Authors: P.S. Bartlett
DEMONS & PEARLS
The Razor’s Adventures
DEMONS & PEARLS
Copyright © P.S. Bartlett 2015
Names, characters and incidents depicted in this book are products of the author's imagination, or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of the author or the publisher.
Allrightsreserved.Nopartofthisbookmaybereproducedortransmittedin anyformorbyanymeanswhatsoever,includingphotocopying,recordingor byanyinformationstorageandretrievalsystem,withoutwrittenpermission fromthepublisherand/orauthor.
Printed in the U.S.A.
Once upon a time I met a Pirate
A mate among mates was she
She opened me eyes with a mighty wind
And set me on the sea
She pulled a cork from a bottle a rum
And she offered me a shot
‘Er since that day she stole me heart
With her tales that time forgot
Ivory Shepard she was called
But the rest, they called her Razor
Blood nor sweat nor man nor beast
Was fearful enough to faze her
By sword or by fist she battled on
And rode the waves through hell
Cross her wrong they did as fools
And as fools they died as well
Young and hearty she raised the black
And set forth with her girls
T’wasn’t gold nor silver on her mind
She’d set her sights to pearls
T’was a blessed day I met the girl
Who whispered her tales to me
“Tell it all but state it plain
T’was a woman set them free.”
Thank you for telling me your stories, Ivory Shepard. I’ll always state it plain.
Cristi Taijeron, thank you for your incredible guidance, advice and priceless gems. May your tales also sail on throughout history as some of the most wonderful, honest and passionate pirate stories I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.
Thank you to lovers of pirate stories. May I always have your guns at the ready, your broadswords sharpened and your pistols loaded with adventure.
As always and forever; to my beautiful family and friends—both lubbers and mates, thank you for always putting up with my time away at sea.
Table of Contents
About the Author
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Caught in the middle of the Golden Age of Piracy, four young women, led by their eldest cousin, Ivory Shepard, have escaped a pirate raid and bought passage aboard a pirate ship to Port Royal, Jamaica.
With no more than their smarts and their will to carry them, they end up caught in a battle for their lives. They have been betrayed by the ship’s captain and unfortunately realize that as women, they are worse off in this new world than they were in the old one.
This is their story as told by Ivory Shepard, also known as…The Razor.
Had I known the repercussions of murdering the captain of a pirate ship, I may have taken the time necessary to rethink the act. However, as I stood over the bloody, lifeless body of Captain Christopher Barclay, as well as no less than seven of his crew, as usual it was too late to change my mind. Change my mind, indeed. As if I had a choice.
As if I’ve ever had a choice that didn’t involve a fight, or at the very least, defending myself against someone hell-bent on destroying me or my kin. I must always follow my instincts, regardless of the fallout of my actions. Had I not done so, I most certainly would not have lived to see the rest of this unspeakable day.
I pleaded with the Captain not to kill them all. If he’d have only been more of a man and less a murderous monster, perhaps this day may have ended for him as he lay down at last, safe and whole in his bunk. Alas, this was not to be. Instead, the surge of the battle within him overtook his senses, and he snatched me by the back of my neck.
“Miss Shepard, take your ladies below. And should these swabs be foolish enough to fight back, and God forbid we lose this fight, kill your cousins… and then yourself. Trust me, you’ll not wish to draw breath should that pack of dogs board us.”
“I’ll send them below, but I’ll not pass up the chance at last to show your own pack of dogs who I am.” What the hell was I thinking?
“It’s your pretty head. If the first sight of a sail dropped you to your knees, let’s hope you can stay on your feet when they bare their fangs and lunge at your throat.”
“I’ll live, Captain. And perhaps you haven’t noticed, but they’re not ladies anymore. Today shall prove that.” We’d spent weeks in rags, cleaning up after pirates, listening to their vile comments, and working as virtual slaves in order to secure our passage to Jamaica. I wondered constantly why we hadn’t been violated yet, but I held onto the hope that a pirate could in fact, keep his word.
Perhaps I’d had enough and was ready for a fight. Considering I had fallen to my knees when I heard the call of “Sail!” and had shaken like a leaf at the sight of these men scrambling about, loading guns and making preparations for a fight, one would have thought I’d have run and hidden with my cousins. But, no; as usual, I had something to prove.
“Such a shame to waste such charms. Look at you,” he said, taking me roughly by the jaw with his filthy paw, from which I jerked free instantly. “You’ve lost your youthful glow to the harsh wind and sun, and if you ever had a tender inch, you’ve buried it beneath the vines of bitterness you’ve wrapped yourself in. Tell me, Ivory, who did this to you? Who plucked the rose and left the thorns?”
“Those who would step over that gunnel will meet my blade before another unwanted and indecent hand breaches my striking distance. I’ll remove that hand and take his arm as well, and if that doesn’t stop him, his head.”
“Such a tragedy you are, and since I’ve my own tragic story to write, it’s time to give back to the world what she’s bestowed upon us, my dear. Ready the guns! Do not fire until I give the order! She’s no fucking good in a million pieces!” Barclay roared over our heads as he raced, broadsword in hand, to the stern and stood at her highest point. “Shepard, get your skinny ass up here! You want to be free?”
“I will be free!” I shouted at him. There was no turning back now.
“Bring her around! We’ll rake her from the bow and then take her from the starboard side!” He barked to the helmsman. I’d never heard this voice before. It wasn’t a voice. It was the roar of a mighty lion, and the mere sound of it vibrated through my skin.
As his call to arms passed through me, a deafening hum pierced my brain and I sheathed my sword and cupped the sides of my head, in an attempt to silence it. When I let go, the only sound I heard was my own heartbeat, which I imagined was well over one hundred beats per minute. In the background, strangled beneath the thumping drumbeats that felt as if they were about to split my chest, were the thunderous cries of the crew. The muffled screams and fearsome bellows of men in search of blood and fortune were barely audible behind the wall of my excruciating terror.
I glanced up and over the side, watching as the panicked crew of our prey scrambled wildly about, dodging the incoming gunfire, obviously unprepared in both arms and numbers for such an assault. Unable to believe what I was seeing, I lowered my hands for a moment and swallowed hard. I watched in horror as the first man at the rail of our prize lost the left side of his skull in a spatter of bone and bloodied skin. The gun flew from his hands, and his feet left the deck simultaneously, sending him bouncing backwards out of this life and unnaturally into the next, as nothing more than a heap of dead flesh.
I think I screamed and then felt a pop deep within my eardrums. All at once, the echoes of deadly battle at last bashed their way in. Gunfire and the thumps and clinks of grappling hooks dropping to the deck in preparation to make capture were sharp, and what I could clearly see and hear was matched sight for sound at last.
“Fire!” Barclay ordered. All five guns kicked back with a deafening boom, shaking the Demon Sea. I lost my footing from the jolt and coughed hard repeatedly as gunpowder and choking smoke filled the air. As we came about to the starboard side of what was obviously no more than a merchant ship, the smoke cleared in the windy spray, and Barclay called to hold fire. I looked across the water to find all those left standing shoulder to shoulder on their deck. Their arms were raised and their meager weapons lay at their feet. The damage done by what I knew to be chain shot—Barclay’s preferred method of maximum devastation—left blood, flesh, and splintered wood as far as my eyes could see.
“Take her lads; she’s all ours!” Barclay shouted as he sheathed his sword and snatched me by the back of my neck again. “Look, girl! Do you see those twenty or so swabs with their tails tucked in their asses? I’m about to give the order of no quarter. Do you know what that means?”
“No quarter?” I asked, shaking free of his grip and pushing him off as I backed away in horror. “Why? They surrendered, and yet you’d…”
“That’s right, lass. Kill them all,” he growled with a smile.
“That’s a coward’s maneuver, Barclay. Those aren’t pirates; they’re sailors trying to make a living.”
“We’re about to take their living. What will they have to live for, once it’s ours?” Barclay’s eyes shined, and at last I could see the monster he truly was. I pulled my sword and pointed it at him as I lowered my head and looked up into his cold, dead eyes. “Call them off. Take the loot and let the living go,” I commanded. Once again, I had no idea what I was thinking. This was none of my affair, and yet something in me couldn’t bear the thought of what he planned to do.
Barclay burst into laughter. “Hold your claws, little kitty, before I rip them out and feed you to the dogs!”
“We’ve been here before, remember? This time, I won’t stop when I pierce your yellow hide.”
“Oh, but you will,” Barclay said with a smooth purr. Then, a thick forearm clamped around my neck from behind and pulled me off my feet. I dropped my sword and dug my nails into my assailant’s hard flesh, and I kicked him again and again. The more I resisted, the more his grip tightened against my throat. The man twisted and turned, causing me to swing from the neck down like a clock’s pendulum. With a loud pop and a violent jerk, his arm pulled free, and I was sent flying hard against the boards, flat on my face and struggling for air.
A second later, I raised my head and opened my eyes to find my attacker lying next to me. A gaping wound had opened from the back of his head straight through to what was left of his face. I was gasping for breath and rubbing my neck, but I managed to push myself up on one knee. Once my vision cleared, my eyes focused on my cousin, Cassandra, staring blankly down at the dead man with a smoldering pistol dangling from her left hand.
“Good shot, Cass. Duck,” I shouted. I dove for my fallen sword, picked it up, and swung it at the sailor about to do mortal damage to Cassandra from behind. I leapt forward and opened the man’s throat with the tip of my blade and watched him fall.
“Get them,” I heard Barclay order as he barreled towards me, but most of the crew had already gone over to the merchant ship, and but a handful remained. He swung wildly at me with his broadsword and nearly caught the sleeve of my shirt with his backswing, but I spun away before he could reach me. I recovered and swiped hard at him and met his blade low. The blow shook me, and my arms trembled, but there was no time to consider any such discomfort, or death would stifle any tremble or quake for good. Barclay came up from under with his sword, swirling mine and tossing it off. He came at me again with a powerful fore swing, and our blades rang out against each other.
His strength and force far outweighed mine, but that didn’t stop me. I was stronger and more powerful than I’d ever been, and although I stumbled, I stood back and balanced myself before striking out again. I knew I could not win this battle within a battle by force. I’d need to rely on my agility and skill with a sword in order to take down this man twice my size.
My arms felt like lead as I continued to combat Barclay on the quarterdeck. I evaded his swings long enough to notice my cousins fighting their own battles as well, dropping dead pirates one after the other. As with every struggle in our lives, their ferocious spirits gave me the strength to continue. With a renewed wind, I again engaged Barclay. With every meeting of our blades, I screamed from the agonizing pain in my arms that felt as if every muscle from my fingers to my neck were tearing away from the bone.
The moaning boards and hard tilting of the Demon caught my attention long enough to see my cousin, Miranda, swinging an axe and cutting us away from the merchant ship. Over the howls and cries of battle, I heard the familiar shouts and screams of my cousins hard at work to set us free. Barclay heard them as well, and he turned away from me for a moment when he too, realized what was happening. That was the window that opened him up to me.
I let out a scream. I released the roar of my own lion. With every bit of my heart, I swung that sword and struck him, slicing through the sleeve of his coat, tearing through his flesh until I felt the blade hit bone at his elbow as I followed through. Then, the ferocity of what I’d done stole my breath when I watched as his severed arm fell to the deck—his hand still clutching his sword.
Covered in his own blood, Barclay staggered to the gunnel, grappling at his bloodied stump. He fell to his left, catching himself on the rail under his arm, and he gritted his teeth as he looked up at me and groaned, “I told you, didn’t I?”
“You’ve told me many things,” I panted. “None of which I find worth mentioning at the moment.”
“I told you…that you…were a pirate.” His face crumpled in pain, and he drew long deep breaths between his words.
I tossed my head at him and moved in until the tip of my sword was mere inches from his nose. I wanted to end him; not only for what he’d tried to do to me, but for all of the atrocities he wore on his twisted face since the first time I’d laid eyes on him. “What was that you said before about no quarter?”
“Look at me,” Barclay groaned as he bled out from his severed limb, and then he laughed. “I’m already dead.”
Possessed with the desire for more of his blood, I drew back my sword with calculated precision and pressed the point of my blade to his chest. His bloodshot eyes rolled down and stared at it for a moment, and he smiled, as if he knew what was coming. Through that peaceful grin, he let out a long sigh of relief, almost as if he welcomed the sharp tip into his body. Our eyes locked. The world had fallen completely still between us. The next thing I felt was his body weight pressed hard against me, until the brass buttons on his coat were pressed against my knuckles.
As his dying weight bore down on me and the wet heat of his blood flowed between us, I shoved him off of me and stumbled back. My eyes blew open as Barclay’s dead body fell away from me and the sword, soaked red, slid free of him and hung from my hand.
The gasps of my cousins revived me from my murderous trance, and the screams and violent splashing of men, either swimming for their lives or drowning, sent me again into action. My ever-at-alert cousin, Keara, asked, “Now what do we do? Do you honestly think that lot will follow us? They were all loyal to Barclay.” Then, she collapsed.
They all stared at me, waiting for me to speak. All I could think was what I’d heard; if anyone challenged the Captain and won, they had the right to claim the nomination to take his place. What did I know? I couldn’t just stand there and wait for the next thing to happen anymore. I had to take control. As I glanced around me at the half dozen or so dead sailors, remorse was overcome by pride in knowing we’d been able to, yet again, survive.
“We need a crew. Let’s go after that ship. Those merchant sailors will do, and the code says any man who wants to be Captain can, when they challenge the present Captain and win. I’d say I won, wouldn’t you?”
“You would be correct,” said the very thick voice of a native Jamaican man as he appeared seemingly out of nowhere with his hands in the air.
“Where the hell did you come from?” Keara asked, leaping to her bare feet and raising her sword at him.
“I have been here all along. I am no one, really; only a man who wishes to stay alive until we reach Jamaica.”
“Turn around,” I ordered, and I nodded to Cassandra to search the huge man for weapons, of which he had none.
“I can assure you I am unarmed. I will obey the code. I only want to live so that I may return to Kingston once we make land.”
“What do you think, Ivory?” Keara asked aside.
“Can you sail this ship?” I asked him.
“That I can do, yes, but I will need assistance.”
“If you help me with that lot, I’ll take you to Kingston,” I said, and I pointed my sword at the drifting ship.
“What about the crew?” Cassandra asked me, but her eyes remained fixed on the stranger, and his captivating pale green eyes.
“Any man left standing will go free, but the ship is greatly damaged, so they won’t be going anywhere until they can make repairs. Let’s bring this bitch about and go get what we came for,” I answered.
Once back aside the merchant ship, I told the Jamaican man to address the crew of the Demon Sea and offer to allow them to return to the ship. “Anyone still willing to sail aboard the Demon is welcome back, and any able-bodied man aboard that ship is welcome to join the crew,” he called out as the ships were again brought aside.
“Ye killed the Cap’n, did ye?” Barclay’s bosun, Rip Townsend, called out to me.
I nodded in response. “Self-defense.”
“I s’pose by order of the code, we have no choice but ta’ vote ye Cap’n. Doesn’t mean none of us like it, but we’ve only a few more days ‘til we make Port Royal. Once we’re on land, you ain’t me Cap’n no more.”
“We’ll be heading first to Kingston,” I stated, nodding at the Jamaican.
“Madame, if you would allow me to assist you,” he leaned in and whispered.
“Assist me?” Who in the hell did this dog think he was barking at?
“Madame, if I may please speak with you alone, I am sure that I can find a way to keep you and your ladies alive until we reach Kingston.”
“What do you mean, keep us alive?” I barked back.
