11,041 vagabonds plus:
tale of long ago, part II
tale of long ago.....I will tell you now....
I will tell you now. You are here, I am glad. And there is the infamous mask upon the wall. Did you bring spirits? I am dry. Would you like a smoke? Sit down. No. Here, by the fire, aye.
The ruck sack you carry reminds me. She pried diamonds off her tiara and gave them to my men that rowed below. One each. A diamond - worth a King's ransom mind you - tins of beef, a compass, clothes if needed. All tucked into a sack and rewarded to men covered in soot and sweat as thanks for her safe return. You don't have a bottle in there, you're sure? Fine fine, well.
We separated once she was home. No diamond for me. Just a firm handshake from that waif, she turned and ran. Remarkable girl. I was ordered to replenish the injured Knightley, and to head South, aye, to war that Spring. The swift seas took us quickly to the shore of African savages. Ugly, horrible battles. Spears were to be no match you would think, but those iron-like points shattered some of my best men and vessel alike. The Knightley splintered and is, I believe, a ghost underwater that guards us all.
Before a second and third ship arrived I regrouped my men into selfless warriors with indomitable courage. They became the savages. Determined and stalwart, fine men. Only one week of fierce battle and we were at the island door of the Black Palace. You should have seen his eyes. Beyond surprise, aye. His final expression as my first mate pierced his heart with one violent swoop. They all cheered. I remember only swallowing hard. Aye, the mask was whisked away. Cushioned in straw, crated, and sent home. Let me relight my pipe.
Two more years at sea. No battles, save for a minor skirmish with desperate pirates from time to time. Pesky, but only hungry, aye. Then, to replenish stores, we returned to Malta for three days. By chance I overheard a conversation about...her. A summer home of her grandfather rises above a tree line. Easy to spot. I took a carriage. He was hard of hearing. Guess he thought I was there as the new horseman. Waved me away to the barn and slammed this huge wooden door in my face. I walked stern and peered into a crystal window.
She had her pinky raised with four or five other ancient women, their pinkies up, sitting at a round table. Small tea cups with a black cake at center. This waif that sliced the head off in battle with pools of blood. Her pinky raised with a child's tea cup at her lips. White gown, her hair still short like the last time, shining black eyes. Absolute 100 proof beauty. I tapped on the window. They all turned, pasty white and baggy-eyed bored. She turned and reddened, eyes downcast. Waved me away like the old guy. I moved away and walked into a shadowed arbor, sat on a bench and waited, just knowing, aye.
'You,' she said, like wind amid the lush trees. And then she was there, in the clearing, her white dress waving in the breeze just like the Knightley's sail. I rose, bowed, and she lowered her nose and was no longer a princess. We sat, opposite ends. I looked at the scar above her left eyebrow. She turned her head purposely so I might get a better view. And she smiled.
'The old man hired me to whisper at horses.'
A call echoed from the house: 'Maria! Mareeeeeeuhhh!'
Maria. All these years. I never knew. It made me shiver in excitement. Maria. She nervously rose, started away, turned back to me hand outstretched. I grasped it to never let go.
It was in the tower. A brilliant room with a bay window view of the world. On the wall. I dropped to one knee, we were still holding hands, and was about to pull her hand to my lips. She took the mask in both hands and lowered it onto my head.
I could hear the sea, or maybe she was laughing.
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