This is part 5 of the "Lettre ý ChaÓnes" Series. If you've not read the other 4 parts, they are: Letter of Marque, Letter of the Law, Letter of the law Part 2, and Letter of Discovery. Please see Letter of Marque for most of the disclaimers.
By the mid 1700s, Jamaica was a thriving British island, "the jewels in the English crown," so named because of the thriving 'triangle trade' of slaves from Africa, sugar from Jamaica, and manufactured goods from England. The sugar plantation dominated economic life in every sense of the word, and plantation owners enjoyed a system of government that fully supported their every need-especially where keeping slaves was concerned. It's nearest neighbor, Martinique, also benefited from such protection.
It was through the work of British privateers, such as the crew of the Argonaut, that the English managed to wrestle both islands from Spain. However, on the Argonaut's first trip to Martinique in 1703, the Spanish still claimed it as a colony, and Erin and her crew were smart to be careful. England was at war with Spain, and the Argonaut was currently flying a British flag.
Erin, in consultation with her first mate, Will, decided to err further on the side of caution and weigh anchor away from the heavily traffiked port of St. Pierre. While this would mean a longer trek across land to their destination, it would be well worth it to not be troubled by Spanish gendarmes. It was also decided a smaller party escorting their 'prisoner' inland would be less subject to scrutiny. While they risked the possibility of defeat and arrest due to their small entourage, having only a few in the group also ensured quick escapes and fewer souls for Erin to worry over.
As a result, while Will volunteered to lead the expedition, Erin did not want to risk losing her first mate without being there, as always, to cover his back. The reverse also held true for Will; he refused to let his captain go without him. This meant that Jonas would be left in charge of the ship, an order that Erin saw few real problems with. To supplement their forces, Erin opted to bring the Cook's assistant, Mr. Kensington. The young man had grown both fond and protective of their 'captive' and Cecile Rembert had in turn greatly enjoyed the young cook's company. Bringing him would ensure that someone could keep an eye on Cecile should the group find themselves in hot water.
On the morning they were scheduled to venture inland, Erin, did not as usual, have to awaken Cecile from a sound sleep. Anxious to find any news of her father, Cecile was up and dressed well before sunrise. Not wanting to wake Erin, she stealthily exited the captain's cabin and climbed the stairs to the quarterdeck. Overhead, the stars were just beginning to fade with the approach of a barely perceptible sunrise. A soft breeze made low ripples in the bay water, carrying with it a briny smell at once alluring and slightly repugnant. Cecile, a native of the island, knew the intimate details of its inner workings and knew the smell heralded low tide. "Home," she whispered to herself, and nearly cried with relief at the end of her ordeal.
It was not long before the Argonaut's crew too began awakening, and Cecile left her quarterdeck perch to join Cook in the galley. Before she could get much further than mid deck, Erin emerged from her cabin and hailed Cecile.
"Good morning, Miss Rembert. Up before sunrise? This is a new development. Don't tell me you're so anxious to leave our company?" Erin teased.
Cecile approached Erin who stood near the cabin door buttoning her shirt cuffs. "Good morning, Captain Skinner. I'll have you know I've seen many a sunrise from the porch of my home, and yes I am anxious to start seeing them from that locale as soon as possible." This retort came out sharper than she'd intended and she softened her tone, placing a reassuring hand on Erin's forearm, "I miss my home, Captain, and I thank you for the opportunity to return to it. I don't believe I've said thank you for saving my life either. So, thank you. For everything." Cecile leaned down and kissed Erin's cheek, the contact causing the captain to inexplicably blush. Before Erin could utter a word, she heard the voice of her first mate behind Cecile, "Well, well, well. Do I get a kiss of thanks as well, my pretty?"
Cecile turned to find Will smiling at her, a glint of mischief in his eyes. She replied, "By all means, Mr. Morgan. I don't know what I would have done if you and your men hadn't rescued me." Cecile held out her hand for Will to shake. Erin barked a sharp laugh at the scowl on Will's face, and said, "Serves you right, bucko. Tryin' to get a free kiss from a lady such as this. You ought to be ashamed."
Will smiled, "Yew can't blame a lad fer tryin'," and he scooped up Cecile and spun her once around the deck.
It was in such a state of optimism and merriment that the four set off on their mission. Mr. Kensington packed provisions and water for two days and they all, except Cecile, carried swords and knives. Jonas was left with orders to allow the crew some time on land, but to venture no further than the beachhead.
Knowing the island as well as she did, Cecile was allowed to lead, and the group very quickly found themselves out of the jungle and onto a well-traveled road. Erin and Will were none too sure about being so out in the open, but Cecile assured them that no one would bother them. The road was the main market and trade route, and four more people, even people bearing weapons, would not be troubled.
