The world lurched beneath me and my head slammed into something hard. I moaned and opened my eyes a crack. The world was mostly dark, with a single flickering source of light at the end of what looked like a long tunnel.
Rows of people lined either side of the tunnel – men, sitting on benches two by two and swaying in sync with one another. Behind me, a beating sound pounded into my head, a slow, persistent thump. Thump. Thump.
I moaned again and was suddenly jerked up into a seated position. “Row!” yelled a rough voice, right in my ear.
Stars still blinked before my eyes and I sat there dumbly.
“I said, row!” A fist collided with the back of my head and I woke myself up enough to grab the piece of wood rotating in front of me and copy the man next to me. Push, pull, push, pull.
What was I doing here? And where was here? I asked the slave beside me – for slave he was – and received a strange look in return. “You’re in the galley, Captain Shores,” he whispered.
I had deduced that I was in some sort of a ship by now, but didn’t understand why the man would be calling me Captain. “Why do you address me like that? I may not know where I am, but I am clearly no captain!”
Push, pull, push, pull. I realized now, that the rowing was in time to the thumping of what must have been a large drum.
“Sir, you are the captain of this ship, the Golden Shark. Your first mate organized mutiny last night and your men confined you to the galley. You must have hit your head…or had it hit for you.”
“The Golden Shark…” I paused in my rowing, the words bringing back flashes of memory. “My first mate…George?”
“That’s right, sir.”
It all came back. The darkness of the night on which George Mullins chose to lead my own men in attacking me. The struggle to fight them off, the cries for any of my men – any at all – to aid me.
And all over some cinnamon.
The Golden Shark was one of the Queen’s navy ships, charged with finding a quicker route to the Spice Islands and bringing back enough spices to make investors and the royal family quite wealthy. Of course, as captain of this ship, I was to receive a considerable percentage of whatever we managed to bring back to England with us. All George needed to do was claim that I drowned at sea or broke the law and tried to take all the riches for myself, turning pirate, and he would be lauded and paid – well paid.
I looked to the man sitting next to me. Galley slaves. All of them. And now I joined them, rowing and rowing, chained to the ship by my ankle, a man with a whip at my back. I must regain my ship.
But would they aid me? Me, who enforced the court’s sentence of slavery for however many years befitted their crime? There was only one way to find out.
“What is your name?”
The slave gave me a sideways glance. “Michael, sir.”
“How much longer are you sentenced to the galley, Michael?”
“Seven years, sir.”
“I assume the others have similar sentences?”
“I’m sure they do, sir. Some shorter, some longer.”
“And do you think they would aid me in regaining control of this ship if I offered them their freedom?”
Michael turned to face me as well as he could without letting go of the long oar. “Doubtless, sir.”
To be continued…