A seagull shrieked and soared in the air above the London docks. In the docks a privateer’s ship bustled with activity as sailors shouted orders and hauled crates up the gangplank. A steady stream of merchants and businessmen flowed in and out of the streets near the docks, but all shunned the dark alleys in between the narrow buildings. In the dark recesses of one of these alleys, a tense scene unfolded.
“Come on, precious. Just once.” The constable pushed his sweat-soaked hat back over his forehead and leaned forward with a greedy leer.
The girl stood her ground and stared firmly into his bloodshot eyes. “Go back to your mum and have her wash out that filthy mouth of yours.” She replied crisply and turning on her heel, strode towards the opening of the alley.
The constable’s greasy fingers wrapped around her upper arm and yanked her back. He opened his mouth to say something but her fist slammed into his jaw, quite effectively silencing him for the moment. The girl shook off his grasp and walked away briskly.
“Thief! Catch her!” The constable had found his voice. “Thief!” He bellowed again and started running after her, his hand nursing his injured jaw.
“Oh bother.” The girl rolled her eyes and broke into a run. She dodged another constable as he rounded the corner and her pace quickened.
“She’s headed for the docks!” The first constable hollered then collided with the second constable.
A burly sailor that was pulling up the gangplank on the ship looked up as footsteps pounded down the dock. A girl in a tattered grey dress sped across the wooden planking and the constables careened down the dock in hot pursuit.
“Jump!” The sailor commanded as she neared the end of the dock. She looked at him with wide hazel eyes, then down at the churning water, and quickly decided. Without hesitation, the girl jumped across the widening gap between the dock and ship and she crashed into the side of the ship. Her hands found a rope and she gripped it convulsively. The gangplank clattered on the deck as the sailor’s fingers wrapped around her arms and pulled her onto the deck of the ship.
“Casting off!” Another sailor shouted and ropes slid off the edge of the dock.
The girl grabbed the railing to steady herself and caught her breath as she glimpsed the two constables on the dock shaking their fists after her. The ship lurched, then slid smoothly away from the dock.
“What’s this?” Boots thumped down the stairs leading to the upper deck.
The girl turned her head and gazed at the questioner. The captain stared back at her with clear blue eyes. His face was creased and tanned but kind. A faded navy coat with brass buttons stretched over his broad shoulders. “Dan, explain yourself.” His voice was commanding with the slightest hint of amusement.
The burly sailor stepped forward and swept his blond hair out of his eyes. “Captain Dante, she was runnin’ from the…”
“No.” The girl cut him off and stepped forward. “Sir, I was fleeing from a miserable excuse for a constable. He had insulted me and would not let me go. I had nowhere else to run except for the docks. And if you set me back on the dock and into the hands of that vile constable, I hope my fate haunts your dreams.” Her tone was not sarcastic in the least as she let go of the railing and stood up straight.
The amusement in Captain Dante’s eyes deepened as he surveyed her. “Ah, I see. And what do you suggest we do with her, Dan?” He turned to the sailor standing next to the girl.
“Captain, I’ve seen her before on the streets. She can work hard and is good at fightin’.” Dan smiled as he remembered the darkening bruise on the worthy constable’s jaw.
“This is highly unconventional.” The captain remarked, then smiled. “What say you? Have you any family to wonder at your disappearance?” He turned back to the girl.
“Sir…” She smiled slightly. “I take adventure as it comes. As for my family, I cannot remember any strings holding me back to London.”
The crew had now gathered on the deck and all gawked at the newcomer. She gazed at the captain, ignoring all the stares.
“What is your name, youngster?” Dante’s voice dropped into curiosity.
“On the streets I was given the name of Lyric, sir. I know no other.” Lyric flicked a loose strand of dark hair over her shoulder. “I’m sixteen.”
“Aha…” The captain mused, rubbing his chin. “Can you shoot a pistol?”
“My aim is sharp, sir. But I have never handled a pistol before.” Lyric confessed, her voice dropping a bit.
“Hmm I see. Dan, see to it that she gets training every day, and that she gets a proper suit of clothes on.” Dante turned away and strode off towards the upper deck, the crew dispersing behind him.
Lyric turned to Dan. “I must say I’m grateful to you. I shall return the favor as soon as I can.”
Dan shook his head. “I should know enough by now to not underestimate you. Come, let’s get ‘proper’ clothes on you.” He walked towards the captain’s cabin. “You’re about the same size as the cabin boy. You can share clothes with him.” He held the door open for her and she walked into the spacious cabin. Dan rummaged through a dilapidated sea chest as she inspected the captain’s desk. A glimmering golden piece caught her eye.
“Spanish doubloons?” She inquired, leaning in closer for a better look at the heavy coins.
