Eliza watched as the beastly disguised buccaneer surveyed his latest prey.
“We thank ye for your hospitality,” Hardwicke growled from behind the frightful scowl of the mask.
She watched him stride back and forth like some strutting peacock. That devilish glint was in his eye. She imagined the same smug, confident smirk on his face underneath the crimson cloth as when he bested her in fencing just for sport. The thought made her flush. But then, she rationalized. He had pulled her from the depths and had surely delivered her from a certain death. And how despicable could a man be to honor a woman’s virtue? Especially, in such an isolated and unforgiving place.
For now, her judgment of this man and this crew was far from decided. Eliza, feeling like an idle schoolgirl while the chaos had ensued, decided to get a better vantage point. She quietly slipped to the mizzen mast and ascended the rigging. Half-way to the first spar, she stopped. From here, she could more plainly make out the deck of the merchant vessel and the stacks of crates and barrels being assembled on deck from the hold. Most bore the East India seal.
She could see Smith hauling boxes and ordering the men to move them across, while Mufti held a blunderbuss aimed at the surrendered men. Kit watched their captives from the merchant’s rigging, a sizeable flintlock in her small hands. The Crimson Skull or Captain Hardwicke was conversing with a man who must have been the merchant ship’s captain. He took a flask from the man, took a long swig then pocketed the bottle. It was then that she noticed someone else - someone else with a musket.
The man wore colors of the East India company, but not their Black Guard. Perhaps, he was a liaison of sorts. But, he wasn’t behaving like a man of business. The dark-dressed figure was scaling to the top of sterncastle under the shadow of the sails. She moved up a few rope rungs to get a better look, working quietly so not to be noticed.
“That’s the last of it,” Mr. Smith said, then added, “Captain Skull.”
Hardwicke grit his teeth. He knew that Smith was choking back a laugh, but held his tongue.
“Well then,” he replied, “All right you lot! Time to clear off!”
The pirates withdrew to the gangplank. Eliza felt a little better that the incident had only incurred minor bloodshed, though her eyes remained focused on the hidden man. He was prone now, the musket beside him as he crawled to the end of sterncastle roof. Then, she saw him bring the weapon to bear on Captain Hardwicke. She knew she had to act. Pirate or not, did he deserve such a death? She almost cried out, but realized that the same musket ball could just as easily kill her once she did.
Whipping around the end of the rigging, Eliza dug her feet in as she pulled a length of line free from the spar. Grabbing hold, she took in a sharp breath and threw herself into space. It was impossible to resist looking down at her swaying legs as she swung across the open water – the side of the merchant ship coming at her very fast. The white caps far below made her stomach turn as the cold sea air rushed through her tangled hair. The mysterious man and his rifle grew dreadfully close. She could just make out his fingers locking the hammer back.
“Gangway!!” she cried as she drew up her long legs and thrust her feet out ahead of her.
Eliza struck like a pendulum axe. Her kick struck the man in the head and ribs; with the sheer impact sending him tumbling off the sterncastle to the deck. The musket clattered against the rail. She landed roughly, throwing out her hands to stop her motion. Eliza bumped across the sterncastle roof, rolling over her hip and just managing to grab onto a hatch lid, narrowly avoiding falling several more feet to join the dubious sniper below.
At the ramp, the pirates stood dumbfounded at the commotion.
“What the bloody Hell!?” Smith bellowed.
Mufti jumped back onto the merchant ship, his blunderbuss leveled.
“Let’s not lose our heads, gentlemen.”
Smith and Hardwicke made their way down the rail and found a man lying unconscious on the deck, a small wound on his head was bleeding. A few steps away, lay the loaded and cocked musket.
“Where the devil did he come from?” Smith asked, looking up in the rigging for more.
“Just lucky he didn’t get off a clean shot,” the Crimson Skull muttered. “We need to keep our wits.”
As Hardwicke turned, he nearly ran into Eliza’s bare foot swinging back and forth in front of him. He looked up to see her sitting on the sterncastle.
“By your leave, sir?” she grinned.
She nodded and then plopped down the deck beside them. He noticed she had a fresh bruise on her cheek and some scrapes on her knuckles.
“I’m indebted, then.” Hardwicke said.
She shook her head.
“We’re square now, sir. Think nothing of it.”
