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February 9th, 2020
When Lucilius was young he took work aboard a ship. It was a grunt position, being the ships’ boy, and being the youngest he was tasked with every manner of tedium and grime, leaving him little chance to learn the true ways of the ship, gazing up every day at the taut sails, seeing the men haul their lines and mend their ways.
One evening, exhausted, he sat with the cook in the galley, his only kind shipmate at the time, and watched the cook go about his business of food. The ship had already had it’s fill and most were grogged down for the night, and Lucilius, eating last, savored the food only by being too tired to rush it into his ravenous body.
The cook removed the lid from a pot and with a ladle, skimmed off some tallow. The cook blew on it and tasted it, smiling and then extended the spoon to Lucilius who sipped off the rest. The hot fat was delicious to the two.
“Good stuff,” the cook grumbled through his crooked smile. And then, “Well,” he said, looking at the boy Lucilius, feeling the nudge for a lick of conversation.
“When ya gonna be more than just boy?”
Lucilius looked at the ancient man. He shrugged his shoulders. “I just do what they tell me,” he said.
The old cook gave him a dissatisfied look. He turned back to his pot and skimmed off a little more tallow, lifting it and then poured it back in slowly.
“Know why tallow floats to the top?”
The boy Lucilius shook his head.
“Cause it’s so good. Yeh, ye need water like what’s b’low, but a man’ll go far longer on tallow then’e will on just water.”
The old cook looked seriously at Lucilius. “I seen it ma’self. Man’ll just shrivel up. Don’ matter how much water he got. But tallow does far more for ya. S’why it rises for us.”
The boy Lucilius struggled, listening to the old cook, trying to understand what he was saying about the hot fat.
“Be like tallow boy, an y’ll rise.”
For the next week, Lucilius pondered the cook’s words as he went about his work, and one evening after stand-down, Lucilius was tasked by the bo’sun to recoil lines along the rails. He was left alone as the crew went about their frivolity down below. He’d yet to deal with lines and no one had taken the time to show him, nor had he paid much attention when the older sailors had been at the work.
He unhitched the coil and let it fall to the deck, and then he began to unhitch the line from it’s cleat, unaware of how much weight it was holding. He came to the last turn and the line began to pull, and it sucked Lucilius straight into the rail, pinning him as he winced in pain at a trapped hand, keeping the line from feeding more, but totally unable to move. He gasped heavily for breath, looking skyward, trying to figure what heavy piece in the rigging might fall because of him.
Then with a quickness that Lucilius could not fathom, a strong hand threaded round and clapped hold of the loose line behind his hand, and another holding high above teased the angle, till Lucilius’ hand was free. He fell back to the deck gasping.
The captain stood tall above him, and with dizzying speed, the man had the line held fast again. Then he turned to Lucilius with a flat smile. He grabbed Lucilius’ pained hand and examined it. Then looked Lucilius in the eyes.
“Let me show you.” And with that the captain lead him through the maneuvers of the line held fast, explaining how and why it was cleated. What is was connected to, and then he coiled the tailing line, perfectly, and hitched it, then stayed with Lucilius as he went through the same maneuvers, and made him do it over and over until the boy Lucilius had it right.
“Good,” the captain said, and then he turned to leave.
“Thank you Captain.” Lucilius was barely able to say.
The captain stopped, turned and looked at him. The captain motioned with a gesture to the whole ship.
“All this,” he said, shaking his head, “without us, it’s just fancy driftwood.”
The next morning Lucilius arose before all others who were not on watch and he went to the galley to prep the cook’s work. Then he went to the forepeak, and helped organize the bo’sun’s keep, and he started on the crew’s chores early, polishing the ships metals before getting to his own work, and he kept at the extra work, day after day, rising early and turning in late.
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