Category Archives: NaNoWriMoInJan

NaNoWriMoInJa: Chapter Nine

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Chapter Nine
Education

In the wake of Nicolas’s departure, Caroline arrived. Caroline was an elderly tutor, who, I would later learn, had educated Nicolas and his sister, Delphine, when they were children. Nicolas had summoned her to acquaint me with the mannerisms of French court. Upon first hearing of Caroline’s acquisition I was thrilled, knowing the moments of quiet failure would at last come to an end.

I quickly changed my mind. Caroline was extremely harsh, criticizing my poor reading and penmanship and even my French, saying that Delphine had achieved more by the time she was six. While her taunts stung, I tried to remember how out of place I felt not understanding what was expected of me now. Under Caroline’s abrasive tutelage I studied needlework, geography, music, dancing, reading, writing, history, etiquette, the running of a household, and even a little medicine.

Lessons quickly swallowed the two months Nicolas was gone. My fingers ached from stitching and pulling out stitches when they invariably failed to please my taskmistress. I had to practice perfect posture and take tiny steps and hold my head just so. Meals were agonizing. Caroline hovered over me, refusing to allow me a single bite unless everything was just right. I must use the correct fork. The fork must remain in the left hand, tines pointed down, to bring the bite to my lips. I mustn’t lean too much, and I must remember to tilt my bowl in the correct direction, and I mustn’t rest my hands on the table. By the time I finished eating breakfast it was nearly dinner time.

At Caroline’s urging, Nicolas had a harpsichord sent over and set up in the drawing room. It was a bright blue, covered all over with gold fleur-de-lis and scrollwork. When the lid was propped up, the underside showed a beautiful painting of two cherubs. The gift was beautiful, and I took to it well, but upon the discovery of my talent for music Caroline pushed me all the harder, insisting that I must be ready to perform when I met His Majesty. I had to stand before the Harpsichord in my dreadful little heels for hours playing dreadful little songs.

Sundays allowed me to escape to mass for a few hours. Caroline accompanied me to the church but she couldn’t correct me in public, and I don’t think she would have dared to disturb mass, even to whisper. She sat bolt upright, totally transfixed, sparing me not a glance until we were on our way home. Sometimes I’d slump or fidget to try to tempt her, but she didn’t seem to notice, and slumping in my stays was dreadfully uncomfortable, so I gave it up.

My weekly escapes were of great comfort to my tired fingers and feet, but the sermons weighed heavily on my burdened soul. I went into confession to relieve myself of Anne’s sins, the petty little blunders of spite against Caroline or gluttony when she finally allowed me a meal on my own. But I didn’t dare confess to the crimes I’d committed before Anne Savard. Before Fos-sur-Mer and before Bordeaux. Once, a Bishop from far away visited our parish, and I nearly had the courage to unburden myself, but in the end it was the same familiar priest in the confessional, and I spoke instead of taking the Lord’s name in vain when I stepped on a pin. Six days a week, my life before Bordeaux seemed a distant dream, another life. Sometimes I felt like I was born to be a fine lady, and the other life was simply a fever-dream like Nicolas said. But Sunday would come round and I would remember my guilt.

Nicolas came home just as the cold set in. I met him in the front hall, and he walked in as bleak as the wilted garden. He brought the sad news that his father had taken ill, and he’d need to leave again very soon to tend to him in Fos-sur-Mer. While he was home, I was spared Caroline’s mealtime scrutiny, although I felt her ghost over my shoulder anyway, and was very careful to be every bit the proper lady. I got no disapproving glances from Nicolas, but I couldn’t be sure whether it was because I was doing better or because he was distracted by his father’s condition.

Distracted or no, Nicolas was indulgent, asking about my studies and commending my progress. In contrast to Caroline’s badgering, I basked in his generous praise. Sharing a tutor gave us something to talk about, though it was usually matters of little import. I played harpsichord for him and sang some of the songs Caroline taught which were more civil than the songs I’d learned at home or aboard the Lionfish. Nicolas listened and clapped devotedly after every song.

Some nights Nicolas would come to my room after dinner, but usually he walked me to my door, kissed my cheek, and went to bed in the other bedroom he’d been using. I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to turn him away. I’d have been just as happy not to have him, but as he said the first night together, I was living as his wife in all other ways, staying in his home and eating fine foods and wearing noble gowns.

So I’d let him in. He was tender with me, careful not to cause me pain. Afterward we’d lie together in the dark and talk easily. I liked hearing him speak about his childhood here. He spoke of Delphine, and another sister, Nadine, who died when she was seven. Both were older than Nicolas, and Delphine was now married and living in Paris. He clearly loved her very dearly. I told him I hoped I’d meet her someday, and I realized I actually meant it.

In a few short weeks Nicolas was gone again. I wasn’t sure when I’d see him again, but he promised to write. I told him I’d make him something special for when he got back. My stitches had been improving, and I thought maybe I could put together a whole shirt without Caroline making me start all over again.