Eliza turned coldly and headed along the deck to the gangplank.
“You’d rather not fly back?” he quipped.
The two men followed her to the plank and Hardwicke glanced down to get another look at her legs, remembering she had been without footwear since they found her.
“Hold a moment, sailor.” he said.
It was then that the merchant crew noticed this new woman among the pirates. A few seemed struck at seeing any woman so far from shore. Eliza could feel the eyes on her, but now she was far from ashamed or embarrassed by her own presence. Indeed, she straightened herself and hardened her gaze.
Hardwicke looked down at the bodies of two men killed in the exchange. He sized them up.
“Does this man have any family aboard?”
No answer from the merchants, either from ignorance of the answer or simple fear.
The Crimson Skull, in all his blood-colored attire and frightful weapons, knelt down and gingerly pulled off the poor soul’s boots. After a brief inspection, he handed them to Eliza.
“With my thanks,” he said.
She looked at the odd gift and then down at the man who unwittingly gave up his possessions for her.
“I have no words to express… Captain,” she replied.
He turned on his heel and marched back to the Merry Widow. Smith and the others followed suit, with Eliza being the last. Safely across, under Mufti’s watching blunderbuss, Mr. Smith drew his cutlass and hacked the last line mooring the two vessels together.
“God have mercy on you lot,” he muttered.
The Merry Widow peeled away, turning hard portside to get distance; all the while her starboard cannons remained ready. Within an hour, the merchant was long out of sight. The whole incident still left Eliza shaken: the noise, the shouting, the violence and then her own actions. She’d never backed down from a fight, but that wasn’t some bar brawl or back alley scuffle. The thought of the gunfire and clashing blades shivered her.
She looked down at the pilfered man’s boots laying on the deck in front of her.
“Hopefully, they’ll stretch,” Captain Hardwicke said as he approached. “He was a bit of a short man after all. I recommend having Mr. Taggart boil them a bit. The leather will give and it will kill any… unwelcome things.”
“I’m not sure if I should be thankful or insulted. This is not a gift a woman is used to receiving,” she said.
“On this ship, Mister Creststeel, I view you as a crewman. And if any of my men need clothes, food or a place to bunk, I would provide it for them. It’s my responsibility.”
She sighed and nodded. Then, gazed up at the frightful skull face mask.
“When I swore before the mast, sir. This is not what I agreed to. I had no intention of becoming a pirate. I came to this part of the world, to sail like my father did. And sail honestly.”
Charles tipped back his hat and removed the cloth veil. He mopped the sweat from his brow with it and looked at this stalwart woman.
“A respectful goal, mister. One I used to share with you.”
He tucked the cloth into a pocket of the crimson trousers and turned toward his cabin.
“One would have mistaken you for a pirate, what with your skills aboard ship and you proved your mettle in a fight. You also never back away from a challenge, Eliza Creststeel and I know love the open water,” he said and then added, “You seem to like having the odds against you. And you also have issues with authority.”
She thought on that a moment.
“Does that make one a pirate?”
“It can,” he smiled, “But, one’s options may be limited, if you already bear the mark of being one.”
He strode away and it was then she realized that a newly torn hole in her blouse revealed the branded ‘P’ on her flesh. Had he just then noticed? Or, had he always known?
After nearly two weeks aboard the Merry Widow without signs of shore, Port Royal instantly held her attention from the moment it was spotted on the horizon. It would still take hours before they docked, but as they forded the wind toward port, Eliza kept finding excuses to look over the rail.
From what looked like just a blot against the afternoon sky, Jamaica soon loomed ahead. Compared to the beaches of the Carolinas and the rocky barren shore of Rambleshack, this island looked to be a lush paradise. Massive palms swayed in the breeze. The water was growing more and more bright turquoise and from above, she could make out a myriad of colorful and bizarre fish darting about beneath.
Cut from the cliffs, white stone walls of Fort Charles loomed above. She could make out the bristling cannons from its buttress and turrets. A union jack fluttered proudly over the Navy’s symbol of power.
As the Merry Widow rounded the horn, the inlet gave way to clusters of adobe and brick buildings and houses amongst greenery. A planked wharf lined with numerous vessels filled half of the bay. Clippers, galleons, sloops and brigs from all corners were docked there, along with several combat ships.
