TWO chapters. Because that’s how it ended up. I did about 300 words of Chapter Three last night, but I didn’t want to post the first half-a-page of chapter. Chapter Four, however, is entirely finished, so you can have it now. My par word count for the day is 6668, and I’m at 7,342. Almost 700 words ahead of par.
The first weeks aboard the Lionfish were pleasant, if lonesome. Of the eighteen souls aboard, only Mary and a man called Henry spoke French. I followed Mary in the early mornings. First we’d round up the chickens that spent the night in the hold with us, and gather their eggs. Then we’d let them out onto the deck in calm seas. In rough weather, they’d stay below for fear of losing our egg-layers over the side. We had eight hens, giving us eight or ten eggs most mornings, though sometimes one would break before we found it, and sometimes we’d find old, rancid eggs. In the evenings Mary and I would prepare meals for the men, and except the captain, we’d all eat together. In good weather we sat on the forecastle to eat, but in rain we’d stay in the hold for dinner. The men sang in English, but I enjoyed the tunes, and sometimes I sang too.
Henry taught me about the ship most of the day. At first I was coiling ropes and stitching tears in the sails, but soon he had me climbing aloft. I was afraid to climb at first, but I found that I loved the feeling of being all alone, high above the world in the salt breeze. Sometimes they gave me a spyglass and had me shout down the banners I saw from my perch. Henry taught me the sailor’s jargon in French and English so I could follow orders from any of the men. Mary taught me the men’s names and temperaments, and told me what I should do to gain the captain’s favor and how to stay in the good graces of the men. The sailors treated Mary like she was their mother, and perhaps because she had so readily adopted me, they mostly left me alone.
Mary had her little chest and hammock behind a curtain in the hold, but most nights she let me sleep there while she slept elsewhere. I suspected it was with the Captain, by the way he looked at her sometimes, but I didn’t dare ask.
The weather was fine, although cooler on the sea than it would be at home in late spring. We sailed close to shore, and every few days we stopped in port. Every time, I ventured off the ship with Mary and Reece, the giant who had rowed Mary and I to the Lionfish when first we met in Montpellier. As they traded on the captain’s behalf, I questioned sailors about David. I kept a list of ships of whose crews David was not a part. It seemed endless, and yet at each port of call there were new ships to meet.
The journey grew less lonely as I began to understand and even speak a little of the crew’s native English. With Mary and Reece helping bridge the gaps, I could soon speak with everyone onboard. Most of the men weren’t very talkative, but just being able to understand the stories and songs at meals relieved my feeling of isolation a great deal.
They were godly folk, as Mary had promised, nothing like the many seamen who had visited Hotel Bessette. Each morning the Captain led prayers, and some of the men read from bibles in the evenings, especially in foul weather. It is common knowledge that sailors are all superstitious, but their piety extended beyond the fear of the sea which all sailors share.
Early in my time with them, I asked Mary why their prayers were read in English. She told me the bibles in England written in English, not Latin. I was shocked. She told me that the word of God must be written in the language of the people, so that each might understand and gain salvation through the teachings of the Lord. I said that in France the people learned of the teachings of God at church, and she made a rude noise. I said that a bible written in English would grant me no understanding, for I could not read it. She laughed, and promised to find me one in French. I doubted such a book had ever been published.
I would later learn that the reason their bibles were in English was that they (and indeed all of England) were Protestant. I was scandalized by the news. My mother had commented little about the rebels against the Catholic church, but Sylvie’s mother had railed openly against the “Protestant curse.” She’d spoken at length of the demon reformers, sent from Hell to corrupt and destroy. Repeating this caused Reece to neglect my company for several days, but Mary tolerated the offense. She explained that such fairy tales were falsehoods spun by a corrupt pope. She told me of the horrors of the papacy, of holy fathers whoring and stealing, murdering and blackmailing and even engaging in bestiality and incest. The sailors joined in her recounting of the many unthinkable sins committed by priests, cardinals, and popes. What I understood of their stories was appalling. Chief among the fathers’ sins was refusing to allow the enlightened reformers to worship according to their new tradition. I had not spent enough time in church to fully understand how the Protestants of England differed from the Catholics of France, but stories of abused refugees made me glad when Mary told me that part of our business in France was to rescue Protestant martyrs and victims of Catholic oppression. I imagined Sylvie’s mother hounding a poor Protestant refugee across the French countryside, and I was excited to help in a heroic rescue.
