“What are you guilty of, sir?” asked Liberty
Why a life of unrestraint, of course. I refused to acknowledge the word "No". It was 'Yes' with me, lad, ‘Yes’ forever and always. I knew no hindrances, I brushed aside all societal obstacles, people were as shadows before me. Those were the grand days of riot and debauchery I strode through the world with flask unstoppered, cutlass unsheathed and breeches unbuttoned. Lookee here.” Leaning out into the flickering candlelight, Fife pulled aside a curtain of hair to disclose, crudely etched into his very flesh, a primitively drawn skull and crossbones. “Old Inky did that on me at a table in The Flaming Bucket back in the roaring Port Royal times.”
“But how did you end up here in upper New York?’
How? How, you say? I suppose I took a wrong turn at New Providence.” Then he opened his mouth, exposing a gumful of dark, ragged teeth, his begrimed face crinkled up as if in laughter while his shoulders shook, but not a sound could be heard, He searched around behind himself and hauled into view a white clay jug which he lifted to his lips, took a long gulp from and then offered to Liberty “Care for some belly timber?”
Liberty, ever adventurous, swallowed a healthy sip. The liquid burned and smelled of turpentine and when he choked and coughed the droplets spewing from his mouth flared up brightly in the candle flame.
‘Takes a mite getting used to,” explained Fife. “But it clears the head and warms the soul. In a few minutes you’ll be thanking me. They always do.”
Through the prisms of the boy’s tears Fife seemed to Liberty some hairy shimmering apparition that could devour him in one mad gulp. Then his vision cleared and Fife appeared much as he had before except that each strand of his numerous hairs stood out separate and lucent.
And now,” announced Fife rather eagerly, the glittering of his eyes a bit more pronounced than seemed possible in this dim tallow light, “now that we’ve properly introduced ourselves, attended to the required conversational strictures, shared a drink—care for another by the way? No?Well perhaps later—now we may turn to the reason I have invited you to my quarters today.” From within his tent of hair he produced a leather pouch and extracted a sheaf of yellowed papers he dramatically waved in Liberty’s face, then reverently placed in his hairy lap.
“I have often observed you traveling through these woods in the company of a black man. Once you passed no more than three feet from where I squatted, performing a rather successful impersonation of a pile of leaves which I had meticulously arranged throughout my tresses, and on more than one occasion I heard this man whom I noticed you were attending carefully. turn and call out to you, ‘Liberty!’ Is this not correct?’’
Liberty, in awed silence, merely nodded his head.
“Is ‘Liberty’ indeed your Christian name?”
“Yes, the boy managed softly.
“So I assumed. You have been granted a great gift and a great responsibility By the spark in your eye I see that you understand this. So, I now wish to honor you by officially inducting you into the ranks of the Liberi. Here are the articles.” Again the sheaf of papers was flourished about. “Here, read them, examine them, I can assure you all is in perfect order”
The boy hunched forward into the light. Scanning the brittle pages, he saw the words: “Birthright ... the Sweets of Liberty. . . the Fruits of Labor, . , a Share of the Earth.”
“But what is this all about?”
You are unacquainted then with the reputation of the great Captain Mission and his noble efforts to save humanity from itself?”
‘Who is he?”
“It’s ‘was,’ I’m afraid, boy, ‘was.’ Horrible engagement. Many a good lad gone to dive for the eternal peace. Last I saw of Captain Mission he had a saber in each hand, a gash across his cheek and a smile on his lips. A truer man never paced the quarterdeck. Under him we founded a paradise, can ye believe it? Libertalia. it was called, right there hard off the east coast of Africa, exactly where the ancient prophecies said it would be. Free and easy those times were, I’d give an eye to have em back again. Every man same as every other man, Share and share alike. What a wild larksome crew we were, white and black and yellow and red and all the shades between. A nation of
banded brothers slashing a lane of freedom through this shackled world. You should have seen the slavers running before us, hising up their skirts and scampering for home. And, do you know, not one escaped us. How can I explain to one so young the joy of the pursuit, the thrill of our cannons toppling those bloodstained masts, ripping through their ranks, the lead and splinters and screams, the jubilation of the slaves at their unexpected deliverance. Mental champagne I don’t look to taste again this side of the bar, And every one of those slaves eagerly joined our crew, best damn sailors in all the world’s navies, But what we would sometimes do to the captain and his mates would give a lad like you night fits for a month. One foul word to Captain Mission and off they’d go over the side to the fishies and the sharks. Once the slaves started talking we’d know who to do up right, haul ‘em up to the yardarms, ‘sweat’ ‘em around the deck. Not a pretty picture for delicate souls but, by God, the fun we had. And what was done to them devils was a precious kindness to what they done to the poor lads in the hold, but we rescued hundreds of ‘em from the irons and I can live with that, Of course that’s why they was all after us so fierce, not a country with ships on the sea didn’t want to see us hanging in chains before the tide. This globe’s a prison, child, and those who wish to break out are the sworn enemies of all governments.
“Now, from the look of your rigging and the company you keep, you strike this old dog as a lad enlisted on the side of malefactors one and all. And all you have to do to officially join up is place your mark at the bottom of the articles. Here.” He thrust the sharp yellowy nail of his soiled forefinger down upon the bottom of the page where was gathered a bizarre collection of illegible signatures.
But what shall I write with?” asked Liberty
Fife plucked a random twig from his hair, held one end to the candle flame until the wood smoked and blackened. Nature’s writing implement,” he answered, passing the twig to Liberty who, as conscientiously as he could, spelled out his name in sooty flowing script on the brittle parchment.
“Does this mean lam a real pirate?” Liberty asked.
‘Welcome aboard! cried Fife, solemnly shaking the boy’s hand. “And now, lad, go and spread havoc throughout the main, always bearing in mind Captain Mission’s immortal words, ‘Death to all tyrants, freedom to all in bondage and to us a fat chest of glittering gold,’ eh?” Fife eased himself back onto a bed of moss. Go, I say,” he repeated, making brushing motions with his hands. “Go, you’ve got important duties to be about.”
Once home Liberty dared not tell his trusting parents he had from this day forth turned pirate. Let them continue to believe lie still sailed under the old colors. That was how your true buccaneer operated, waiting until the gullible prey ventured too near to flee, then running up the Jolly Roger. This would be his special secret, a surprise to spring on unsuspecting malefactors everywhere once the time was ripe.