“Ah, our latest catch. We captured a Spanish galleon and the captain saved a few coins as a souvenir. We’re goin’ out to raid more on this voyage.” Dan closed the chest and dumped a pile of fabric into Lyric’s arms. “You’ll have to make them last. The captain isn’t in favor of his crew members wearin’ dresses, male or female.”
A few minutes later Lyric emerged from the cabin. “I dare say this is better than a dress.” She remarked. Dan nodded in approval. Her new attire consisted of a loose white blouse tucked into dark trousers and her own black lace-up boots.
“As long as you keep your hair up and refrain from actin’ prissy, the crew won’t mind you.” Dan cautioned.
“I think I can manage.” Lyric smiled.
Later that evening, as dusk twinkled its way across the sky and the stars appeared, Dan instructed Lyric on how to oil the helm. She rubbed the cloth on the gears and watched the polished wood gleam in the candlelight.
“Aye, that’s good. This’ll be one of your jobs, and you’ll have to grease the wheel as often as twice a month.” Dan leaned against the railing and gazed at the night sky.
The rag’s motion slowed as Lyric looked up at the sailor. “Dan, I’m curious. Why did you tell me to jump on the ship? I thought sailors didn’t like having women on board.”
“You don’t qualify as a woman yet, lass.” Dan grinned, then his face became serious. “To be truthful, you can be a great help to the captain, and not just practically speakin’. You see, the captain wanted to bring his niece on this voyage, but she became sick and started coughin’ up blood… I reckoned you are her replacement. That’s why the captain let you stay.”
“The captain’s niece on a privateer’s ship? How unconventional.” Lyric said lightly and knelt to grease underneath the wheel.
“Well, you see, as a privateer the captain is already above the rules in a way. His nephew is the cabin boy, and we aren’t necessarily soldiers either. I’m thinking you’re runnin’ low on that oil. I’ll bring you some more.” Dan pushed himself off the railing and strode down the stairs to the main deck.
Lyric hummed a tune from a popular play and craned her head to reach further down the spokes of the helm.
“I say, those trousers look familiar.” An unknown voice teased.
The rag slipped from Lyric’s hand as she spun about. She relaxed as she saw a boyish figure leaning against the railing underneath the lantern. The golden light spilled on his shoulders, illuminating dark hair and teasing blue eyes.
“You must be the cabin boy.” Lyric bent down to retrieve her rag.
“Yes, that’s me. I’m Harper.” The boy walked forward and rested his hand on the helm. “And you must the new crew member everybody’s jawing about. You leapt aboard the ship as we were casting off?” Harper’s tone was dubious.
Lyric laughed easily. “Yes, I jumped. I was running from the constable, you see.”
“Ah.” Harper nodded in mock gravity. “A very profitable pastime. I remember doing it once or twice as well…”
“I’ve learned, however,” Lyric leaned her chin on her hand studiously. “That the outcome is not necessarily foreseen, so I have decided to refrain from running away from constables after this point.”
Harper grinned. “Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit…” He began.
“But the highest form of intelligence.” Lyric finished, and they laughed together.
“I’m told to teach you how to climb the ropes tomorrow.” Harper commented. “I hope you don’t get seasick. I’ve done more than my fair share of cleaning the deck.”
“No fear.” Lyric replied. “I’m sure your trousers will make an excellent mop.”
Moonlight glinted off the tumbling sea, and Harper drank in the beauty of his world. It was two weeks into their voyage, and to him it seemed as though this was his best voyage yet. This was his home. And the newest addition to his world had turned out to be quite enjoyable. He smiled as he remembered the argument that had erupted between him and Lyric about seasickness. His thoughts wandered and traveled far beyond the misty moonlit clouds. The soft sound of padding footsteps visited his reverie and a small white hand gripped the railing next to him.
Lyric’s dark hair shone in the moonlight, but the tranquility of the night did not reach her. After a few moments of silence, she spoke. “I had a nightmare.” She said simply, as an explanation of her midnight walking.
Harper gazed at the horizon and didn’t say anything. His silence was encouraging, so Lyric continued.
“I always had the most irrational fear of drowning. This dream was chilling. The thrashing, the churning, the panic that rose in my chest…” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think, I could only feel the overwhelming fear.”
“You don’t drown by falling in the water…” Harper’s voice was quiet.
Lyric sighed. “You drown by staying there.” She looked glum. “It’s so paralyzing though. I feel like I’ve lost before I even started fighting.”
“But you jumped the gap between dock and ship, didn’t you. You put your fear aside and focused on what had to be done.” Harper turned to look at her. “Hope and courage. The two strongest weapons in the world.” He smiled faintly.
Confusion blotted on Lyric’s face. “Where does hope come in?”
“Without hope, all effort is pointless.” Harper rested his chin on his hands and stared at the alluring horizon. “Hope is some extraordinary spiritual grace that God gives us to control our fears, not to oust them.”
