The next day the Captain took it upon himself to introduce me to each man in his crew. He told me that he thought it would help the men see that I was not some evil magical creature, and just a beautiful young lady who was lost in the Caribbean. Pirates already thought it was bad luck to have a woman on a ship, we needed the men to trust me and respect me if I wanted to have a safe journey with them in a few days when we leave the island.
Captain Tucker led me to a group of about seven men. The group stared wearily at me as I approached with my hand in the Captains arm.
“Good morning, men. I trust you all enjoyed your festivities last night?”, the Captain spoke, and each man nodded their good morning to him.
“May I present to you our new friend, Miss Coraline Ashton.”, he said to the group then went around to each man and introduced them to me with their name and positions.
After the introductions the Captain would always speak of my father, “Miss Ashton is the daughter of Captain Oliver Phineas Ashton. A great man, he was also named as my Godfather.”
The men would stare wide eyed back and forth between me and the Captain, and I could feel each man start to trust me more just knowing this information.
I studied each man as they were introduced to me. It was clear that the crew was made up with a large mix of different men from nations all over the world. There were men from South America, Africa, Asia, and Egypt. But there were also various men from Europe; Spain, French, German, and even a man who claimed to be a Viking from the North. There were a lot of men from the British Empire, which was lucky for me since it meant the main language spoken was English.
Once the ice was broken between myself and the crew, I started to engage in conversations with them. Many of them were quite respectful and kind towards me. There were still some who were weary of me, but they seemed to be more fearful and I didn’t think they would take any opportunities to hurt me.
I was sitting on the beach with a group of men who were comparing stories of beasts and animals in different parts of the world. Some of the places these men have seen were truly incredible. Their tales and descriptions of these foreign lands made me long to be able to see the rest of the world and the people and things living in it.
We were interrupted by the Captain approaching with a tall and dark-skinned man next to him, “Hello Miss Ashton, I hope I am not interrupting you.”
I smiled up at him and shook my head slightly, “Not at all Captain Tucker, please join us.”, I motioned to an open spot on the sand in our circle.
The two newcomers took a seat and the Captain spoke, “Miss Ashton, may I introduce my First Mate and closest friend, Lekan. Lekan, this is Miss Coraline Ashton.”
Lekan had deep dark brown skin. His shoulders were broad, and he looked like a mighty warrior. His face was wide with large wide lips and a flat wide nose. His hair a deep brown color and braided in long strands that went past his shoulders. When Lekan spoke, I could hear his very thick African accent, though he spoke English perfectly. His voice was abnormally deep and strong, but it held a wise and friendly tone.
“It is good to meet Miss Coraline.”, Lekan said and nodded his head towards me. He was studying my features closely, similar to how the Captain was the night before.
Captain Tucker spoke, “Miss Ashton, Lekan has agreed to provide you advice to properly care for your hair in this humid climate.”
My eyebrows shot up on my forehead. This was the man who he said had similar hair to mine? I looked back to Lekan. His hair was in thick round braids and was almost black in color, why would the captain say that our hair was similar? Why would my hair be similar to that of a man from West Africa?
Captain Tucker must have seen the confusion on my face, he added, “When Lekan has his hair out of his braids, I assure you Miss Ashton, its is the exact same poofy texture that yours is now. As it is with most men and woman from West Africa.”
My mouth dropped open at the shock of his words. Is this true? My hair texture was the same as those with African blood. I didn’t know what that meant. But I always knew that I contained different traits from normal woman of my nation. The confusion was starting to make my head hurt. What did this mean?
Lekan interrupted my thoughts when he spoke, “Lekan will be happy to help Miss Coraline, Miss Jatau.”
Jatau? Did I hear him correctly? I had no idea what the word meant, but I decided to let it go. I had to admit that I was intrigued. I really did like the way that the braids looked in Lekan’s hair. They looked neat and manageable and they weren’t a giant tangled mess on top of his head. It wasn’t a very noble or ladylike look I had to admit, but I didn’t care. Anything that could make my hair more manageable and less frustrating would be helping me for the better. Besides, who did I have to impress besides myself? My eyes roamed to Captain Tucker for some reason.
Lekan stood and held out his hand towards me, “Would Miss Caroline allow Lekan to touch her hair? Braiding will take an hour or more.”
I took his hand and let him help me stand. He was going to braid my hair? I had never had a man touch my head or my hair before. Then and there I decided that if I was going to be in the presence of pirates, I had to let go of all the formalities of the English ways. I was on my own now, I was no longer a lady of the British Empire. Everything I had known and loved had been taken from me. And I didn’t want to go back to the life of a dainty lady. I would find my own path.
