4 November 1694
We had laid a trap for the Heretic. We knew full well by now that we couldn’t catch the ship, not in open water, but they seemed interested in very specific marks. My first mate Hendricks, God rest his soul, he figured it out, you know. Just came into my cabin one day and tells me, he says, “I know how to get the Heretic,” and you know I sat right up and told him to get to it, then. So he does. See, Hendricks was a clever one, and he’d sat down and wrote down everything we’d known about the ship, and he noticed that all the times we knew where the Heretic was or had been, had these stories around it. He said he was pretty sure it weren’t just Ingrid they were after, but anything they could find with magic. You know, when we started out, none of us had even really thought magic was that real. There’s the sensible stuff, like luck, but now here we were setting a trap for some kind of magic collector to reclaim my weather-controlling wife. It seemed so natural at the time, but now I think about it and it really wasn’t, was it? Ah, you don’t know, do you? What’s normal to snakes and demons ain’t what’s normal to a man.
Where was I. So Hendricks says, you know, he tells me that if we told a good story about some dark item, we might draw them into a trap. And we had just the place. There was this cove, see, and no one really ever went there. We’d only found it by accident, but we kept going back because no one was really watching it and it was easy to hide and get some fresh water. We were sure we knew that cove better than anybody by then, so we could lure them there and be hiding ready to strike. Block them in, start firing, take what was ours when the smoke cleared. It was about the best plan I’d ever heard. So we found ourselves a couple volunteers, people who’d started to get homesick but were scared of saying so, but you can tell, you know? You can see it in the eyes when a man’s had enough of the sea. They didn’t want to make me mad.
So what I did was, we took the ship close to port, and I called everyone on deck. And so I tell them all, I says, “Look, Mr. Hendricks has found himself some information about this old staff, right, some witch-doctor’d lost that maybe could give us an edge on the cursed Heretic. But look,” I says, “it’s a mighty bad time ahead of us, we gotta go back to that cove, you know the one, and we gotta go inland a bit and the thing’s protected by some dark magics or another, and I know you all agreed to the hunt but this is new, so if anyone’s wanting to stay behind, you know, you can take one of the boats and go now. But,” I says, “you best keep this quiet, we don’t want no extra trouble when we get there,” because these guys, these people we knew wanted to go, we knew they had got some ideas about things. And they weren’t too happy with us. So about four men took the offer, and we all wished them well and let them take the ship, and watched them make it to shore safe before we were off. Let them really think they’d got one over on us, Hendricks said. So we did.
Well sure thing, we’d only been hiding out at the cove for four days before along comes the Heretic Wind. And you know, they think they need to go ashore, so we let them into the cove in peace and send a party to land, you know, wait a little time for the boys they sent ashore to get good and far from the water, and then we come cutting around these rocks, a man on every cannon, and I yell out “Lambert, you devil-weaned bastard!” No offense, Benedict, you know, I was mad, and I says, “I’ll have my wife back yet!” and we opened fire. We did a real number on that ship, let me tell you. By the time they turned to fire back, we’d put enough holes in them that I knew any God-fearing sailor would’ve already been ready to give in. But the Heretic earned her name, you know, and they weren’t going to Hell without a fight. So they start firing back and try to make a break for it, like they thought they could really slip right past us. They had the wind, of course, and took to speed faster than anything I’d ever seen, but we were in a good position. They couldn’t get past us without ramming us, and we were ready for that. We’d put some good solid bracing on that side of the ship, and had hooks at the ready. Soon as they hit, well that wood screamed, and my men threw those hooks, and out we both went into the deeper water, carried by the wind in a song.
So now we’re close enough to look each other in the eyes, me and Lambert, and I raised my pistol and I shot him soon as I knew I could. Put a hole right in his stomach. Mind, I was aiming for his heart, but hell, I’d take his slow death long as I gave it to him. So he stumbles back, and my cannons unloaded another volley right into their side, and I think everyone there knew the Heretic was good as dead. But Lambert wasn’t done. While I reloaded my gun and walked forward, ready to jump right on that sinking ship to get Ingrid, and I was calling out to her, I could see her take a step toward me. Then she stopped dead in her tracks as Lambert hissed out a command. I couldn’t hear it, but I saw tears start to roll down those perfect cheeks, and he yelled as I yelled, and she closed her eyes, and began to sing a dark tune. I could hear the sorrow in her voice, but before anything I could do about it, the sky turned dark, and a lightning bolt shattered my mast.