I had barely noticed Nicolas missing the first trip, but the second time the house felt as big and empty as it had on my first night there. We only met a few times each day, and yet I felt his absence profoundly. I wasn’t struggling as much with Caroline’s demanding instruction by then. When I had some little victory or found something interesting, I would sometimes think to share it with him, but of course he was gone. I’d sit down nearly every night thinking I’d write him a letter, but I’d always abandon it. There was always something that made me give it up. The penmanship wasn’t good enough, or I’d decide that what I’d written wasn’t all that interesting, or most often I couldn’t think of more than a few sentences to write, and I thought it foolish to go to all the trouble to send just a few words.

A few weeks after Nicolas left again I fell ill. I was too weak and tired to continue my lessons, but after a few days of bed rest and what felt strangely like seasickness, I was so bored that I sent for Caroline anyway. For once, she was gentle to me, and she read to me as I sewed. It was she who suggested the perfect Christmas gift for Nicolas.

Nicolas was gone over Christmas, but I got a parcel from him a few days later. Inside were a pair of green silk heels with gold beading on the toes. Inside, and all around in the box were little fruits, nuts, and candies. The accompanying latter was an apology that he was gone for my first Christmas in France. He explained that here, children left their shoes out by the fireplace and Père Noël would fill them with treats. He said he’d tried to send me a fireplace but he couldn’t find a big enough carriage.

Epiphany brought Nicolas home. His father had died of his illness and his body had been sent to the family mausoleum for interment. The mausoleum was in Northern France, so a funeral mass was held in Fos-sur-Mer. Nicolas was overwhelmed with work that had arisen from his father’s passing, and I saw little of him after he returned. I’d frequently go down to dinner to find that a place had been set only for me. In addition to securing his father’s arrangements and making plans for the now-empty house by the sea, Nicolas was also making arrangements for us to travel to Versailles. He’d inherit his father’s title, but due to the close nature of His Majesty and Nicolas’s father, the title would be bestowed personally in court.

In the chaos, it was several days before Nicolas came to my bedroom. When he finally did, I sat him down on one of my fine couches and brought him his Christmas gift, the special something I’d promised to make for him. He held the little garment gingerly, running his fingers over the delicate lace. Caroline had helped with the finer details, and though we practiced making lace, I wasn’t very good at it yet, so I’d bought some for the gown. At first he asked if it was a hope gift, for our eventual firstborn. When I told him I was already two months along, he was ecstatic.

Because of my condition it was decided that Caroline would come with us to Versailles rather than my maid, Marie. While it was more traditional for a lady to have her servant at court, Caroline’s knowledge of household medicine had already been helpful in dealing with my morning sickness, and I wouldn’t part from her for so many weeks.

Arrangements were made for Nicolas’s investiture, and it was decided that in March we’d go to Versailles so Nicolas could be elevated to his father’s lordship. We’d be personal guests of His Majesty, staying in the palace and attending important court functions.

Despite my progress with Caroline, the thought of having to show myself a lady before the Sun King was terrifying. Nicolas reminded me that my condition would garner a lot of forgiveness, even among the toughest courtiers. He even promised to bring in another tailor direct from Paris to ensure that I had fashionable clothes that would fit over my belly. By March I’d be showing.

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NaNoWriMoInJa: Chapter Eight

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Chapter Eight
The Cottage

 

The next weeks were full of practical matters. Nicolas and I were moved, via a long and uncomfortable carriage ride, to “our” vineyard in Bordeaux. The long ride overland was the furthest I’d ever been from the sea, but Nicolas promised that Bordeaux was close to a greater ocean, and we could go to the shore sometimes. I mentioned to Nicolas once that it was strange not to smell any hint of salt on the air, and he said it must be strange to live in such a small island kingdom.

I’d never even seen England, but Anne of course grew up there. I wondered if Nicolas was obstinately refusing to realize that I was not his promised bride, or if he knew, and simply refused to discuss it.

The “cottage” was like nothing I’d ever seen. A large, modern house was nestled in a lush garden, and on all sides grew the rich Bordeaux grapes that became Savard wine, which in turn became Savard gold and influence. Nicolas told me the house had been completely rebuilt, inside and out, to the latest fashion, so that it would be fit to welcome his beloved wife. I thought it would be fit to welcome a princess.

The chateau was huge, with a steep grey roof and tall, slender windows. I’d never seen so much glass outside a church. Nicolas led me in through the grand hall, an empty room as tall as a cathedral and big enough to hold all of the Hotel Bessette inside. High above, the pristine white ceiling was carved with beautiful, intricate patterns, and below our feet was a tile mosaic which had been a part of the original building. Velvet curtains hung from the windows.

Nicolas told me that doors leading off either side led to the breakfast room, dining room, and drawing room. I wasn’t sure what the drawing room was for, but the idea of an entire room for breakfast was fascinating. At the maison we had breakfast on our feet, and dinner at the same table where we welcomed guests in the evening. Here there was a different room for everything.  We went up a curving staircase to the second floor, which had even more rooms branching off the central hall. Nicolas brought me into a palatial bedroom, with white and gold carved wall panels and bright blue carpet. Blue velvet curtains with gold trim hung from the windows and canopied the ornate bed. And it wasn’t simply a bedroom. On one side of the bed were couches and chairs, and on the other a little dining table. Just as I was drinking in the grandeur, a little man tiptoed in behind us.