By midday, they had made excellent time, and Cecile estimated they would reach the small town of Marigot by nightfall. The plan was to stay at a local inn, hopefully gathering news about Cecile's father or the plantation. If they left the inn early the next day, they could reach the plantation by noon. Until then, they had a long, dusty afternoon in front of them. Tropical sunshine is all well and good when you're near the water, but inland without much shade or breeze and the air quickly became humid and stifling. This slowed the group's progress considerably. Erin, seeing her party's flagging enthusiasm clapped Will on the back and said, "How 'bout a story, Will?"
"Ach, me t'roat's dry as it is, Cap'n," Will protested.
Erin paused, then said, "Everyone else getting parched as well?" With nods from Cecile and Mr. Kensington, Erin pointed to a grove of palms not far off the road, "I see a nice shady spot there. Let's take a break and eat somethin'."
The four ambled off the road and found suitable seats on a fallen tree. Mr. Kensington unpacked their repast of bread, cheese, and water. Everyone was quiet and lost in his or her own thoughts as they ate. Once the meal was nearly finished, the Mr. Kensington again reached into his pack, "I hope you don't mind, Cap'n. Cook said how fond you are, so I took the liberty o' packin'ð" Before Kensington could finish his sentence, Erin spied the two oranges emerging from the sack. She nearly pounced on him with only a single word, "Gimme." Erin held the pilfered oranges up to her nose, closed her eyes and inhaled deeply the scent of rich, sweet citrus. Opening her eyes, she found three sets of wide eyes staring at her-Mr. Kensington in shock, Will in amusement, and Cecile in something akin to, well, if Erin had to put a name to it, lust. Thinking that the orange was Cecile's target, she sheepishly said, "I do love these, but I am willing to share."
"Oh no," said Will, "yew'll share, but yew'll peel 'em too." He turned to his companions, "I nearly lost a finger getting' between the Cap'n and one of her oranges." Kensington and Cecile laughed, while Erin scowled at Will, "For that, boyo, you'll tell a story while we eat."
Cecile spoke up, "I did not know you were a bard, Mr. Morgan."
"Oh, aye," Will replied, "If yer Irish, yer a story teller. Cap'n Skinner here spins quite a yarn herself." Erin, too busy peeling, did not rise to Will's bait, so he stood to tell his tale. Rubbing his hands together Will started, "Alright. Let's see. Wot kin I tell yewðoh. I know." Will paused dramatically, "Our tale begins with two fellows travellin' down a road together, much as we are now. Except these lads were in a forest, not a jungle. Suddenly, out o' the bushes, a big, black bear comes chargin' at them both, teeth bared, snortin' and growlin' bloody murder." Will demonstrated bear claws and a ferocious expression. "The first lad, he grabbed a hold o' the tree branch above his head, and hoists hisself up to hide in the branches. The second lad, terrified out o' his mind, and seein' he's a goner, throws hisself on the ground and plays dead. The bear slows his charge, and only sniff's the 'dead' man's head." Will pretended to sniff the ground, "Still, the second lad don't budge. Finally, the bear leans down and growls a message in the lad's ear, then shuffles back into the forest. See, the second lad knowed that bear's don't eat dead meat, so that's wot kept him still as a stone. The first fella comes down outta the tree, and joins his pal on the road. He says, ''Wot did that bear say to ya before he left?' and the other says, 'He told með,' " Again, Will paused for dramatic effect, " 'never trust a friend who deserts you in a pinch."
The other three members of the party applauded loudly for Will's efforts. "Bravo," Erin shouted, "Well, done, boyo. And truer words were never spoken."
"Thank yew, thank yew," Will bowed deeply, "No applause is needed, just yer coins will do."
Erin threw an orange rind at him, and said, "Here, lad. Here's all the gold you're getting from me."
Cecile snickered, but Mr. Kensington looked nonplussed, having rarely seen this side of his captain and first mate. Erin, seeing his discomfort, said, "We're a bit more casual when on a mission, Mr. Kensington. In fact, first names will do while we're on the road. It's best too if the enemy, should we meet any, not know that I'm captain."
"But," said Will, "yew'll remember to mind yer manners once we're back aboard ship, right lad?"
Mr. Kensington, or James as they would all now call him, nodded his understand and said, "Aye, aye, Mr. Morgan."
"It's Will on the road, lad," Erin pointed out, "Just as it's Erin for me." She paused, and figured now was as good a time as any to explain her plans since she now had everyone's attention.
Ah, Will and Jaime," she started, "I'm afraid I haven't been quite truthful with you about our mission."
Will, knowing his captain as well as he did, knew the 'plot' had not been in keeping with Erin's normal modus operandi. That is, it was unusual for Erin to kidnap anyone, and Will had guessed at Cecile's complete participation. Being a loyal man, however, and not wanting to make his captain appear foolish, he kept his own council while Erin explained her plan.
