1 THE 1ST ACCOUNT: ONBOARD LABYRINTH

Lady Editha Allysse Carmen of the house of Pardue… that is my full name. I am a distant niece to the queen of Francua-- the largest kingdom in the world—thus, I was endowed and cursed with the title Countess. It is indeed a privilege as well as wonderful to be served every waking hour of my life… having ladies-in-waiting, maids and butlers who obey my every bidding… even up to the silliest of my requests. It is an easy life. It was delightful. However, as it may seem to appear as a perfect dream, no one expected that it would turn into a nightmare… but yes, it did… not for them, but for me.

My father, Lord Richard, a man of honor, a count, had arranged my hand in marriage to the prince of Beckforth, a country at the northern part of Francua. He has a valid and quite resolute reason for doing so. He said it was for my own good. Besides, my lineage and my nobleness were preserved through arranged marriages. It was a family tradition. But, I intend to be different.

I am a Lady. I was born to be one… I was educated to be one… I was obliged to be one. Still, my heart craved for something much better than practicing waltz and attending ball or curtsying the queen or the king, much, much more than upholding values and maintaining pleasant and good behavior and certainly something better than being married to a nobleman and living happily ever after. The truth, I despised being controlled by my title. It is just a title. Still, it holds me captive from the things I want to do… things I know would make me happier.

I long for adventure… an adventure where I can be free. I want to see the world and prove to myself that I am not a woman because I have a beautiful face and gorgeous dresses… but because I can show passion and move the world with my presence. That is why before my father could make me marry Prince Eric, I ran away from home. And that is how my world changed.

I was onboard Penelope, the ship that will take me to my freedom, when I met him. We were in the middle of the Mediterranean Waters, close to Atlantis, when his crew intercepted Penelope. Yes, he was a pirate.

When I was growing up, I was told that pirates are savaged creatures… that they are evil… that they are beasts. That is why, when we were alarmed that pirates had invaded the ship, I was waiting to see yellow-toothed, messy un-bathed hair, hook-end arm, foul- smelling and croaky, scary voiced pirates but I was wrong. Most of the pirates that entered the deck where we were hiding were all good-looking men and to my astonishment, clean! I was in confusion for a moment. That is why it was too late when I realized that all of the ladies were gathered to the right and the men to the left.

Then, a man with a clean, white pirate shirt came in. He has the blackest eyes I have ever seen. He was not wearing a pirate's hat but a black scarf on his head. He has long straight hair in a ponytail. He is tall and moderately built. For lack of better word, he is like a prince in a pirate's body. He is handsome and all the panicking voices of the women were turned into gasps and sighs of adoration. Seeing their adoring faces, he tilted his head then smiled. He curtsied and I was annoyed when he began to talk.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, good morning…" he began and smirked, "… I am sad to say that we are going to take your belongings and everything we want from you," he continued and grinned. He then ordered his men to take whatever they can take.

I was angry because no one, not even the captain of the ship, said a word. Not one resisted. They looked at him so adoringly, as if they were hypnotized. I must admit that he is indeed quite charming but still it angered me beyond measure. So with glaring eyes and an idiotic decision, I stepped forward and with an attitude I learned as a royalty I demanded, "Who are you?"

He looked at me. It was a studying stare. His eyes travelled from my feet to my face. He did not say anything but he walked in my direction. I remembered scolding myself for such an impulsive action but he was getting closer and closer. I stepped back but he continued to step forward. Then, realizing that he was indeed focused on me, I decided to stand tall. He smirked. He walked around me. I was aggravated.

"You want to know who I am?" he said as he continued to study me.

I looked at him sternly, "Yes, indeed…"

He chuckled. And his crew laughed with him, "She wants to know my name…" he repeated.

My anger grew, "I am quite sure that what I requested is not amusing."

"Oooohhhhh" his crew cheered or teased.

"Feisty."

I looked away. He curtsied in front of me, "My name is Jacob, The Captain of Labyrinth. And may I know your name as well, milady?"

I glared at him. He has no right to ask for my name!!! He is a pirate… a thief!!! I am a noblewoman.

"It would only be fair since you asked me for mine…"

"I wouldn't give you the satisfaction… thief."

We stared at each other. He was challenging me but I wouldn't forfeit. Then, he sighed and blinked. Inwardly, I smiled and felt proud because I won. But it wasn't for long.

"Did we get everything we need?" he asked his crew without taking his eyes off of me.

"Aye, captain," was the response.

He nodded and then gave me a sly grin. "Take the feisty woman with us. She will be an entertainment," he said then turned around and started to leave.