“I’m so sorry, monsieur, madame. I had a little business to attend to,” he said, doing a curt little bow to each of us. Behind him followed a boy, a little younger than I, arms loaded with bolts of cloth and ledgers and instruments.

“Monsieur Aubrey is our tailor, minette. He’s here to create for you a new wardrobe,” Nicolas explained. “My wedding gift to you.”

“But I already have the things from the house in Fos-sur-Mer,” I protested weakly.

“My sister’s old things? Nonsense. It was lucky that they fit you, but they’re dreadfully out of fashion. We can’t have you wearing those old rags when we meet the King.”

“The King?”

“We’ll have to take you to court sooner or later. Father was a personal friend to His Majesty. It would be impolite not to introduce you.” With that he excused himself to attend to matters of the house, and I was left alone with Monsiuer Aubrey and his apprentice.

The next hour was spent in an embarrassing struggle with Monsiuer Aubrey, who insisted that I must take off my gown in order for him to measure me. I was outraged, but eventually a servant came in to see what all the ruckus was about and said she’d measure me behind a screen with Monsieur Aubrey’s instructions. He insisted that nothing would fit, but he relented at last. After the gauntlet of measurements was completed and I was permitted to dress again (with the servant’s assistance), he grilled me about what sort of things I wanted. I tried to remember what Sylvie had taught me about Parisian fashion, but when I did recall something, Monsieur Aubrey looked disgusted at my outdated suggestions. He commented to his assistant that the English has absolutely no sense of style whatsoever, and to me he rattled off colors and fabrics and styles that meant nothing to me. I finally told him to do whatever he liked. He seemed horrified, and then thrilled, and then he packed up all his fabrics and books and went away.

I sat on the plush couch and took a deep breath, but my borrowed stays bit into my hips when I sat, and I soon became uncomfortable anyway. I wondered if I shouldn’t have asked Monsieur Aubrey to make me a new one, but I feared he might need me to strip down even further for that. I shifted to take the pressure off, and pushed it from my mind.

I drifted off a bit on the soft couch, and a maid came to wake me a little later to bring me dinner. I asked her to sit and talk with me, but she had little to say. Her name was Marie, and she’d been brought into employ here just before I was due to arrive. She would be my lady’s maid, tasked with helping me dress and undress, bathe, brush and style my hair, and anything else I should need. It took too much energy to try to engage her in conversation, so I went to bed.

Every morning Nicolas and I shared breakfast in the breakfast room. The two of us ate at a round table that could have seated ten, under a glittering chandelier. Servants brought us bruit and cakes and they poured chocolate from the new world into porcelain cups from the orient.

Every afternoon, Marie brought me English tea and little cakes in the garden and I sat and watched the birds flitting among the flowers. The tea was awful, but they kept bringing it so I assumed it was something Anne liked, and I tried to drink it.

In the evenings we had dinner together in the dining room. We sat at an even larger table and made awkward conversation. Nicolas sometimes spoke to me in fractured English, but usually he stuck to French. I knew so little of Anne and I didn’t know how to act like her. I was no aristocrat. I had no idea what was expected of me. But I would realize, often, that I was doing something wrong. The servants would exchange looks, or Nicolas would look at me differently and clear his throat, and I’d know I was doing something I shouldn’t. Rarely, he’d actually tell me what not to do or what to do. Sometimes he wouldn’t say a word, but I’d notice that how he did a thing and how I did it were desperately different.

After dinner, Nicolas would walk with me, arm in arm, to my bedroom. The first time, he’d tried to kiss me and I’d flinched away. He hadn’t tried again. Since then, he’d asked each night whether I was feeling completely myself again, and I always said no. He’d leave me at the door, heading to another bedroom where he had slept since we arrived.

A month after I was fished out of my lost little boat, Nicolas was saying his goodnight as usual. I had just told him I wasn’t feeling myself, and he sighed. Later, after Marie had helped me get ready for bed and gone to bed herself, there was a gentle tapping at the door.

Nicolas was outside in his dressing gown and an embroidered shirt which hung past his knees. I’d never seen him so informally, and he hadn’t seen me attired as I was for bed since the first night we met.

“I’m sorry, mon cœur, I must speak with you,” he whispered.  I let him in, wrapping my own dressing gown tighter as I led him to the couch.

“I have to go away tomorrow to Port-la-Nouvelle,” he said formally. I wondered why this couldn’t wait for our usual awkward breakfast.

“Oh… will you be gone long?”

“Two months.”

“Oh.”

The weak conversation stagnated.

“I…” he began, and then faltered. “We should… we should consummate our union before I go. In case… well, we should.”

I hesitated. How could I have forgotten to expect this?

“I am…” I grasped for excuses. “I am too young.”

“Nonsense,” he retorted. “You are seventeen and wed. My sister was younger when her first baby came.”

We sat in silence for a moment.