Eliza only then noticed the men gathering near her at the rail to peer at the bustling port. They too were watching with anticipation. How long had they been at sea before finding her?
“All right, you lot! That’s enough lollygagging!” Mr. Smith bellowed. “Haul in the mains and get to your mooring stations!”
Men scattered like quail at the command. Eliza ascended the foremast rigging to help secure the top sail with two others. From her vantage point, Port Royal sprawled out before her. Behind the piers lay a bustling colony populated by a rainbow of people from across the British Empire and beyond. She could make out various shops, markets, and the governor’s manor house high up the hill from the bay valley.
Even at this distance, she could see on shore, including womenfolk. As she tied off her end of the sail, Eliza noted her current attire. She had lost her father’s coat and hat some time ago, as well as her finer blouse. Perhaps, she could finally find some better clothing.
“Mr. Smith,” she heard the captain call as he stepped across the deck below, “Bring us in.”
Hardwicke was carrying a small chest and headed up the steps to the helm. He sat it down on a shelf being used as a map table. Mr. Mufti joined him shortly and using one of the keys on his chain, they opened the chest. The captain pulled a scrap of paper from his coat and took a seat beside the shelf.
“Baldwin! Carpenter’s mate!” he called.
“Aye sir!” a voice called up and one of the younger sailors tromped up to meet his commander.
Captain Hardwicke reached into the chest and handed the lad a coin pouch and then had him scratch his initials on the parchment. The captain then shook his hand. The procedure made the lanky young man seem apprehensive, but he eagerly took his pay.
“Hope we will see you back aboard again, Mr. Baldwin. Good work.”
“Thank you, sir. It was… It was an honor… serving,” he stammered, then threw up a sloppy salute. The captain nodded and turned back to his parchment.
Another man made his way to the helm and so it went as the Merry Widow approached a slip in the harbor. Smith took his time and guided the ship in, turning her about before luffing the sails. Sailors swung out over the side and tossed lines down to Kit and another young man who had jumped down to the wharf. They moored the brig and smartly tied her off.
“Svenson! Boson’s mate!”
Eliza couldn’t help but listen as the rest of the crew received their portion. Finally, she tucked her polished cloth into the back pocket of her trousers and ascended the stairs. The gruff blonde mate nodded to her as he passed, but averted his eyes – like a number of the men did when they passed her.
“Can I help you, Mr. Creststeel?” Hardwicke asked, not looking up from the parchment.
“Well, yes captain. I was going to inquire about m-“
“Tran! Able seaman!” Charles bellowed. “Do be quick,” he added. “I want us secured before the tide.”
“Yes, sir. I was going to inquire about…”
At that moment, Xin Tran and his well-manicured moustache and beard, stepped past her. The men made the monetary exchange and he was on his way.
“It’s about pay, sir…” she blurted.
“Ah,” Hardwicke nodded.
“I rendered services aboard ship, and thus feel that…”
He held up the parchment and pointed to the very bottom, where her name had been added. Eliza blushed slightly and rolled her eyes back.
“Elizabeth Creststeel, Able seaman,” he announced loudly.
“Aye sir,” she sheepishly said, then stood at attention. Captain Hardwicke handed her a coin pouch.
“Understand that this is not full portion, since you only served a short time. But, your actions during our… little entanglement entitled you to… twenty-five half crowns.”
He took out a second pouch. She nodded, but respectfully accepted; then signed the document. The captain stood and offered his hand. She shook it as firmly as she thought her father would approve of.
“Good work, sailor. I wish you well.”
After a brief shake, Eliza glanced from their hands to his face. She caught his gaze. He seemed in no hurry to let go. Or was that her just own impulse? A moment later, he smirked.
“Mr. Creststeel,” he said softly, “I still have some men who need their pay.”
“Of course, sir,” she replied and stood at attention before doing an about face and retreating to the stairs.
“Since…” he began. She paused and looked back, “Since this is your first time in Port Royal, I would advice you to hold fast to your pay, at least until tonight. The men and I will likely be in the Royal Anchor. It’s a tavern near the marketplace.”
“Thank you, sir,” she replied, “If it’s all the same, I would like to make myself presentable before then.”
“You’re still on duty, seaman. Once this ship is secured, you’re free to disembark.”
She saluted and tromped down the steps, the coins jingling in her trouser pocket.
