The Journey To Freedom
© Copyright 2021 by Samantha Muirhead
Photo by Andrés Dallimonti on Unsplash
The journey to freedom Samantha Muirhead
Sailing back to my homeland, I worried about whatawaited my back home. Stealing from
someone from a higher class than you was punishableonly by death. At first the only thing
that mattered was getting off the island, but nowthe beach was in view, I had different
thoughts. As I stared out across the water at thedock, I remembered the last time I had
Trumpets blared, announcing the arrival of visitors.I rushed to the stable block door, and
peered out. Visitors to the castle were a rare occurrence.My six-year-old sister Miri was
unsuccessfully trying to see over the door by risingup onto her tippy toes. I hefted her up,
and she scrambled to sit on my shoulders. Noah, mytwo-year old brother, wailed to be
picked up so my father lifted him onto his shoulders.Overjoyed at being the highest, Noah
squawked with excitement. Carriages with fancy horsesstopped outside the palace gates.
The exquisite horses caught my eye. Purebred arabians,all a beautiful dappled grey, in
excellent condition, this was obviously an importantvisit.
I turned in surprise as, my best friend Mary, a maidto the princess, ran into the
“Clara! You will not believe it! Phillip Castell,the great explorer, has come to ask the
queen if he can have fifty ships, sixty of the bestbreeding mares and stallions and five
hundred sailors and crew! He wants to go and explorethe great ocean and bring his
treasures back to the palace!”
“What did the queen say?” was my question.
“She said...” Mary was interrupted by my father’sbooming voice.
“CLARA! There is a man here that wants to see you.”
I hurried into the tack room to see my father deepin conversation with a tall man with
a thin moustache that looked like a slug, wrigglingabout as he talked.
“This is your finest stablehand? No! We cannot havethis girl aboard a great voyaging
“What?” My father, head of the royal stables lookedstartled. “She’s going aboard a
ship? No daughter of mine will be taken by the likesof you! She’s only thirteen!” My father’s
gruff voice was full of worry.
“No! I can’t go! Who will help you look after Miriand Noah and all of the horses? You
need me, father!”
“You will be looking after the horses, that will beyour job once upon the ship.” The tall
“But you just said that I couldn’t go aboard the ship because I’m a girl!” I challenged.
“I said no such thing!”
“Yes you did!”
“Stop answering back, you impertinent girl. Now, gopack. Bare necessities only. Be
ready at dawn.” Bewildered, my father sighed and presseda hand to his sweaty forehead.
“Okay then, just as long as she’s looked after.”
So, that's how I found myself boarding a ship headedto who knows where, entrusted
with the duty of looking after twelve horses. Theboatswain told me in no uncertain terms
that I would care for the horses by myself and alsobe the lookout. My day constructed of
getting up at five to feed and clean all of the horses,take each one for a walk around the
deck so their muscles wouldn’t waste. Then I woulspend the rest of the day up in the
lookout area until sundown where I repeated the progresswith the horses. As the ship set
sail, the butterflies in my stomach turned into eagles,pecking at my insides until I wanted to
throw up. How could I board an unknown ship headedfor unknown waters? I might never
see father, Miri and Noah again! There would be storms,thirst, hunger, and I didn’t like the
look of that boatswain. But I swallowed my fear, andput on a brave face. The horses
Weeks went by and I lost count of how many days wehad been at sea. We were
running out of food and tensions were high. My favouritehorse, Pirate, was deteriorating.
His coat was now dull and lifeless. A rat was foundeating out of his food bucket one
morning! I hoped the journey would end soon. One thingthat lodged in my memory, and I
was sure was stuck in the horses memories too, werethe storms.
“GET UP THERE!” screamed the boatswain, tugging ata rope. He wanted me to go
be lookout in a howling gale!
“I’ll be thrown off!” I protested.
“I can’t be lookout in a storm!” I trembled at thethought.
“Get up there before I make you!” he snarled.