As our travels continued and my English improved, the men devotedly explained the tenants of their faith, and spoke of the challenges they’d endured. Pious though they were, the men were sailors still. They sang bawdy songs and drank, and to my great delight, they gambled at cards. They taught me All Fours and Put, and my cache of coins dwindled to a few sad centimes, but I taught them Faro and won my own back, and a few English and Spanish pieces to boot.
I was sometimes lonely for home, and the work was hard, but I still felt overwhelmingly lucky to have found Mary and the Lionfish. Without them, I’d have been stuck walking from port to port, or waiting in Montpellier for David’s ship to come in. I’d certainly have run out of money long ago. Far from the life of danger and poverty Sylvie warned against, I had more money, more freedom, and fewer troubles than I had at home.
In time I realized that I didn’t really need to find David at all. I didn’t need him to rescue me, because I had rescued myself. I’d been living happily, far from the Hotel Bessette for a quarter of a year. It was coming into high summer, and all the time since I’d left I’d been fed and safe, and my grand escape had cost me nothing but a few hours’ walk and the centime I’d spent on my lamb pie the morning I left. These months, I’d been desperately chasing my brother’s ghost, when I had already made a new home for myself.
For about a month after my epiphany I continued to search for David at every port, just in case, but when my list of not-his-ships was lost to a sudden gale, I decided it was time to put the fantasy to rest. The first time I stayed onboard while others went ashore, Captain Whitney invited me to join him for his tea.
Sitting at the same table where we’d first been introduced, we shared a rich meal of one of our hens and summer fruits brought onboard a few days before. Between his rudimentary French and my tentative English we cobbled together an awkward conversation. The captain told me he was pleased with my work aboard the Lionfish. I’d proved myself both diligent and virtuous, he said. I was pleased by his approval. I had applied myself whole-heartedly to learning the tasks of sailing and ship maintenance, but the learning had been difficult and at first I was often reprimanded by the men. The language barrier made it hard to understand orders, and I was still struggling to comprehend what seemed to be a complex rank structure. It seemed that everyone gave orders, and aside from the captain I was never sure whose word outranked whose. Toward the end of the meal the captain revealed the curiosity which had triggered the invitation.
“I am surprised to see you aboard while others are abroad,” he said leadingly.
I told him I had been looking for my brother. He nodded. I had told him that months ago, when I first came aboard. But I didn’t know what else to say.
“And you found him?”
“No. I… no.”
He waited for me to elaborate, but I faltered. How could I explain the realization that it was a childish dream to imagine I could find one man in such a big world, separated by years and who knows how many miles? That I didn’t need to find him, and that he might not want to be found? That I might find him and see that he had my mother’s cold heart?
Finally he nodded somberly. “I see.” He started to say something else, but stopped himself. A few moments later he steered the conversation in a more innocuous direction. He spoke of his home in Westminster, and his upbringing as a carpenter’s apprentice, before he sailed. I asked if he had a wife at home. He hesitated before telling me he didn’t.
In the dead of night, Mary woke me from a deep sleep. In the thin light, she looked concerned.
“Ce qui est faux?” I murmured groggily.
“Nothing, dear. The captain wants you to see something on deck. Be very quiet, and mind your step. The lanterns are out.”
The lanterns were never out. The lanterns which hung from the extremes of the deck showed other ships where we were. The ships hung them to prevent collisions in the night. But tonight they were dark. A single lamp sat directly on the deck, and the captain stood behind it in an unseasonably heavy, full-length cape which blocked the light from shining behind him. In the gloom behind the captain shone two lights from another ship, closer than I’d ever seen. I strained to make out the shape of the vessel, but it was too dark.
In addition to the captain and I, there were four others on deck. Mary joined us, putting an arm about my shoulders.