What happened was so quick. I remembered struggling but a huge bald man carried me on his shoulders and though I screamed and pounced and kicked, it was all of no match against the strong muscles that carried me to a ship called Labyrinth. I was angry and I heard him laugh.

The bald-muscled man dropped me like a sack of potatoes on the deck floor. I stood up quickly and pushed the man away. I ran to the edge of the ship wanting to jump but someone grabbed my waist. I looked to see who it was. It was the pesky, arrogant pirate!!!

"I know you wouldn't want to do that," he said and looked down.

I followed his gaze and saw countless sharks swimming in the waters. I gasped in fear. He ordered his men to start sailing away from Penelope but he did not take his hand around my waist. I felt humiliated and violated by his touch. Not one nobleman dared touch me without my permission!

"Unhand me… you… beast." The arrogant pirate obeyed my command so I fell. I shut my eyes imagining my painful and bloody death in the jaws of the sharks when I felt a hand grab my arm. I opened my eyes and looked up. He was smiling as he pulled me up. When I was on my feet, I slapped him. It was hard that I saw my finger marks on his cheeks after. His crew was silent. And for a moment there, I grew scared. I remembered who I slapped. He is a pirate… a thief… a criminal… What if he threw me into the sea? I felt my heartbeat go faster and faster.

He touched his cheek with his hand and looked at me, "Owww… what did you do that for?" he asked without a hint of anger in his eyes.

"You… you let go of me!!! I… the sharks…" I stammered and I can feel tears welling up my eyes.

He smiled, "You told me to unhand you."

I do not know what to say. I was angry with him for treating me the way he treats me. And I was scared. Before I realized what was happening, tears started to fall from my eyes and I began to sob. What he did surprised me!!! He pulled me in his embrace and stroked my back. It calmed me down. It was surprisingly comfortable. I smelled his scent. It wasn't foul. As a matter of fact it was the scent of the clean sea waters.

"Now, would you want to tell me your name?" he said.

I remembered how I got into the situation in the first place and I was angry again so I pushed him as hard as I could, "No!!!"

He laughed, "All right then, I would give you a name," he thought for a moment. Then, "how about Darling?" he said then grinned playfully.

I narrowed my eyes, "You wouldn't dare!!!"

"But it fits you just right, Darling. Welcome to Labyrinth," he said and walked to the wheel. I heard him give orders to his crew and for just one word, everyone of them obeyed. I looked at his back as his hands were on the wheel wondering where we were headed to when a question came to my mind.

"What do you want from me?" I asked him.

He did not answer. He did not even look at me.

I groaned. "Where is my room?" I demanded.

"Paco," he called. A short, round man with a very caring face headed to his direction. I saw them talking. The man called Paco nodded, and then he walked in my direction.

"This way, Miss Darling," Paco told me.

I nodded at Paco and gave the arrogant pirate one last look but he did not bother to look at me. He was so engrossed with the sea. I followed Paco. He led me to a room filled with nice things. The bed has curtains in it and the sheets were silk.

"This is the captain's room…" Paco informed me.

I crossed my arms, "I am not going to stay here. I am not that kind of woman. I will not tolerate this act of lasciviousness."

"Oh but miss, the captain will move to the next room. Apparently, he wanted you to have the nicest room in the ship. Enjoy, Miss Darling," Paco said and left, closing the door after him.

I sighed and sat down on the bed. I thought for sure that the rude, pesky, arrogant captain would dare lay a finger on me. After Paco's explanation, I calmed down a bit and noticed that the bed was indeed comfortable. I remembered being drawn by its warmth and softness to doze off. I felt my eyelids closing and I slept.

I woke up because I felt nauseated. I opened my eyes and I looked around me. Everything was rocking so wildly. Some of the frames on the wall dropped and the glass shattered. I closed my eyes again and stood up. The rocking continued. I opened my eyes and ran to the staircase leading to the top deck. And my eyes widened as I behold angry humongous, mountain-like swirling waters headed to our direction.

"Get the woman in the safe place!!!" I heard the pesky pirate called.

The bald guy rushed to my direction, grabbed my hand and literally dragged me to a safe place.

"Stay here," he said with his deep baritone voice.

"What is going on?"

"Storm…" he said as if it was not obvious and left immediately.

I closed my eyes and pictured my untimely death. And I only have Jacob- the pesky, arrogant, captain to blame. If it wasn't for him, I'll be heading to the free land at this point and a month should pass by, I am on land. But no!!! This pirate wants to be entertained…

"AHHHHHH!!!!!" I screamed in anger. I was so furious then I heard steps rushing in my direction.

"What happened?"

I looked up and saw Jacob looking worriedly at me. I glared at him. "What do you mean?"

