up off the sand he staggered towards the ship, climbing clumsily up one of the rope ladders. Grabbing a knife from the cabin he hacked at the ropes, freeing the boat of it’s constrictions. The whole ship jolted as a wave hit the side. Raising the anchor, he allowed the wind to fill the sails as the ship moved slowly away from the port. Looking up he saw the guards rushing towards the shoreline. Yelling for him to stop. There was no way he was stopping now. He manoeuvred the ship around, glancing at it’s compass. He was headed due east, away from land. A smile crossed over his dry, cracked lips. He was free.

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