“Ivory, perhaps you can give the gentleman a chance,” Cassandra whispered in my ear as she tapped me on the shoulder and drew my attention to the gathering mob of men behind us on the deck. Their faces bore the worn and ragged expressions of anger, mixed with the seawater and blood they’d dragged back aboard the Demon with them. My hands trembled as their ravenous eyes weighed and measured me, but I wasn’t immediately sure what they hungered. It was, however, instantly obvious that Barclay’s dead body meant only one thing to them—loss of future income. Somewhere between the oppressive midday sun and their encroaching footsteps, I found my frozen feet as well as my backbone, and my body turned towards them.
“Gentleman, please allow me to speak,” I shouted to them in the deepest tone of voice I could dig out from my belly. All the while, I clutched the grip of my cutlass to steady my hand. There was no time to think, and even though I knew Barclay had used me to end himself, they weren’t going to hear any of it.
“Killin’ the Cap’n didn’t win ye anythin’, lass. You ain’t a pirate, and ye never will be,” the boson growled. This was the same boson who, before he’d come back aboard, stated before the crew that according to the code I was Captain now. Of course, I knew nothing of the weight of the code or whether or not he was lying.
“Now let’s just hold on for a minute and assess the situation, shall we gents?” suggested an older gentleman whom I had known since we came aboard as Barclay’s quartermaster, Willy McCormack. Willy appeared to be at least in his mid-fifties. Either that, or his years of drinking and pirating had taken its toll.
“By all due process, lassie, as quartermaster of this here Demon Sea and according to the code, this here ship falls ta’ me for a vote. Even under circumstances such as these, and to appease the uneasy temperament of the remaining crew as well as these here new fellas, the rules are as they are, so there’s gonna be a vote. But first, we need to get ta’ the bottom of this here incident.”
“A vote?” I blurted out as I stepped toward the man and was handily held to an arm’s length by him.
“A vote is how it’s done, lass,” he leaned into me and growled with a knowing in his eyes that he wished to relay something to me once out from under prying eyes and ears. “Unless yer intention is ta’ end up in the drink… or worse.” He nodded.
I looked over the crew. In my mind, I began to count the numbers of those whom I’d saved from the merchant ship as opposed to the original sailors of the Demon. From what I could see the count was close. However, the doubts began to creep in that my few weeks aboard this vessel weren’t nearly enough to earn me a title—no matter who I killed or why. My only hope was that there were at least enough men on board who loathed Barclay and who’d be willing to tolerate the fact that I am a woman for three more days. Then, should they choose to abandon me in Kingston, so be it.
“Madame, may we please, please have a few words?” the soft-spoken Jamaican man asked again. Finally, something within me turned, and as much as it pained me to admit it, I almost listened to him.
“Yes, but first, I have something to say to these men.”
From there I dashed to the gunnel and climbed until I stood atop it, holding onto the lines as the ship lightly tilted in the calm water. Cass, Miranda, and Keara clung to each other and followed, standing at my feet. I looked down at them in the scorching heat and watched as the blades clutched in their hands trembled as if it were below freezing.
“You do not know me, nor do you know these women,” I stated.
“Aye, but I’d wait me turn,” one of the sailors shouted, and they all began to laugh.
“Gentlemen, gentlemen, we have the merchant ship to relieve of her contents. She is yet seaworthy, and should you feel the Demon unsuitable, perhaps you will find your way elsewhere with her.” The large and imposing figure of the man who’d now introduced himself to me as Alphonse Green had stepped forward to speak. I realized then that perhaps I should allow him my ear if I wanted to keep us alive. Rape and death at the hands of these beasts was not an option, and any alliances I might be so fortunate to forge were welcome. It had at last occurred to me that, in their world, there was but one place for a woman—regardless of how many dead men she knew. Unfortunately for them, their opinion of women had no bearing on me. My back was to the sea, and I did not intend to die at the hands of any man today.
“No woman can run a ship! The only woman I’m takin’ orders from is one who’s tellin’ me where to poke her,” One of the original Demon crew who went by the name of Felix gave this rancid opinion, and once more they all laughed. Thankfully, Mister Green stepped forward in my defense.
“Listen, mates. For now, let us relieve the merchantman of her cargo and enjoy our victory. When all things are settled, we shall have our vote. Either way, we all win and fill our pockets. Aye?” I believed that he was attempting to draw their attention away from me.
“Aye!” the men roared in agreement. Mister Green turned to Willy and pulled him aside. For now, the rest appeared to concern themselves only with their quarry and turned away. But I wasn’t finished yet.
“Please gentlemen, hear me out.” The words had barely left my mouth when I was caught unawares, swiftly disarmed, pulled violently from my perch, and thrown across the shoulder of Mister Green. “Get your hands off me,” I screamed through the crew’s roars of laughter. I was promptly relieved of my weapons, as were my cousins, who were corralled and led behind me. I was roughly shoved into what appeared to be the Captain’s quarters and tied to a chair.
As I sat there, alone in that dank, filthy cabin, awaiting my fate, I realized that although I am long on fight and will, I have come up quite short on the knowledge that, even in this other worldly place, a woman is worth about as much as a dog. My only salvation came in knowing we were alive, and regardless of what happened next, there was one less devil in the world. I could at least be proud of the fact that I was responsible for sending his black soul back to hell.
~Hell Hath No Fury~
Willy McCormack and Mister Green entered the cabin some time later. I had a while to build up a full head of steam, and I could tell by the looks on their faces when they laid eyes on me that they were not amused.
“It’s about fucking time,” I shouted.
“Shut that foul mouth a yer’s, or I’ll shut it fer ye,” Willy shouted at me.
“Madame, please,” Mister Greene said and released me from my binds.
“You’ve got balls the size of coconuts, lass, but yer lackin’ quite a bit in diplomacy.”
“Diplomacy? What have I to be diplomatic about? Barclay was going to kill me. And where are my cousins?” I asked, massaging my aching wrists.
“Settle down. They are locked up in their quarters, and I ‘ave the key. They’re safe,” Willy said, easily pushing me back onto the chair by my shoulders. “Do ye wish ta’ live, lass?”
“What a ridiculous question! Of course we…”
“Then shut yer hole and pay attention.” Willy leaned back and propped his right hip down on what was Barclay’s desk and folded his arms at his chest. “We’re on yer side, lassie. Had ye not relieved him of his arm, sooner or later one of us woulda’ done it. Problem is, ye bein’ a woman and all, in order fer us ta’ keep this crew’s head on straight, we need ta’ work together.”
A sigh of relief blew out of me, and I took my first full breath of wind since I’d shaken Barclay’s blood from my blade. “Us? So what you’re telling me is I did you gentlemen a very big favor and you’re here to return it?”
“Not so fast, lass, we’ve still a bit a work ta’ do. We have close to sixty men out there—and that includes the ones ye called aboard who just lost their future income—well, at least that’s their version. All they can think of when they lay eyes on ye is fuckin’ ye, not followin’ yer orders. You need ta’ get that idea outta yer head the sooner the better.”
“Well, without any further disgusting appraisals of the circumstances my cousins and I now find ourselves in, do you have a plan?”
“First of all, where’d ye learn ta’ swing a sword like that?” Willy inquired as he pinched his right eye at me.
“My uncle taught me when I was just a girl, and I in turn taught them,” I said as I sat up and stuck out my chin with pride.
“Well, I’ve bad news fer ye, lass. No matter how ye can fight, yer still just a girl,” Willy leaned in an inch from my face and said.
“Which doesn’t appear to matter much now, does it?” I said through my teeth at him.
“I’m tryin’ to like ye, lassie, but that smart mouth a’ yers isn’t makin’ it easy.”
“You don’t have to like me, sir. However, I do feel under the circumstances you could at least give me a chance to try and save those girls and myself. I do admit things have gone horribly wrong, but we’re strong and as you’ve seen, we can take care of ourselves if only given a chance.” I sat quietly for a few moments and watched as Mister Green let out a sigh and took hold of the conversation.
“Madame, approximately thirty of these men came over from that merchantman,” Green commented. “Prior to the vote, I will again speak on your behalf, and I will bear witness to the fact that your altercation with Barclay originated from his call for no quarter. Not to mention the fact that I did witness the Captain take his own life.”
“But…you’re going to tell them I murdered him…to save their lives, aren’t you?” I wasn’t sure if I should laugh or cry. Truth be told, Green saw the whole thing, and by God’s witness as well, had he not thrown himself on my blade, I would have certainly killed him anyway.
“Woman or no, risking your life to save the lives of over two dozen men you do not know is a sacrifice that even they would have to admit is worthy of allowing you to live.” Green’s point was valid and well-taken, and yet I knew gaining any amount of their respect wouldn’t come easily. Unfortunately though, I tend to get a bit free with my opinions when cornered.
“Something indeed, yet I’d still have all of my female parts, which regardless of any valorous act, would still render me worthless.”
“Not so fast, lass,” Willy interrupted. “In case them bonny blue eyes a’ yers missed it, I’m the oldest fella on this vessel. It ain’t usual for men ta’ live this long out ‘ere.”
“What has your age to do with anything?”
“Sparing a man’s life is worth everythin’. Feedin’ him and keepin’ him in rum and whores comes next. So far, I’d say sharin’ that intelligence will save yer neck… and maybe even yer honor.”
“This code you spoke of. May I see it please?” I asked as I sat up straight as an arrow in the chair and scooted myself forward to the desk.
“I’d just like to know what the rules are aboard this vessel. Is that too much to ask?”
Green walked to the Captain’s bookshelf and lifted a familiar brown leather-bound volume and placed it in my hands. I opened the book, and there on the first two pages were the articles of the ship, which had been revealed to me as the laws of this vessel. I found it surprising indeed that men who behave so lawlessly would manage themselves in such a way, but I supposed there had to be some measure of accountability, if only to each other.
I dragged my index finger across the page, and nowhere in these articles did it say that a woman could not captain a ship if she were able in mind, body, and spirit. In my devilish attempt to be an annoyance to my new found allies, I read them aloud.
“Articles of Agreement of the Demon Sea. My goodness, I had no idea how formal pirates are. Who’d have known you were all so political?”
“Just get on with it, lass. We haven’t all day for this,” Willy grumbled as he dropped into the Captain’s chair.
“Fine, fine, fine…article number one—which, by the way, is probably of the most interest to us at the moment:The captain of the ship is to be elected by a majority vote of the crew: If at any time the crew finds just cause and sufficient evidence to prove the Captain unfit, or if the Captain is killed in battle, the Quartermaster shall act as Captain until the vote is taken. The Vote must be taken within one full day of its announcement. Failure to follow this procedure will be deemed mutiny.So, according to this, gentlemen, we actually have until approximately this time tomorrow to elect a new captain, correct?” I asked as I relaxed back into my seat with the book in my lap.
“Yes, yes, go on. Wait, what do you mean, we?” Willy sat forward as if poked with a pin in his back.
“I simply mean to say that, should you choose to honor the favor I’ve done for you as well as my kin, you’ll have no choice but to allow me to sign with you.”
“Carry on, Madame. We may discuss the situation entirely when you are through with this. Whatever this is,” Green said, folding his hands and now resting his hip where Willy McCormack had moments before.
“Number two:Every man has a vote in affairs of the moment; has equal title to the fresh provisions, or strong liquors, at any time seized, and may use them at pleasure, unless a scarcity makes it necessary, for the good of all, to vote a retrenchment.Retrenchment. What an interesting word. I’m rather liking this equality thing. Oh, that’s right. I forgot that only applies if you’ve a cock.”
“The mouth on ye, lass. What are ye, sixteen? Where’s a young lady learn such talk at such a tender age?” Willy huffed and crossed his arms. Green only looked down and shook his head.
“What? What did I say? And by the way, I was eighteen four months ago, and as I said, you don’t know me, nor my cousins. It’s none of your business where I learned anything. Number three:Every man shall obey civil command; the Captain shall have two full shares in all Prizes; the Master, Carpenter, Boatswain, and Gunner shall have one share and a half. The fund of all payments under the articles is the stock of what is gotten by the expedition, following the same law as other pirates; No prey, no pay.Seems fair to me.”
“Number four:If any man shall offer to run away, or to keep any secret from the Company, he shall be marooned with one bottle of powder, one bottle of water, one small arm, and shot.”
“Number five:If any Man shall steal anything in the company, or game, to the value of a Piece of Eight, he shall be marooned or shot. Honor among thieves, indeed.”
“Number six:That man who shall strike another man whilst aboard ship and whilst these Articles are in force shall receive forty lashes on the bare back.Does it count if the other man strikes first?”
“All aspects of any altercation are taken into consideration. However, ask any man aboard to remove his shirt and should he bear the scars, you may ask him yourself,” Green answered with a cockeyed smile.
“I do believe you’re growing fond of me, Mister Green,” I said with a wink and a click of my tongue. I carried on. “Number seven:Any man who shall snap his Arms, or smoke tobacco in the hold, without a cap to his Pipe, or carry a Candle lighted without a lantern, shall suffer the same punishment as in the former Article.Let me see now, so far, there is voting, obeying orders, honor, and now swearing not to take her down in flames.”
“Number eight:Lights and candles must be snuffed out at eight o'clock. If any man desires to drink after such time, he shall do so on the open deck without lights.Do you gentlemen mean to tell me that pirates have a bedtime?”
“Me good humor is bein’ wasted on a smart-ass witch of a wench who’s determined to have me turn her ‘cross me knee. Remind me again why we’re botherin’ with this?” Willy shouted as he stood and slammed his hands down on the desk.
“I assure you, sir, I am not a wench. I am a prudent and intelligent woman. I cannot, however, deny the rest of your commentary, as I am more than aware of my sharp tongue and my pride in having irritated beyond measure almost every man I have ever have the displeasure of knowing.”
“Enough of this. Tell her now that she cannot sign the articles today… or ever.” Green intervened.
“And why can’t I?”
“No woman will ever,everbe a part of this crew. I don’t care if she can swing a sword like Blackbeard ‘imself,” Willy growled as he rounded the desk and pulled the book from my hands.
“Number nine!” I continued regardless. “Any Man that shall not keep his weapons clean and fit for an Engagement, or who neglects his business due to drunkenness, shall be cut off from his share, and suffer such other punishment as the Captain and the Company shall think fit. Number ten! If any Man shall lose a Joint in time of an Engagement he shall have 400 pieces of Eight; if a limb, 800.Now, please give me back that damn book because I didn’t have enough time to memorize the last one,” I said, and I reached out and snatched the edge of the book and held on, with Willy on the other end of it. Willy cocked his eyebrow and snapped his head at Green, who hadn’t moved a muscle this entire time and simply shrugged. Willy released the book back into my hands, and I continued.
“I’m not certain why there is an eleven, but…No boy or woman is to be brought aboard ship or amongst the crew in disguise for the purpose of sexual seduction. This, my dear gentlemen, is the other bit of information I was hoping to find.If any man is to be found seducing any of the latter sex, and carried her to sea under disguise, he is to suffer death, and the woman or boy will be placed in the custody of a sentinel.” I closed the book and sat it easily on the desk next to the massive thigh of Mister Green.
“I was not brought aboard this ship in disguise, nor were my cousins. We were also not brought aboard for anyone’s sexual amusement. These articles say nothing against anything I’ve done.”
“We know,” Willy grumbled as he spun away from me and paced until he returned to the Captain’s seat.
“And? Where does it say that I’ve caused a mutiny? I’ve done no such thing. I was never part of this crew other than working and slaving day and night on this ship to keep from dying of boredom. I never signed this code of yours, nor did my cousins. Doesn’t that mean we cannot be held accountable for any crimes?”
“All fine and accurate points, Madame, which is why we brought you here. Since you and your cousins were never legitimately part of this crew, you cannot be punished for any crime under these articles. However, because you are not part of this crew, you are also not protected by them,” Green said.
