The day had arrived; I stood again before the Seat of Judgment.
“Lucinda? How many times is this now?” The voice was deep tones of gossamered treacle.
I wasn’t intimidated. No trepidation existed. It was out of respect, a respect as expansive as God’s incredible creations, that I remained chin to chest.
The voice was a loving embrace, a symphony scored to allow a percussion of emotions to sit between the woodwinds and the strings. Perhaps this is what made it hard, that feeling of not meeting expectation, of failure of accomplishment. For me, it was most important to succeed in every way possible.
“I believe thirty-seven, sir.”
He nodded. “Lift your face to me, child. Tell me, did you learn something this time?”
I complied. The sight before me took my breath away… for the thirty-seventh time. How could I forget this every time I went to a new life? It was a garden, a painter’s palate of color, the combination of an ocean sunset, an east-coast fall, an expanse of undersea coral. It was patience, time and life; flowers, birds, songs, incredible beauty that could never fail to lift the spirit to where it should be. In the middle of it all, on a bench, He sat, curiosity and pride etched on His face… just as the last thirty-six times.
“I think I did. I made some mistakes, though… big mistakes.”
He shrugged and nodded. “As you were supposed to. Without mistakes, there is no learning.”
It was my turn to shrug and smile. “Yes, You told me that before. It’s hard to remember once you’re there, though.”
A playful smile made His eyes sparkle, eyes that said more than all the sacred words in His dictionary could ever manage. “Did you have fun? Was this… the best time?”
I chewed on my lip while considering the question. The life I had just finished was fraught with trouble and pain. It had been my choice, I knew, but the challenges had been much more than I had anticipated. “No, it wasn’t fun. I sort of lost the idea of fun. There was a lot of learning to do this time around.” I thought some more. A bench appeared across from Him and I knew to sit down, our knees almost touching. He took my hands, held them, and a wash of intense relief and calm flowed through my body. “It wasn’t as hard as some times have been. Overall, I think we are learning to relax more. I think people are finally starting to understand what You are trying to tell them, but they are still wrapped up in formality and a lot of very unnecessary, and even counterproductive, rules. That was most frustrating, because even though this place and these meetings with You were never available to me there, and I could remember none of it, I could feel it more in my heart. It was very reassuring. I wanted them to feel it too, to feel the true freedom, the trust, the hope, the reason. I could have had more fun, I suppose, but I pretty much stuck to the plan, did what I had to do to help others stick to their plans, and tried to help them remember You were here. Down there, it’s admittedly confusing. There is so much hatred and pain. None of it makes sense. Up here, sitting here, remembering… now I know it was all as it should have been.”
He hung on every word, absorbed it, storing it in His heart. His eyes persisted with the question.
I laughed. It was always like this. This was the look of a puppy waiting to go for a car ride, a child waiting for Christmas morning; excitement, anticipation, and unbridled hope with every breath. He was in everything everywhere, in even the simplest things, and yet that presence, that beauty was almost always missed. I reconsidered my answer. “Yes, this last time it was fun, in spite of it all. How could it not be? Molly, Aria, Geoffrey, myself, and even the The Crazy One have done this so many times before, how could it not be fun with them? It just took us a long time to find each other this time around. The strange thing is, this time, it wasn’t so foreign… it felt so natural, so right. I remembered many more places, people, events…” I chuckled, thinking back to a previous journey, comparing this last journey to my time long ago on the pirate ship. “I remembered more of it from before. I could remember little snips of the other times, little disjointed images or thoughts or people from previous lives. I think others are also doing that more now as well, or maybe it’s just that it was more okay to talk about it this time. I’m not sure. Overall, I think we all worked well together this time. But was this last time the best time? No. What time was the most fun? Hands down, it was when the three of us were together on The Revenge.”