"You screamed!!! Do we have a leak?" he asked immediately and directed his examining gaze around the walls.

"I screamed because I'm angry…"

He quickly threw a glare at me and for a moment it made my heart stop beating in fear. "Madame, I will deal with your bratty attitude after the storm," he said seriously and ran back to the top deck.

I released my breath. Then, as I continued to feel dizzy, I remembered the real reason why I was here. I wish not to be controlled by my title. I want to move the world by my passion… and being bratty, I know, will never lead me closer to that goal. I let off a determined sigh and ripped the lower part of my very long skirt. I stood up and headed again for the top deck.

I saw the angry sea once again. Jacob saw me and shouted, "Go back inside!!!"

"No… I wish to help!!!" I yelled back

Then, at that point someone groaned loudly in pain. I looked to my right and saw a skinny man trying to fix the sail. He was heavily beaten by the foremast that collapsed. Still he stood up and struggled. The wind was blowing very hard. I could not even stand up still without planting my feet on the deck solidly.

"Captain, I couldn't hold it!!!" he said pertaining to the foresail and the foremast at the same time.

Jacob looked around but he saw all of his crew having their own burdens to attend to and he also needed to steer the ship away from the raging waters as fast as he could. He looked at me, "I thought you wanted to help?!!! Help him!!!" he ordered me.

I do not know anything about pirate things and what to do but I heeded to his orders. I ran to the skinny man.

"Miss Darling, whatever happens, please do not let go off this sail," he said and gave me the loose end of the sail. It might look like a piece of cloth but it was heavy beyond measure for a woman like me.

I nodded. He let go of it and hurriedly went to fix the foremast that collapsed.

"Left!!!" the man on the topmost part of the ship yelled.

"Steering left, immediate turn…hold on to something!!!" Jacob ordered.

I hold on to the post nearby and press the sail in between my body and the post. The turn was reckless in my vocabulary. It was harsh that my hand slipped from the post. The sail's loose end that I was holding ripped. I tried to catch it with my freehand but it didn't work. I let go off my hold on the post, risking my safety to rescue the other part of the sail. I was successful but the turn caused me to be off balanced and I closed my eyes as I stumbled to the edge of the ship still holding the torn sail. I was waiting for my body to make contact with the water but instead I felt my feet being lifted from the ground. I opened my eyes and I was in Jacob's grasp again. He quickly put his freehand on the wheel. I don't know how he did it… My eyes were closed when he rescued me. I looked at him as his face was seriously looking at the waters ahead. Jacob skillfully sailed the boat out of the storm and once the waters were calmed, he let go off me.

"What were you thinking?"

I was cold and soaking wet. I don't want to hear him scold me. So I lift up what I'm holding, "The man said never to let go of this," I said while I shivered.

He closed his eyes, lowered his head and tried to hide his smile. All of the crewmembers laughed.

"What is so funny?" I asked annoyed. I risked my life to rescue the sail as I was told to then I am laughed at? That is not encouraging.

"The sail in your hand is ruined. It's useless," Jacob told me in a soft voice.

"My apologies, Miss Darling, I should have told you that if by chance it ripped, you have to let it go," replied the skinny man.

"Oh…" is all I can say. I felt so ignorant but it didn't anger me a bit. I chuckled and then laughed. I was laughing and they stopped to look and to watch me. After realizing that, I stopped as well and blushed.

"Don't worry Darling, they are just not used to a woman in the ship," he said then smirked.

I raised my left eyebrow, "And you are?"

His crew laughed again teasingly. "The captain has a way with many women, miss," They said and laughed. "Sweetheart, honey, babe, princess, angel… name it… he has it all… he had them all…" they said and laughed harder.

Jacob did not deny it but smiled. I rolled my eyes in aggravation. He is really arrogant and too proud. I was in thoughts on how annoying he could be when I suddenly sneezed.

"Bless you…" the crew said altogether.

"Paco," Jacob called. "See to it that Darling here has dry clothes to put on. We don't want her sick," he said.

Paco yielded and looked at me. I looked at the arrogant man standing on my side, "If you'll excuse me, your arrogance-ness," I said and curtsied mockingly.

The crew laughed harder and I smirked while following Paco.

"Darling…" he called.

I don't want to turn my head. I hate the name he gave me. I controlled the urge to look back.

"… The sail… you can put it down now," he said teasingly as his crew members laughed again.

I groaned and dropped the sail. Then, I quickly followed Paco in.

Paco laid down in bed the simplest but the most beautiful dresses I ever saw, "They are not as cozy as compared to your gown…"

"These are beautiful…" I told him.

He smiled "I'm glad you liked them. I made them for my daughter," Paco said.