“May I speak plainly, gentlemen?”
“Ye sayin’ the blasted babblin’ we’ve been suffrin’ through up ‘till now wasn’t enough?” Willy stood and his big Irish face was blood red. “Now ye listen here, lass…”
“Do you think for one moment I haven’t seen these articles before? I’ve poked my nose in this room more than once. Even I’m not so brilliant as to have memorized them as I sat here and suffered your pious manly posturing while you look down your noses at me as if I’m simply some worthless whore. Not that I haven’t proven I am far from worthless and certainly not a whore. I suppose I’d have to have taken an arm from your entire crew before you’d give me the respect I deserve.”
“Respect? So it’s respect ye be wantin’ then? Ha!” Willy threw his hands up and what started with a laugh soon fell to a grim and deadly stare. “Yer lucky to be drawin’ breath, remember? Any one a’ them fellas coulda’ killed ye out there, and Green and me couldn’t a’ stopped it.”
“Ha, indeed. I’m not sure what I’ve been saving this for, but allow me to produce the settlement of this entire affair.” I dug into my bloody shirt, where I had stored the document in a smooth, leather sheath and strapped it against my body. I opened my shirt before them without shame or modesty, untied the bind which held the sheath, and peeled it away from my sweat-soaked flesh. The relief of at last removing it was two-fold; weeks of discomfort now over, and proof by way of my blood-stained agreement with Barclay that my survival was worth more than a vote.
“Here,” I said as I slammed the damp, pressed leather down on the desk.
“That is Barclay’s seal,” Green noted, and I slid it across the desk to Willy. Willy used his dagger to remove the seal and folded it open to reveal the document within. “What is this?”
“Let me make it as simple as I can,” I said. I reassembled my clothing properly and tucked in my shirt. “Barclay and I had an agreement, yes. But I wasn’t foolish enough not to get it in writing. My own articles of agreement, shall we say.”
“Unfortunately, Madame, an agreement with a dead man means nothing, stained with his blood or not,” Green said as those jade eyes shot up at me.
The words upon the parchment spoke for themselves:
In regards to Madame Ivory Shepard, Madame Cassandra Randall, Madame Keara Shepard, and Madame Miranda Shepard of Charles Towne settlement in South Carolina: These Articles as written this Fifth day of June Seventeen Hundred and Seven, do hereby stand by vote of the crew of the Demon Sea that said women:Be transported to Port Royal, Jamaica by way of this vessel, unmolested and free of bodily harm.Be provided clothes to sail and all of their personal items left untouched.Be provided proper provisions of food and water.Be regarded as crewmen and given work daily to provide for those provisions.Be accountable under the existing Articles of the Demon Sea and her crew.Upon my death, should it come during this errand, as Captain of this Vessel Demon Sea, as I am so named, these Articles shall be upheld.
Captain Christopher L. Barclay
“This is a blatant violation of the ship’s code, but under the circumstances, I’m not surprised,” Willy said, shaking his head.
“Violation, how? You all voted and agreed to this the day we were brought here from my farm. There has been no betrayal sir, regardless of your interpretation of this document.”
“She is correct,” Green stated. “Although he claimed to have taken all of the goods and livestock from their home as payment, he called the vote to deliver them as a cloak for his true intentions. He misrepresented the purpose of transporting them. You know what he had planned, or they would have never set foot aboard this ship.”
“There’s no point in arguing, gents. The proof is there in black…and red. By the way, what were his true intentions for granting us passage?” I leaned forward and directed my inquiry to Green, since so far he had proven to be the most forthright. I hated being in this room. There was something going on under their glances and their words, and I needed the truth.
“The Captain was taking you to Port Royal to be sold off to a very wealthy man for his personal pleasure. Four lovely and, as yet, untouched young women bring a great deal of money, which he had promised equal shares of to the crew.”
“Won’t they be disappointed when they find out? Sold, indeed.” I sat back and folded my arms tightly across my chest. I felt as if I would burst wide open and kill them both, but I held my bum tight to the chair and awaited the rest of the tale.
“I can assure you, Madame; he would have succeeded had he not been murdered. No bargain made with you, regardless of a vote or signed agreement, would have been honored. Barclay had no honor, of which I’m sure you know.”
“That scum-sucking bastard! How long has he been stealing women and selling them? Why didn’t you put a stop to this sooner?” I shouted.
“Enough a’ this, Shepard. We told ye we’d been plannin’ to get rid of him, and then ye show up swingin’ yer swords, shootin’ and slittin’ throats with yer damn razor. It’s done. And by tomorrow, this crew’ll be settled down and back to business- if ye just let it be.”
“Why should I trust you, either? You allowed this to go on right under your nose and waited how long to do something about it? What sort of men are you?”
“Lookie here, lass, ye have no idea what yer yappin’ about. Since we found out what Barclay’s been up to—why in the name a’ Christ am I tellin’ ye anythin’? It ain’t yer concern no more. Just be thankful ye still have yer honor…and yer head.”
I went silent and looked away. Unfortunately, my thoughts were obviously written all over my frustrated expression, and Willy called me out.
“What is it ye workin’ in that unearthly blond head a’ yours?”
“I haven’t exactly figured it all out, but it would appear, according to that document…” I snatched it from beneath his face and then added, “I don’t believe a vote is required as to mine and my cousins’ well-being and…”
“And?” Willy stood slowly and pressed his hands into his hips.
“I want to sign the code. I want to join the crew. I’ll not be sold to some old horny bastard and neither will my girls. Nor will I allow any man to decide my fate, ever.”
“I’m not gonna let that happen, and I’ll be damned if ye think yer signin’ on this ship!”
“Then be damned, McCormack. It will be done. I want to help you find out who else is involved in the selling of these women and stop it. Why can’t you just thank me and my cousins for doing what it’s taken you far too long to do? Maybe you finally decided to try to stop it because you weren’t getting your cut of the gold.”
“Now ye just hold on a minute, girl. You haven’t the faintest idea who I am. If ye knew what I’ve done ta’ protect girls like you…”
“I was to do it,” Green interrupted. “That is why I was hiding during the taking of the merchant ship. I volunteered to kill Barclay during the raid. It would have been believed he died as a result of a shot during the battle, and the truth is, many of the crew are most likely pleased that he is dead. Yes, Madame, you stole that opportunity from me, and I accept that I am indebted to you for carrying out the deed. However, I assure you neither Master McCormack nor myself wish to accept payment for human beings—especially me.”
“What in the devil’s name are ye squawkin’, Green? None a’ this is her concern.”
“Whether she and her cousins are sold is most certainly her concern, as well as ours. She deserves to know the truth of why they are all even still alive, as well as what will happen once we reach the port.”
“All things in due time, Mister Green. The fact that they’re all alive and in one piece should tell ‘em something of their value and the cost to keep ‘em that way.”
“We are not cattle. I can’t believe you still intend on selling us to this old goat. You know I’ll kill him the second I’m alone with him.”
“You’ll not be doin’ any more killin’ on my watch, and if ye let us do what we set out ta’ do in the first place, ye’ll reach the port without any of these men climbing up on ye. You’ll not be sold, either. Just to be safe, we’re gonna put ye under guard until we reach port. Mister Green here seems ta’ think yer a pretty good risk. I, on the other hand, ain’t convinced ye won’t get yerself killed, sooner or later.”
“You did not see her,” Green said. “I was witness to both confrontations, here and in Charles Towne. I see clearly now that this woman and her cousins deserve to live, perhaps even more so than most men I have encountered. I would like to volunteer as your sentinel, Madame Shepard.”
“Sentinel? I can assure you, we won’t be requiring a guard. We can take care of ourselves.”
Willy’s face appeared as if were about to split wide open, but he sat down and took a deep breath and said, “Mister Green, can ye give me and Miss Shepard here a few minutes alone? Go and see ta’ the crew and the securing of the cargo.”
“Yes, Master McCormack.” Green nodded down at me as he exited the cabin. I could easily discern he was not pleased with being dismissed.
“Now that the question of ye and yer ladies bein’ sold off is settled, I suppose I should get down ta’ the matter of the vote. This is how it’s gonna go, ye hearin’ me, lass?” Willy leaned across the desk towards me and spoke soft and low. “I must be outta me bloody mind, but there’s somethin’ there in ye I ain’t never seen a’fore in neither man nor woman. Ye fight like the devil and yer as smart as a whip and as slick as an eel, and as much as it pains me ta’ even say it, I’d take ye on me crew over more than half this lot. But…”
“Spare me your narrow-minded apologies. You know I belong on this ship as much as any man capable of doing what I’ve done. You can call what happened out there today anything you like. I accept my limitations as a woman for now, butonlyfor now. Given some time, I’ll work circles around this lot. We both know there is a way for me to join this crew.”
“Not without signin’, lass. I know these men, and getting them ta’ vote you in isn’t gonna happen. Like it or not, yer a woman. How many times do I have ta’ say it to ye?”
“Well, there’s only one way to fix that!” I stood and leaned over the desk, grabbed the quill, and was about to dip it into the ink, when Willy grabbed my hand. “Let go of me,” I growled as I reached again inside my shirt. This time, I pulled my razor. “You missed this one when you searched me. Now release my hand before I remove yours.”
“Then ye better take me hand, ye razor-wielding wench, because no woman will ever sign the code, nor be voted in as crew.”
“Back in Charles Towne, when Barclay attacked my farm…you know the story. But you don’t know thewholestory. He attacked me. He tried to rape me. I choked him to within an inch of his miserable life with his own cravat. Then, I pulled his dagger from his belt and poked it into his gullet until I drew blood. He insisted I didn’t know what I was getting myself and my cousins into, but he was wrong. Barclay was the first man to ever call me a pirate. If I must take another name in order to stay alive and provide my cousins with a decent life in Jamaica, then let go of my fucking hand so I can get the hell on with it.”
“I’m tellin’ ye, lass. Ye can cut off me hand and me head, too, if ye like. But I know these men—what’s left of ‘em anyway—and no woman will ever be on this crew. Besides, it’s gonna be mighty difficult for me ta’ pay these men ta’ keep their dicks in their breeches if I got no hands.”
We stared each other down for a few moments, when I suspected who the old man was who was paying for the four of us, and I knew he wasn’t doing it for the obvious reason. I don’t know why, but Willy let me go. I thought better of this whole crazy idea and decided to bide my time. I’d find my way onto a pirate ship, but I had to accept that I’d never be able to do it without help. I sat down the quill and closed the book, but not for good.
When Master McCormack and I were through talking, I was whisked away and locked in with my cousins. I was allowed to keep possession of my razor, as long as I promised not to reveal it for the next three days. I also informed my dear cousins of everything that had transpired and encouraged them not to worry, but to be cautiously optimistic that we’d actually live to reach Jamaican shores. We’d made allies of a few men whom we believed to be our enemies. That alone was worth all the blood we’d spilled.
“Ivory, I’m terrified. I realize we’d all be dead by now had we not fought them, but I believe it’s foolish for us to think at some point they’ll not rid themselves of us,” Cassandra said, embracing an inconsolable Miranda.
“You’ve ruined us,” Miranda cried. “I didn’t want to kill anyone.”
“Ivory, Barclay was our only advocate aboard this ship. Regardless of whatever mutiny they’d been planning, killing him was a mistake. I’m sorry, but that’s how we all see it,” Keara remarked.
“Now hold on for just one minute,” I said as I struggled in pain to my feet, from my seat on the floor. “You are all saying that you could have easily stood and watched as Barclay’s men slaughtered every last man on that merchant ship? You can’t possibly be serious. He also had other plans for us that I only just learned. He planned to sell us off for whores.”
“Our objective was to reach Jamaica alive. Had he attempted to sell us as you said, we could have called for the guard ashore,” Cass said.
“Haven’t you been listening to me at all? I told you, the second and third most powerful men on this ship are pleased that Barclay is dead, but to most of the crew, we are nothing but cargo for sale. However, they intend to sway the others to let us live. I believe we may have an ally in the man who’ll most likely be the new captain.”
“You know this lot. What makes you think they’ll side with us?” Keara asked.
“They aren’t siding with us, Ke. They’re letting us live so they’ll get paid. There are a hundred yards between siding with us and not raping and murdering us.”
The room fell silent but for the soft sobs of Miranda. I sat back on the floor in front of the cabin door and pressed my back against it as the three of them huddled together in the bunk. I longed for peace and safety for my cousins. I prayed for it. I also prayed that we would not be betrayed and that Green and McCormack would keep their word.
There was but one small detail of the events of my meeting that I did not inform them of, which was my intention to join the crew and sign the code. With the money we’d carried with us, as well as what we had of value that we’d brought from the farm, I’d have enough to secure room and board for my cousins to sustain us for at least a couple of months … or until my first real hunt under the name I’d chosen to use as a sailor, Ivan Razor.
A hard knock came at the door and startled me from my sleep. The room was so black I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face.
“Madame?” I heard Green say. “We are about to vote.”
“Let me out,” I whispered, and I heard the key in the lock turn and the door slowly open.
“Come with me.”
“What of my cousins?”
Green locked the door, tied my hands at my back, and led me to the main deck, lantern in hand to light the way. As we grew closer, bile rose up in my throat, but my empty stomach offered no vomit for all of the heaving I did. Perhaps it was the darkness or the solemn quiet of Mister Green that put the fear in me at last, but a sense of doom washed over me so deep it flowed through my veins. In the sweltering heat of this night, a chill ran up my back as if my blood had turned to ice water.
“What…is the hour?” I stammered to break the silence.
“What matter does it make? First, there was the business of sending off the dead. It is late, and we have done our earnest best to spare your lives.”
As we approached the deck, the sounds of the voices and banter of the crew crept slowly toward us. The laughter cut me the most. Some of them had apparently found this whole ordeal humorous. Of course, what did I know of their intentions and what had brought them cheer?
Willy was the first man I saw as we approached the lantern lights. The sea was calm—too calm. The sailors fell quiet as Mister Green led me into their circle and stepped aside. I trembled, and had I any need to release fluid from my body, it would have poured down the insides of my breeches. With several hours now behind my conquest, my blood was now cooled and my sharp tongue was dulled. I swallowed repeatedly to keep the retching in my stomach at bay.
“Madame Ivory Shepard, ye have been accused a’ murder, as have yer cousins. Have ye anythin’ to say to these men in yer defense?” Willy asked.
“Wait,” Green spoke out. “I have something I wish to say.”
“Speak yer piece, sir,” Willy said.
“I was ordered by Captain Barclay not to board the merchant ship now known as the Augustus. By order of the Captain, I was to act as his personal defense should things not go according to plan.”
I knew Green was lying through his straight, white teeth. However, since I had been told to keep my mouth shut and let them lead, for the first time in my life, I did exactly that.
“I observed the Captain and Madame Shepard exchanging heated words and then witnessed him grab her by her neck. As I was charged with protecting the Captain, I saw no immediate threat at the hands of this woman, but I overheard the Captain tell her that he was about to give the order of no quarter to the crew of the Augustus. I cannot pretend to know what Madame Shepard was thinking, but she argued with the Captain and pleaded for the lives of the Augustus crew, stating they had surrendered and as such, should be spared. As I was not the only man the Captain had retained. John Forester, who is also dead, attacked Madame Shepard, at which time her cousins appeared. From there, a situation of mutual combat ensued.”
The men grumbled and talked amongst themselves at this revelation. I struggled to move my eyes, let alone turn my stiff neck to gauge their reactions. Pirates are not easy to understand, but there was quite a bit of nodding, both at Mister Green and each other, which gave my retching gut a rest at last.