“Be very quiet, and stay out of the way,” she whispered.
Sam and Ollie, both among my favorite crewmates, moved easily through the darkness in a graceful, silent dance. Tall, wiry Sam crouched in a longboat as it hung beside the deck. Ollie, usually the first to jest, was grave as he passed Sam a pair of oars, a pair of pistols, and a hand drill. Each object he picked up from a cloth nest at his feet, and handed gingerly to Sam, who placed each object carefully before reaching for the next. Finally Ollie shook out the cloth, some kind of blanket, and folded it over the edge of the longboat between the boat and the larger ship. Then he climbed in beside Sam.
I was painfully confused, and longed to ask what was going on, but when I started to whisper to Mary, she covered my mouth with her fingers. There would be no questions.
The captain made the sign of the cross, and everyone on deck followed suit. The captain nodded to the remaining sailors, and they began to slowly lower the longboat off the side. As it slowly sank, Ollie and Sam pushed against the hull of the ship and adjusted the blanket to keep the boat from scraping the hull as the longboat swung in the breeze. I’d never seen them bother with such a precaution before.
Mary ushered me to the rail, where I could peer over and watch the boat disappearing into the shadow of the hull. I heard a tiny splash, and the sound of the boat being freed from its ropes. Then, nothing. The lantern on the deck was snuffed, plunging the crew into almost total darkness. When the lights from the neighboring ship flashed silver on the water, I sometimes saw the shadow of the longboat shrinking into the night, closer and closer to the mystery ship. When the boat continued beyond where I’d thought the ship sat, I realized it was further, and much larger, than I had estimated. I strained to make out the silhouettes of masts to get a better idea of the strange ship’s true dimensions, but the gloom masked her shape.
I lost sight of the longboat, but still we waited on deck. Why had Sam and Ollie rowed off in the midst of night? Why had they taken pistols? The men’s stories of marooning sprung to mind and I was stricken with terror for my friends. What could they have done to deserve abandonment?
But we weren’t abandoning them. We weren’t moving. We must be waiting for them to return.
Why were they rowing for the other ship? Why were the lanterns dimmed, all this sneaking about in the night like thieves?
That was it, I realized. It must be. The Lionfish was a pirate ship!
But we had been welcomed in ports all over southern France. Surely pirates would be arrested, not offered safe harbor. Certainly. And we’d passed many ships in the night without accosting them.
Or had we? I fell into bed and slept like the dead. How could I know if this strange, silent attack had not been repeated every night over the months I’d been onboard? Ollie and Sam did look practiced.
But what sort of battle could be so quiet? And what sort of piracy, at that? If it was an attack, why were so few sent? Two men could not hope to triumph against the crew of so great a ship. Again my chest tightened with fear for my companions, pirates or no.
My anxiety was interrupts by a fizzle from the rigging above. A bit of flaming slow match drifted onto the deck from above, and the captain snuffed it with his boot. I strained to see into the rigging, but could not tell who was aloft.
The sailors who had lowered the longboat resumed their positions at the rail and leaned over. Mary let me go back to the rail to look over, too, but I saw nothing in the shadow of the Lionfish’s hull.
The sailors saw something, though. They started slowly hoisting, and soon Sam and Ollie and the boat reappeared. San was wrapped in the blanket, drenched head to toe, but Ollie was barely damp, as from the spray of the water and the drips that ran up the oars. Once the boat was secured, Sam dropped the blanket and the four men set about raising the mainsail. To my amazement, they hoisted the sheet in the dark and silence nearly as fast as they drew it up by the bosun’s rhythm by day.
Under the power of the mainsail, we fled into the night, sailing until the light of the ship had twinkled into nothingness. Our lamps were relit, and I helped as they struck the mainsail. The captain, Mary, and the sailors went to their beds, and Reece climbed down from above.
“I thought I saw you down here,” he said cheerfully.
“Reece… I don’t understand,” I said, head reeling with exhaustion and suspicions. “Are we… pirates?”
He laughed. “No, little one. We’re crusaders.”