I cautiously put a hand on the rigging and the shipswayed, sending men tumbling
across the deck. Slowly I started to climb. The rainpelted my face like a million tiny bullets
stinging my cheek as the ship leapt like a rodeo horse.My hand touched wood and I
clambered into the lookout area, clinging to the sidelike it was a lifeline. All I could see was
pouring rain and the corner of a sail whipping inand out of view. I leaned over the edge to
shout this to the boatswain but the ship lurched andI lost my grip. I was falling.
Desperately, my hands scrabbled at anything to supportme. Flailing, I managed to
catch hold of a rope and my fall was stopped short.I hung about ten meters above the
deck, getting drenched by the rain. Gravity beganto take its course and I felt my hands
slipping off the end of the rope. I was trying tofigure out what to do next when a strong
burst of wind blew me sideways. I used the momentumto swing myself and let go at the
highest point. I slammed into the ladder, knockingthe breath out of me. I was so surprised I
almost didn't clutch hold of the rungs. I startedto climb down, but the boatswain spotted
“Get back up there!” He hollered.
I sighed and began to climb again. When I reachedthe top, I noticed that it had
become less stormy, and I could see quite far. I spotteda tiny speck on the horizon, and my
heart leapt. I kept my eyes trained on it, carefulnot to shout in case it was just a rock or a
whale. But after half an hour, the speck became abulge and I was certain.
Chatter down below halted, and you could hear a pindrop. The boatswain scaled the
ladder, and shoved me roughly aside.
“The girlie’s right.” he muttered, then in a boomingvoice yelled
“LAND AHOY!” Crew rushed to the side, all wantinga glimpse of the new land.
That night, we landed on the beach. While unloading,poor Pirate knocked his leg and
scraped the skin off right to the bone.
“Oh no! Quick! Get a clean bandage, we need to applypressure to the wound.” I
“Don’t bother.” grunted the boatswain.
“He’s only good for meat now. It’ll give us somethingto eat till we find food.”
“NO! You can’t eat him! That's barbaric! He is a beautifulliving creature and I will not
“Watch me.” The boatswain grabbed his halter.
“Leave it!” the captain ordered. “Let the girl takecare of him. We’ll turn in for the night
and eat him in the morning.”
Grumbling, the boatswain lumbered off and shaking,I unloaded all the horses and put
them in a makeshift paddock, made with tree branchesand logs.
In the middle of the night I woke up and saw poorPirate standing in the paddock
attempting to lick his wound. I went over to hug himand breathed in his familiar smell. I
couldn’t let those men kill him. Before I knew it, I'd made a decision, I was going to get
Pirate to safety or die trying. I led him out of thepaddock and picked a ship. There were
forty-nine other ships, so I was sure the men wouldbe fine. I lowered the gangplank and led
Pirate aboard. His hooves clattered against the wood,cutting through the night air like a
knife through butter. I winced at the noise, and oncehe was onboard I breathed a sigh of
relief. Then I looked back at all the other horses,from other ships too, not just mine. What
was I thinking, just taking Pirate? I made my decision.I was escaping and taking all of the
horses with me.
Minutes merged into hours but finally all of the horseswere loaded and the first rays of
dawn were creeping into the sky. I had just raisedthe sails when I realised the noise had
woken the boatswain.
“STOOOOPPPP!” he screamed. But it was too late. The boat was fifty meters from the
shore and he could do nothing to stop me. Once I couldn’thear him swearing and
threatening anymore, I took all of the horses outof the stable area and tied them up on the
deck so they could see the sky. There were stallionsthat should have fought, but somehow
they acted friendly, touching noses and whinnyingto each other. After three hot days, we
ran out of water. My throat was parched and I wassure the horse’s throats were too. I
experimented with drinking salt water, but it didlittle for my thirst and the taste made me
shudder. I went to sleep that night longing for cool water.
Startled, I woke to darkness that night. My cheekwas cold. I felt it and my hand came
back wet. Surely it was just the spray of a wave,but upon licking my finger I discovered it
was rain. Suddenly it started pouring down, soakingeverything. I jumped up and lept
around, my tongue out, relishing the cool water thatslipped down my throat. I took to my
senses and started putting out pots and pans, waterbuckets, even changing the direction of
the sail so that it held water too.