“Now, there is also the matter of the vote, which is on record and signed by Captain Barclay, which states this vessel is to give these women safe passage to Jamaica to be sold to an anonymous client,” Green continued. “These women are worth far more to us all alive. Had Barclay been successful in killing them, you would all be out your shares of their price and half of you would be dead.”
Again, the low grumbles and chatter ensued.
“It is of my opinion, as your mate of two years, that Madame Shepard and her cousins were defending their lives; the very lives which are protected in this document signed by Captain Christopher Barclay. I recommend these women be relieved of any guilt as they acted in self-defense. Add to this, it was by Captain Barclay’s own choice that Madame Shepard was permitted on deck during battle, giving her the right to bear arms, to fight, in effect allowing her to defend herself against any assault on her person, including his own.”
“Seein’ as how Barclay’s dead now, aren’t we still sellin’ ‘em in Port Royal?” Rip Townsend, the bosun, shouted to the men, who joined him in a hearty cheer.
“Nothing has changed. I do not wish to speak ill of the dead, but you have all been a witness to Barclay’s numerous blatant violations of the code. Had Madame herself not taken his life, it would be foolish for any of you to deny that, at some point, you would not have done the deed yourself. ”
I blinked my eyes and tried to focus on the men as their voices rose into a roar of cheers for Green. I wasn’t sure how much longer I could bear this inquest, and I swayed from side to side, praying silently that the fear in my heart would not cause me to collapse on the deck in a heap.
“Quiet, you lot,” Willy shouted, attempting to bring order.
“Gentlemen, you shall receive your share as long as you continue to do what Barclay was incapable of doing, which is keeping your word by the vote you took to see these four women to Port Royal untouched. What say ye agree to spare the lives of these women?” Green concluded.
“I’ve got somethin’ ta’ say,” one of the younger men of the crew called River, said as he stepped forward. He circled me twice, inspecting the bloodied clothes I still wore. Of course, I imagined his vile inspection of what he saw in his mind beneath them, until my already swimming head felt as heavy as the weight of an anchor.
“Speak yer piece, Watts, and let’s get on with it,” Willy said.
“Like these here other fellas, I wouldn’t mind havin’ a piece a’ this, but we’ll be ashore soon, and I can buy ten a’ her in port with my share.”
“Make your point, Mister Watts,” Green said, stepping between us.
“I’d rather have the money, anyway.” Watts looked me over one last time, and as he moved to go, he turned and said, “Damn shame you’s a woman. Ye’d make a damn fine pirate.”
Upon his comment, the men burst into laughter and began a thunderous hammering of hands and feet, signaling the majority vote not to kill us.
~Us and Them~
I have no memory of how I ended up back in our cramped quarters when I woke shortly after sunrise, but I did remember the vote passing by a slim majority that we be allowed to live. The foul, musky odor of my bloodied clothes turned my stomach, and I rummaged through our shared trunk and pulled out a clean one to change into. However, my skin was stained as well, and even after I removed the shirt and tossed it out the porthole, I still bore the smell of a dead, rotting pirate.
“Good morning,” I heard Cassandra whisper to me. She was pressed almost completely beneath Miranda and Keara in the bunk. She rubbed her eyes open to look at me.
“Yes, yes, it is a good morning,” I said with a rasp, as I lifted the pitcher from the floor and smirked into it.
“We drank the last of it last night. May we leave the cabin for more?”
“I don’t know. I suppose I’ll wait for Mister Green, I mean to say the newly elected Quartermaster Green, for the answer to that question.”
“I wanted to thank you, for whatever it is you did in order to save our lives.”
I slid down the door and sat. My body felt as if I’d been beaten. Every movement brought about such pain that I had never in my life experienced, and I prayed again—this time for myself. I pulled my knees carefully to my chest and groaned as quietly as I could so as not to wake Ke and Mir, but they were already stirring. Cass squirmed her way from beneath them and sat next to me on the floor. She wrapped her right arm around my shoulder and stroked my matted hair as I laid my head upon her.
“Please don’t worry that I’ve done anything sordid or dishonorable in order to secure our safety,” I assured her. “Even as a last resort, they’d have to use my dead body before I’d ever lower myself so.”
“I know, but the rape of one’s spirit can be equally as painful and leave you just as haunted.”
“My body and my spirit remain intact, although I am aching from that scrap yesterday, and I’m starving.”
“And you stink,” Cassandra giggled.
It was then that we were startled by a key turning in the lock. Cass helped me to my feet. I hung from her as she supported my weight and sat me down on the edge of the bunk. The door opened and the new quartermaster, Alphonse Green, stepped inside.
“Good morning, ladies. Due to my recent appointment, I am leaving you in the capable hands of a gentleman you met last night, Madame. I believe you recall Mister Watts.”
“Oh, no, no, no…” I groaned as I attempted to stand.
“Madame, I assure you, Mister Watts is of a like mind, and he is also a very good actor. Would you not agree?” Green asked. He stood aside and allowed River Watts to enter.
“Pleased ta’ be of service ta’ ye ladies. My apologies, Miss Shepard, for last night,” River said, as he bowed slightly and then stood with his hands on his hips and his broad shoulders back against the bulkhead. His long sandy blond hair was now secured neatly in a pony-tail, and his dark eyes aimed straight and away from us. It appeared our sentinel was indeed much more than I’d sized him up to be at our awkward first introduction. But, it really didn’t matter what Green said or how good of an actor River Watts was. We wouldn’t be trusting anyone on this ship, regardless.
“I will leave you to your breakfast. Should you require anything, simply knock on the door and Mister Watts will see to it.” Green ushered River out the door and bowed to leave. As he turned away, Cassandra reached out and laid her hand on his forearm.
“Quartermaster Green, we cannot thank you enough for what you’ve done.”
Green did not turn back. He only glanced over his shoulder at Cassandra’s watering eyes and said, “Thank your cousin.”
It seemed minutes had passed as I watched those pale green eyes locked onto hers, until at last, she removed her hand, and he found his feet to move. Cass backed away from the doorway as a new face appeared. He must have been one of theAugustuscrew. He appeared no more than fifteen and had neither a line on his face nor the hint of a whisker. The young man carried a large tray of food and sat it on our trunk, which was the only flat surface in the room other than the floor. He picked up the empty pitcher and reappeared a few moments later with fresh water.
We ate like wild dogs. Watts stood watch outside the door, and from time to time we were able to listen in on conversations we occasionally wished we hadn’t. Through the door, we overheard his mates approach him with dirty remarks and foul suggestions as to how he should conduct himself as our guard. However, Miranda’s tears were dried, and by the afternoon, we were washing ourselves and even doing each other’s hair as we’d done many times before back at home.
“Who knew brawling with pirates would create such ratty hair,” Keara laughed, and I smiled as she struggled to comb through my pale nest of straw. Now, with my belly full and plenty of water, I was beginning to feel like myself again; as close to myself as one can be whilst under guard.
“So…what do you think of Mister Watts?” Miranda asked as Cassandra wrapped her thick, red, braided mane into a tight bun and tried to speak with hair pins pressed between her teeth and lips.
“I’m sorry, Mir, what did you just ask?” Keara sniped, and she stopped combing out my hair.
“Mir, you have no opinion of that man and that is that,” Cassandra barked, snatching the pins from her mouth.
“What’s all the fuss? I only asked Cass what she thought of him…ouch!” Miranda cried as Keara reached over and pinched a good piece of her fleshy thigh. “Ivory, are you going to allow her to treat me like this?” she cried out.
The door unlocked suddenly and flew open. Mister Watts stood as he had earlier—hands on his hips, shoulders back, eyes front. Eyes front meant over our heads, since he was at least six inches taller than the tallest of us, and we were seated.
“What is it, Mister Watts?” I asked.
“I heard a noise, miss...and shouting,” he replied with a stammer.
“If you come running every time you hear a squeal out of one of these ladies, you’ll be popping in and out like a gopher,” I said as I rose to my bare feet and traded places with Keara.
“Aye, miss. Well, just doin’ me duty.”
Watts stood there for a few moments in his signature stance, and I caught his eyes move at last. They dipped right and held firm for a few moments on Miranda. I cleared my throat and looked up at him from Keara’s hair and said, “Will that be all, Mister Watts?”
“Aye,” he answered, and I noticed his face flush with the color of a red rose.
“Mister Watts, are you quite alright?” I asked, when I turned and realized Miranda was not only welcoming his deep, dark eyes, but she was inviting them in. “Mister Watts?”
“Apologies, miss. I ain’t in all me days ever seen a woman with hair that color growin’ out from her head.” He swallowed hard and shifted his eyes to me.
“Well, now you have. Good day, Mister Watts.” I almost felt sorry for the man. By all accounts, they had been at sea for quite some time prior to their brief stop in Charles Towne, but I suppose I’d never realized how truly unique the bright red color of Miranda’s hair was—especially now, with streaks of sun-kissed amber from weeks at sea. Not that it really mattered to most of these men. The only thing they noticed was her creamy complexion and ample bosom. Something did strike me as strange, though. There was something in his big brown eyes that concerned me.
“Miranda, in the three weeks we’ve been aboard this ship, have you perchance made the acquaintance of Mister Watts prior to this morning?”
“Ivory, why would you ask her that?” asked Cassandra.
“Just answer the question, Miranda,” Keara chimed in.
Miranda glanced about the room at us and shrugged.
“I knew it.” I sighed. “Tell us everything right now, or I swear I’ll pinch it out of you.”
“You don’t understand,” she shouted in a whisper. “I was just trying to…make friends.”
“These men are not our friends, and they never will be. We’re lucky to be alive right now,” Keara said as she leapt to her feet.
“River is different.”
“Please just tell me you didn’t…”
“Of course not,” Miranda interrupted me. “We’re just friends. I may have let him kiss my cheek once. But he’s not like them!”
“Miranda, heisthem. There isusand there isthem,” I said, waving my hand from east to west.
“Well, Master Green seems decent, doesn’t he?” she whined.
“Enough of this. I’ll speak with Green and have him put someone else outside the door.” I was beyond angry. Miranda had gotten herself into a few less than prudent situations back in Charles Towne, but I’d hoped under such dire circumstances she’d have reined in her wild spirit.
“Ivory, no, please. I promise I won’t even glance in his direction. I know we can trust Samuel.”
“I mean River. His real name is Samuel. Please. I swear it. I’ll be good.”
“Not another word. Let’s just finish what we were doing. Then, while we have good light, Cass can read to us for a bit. Soon we’ll be in Jamaica, and this nightmare will be behind us for good.”
Once again, the door opened. Master Green had returned.
“Madame Ivory. The Captain would have a word with you.”
I gathered myself and quickly pulled my now sorted-out mane into a side braid and tied it as we walked through the passageways to the Captain’s quarters.
“Thank ye, Master Green. Ye may wait outside. Madame Shepard?” Captain Willy McCormack waved me to the chair I’d sat in less than twenty-four hours before and negotiated my life.
“You wanted to speak with me, Captain?”
“I have a proposition for ye, lass. Now hear me out before ye start with ye thrashin’ around and cursin’.”
“Now that I believe we have at least three more days to live—I hope—I’ll keep my thrashing and cursing to a minimum,” I said as I struggled to hold in a smile.
“Good. Now that’s settled. I’m about ta’ make ye and yer ladies an offer.
“May I guess this offer has nothing to do with me becoming a member of this crew?”
Willy rolled his eyes and sighed before saying, “I got a home in Port Royal. I also got a wife who has more than she can handle takin’ care a’ it. I’d like to offer ye and yer ladies a place ta’ stay ‘til I can get ye squared away.”
“Your sense of humor has gone right over my head, Captain,” I said. I rose from my seat.
“Now hold on a minute there, lass. Don’t ye think ye should at least speak with yer cousins ‘bout this and get their opinion of me more than generous offer?”
“With our own money, we’ll have enough to find a place. I won’t have them tucked away yet again, awaiting their lives to begin.”
“Ye don’t know Port Royal. ‘Tis a dangerous place, overrun with pirates, filth, and scurvy. ‘Tis no place fer four young ladies—even your sort.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Yer killers, lass. The lot of ye have killed a dozen men in less than a month. Ye killed pirates, whether they had it comin’ or not. Word like that gets around, and ye all be dead in a week.”
“Or, we’ll be feared and left the hell alone.”
“’Tsin’t enough that I’m buyin’ yer freedom? I’ve never in all me born days met a more ungrateful little…” Willey sucked in a chest full of wind and blew it out.
I had to stop for once and think this through. Willy knew far better than I of the atmosphere and conditions of Port Royal. Regardless of my Uncle William’s tales of his glory days there, I hadn’t given a thought to the fact that, well, he was a man, and as I’d been repeatedly reminded, I was not. I calmed myself and my tongue. Perhaps this wasn’t the most desired arrangement, but it was a way for me to keep the girls safe and out of trouble for a while, until I could establish my new identity. The decision ultimately rested with me, and I made the choice I had to make to keep them alive. Willy didn’t need to know we wouldn’t be, as he put it, “getting squared away.”
“Wait a second…did ye just agree ta’ go?”
“I did. You’re absolutely correct. For now, there appears to be no alternative. I accept your generous offer on behalf of my cousins. One more thing though; are you certain your wife will agree to this?”
“Let’s just say Missus McCormack has had guests at me request before and leave it at that.”
“Will my ladies and I be permitted to leave our cabin at all until we reach Kingston?”
“I feel it’s best ye stay put. Barclay had, shall we say, a few close associates who still be riled up over ye killin’ him. Green and I ain’t weeded out all of ‘em yet, so yer not outta danger. And it seems we won’t be stoppin’ in Kingston after all.”
“Green’s decided he ain’t leavin’ the crew now that he’s quartermaster. Now, I won’t be speakin’ with ye again’til we reach Port Royal. Is Watts takin’ good care of ye?”
“Watts is doing his job. We’ll see you in Port Royal, then.”
Over the course of those three days, the strangest things happened. Several times a day, Watts would knock on the door and hand us a piece of fruit. Apparently, the remainingAugustuscrew, were leaving us offerings of thanks for saving them. Granted, these men weren’t pirates per say and all of the ones we’d seen looked hardly older than boys, but it gave us a sense of relief that not everyone on board hated us.
I was just thankful Captain McCormack wasn’t interested in hunting on our journey to Jamaica and was satisfied with what he had in the holds for now. I’d explained what our new living arrangements would be once we went ashore, and the girls agreed that, for now, this was the best offer we could hope to get, and we wouldn’t be anyone’s whore. After all, we knew farming and housekeeping, despite the fact that we were also killers.
“Land ho!” a sailor cried as we took turns at the porthole. None of us had ever seen water so blue or such a beautiful and lush green landscape.
“I can see clear through to the bottom!” Miranda shouted.
“It’s like paradise,” Keara said with a sigh.
“From the looks of it, we should be ashore within a few hours. Let’s gather our things and lock the trunk. I want to be ready when the time comes to finally set foot back on land,” Cassandra declared.
As they dressed in the clean clothes they’d saved for this occasion, I stood and stared out the porthole. Although I never said a word about it, I was falling in love with the sea. A feeling of belonging washed over me unlike anything I’d ever felt before. I longed to shout at the sight of land and stand on the deck and feel the spray on my face as the ship danced over the surface of the water. My heart burned to climb upon the yardarm and feel the vibration of a sail as it catches the wind. In spite of this harrowing journey, I knew I was where I was supposed to be. No matter what anyone said, I knew the next time this ship left port, I’d be on it. I also felt in my bones in that moment, my goal was that no man would ever have reign over me for the rest of my life.
Cass’s voice called me from my daydream. “Would you like me to read aloud until we reach the island?”