So I set out on a mission of revenge. We shunned all other goals but hunting down the ship that had taken our men and my wife. We tracked every pirate ship we heard rumor of, and hunted every trace of a legend about a ship driven by a song or a pirate that seemed in tune with the elements. At first, we operated within our jurisdiction, bowing to the crown’s demands when they sent us against a specific ship or asked us to mind a certain vessel, but as time wore on we grew less patient with these errands. They started to feel more and more like a distraction. And, it turns out, the crown was growing weary of us. They began to hear tales, reports from ships we escorted that ran into trouble or whispers at ports that made their way back to England. We were growing more angry, more focused, more violent. By the time we received orders to turn the ship over to a new crew, we were much farther gone than the Navy realized. I sent that messenger back with scars he would never shake and we were gone before the new captain could even try to walk onto the ship.
I suppose, by their definition, we had become something of pirates ourselves. But we didn’t care. The more ships we burned, the more men we slaughtered, the more trails we followed that led us nowhere, just served to steel our resolve. Every once in a while we would find them, the Heretic. We would realize we were drawing close, and prepare for battle, and then they would vanish into a mist or fly away on a wind that only served them. Always we were left behind, always with Ingrid’s song tickling our ears. Some men grew to hate her voice, to hate her, and I was beginning to have trouble convincing them otherwise. It was too much, we couldn’t stop, they couldn’t separate her from the work of the Heretic, not after coming so close yet again. We never looked back. I suppose there must have been something broken in all of us that finally snapped.
Six years we spent in this way. Hunting, destroying, taking our supplies from the pirates we killed and avoiding the English navy wherever possible. We started to go mad out there on the water, avoiding land, forsaking everything we had committed ourselves to protecting. When one man finally realized what we had become, and urged us to go back and rethink our quest, we left him on a lonely patch of sand with a bottle of rum and a pistol with a single shot.
No one challenged our mission again after that. It took me another hundred years to consider the idea he may have been right. But none of that mattered, not then. After a while, I think some of us forgot why we were even doing it. What we were after. What we wanted out of it. We gave ourselves over fully to the destruction, and we took our reward in blood. By the time we finally found the Heretic and managed to make it fight us, we were barely more than animals.
8 July 1688
I tell you lad, those years with Ingrid were the best years of my life. We made a real name for ourselves among the pirates and criminals and other vermin of the Caribbean, a much-feared, almost mythical ship. They all knew we were coming for them, and were always ready to fight when we arrived. We lost good men along the way, picked up others. Ingrid and I, we stayed through it all, and every minute of it was better than the years since. Even at our worst, when we’d fight about something or an outing would go wrong and we’d be left tending our wounds, I knew how fortunate I was that it was her instead of anyone else. Maybe I thought it better than it really was, maybe I just didn’t see something. I’ve spent the last three hundred years wondering what I’d missed.
It would’ve never occurred to me that there’d been anything wrong, mind you, until the summer of 1688. We made port like usual, having just finished some work for the crown, when someone approached her at a tavern. I wasn’t there at the time, you know. She was off getting some things while I was dealing with the cargo we’d brought back with us. Something for a colony, I guess. I didn’t much concern myself with where things the crown sent were off to once they were away from my ship. Sometimes it was better that way, and you couldn’t rightly know whether a shipment was best left unknown until it was too late. So I assumed all of it was. But a few of my mates were at the tavern at the time, and they saw a man approach Ingrid and speak to her. She seemed angry, they said, then scared. She slapped him and stormed off, asking the crewmen there to take her back to our cabin. There was no more bother from him that night, but she was clearly bothered. I didn’t find out what had happened until the next day, but I knew something was wrong, and for the first time we went to bed that night with something pulling us apart.
She didn’t sing that night or the next morning.