"Oh… then I must not wear it. It's too special," I answered.

"Please do Miss Darling, my daughter died years ago…"

I looked at him. Paco's eyes hinted at some tears but he swallowed hard to control them from falling. "I'm so sorry…"

"It is all right. Now, Miss Darling, please do change," he said and left the room.

I took off my clothes and changed into the dry brown dress with white ruffled sleeves. It is not too long. It ended just a little bit lower than my knees. It was comfortable and very light. I combed my hair and tied them with a fragment of my torn dress and went back up. The crew was busy fixing the wrecks of the ship. Then I realized that we are anchored not too far away from an island.

"Don't ever think of escaping, Darling," I nearly jumped from the voice behind my ear.

I turned around and met his gaze, "Oh but Sir Thief, I would do what I want to do."

Jacob chuckled, "Do you see that island?" he said and pointed.

"I am not blind."

"That is a remote island. Unlivable because of poisonous snakes."

"Don't try to scare me. How did you know? Folktales?"

"Because I lived there for a month," he said then winked. "But if you don't believe me, be my guest. Go and escape. But, if you see a snake, don't tell me I didn't warn you," he said then walked out.

I looked at the island again. Should I believe him? He's a pirate and he might be lying…

"Miss Darling," the skinny man told me, "… Captain might be a pirate but he is no liar," he said and walked away.

I was contemplating on what to do. Should I escape or should I stay? I looked at the island in front of me and then I looked at the pirates. A decision came to me. I must be crazy. I remembered objecting to myself. But, I started to pick up some broken pieces of wood in the ship and asked the crew where to put them. They guided me all the way through and even helped me with heavier things. I was pulling a huge piece of wood that I do not know the essence of, in connection to Labyrinth, when a pair of arms lifted it for me.

"You don't have to do this you know," Jacob told me.

I looked at him and smirked, "Well, I'm sorry to say but I am not here to entertain you," I said and carried the heavy material with both of my hands and asked the bald guy where to put it. The bald guy pointed a space to me and I went there and placed it carefully.

I decided to stay.

It was almost evening when we finished and the cook made a special meal. They might be pirates but they are surprisingly chivalrous. I smiled as they let me have my share first and laughed when they dig in the food like savages after.

Then, they all introduced themselves to me.

Paco, as I was told, was a man of humble beginnings. His only possession was his daughter who died because of an illness. He is the quartermaster. He maintains order. According to Jacob, Paco was like a father to him. I wasn't yet told of the mysteries of his daughter's death but I had a hunch that I will know it sooner.

Thaddaeus is the name of the huge bald guy. He is the boatswain and the carpenter. No wonder he has all the muscles. All he said to me was that he is loyal to Jacob. Nothing else. Just that.

The cook's name is Neville. His face is very light-skinned and he has a big belly. He has hair only on the left side of his head. He told me that once he was a butler but when his master attempted to burn him alive because of his affair with the master's daughter, he ran away.

The skinny man is Lowen. He might look so petite but Jacob mentioned his eye for targets. He is a sharpshooter and considered as Labyrinth's gunner. His parents died a long time ago and a soldier took his fiancée as wife so he decided to go sailing with Jacob.

The man who I remembered to be stationed on the watchtower was called Elgo. He told me humorously that he has the eyes of an eagle and he could see clearly despite the distance. He is funny. His laughter makes me laugh. It sounded forced but is not. He snorts in between his laughs and he ends it with hiccups.

The other pirates were Sandlot, Urdel, Zaki and Thom. They are brothers. There is also Gondro, the surgeon, the musicians, Tibet and Fifer, who only knew how to play a harmonica. Laurel, Puma, Wabi were also musicians but they fool around too much. They also were the one in charge with the sails at times because they were small and could climb fast. No one told me if they had family except Paco but I knew they were trying to be discreet about something. Then, my eyes wandered to the silent teenage boy in the corner.

"That is Dylan," Urdel told me.

"How old is he?"

"Too young to be a pirate," Jacob said seriously. "That is why I am taking him back when we reach Canupeer."

"No!!!" Dylan cried out. "I want to stay with you."

"I made my decision," Jacob said and left the dining table.

Lowen looked at me, "Dylan sneaked in, miss. The captain didn't know about it until we were in the midst of Atlantis."

"Oh..." I looked at the young boy.

That night, I went to the top deck and inhaled the salt water. I was happy deep inside. I felt free for the first time in my life. I know that the adventures will begin here. I know that I will understand myself more. I looked to the stars and hoped that everything would turn out good then I felt my eyelids closing so I stepped in my room and dozed off. A new experience… a new personality… Darling will be my name.

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