“Yes. That would be lovely.”
“How about instead, we discuss what we’re doing once we reach land?” Keara suggested as she flopped down on the bunk.
“Please, everyone sit down,” I said. I leaned back against the bulkhead and sighed. “First of all, I want you all to know how sorry I am for everything that’s happened, but you have to admit, we’d have died back home had we not defended ourselves. Sometimes it feels as if our lives have been one tragedy after the other since…well, since we were children. I promise you, once we reach Port Royal, I will do everything in my power to secure your safety and make sure you have everything you need. Captain McCormack and his wife will provide us with suitable shelter until we can find a place of our own.”
“Thank God.” Miranda sighed.
“Do you trust him, Ivory?” Cassandra asked.
“I do. Apparently, Captain McCormack has a soft spot for lost causes like us,” I said with a chuckle.
“You don’t believe we’re a lost cause,” Keara remarked.
“Of course not. However, we can stay there until I can make more permanent living arrangements. Who knows? Maybe she’ll be a kind and decent woman, and we’ll have time to put this all behind us.”
“How do we put murder behind us, Ivory? How does one even do that? I can hardly remember who I was just a month ago without seeing blood on my hands,” Keara remarked.
“I can’t answer that question, Ke. All I do know is that we have to try. I don’t want any of you to ever have to be in a situation of life or death again, and if this is the first step toward that life, then this is what we’ll do. Are we all in agreement?”
After exchanging glances and a few more sighs, it was settled.
“Now, how about that reading, Cass? I believe we could all use a distraction until it’s time to go ashore.” I took my usual place on the floor against the door and sat quietly with my eyes closed until I felt what I believed to be the anchor being lowered into the water and straight down into Jamaican sand.
~Spat From the Sea~
Captain McCormack and Master Green held us back from leaving the ship until nearly every man aboard had been paid their share of the bounty and gone ashore. There were a handful of crew still tying things down and doing well-needed maintenance on deck, and we were suffocating in that room by the time Watts opened the door and waved us on to freedom.
“The Cap’n has secured a wagon. I’ll load yer trunk, and I’ll be carryin’ ye ta’ the house.”
“What about the Captain? Won’t the men be suspicious if they see us being carted off?” I asked when I finally set foot into the sun and stretched over a deep breath.
“They don’t care as long as they’ve been paid. He and Master Green will come along on horseback. Let’s not keep ‘em waitin’.” Watts nodded as he pulled our trunk up and onto his big broad shoulder and led us down the gangplank.
The stench of garbage and a rich, musky aroma I believed to be indigenous to the island blew over us as we finally set foot on the dock. I was still a bit sore, as were the girls. I found myself wanting to turn around and go back. I stopped for a moment and took in the ship in its entirety with a deep breath, before Cassandra locked arms with me and pulled me along.
“Forget about it, Ivory.”
“Forget it all. That’s the only way we can keep going. Isn’t that what you always tell us?” Cassandra always made sense. She knew what I needed to hear exactly when I needed to hear it. Hear her I did. Listening to her was something I needed to work on.
“This way, ladies,” Watts said. He led us away from the dock and towards an awaiting wagon. The port was alive. There were many men loading and unloading ships, as well as people milling about chatting, laughing, and simply going about their daily lives. We endured some curious glances and a few unsavory remarks, but that wasn’t anything we weren’t already accustomed to. Watts kept us moving. There was no pause in our stride, although I believed Miranda may have a pain in her neck later from the way her head swung around every time she spied a thick, tan, muscular back and a set of bulging arms. There were more than enough of those to satisfy her lusty spirit.
“Aye, lassies. Ye shoulda’ seen ‘er in ‘er younger days,” Captain McCormack said when he approached us. The words fell soft on his tongue and appeared to come from a deep loss and longing for the young and wild woman Port Royal once was.
“What was she like then, Captain McCormack?” Miranda inquired.
“Lass, she was a wild and loose woman a’ no scruples and overflowin’ with every brand a’ thief and bandit that’s ever set foot in the sand, she was. Buccaneers, privateers, and pirates, all richer than the King a’ England. If a sailor couldn’t find a fortune on a ship outta Port Royal, he musta been the dumbest creature on God’s green Earth.”
“What happened? It still appears a very busy and populous place,” Keara asked as we reached the wagon and Watts loaded our trunk.
“Before I took up with Barclay’s crew, I was across the bay there in Kingston. ‘Bout fifteen years ago now, ‘twas. Mid-mornin’ in June a’ sixteen ninety-two. ‘Twas like any other day, I s’pose, but I’d been on an all-nighter with Millie…uh, never mind ‘bout that. Anyway, the ground started ta’ shakin’, and we run down the stairs and out inta’ the street, we did. I thought ’twas the end a’ the world.”
“An earthquake!” Miranda shouted.
“Indeed ’twas, lass, and a mighty one at that. By the time ‘twas over, and then fer some hours after, the water came a’ rollin’ in. By the afternoon, over half a’ this town was at the bottom a’ the bay, and that’s where it sits still.” Willy leaned his elbow on the wagon and removed his hat. He lowered it over his heart and bowed his head for a moment before carrying on. “Thousands a’ people, good people an’ some I called me friends, perished that day. A few years later, they patched her up as best they could. Then, one mornin’ before dawn as we made our way back ta’ port, we spotted plumes of smoke blowin’ an’ we could smell her burnin’. As we approached in the early hours and the sun rose over her, she was burned half ta’ the ground.”
“I’m not so sure coming here was such a brilliant idea, Ivory,” Miranda said to me with a scowl.
“Earthquakes, floods, giant waves, and fire…and she’s still here. I’d say she and I are perfect for each other,” I said as I waved off Miranda’s comment and climbed into the back of the wagon. Listening to the Captain go on about the old days put me in mind of Uncle William. McCormack’s tales and lore mixed with the glow in his eyes when he spoke, and it reminded me of why I’d longed for this mound of sand and thrills. Only now, the reality of what I’d seen so far was nothing at all like the stories I’d heard. But even if it killed me, I was going to seek out the charms I’d long imagined.
“Speak for yourself, cousin. With our luck, we’ll be struck by lightning. Look at those clouds,” Keara said as she climbed up with Watts’s assistance.
“‘Tis the rainy season, lass. Should rain at least a few hours a day from now ‘til late autumn, but since there ain’t really no autumn here, ye have the dry season and the rainy season. Welcome ta’ Jamaica.”
Captain McCormack carried on with his tales of the town in her untamed yet glorious days prior to her many disasters. I watched Miranda out of the corner of my eye speaking softly with Watts before he gallantly lifted her by the waist and sat her on the end of the wagon. I shifted my view to Cass, who met my eyes simultaneously, and I could easily discern by her raised eyebrow, our thoughts were the same.
Watts was in big trouble, but he wasn’t my problem. My problem was the cooing seventeen-year-old dangling her bare calves at him and not even making an effort to cover them. For a moment, I had to chuckle to myself. She was such a joy. She was always a bubbly little thing. Her lighthearted and childish nature was something she hadn’t lost after all we’d been through. Only now, instead of coaxing the boys to her with her giggles and green eyes, she was playing with fire and stealing their hearts.
Cassandra slid next to me and nudged me while giving me that concerned eyebrow again. I whispered to her, “I’ll keep an eye on her,” and shouted to Miranda to cover her legs and sit back.
Watts looked up at me and gave me a smirk of disappointment, but she did what she was told, like always. A minute later, I noticed Master Green leading two large chestnut horses to the wagon.
“Our mounts, Captain,” he said, and he handed the Captain the reins.
“Ye comin’ fer supper, Green?” he asked.
“I will be along before dark, after I settle our dealings here. Will you be staying at home, or will you be returning after supper?”
“‘Tis near supper time now, and ye know Missus McCormack.” The Captain cocked his head to the side and rolled his eyes at Master Green. Green let out the most delightfully rich and deep laugh and patted the Captain hard on his back.
“I will see you ladies again I am certain. If I do not arrive in time for supper, perhaps I will see you another day.” Green rested his hands on the wagon and, dare I say, he smiled at us, but his eyes met only Cassandra’s.
Green gave Captain McCormack a leg up and into his saddle. Watts took his seat to drive the wagon, and we were off down what Watts called Market Street on our way to meet Missus McCormack. I wasn’t sure what this town was like before the tragedies, but if it was anything like what we saw on the way to the Captain’s home, I couldn’t wait to get out and explore. It appeared to me as if every third or fourth building was a pub or a whorehouse. They made no effort to conceal any of it. Right out here in the daylight, or at least what was left of it that wasn’t smothered by the incoming clouds as the first drops of rain began to fall, I counted no less than five bare breasts, ten intoxicated fools, and a dozen beggars.
“This place is like hell on Earth,” Keara said, interrupting my lost thoughts and bare breast count.
“There’s nothing that says this is our last stop,” I said as I pulled up my knees to my chest and rested my head there.
“Dear Lord in Heaven, I hope not. What kind of work could an honest woman find in a place like this?” Keara asked.
“Cookin’, cleanin’, washin’ and the like, I s’pose, miss,” Watts chimed in from his perch.
“Lovely. We’re back to that again,” Keara grumbled. She used the hem of her dress to fan herself until the rain began to fall harder. “How much further, Watts? We’re going to drown before we get there. Four weeks on a bloody ship only to drown in a wagon.”
“It’s just up ahead, miss.”
I’d heard enough complaining. “Listen to me, all of you. I promise you, this is only temporary. None of you will be cooking or cleaning anything for anyone but yourselves once I find us our own place and…”
“And what?” Cassandra snapped at me.
“And I figure out how to make some money without doing that,” I said as I waved my hand in the direction of another bare breast in the doorway of yet another brothel. “Or anything else that involves baring…anything.”
“I trust you, Ivory. I know you won’t let us down.” Miranda scooted next to me and laid her damp, red head on my shoulder. “Ivory, what do you think this wife of his might be like?”
“Considering the Captain’s age, I’d imagine she’s gray-haired, probably right thick in the middle, and since he seems like a rather fair and reasonable man overall, I’m sure she’s quite a pleasant lady.”
I’d no sooner finished my imagined description of Lady McCormack, when Watts pulled the horses to a stop and announced that we’d arrived. This was not a modest home. Obviously, the Captain had been quite successful during his career as a pirate. Either that, or someone died and left him quite an inheritance. The house stood two stories of well-maintained brick, trimmed with white shutters, and was surrounded by a wall about six feet high with iron gates in front. A young Jamaican boy rushed to open the gates, and Watts guided the two mules that pulled the wagon, right up to the front porch.
Palm trees swayed in the front yard under the light breeze that arrived with the rain. The pathway was rimmed with brightly colored flowers the likes I’d never laid eyes on, cuddled by lush green ferns and bushes. There were several fruit trees as well, in full bloom. An older Jamaican woman dressed neatly and covered down the front in a white apron waited to meet us at the porch.
“Come along, ladies. I got only one thing ta’ say to ye, and ye better heed me words,” the Captain said as he brought his horse around the side of the wagon to speak to us. “Lady McCormack will tolerate no sass, no laziness…and no bullshit. Ye understand? Cause if ye don’t, ye’ll be out on yer little round arses quicker than ye can say ‘Davey Jones’.”
“Davey who?” Miranda asked.
“It doesn’t matter, Mir.” I shook my head.
I was pleased that I wouldn’t be the only one watching over this lot, but I immediately threw all of my preconceived ideas of the Lady McCormack out of the back of that wagon and pulled the girls aside before we were invited in. “No nonsense, and I promise I’ll have us out of here within the month. Now, you give me your word you’ll do as I say.”
“Ye ladies wait here while I break the news ta’ Missus McCormack.” The Captain greeted the Jamaican woman with a smile and disappeared inside. I continued my lecture at the girls and met no resistance. We were soaked through to our skin. We twisted and wrung at our clothing but regardless of our efforts, the rain water still dripped from our hems and hair. They were all so grateful to be off that ship and out of that rickety wagon that they’d have promised me anything for a hot meal and a bath. Fortunately, Lady McCormack had offered us both, but not before she, unfortunately, laid down the law. Lady McCormack was no sweet, gray-haired old woman.
Standing on the porch, we could hear the fine Millie McCormack. Her vocabulary was less than ladylike, and her tone was that of an angry cat on a back fence about to claw the eyes out of her rival. Watts stood off to the side and simply shrugged his shoulders when I looked over at him and mouthed, “What the hell?”
“You girls be quiet now and be still. It is always the same with these two. In a moment, she will kiss him and all will be well,” the Jamaican woman said and folded her hands in front of her apron. “Or, she will break something over his head and then take him to bed, and we will all stand here until she’s through.”
I turned to Cassandra and rolled my eyes. “Let’s hope for the kiss.”
Cass burst into laughter and then slapped her hand over her mouth as the door pulled open and out stepped the Captain. “Watts, fetch the ladies’ trunk and take it ta’ the third bedroom upstairs.”
“Ladies, follow me and do us all the kindness of allowin’ me ta’ introduce ye ta’ Missus McCormack. And fer the love a’ Christ, keep yer traps shut,” he whispered to us before we filed in.
The Captain led us into the grand parlor of the home. We were beyond impressed with our accommodations, but we weren’t naive enough to think we wouldn’t be earning the roof over our heads; we certainly weren’t guests in this house.
“Millie, allow me ta’ introduce Miss Ivory Shepard, the eldest of the girls.”
“How do you do, Lady McCormack,” I asked as I bowed to her.
“Why do ye bow like a man? Didn’t yer mother teach ye proper?” Millie McCormack snapped with a scowl. She was a tall, lean woman of about thirty-five, with coal black hair, and her golden brown eyes were slanted slightly. Either that, or her bun was far too tight.
“Never really had a mother, and our aunt and uncle who raised us died when we were just girls.”
“Well, that’s no excuse for not knowing a proper curtsy. We’ll work on that. Do ye always wear men’s clothes, too?”
“Well, ma’am, I suppose I do. I prefer to do men’s work, so the clothes just help with that.”
“Who’s next?” she sneered and fanned her hand at me, “This one’s a lost cause.”
I laughed under my breath. For as much as Lady McCormack cared about us being proper ladies, she spoke like a street trollop and carried herself like a sailor. With her boney knuckles pressed into her hips and the swagger in her walk, I could see immediately that Lady McCormack wasn’t a lady at all, no matter how hard she tried.
“Yer all maids, I assume? I won’t have whores in my home.”
We all nodded and smiled sweetly until I thought I’d burst into laughter. It was funny to imagine a woman like this insisting that we all be maids. Once we’d all been scrutinized and she’d waved us off due to our dripping and less than pleasant aromas, she requested the Jamaican woman we now knew as Coco to strip us of our clothes so they could be laundered and to get us bathed and ready for dinner within the hour. She had obviously, as the Captain mentioned, done this before—more than once. We were bathed, provided with clean clothes, and brought down to the dinner table as instructed. Thank goodness we’d still maintained our good table manners, even on the farm. Otherwise, had I been forced to endure any more of her lectures that evening, my razor may have shown her that her hospitality left a lot to be desired, severing any opportunity to find out if there was more to this witch than just her tight bun and even tighter arse.
~Ladies in Waiting~
As our first real night ashore fell over the house, I was already figuring my way out. We had to sleep two to a bed, but Cassandra was a heavy sleeper. She hardly moved when she slept, which allowed me to slip away during the night to do a bit of exploring alone, long before the rest of the house would wake. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that I’d find what I was looking for in this town—a hard, toe-curling drink. I wrapped my hair tightly, covered it with a scarf, and pressed Uncle William’s old cavalier down hard on my head. Out the bedroom window I went and down the trellis.