“Watkins! Cook’s boy!”
The last sail secured and the last line coiled away, the men of the Merry Widow stormed off the plank and boisterously shambled to the market district. The sun was starting to wane into late afternoon as Eliza followed a few steps behind. Her newly acquired boots clumped on the wood pier, making her self-conscious at the sound.
The eyes of others watching her made her feel out of place among the crewmen. She could read passersby’s thoughts, especially the women in their hoop skirts and bonnets while she plodded past in her men’s pants. Who was this ragged, unkempt girl that traveled with vagabond sailors?
Her first thought was to find a postmaster to mail her mother, but she wasn’t about to send coins. Maybe someone could trade for some sterling notes. Then, she passed by a tailor shop, where several lovely blouses hung in the window. Desire overcame responsibility and she plodded inside to see.
An austere older man in an elegant frock coat and powdered wig looked up from his counter. He sneered like he’d just stepped in something as he looked her over. He pulled up a pair of spectacles that hung on a strand to get a better look at her. “Young lady, did you not read the sign?”
She glanced up at a “Deliveries in Back” notice by the door.. He went back to sorting swatches.
“I had intended to be a customer, sir.”
He looked up at her again. The sneer actually grew.
“Young woman,” he pronounced, “I am a producer of elegant finery. At least have the decency to bathe before asking me to try my wears on your body. You reek of a fish monger.”
Eliza blinked. Then, caught a glance of herself in a wall mirror. She sniffed a little. Her patched blouse smelled of the sea, but it was a smell she liked. Fish monger, indeed. Still, she relented and nodded.
“I will return then on the morrow.”
He gave her a dismissing wave. Indignant, she drew out the coin pouch from her pocket.
“When I return, I will be willing to part with some of these. I do hope service is more accommodating.”
She retreated to a dry wares store, purchasing a bar of lye soap, bath salts, a good brush, stockings, assorted oils and a small bag to carry it all. After months of being on the move, at sea or simply struggling to see the next day, all of it seemed luxurious and made her feel feminine again.
In a small boarding house room, she laid out her wares and set to work filling a wash basin with trips to a well. First, her old trousers and blouse got a wash; then herself. With the basin nearly filled, Eliza took an awkward bath in the small wash tub while her clothes hung off the fireplace mantle.
That posh fop, she thought. She wanted to show him she deserved his so-called finery. Every tangle she tore through with the hair brush convinced Eliza that she not some silly girl playing sailor nor was she to be thought of as a dirty fish wife. She worked for respect and now she would dress for respect, too.
The Royal Anchor was alive and well as the bell tolled ten. Sailors, locals and serving girls cavorted, drank, and danced about the ale house as a cluster of musicians beat a lively tune. At large round table, some of the Merry Widow crew had gathered, including Captain Hardwicke. Mr. Smith toasted his captain and then leaned to whisper.
“How’d we do sir… on the haul?”
“Not as well as I’d hoped but we’ll have more than enough to sponsor our next trip out. The mates will all see their shares, I promise you.”
To that, Smith clanged his stein into Hardwicke’s and they took long drinks. Smith slammed down his empty mug and looked about.
“Service!” he shouted, “Not sure what’s worse, the speed of these wenches or the lack of a true beauty.”
“Must you be in such a terrible rush to get us ejected.” Hardwicke laughed.
“Man wants a drink,” Smith replied, “And he wants it now! You there! Wench!”
He pointed a thick finger across the room. Charles’ eyes followed. A young woman was making her way through the tavern chaos. She was tall, with wheat-golden blonde hair; braided and tied with a ribbon. Her bright green eyes and passing smile gave off an aura. Even in the same patched blouse and trousers, it took several moments for them to recognize Able Seaman Creststeel until she was almost upon them.
“Am I late?” she asked.
“You’re only a few rounds behind us, but you can buy the next to keep us going,” Charles smirked.
Smith nudged Taggart's elbow to make room. Eliza plopped onto the bench and banged the table for a drink. She was quite comfortable in a drinking house and it seemed to please her compatriots that she wasn't shy about ordering drinks, throwing down ale or bellowing a shanty with the rest of them.
Caught up in the revelry deep into her first night in port, she found herself doing a jig on the wobbly oak table; their one-eyed cook matching her step for step. They bumped hips and she toppled. On reflex, Hardwicke leaped up from his seat and tried to catch the drunken Eliza. He succeeded in breaking her fall, but the two landed on the floor in a heap.