She wouldn’t tell me what was happening, and when the men told me what they’d seen and I asked her about it, she tried to blow it off. I pushed, but she weren’t budging, so I went back to the two men and asked them to find out what they could about this man. Only one man returned, barely moving. Oh, he was cut up something terrible, and knew he’d only been allowed to live so he could tell me. It was a pirate captain, man named Lambert running the ship Heretic Wind, who’d shaken up Ingrid so bad. And when my men went looking for him, he made sure they knew what he thought of privateers. I couldn’t let that stand. I called together all my men who hadn’t vanished into a brothel or something by then, and we went hunting on land for the first time. Ingrid, she stayed behind on the ship, with a few trusted men to watch and keep appearances as though the ship was fully manned.
We found some of Lambert’s men and we gave them the same treatment they’d given ours. It was a bloody fight, and something in me took pleasure in it. Oh, I’d killed before, could hardly do our job without it, but this felt different. It felt right, in a way I didn’t even know I’d been missing. Killing for the crown was a job; killing for Ingrid, and for my men, that was a pleasure.
The bits of information we found led us on a hunt through the whole port, and we had probably four scuffles before we found ourselves back at the water, in sight of the Heretic Wind. We made our way forward, but only then noticed the ship was moving. They were leaving dock, and here we were on land! I sent the men to go get our ship while I made a dash for the Heretic. At least one of us needed to know where they were going. But as I approached, I heard the song. Well, I froze right there in my step when I heard it. There, on the Heretic Wind, was my Ingrid. She was standing on the deck, free as she’d ever stood on ours, and singing to the sea. And I knew that song. I’d heard it many times before. And I knew, if she was a-singing that song, there’d be no way we’d catch the ship out of port.
I screamed to her. I ran as far as the end of the dock, calling her name, but the ship was gone before I even got there. Just like that, Ingrid had up and left, and didn’t seem to be under the least bit of coercion. It was almost like she wanted to do it. I couldn’t believe it, I knew there had to be some foul play at work, but I didn’t know what it could be. I made for my own ship, I had to try and find her, I knew that. When I got to the ship, though, it was a grisly scene. Four men, the lot I’d left with Ingrid, were torn to pieces and scattered all over the deck. The sails were much the same; torn, even ravaged, like wild animals had been set loose on them. I could barely contain my rage. I knew, then, why they let one man return to the ship. They’d drawn us out, and while we was gone they’d killed my crew and hobbled my ship and taken her. They’d taken Ingrid.
I called all the men together and told them what had happened. And we, all of us, made an oath that very night that we would stop at nothing to find and burn the Heretic, whatever it took. I would have Lambert’s head on a pike before I went to my grave.
Her presence on the ship was a blessing we couldn’t overstate. Having people who knew about and accepted her ability to move the sea with her song took some time to grow on her, but once it had, she was finally free to act in the open without fear. She would sing twice a day, at morning and evening, just as a matter of course. She told me about it, how it was like a greeting, a regular communion with the water. It didn’t do anything for us, but everyone believed it did, and when we needed something more direct she was happy to provide.
Well it was about this time that old captain got a new commission from the crown, and we left cold European waters for warm American ones. We’d been protecting vessels, you see, keeping trade running smooth, keeping our goods out of the hands of the Spanish or French or whoever was in a fit with us that week. And as soon as Ingrid was on board, well, we sure made a name for ourselves. We were requested special by the king, I’m told, and sent off to mind the ships running about everything we could find out of the colonies in the New World. But that captain, he was a clever one, and knew we had an advantage. So he didn’t just accept the commission to protect some vessels now and then, but sought a new task we could handle between escorts. We became privateers.
So that became our lot. We’d set out from port one day and go hunting, and Ingrid, she could do more than sing to the sea. She could hear it singing back. And the sea had all kinds of things to say to her. She’d get us information on pirate movements, and off we’d go tearing through those black sails like they was paper. Spend a couple weeks asea hunting, then back to port where we’d rest a couple days while the captain checked in with the trade ships. If he got an escort mission, well, we did it, as was our duty to the crown. But if nothing turned up? Well. The real money was in privateering, anyhow.
The captain remembered where our fortune came from, and I made first mate when Mr. Covington ate a cannonball off the coast of Hispaniola. It was a few months yet before the captain was called back to England, and that left me with the ship. I had finally found a path into the captain’s cabin, and when I sat behind this desk for the first time it felt like a shock went straight through me. I knew I’d spend the rest of my life on this ship, if the Lord would let me, and I was eager to make the most of it.
