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.

Thin Mint Recipes

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In the wake of a sad, ignorant girl’s attempts to get people to stop buying Girl Scout cookies, I’m finding ways to get people to buy more. I’m scouring the internet and sharing, one cookie at a time, the wonderful things you can do with Girl Scout cookies other than just shoving them in your face.

But don’t let me discourage that either.

These recipes will give you an excuse to significantly increase your cookie-buying this year, and dress up your favorite cookies enough to serve them at dinner parties. Often I post my own recipes, but these I found online. Click the title to be directed to the original site.

Today I’m focusing on Thin Mints, a classic combo of chocolate and mint. One of the most popular Girl Scout cookies of all time, Thin Mints are awesome out of the box, frozen, or in these tasty dishes:

Thin Mints Pizza Surpreme

One 18-ounce package refrigerated chocolate chip cookie dough
Half of a box Girl Scout Thin Mints cookies (about 20 cookies)
1/2 cup white chocolate chips (6 ounces)
2 tablespoons heavy cream or half-and-half

Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a 12-inch pizza pan or a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with parchment paper. Using your fingers, press the cookie dough to fit the pan. Break the Thin Mints into quarters and gently press them into the dough. Bake until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool.

Meanwhile, in a double boiler, whisk together the white chocolate chips and cream until the chocolate melts. Remove from the heat. Using a fork, drizzle the topping over the cooled pizza. Cut into slices.

Thin Mint Brownies

1 sleeve Thin Mint cookies, crushed
1 box brownie mix

Prepare brownie mix per package instructions, folding in crushed Thin Mints toward the end of the batter-mixing process.

Spread batter evenly in greased 13-by-9 baking sheet and bake per package instructions.

Thin Mint Cake

The link above leads to a recipe that actually uses Thin Mints. The first Thin Mint cake I found was via this blog, which used that cake recipe to make Thin Mint cake balls. Which sound amazing. Unfortunately there were no Thin Mints in her recipe, so I had to find another one.

1 box Duncan Hines Dark Chocolate Cake Mix (do not use the butter fudge cake mix – it is very different in texture!)
1 cup of finely chopped (about one full sleeve of cookies) Thin Mint Cookies- will separate
1/3 cup and 1 tablespoon of Creme De Menthe Liquour
3 eggs
1/2 cup oil
1 cup water
Ice with your favorite icing and mix the remaining 1/3 cup crushed cookies in with the icing along with the tablespoon of Creme De Menthe Liquour in that icing.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees
Line bottom of cake pan with parchment paper & spray the sides of pan with a flour/oil mixture.
Place all wet ingredients in bowl first including eggs, then add cake mix & mix until thoroughly blended.
Add 2/3 cup of the crushed cookies into the batter.
Pour into the pan(s) & bake 40 to 45 minutes.
Remove from oven & dump cake onto waiting Glad PressN Seal Wrap (sticky side up).
Wrap the warm cakes tightly and put in the freezer. You can freeze for as little as 3 1/2 hours but for best results freeze overnight. This adds moisture to the cake, and traps in the flavors!
After removing from freezer allow to sit for about 10 minute if you froze overnight, no need to let sit if you froze for the minimum amount of time.
Mix the remaining cookie crumbs into your favorite icing recipe along with the tablespoon of Creme De Menthe Liquour (this is optional)
Fill & Ice cake as usual and garnish as you like with the whole or crumbled cookies.
I also like to cover my already smooth iced cake with Dark Chocolate Ganache.
You can do a quick ganache with Duncan Hines Dark Chocolate Fudge Icing & some Semisweet chocolate Chips.
In a glass bowl add 2 cans of DH Chocolate Fudge Icing and 8 oz of Semisweet Chocolate Chips.
Microwave on high for 1 minute. Stir well. If not all chips melted heat in 30 second increments stirring well after each time in the microwave until the mixture is of a smooth pourable consistancy.
Place refrigerated cake on a cooling rack that is sitting in a large baking pan. Pour the “ganache” over the cake & allow it to sit until set. Remove cake from cooling rack and plate on your favorite cake stand or cake board. Garnish as you like.

Thin Mint Mini-Cheesecakes

1 box Girl Scout Thin Mint cookies
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
½ cup powdered sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure peppermint extract
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup mini chocolate chips
Whipped Cream for garnishing

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Line a muffin tin with paper liners.
Pulse cookies in food processor until coarsely ground.  In the alternative you can place cookies in a zip lock bag and crush them by hand using a meat mallet, rolling pin or the bottom of a small pot.
Mix half of the crushed cookies with the melted butter.  Press approximately one teaspoon of the crumb mixture into the bottom of each cup with the back of the spoon.
Chill for about 30 minutes.
Beat cream cheese and powdered sugar together in large bowl until smooth.   With the mixer on medium, add eggs, one at a time until all is combined.  Mix in the mint and vanilla extracts and beat for another minute.  Stir in the rest of the cookie crumbs, reserving a few tablespoons for garnishing, and the chocolate chips.
Pour the batter into the prepared muffin cups.   Bake for 25-28 minutes or until set.   Remove and cool completely on a wire cooling rack.  Refrigerate for several hours until thoroughly chilled.
Serve topped with a dollop of whipped cream and reserved cookie crumbs.