“We cannot. It would be adultery,” I said quietly.

“Adultery? You are my wife.”

“No, Anne Stuart is your wife. You are promised to her alone, and I will not befoul her marriage bed.”

“You are Anne Stuart,” he said. His tone was calm but quietly threatening. “You are my wife. You have suffered a terrible illness and you have forgotten who you are. You will remember.

“I AM NOT ANNE STUART!”

Time stood still as we hung in the stillness after my outburst. I wondered suddenly if he would hit me, but he did not.

“Anne Stuart, my fiancé, was lost at sea,” he said finally. “We found you. We cared for you in our home, and a wedding was held to bind us together for all time. You have lived in my house, pretending to be my wife, for a month. You have accepted my wife’s gifts. You wear clothing and jewels bought for my wife, under the presumption that you were she. You sleep in my bed while I sleep elsewhere, a courtesy I would not extend to someone not my beloved wife.

“Now you tell me that you are not my wife. If you are not my wife than I swore my marriage vows to a dead woman, and the woman living in my house and sleeping in my bed and wearing my late wife’s clothes is nothing but a vile pretender, stealing into my home under false pretenses and taking advantage of a poor widower.”

I was stunned. They made me pretend to be the drowned English bitch and now Nicolas accused me of the very counterfeit he and his father engineered?

“I would prefer,” he continued, “if you would admit that you are still suffering the effects of your terrible ordeal. I can help you recover, but not if you fight me. I do not wish to be married to a corpse.”

I couldn’t imagine why such a noble family would need to kidnap a commoner like me, but if I did not submit, I knew I’d be in more trouble than I’d ever seen before.

“I have been very ill,” I said uneasily. “And I have forgotten myself.” He nodded. “I… I will remember.”

He smiled broadly. “All is forgiven. Now then, come to bed mon amour.”

Afterward I heard his breathing slow beside me and finally relaxed. I laughed darkly about the twists of fate. I was barely half a year older than Sylvie when her innocence was bought from her by a stranger. I’d traveled hundreds of miles over land and sea, and killed a dozen men to escape my mother’s fate, only to end up here. But it wasn’t quite the same as if I’d stayed at Hotel Bessette. Though born the illegitimate daughter of a second-rate French whore, I lost my maidenhood a wife, a lady, and, strangest of all, an Englishwoman.

NaNoWriMoInJa: Chapter Seven

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Chapter Seven
The Sea

The screaming of the dying sailors woke me again and again. Their harsh voices permeated my dreams, dragging my little lifeboat down to the depths. It was hours before I realized the screaming came from hungry gulls and not the damned. The late summer sun burned hot above me.

We’d been close to Les Iles, but I saw nothing but open sea around me. With the sun directly overhead, I couldn’t be sure which way was shore. I didn’t want to risk paddling further from shore. Hours later, I was hungry and parched, but the setting sun gave me the direction I needed to paddle weakly North toward Marsaille.

Night fell and I was torn between continuing North or trying to sleep as much as I could, and risk drifting in the night. If I kept paddling in the dark, I’d be fighting waves that would turn me about with no way to recall North. If I slept, the same waves could pull me back to where I’d started, or worse. I hadn’t learned to navigate by the stars as the Captain could. By full dark my skin was hot and tight, and my mind clouded. I had no choice but to risk sleep.

I dreamed of Sylvie. I was back at the Hotel Bessette, and Sylvie was sitting on the edge of the bed. She slowly turned toward me. Her mouth fell open, and from it issued thousands of inhuman screams in unholy concert. The gulls were relentless. Still, their presence meant I had not drifted far from shore. Their screeching cries cut through my tortured mind like blades, but they promised land, and I was grateful.

The second morning my skin was blistered and sore, and the sun on my face was excruciating. I tried to ignore the pain, but by midday I couldn’t bear it. After hesitation, I stripped off my shirt and dunked it in the sea, draping the blessedly cool cloth over my head and shoulders like a veil. The salt stung my blisters, but the sunlight had weighed on my tender skin like a millstone. I wished I had not lost all my belongings. If I’d had a skirt in addition to the trousers I wore, I could drape that over me rather than baring my breasts, back, and arms to the sun.

By the third day, it didn’t matter. Even the skin of my thighs, covered always by the sailcloth breeches, were pink and tender. I’d had to pull my shirt back on to cover my burned chest and back.

By the fourth day, I couldn’t row anymore. I could barely move. My mind and body burned. After the fourth sunrise, I remember very little. I think it was that day that it rained. I was lying face-down in the boat and was able to lap up the rainwater that collected in the bottom of the boat. It tasted of the sea, but I drank all that I could get, and that one wet day likely saved my life.

Not knowing for sure the date on which I sank the Lionfish, I will never know for sure how many days I drifted in the Mediterranean. I remember nothing after the rain.

When I woke next, the light from the sun no longer burned. The screaming was gone. The world was curiously still. As I returned slowly to full thought, I realized I was in an unfamiliar bed, with sunlight filtering through curtained windows. My throat was dry, but my skin not nearly as tight nor hot as before. I moved carefully out of bed, finding that my sailor’s clothes had been replaced by a lady’s shift. The fabric was soft, but the lightest pressure on my burned skin made me wince.

