The ship lurched as the anchor released its grip on the ocean floor and wind caught the sails. A few soft moans echoed in the shadows of my new prison, where I’d spent a full day and night since my capture. My stomach moved with the ship as my last thread of hope seemed to fade away with any signs of that familiar shore.
I placed my forehead on my knees and squeezed my eyes closed to stave off the tears that threatened to fall. The clank of a chain preceded a tentative touch on my shoulder.
Gavin didn’t say anything. There was nothing to say in that moment, but I felt bolstered by his presence.
For two days we sailed. The stench of waste and sickness filled the hold. Several times I entertained the thought of kicking through the side of the ship and letting the blessed sea rush in. I would have if it weren’t for the other prisoners. I would not be able to save them all.
But the sea, she is fickle, and often less than compassionate.
I could feel the storm coming long before it hit. One does not spend a lifetime in the sea’s embrace without becoming attuned to her moods. This one promised to be ugly.
Dark clouds obscured the already meager light which filtered through the grate above my head. It did not take long for the clouds to open up and release their heavy burden.
When the rain began to fall I tilted my head upwards and opened my mouth. Water soaked into my skin and ran down my throat. It cleansed my body of the filth and cleansed my soul of its despair.
With the first peal of thunder the boat began to roll as waves swelled. I could hear the shouts from the deck above followed by the fwat-fwat-fwat of bare feet running on wet boards.
Rain began to fall in sheets and salt waves crashed across the upper deck, the remnants spilling into our darkened hold. The other prisoners began to panic as water pooled around our feet.
The ship listed violently to one side. Screams sounded from above punctuated occasionally by the retching of those below.
“Gavin, help me.”
As the ship righted itself I stood, steadying myself with a hand on his shoulder. I moved behind him and quickly placed one foot on his shoulder. He gripped my ankle with one manacled hand.
Before we rolled again, I pushed off his shoulder with the braced foot and simultaneously reached upwards with both hands. My fingers curled around the bars of the grate and I clung with all my strength to the slippery metal.
“O.K., now stand up.”
Weak as he was, lifting the weight of my half-starved body required no great effort. The most difficult part was trying to balance. He spread his feet wide and as he stood, I pushed upward on the grate. Our combined effort accomplished what my mind had been dreaming of for two days.
The small door of our prison flew open, pulling me to one side along with it. I let go in time to grasp the edge as the grate crashed to the deck. I could see the great walls of water surrounding us. Some sailors had tied themselves to posts or railings, others were sliding into the sea. Very few remained.
I pulled my body up onto the deck and then, lying on my stomach, peered back down at Gavin.
“Let’s get them out. I’ll pull while you lift.” I had to yell to be heard over the sound of the storm, but Gavin nodded and began to yell and wave to the other prisoners.
As they moved from the shadows I saw that they were bound hand and foot like Gavin, but they were also chained to each other.
If one went down, we would lose them all.