Stick with me for more amazing recipes with other Girl Scout cookies. Got a great Thin Mint recipe I missed? Post a link in comments!

Girl? Scouts

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It came to my attention this morning that a 14 year old girl scout cadet created this video calling for a boycott of Girl Scout cookies because Girl Scouts permits transsexual children to join scouts. Like the cadet, I was a Girl Scout for nearly a decade. My friends were Girl Scouts and our brothers were Boy Scouts. When I was about this scout’s age, the Boy Scouts were under fire for expelling homosexual scouts and scoutmasters. My Girl Scout troop discussed the scandal, and we agreed emphatically that we were ashamed of the Boy Scouts’ decision to alienate scouts and leaders based on sexuality. We were proud that we were part of a more inclusive, welcoming organization. Some of the boys I knew dropped out of Boy Scouts, not because they were gay, but because they wouldn’t support an organization that openly discriminated against minority boys.

The cadet uses the term “transgender boys” throughout her presentation, but it is not transgender boys that GSUSA welcomes. It’s transgender girls. Sometimes she forgets to say transgender at all and simply refers to them as boys. This tells me that she and her supporters don’t understand what it means to be transgender. The Honest Girl Scouts are against gay rights and a woman’s right to choose, and I believe that’s their right. But transgender isn’t a moral choice like abortion. It’s a medical condition. Transgender doesn’t mean that the child woke up one day and decided to pretend to be a girl to get into a club. What causes a person to look like one gender and feel like another is actually a biological process beyond their control.

While a body is (usually) distinctly male or female, the brain, for a number of reasons, might develop as the opposite sex. Scientists are finding that just as there are male bodies and female bodies, there are also male brains and female brains; and those bodies don’t always end up with brains that match. The BBC has a great article about “brain sex” here. A University of Cambridge study found that 17% of males have “female” brains, and 17% of females have “male” brains.

Beyond “brain sex,” there are situations that sometimes cause babies to exhibit both male and female traits, or even have one apparent, external sex, but another latent sex that shows up later in life, usually at puberty. In the case of hermaphroditic babies (babies with both male and female sex organs), the parents usually choose for their baby to be surgically “corrected” to one sex or the other. In short, they guess what kind of brain their baby has, and hope they’re right. Sometimes they are. But other times, the baby grows up feeling stuck in the wrong body, and ends up having more surgeries later in life to make his or her outside match how they think and feel.

For some people, having the “wrong” sex brain is ok. I’m a woman, but my mental traits are more in line with a “male” brain. I’m less empathetic and more analytical. I have have typically masculine relationships with men and typically feminine relationships with women, although relationships with other women are challenging for me. My (male) romantic partner is more female-brain. The way we relate to each other is backwards of typical male-female communications, but it works for us because we are able to acknowledge and find humor in the “backwards” nature of our relationship. Other people feel the effects of mismatching more strongly, and for them it can be extremely difficult to come into their personal identities because they feel alienated by their own bodies.

Sometimes the mismatch comes from a person having more than one set of DNA. In a rare condition called chimerism, two eggs which would normally become fraternal twins fuse to grow into one person. That one person carries two full sets of DNA and may have disagreeing traits. Some extreme examples include people with drastically different skin tones on different parts of their bodies, or two eyes of different colors. Sometimes one organ will have different DNA from the rest of the body, or little patches of DNA will be scattered throughout the body. If the two eggs are of different sexes, a child might be born hermaphroditic, or with disagreeing sex traits (such as exhibiting as male physically and female neurologically).

In still another medical condition which is completely beyond the child’s control, some children are born with XXY chromosomes, which mean these children have both the female (XX) and male (XY) chromosomes. These children are born apparently normal male children, but at puberty they don’t develop normally as boys. They have small, underdeveloped genitals and low testosterone, and they might develop breasts! Most commonly, these people decide to undergo testosterone therapy and remove their breast tissue, but some have reported feeling like a girl stuck in a boy’s body until the breasts started appearing, and live the rest of their lives as women.

Some scientists believe that transgender individuals may also result when, in fetal development, male hormones are not introduced at the proper time or quantity to result in a normal male. If these hormones, called androgens, are introduced in insufficient quantity or too early or too late, a child might develop sexual characteristics of one sex and neurological characteristics of the other.