“Easy, mate,” he chuckled, “You don't have your land legs back yet.”
She blushed as he grunted and pulled himself up.
“It's these boots,” she slurred and kicked her leg up to show him, “My feet haven't trained them yet.”
They shared an honest laugh and he hauled her to standing. They paused there. Then, he realized he'd been gazing too long. But, Eliza's eyes were fuzzy. She leaned against him, waiting for them to focus.
“You may have to hold me up... captain.”
He nodded and took the last pull on his mug.
“Well, if I must... then you will dance with me now, seaman Creststeel.”
She gave an exaggerated nod; loose strands from her blonde tresses whipping back and forth.
“Aye, aye sir...”
Their intoxication fueled dance swung from non-rhythmic stomps to clinches, to hold each other up. Finally, they settled into a slow sway. Dreamily, she pulled her head off his shoulder and looked at him.
“A sailor… a fighter… and now a dancer,” he said, “You continue to surprise.”
In the swirl of light, swell of music and warm sensation of drink, something stirred in her. But, then a grumble in her stomach made Eliza realize it might have been something else.
“Permission to vomit, captain?”
“Belay that,” Charles said, a little concern slipping into his stupor. Taking her by the hand, he escorted her like a nanny out the back door into the cobblestone alleyway.
Two sodden sailors stumbled up the back stairs at the Royal Arms boarding house in the wee hours of the morning. They shuffled and laughed and snorted their breath as they finally reached the top.
“This is mine,” Eliza said and patted the door.
“The last two were yours too,” Charles replied, trying to make out the room number. “That Samoan downstairs did not seem too pleased getting such a wake up call.”
The memory of the incident just moments ago made her giggle. She took out her key, turned the lock and they fell into the room as the door swung open.
Light and sound stabbed into Eliza’s brain and she grimaced. Her head was throbbing and she pressed her eyes shut hard. She blindly fumbled around and her fingers latched onto a pillow. Turning her face to block the glare, she rolled away from the window.
“Good morning,” a low voice said.
Even hung-over, it jolted her. Eliza sat bolt upright. She was in her boarding house bed, but still fully dressed and smelling of rum and smoke. The odor made her dry heave. Across the small room, Charles Hardwicke was sitting languidly on a lounge chair – the only other furniture in the room besides a night stand. He had a blanket draped over himself, but he too was still fully dressed from last night.
“Oh… dear Lord,” she moaned and flopped back on the bed, mortified.
“Are you quite all right?’
“Quite. I’ve made a proper fool of myself,” she said with a groan. “Did I… throw myself at you?”
“You fell off the table. Not quite the same as throwing. For the second time since we’ve met, I was a complete gentleman. God strike me dead if I weren’t. But, I do not think I can manage a third.”
“No harm in a little foolery. But, I should go,” he said and fought his way off the chair and gathered his hat and coat. “Ship needs provisions and I am very sure Mr. Smith will be hunting for me.”
Eliza rolled out of the worn bed and intercepted him at the door. She leaned up and kissed him. Startled at first, he slipped and arm around her and they held there a moment.
“You have an uncanny ability to make me act foolish, Captain.”
I know I never finished my narrative version of this tale, but there's a reason.
A few years back - before Pirates Online closed, I was writing a couple of screenplays and TV pilot concepts.
The 4th Pirates movie was in production at the time and it struck me that a series could find some life because rumors were circulating that Black Sails was going into production and several other production companies were considering a pirate TV series. I was hoping Disney and Bruckheimer might be open to the idea.
I formulated a weekly action drama set in the Pirates universe but would not have the main characters, but instead focus on minor characters and a collection of n'er do wells living on Tortuga. It would combine elements from the films and the game. And to top it all, player characters from the game would feature in some episodes in the forms of myths and legends.
Laying out a pilot, I based a story on this tale, since it was fairly far along. I contacted several people at Disney Digital and Disney Interactive. They listened to the pitch and I got permission to put together a pilot and send it to them. Sad to say, I assume now that they likely knew the game's days were numbered and that Disney shutting down most of their Interactive division.
Whether they were just stringing me along or not, I don't regret writing it and you can find out how Eliza's tale ended. Here is