J Is For Justice

letter j

***

Pacific Ocean, October 1813

naval_battle
Source: http://www.fsegames.eu/forum/index.php?topic=4401.0 (Naval Warfare: A Napoleonic Wars Mod)

Our frigate’s captain lies among the other dead bodies. Black smoke swallows him up from our sights. Had it only been half an hour ago that we had gained the upper hand over the French? Then, the storm sentenced both warships to death by fire with its lethal lightning strikes. All fighting has stopped, transforming the battle scene to a fight against Mother Nature’s peril. Rounding the horn two weeks earlier seems like a leisurely walk in a field now.

Midshipman Smyth appears through the haze and I run to him.

“Smyth!” I shout.

Even though I am standing next to him, he can barely hear me. He greets me with glazed over eyes. I shake him.

“Come on, we need to jump before we burn alive!”

He nods grimly and, together, we jump over death and debris to reach the ship’s edge. We take off our navy blue jackets and our shoes. I take one deep breath and then suddenly I am plunging into the cold ocean. My muscles bring me back to the surface and I swim away from the ships. I look once for Smyth, but I cannot see him. I focus on the distant shoreline of the Galapagos Islands and I realize that I am too weak to make it half way. Even a man twice my age and size would not survive such a feat, but I swim anyway.

Something hard hits me. A large chunk of wood from one of the ships. I climb onto it and hold on with all of my strength, paddling with my feet which are submerged in the water. The jarring motions of the waves and the realization that my entire crew could all be dead make me retch several times.

“Is this justice?” I cry.
***
I awaken to a cool gale running over my wet clothes. My hands dig into the sand. Slowly, I sit up and stare out at the ocean. All signs of naval warfare have vanished. Swallowing hard, I wander along the rocky terrain. Aboard the HMS Wind, I was a brave, respected young midshipman. Here, I am just a lost fifteen-year-old boy.

I search for any sign of life, praying harder than I ever have before.

Smyth. Had he drowned below the cruel surface of the storm? Had God sent the tempest to punish us? Was he not in agreement with our war?

After several hours of wandering the strange place full of giant tortoises and flightless birds, I collapse on a boulder and bury my face into my hands. I am hopeless. If I do see anyone, it will likely be pirates. Pirates hate soldiers. I’d have my throat slit – or worse.

A soft groan awakens me from my despair. I stand to listen again. Then, I see him. A boy, an enemy. A soldier of Napoleon crawling toward the shore. I should kill him, but my sword is likely at the bottom of the ocean by now.

His movements mirror those of an insane man looking for crumbs that I saw back in London once. I walk toward him cautiously. All I can hear are the midshipman’s sobs. He reaches the shore and splashes cold water on his face. I stop in my tracks when his face looks my way. He cannot see me, because his eyes have been burned away. The entire top half of his face is terribly disfigured.

“Is someone there?” he cries in French. “Oh my God, please help me! I cannot see. I am lost.”

I have seen battle wounds several times, but nothing so cruel as this. Nature can be worse than men.

The other boy cries louder. Thoughts of duty and nationalism leave me at the sight of his shivering body, his helpless disposition. My previous idea of justice seems idealistic and strange at the current moment.

I stoop next to the boy. His breathing is panicked. He knows someone is there, wordlessly staring at him.

“Who is it?” he whispers.

“A new friend,” I say.

He cowers at the sound of my English accent. I rest a hand on his shoulder.

“I will not harm you. I am here to help.”

Tears sting my eyes at the shock demonstrated by his wide mouth. “Truly?”

I wrap my arms around him. He buries his face in my chest. We both weep.

-Sara Kjeldsen

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