Lyric understood, but said nothing. Together, they watched the galaxy strains drift across the velvet expanse, and the power within the stars worked its way into their hearts.
“Ouch!” Lyric exclaimed as she jumped and glared at the huge needle in her hand, then at the bright drop of blood on her thumb, then at Harper. “Don’t do that!” She said and waved her needle at him threateningly.
“Put down that oversized knitting needle and come over here.” Harper replied.
Lyric squinted at his face. “You’re grinning. I don’t trust you.”
“Oh come on. This is better than patching up old sails.” Harper pointed contemptuously at the fabric in her hands.
“What’s better?” Lyric questioned, setting down the needle and pushing herself to her feet, walked over to him. She dubiously surveyed the jar in his hands.
“We have a tradition that any food the captain doesn’t eat within the first month of the voyage goes to the cabin boys. That’s us.”
A heavy tarnished spoon dropped into Lyric’s hand and Harper, depositing himself underneath the shade of the sail, pried the lid off the jar. Lyric recognized the ruby color of raspberry jam and eagerly joined Harper under the sail. “I just realized that I haven’t had anything sweet since we left London.” She commented.
The first spoonful was definitely sweet. In fact, it seemed overly-sweet. “It warms the back of my throat.” Lyric remarked hesitantly.
Harper didn’t seem to mind that much. “It’s certainly unlike any other jam I’ve tasted.” He assented. “But it goes down smoothly. I’ll have to ask my aunt what she put in it; this is a good recipe.”
“Don’t hog it all!” Lyric protested as they squabbled over the last spoonful. The tiff ended with Harper reluctantly yielding the last of the jam to Lyric.
As she polished off the spoons, Harper yawned and stretched out on the deck. “Lyric, could you take that stuff back to the kitchen for me?”
“I’m not your waiter…” Lyric grumbled as she picked up the jar and stood up. The deck spun about and Lyric wavered as an avalanche of headache crashed on her head. “Harper, are you sure this was jam?” Lyric muttered as she turned to look at the prostrate cabin boy. He was snoring.
Lyric groaned inwardly as she descended the stairs to the kitchen. The jar and spoons clattered into the washtub and the cook didn’t look up. The oppressing noise echoed and clanged inside of Lyric’s head as she tried to climb back up the stairs, but her legs wouldn’t cooperate. The stairs levitated, wobbled, they were falling…
Lyric sprawled out on the stairs, snoring as soundly as Harper.
While the two teenagers slept, the waves that slapped the side of the boat grew in size as the wind began to whip around the sails. The patch that Lyric never finished ripped off in the wild wind, and the sound woke Harper. He scrambled out from under the sail and faced a darkening sky.
“Galleon approaching, Captain!” One of the sailors yelled.
A loose rope whistled past Harper’s face and he quickly arrested its motion, then secured the main sail to the foremast.
“Wind is at 40 knots!”
“Release the smaller sails!”
Harper shook off his lingering headache and went about untying the knots that held the small sails taut. Thunder reverberated in the distance. Where’s Lyric? Harper wondered. The sensation of the ropes burning his fingers was forgotten as rain began to pelt his face.
Lyric gripped the railing and rose unsteadily. The turbulent rocking of the ship added to her already wobbly balance. She looked up groggily as Harper clattered down the stairs and almost collided with her.
“Quick, up on deck! We’re being attacked by a Spanish galleon!” He pulled her, stumbling, up the stairs. Lyric shook off his hand and climbed the stairs herself. When they reached the deck, a pistol, powder horn and bullet pouch was shoved into her hands. As Lyric looked at them, the ache in her head cleared. This was battle.
“Come on!” Harper urged her, and they dashed towards the railing and crouched behind it. “Load them how I taught you last week.” He commanded, and pulled out his own pistol.
A shudder traveled through the ship as the first of the cannons was fired. The approaching galleon responded quickly, and the fight ensued. Harper squeezed off two bullets at the small dark figures on the deck of the galleon. One clutched at his chest and fell.
Lyric heard men screaming and saw the wind lash at the ropes and sails, she felt the rain wet her face. The pistol was cold, and her fingers trembled slightly as she opened the powder horn. She shielded the gunpowder from the falling rain and quickly loaded the pistol. The haze of gathering smoke stung her eyes, and roar of the cannons rang in her ears.
“Engage hand-to-hand!” Dante commanded, standing firm upon the deck while drawing his gleaming sword. A line of poetry ran through Lyric’s mind as she stared at the courageous captain. Cowards die many times before their deaths. The valiant never taste of death but once.
“Lyric!” Harper yelled, his voice now far away.