I walked gingerly to the bedroom door. The room was larger than any of the bedrooms at the Hotel Bessette, and I’d been lying on a plush feather bed. Where was I?

The door led to a corridor. A woman standing in the hall looked up when I opened the door and hurried toward me.

“Please, madame, where am I?” I croaked.

Madamoiselle, perhaps you will be more comfortable in bed,” she responded. She all but chased me back into bed, but I managed to ask her for some water before she disappeared, closing the door behind her. What a strange woman to have brought me into her home and then refuse to speak to me.

The water was delivered not by the woman from the hallway, but a man.

“Thank you, monsieur,” I said. “I wanted to thank your wife, but she ran away.”

“Not my wife, mon coeur. The maid,” he corrected. Of course. Why hadn’t I seen it right away? He was dressed far more finely than she had been. I must not be entirely back to normal. “It is good to see you awake. You had us all very worried.”

I drank greedily of the water, though it hurt terribly to swallow.

“Thank you, then,” I said after draining the cup.

“It is nothing, minette. You are kin. We’re just so grateful to have you home and safe.”

What did he mean? Did I know this man? He left shortly thereafter to let me rest, but the servant from the hallway returned a little later with a bowl of broth. She was still resistant to questioning, insisting stubbornly that I should rest. She asked if I would like more broth, and fussed over my blankets, and did not look me in the eye. I wondered how, even in my groggy state, I could have mistaken this browbeaten maid for the lady of the house. I eventually followed the directions of the nagging servant and allowed myself to put off the mystery of my whereabouts until tomorrow.

Tomorrow brought a new surprise. A man of around twenty came into the room and stood over my bed, gazing down at me as I might appraise a hen at market. He smiled, but I was uncomfortable with his scrutiny.

Monsieur,” I protested groggily, “I am not properly dressed.” No worse than when yesterday’s visitor had come in, but he’d barely looked at me.

“No matter,” he said frankly. “You are my wife after all.” The man took a chair from beside the bed and shifted it so that it faced away a bit. “If it makes you happy, mon amour, I will look out the window instead.”

“Wait… you said I was your… your…”

“My wife… Oh of course, nobody’s told you. When you were recovered from the sea, we were married. You were asleep of course, so it was by proxy on your part,” he explained cheerfully, all the while intently staring out the window.

“But… why?”

“Because we were engaged, of course. Did the Earl not tell you why you were being sent to us? When your ship was lost, you missed the wedding. We thought you were dead. When we found you, we were all so relieved. Father insisted that we marry at once.”

My head spun. Who did he think I was? Surely in my bedraggled, burned state I couldn’t have resembled his noble fiancé.

“When you’re well enough, we’ll leave Fos-sur-Mer and travel to our cottage in Bordeaux. Word has been sent to your father regarding your recovery and our nuptials. He’ll be so glad to hear that you’ve been returned to us.”

The mention of “my” father pushed me over the edge.

Monsieur,” I began. The man laughed.

“You are my wife,” he said. “You must call me Nicolas.”

“I am not your-” He cut me off, joviality disappeared. He was standing over me again, and looking right in my eyes.

“You are. You are Anne Stewart. Well, Anne Savard now. You are my wife. Your ship was lost at sea, but by the grace of God you were spared and returned to us. You have suffered terrible fever and you have forgotten who you are. But you will remember.”

His speech startled me, but I had not forgotten. I was not Anne Stewart. I was not his lady wife. I was a whorechild, a pirate, and a murderer.

Nicolas composed himself and bent over me, kissing me lightly on the forehead.

“Rest now, mon cœur,” He said, and he walked out.

I would learn that Nicolas Savard, Anne’s husband, was the son of Lord Archaimbau Savard. Both Archaimbau and his late wife had grown up in the court of the Sun King. The family, although wealthy, was somewhat fallen. The Savard patriarch had abandoned courtly life to attend to cosmopolitan trade, committing Nicolas and now, I suppose, me, to life at the family’s remote vineyard.

Anne herself had been imported from the English court, an obscure Stuart cousin who would bring prestige–not to mention a substantial dowry–to revitalize the house of Savard. Everyone praised my excellent French, and it was all I could do to play along and thank them. I had not decided yet whether to embrace this strange shadow life. It promised to be the most luxurious of my reincarnations, but I felt odd playing the ghost of another shipwrecked girl.

NaNoWriMoInJa: Chapter Six

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I have actually been writing the last few days, but I’ve been writing on paper, and I’m three chapters behind in typing things up.

Chapter Six
Escape

The first week I’d been aboard the Lionfish, one of my skirts had been stained with pitch as I used the sticky tar to maintain the waterproofing of the decks. Once dried, the pitch would protect the wood from rot. The same tar was soaked into linen and wrapped around staves to make torches, and the same tar was spread all over the ropes to waterproof them.