A trans girl is someone who was born looking like a boy but who lives like a girl 100% of the time. For whatever medical reason, she does not identify with her male body. She usually goes by a girl’s name even if she was given a boy’s name at birth. She dresses in girls’ clothes all the time, or would if allowed to. With supportive parents, she might be enrolled in school as a girl. She’d take girls’ gym, usually changing in a bathroom stall or other private area. Her condition is probably a very painful secret. Often times when a trans child or teen’s condition is unveiled, they have faced ridicule, rejection, and sometimes violence.

This girl will probably take hormones to prevent her male body from undergoing puberty. Delaying puberty will prevent her from growing wide shoulders and masculine facial traits, and will also delay sexual maturation. Her long-term goals might include surgical gender reassignment, but even if she is against the idea of plastic surgery, she will most likely want to be addressed as a woman for the rest of her life. She will apply for jobs as a woman, and she’ll most likely look for a male life partner.

Like girls who have survived other sexual traumas, like a girl who survived female genital mutilation in her home country, or a girl who survived rape or sexual abuse, a transgender girl may be in desperate need of acceptance and love, and some quality girl time in a safe environment like GSUSA. Like other victims of sexual trauma, her private parts may look or work a little differently from other girls in her troop. If Girl Scouts is anything like it was when I was a scout, that won’t matter, because her private parts will stay private.

In Defense of Girl Stuff

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There’s been a ton of upset recently over “girl toys” and girl-focused marketing. From the little girl on youtube who sprouts suspiciously adult rhetoric about companies “tricking” girls into buying pink to the new Lego Friends, which are slimmer, taller, curvier Lego figures designed to be more relatable. Now Disney announces a chibi, sparkly princess, and all hell is breaking loose. The basic argument I’m hearing against pink, princesses, and curvy legos, is that it’s basically sexist and damaging to women to assume that little girls like pink and dolls and princesses. But to me, that sounds like the little girl version of “you can be anything you want to be except a stay-at-home mom.”

Here’s the thing. I’m a 23 year old woman. When I was little, I was equal parts tomboy and princess. My favorite things were science experiments, Polly Pocket, fishing, tutus, camping, and any kind of arts and crafts. I loved paper dolls, porcelain dolls, American Girl dolls, and Barbies. I loved sports, robotics, and rock climbing. I’ve always had more boy friends than girl friends. When I was five or six the boy next door was playing with my Polly Pocket set, and I asked my mom why he was playing with a “girl” toy. She pointed out that when I played with it, I was having conversations between the dolls, but when Andrew played with it, he was having fun figuring out how all the little mechanisms work, and trying to understand it. She said it didn’t matter whether it was a girl toy or a boy toy, because we both found it interesting for our own reasons.

My problem as a kid, and continuing into adulthood, is not that toymakers and film studios create princesses and pink stuff for girls. My problem is that there’s a stigma against girls who like girl stuff. Dozens of comments on blogs criticizing “girly” toys stated that “cool” girls played with Legos and transformers. “Cool” girls kick ass at video games. “Cool” girls are boys with tits.

I can easily keep up with my male friends in most of their interests. I play Battlefield 3, Skyrim, and the Arkham games. I participate in co-ed combat sports skillfully enough to get respect from my male peers. I work in a male-dominated field. I watch Top Gear. My bathroom reading alternates between Playboy (no seriously, the articles are great), Game Informer, and Batman comics.

And none of that saves me from the flack I get when I tell people I love pink, cooking, and sewing. It’s taken me a long time, as an adult, to grow into my confidence enough to admit that I’m into “girl stuff.” My bros won’t understand that the joy of sneaking up behind an enemy and stealing his dog tags is almost as great as walking out of the salon feeling like a million bucks. I can already hear the comments from some female readers who lost respect for me in the last sentence.

So let’s examine this.
A boy who plays with boy stuff is a red-blooded American male, and that’s ok
A boy who plays with girl stuff is strong and independent, with his own unique style, and that’s ok.
A girl who plays with boy stuff is cool and interesting, and that’s ok
A girl who plays with girls stuff is… girly.

And that’s not ok?

The National Institute for Play identifies no less than seven different types of play. While our societal values teach that males and females are equal, we are not the same. Boys and girls learn differently. They grow at different rates, physically and neurologically. Even in environments which don’t push a “girl” style of play and a “boy” style, boys are more likely to play competitively and girls are more likely to play cooperatively. Boys are more likely to be interested in mechanical concepts, and girls are more likely to be interested in social concepts. Rather than accusing toy companies of supporting gender stereotypes, why don’t we celebrate that we’ve got toys that appeal to all kinds of different play styles, and support girls and boys equally no matter what play style (and color scheme) appeals most to them?

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.”