First Prize


Excerpt: Triangle: A Memoir of Black Caesar


Turks Passage, November, 1705


“Monique Arnaut plopped her overstuffed body into an overstuffed chair near the open, stern windows of the Bechermer’s aft Cabin. The silk fan she held in her plump, left hand waved more furiously with each decline of her darkening mood. She purposely avoided eye contact with the exasperated young officer who stood in front of her, struggling, with all his being, to be polite.

“How much longer will we delay for this foolishness, young sir?” She was asking for the fifth time since they had interrupted their voyage to render aid to the derelict ship, in full view outside the large windows of the great cabin, listing hard to port.

“I don’t know, Madam. Perhaps you should ask the captain.” The lieutenant sighed deeply, worrying the brim of the hat he held, respectfully in front of him.

He’d been given charge of the Arnaut women, to see to their care and comfort and, by this point in the voyage from France he was prepared to resign his commission.

Monique heaved a great sigh of frustration; her fan waived more furiously than ever. Sweat trickled uncomfortably from beneath her heavy wig, flowing in small rivulets down her neck, into the deeply pronounced cleavage clearly display between her enormous breasts. The overpowering scent of her perfume permeated the close cabin where the air hung thick and still, in spite of having all of the windows opened wide.

“Where is Capitain Montres?” She snapped. A question asked and answered many times already that morning.

This time the young lieutenant sighed openly. “He’s aboard La Messager, at this moment, Madam. He should return soon.”

“What happened to that ship? Why is it taking him so long?”

“They were attacked by pirates Madam. There are many dead and wounded to be cared for and Capitain Montres is assessing the extent of the ship’s damage.”

“Pirates? Are we in danger?”

“It has been two days since the attack, Madam. I’m sure they are far from us, by now.”

Odulette Pleva knelt on a broad, wooden settee that spanned the width of the cabin, beneath the aft windows. She watched the activity around the broken ship, drifting on a glassy sea, just astern of the Bechermer. Her long, flowing, black hair cascaded over her shoulders in thick, shining ringlets, that hung down to the middle of her back. Her elbows rested on the frame of the ornate window and she nibbled nervously at the tip of her index finger. Soft, milky, white skin contrasted her dark, brown eyes, reflecting the subtle worry she was feeling in her heart. She also avoided eye contact with the young lieutenant, who was desperately infatuated with her. He had to force himself to pull his own eyes from her extraordinary beauty in order to return his attention to the porcine fullness of Madam Arnaut.

“I will tell the captain that you would like to see him, Madam, as soon as he returns.”

Monique fanned herself with a previously unknown fury. Covering her eyes with her left hand and allowing her head to fall back against the chair, she groaned, dismissing the young officer with a flick of her fingers.

“I shall die if we don’t reach St. Francoise before this day is ended.”

Odulette turned her back to the window and asked, “I’m sorry, Madam, you were saying?”

Monique straightened her head with a great effort and said, “Never mind. What is going on out there?” She indicated the opened windows with a repetitive swish of the delicate handkerchief she had pulled from her sleeve, while the fan continued wafting great volumes of air.

Odulette pushed herself off the settee and stepped closer to the chair her mistress occupied.

“They’re bringing the wounded over in long boats. It looks very bad from what I’m able to see.”

“Very bad. indeed!” Monique snorted. “For nearly a week now we have drifted aimlessly, in stifling heat and, when, finally, a breeze returns to us, this fool of a captain, stops to give aid to a worthless wreck.”

Odulette could not hide her surprise at the Madam’s callousness.

“And if it were us aboard that worthless wreck, Madam, would you then have him sail on?”

Monique was silent, but only for a moment before she demanded, “We have been thrown out of our cabins. Where are we to sleep tonight?”

“To make room for the wounded.” Odulette explained, incredulous that the madam would dare complain about such a thing. “I don’t think we shall have to worry about sleep tonight. I should think that we will be asked to help care for them.”

“Over my dead body.” Monique huffed.

Silently, Odulette wished that it could be, but before she could find satisfaction in the thought the cabin door burst open and Chauntelle Arnaut, Monique’s daughter and the Arnaut’s only child, charged excitedly into the sultry cabin.

“Mother, Mother, They’re bringing them aboard! I saw one. His arm was chopped off, there was blood everywhere!”

“CHAUNTELLE!” Odulette scolded.

Monique Arnaut groaned loudly, her head flopped back against the chair once again and she brought the handkerchief to her mouth.

“I heard a crewman saying that almost everyone had been killed and that the gun decks were strewn with parts of bodies.”

“CHAUNTELLE, be silent!” Odulette demanded, giving her young charge an angry look.

In appearance, Chauntelle could be Odulette’s younger sister. She had the same dark hair and eyes, with soft, milky skin. At age eleven she was a striking child, filled with budding beauty. More so, even than Odulette, who was only a few years her senior. At this age, she was somewhat boyish and athletic. She was spoiled by her parent’s wealth and tainted by a knot of selfish evil that grew at her very core.

“What’s wrong with mother?” She asked with feigned innocence, smiling with satisfaction at seeing her mother draped over the chair in a dead faint.

It was only moments later that Odulette was nearly thrown to the deck by a sudden jolt. The ship shuddered to a stop with a loud thud followed by a terrible grinding sound that was soon lost in the alarmed voices of the men out on deck.”



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