In the morning, the rain finally stopped, and I tookpleasure in being able to fill the
horses water buckets to the brim, and watched Piratesnort with delight and plunge his nose
in. It was two days later that I spotted land. I gleefullysailed towards it. I was going to see
my father again! I’d be able to hug Miri and throwNoah in the air as I told them of my
But as we got closer I realised this was not the familiar coastline of home. The water
looked different. Suddenly there was a shrieking,crunching sound. This was a coral reef!
The boat had hit coral. Water gushed up from a holein the floor like a fountain and I was so
surprised I just stopped and stared. Then adrenaline kicked in. I grabbed a sharp bit of coral
and started sawing at the horses ropes. If they werestill tied to the ship, they would go
down with it! There were only six ropes to cut, asI had tied them in a cobra formation. I cut
the first rope and watched one horse start swimmingto shore, the others following close
behind. I had just finished three when the boat heavedand abruptly I was thrown across the
deck. I crawled back towards the horses determinedly,knee deep in water. One rope. Then
another. I reached for the last rope. Pirate was onthat cobra, straining against the rope, his
eyes wide with terror. The ship lurched again andI went flying, banging my head against
the mast so hard I saw stars. I woozily grabbed therope, and started to saw, cutting the
final strands as I collapsed on the deck. Thankfullythe last thing I saw before I passed out
was Pirate herding the last horses into the waterto swim to safety.
Coming to, I found myself on a sandy beach. Piratewas standing over me and a
couple of the horses were grazing nearby. I wonderedwhat I was doing there, when it all
came back to me. Striking coral, cutting the ropes.Pirate must have saved me! I stood up
and gave him a huge hug, scratching him at the baseof his mane, the place he loved best.
After checking the horses for injuries, I began venturinginto the inner sections of the island.
I found a river, with a waterfall and the water lookedclean enough. I also found a cave quite
close to the beach. I found many berry bushes andfruit trees and discovered if they were
safe by trial and error. A tiny bit of juice froma black berry made me woozy, so I didn’t go
near that bush, but other berries were juicy and sweet.
A week passed and I discovered that the ship had beenwrecked beyond repair,
dashed into shards of wood by the coral. I scouredthe island for trees to make a raft, but I
was never good at woodwork, and even if I could makea seaworthy raft, I didn’t like my
chances of making it past the reef and navigatingthe way home, and I could never leave
the horses behind. Surely someone would find me. Icouldn’t just live on this island forever!
But as the days passed, my hopes sank like the ship.I tried to busy myself with getting food
and water, making shelter and fire, tending to thehorses, but it didn't work for long. By the
fourteenth day I was utterly despairing. I ploppedmyself down on the sand and for the
hundredth time tried to think of a way to get offthis island.
Then, I spotted a ship in the distance. In an instantI was on my feet, my arms whirling
“I’M HERE! HELP! COME HERE!” My voice was dry and cracked from underuse, but
the ship was turning towards me. Then I remembered.
“WATCH OUT! THERE’S CORAL!” The ship paused at the edge of the coral reef. A
rowboat was lowered and a tall man with two children clinging to him climbed into it. My
heart missed a beat. Could it be father? Miri? Noah?The rowboat made a strange, weaving
path through the coral. Only my father could be thatprecise. I ran towards the rowboat as it
slid onto the sand, stumbling over a log in my haste.Strong arms caught me before I hit the
ground and I hugged my father tight.
“Clara! Clara!” I scooped Miri up in a hug too, squeezingher tight.
“Cawa!” Noah toddled up the sand as my father startedspeaking, high and quick like
he was about to burst into tears.
“The ships arrived back without you. I bribed a veryangry boatswain, and he said that
you had run away and stolen a ship and sixty horses!We’ve been searching the islands
around this area for days. I can’t believe we’ve foundyou!” My father ran his hand over my
“Are you hurt? I can’t believe you did all that justto save a horse! It sounds just like
“Clara!” Miri tugged on my arm. “I caught a fish!”For the first time in months, I
laughed. I am going home.