The main street was easy to find. All I did was follow the gold and orange glow of lanterns in the dark until they grew closer. The noise pulled me in as well—and there was plenty of it. I imagined even at this ungodly hour of the night, this wasn’t the peak of it. The alleyways I slid through were shadowed by mossy stone walls. I could hear the gentle splash of waves beneath the ebbs and flows of laughter from the taverns, as they beat against the beach and the ships around the wharfs. I knew I was conjuring a cauldron of secrets on this night, but regardless of the stench that arose from the steaming pot I was stirring, there was no way I was turning back.
As I came around the corner of what I discovered was New Street, entering the alley that led to what appeared to be a courtyard full of taverns, I had the unfortunate luck to stumble upon the grunting and groaning of an entwined couple doing their dirty business and rather enjoying it, much to my dismay. Since they were so passionately engaged against a wall behind a cart loaded with empty crates, I decided to make a dash for the courtyard in hopes of not being noticed. However, as I made my pass, the woman had apparently been keeping a watchful eye and cried out, accusing me of spying.
I kept my feet under me, raced to the end of the alley, and ducked my head into a tavern doorway. Something inside of me held me back from going all the way in. I peeked around and saw half the men were passed out drunk, and the rest eyed me like a stray dog. I took two steps to back myself out the door, when I felt something, or someone, hit me hard across the back. I arched my body in pain and stumbled forward from the stoop before I caught myself on one of the wooden tables set up outside. Whoever was behind me kept coming, and I felt an arm wrap tightly around my neck.
My first thought was to reach for my sword, but then I remembered I’d been stripped of my arms aboard the ship. I struggled against the man to free myself, if not to escape his violent assault, then definitely to relieve myself of his foul breath upon me as he pulled my head back next to his in the skirmish.
“Get yer bloody hands off a’ me!” I shouted as I kicked and fought my way out of his grip and turned on him with a crushing punch to his foul mouth. My screwed-on cavalier had come loose, but thankfully my scarf had remained in place. As I scrambled to the ground to retrieve it, the man’s boot met me square in the chin, sending me backwards onto my arse. The taste of my own blood filled my mouth, and I could feel my jaw beginning to swell as I rubbed at it lightly and looked up at the man.
I had had enough. On my way to my feet, I reached into my coat pocket and pulled out my razor. I flipped it open, and the stranger and I squared off. “I just want a fucking drink, ye bastard!” I shouted at him. We circled each other—crouched forward as if we were two wild dogs. In his right hand, he held a dagger, and his left was outstretched with only three remaining fingers showing.
“If ye want ta’ keep the rest a’ them fingers, I’m suggestin’ ye move along and leave me be ye…ye…ye scurvy bastard!” I did my best to both disguise my voice and speak in the manner I’d heard so many men speak in the past few weeks.
“Wait just a second,” the man said, and he snatched a lantern from one of the tables and swung it out to get a better view of me. I looked at him sideways, shielding half my face in the shadow that fell beyond the light of the lantern. “Ye ain’t Scrawny Pauley Smith!”
I clenched my razor until my hand felt numb and then swiped at him to back off. I gathered my coat across my heaving chest to conceal my clearly less than obvious breasts. Since I’d been mistaken for a man, albeit a scrawny one, I had no intention of allowing my backwards good fortune to run out.
“Apologies, lad. Buy ye a drink?” he asked as he stowed away his dagger.
I relaxed my right hand and flipped my razor closed. “Get that light outta me face, and ye’ve got a deal.”
“Not so fast with ye,” I heard someone say. I turned and looked over my shoulder to find Watts and Townsend wearing sour expressions.
“Can’t ye see I’m makin’ amends with the laddie? Let’s all go and have a drink. ” My now remorseful attacker smiled.
“The laddie here’s our mate. We’ll take care a’ the drink,” Watts said as he stepped toward me and began examining the trickle of blood coming from my lips. Townsend crowded my attacker, effectively pushing him back into the tavern. Then, both he and Watts stared at me, waiting for my explanation.
“Look, I don’t want any trouble. I just…” I mumbled and spat out the blood.
“Ye just want a drink, aye?” he asked. “Rip, how’s about ye bring us a bottle?”
“This one’s on me,” Townsend said with a wink and stepped inside.
“Have ye lost yer mind, Ivory?” Watts inquired.
“Don’t call me that.”
“What do ye suggest I call ye then,laddie?” he laughed.
“I can take care of myself, and I don’t need you and Townsend to buy me a drink, either.”
“Okay, I’ll play along with ye fer a bit. Rip and I have been on ye since ye left the Captain’s house. Now who is it that don’t need watchin’? By the way, Townsend was one a’ Barclay’s close mates. Keep yer trap shut, will ye?”
“But how did you know?”
“We’ve been here more times than I can remember, and there’s plenty a’ times I can’t remember.” He laughed. “We seen ye headed fer the alley. We know’d where it comes out. I tried ta’ tell him ta’ forget it, but he’s got this bet thing in his head.”
“I meant how did you know I’d sneak out?” I leaned in and whispered as several tavern patrons staggered by.
“How do we know anythin’ is the question. It’s just one a’ them things we’re paid ta’ do. I have ta’ tell ye though, most a’ the young ladies that come ta’ stay with Millie sneak out fer reasons that don’t include fightin’ in an alley. Them’s the ones that don’t go home.”
“What do you mean ‘go home’?”
“Cap’n gonna put ye all on a boat soon and get ye outta here. Didn’t ye know?” He leaned in on his elbow and signaled with a finger to his lips for me to keep quiet as Townsend arrived with three glasses and a bottle.
“Me mate, Watts, and I got a bet goin’ about ye, Shepard. Maybe we can settle it over this drink,” Townsend said in his husky rasp of a voice as he poured.
“Ha!” Watts barked. “The Ripper here has an idea ‘bout ye, and I say he’s bloody addled. Don’t mistake me, now. Ye’s as far from a lady as he is.”
“I have no interest in what either of you think of me,” I groaned and raised my glass before swigging it down.
“Holy shite, the wench be a lush!” Watts laughed.
“Maybe so, bucko, but that don’t mean ye win,” Townsend said with a sharp elbow to Watts’s ribs. “Let’s get it settled, so I can gets me winnin’s.”
“Pour me another one, and I’ll settle it,” I said and held out my glass.
Townsend leaned across the table, and as he poured he asked, “Do ye prefer tits or cock?”
My reflex reaction sent the contents of my freshly poured glass of rum into his grimy mug so fast he didn’t even have time to get out of the way. “What the ‘ell did ye do that fer?” he shouted at me as I stood and shoved him back into his seat. “I’ll skin ye, ye witch!” he shouted, and his chair toppled over. Watts fell into hysterical laughter.
“She’ll wipe up this alley with yer arse, Rip, so ye better stay down there!”
“What a couple of no good bastards you are,” I said, and I snatched the bottle and poured myself another glass. I stood there and watched as Watts helped his mate back to his feet, when Townsend lunged across the table and snatched me by the front of my coat.
“Sit yer arse down, ye crazy wench, afore I sit ye down meself! I already gots me loot fer ye, so who cares if ye turn up missin’?” Townsend growled. He shoved me back hard and then picked up his glass and poured it into his mouth.
“Cap’n might care, Rip,” River muttered, and he placed his hand on Rip’s shoulder to calm him.
“I don’t need this shit, and I certainly don’t need you two following me around like some stray cat.” I grabbed the back of my chair and flopped back down.
“I aughta take ye in that alley over there and see which one ye like,” Townsend grumbled at me. The orange glow of the lantern between us lit his light blue eyes like a fiery sunset.
“The last man who tried that ended up with his own dagger poking him in the throat before he even pulled his wee little willie out, so if that’s a threat, you may want to rethink it.” As I spoke, I again pulled my razor and, ever so slowly, folded it open and turned it in the lantern’s glow.
“All this talk is makin’ me thirstier by the minute. You two arses shut yer holes and drink,” Watts said as he poured us all another round, emptying the bottle. “And I’ll thank ye not ta’ be wastin’ anymore, Shepard.”
“Then stop talking your foul rubbish,” I growled at him under my breath.
“I’d still like ta’ put a boot in yer arse,” Townsend said while he sat back in his seat and scowled at me. His thick, bushy eyebrows nearly covered his eyes.
“Watts, go get us one more, and I’ll settle the bet. But, I have a few conditions,” I leaned across the table at them and whispered. Watts jumped from his seat. He rushed inside the tavern and reappeared with a bottle in each hand.
“Ha!” he shouted and laughed. “Now, about the bet.”
“First, I want you to tell me about Lady McCormack.”
“Now, Ivory, ye know we can’t…” Watts said with a frown.
“Tits or cock, ye asked. If ye want to know, then I have things I need to know,” I interrupted and stowed my razor.
“I’ll tell ye. The way I see it, we could ‘ave ye tossed out in the street by mornin’, and ye could ‘ave us booted from theDemonfer sittin’ with ye drinkin’. So, let’s all get drunk and tell a few tales, then,” Townsend said. He sat forward and pulled his dagger. I sucked in a chest full of Jamaican wind and reached for my weapon, but he slammed his hand down and drove the tip of the dagger into the table top.
“The way I heared ’twas…a long time ago, Cap’n met her here in a brothel. She was a youngin’ and just put ta’ work. He fell hard, so’s they say. She was one a’ them natives from Florida they brung here. Could barely say two words a’ English. Had hair as black as midnight, damn near down ta’ her knees. Cap’n was a buccaneer in them days and had more Spanish gold than he had brains. He built that big house fer her, too, after the quake. Not sure if he built that wall to keep ‘er safe or to keep ‘er in.”
“Then why does she act as if she’s some fine lady? I mean, I had a feeling she wasn’t English, but…”
“Cap’n swore he’d make a lady outta her, and he tried. Compared ta’ what ye find here on this pile a’ sand, she’s the closest thing ta’ a lady you’ll find.” Watts laughed. “Well, that was ‘til yer lot got here. Lady McCormack keeps an eye on the girls, ye know; cleans ‘em up and gets ‘em ready.” He winked. “She polishes the silver.”
“Watts! Ye stupid arse!”
“Come on now, Shepard, what is it? We held up our end a’ the deal,” Watts begged.
“Now hold on a minute there, lass,” Townsend said.
“You call me ‘lass’ one more time, and I’ll…”
“It’s got ta’ be one or the other, now. Ye can’t say neither,” Watts whined.
“I have no interest in sex at all, no matter who it’s with. Sorry, gents, but ye both lose…or ye both win. Now, unless you both want to be looking for a new captain, we better get back. The sun’s about to come up. We should do this again sometime.” I had no intention of ever entertaining these fools again, but my sarcasm was lost on drunken ears, and I’d gained a wealth of information for my trouble.
“I still ‘ave a question fer ye before we go,” Townsend said, as he pulled his dagger from the table and began to pick at his filthy fingernails. “What’s yer story, and why do ye go around the way ye do…if it ain’t tits?”
“Because I’m not some lady-in-waiting. I won’t ever be one, either, and the only way I’ll ever get on a ship as a sailor is if I’m a man.”
“But, yer not a man—even if’n ye can drink and fight like one. Ye still got the tits and it don’t matter how many men ye killed, neither. Wishin’ yerself a man and a pirate ain’t never gonna make it so.” Townsend barely looked up from his task as he spoke. “Tell her, Watts.”
“I don’t need to be a man to be a good sailor. I just need to look like one. All I need is a chance to prove myself, and I think I’ve already done that.”
“She makes a mighty sound argument, Rip. I mean, all a’ them ladies have done worse than half the men I ever sailed with.”
“Listen ta’ yerself! Have ye lost yer bloody mind? Women on a ship ain’t nothin’ but bad luck, and on land, they ain’t good but fer one thing.” Townsend said, and he flew to his feet. “Now finish yer drinks, and let’s get outta here.”
“I’d say having us aboard was damn good luck for your pockets. Seems to me the only bad luck being handed out is for us.” I stood, turned my glass over, and slammed it onto the table. “We’re through here, and don’t follow me again.”
“Have it yer way, Shepard,” Townsend waved his hand at me as he started off towards the alley. “I don’t care what happens to ye, anyway.”
“Iwillhave it my way, Townsend.”
As Townsend walked a few paces ahead, I snagged River by the arm and whispered, “I’m not leaving this stinking sandbar unless it’s my idea. I’ll die before I end up back in America. Oh, and Watts? Don’t let me catch you sniffing around my cousin again, or I will kill you.”
“Well, Miss Shepard, now ye’ve hurt me heart. I’d never soil the reputation of such a fine lady as Miss Miranda.” Watts walked backwards facing me and placed his hands over his heart. I almost smiled. There was something about River Watts that was growing on me. Either that, or it had been far too long since I’d had that much rum.
With the morning sun came the call to rise, but not for me. I rolled back into bed next to Cass just before daylight and feigned sick to stay there. Cass knew better. Cass always knew better. She could smell it all over me, like always. But unlike back in Charles Towne, instead of scolding me, she wrapped the light blanket around me and tucked me in tight. I suppose she made excuses for my imaginary illness, since not a soul disturbed me until noon.
“Are you hungry, Ivory?” she asked when she came to check in on me.
“I could eat,” I said as I turned over to face her.
“Dear God, don’t breathe on me, girl, or we’ll both be in bed.” She giggled and rubbed my shoulder.
“Thank you for making excuses for me. I’m feeling better now. I just need a bit of water and food.”
“I was worried when I awoke and realized you were dressed and smelling of rum and alley stench. I’m glad you’re alright.”
“Thank you and you know I don’t like you to worry. I just needed a change of scenery. How are you?”
“She’s had us working all morning, but it isn’t so bad. She’s actually tolerable today.”
“Is lunch served yet?” I asked as she helped me to sit and put on my boots.
“Soon. I brought you some fresh water to wash up.”
I nodded and smiled, but I couldn’t deny the pounding in my head every time I moved it. I waved Cass off and told her I’d be downstairs shortly, but before she left the room, she turned and said, “Lady Millie said since you like man’s work, there’s plenty to be done in the yard and wood that needs chopping. Are you up to it?”
Again I waved her off. This time I only nodded with my eyes, as it was too painful to move much else. It was then that Watts’s comments about the Captain shipping us back to America hammered their way into my consciousness, and I called for Cass to come back.
“Are you alright?” Cass asked.
“Has Lady Millie or the Captain mentioned anything about how long we’ll be allowed to stay here?” I asked her.
“Not a word, why?”
“Just something I heard last night. You’re sure they haven’t mentioned anything about us?”
“I don’t know what they discussed behind closed doors…besides their foul grunts and moans, that is. But no, I have not heard anything.”
“How much money do we have?”
“We, as yet, have twenty pounds and our valuables. Why?”
“I’ll be taking another stroll this evening, but I’m going to need a bit of help.”
“What sort of help?”
“Apparently, Watts and Townsend are watching us—well, me. They followed me last night down to the wharf,” I said, dragging the wash cloth over my face.
“They’re staying in the small cottage behind the house. I saw them leaving together about an hour ago,” Cass offered.
“Tonight, after dark, they’ll be watching for me again. Give me five shillings, Cass, so that I may find us a room or some other place to live.”
“I doubt you’ll find us anything anywhere near as posh as this, Ivory. We have food, warm beds, and we’re safe,” Cass said. She flopped down on the bed and crossed her arms tightly. Her eyes stared dead ahead and her lips flattened in anger.
“Can you hear yourself? Do you know what you’re saying? I’ll tell you, just in case you don’t,” I shouted at her in a whisper. I knew what was going to happen to us, and if not today, then soon.
“All I’m saying is; why shouldn’t we enjoy the hospitality of the McCormack’s, even if it is only for a short while?” she asked as her eyes shot up at me.