When we got back to port after my first hunt as captain, Ingrid and I stole away to a Catholic mission outside of town and got married proper by a priest. It was the fifteenth of May, year of our Lord 1685 when she became Ingrid Connelly, and I became the most fortunate bastard on the waves. We raised hell that night when we returned to port, and by the time we made it back to my cabin we were both half drunk and ready to take on the world. I believed this was it. There was nothing more for it, my life and hers were bound together forever, and we were gonna make a mark on the world of pirates they’d never forget.
I think, now, they were watching us even then. There were people who pieced together that Ingrid was the key to our success, you know, and I don’t know how they did it. Maybe they heard her singing out there, maybe someone talked. Don’t matter now. What matters is, we made a show of ourselves that night, and I tell you someone remembered it.
10 October 1683
We attended Mass and received blessings from an Anglican priest the morning of the tenth, and then went about with the final work to set sail. But we watched the sky cautiously, as there was darkness on the horizon that we knew not to trust. The captain, intending us to drive east, now looked in that same direction with hesitation. When it became clear there was a storm brewing, we braced for impact. By the time we knew the storm was too much for us to leave port, it was nearly too late.
We scrambled to safety as best we could, pushing out from the docks a bit to ride out the storm on deeper water. But it beat us hard, and I heard the ship fighting to stay together. We all prayed for safety, but then I heard a familiar voice cutting through the gale. It was Ingrid, I knew it sure as anything, and I found myself stricken with the thought that she was out there in this, probably crying out for help, and here I was hiding away in a ship! So I made to the deck and fought against the wind and the rain, trying my best to reach her. She must have been close, I knew that, for her voice to ring so clear in my ears.
But as I listened, I realized that she wasn’t crying, or calling for help. She was singing. It was soft and sweet, like a lullaby, fit to soothe the fiercest rage in a man’s heart. And as the lightning strike lit up the shore, I saw her on the edge of the water, facing me. It was just us, the two of us across the water from each other, separated by a storm. I was fighting the storm with everything I had and trying to get as close to her as I could, while she just stood there, singing her song. I stopped, and stood bolt upright, and listened. It was only then I realized the wind seemed to be breathing, in time with her. And the rain was falling into a beat with the song. And all of creation, in that moment, seemed like it was built for her, and guided by her, and I swear I lost sight of the clouds and the lightning and the waves as I stared at her, and she smiled as she sang.
And I felt the pull of the song, how it really was a lullaby, but not for a baby, and not for a man. The storm slowed, then came to rest. The sea took its slumber, and the black clouds drifted away, slowly moving west. For my part, I dove right into that sea and I swam as hard as I ever had, tearing up to my feet as soon as the land was close enough and splashing through the surf until I held her in my arms and pulled her close. We stood there for some time, her arms around me and mine around her, both of us soaked from the rain and the sea, just happy to know the other was safe. When finally we pulled back enough to talk, I asked what had happened.
“I couldn’t,” she told me plainly, “I couldn’t let the storm take you. I had to calm it.” As I thanked her, I heard the sound of oars slapping water, and when Ingrid and I turned I found my captain and two ship-mates in a boat drawing near.
“What’s the meaning of this?” he asked me, and I couldn’t well deny that I had disobeyed his orders in breaking rank, and sure as hell I’d jumped into the sea at the first sign of calm. These were grounds for leaving me ashore, and I knew that, but the thought hadn’t even occurred to me until he asked me to explain myself. So that’s what I did, and Ingrid confirmed that she had saved us. She told us it was secret, that she hadn’t been telling anyone what she could do, but she had to help us. Well, that captain knew a good thing when he saw it, and she was invited to prove her claim. So she sang again, and the waves rose and beat against the shore in time with her, and when she stopped, so did they. My captain, he said to her, he said, “you’re not meant for dry land,” and that was probably the most true thing he ever did say. So she was invited aboard, to keep us safe and give us good travels, and she agreed.
You should’ve seen the look on those boys’ faces when they saw her on the deck, and the way those faces fell when they knew she was only interested in one man on that ship. Not a single one of them looked at me the same way again after that, either.