Eli grabbed her hair with one hand and Asher’s ear with the other and dragged them down to the galley.
“I knew there must be a good reason why you two volunteered and it wasn’t just to get away from an orphanage- that would’ve been easy enough on any old ship,” the cook said, sitting them down on a couple of rough barrels. He pointed at Esmerelda, “I recognized you right away. I was keeping you down here for your protection, not to be mean. I still didn’t understand why on earth you would get on a military vessel, but I decided to let your story play out a bit. I must admit, it was pretty entertaining. Now tell me exactly what is going on, and I might consider not handing you over.”
“I’ll take my chances with the soldiers,” Asher said confidently.
“There will be no chances,” Eli said, “You are her friend and she has been charged with about ten different crimes. It’ll be the noose for you in an instant.”
Asher gulped audibly.
“So, like I asked already, what’s your story?”
So Esmerelda told him everything. How she and Caspian had been best friends and maybe more. How he had gone on his first voyage and caught and possibly killed by pirates. How she had acted as cabin boy on Asher’s ship and they had become friends. How they had finally made their way onto the Providence. When she was done, Eli sat back and sighed.
“That is quite the story, but how can I trust you?”
Esmerelda looked at Asher- this didn’t look good.
“Really, I don’t even find this believable, but I will get quite the reward for catching Esmerelda Valazquez and her accomplice. I might finally get off this ship!” Eli said with a cruel laugh. Esmerelda’s heart filled with horror. One of her biggest fears had come true. She would never find Caspian. She had been caught. She would spend the rest of her short life in the brig with her only friend left- Asher.
Guilt overwhelmed her. She had dragged him into this! It was her fault that he was in this situation!
Eli stood and went to the doorway, calling for guards.
“This girl has just confessed to being the wanted Esmerelda Valazquez and the boy has been helping her out. I caught them and tricked them into turning themselves in. Tie them up and put them in the brig and then alert the captain.
Esmerelda and Asher’s hands were tied with rough ropes so tight they bit into their wrists. They were harshly forced up the steps to the brig and locked in a tiny, damp, dark cell. The door slammed shut and locked with a loud click, but that didn’t discourage Asher from trying to force his way out by ramming into the door until he was dizzy.
“Asher, stop!” Esmerelda cried, “It’s pointless.”
Asher knew she was right and sat down on the cold floor beside her.
“I’m so sorry,” she said, tears streaming down her cheeks, “This is my fault.”
“Don’t tell yourself that!” he scolded, “I volunteered. I couldn’t let you go without me because… you’re the only real friend I ever had, even when you were a ‘cabin boy’. There was no way I was going to let you run off like that.”
Esmerelda knew he was right, but she still felt guilty.
“I’m just really sorry we never found Caspian,” Asher told her, “I know how much you love him.”
Esmerelda shook her head, “It was probably just a wild-goose chase anyways. He’s dead, Asher. The Maelstrom never takes prisoners.”
“Don’t talk like that. You know he’s not dead.”
“How do you know?”
“Because if you love someone, he must be a really great guy; and if he loved you back, he wouldn’t just die on you, fierce pirates or none.”
Esmerelda sighed, “If only it were like that. It’s not up to anyone when they die. We’re living proof.”
“We aren’t dead yet, Esmerelda. Don’t talk like we are.”
Ten minutes of silence passed before the door swung open.
“My name is Captain Straton of the Providence. I know who you are,” he said, pointing to Esmerelda, “What is your name, boy?”
Straton obviously was waiting for a surname.
“I never knew my parents,” Asher told him.
Straton nodded, “Perhaps if you had, you would not be in the trouble you are in now. Nevertheless, I’m sure the two of you know the seriousness of your charges. You will-“
“Sir, we don’t even know what our charges are.”
“Well, stowing away on a ship was one. Burglary, uninvited passage on board a military vessel, evading capture by officers of the law. I honestly don’t know them all, but there are lots and isn’t that enough?”
“Captain, I’ve never stolen a thing in my life and we were accepted onto this ship by your cook-“
“Our cook has no right to accept anyone; that is the captain’s responsibility, and how do I know you aren’t lying?”
“You can’t possibly hang us for any of that, and certainly not without a fair trial!” Esmerelda cried.
“Girl, I am the captain of this ship. If I say you are stowaways, you’re stowaways. Every man on this ship would back me up and you know exactly what is done to stowaways on military vessels.”
Esmerelda knew and so did Asher.
“I will see you both at dawn. If you aren’t guilty, you’d better start praying for a way to prove it or it’s the rope for the both of you.”
The door opened the next morning, filling the cell with the reddish light of an early sunrise. Esmerelda and Asher hadn’t slept at all that night and they were both filled with hopelessness. This was it for both of them.
They were roughly pulled to their feet and dragged down the hall. Nobody spoke to them but many sailors and soldiers watched with pity, carelessness, or disgust. What had either of them done to deserve this?
“This is a mistake! We’re innocent!” Esmerelda wanted to cry out, but she knew it was useless. Why waste her breath when it was one of her last?
Silence came over the ship as they were brought onto the main deck. Two nooses hung from the main mast. The knot in Esmerelda’s stomach tightened with dread. She saw Asher’s face pale with utter hopelessness. She didn’t want to die. She hadn’t found Caspian. She felt like a failure. She had failed him, she had failed Asher, she had failed herself; and there was no going back.