I laid down the washcloth and sat next to her. I took her by the shoulders and told her what Watts had told me in secret the night before. “Until I find us our own place, regardless of whether or not it compares to this, we are in danger of being shipped home. Unless you want to spend another three weeks on a ship, not knowing who you’re sailing with or what could happen. Wouldn’t you rather take your chances here? With me?”
After a moment, Cass’s face softened. “What do you want us to do?” she asked with a sigh.
“Distract them. Keep their attention focused elsewhere so that I may slip out again tonight. Cass, last night I was mistaken for a man, and I nearly got away with it until those two showed up. I’ll need your help to fully disguise myself tonight so that I may test the disguise further. I need that five shillings and to not be followed.” My excitement was building, and my head began to clear with the ideas and schemes that swept away the fog.
I believed she could see the desperation in my eyes, and she took my face in her hands and kissed my cheek. “I’ll help you. We’ll all help you. I just pray when the Captain returns that it won’t be too late.”
“Alright, then. I’ll be downstairs soon.”
Following my afternoon in the passing rain clearing weeds and chopping as much wood as Lady Millie tossed at me, I devoured my supper. Then, the girls and I made our way upstairs to our room. Miranda held her ear to the door while Cassandra bound my breasts and Keara pinned my hair up tightly. Again, I wrapped my head in the scarf and put on my hat.
Cassandra then produced a few articles of clothing she’d managed to “borrow” from the good Captain. He was a bit stout, and the clothes hung loosely from my body, but all the better as a disguise. Thankfully, he was but a few inches taller than me, so his long, midnight blue coat barely reached the top of my boots. Soot from the stove to dull my complexion and a red sash about my waist were the final touches. When my ensemble was complete, I stepped to the mirror. In an attempt to lift the air of apprehension in the room, I assumed the exaggerated pose of a ship’s captain about to set sail.
“Oh, Ivory! If I didn’t know it was you, I would pass you on the street without so much as a glance,” Cassandra said.
“You cut quite the figure of a young man.” Miranda giggled and gave me her hand for a kiss.
Keara stood back and studied me for a moment and then walked to our trunk and lifted from it something wrapped in one of her old stockings. “I’m still worried, Ivory. Here, I took this dagger, too.”
Cassandra dug into the trunk as well and handed me the five shillings. “This seems like quite a bit of money, but I’m sure you know what you’re doing. Here are a few pennies, if you find yourself in need of a drink.”
“Now, you all know what you need to do?”
“I’m looking forward to it, actually,” Miranda sighed. She walked to the window and brushed the curtain aside.
“What are you doing, girl?” Keara asked. Then, she followed Miranda’s eyes down into the yard. “You hussy, you.”
“I don’t see them down there anyway, you shrew,” Miranda shot back.
“That’s enough. This could mean either life here or death on some merchant ship back to Charles Towne. We’re just fortunate there’s no moon tonight,” I sniped, and I waved them all to the bedroom door so they could begin their diversion.
Once the girls were down the stairs and I could hear them chatting with Lady Millie in the parlor, I moved as quietly as a cat and equally as swift until I was out the front door and into the night. I knew Townsend and River would be watching the bedroom window, so although this was a risk, I had to take it. I followed my same course. Only now, instead of winding down, the evening was just beginning to spin. As I strolled through the street, I watched every male I encountered, from gentleman to scallywag. I spied them as they walked. I imitated their gaits and even tipped my hat and bowed to anyone who crossed my path. My confidence grew, and by the time I reached theGolden Gull Tavern, the same one as the night before, I strolled straight through the door and found a small table off in a corner.
It didn’t take long for a mysterious gentleman such as I to attract the attention of a bare-shouldered, brown-haired tavern wench with a swing in her hips to rival a tickled pup. “What be yer pleasure?” she asked with her over-exposed bosom about to shut off my breathing.
“Rum,” was my answer, complete with all five pennies, which she wasted not a moment snatching from my ruddy palm.
I thought perhaps flashing money around this dreadful place wasn’t such a good idea, but I was bound to make a mistake or two in this first attempt as a man. My brunette strumpet returned in a blink, sat a tankard twice the size of my fist in front of me, and said, “There’s two more in them pennies, love, unless ye can think of somethin’ else ye’d rather spend ‘em on.” She flicked my chin with her index finger and spun away, waving back at me over her shoulder and wiggling her fingers.
I had no intention of attracting anyone, least of all her, so I tipped my cavalier down over my eyes and lifted the rum to my lips. Within the hour, every empty seat was filled and an accordion and fiddle duet was livening things up. A staircase rose from a landing to the left of the bar, and I turned to find six women of low morals and twelve bare breasts. They were dancing and singing and, dare I say, bouncing, as they leaned over the banister to incite the men from their chairs and cups to come and play.
As I glanced around, I noticed an elderly man already way into his cups and slumped over asleep, and a large man I’d kept an eye on since he came in. I named him Big Red due to his bounty of thick, red hair. We were the only men—real or not— who did not find this show at all enticing.
Big Red was a giant. He was as big and thick as Master Green, and his full cheeks were flushed with rose from days spent under the sun. His blue eyes emitted a quiet warmth, twinkling in the flame of the small lantern in the center of his table every time he raised them from his glass. Even with his hat on—a leather cavalier much like mine but not nearly as old and worn — I could see his mane of fiery red, wavy hair that was but a shade away from that of his well-kempt beard. I could hardly keep my eyes from it as he stroked it every few minutes.
From the corner of my eye, the simple motion of his meaty left hand lifting, smoothing, and then gliding down his mustache and over the two or so inches of coarse amber beard intrigued me. Was he doing it because he was nervous? Was this some tick or habit? Who was he? Where did he come from? Was he a pirate, or just a merchant ship captain who stopped over for the evening before heading out again in the morning? The biggest question of all, however, was why couldn’t I stop looking at him…and why were those sparkling eyes talking to me?
I blinked and even turned my seat in order to cut him out of my view, but for some reason I simply could not discern or control, I caught myself turning back. Unfortunately, he spotted me. I felt the rum burning as it rose back into my throat, and my eyes darted to the bouncing breasts on the stairs. Involuntarily, I caught myself bobbing my now nearly weightless head to the buoyant music. Had I known I was smiling and tapping my foot as well, I’d have slapped my own self in the face.
“Are ye ready?” the brown-haired woman asked as she pressed my face into her breasts and giggled, which practically wrapped themselves around my ears. My reflex reaction rescued me from her plump, fleshy vice, and I pushed her away. I suppose the look of complete disgust on my face didn’t deter her either, since she came at me again with that giggle. I shoved her off a second time.
“What’s this? Aye, ye like it rough, do ye?” she said with a haughty snarl. “Ye wanna spank me arse, too? Yer a salty, one ain’t ye?” When I failed to reply, she stowed herself away in her blouse, picked up my mug, and then slammed it back down in front of me as she dug her knuckles into her hips. “What’s the trouble? Ain’t I bonny enough fer the likes a’ you?”
I held my eyes low and made every effort to choose my words wisely. “Madame, I’m simply not in the spirit for the company of a lady this evening.” Regardless of my well-chosen words, she had already reached a level of anger at my rejection that was beyond my ability to soothe.
“Ah, I see it now, plain as day. Ye don’t like tits. Yer in the spirit fer somethin’ a littleharder,aye?” She laughed. This wasn’t a pleasant, playful laugh. This was an insulting, degrading, man-crushing cackle that, although not a man, offended me on a level I didn’t even know I had.
“Walk away, Madame.”
“Excuse me?” she said in an upturned shrill.
“I said, walk away…and don’t come back.”
Little did I know that this lovely, well-rounded creature who surely meant me no real harm, was about to return the favor I’d given Rip Townsend less than a day ago. Only I wasn’t about to be as forgiving. When the rum hit me in the face, my masculine façade caved like a sandcastle under a wave. Then, when she topped it off with a slap in the face, she took my last remnant of control, and I leapt from my seat and punched her hard in the right side of her jaw. Before I knew what had happened, this saucy trollop was on me. I’d mixed it up quite a few times in my day with men, but this crazy tart fought like two men, and she used every natural weapon she had. She clawed my cheek with her long fingernails and tried to bite me, while I did my level best to fend her off. The worst of it all was her howling and screeching and screaming of obscenities and accusations of whom, and what, I might wish to bed that nearly burst my eardrums.
After several intolerable moments of this, I decided enough was enough. I tossed her off, spun her around, and put my boot square in her arse, which sent her sailing across the floor. I’d lost my hat in the scuffle, and when I swung around to find it, I also found who I believed to be the tavern owner about to bash in my head with a plank of wood. I ducked his first swing and recovered my hat, but he came at me again. Just as my head was inches from being splattered amongst the gathering mob, I was scooped up and tossed over the shoulder of none other than Big Red.
He flung me up there like a sack of sugar and ran out of there before the tavern owner could even raise the plank again, but I was full of steam and still had a barrel of fight left in me. I kicked and screamed and beat on that broad back of his until I thought my hands were broken, but he didn’t stop. Every step he took was like two of any normal man, and my thumps and blows were no more painful to him than the rain drops that started to beat down on us were to me.
“Put me down!” I shouted over and over, while those we passed in the street cheered and laughed. The further he strode, the darker it got. Suddenly, I felt dizzy with fear. The idea that he could kill me, or worse, struck me so hard in the head that I froze. Visions of his meaty hand I’d watched over and over again stroking that red beard transformed into two giant paws wrapped around my scrawny neck until I was dead. What terrorized me the most was that he didn’t utter a sound—not even a grunt or a heavy breath escaped him.
I was so paralyzed with fear that I hadn’t even noticed we were now completely alone in the dark. I finally awoke from my nightmare when he lifted me from his shoulder and launched me like a rag doll off a pier, where I landed like a bag of rocks in the harbor.
~A Man Among Men~
The Captain’s coat already weighed me down bone-dry, but when I hit the water, it pulled me like an anchor beneath the surface and beyond to the depths below. Just as my lungs were about to burst, I felt a hard tug on my arm and a few seconds later, Big Red and I broke the surface.
I gagged and barfed as I was, yet again, pulled over his shoulder. But this time, with the added weight of the harbor water, the big man struggled a bit. I even heard that grunt I was waiting for as he hurled me onto the pier and then pulled himself up. I was lying on my stomach where he tossed me, still gasping for air, when I felt him turn me over. He began pushing down on my sternum until the final burst of rum and sea water spewed forth from my mouth. Then, he tipped me onto my side and slapped me hard on the back.
I wanted to scream, but all I could do was cough and suck in the damp night air. I opened my eyes and watched as he fished something from the water, shook it, and then dropped it on the pier next to my head. “Yer hat, young man.” Were the first words he muttered.
My chest heaved, and out of nowhere, I began to laugh. I laughed so hard my body shook as I hacked and coughed in between. “What are you, some hell-hound…come to do me in and lost your nerve?” I struggled to get the words out but they found the way.
“Hell-hound, aye? Naw, just a sailor doin’ his best to help a man in need.”
I pushed myself onto my elbow and slammed my hat on my head and said, “A man in need? In need of what, a trip to the locker?”
“Ye didn’t make it all the way to the locker, now did ye? I just figured a nice swim would cool ye off. It was getting a little too hot in theGull, and since I’ve seen young fellas like yourself done in over some tavern whore, I wasn’t of a mind to see blood tonight.”
He crouched down and took me under the arms to pull me to my feet, but I shoved him off. Since I’d not only managed to fool that trollop and everyone else in that tavern, I wasn’t about to ruin my good disguise by having Big Red catch a handful of tits. “I can do it myself…when I’m ready.”
“Have it your way, lad,” he said. He tipped his hat to me as he took it off and removed his saturated vest. He drew his once billowy white shirt out from his breeches as if pulling a sail and shook it out. The rain shower was brief, and the thick, hot air had now been soothed to a warm and tender breeze. I sat there and watched in what little light the stars provided with their reflection on the water as he peeled that big ole shirt away from the peaks and valleys of his flesh. Then, he crossed his arms, grabbed the material from the bottom, and whipped it up and over his head.
“What are you doing now?” I asked from below him.
“I don’t much like the feeling of my clothes wet and stuck to my skin, but I do enjoy a midnight swim.” He winked.
Looking up from where I sat stood a man—calm, secure and now removing his belt and boots. I slammed my lower jaw shut just as he leaned forward to undo his breeches when, like in the tavern, he caught me looking.
“See something ye like, laddie?” he asked. He raised one of his wide red eyebrows at me and stopped before letting his breeches drop.
I covered my awe of his form with a shake of my head and a grunt—his form which nearly glowed in the low light in those concealed corners of skin that never see the sun. “No…no, sir.”
“I was startin’ to wonder if ole Lilly girl was right about ye.” He laughed a soft and rolling chuckle. “Don’t pay that girl any mind, lad,” he said, and he waved his hand at me. “She’s a pushy one that one is. I don’t like ‘em shoved down my throat, either.” On that word, he let go, and I instinctively covered my eyes and turned away. “Am I that ugly?” He continued to laugh as he released that wet, wavy red mane of hair from a leather tie and deftly sorted it out with his fingers. “Well, I suppose you could be right about that,” he said with a sigh.
Nothing could have been farther from the truth. He took the wind out of me again for a moment, until I took my first deep breath since before I’d gone into the drink. Then, I blew it out slowly to relieve the pressure of my fluttering heart so he wouldn’t hear it. I drew in another, as he laid his clothes out on a piling to dry. From the corner of my eye I was watching him again. But this time, I watched his naked body shift and curve from every angle, committing it to memory. I was no longer conducting research of men to impersonate. I was admiring the finest damn man I’d ever laid eyes on and wishing I wasn’t playing at being one.
“I was making a joke there, lad—apparently not a very good one,” he said as he walked the ten feet or so to the end of the pier and sat down with his toes dipping into the water. Looking at him from the back was almost as good as looking at the front. From behind, his arms appeared thicker than my thighs, and beneath the skin of his pale back, I could see the faint muscular definition of years of hard work. As he leaned his upper body weight back on his hands, the swells and prominences of his arm muscles moved like waves beneath the starlight, and that magnificent head of hair lay in damp swirls between his mountainous, broad shoulders.
“Are ye a sailor, lad?” he called back to me. I was trying to decide what to do. I couldn’t wait to run back to the McCormack’s house and share every last bit of this with the girls but I couldn’t move. I didn’t want to move. I could have sat there all night and just watched him and listened to him. It was then that I decided that was exactly what I was going to do.
“Ivan,” I replied.
“The name is Ivan. Ivan Razor.”
“Good name, lad. Rasmus Bergman, but my mates call me Razz. You, may call me Captain Bergman.”
“You’re a captain?” I gasped, and I clambered to my feet and extracted myself from the heavy coat.
“Aye. I…lost my other ship not long ago and not far from here.”
“Lost it?” I asked.
“So, you didn’t answer my question. Do ye sail?”
“I have sailed. I sailed here from America, and from London to America before that.”
I did my best to sound brave, as if I had the experience, but something told me he could see right through me. I imagined he could see me swabbing decks on theDemonand feeding chickens in Charles Towne. I wondered if he could also see me killing. He leaned back and looked at me over his shoulder and gave me that eyebrow again to confirm it. “What are ye lad, fifteen?”
“Eighteen,” I shouted back. “I mean to say…eighteen, Captain.” I swallowed hard and looked away.
“My arse you’re eighteen. What I meant to ask was, do ye know the ropes? Can ye sail?”