It would have been too difficult to access the cask of pitch clandestinely, so I waited until I needed to use some to caulk the hull, and secreted the stained skirt, torn to strips, into the bottom of my bucket. I stirred the strips around in the oily pitch as I worked, the crew none the wiser. The only problem was deciding what to do with the catalytic skirt until I was ready for it. I couldn’t very well put the oily mess back in Mary’s chest… she’d be sure to notice it. In the end I took a chance and left it in one of the longboats. When the time was right, I’d use the oil-soaked rags as tinder to set the Lionfish aflame. For now, it was ready, waiting.

Sailing into Les Îles at Marseille, my moment came. Just after sundown, I was on deck alone. I snuck into the galley and pinched a cleaver, the only way I’d get a weapon. Back on deck I carefully climbed the mast, cleaver in hand. I didn’t have to go far. The mainsail was tied down at the boom, and it was easy to hack through the canvas where it was secured to the rings holding the sheet to the mast. I freed the mast from the boom a little at a time, careful to let the massive sail slump to the deck slowly. A thunderous thump would surely give me away.

Climbing down, I paused. What I’d already done was enough to get me killed. There was no going back. I dragged one side of the sheet across the deck, covering the trapdoor that would allow my shipmates to come up and find me. I bunched the sail up over the trapdoor as much as I could, but there was canvas everywhere.

I couldn’t name nor use all the bizarre gunnery tools, but each had a long wooden handle, so I stacked them at the base of the mast, where they could act as kindling. I uncoiled loose ropes and scattered them around. It was time.

My pitch-soaked skirt I nestled among the staves of the gunners’ tools and took a lantern down with which to ignite the cleansing fire that would save David and I both from these murderers. Standing before the mainmast with the light in my hand, I prayed for the souls of my shipmates as I had prayed for the crew of Triomphe. I let the lantern drop to the deck, where it shattered, oil splashing onto rope and cloth. The flame, however, extinguished itself either in the wind of the drop or the splash of oil. I had to find another lantern to get the pile to ignite. The oil wouldn’t burn for long, but the pitch would help catch the hotter-burning ropes and sails, which would burn long enough to catch the timbers. Without a catalyst, oil would do little more than scorch the damp deck.

By the light of my little bonfire, I prepped one of the longboats for my getaway, and after a moment’s thought, decided to try to cripple the other, just in case. I hacked away at its hull with my cleaver, but the stout boat surrendered only little chips, and the knife made an awful thudding which might wake someone. I had to leave it.

When I turned back toward the mast, I was taken aback at how much the fire had grown in only a few minutes. Flames spread diligently across the canvas, already more than a man’s height away from the mainmast. I skirted the fire around to the opposite rail, where my boat was waiting to carry me to the shore. I stacked my cleaver, oars, and a little bundle of pilfered foods into the boat and began lowering the winches, a little at a time, one side and then the other.

It was a quick thing with two, but on my own it was too slow. The gathering heat at my back urged me to find a faster solution. When I peeked behind me, I found that the ropes leading upward had caught, and the fire was starting to spread to the higher sails. The deck was awash with light and the terrifying heat. Every part of me wanted to flee the growing inferno. In the end I had to let the boat fall the rest of the way to the water, but doing so meant letting the ropes pull free of their pulleys. With no ropes to climb down, I’d have to jump. I sat on the rail, letting the little boat drift away a bit so I wouldn’t land on it. I thought of my last leap into the sea, of the water burning in my lungs. Ollie wouldn’t be here to pull me out. The sea was calmer, though. I’d have to pull myself into the boat, or stay and burn.

I leapt, clenching my teeth to keep silent. The water hit me like a punch in the guts, but I struggled to keep calm and focused. I took small breaths as high as I could as I paddled lamely toward the longboat. I managed to pull myself into the boat, but either in the fall or the climb onboard, I had dumped an oar and my stash of food. With the clothes on my back and a single oar, I turned away from the Lionfish and began rowing toward Marsaille.

I was only a few yards away when the first screams rang out. I paddled as fast as I could toward land and peace, and forced myself to hear not Sam and Ollie and Mary and Reece, but the ghosts of their victims. The screams lasted an eternity, chasing me tirelessly as I paddled away. When all finally fell silent, I wept. Exhausted from climbing and rowing, I lay down in my little boat and slept.

NaNoWriMoInJa: Chapter Five

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I wrote this a couple days ago but hadn’t typed it yet. I’m kind of behind in the typing-things-up department. Also in the having-things-to-type department. This chapter takes me up to 8,690 words, which is above par for the 5th, which is when I wrote this. However, I only have about 300 words written for yesterday, and today’s par is 11,669, which means I need to write another 2,700 words (give or take). Today. So… yeah.

Chapter Five
Subterfuge

Reece explained with great pride that Sam had swum from the little longboat under the hull of the French ship, where he’d drilled a hole through the thinnest part of the hull. The French naval galleon Triomphe would slowly fill with water. By morning she’d be doomed.