The Article of Piracy had been signed. It wasn’t a hard decision for Mark Read. A life of rules and regulations made by buffoons, or adventure and booty with these hooligans? The question was pondered for only a moment before the mark was applied to the agreement. In reality, the terms of employment with Captain Calico Jack Rackham were much more equitable than anything the navy would ever consider offering. With the stroke of a quill, a matter of a fraction of one second, Mark Read went from sailor to pirate. In that instant, the blood pumped warm in his weathered veins.
As he set down the quill, Calico Jack pulled a cutlass that he then held to Read’s throat. He chuckled as he eyed the sailor. Read remained steadfast, the blade pressing against his skin, his eyes locked with Rackham’s.
The captain laughed, lowered the sword and held it out to Read, blade parallel to the deck. “Ye ready to take the oath?”
There was no reason to hesitate. “Aye, Captain.”
As Read recited the oath, he watched his former shipmates cower along the rail. Simpering fools. They glared at him as he held his head high, reciting the words clearly.
Rackham, too, looked at the human plunder. “Sad focking bunch, they are.”
Rackham’s eyebrow lifted. “Be there any worth keeping?”
Read went to the first man in the row, examined him as a commander would his army, inspecting him. “This one be a carpenter, worth the trouble of keeping him if ye can keep his snout out of the grog.” He passed three more, looking at each, before he stopped again. “This one be shark bait.”
Calico Jack moved closer, an eyebrow arched. “Aye?” He looked the young man over.
“Aye, Sir. His skin be the only thing that matters to him. He would sell ye in a heartbeat.” He smiled at Jack. “Ye could verify that with the last captain, but this one betrayed him. He be floating somewhere with but a bottle of wine and a gun with one shot.”
Jack turned his attention back to Read. “What would ye do if that be yerself put adrift?”
Read smiled. “I’d take me chances on the sharks and the water, and use the one shot on the bastard who ordered me adrift.”
Rackham frowned, but only for a moment. He then laughed and slapped Read across the back. “Remind me, if the need arises, to be sure to stay in me cabin.”
Read continued down the length of the rail, picking out three more men. At the last one, he turned to smile at Rackham. “This one here be one hell of a cook. He be a pain in the ass, but worth it, at least for a while, to keep the men content. He’ll take some coaxing, though, to say an oath.”
Rackham smiled. “Coaxing we do. Would a few licks of the lash loosen his tongue?”
Read nodded. “I said he be a good cook; not a strong nor smart one.”
Calico Jack laughed again then nodded to two of his men. The cook was taken away.
“The rest be not worth yer while.”
Jack nodded then turned to his quartermaster. “Take care of this lot. We’ll not be needin’ ‘em.” He put a hand on Read’s shoulder then turned back to the quartermaster. “We don’t need the trouble of these rejects talking to me friend in Nassau.” His message was clear; blood draining from the line of faces was testament.
“Ye have the call o’ the sea in ye, then, Mark Read?” Calico Jack had a song in his voice and a twinkle in his critical eye. It searched past the uniform, into the soul of the new sailor standing in front of him.
Read could feel it penetrating. He shivered slightly then nodded. “Aye, Sir.”
“Ye didn’t hesitate to take the oath.”
“Captain, there is but one difference between a pirate and a sailor working for the king or crown – the pirate has the balls to say what he is. There be a code, an honor, among pirates. There be none of that in the service of yer country. The glimmer of promotion or bonus, and they would as soon lie and sacrifice ye. They cheat ye. If ye save the captain’s life on a king’s ship, ye get no praise, but rather a reprimand for not doing it according to regulations, or for not requesting permission to act first… all because of false pride.” He fell silent, examining Jack’s face. “I trust if I save yer life in a battle, I won’t get tossed in the stockade for doing it?”
Jack chuckled. “No, ye be just fine saving me life without asking permission first.”
Read nodded. “I best be getting to work.”
“Hmm. Well, ye won’t be keeping all fancy in those threads ye have on. There’s rigging to be tended. Can ye handle it?” The appraisal continued, Jack with head tilted in concentration.