Here was a man, naked as a fish in the sea, yet he was still completely a man. As I stood there in my wet boots, waistcoat, and breeches, I was still no more than a bold and careless girl playing dress up. The very spirit of his existence was a man. His masculinity was a tangible feeling, just being near him. I told him the truth. A man like Rasmus made it impossible to lie anymore tonight—at least about sailing.
“I know a bit about it. I worked on the ship that brought us, I mean me…to Jamaica. I swabbed and tarred the decks. I raised sails—with the other mates, I mean. I learned a good amount in those few weeks.”
“That’s a good start, I suppose,” he said. He stood and walked to a small sloop that was tied off on the opposite side of the pier. “I’ll be right back. Don’t run away, son,” he said as he gathered the still wet clothes and climbed aboard the sloop.
I thought I should run away. Every other thought in my head was to run, and yet I still didn’t. I couldn’t. I wanted more of him. I wanted to listen to him speak. I wanted to watch him stroke that damn beard. God help me, I wanted him to throw me over his shoulder again. My head was swimming, and I was wondering if I’d hit it on something when he threw me in the harbor. Yes, that’s it. I was chewing the fingernails on my left hand and pacing for the few minutes it took for him to jump back onto the pier. He was back, and unfortunately, dressed.
“Shouldn’t ye be getting on home?” he asked, raising one red eyebrow.
“I suppose that would be the best thing to do. I’m getting very itchy in these wet clothes.”
“Show me the way,” he said as he took me by the elbow and pushed me along.
“Wait, you can’t…”
“I’m not going to rat ye out. I just want to make sure you get there in one piece.”
“Captain, sir,” I stopped and pulled my arm free of him. “I got down here in one piece, and I’m sure I can get home the same way.” I was becoming as angry as a hurricane, and quick, but I didn’t know why. I wasn’t sure if it was the way he treated me like a child, when beneath my façade, the woman parts of me were stirring like a cyclone, or because I still had to keep up this masquerade and not have him see me for who I truly am.
“Well then, let’s walk together, and you can tell me a little more about your journeys.”
I walked on. As we made our way through the streets, I was careful not to fall out of character again, and although I strolled as close to the complete truth as I could, I did embellish just a tiny bit. I didn’t dare expose the number of killings I’d done. I didn’t think he’d believe me, anyway.
“Well, we can say goodnight here, Captain,” I said when the lantern light of the McCormack’s front porch was a good, hard stone’s throw away.
“Is that it?” He leaned back a bit and gripped the lapel of his coat. “Beyond this stone wall and fancy gate?” He looked down at me so wide I could see the whites all around his blue irises and his eyebrows disappeared beneath the brim of his hat. “Rough life ye got there, lad.” He chuckled.
“I’m just staying here with my mates until I can find my own place.”
He stroked his beard and appeared to have a long deep thought about something. Then, he said, “Tomorrow morning at sunrise, meet me at my sloop.”
“Why? Are you planning to throw me overboard?” I laughed. He smiled.
“I was thinking I haven’t anything planned but lying about, so maybe I could do that while ye take my littleBlue Oysterout and stretch her legs.” He winked.
I bit my lips closed and held myself upright with all I had. “I believe I also haven’t anything worth telling to do tomorrow.”
“It’s settled. Fair winds to ye, lad.” He bowed and turned to go, but then he stopped as I was about to scale the wall and sneak back in. “I almost forgot…” he said as he stepped towards me. I could feel the air around him dart out of his way until he was almost flush against me. He took me by the shoulders and said, “It’s an odd feeling when I’m this close to ye. I don’t believe I’ve ever found myself this close to another man in my whole life that I wasn’t beatin’ the tar out of. What’s even stranger is the peculiar urge I’m feeling at this moment to kiss ye goodnight.”
I shoved off from him and he tugged me back. “I beg your pardon, Captain. I believe we’ve already established that I am not…”
“A man,” he finished for me. As I gaped at him in silence as he continued, “I was in His Majesty’s Navy, and I’ve sailed every body of water as could keep a ship afloat, lass. I can tell the sexes apart from a hundred yards.”
I lowered my head at the realization that I’d fooled a bunch of silly drunks and a horny tart, but I’d never be able to fool a man like Rasmus Bergman. Not only that, I wanted him to kiss me. I wanted to know if that fire in his beard would burn my mouth, and I longed for those meaty paws to stroke me everywhere. His hold on me was so firm that I was stunned at the tenderness in his touch when he lifted my face by the chin with his fingertips.
“I’m not going to kiss ye, lass. I’ve no intention of taking advantage of ye at all, and I meant what I said. If ye plan to carry on as a man, whether or not ye prefer tits, I’ll not expose ye. The way I see it, a woman would have to have a mighty damn good reason to play a man, and I love a mystery.”
Rasmus released me and when he let go, I caught myself on his sleeve to keep from falling. I felt as if he was still holding me up by the chin. “Sunrise,” he said with a nod and walked away.
“Wait!” I shouted after him. “When did you know?”
He turned back to me and said with a smile, “Lilly’s a pain in the arse and a pushy little broad, but she’s the finest set a’ tits in that tavern. There ain’t a red blooded man alive who’d not at least have a little nip of one before he shoved her off. Goodnight…Ivan.”
~Fire and Ice~
I knew it was way past midnight, and yet I heard noises coming from the cottage behind the house. I was about to make the climb up to the back porch roof and in through the bedroom window but I stopped and listened. Within a few moments, I knew exactly what I was hearing. I slinked the twenty or so paces across the backyard and lay back flat against the wall as I slid to the side window. It was folded open, and the closer I moved towards it, the more I needed to see who either Watts or Townsend was enjoying their time with.
When I turned my head to get my right eye around the corner far enough to catch a glimpse, I recognized instantly the giggles and voice of Miranda. She was naked to the waist and sitting astride River, who sat shirtless in a chair. A single candle burned on the table next to them, illuminating their lust as they explored each other’s bare flesh with their hands and mouths. Oddly enough, I was more embarrassed than angry. My cheeks flushed and I turned away quickly, trying to decide what I should do. My first instinct was to slit his throat, but damn that stinking swab; he had somehow tricked me into liking him.
“Y’are a saucy lass, Miranda. You’ve stole me heart and soul,” River moaned.
“That’s ‘cause we’re pirates, you see. You better be careful, or I’ll steal everything you’ve got,” she giggled.
“Yer no pirate, but yer a mighty good thief.”
“What thief? You gave yourself away, and quite willingly, too,” she laughed.
We’re piratesshe’d said. What the devil was she up to? I thought to myself that I really needed to break this up before it went too far, and I walked to the door and knocked. I could hear the rustling of clothes being roughly pulled back on, and I almost laughed at how comical the sight must have been. “Miranda? I know you’re in there,” I said in my sternest tone.
The door blew open and River stood with his hands outspread against opposite sides of the door frame. “Now, don’t be cross, Miss Shepard. We was only messin’ around a bit.”
I reached around his waist, snatched Miranda by the arm, and pulled her out from behind him. “Forget about it, River. Goodnight.”
“Aren’t you going to kill him?” she screeched and yanked hard away from me. “He said you told him if he came near me again, you’d kill him,” she whined as I snatched her again and drug her across the yard in the dark.
“Hush. You’ll wake the whole house,” I moaned. “And do you want me to kill him, for Christ’s sake?” I stopped and glared at her.
“No! Lady Millie knows I was with Watts. She said she didn’t care what we did ‘cause we’d all be gone soon enough. She was very drunk though when she said it. You told us to keep them occupied anyway, remember?”
I shoved Miranda hard ahead of me and said, “Get in the house and go to bed before I whip you.” Then, I turned back to speak to River.
“River, open this door. I need a word with you,” I said as I knocked.
As he opened the door and swished his arm across his body to welcome me in, the smirk on his face told me plainly of his disappointment at being interrupted.
“Miss Shepard, I swear to ye…”
I pulled out my razor, flipped it open, and I laid it against River’s throat. His hands flew up at his sides, and I broke the skin and warned him not to move. I ordered him to sit down in the chair he’d been professing his love in a few minutes before.
“Life, and its twists and turns, aye, River?” I said. I stepped behind him and held my razor against his neck.
“What do ye want? I promise I won’t lay a hand on her again,” he said as beads of sweat formed on his forehead.
“Why did Lady Millie allow you two to be alone together?”
“I don’t know. I swear it. Miranda knocked on the door around midnight and said Lady Millie sent her.”
“Sent her? You don’t expect me of all people to believe that, now do you?”
“If ye don’t kill me, I will tell ye somethin’, but only because I’m tellin’ ye the truth of my feelin’s for Miss Miranda. I do love her, and I want her to be me lady.”
“You, my dear Mister Watts, are a fool’s fool, and you don’t make a woman your lady by getting up under her skirt,” I said as I retracted my razor and backed away. “Your intentions with Miranda are not my concern at the moment. I need to know what Lady Millie is up to, and where has the Captain been? I haven’t seen him since dinner two nights ago.”
“I believe we are more than well acquainted enough for you to call me by my first name, Samuel.”
“Miss Ivory,” he said as I rolled my eyes at him, “they’ll kill me if I tell, and for the first time in me life I got somethin’ worth livin’ fer.”
“How old are you, River…really?” I asked. I leaned back against the small table and ran my fingers lightly over the candle flame.
“W...well, I’m not yet twenty, but I think I’m older than seventeen,” he said. He began to relax, and he leaned forward with his forearms on his thighs and looked up at me.
“You really don’t know, do you?”
“No. Barclay picked me and a few others off a ship bound for Barbados when I was just about waist high. I don’t know what happened to me parents. I reckon they’re dead. He had three of us lads, line up to lift a sack a’ sugar. I was the only one who could, so he snatched me up by me neck and made me his cabin boy. I don’t remember much before that day,” he said and stared at the floor.
“No, I suppose you wouldn’t.” I sighed, and memories of my own harshly interrupted childhood flowed into me and softened my temperament. I paced the room and pulled myself together. “Who’s going to kill you—other than me that is, unless you tell me what’s going on here?”
“The lady herself for one, and maybe Rip.”
“Rip? I thought he was your best mate?”
“Rip ain’t nobody’s best mate but Rip’s.” River stood and walked to the window and scanned the yard. Then he did the same with the door.
“Are you expecting someone?”
“Listen, ye better take them girls and get as far away from here as ye can.” He was speaking quietly, but he was animated and waving his arms. His expressions were damn near frightening.
“Not until you tell me what’s going on.”
“Please, just do what I said.”
“Whatever this is, does the Captain know?”
“No. He’s blind ta’ her schemes.”
“That’s it. I’m not leaving here until you tell me.”
“She sells ‘em,” he shouted at me in a whisper, again with his flailing arms. “She sells ‘em off ta’ pirates fer their damn fuck tents. She gets twice as much when they’re clean and pretty. Now please, will ye just go?”
“Who else knows about this?” I ran to the window and door myself this time and drew my razor, too.
“All I know is the Lady and Rip have connections ta’ pirates outta Kingston, Tortuga, and a few other places, and they’ll be comin’ in ta’ port any day now ta’ collect.”
“How do they even know she has ladies to sell?” I couldn’t believe I was asking that question. Selling human beings had always been high on my list of things I loathed, but to know I was now among them, not once but twice, burned in my chest as if I’d been hit with a pistol shot.
“They don’t, but at least one a’ their ships comes through here ‘bout once a month, and the first place they stop is theGolden Gull.”
“Is that why you and Rip were there last night?”
He sat back down in the chair and clasped his hands between his knees. “Aye. Rip was leavin’ word with his contact there that he had four pretty young things, fresh off the boat. Barclay was the ring leader, but since ye killed ‘im and a lot a’ his fella flesh-peddlers, that left Rip in charge.”
My mind was racing back to my meeting aboard ship with Willy and Green and our discussion of the plot to sell us. But then to bring us here for his wife to sell us out the back door was just more than I could stomach. Everything began to make sense to me. All of the shrouded truths and secrets became as clear to me as the turquoise waters of the bay.
“They know you know, right?”
“Aye, miss. They pulled me inta’ it on this last hunt. Rip said we’d get paid ta’ bring the girls fer the rich old man. Then, they’d bring ‘em here ta’ make ‘em think they were safe. Miss Millie would clean ‘em up and put pretty dresses on ‘em. Then, she’d tell Cap’n McCormack some of ‘em had run off, but she really sold ‘em. Barclay used Rip ta’ make the trade down at theGull.”
“We were told that the reason we were brought here to the McCormack’s was to be protected. Obviously, now I know my instincts to leave this house were right. So, what’s Lady McCormack’s connection to Barclay?”
River looked up at me with a crooked smile that conveyed a thought I didn’t want to imagine, and then he said it. “Word is they were lovers.”
I shook my head. “And the unknowing Captain delivered us right into the hands of our sellers. What’s ole Millie going to do now without Barclay to protect her?”
“Why do you think she lets Rip and me stay here? She’s actin’ kinda crazy, though. Earlier, she was out here layin’ inta’ Rip for lettin’ Barclay get killed. Rip didn’t dare tell her you and them girls done it, because he knew she’d kill ye, and you ain’t worth nothin’ ta’ him dead. I’m trapped in the middle a’ all this. I don’t want ta’ do this, but once they tell ye what they’re up ta’, ye better do what they say, or ye’ll end up missin’.” He blew out a heavy sigh and then fell silent for a moment, pacing about the room.
“Go on, please. You can trust me, I promise you.”
“Willy and Green would save who they could, from what I was told. They’d have some big red-haired fella arrange to carry some of the girls to Nassau where he had a safe place for ‘em until he could get ‘em passage back ta’ wherever they was stole from. If they could get ‘em ta’ his sloop before they’d ‘run off’ as she’d say, he’d get ‘em outta Port Royal.”
“He was a pirate, too, I’s told. But he ain’t ‘bout the peddlin’a’ flesh, neither, and speakin’ as ta’ how I seen it, that man’s the only pirate Barclay ever run from. Cap’n used him fer a while ta’ search fer his daughter, but he ain’t never turned her up.”
“Cap’n had a daughter named Eva ‘bout your age. She run away when her mother died. Stowed away on a ship. Heard tell ’twas sacked by pirates, and she ain’t been seen since.”
“So, that’s how the Captain and Green fit into all of this. But who the hell is this rich old man? And won’t he be rather angry over not getting what he paid for?”
“There ain’t no old man—well, none that’s buyin’ girls for pleasure, there ain’t.”
“Is Willy theold man?”
River lowered his head and nodded towards the floor. Everything was making sense, finally. River’s ramblings opened every door and window I needed to go through in order to see the truth, but he only showed me the mystery, not how to solve it. I knew now what Rasmus was doing in town, and it undoubtedly explained his shocked expression when he saw where I was staying; it was not the wealth of my hosts.
He said he’d lost his ship. No doubt he had a lot of enemies in his line of work. That also explained why he was in theGolden Gull. The one piece of this that gave me the smallest bit of comfort was that the incoming pirates were nowhere in sight, which meant I had time to enlist some help.
“We never had this conversation, River,” I said as I dashed for the door.
“Miss Ivory, what are ye goin’ ta’ do?” he asked, looking up from his chair.
“I owe you, River. But when I’m through, you’ll owe me, and I will collect the debt.”
When I returned to our bedroom, Miranda was seated and watching out the window, and Cass and Keara were asleep. I woke them and told them of the plotting that was taking place against us. I didn’t go into every detail, but I was able to put enough fear in them to gain their compliance. I pulled the stolen dagger from my boot and handed it to Keara. She was a beast with a dagger, and I knew she’d make good use of it if necessary.
I peeled myself from my damp clothes, and Cass removed my binding and laid everything out on the floor near the hearth and started a small fire to dry them. They assumed I’d been caught in the rain, and for now, I saw no reason to explain my midnight swim.