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The Red Rose

Laurence Sullivan | Alankrita Amaya

H.M.S Honour emblazoned across the bow — a siren’s call to any covetous pirate. Victory against a foe like that would entail a tale to regale any adventurous ear with, enough rum to fuel a crew for months, and the possibility of a glut of gold to sail away with. A rose may be beautiful, but its thorns could surely pierce the hull of His Majesty’s ship — even if it were twice its size.

A simple speech was all it took for pirate captain Leopold to whip his crew into a frenzy. For most, to laugh in the face of death would seem a symptom of madness, but for the captain’s crew — it was the highest of virtues. The Red Rose was a fast ship, a small sloop easily capable of out-manoeuvring the Great British frigate. This, however, was its sole advantage, for Rose’s crew stood at little more than seventy compared to the floating army of at least three hundred. These stacked odds simply served to make the payoff greater — at least in the lunacy of Leopold’s mind.

Facing toward his men, the captain bellowed his orders to follow the hulking vessel. After a dramatic flourish with his right hand high into the air, it lightly came down again and delicately covered the banister of his beloved vessel. A short caress followed, as if he were calming her before the coming battle, letting his precious Rose know that she would sail away unharmed. That her beauty would remain unscarred by warfare.

As The Red Rose turned hard to port, it lay in perfect position for a full volley — with a mere ten cannons on her starboard side. Still, like many of his allies, Leopold flew the Union Jack high above The Red Rose, to fool British ships into a false sense of security. It worked extremely well for smaller vessels carrying tea and other precious cargo, though they didn’t hold the bragging rights of a war vessel like H.M.S Honour. The element of surprise was firmly on Leopold’s side and so with a quick command to ‘fire’ — his rival ship was already looking worse for wear. The captain could not help but let his lips curl into a smirk, while his hand gripped tighter around Rose’s wooden frame.

A brief moment of panic took hold of the enemy ship as crewmen ran about the deck, scrambling into their designated battle positions. Within seconds though, the great vessel groaned towards The Red Rose and Leopold immediately responded with an order to turn about.

It was too late. Never before had any of the pirates seen a British vessel move with such speed and finesse. The mighty beast now lay parallel to The Red Rose and unleashed the fury of hell upon her. Leopold watched helplessly as huge gashes were opened up alongside his beloved’s hull, while his crewmen struggled to gain their footing. Rose was violently rocking from side to side as each cannon ball plunged deep into her bowels, only Leopold remained upright — his hand still firmly entrenched around Rose’s elegant frame.

With the upmost discipline and grace, His Majesty’s soldiers had lined up alongside the balustrade of the H.M.S Honour, which had drawn ever closer to Leopold’s once beautiful vessel. Worse still, the soldiers’ red uniforms completely masked the fledgling flames of their muskets. Each gun produced an elegant plume of smoke that resulted in a series of bloody injuries for Leopold’s men. As a musket ball shot past his face, Leopold instinctively let go of the banister and fell to the deck in a state of shock.

Far more devastating than the shower of musket balls was the continuous volley of cannon fire — which The Red Rose could never match. At first, His Majesty’s vessel fired small grapeshot, to thin out Leopold’s forces but it also continued to slice through Rose’s hull. As if the tide had turned against the pirates, the ocean became greedy, lapping into every hole and gnawing away at any crevice.

As precious moments passed, the waves grew more frenzied, maliciously biting into the hull of the vessel. Leopold winced, keenly aware of the pain his precious ship was feeling. Each blast of the cannon seemed to strike through his own skin like a sharpened needle. The heat worsened this agony, as fire spread insidiously throughout the woodwork and consumed the captain’s crewmen. Unwilling to suffer anymore, he slowly closed his eyes and lunged forwards, gripping the staircase banister and using it to stand — the wood furiously hot against his palm. Leopold knew every contour of his lover, able to traverse the staircase completely blind — ignorant now of any pain.

Standing outside his cabin, he reopened his eyes to be greeted by smoke and assaulted by the screams of his crew, who were begging for orders and aid. Shutting out the suffering, he grasped the scorching metal door handle and strode into his space, slamming the door behind him — before falling to the floor. Water began to seep in under the door, making it seem as if Rose were weeping. Leopold followed suit, his tears flowing freely and mingling with his lover’s. There was no decision to be made. Leopold lay down and allowed the ocean to slowly consume him — along with his beloved.

About Laurence Sullivan

A Writers' Centre Norwich 'Commended Writer', Laurence Sullivan has been published online, in magazines like The Legendary, Kishboo, Thick Jam and Drunk Monkeys, as well as in anthologies published by Amelia's Magazine/House, Darker Times Fiction, Sampad and the British Council. He became inspired to start writing during his university studies, after being saturated in all forms of literature from across the globe and enjoying every moment of it.

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