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Pirate Freedom

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Pirate Freedom

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Author: Gene Wolfe
Publisher: Tor, 2007

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Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
Sub-Genre Tags: Historical Fantasy
Mythic Fiction (Fantasy)
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As a young parish priest, Father Christopher has heard many confessions, but his own tale is more astounding than any revelation he has ever encountered in the confessional... for Chris was once a pirate captain, hundreds of years before his birth.

Fresh from the monastery, the former novice finds himself inexplicably transported back to the Golden Age of Piracy, where an unexpected new life awaits him. At first, he resists joining the notorious Brethren of the Coast, but he soon embraces the life of a buccaneer, even as he succumbs to the seductive charms of a beautiful and enigmatic senorita. As the captain of his own swift ship, which may or may not be cursed, he plunders the West Indies in search of Spanish gold. From Tortuga to Port Royal, from the stormy waters of the Caribbean to steamy tropical jungles, Captain Chris finds danger, passion, adventure, and treachery as he hoists the black flag and sets sail for the Spanish mainland.

Where he will finally come to port only God knows....


Chapter 1

Sometimes it seems that I spend most of my time trying to explain things to people who do not want to understand. This may be more of that. My evenings are free once I have locked up the Youth Center. Maybe I should have written semi-free. I read whenever I can, the lives of good and decent men and women who sought God and found Him.

I am not like that - either I have never lost Him or I have never sought Him. When you read this, you can say which. I have already confessed many times, but I think someone ought to tell my story. I am no autobiographer, just the only one who knows it.

I was ten, I think, when my father and I moved to Cuba. The communists had lost power, and my father was going to run a casino in Havana. Some monks had reopened an old monastery outside the city, and they were trying to start a boarding school. After a few years, my father signed me up. I think he must have given the monastery fifty thousand or so, because nothing was said about payment in all the years I was there - nothing I remember.

A year seems like a lifetime at that age, so three or maybe four lifetimes passed before I went from being a student to being a novice in the order. You would think I would remember something like that better than I do. All that I recall is that the Novice Master called us together one day and explained that the abbot had given up the idea of a school. The parents who did not want their sons to enter the order would come and take them home.

Most of my friends left after that. My father did not come, so I became a novice.

I see I have gotten ahead of myself, which happens a lot whenever I try to talk in public. I should tell you first that up to then I had gone home for holidays. Not all of them but some, like Christmas, and for eight weeks in the summer, every summer until then.

After that, my father never came for me again. I talked to my confessor about it, and he explained that being a novice was different. My father could not come anymore. He could have written letters, but he never did.

It was still like going to school. I helped Brother Ignacio herd our pigs and weed the garden, and there were novenas and mass and vespers and whatnot. But we had always done those. We still had classes and grades and all that. Now I know the subjects we studied were just the ones various monks could teach, but they knew a lot and it was a pretty good education. Most of them were from Mexico and most of the kids from Cuba, so we spoke Spanish in the monastery. The kids' Spanish was a little different, but not a whole lot. Mass was in Spanish at first, Latin later on.

A lot of what I learned there was languages. We did two at a time: Spanish and Latin for a year, French and English the next year, then Spanish and Latin again the year after. Like that. I had picked up quite a bit of Italian from my father and his friends, English was what we had spoken at my school in the States, and I had gotten a good bit of Spanish just living in Havana before I went to the monastery. So I did not do too badly. I was not anybody's star pupil in languages, but I was not at the bottom of the class in any of them. Or even close to it.

Besides the languages we got a lot of theology, like you would expect, and liturgy, Bible studies, and so forth. I guess all of us thought we would be priests eventually, and maybe the monks did, too, or some did.

We took biology every year. We called it biology, but a whole lot of it was about sex. If we became priests as well as monks we would have to hear confessions. Some of them would be the confessions of other monks, but two or three of our priests went into Havana almost every Friday and Saturday to help out in various parishes, and one of the things they did was hear the confessions of the laity. Not just men, but women too. I used to daydream about having this beautiful woman come into the confessional and say, "I know it's wrong to lust after a priest, Father, but I can't help myself. It's Father Chris. Every time I see him I want to tear off all my clothes." One time I told my confessor about those daydreams, but he just laughed. I did not like it, and I like it even less now. I pray that God will strike me down before I ever do that to anyone.