Reece’s unbridled glee at the sinking of hundreds of French souls made me physically ill. I imagined three, five, maybe seven hundred of my countrimen, any one of whom could be my David, drowning or worse–being torn apart by sharks. My mind flashed to a time weeks past, when one of our hens was bounced off the deck by a sudden harsh wave. Within seconds, sharks had torn her apart, blood and feathers erupting from the churning sea. Even over a hen, whom we would have killed anyway, the carnage had sickened me. To think of a human person being subjected to such a gruesome death…

I couldn’t speak to Reece. I put myself to bed, but could not sleep. My thoughts returned again and again to the dying screams of our hen. I wept, prayed, and wept again. I do not know how much time passed before I finally drifted off, but the morning found me bitter and tired, and so distracted that I nearly fell from the yard.

The men were in high spirits, and even Mary seemed extra cheerful. Their perverse joy threw me deeper into my anger, and seeing Sam clapped on the back for his disgusting murder made my blood boil. There had been other mornings when I’d noticed that the crew seemed strangely chipper, and I wondered how many slaughters I’d slept through. Sylvie’s mother had been right about the Reformers. These people were demons.

Behind the makeshift canvas walls of my corner of the ship, I considered my resources as I had the morning I’d found the cursed Lionfish and her vile crew. I wouldn’t be able to sneak food out as I had from home. I left my things aboard when I went out onto the docks, so any kind of parcel would be suspicious. I still had the clothes I’d brought with me, though one of the skirts had been stained with pitch. I’d foregone their wear except on shore since arriving, instead wearing the sailcloth breeches all the crew wore. Even Mary usually wore pants onboard. Climbing aloft in a skirt would have been both dangerous and immodest, and even hoisting line in a loose skirt could have gotten me tangled. The rags I’d brought from home had been replaced, and could be replaced again. What I had could be smuggled off as I’d smuggled my money on. They could be tied around my legs or stuffed into breeches under my skirts. I was down to one pair of stockings, too, the second having worn through.

When next we were in port, I could go aboard as if looking for David, and simply not return. With four months of sailing under my belt, I could surely find another ship which would carry me forward. A ship crewed by more respectable men, who wouldn’t ask me to help them murder my own kin.

As we guided the Lionfish toward the harbor at Cannes, I trembled with anticipation. It had been easy to escape from Hotel Bessette, a second-rate maison full of old women. But the Lionfish was different. It traveled all over the Mediterranean. I’d already been all across the south of France and Spain, and back across France again, nearly to the coast of Italy. If they wanted to, they could track me down. And no matter the size of the ship, for Sam’s devil drill could sink the greatest ship to the depths.

Would they really come after me? They were my friends… and yet, they’d wanted to protect their secret. They hadn’t shown me right away. Would they let me leave with their dark secret? Worse yet, could I leave knowing they’d continue dooming innocent sailors to terrible deaths? Could I stop them? I couldn’t swim like Sam, couldn’t sink the Lionfish like she had sunk the others. I was just a scrawny, untrained girl: I couldn’t fight them. Beside their muscles, they had pistols and swords.

The shore loomed as I considered my dark predicament. I couldn’t let them keep killing people. I couldn’t leave until I had a plan to stop them once and for all. Steeling my resolve, I declined to go ashore, feigning apathy and playing cards with the crew as usual. I forced myself to act as though nothing was the matter. They couldn’t learn of my intention to escape.

The days passed like years, and every port we visited was an agonizing test. To pass up an opportunity for easy freedom was excruciating, but the worst came when I was on watch duty one night. The captain suddenly appeared on deck in his unseasonable long cape, and ordered me to wake Sam and Ollie and two more. I froze, but I had to obey. I forced myself to descend into the hold to call the headsmen to the block, praying every step that David’s was not the ship they’d sink tonight.

Abovedecks, the lanterns were snuffed. Lights from our quarry ship danced ever closer as we slipped, hidden, through the waves. Sam and Ollie silently prepared their murderous tools, and the Captain whispered to me to go aloft with the match and a spyglass to wait. When I saw the longboat coming back, I’d light the match and drop it as a signal to the others. I swallowed hard and began the long, dark climb. Aloft, I felt on a planet apart from the men below. Their hidden lantern on the deck cast a sliver of light, by which I saw the men cross themselves, and the longboat start to sink into the shadow of the hull. A sudden wave hit the ship, and I nearly lost my grip. When the fear subsided and balance restored, I saw the salvation of the sailors at hand. I slipped away from the mast and out onto the yard until I hung out over the rail. I steeled myself, and when the next wave jolted the ship and flung me sideways, I let go.

Even if I’d meant to maintain my silence, I wouldn’t be able to. I was screaming the moment I was free of the ship, and I hit the water in utter panic. I kicked and clawed frantically to keep from sinking. My clothing weighed me down, and every rise of the sea threatened to push me under. I inhaled sharply and felt knives of cold salt in my lungs. Coughing and retching I fought for the surface. Light and sound erupted above me, and I fought harder. Finally, strong hands pulled me from the sea.