I nodded to Lekan and let him lead me to a chair that he had set up on the beach facing the ocean. He applied a sweet oil to his hands and rubbed it in to my scalp and hair. I had to admit, it was quite a relaxing sensation. The oil helped him easily untangle my knots with a wide toothed comb. Before he started the braids he warned me that it would hurt my scalp and to let him know if I needed to take a rest at any time.
Lekan was right, it was very painful, but I figured that it would all be worth it in the end. I tried my best to sit through the pain. After a few minutes Captain Tucker brought me a goblet filled with a sweet-scented spiced wine.
“For you Miss Ashton,”, he said and handed me the goblet, “you look like you are in quite a bit of pain. The wine will help you relax.”
I took the cup from him and brought it up to my lips. I enjoyed the sweet and spicy scent of the red liquid before I let it touch my lips. I had never tasted spirits before, I was a lady of the British Empire after all. The liquid was sweet and bitter all at the same time and left a slight tingling sensation in my throat.
I smiled to the Captain, he was a true gentleman. I couldn’t help but want to learn more about him.
“Please Captain, wont you join us?”, Lekan pulled my hair a bit to work on his next braid and I slightly winced in pain, “I have a feeling that I am going to be here for a while and I would appreciate a distraction.”
Captain Tucker smirked and sank into the sand besides me, “I would love to Miss Ashton.”
“Please call me Cora, Captain Tucker. Miss Ashton feels too formal, considering the circumstances.”, I could feel the wine was giving me more confidence and letting my guard down a little.
Captain Tucker looked directly in my eyes and spoke my name “Cora” with a sensual and smooth voice. It sounded like silk coming out of his lips. I was momentarily lost in his dark green eyes, forgetting where I was or what was going on. But then my hair was pulled my Lekan and the sensitivity brought me back into reality.
“Well Cora. When we are in front of my crew, please call me Captain Phin or Captain Tucker. But, when we are alone, you may call me Phineas.”, he said with his eyes still burning into mine.
I took in a quick breath. When we were alone? Why would we ever be alone? The notion sounded so intimate, I felt my cheeks starting to flush.
“Y-yes Captain Tucker, thank you.”, was all I was able to spit out. I turned back towards my cup and took a sip of the wine for a distraction.
He was still staring at me, and I was starting to feel uncomfortably hot under his gaze. Though the sun beating down on us was not helping either. It was mid-day and the sun was high in the middle of the sky. The heat made me thirsty and my cup was soon empty. I could feel the effects of the wine starting to creep over my body. My head felt lighter and a little dizzy, but I felt happy and content. The pain of Lekan braiding my hair was a lot more tolerable than it had been just a half hour before.
Captain Tucker noticed that the wine was starting to relax my mind, and he started to push questions on me, “So Cora,” he had my attention, “where would you like me to take you when we leave the island? Where were you headed before your shipwreck?”
I promised myself that I would be completely honest with him and honest with myself, “My father was taking me to Barbados. He purchased a sugar plantation.”, I could feel Lekan tense behind me. Plantations were, after all, worked by slaves. I felt my heart sink, I hope I hadn’t offended the man who literally held my hair in his hands right at that moment.
I decided to share my father’s true intentions behind the plantation, “M-my father wanted to help African men and women make wages and create lives for them and their families. He wanted to help them. But I don’t think I can take on his dream without him here. As much as I understand that he wanted to help these people, I could never myself own any human being.”
I could feel Lekan relax behind me, my response must have been acceptable for him. But it was true. I could never own slaves, I could never own humans. I would never be able to run a sugar plantation with slaves.
Captain Tucker looked both surprised and pleased with my answer. He clasped his hands together and set them down in his lap. I noticed that he had a couple rings on his fingers; one was gold with a bright green emerald and was on the middle finger of his left hand, the other was fully made of a light blue clouded stone. I had never seen a material like that before.
“If you do not want to go to the plantation in Barbados, then where will you go?”, Captain Tucker asked clearly.
I looked out to the sea and watched the sunlight glinting off the waves. It looked similar to fire dancing in the refection in Captain Tuckers eyes. As I watched the waves crashing along the shore I felt like the ocean was calling out to me. It was telling me that I was free to do whatever I wanted with my future, that as long as I had the sea I would be home. For the first time in my life I was uncertain of where I would go or do with my life, and at the same time it felt like it was where I was mean to be. I was meant to follow the unknown.
I turned back towards the Captain and replied, “I don’t know. But I know that as long as I am close to the sea that I will be home.”
Captain Tucker looked at me with large eyes and his mouth hanging open. He was too shocked to speak.
Lekan spoke instead, “Miss Jatau sounds like pirate.”
Captain Tucker let out a deep laugh, dimples sinking deep into his cheeks forming a smile that went into his eyes, “Aye, that she does.”