We learned about all the perversions, or at least about all those our teacher knew about, and that was a lot. Some were pretty funny, but some were just horrible. There was a lot about homosexuality, how bad it was, and how we must love the sinner but not the sin. That stuff was one reason I left the monastery. I will get to that soon.

Math was my best subject. We got arithmetic, algebra, trigonometry, and geometry, plain and solid. Most of the kids griped about math, but I loved it. Pretty soon I caught on to what Fr. Luis was doing for tests. He would assign certain problems in the book for homework. The problems he had not assigned would show up on his tests. I got wise and worked all the problems. I got quite a few hundreds on my tests, and hardly ever had a test come back lower than ninety-seven. Fr. Luis used to brag about me when I was not around. Two or three of the other monks told me about it. I can never repay Fr. Luis for teaching me math - geometry and trig, especially. I know he is in Heaven.

Those were the main subjects we took, but Fr. Patrizio had a telescope and used to point out all the stars to us, and tell us about them, and how you could see the Southern Cross once you crossed the equator. He was from Argentina, and he must have been lonely for the stars he grew up with. So we did not actually study astronomy - nobody thought we would have to know it - but I found the stars beautiful and interesting, and I picked up a lot from him.

We took music, too. I like music a lot, but I did not like or even understand the things we studied in music, and I always wanted to play faster than I was supposed to.

After a while the old kids were mostly gone, a few new ones had come, and nobody wore wristwatches anymore. (I noticed that.) Mass was in Latin instead of Spanish, and everybody seemed a little calmer. Fr. Patrizio was dead or gone or something. I missed some of the old kids and some of my old teachers. But basically I liked it better.

One day the Novice Master came into music class to take me to the abbot. I had heard his homilies two or three times, but I am not sure I had ever spoken to him until then. On feast days we were at one end of the table and the abbot was at the other, so we never talked. There were at least two abbots while I was there. Maybe three. I remembered my father saying abbots brought you down, and I was sure I was not going to like him and that it was going to be bad news.

Which in a way it was. I did like him, though, and by the time we were through talking I liked him a lot. By then I knew I had hurt him, too, and felt bad about it.

He was a lot shorter, and pretty old. I remember the lines on his face, and how shy his eyes were. Now I think he must have known right from the start that I was looking to lie to him. (Sometimes I have wondered what he thought about me, this skinny gringo kid who was going to sit there and lie to him. Some other times I have been glad I do not know.)

He said that it was time my novitiate was over, that I had to decide now whether I would take my solemn vows at Easter. He talked a little about his own life outside the monastery. His father had been a cobbler and had taught him the trade. Then he talked a lot about his life as a monk, how he used to mend sandals for the other monks, and all the monastery had meant to him. He talked about God, and devoting your life to Him. He asked a lot of questions about me, too. What the monastery had been like for me, and what my life outside had been like.

By the time he asked for my decision I had already thought it over, though perhaps it was not really thinking but only what kids call thinking. I said that I was not ready yet to take my vows. That I wanted to go home and see my father and have a chance to talk things over with him and with myself.

The abbot sighed, but I do not think he was surprised. He said, "I comprehend you. Will you promise me something, Crisóforo?" (Everything was in Spanish, but I might as well translate for you because I do not remember the exact words we used anyhow.)

I said it would depend on what the promise was.

"A very small thing, Christopher. To make an old man happy?"

I said I would try. By then I was pretty sure it was going to be about sex, probably to keep away from women.

For a minute or two he sat there studying me. His eyes had probably been sharp once, but they were too kind to be sharp anymore. "I would like a better promise than that," he said at last, "but I shall settle for that one, since I must. I want you to promise that you will never forget us."

I said, "Wait, you don't understand. I'll probably come back," and I talked a lot about that, going on and on and repeating things I had said already. Lying.

Finally he cut me off. He said I was free to go. If I wanted to say good-bye to people I could stay that night.

I said, "No, Reverend Abbot, I want to go right now," and after that he called for Brother Ignacio.

Brother Ignacio took me to the gate. He never said a single word to me. Not one. Only when I turned back to wave good-bye, he was crying. There have been times since then when I thought I understood how he felt.

I had taken off my habit and put on the clothes I used to wear back when I went home for the summer, my T-shirt and jeans. They were way too small for me now, but that was all I had. I started walking down the road...

Copyright © xxxx by Gene Wolfe

Copyright © 2007 by Gene Wolfe


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