Lyric looked around with a jolt, then stifled a scream as a rough hand wrapped around her arm and yanked her to her feet. The pistol tumbled out of her lap. “No!” Lyric screamed, kicking at the dark man towing her across the deck. “Harper!” Lyric’s call was frantic as she struggled with her captor.
The Spanish sailor yelped when Lyric realized she still carried her knife in her pocket. The fading sun glinted off the knife and blood spattered on the planking that crossed the battling ships, but still the sailor did not release her. When Lyric raised her knife again, she found her wrist burning as the knife plummeted into the water. Searing pain traveled up her arm as the sailor gave her wrist a vicious twist. A snapping sensation made Lyric dizzy with pain and the smoke and cannons swirled around her.
Fighting for breath, Lyric balled up her left hand, but never found a chance to use her fist. With a mighty shove from the sailor, her body thudded to the galleon’s deck and fell limp.
“Twelve dead and eight injured, sir.” Dan stood stiffly, his white shirt now flecked with crimson.
“We’re missing one.” Captain Dante’s eyes swept coolly over the deck while he bound up a slash in his arm.
Beside him, Harper paled. “They took Lyric.”
Grimness descended on Dante’s face. “God forgive me for dragging a girl into this bloody life.”
“Uncle, we must get her back.” Harper gripped his sword.
“No fear, Harper.” The captain’s jaw tightened almost imperceptibly. “No Spanish galleon has escaped me before. We shall pursue. Set course due South!”
Hazy darkness clouded Lyric’s eyes when she awoke. She coughed slightly and pain constricted her ribs. Trying to lift her hand, she realized that her fingers wouldn’t cooperate. A burning sensation emanated from her right wrist, shot through with sharp pangs. Lyric drew in a breath suddenly as she recalled the snapping sound that was the last thing she had heard before falling. A wind of desolation blew over her spirit, but she valiantly shook it off.
Using her left arm, Lyric struggled to a sitting position and looked around. She wasn’t in a cell, thank goodness, but in a small bare room with a narrow door. Slowly, painfully, Lyric stood up and reached for the doorknob. It would not yield, but neither would Lyric’s determination. She pressed her ear against the door and strained to listen.
“No sign of pursuit, sir.” The voice was faint.
“Excellent,” a thick Spanish accent responded. “Pedro, set course for the motherland. We have once again escaped the English dogs.” The voice moved further away. “That dark-haired beauty you nabbed shall fetch a handsome sum at the wharf, Jose…”
Something dark seemed to slink underneath the door, spreading across the planking and reaching out cold arms to the girl leaning against the door. She shrank back, feeling the dark coldness. Lyric stumbled against the wall, then sank to the floor. Her soul recoiled from the dark, but a part of her welcomed it. The room darkened, twisted, became hazy.
“I will indulge my sorrows, and give way to all the pangs and fury of despair.” Lyric didn’t recognize her own voice. Her vision dimmed, but in her spinning thoughts she saw herself standing on the auction block. Her head hung low as leering men bid for her, the foreign goods. Disgrace, without an image but the word, flashed before her again and again.
“No no no…” Lyric whimpered and uncontrollable panic seized her momentarily. She could not bear the thought of eternal separation from all she loved. Her heart began to pound in her chest and her right hand throbbed. The terror she felt was akin to drowning, except this darkness was ever so much worse than suffocating in a watery grave. With her left hand she tried to shut out the noise, the fear, but she could not escape.
“Oh God, save me!” She gasped desperately. The fear shrank back, and only then did Lyric realize that hot tears were coursing down her face. A lost child’s sob broke from her, and her shoulders heaved, but something had changed. The darkness slithered back to where it came from, and the despair released its bonds on her soul. She gulped in air and her breathing slowed it’s frantic pace. Only then did she look up, and see the writing on the wall.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The words were carved into the wooden planking above the door. Lyric stared in astonishment at first, and then Harper’s words came back to her, the words he spoke on that star-driven night. “Hope is some extraordinary spiritual grace that God gives us to control our fears, not to oust them.”
Something very much like illumination dawned upon her. It was as if a fresh breeze had entered her prison and brought life. Lyric tried to think cohesively, but the sleep that came was inexorable, and soon she yielded. This was not the fitful inebriated sleep of earlier, but a deep sleep blessedly free of dreams.
Wood splintered. Light streamed through the door. The boy shielded his eyes and peered into the dark room, then he saw her curled up in the corner. “Lyric?” He called quietly.
Certainly that’s not his voice. Lyric’s eyes refused to open. She didn’t want to wake up, to be dragged from her blissful oblivion. The waking would be a cruel mockery, and Harper would not be there.
We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.
 Oscar Wilde
 Edwin Louis Cole
 Vincent McNabb
 William Shakespeare
 Joseph Addison
 Romans 15:13
 Vincent McNabb
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