He had lost track of time in the dank hovel, within which his captors had imprisoned him. In the abject darkness, he sensed it was somewhere in the bowels of a ship. After what felt like days aboard, and only sips of water and a few mouthfuls of gruel spoon fed, Westley began to feel the affects of his malnourishment. His hands bound behind his back, the ropes chafed into his wrists, leaving raw and bloody skin which caused a constant irritable discomfort. A blindfold wrapped around his head, blocked what little light eked through cracks in the boards from top deck. Having gone this long with no conversation or even threats from his wardens in this floating prison, despair fell over him, believing all was lost.
Somewhere at the bottom of the sea was the hulking, burnt out, skeletal remains of the ship he had set sail upon just days before, having been ransacked ransacked by these pirates. Booking passage on the know sunk vessel, he left Florin to find his fortune or die trying. There in damp hull of that ship, tossed about on the salt sea, he realized it was most likely the latter, that he will die trying.
Weakened by days of starvation and dehydration, he struggled at his bonds, knowing that death may come quick to him at any moment. The effort was useless, and he fell into a nauseated state, dry heaving and retching. He felt a light descend on his vision and like a flash of gunpowder, he collapsed, sliding onto the floor, slipping away into unconsciousness.
The light was dim in the cabin. Shapes and silhouettes blurred into focus as sight came back to him in slow increments. Westley’s hands were free, but heavy, as if the function of them were controlled from a remote location, but delayed and muddled through foggy intentions. Smacking his lips together, the dry cotton mouth was still there, but the parched feeling that he had experienced for days now abated. His head ringed, tinged with a headache.
As he sat up and examined the cabin, his movements slow and deliberate, he saw a figure rise from behind a large desk. And then the shadow spoke.
“Ah, my guest. Welcome. I do apologize for your treatment. My crew can be such brutes at times. I do hope you can forgive the imposition that has been cast upon you.” The voice rang in Westley’s head, and it tumbled around like an echo descending through a cave deep into the earth with no outlet for the sound to ever diminish or escape.
“Where am I? Who are you? Am I prisoner?” Westley spoke with speed and curiosity, a slight tinge of derision behind his voice.
“Where you are, is for me to know. Who I am, is the Dread Pirate Roberts. Are you prisoner, well, that all depends.” A pause lingered and Westley said nothing. He ran his hand along the velvet cushion that he laid upon, realizing he had been placed in the Captain’s bed. Letting this all process, Roberts spoke.
“You see, we never leave anyone alive. But the crew took pity on you for some reason, unbeknownst to me. And then again, I needed a cabin boy. Have you ever served as one?” Westley did not speak. Defiant, he narrowed his eyes, a lock of blonde hair falling across his forehead.
“So that’s it,” Roberts said. “You would rather die than be my cabin boy. Speak. Come. There is no reason we cannot be civil toward each other.”
“Way I see it is this. You will kill me either way. I have no money to offer you, me being a poor farm boy, and my skills on the sea are limited. I wish not to join in the killing of poor unsuspecting seamen, which most likely will happen if I remain on board. So if I follow my conscience, I die. If I stay, I will loathe myself, and never be able to live with the person I’ve become. My life will lack the meaning I sought out this voyage to begin with.”
This intrigued the Captain. Walking over to a table, he poured two glasses of red wine into crystal glasses, and handing one to Westley, click the rims of both, raised his slightly, and then drank. Westley, thirsty and famished, chugged his unceremoniously. At that, Roberts filled his glass again. “I’m curious. What was the meaning of your voyage?”
Westley was quiet. He sipped the wine, drinking slowly.
“See, I already know. I read your journal, that is what I was doing while you lay there unconscious. I want to hear it from you.”
The sea bucked the cabin too and fro in a gentle lulling cadence. Westley now exposed, felt uncomfortable and violated.
“Then you don’t need to hear it from me.”
“Oh, but I do. Tell me, why should you live? Why? What have you to live for?”
Pondering this, Westley finished the wine, fumbling the empty glass, and taking a deep breath explained how his love extended back across the sea to a farm in Florin. He described her beauty. How he fell in love with her, her mind, her soul, her body. He described how when she smiled, her eyes glowed, and when she laughed, they squinted, while her beautiful smile beamed and warmed his heart. He described it all to Roberts, who was rapt by his description, and how his love grew over time. This was it, Westley decided, his plea to live without pleading. But, in describing her, he broke, having convinced himself she was worth living for, more than being dead with his pride.
“So again, I ask you, why should I not kill you?”
“Please. I live for love. Please. Don’t kill me, not when I have true love.”
This intrigued Roberts. Standing up, he walked over with the carafe of wine and poured another glass for Westley. Turning away, he stared at the sideboard.
“True love,” he muttered to himself under his breath. “So many years on the sea. True love.” Spinning around, he composed himself, and spoke in a gentle, yet authoritative tone.
“A negotiations of sorts. You may be my valet. My personal valet. I’ve never had one. This will guarantee that you do not participate in any of the killing and raids. I need my valet to be uninjured. Who will serve me wine if you are hurt? In return, I ask a favor. A deed. To prove your loyalty to me.”
Westley inched forward on the cushion. The promise of life sweet on his lips. “That is?”
Roberts strolled over to his desk and picked up Westley’s journal. He eyed the page it was open to. Tapping his finger on a word, he was hypnotized. “When I command, you must respond, ‘as you wish.’” A smile crept across Roberts’ face, he enjoyed watching with devilish glee the torment that Westley wrested with. “This is all I ask of you.”
Steadying himself as he stood up, Westley brushed his golden hair out of his defiant eyes. “I will be your valet. I will serve you. But, never will those words leave my lips for anyone other than my love in Florin. You can throw me over the edge of this ship if that is what you require.”
Placing the journal down and tapping its leather cover, he studied Westley.
“You would rather die and never see your true love, than betray her.”
“I would rather live and see her. I would rather not betray her. I won’t betray her. But you want a valet, and I want to live. Are those words so important to you, that you must hear me say them?”
“Fealty is what I require from all on board. That is how I guarantee crewmembers safety. If not, you never know what may come of you. These are pirates. Killers. If you do not do this, swear allegiance, there will be no protection from them slitting your throat in your sleep, all to split your lay.”
A stalemate. The two of them stood watching each other.
“Then I choose your valet without your protection. I can take care of myself. When I am back in Florin, no betrayal will tarnish our love.”
Roberts walked to Westley and shook his hand, a firm grip on the both of them. Calling out his door, a deckhand entered the cabin.
“Show Westley to his quarters. He is now my personal valet. If anyone harms him, they will answer to me. His lay will be only 1/125th, so it wouldn’t be worth the sharpening of your knives after you slit his throat.”
Westley began to walk out the door, following the crewmate who led him out onto the main deck. Roberts called to him just as he stepped out of the light of the cabin.
“Oh, one more thing. Good night, Westley. Good work. Sleep well. I’ll most likely kill you in the morning.”
Westley lay in the dark that night, hopes of someday seeing his love seering her images into his mind. The hard surface of his bunk nothing but a plank with a thin straw mattress poking into his bones. It felt more comfortable than the dank hull he had been removed from earlier. As he lay in the darkness, the ship’s gentle motions on the sea, he saw her, and tugged the string attached from his heart to hers. Hope lay hidden, somewhere on the horizon, the pirate ship Revenge sailed toward.