TOPIC OF THIS CONTEST WAS:
She rolled her eyes as another one of her cabin mates tried to stifle sobs. She couldn’t believe she had to stay at this horrible camp all summer! Her stomach growled. As she stepped toward her trunk for a forbidden snack, she tripped on a loose board. Curious, she leaned over to peek between the cracks, and saw…
(Entries must touch on the topic in some way to qualify.)
The Golden Hind bobbed lazily on the open sea, the waves lapping her faded red paint at the waterline in a seemingly gentle caress of clemency. The ship at last had come to a stretch of dead calm, the weary crew unsure if this was any better than the violent storm that just hours before had threatened to send the ship to the bottom of the ocean. For now, their progress had come to a halt along with the precious cargo they carried below deck.
Beatriz was the first to feel somewhat better, looking around at the other women, some sobbing softly, some still retching in anguish. She adjusted her eyes to the dim, gray light coming from somewhere above and saw that the six of them had been cast into the stinking hold of the ship among the barrels of wine, apples, and salted cod. Was it only yesterday that she and the others had been laughing merrily aboard the Nuestra Senora de la Concepcion on their way to Peru, along with its opulent riches ñ nearly six tons of Spanish gold and treasures? The women were to join the royal ladies in waiting, spending the summer at the Peruvian Palace and perhaps meeting a gentleman of rank with which to marry.
Now this was not to be. El Capitan of this miserable vessel was a man Beatriz heard called Sir Francis Drake and he had captured their precious Spanish ship mid-voyage along with all its cargo and riches, sparing only the women now held captive here below. Beatriz could see the vast trunks of coins and treasure, wondering why they had not all sunk to the sea floor by the weight of plunder alone.
“Querido Dios,” Senora Sancha cried, clutching her fifteen-year-old daughter, Lucia, to her bosom. “What is to become of us?”
“I’m thirsty and hungry,” Margarita coughed, sitting up at last, her eyes glassy from dizziness and dehydration.
Beatriz stood, clutching a wooden beam for balance. “Quiet, now,” she told the women, and listened to the sounds above them. She heard arguing and the pounding of running feet on the ship’s upper deck. The crew was yelling at one another in a language she did not understand. “They will not bother with us for now. Margarita, Isabel, let us all drink from that cask of wine. It will ease our sickness and quench our thirst,” and the two began passing around a tin cup of sangria to each of the other women. Beatriz drank thirstily, and then opening a barrel, passed each of them a salted fish. Only Catalina, still retching weakly, refused to eat.
At that moment, the hatch above opened suddenly and heavy black boots descended the narrow steps down into the hold. In a moment, a man stood before them, the one Beatriz recognized as the leader of this pirate expedition. She stood bravely before him and glared with eyes full of loathing. But her heart beat heavily and hard in her breast at the handsomeness she had not previously observed. He laughed at her then, white teeth flashing, a lock of his dark, curly hair falling across his sea-tanned forehead. He looked much younger than she had assumed.
Still her anger rose above her heart’s sudden passion and she spat out proud words that he could not understand, regaining the composure of her noble Spanish heritage. “You consider yourself a man of the world, an adventurer, highly esteemed by your English queen, but to me you are but a lowly sailor, a common sea dog ravishing the oceans for your own personal gain!”
“So very beautiful,” he said as if Beatriz had not spoken, and he reached out and drew his fingers through her long, black hair. At his touch a shiver ran down Beatriz’ spine and she silently cursed herself for her weakness. “Bonita flor, like a beautiful flower,” and to add to her shame, she blushed. “Of all the stolen riches I have here on my ship, you are by far the most exquisite.”
He turned, then, as if noticing for the first time the other ladies aboard, who shrank back at his stare. “I see you have helped yourself to some food and drink. My men will be down shortly to get some food for themselves.” He paused, toying with his long mustache. “I hope you will not … disappoint.” And gazing lustily at Beatriz, turned on his heel and mounted the steps, leaving them all once again in dusky darkness, each wondering what it was he had said.
A sudden ocean swell unexpectedly pulled Beatriz off balance and her slipper caught on the edge of a loose plank in the floor. Fallen onto her hands and knees she noticed a split in the plank leaving a gap that opened into a space below. Something red glowed faintly in the half light and reaching her thin arm through the crack, retrieved the object into her delicate hand.
“Bonita flor,” she whispered, carefully holding the cluster of deadly oleander in her palm. She guessed it must have clung to the barrel of apples when it was loaded onto the ship and had fallen between the planks. She pulled off a flower for each of them. “Eat,” she instructed, tears filling her eyes, but secretly let her own fatal flower drop back down through the crack in the plank.