I had been yanked into the longboat. The bulk of the water flushed from my lungs and I breathed sharp, painful, welcome breaths. Panic and relief muddled in the opiatic haze of adrenaline. Sam wrapped me in his blanket and held me as I shivered with shock. The little boat was hoisted back up to the deck. Ollie lifted me over and carried me down to my bunk, carrying me as easily as I would a doll.

As we descended, I smiled to myself. The lights were all on, and the shouting of the men and my own screams would have alerted even the most negligent watchmen. There was no way they could continue tonight. As exhaustion carried me off to sleep, I was prouder than a queen. It had been terrifying, but I’d saved countless lives. If only I could invent such a distraction every night… but I couldn’t simply throw myself off the ship every night. They’d surely see through it, and in any case, I wasn’t sure I could make myself jump again. The sabotage lifted my spirits for days, and in the afterglow of my leap, I found inspiration for how I’d stop the Lionfish once and for all.

NaNoWriMoInJa: Chapters Three and Four

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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.

Chapter Three
Home

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.

 

Chapter Four
The Secret

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.”

NaNoWriMoInJa: Chapter Two

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Chapter Two
The Lionfish

The friendly voice belonged to Mary Bodley, an Englishwoman sailing with the Lionfish. She told me in a rough accent that she’d noticed me interrogating deckhands and admired my tenacity. Regrettably, she admitted that she didn’t know David, but she thought she could help me find him. She led me down the pier, asking where I’d come from and why I was so feverishly chasing him. She seemed so sympathetic that I told her the truth, more or less. Mary’s skin was as weathered as the men’s, but she walked with a distinct poise.

We came to a rowboat where the largest man I’d ever seen was waiting to ferry us into the deeper water. Before us, a small merchant ship floated serenely, sails furled. On the way, Mary explained that the Lionfish traversed the seas of Europe and met with many a ship of La Royale. If I was to find my beloved brother, she promised, I’d find him with her.

I could barely contain my amazement at the miracle of my progress. Mere hours ago I had been abed at Hotel Bessette, destined for a life of degradation and shame. A few miles’ walk and a penny’s cost later, I was floating in the salt breeze, destined for the Lionfish. The thought of the penny I’d spent on my breakfast reminded me of how few coins I had. It would never be enough to secure passage all across Europe.

Madame,” I said, “your offer is so kind, but I have little money. I couldn’t hope to afford such a trip.”

She smiled and patted my knee. “Don’t worry about that, little one. I’ll speak with the Captain. I’m sure he’ll be moved by your story, and he’ll allow you to join us as long as you’re willing to make yourself useful.”

I flinched, suddenly fearful of the distance between us and the retreating shore. “I’m not… I won’t sell myself for passage.” She stiffened.

“Of course not. We’re godly folk, and we wouldn’t have such a woman aboard,” she said sharply. “You look strong enough to be useful with a sail, and there’s always cooking and mending to be done. But if you find that objectionable…”

“No, no, I’m sorry!” I was ashamed. She’d been so kind, and done nothing to deserve my distrust. “I will do whatever is necessary. Thank you so much for helping me, madame.”

The deck of the Lionfish was like nothing I’d seen. With every wave, the world tilted slightly. I felt uneasy on my feet, but taking small steps behind Mary allowed me to stumble only a little. Two masts rose forever from the deck, and high above a sailor called down and waved. Mary shouted her hello back to him.  A few other men roamed the deck, all strong and weathered.

Mary took me belowdecks, where a few more men were adjusting cargo. Toward the front of the ship, hammocks hung in the dim hold, some of which seemed to be occupied. She led me past them, to the very front, where a torn, repaired, and torn-again canvas roughly partitioned a section of hold just large enough for an empty hammock and below it, a small chest.

“My ‘cabin’,” Mary explained. “You’ll have to tuck your things in with mine or else they’ll roll all over.” She produced a key and unlocked the chest. I tried to peek at what she had, but she simply took my bundle and tucked it in before shutting the lid again. “There won’t be room for another hammock, but the boys are nice enough. They won’t bother you.”

With that, she shepherded me above again, and the afternoon sun was a shock after the darkness below. She took me by the elbow and steered me toward the back of the ship, where the Captain’s cabin sat like a palace above the deck. Mary knocked sharply and was admitted to the cabin. The room contained a proper bed, larger than mine and Sylvie’s at the Hotel, a little sofa, and a table and chairs. It was at the table that Captain Christopher Whitney sat. Captain Whitney was a man of at least forty, with mousy hair and a narrow build. He wore breeches and shirt, but wig and coat were discarded on the bed.

Mary and the Captain exchanged words in English, of which I understand not enough to have followed their debate. The Captain nodded several times, and at the end of a few minutes he bid me welcome in clumsy French. He spoke to Mary in English, and she explained that he required me to be attentive and accept whatever tasks his men should appoint to me, so I could learn their craft and be of use on his ship. I nodded eagerly, and he smiled. He asked Mary a few more questions, which she answered without translating. Finally she asked whether I was Catholic.  I hesitated. I had read the bible with Sylvie, but I had rarely attended mass.

“I… I suppose I must be.”

She responded to the Captain with a single word, and I thought to myself that the English word for yes sounds very much like the French word for no.