The flames of the modest fire snapped and crackled as I fed it with leaves and twigs. Staring at it reminded me of the burning HMS Wind. My wounded enemy lay on his side, sleeping. I hoped that he would sleep the pain away over the next few days. He cried with me on the beach until the sun disappeared below the horizon. Then, I helped him stand. He was older and bigger than me, but I managed to help him walk over to the palm trees before he collapsed.
I wished that a barrel of ale washed ashore, but we were given no such luck. His wounds would heal in time, and the pain that caused him to groan, even in his sleep, would cease. I wondered how he made it to land in his condition. I leaned closer to the fire and turned the roasting fishes on the skewer. Despite how long it had been since I ate anything, I was not very hungry. When the fish was cooked through, I let it cool and brought it over to the French boy.
“I have food,” I said quietly.
He awoke with a startled groan.
“Please, eat,” I told him. “It will help you regain your energy.”
He exhaled loudly as I placed the skewer in his hands. His nostrils flared as he took in the aroma of the fresh food. Without sitting up, he pulled the meat off and ate it. His pain must have subsided somewhat, considering his appetite. I sat down in the sand a fair distance away from him and ate my portion. The sweet, tender flesh did not need butter or seasoning. It was delicious on its own. I closed my eyes, savouring the pleasant taste. Licking my fingers, I stared up at the stars.
I had absolutely no idea what to expect from my new companion. I could only hope that he would keep his wits about him as he adjusted to a new life of darkness. The warm breeze brought the flames of our fire into a hypnotizing dance. My mother used to tell me seafaring stories as we sat huddled by the fire on a cold night. I smiled at the memory of her telling me such lively tales to keep our minds off the cold. Thoughts of Ma and home brought me to a peaceful sleep.
Cold, hard metal pressed against my throat as the sun stung my eyes the next morning. Disoriented, I struggled to understand what was happening. An eyeless face hovered over me and a sharp blade broke my neck’s flesh.
I held my hands up.
“Stop! Please!” I cried.
“Who are you?” he snarled.
I tensed, staring into his empty eye sockets.
“I’m Max Worrell, a powder monkey for the Royal Navy. I saved you! Please let me go.”
He turned the knife over and pressed the flat end into my Adam’s apple while his other hand pressed down on my chest.
I gagged and gasped for air.
“Why are you helping me, sea rat?” he asked, but I barely heard him above my ringing ears as I strained to breathe.
His angry, thick accent echoed in my mind as his hot breath caressed my neck.
“I don’t know,” I wheezed.
He withdrew the knife and sat on his haunches. Panting, I backed away from him. His mouth formed a grim line while I caught my breath.
“You could have asked me who I was without doing that!” I cried.
“I wanted to know why I should trust you.”
“You are the only other person on this damned island!”
“You’re the one who woke me up with a knife to my throat!”
“I had to know that you weren’t keeping me alive for some other reason.”
“Do people not show strangers kindness in your country?”
“We’re not strangers, we’re enemies.”
I scoffed. “Well, you seem to be feeling a lot better.”
My heart still pounded against my rib cage.
“My eyes, or what’s left of them, itch like hell. If you are keeping me alive to turn me in, I’d rather you just put me out of my misery.”
“I have no idea when a British ship will land here. I was alone until I saw you.”
He shrugged and lay on his back, lightly tracing his finger tips over the blade of his knife. I did not like the look of it.
“Do as you will. My life is shit.”
I swallowed hard at the finality of his statement. “It hasn’t been so easy for me out here, either.”
He shook his head. “I’m an invalid now.”
“You had a pretty good grasp on that knife a few minutes ago.”
“Do not mock me, little English bastard,” he growled.
I leaped as he stood up. Instead of having a go at me, he stumbled toward the sea.
“Where are you going?” I shouted.
He waved his knife in the air as his posture straightened. I followed him at a distance. I cursed when he broke into a run for the waves. When he reached the water, he faced me, bringing the knife to his own throat.
“Stop!” I shouted.
“Why?” he asked.
His question drew the breath from my lungs.
“Please, tell me your name,” I said.
“We have both lost everyone on our ships! I might still have my eyes, but I am also grieving the loss of my captain and shipmates. I thought that I was going to be alone on this island, and possibly die here. Now we’re both here. We can get through this together.”
I took slow steps toward him.
“I don’t want you to die,” I said.
“You still haven’t told me why.”
I took another step closer. “Because … I don’t want to be alone.”
He tossed his knife at the rocks and placed his hands on his hips.
“I live another day,” he muttered.
“Why don’t you lie in the shade while I catch a whole bunch of crabs and fish and then we’ll have a feast.”
He shook his head. “You’re a crazy sea rat.”
“Maybe I am.”
He followed my voice and stopped when he was a few feet away from me.
“Does it look terrible?” he asked.
I swallowed past the painful lump in my throat.
“The burn. How does it look?”
“I have seen far worse battle wounds.”
“You’re lying. It looks terrible,” he said.
“Your burns will heal.”
“They’re healing now, but the scars will remain.”
“I know, but it doesn’t look terrible.”
He shook his head and retreated in the shade.