"We're actually going to first help Cecile find her Da. Then it'll be Cecile who'll pay us the remainder of her debt only. I will make up the ransom from my own pocket so that the crew gets paid its fair share. The only people from the Argonaut who will know about this are the four of us." Erin turned to speak with James directly, "I've never stooped to kidnapping to earn our living and I won't do it now. This was merely a way to get Cecile back to her sick father. I know can count on Will's discretion. Can I count on you as well, Jaime?"
James was quick to reply, "Aye, Cap'n. Yew kin count on me fer anythin'."
Erin smiled and patted him on the shoulder, "Good lad. Now let's get crackin' before we lose anymore daylight."
As predicted, the group made it to the small seaside town of Marigot just as the sun was setting. Tired, dusty and thirsty, they stopped at the first inn they came to, The Draught Horse. They walked through the front door into a cheery, brightly lit and very busy tavern.
Will turned to his companions, "If yew'll find us a seat, I'll order some grub and see about gettin' us a room or two."
So while Will wade through the crowd towards the bar, Erin, Cecile, and James circled the entire room. Not finding a single empty seat, they wound up at the bar and found Will arguing with the barkeep.
"Yew mean to tell me there's not one room in the entire inn kin be rented?" Will's face was red with frustration.
The barkeep, a fat man in a leather apron, replied blandly, "Tha's wot I tol' yew when yew came in 'ere. I've not one room and neither has the inn down the road. I kin sell you some grub and ale, but yew'll have to sleep elsewheres."
Will, who had assumed originally that the man was lying only to jack up the prices, was surprised when his offer of five pounds was rejected. Cecile, seeing that Will was unsure what to do next, stepped in and spoke with the barkeep. "My good fellow," she started, and the barkeep turned a lustful eye on this new patron. "Do you have a barn attached to this fine establishment?"
The barkeep nodded, "Yeah, I does. Nice one too."
Cecile smiled her most ingratiating smile, "Well then, problem's solved. I'm sure, as a good businessman, that you can see the advantage to renting the hayloft and some blankets to us, yes?"
The barkeep, still lustily eyeing Cecile's cleavage agreed before he knew what he was agreeing to. "And," Cecile added, "I'm sure that two pounds will more than cover the cost of the loft, four blankets and four meals?"
The barkeep finally looked Cecile full in the face, "That one there," he said nodding towards Will, "offered me five pounds for just the room."
Cecile indicated to the barkeep with a look that said Will was a bit daft, and then said sweetly, "Yes, but you cannot expect us to pay 5 quid for a hayloft, can you?"
Before the barkeep could argue further, Cecile brushed his cheek with her hand and said, "I thought not. Now, there's a good lad. You send one of these barmaids to the barn with four blankets and four meals, and we'll trouble you no more tonight. Mr. Morgan, pay the man will you?"
A frankly amazed Will laid two pounds on the bar, which the barkeep promptly whisked into his apron pocket. Cecile smiled again at the man, "Now, now, don't bother. We'll find the way ourselves." She then turned her bright smile to her companions, "Come along friends, let us retire to the barn."
All three of the Argonaut's crew watched Cecile's receding back as she sauntered through the crowd towards the door. She turned once and crooked a finger in their direction to get them to move, but still they stood rooted. By the time Cecile had the tavern door open, Will turned to Erin and tried to utter something, but nothing came out.
"Don't ask me, boyo," Erin smiled, "I don't know how she did it. And stop opening and closing your mouth like that. You look like a fish."
Erin started towards the door, and Will turned his attention to James. The young man shrugged his shoulders, and took off after his captain. Will followed suit, but not before he ordered a tankard of ale. By the time he'd managed to get back outside, his compadres were no where to be found. Circling the building, he spotted a dilapidated structure behind the tavern that more or less resembled a barn.
Sure enough, all of the others were inside. He opened the door to find that Cecile had already started climbing up to the loft, and he paused to watch her firm backside while she leaned over the ladder. Over her shoulder, he heard her say, "Looks comfy up here, Cap--Erin. It's warm enough too."
"Good thing," Erin joked, "I'd not want to spend the night down here in the manure."
Will commented drolly, "I've seen yew sleep in worse."
"Yeah, but...hey! Where'd you get that?" Erin said accusingly, noticing the ale Will now carried.
"Oh, didn't yew know? Seems there's a tavern not far from here."
"Haha, very funny, bucko. So you selfishly forget your captain? Tsk."
Cecile piped in, "AND you forgot your prisoner?"
James followed with, "And yer shipmate?"
Will nodded as he took a sip, "None o' ya have lost a hand to carry the tankard, have ya? And I know for a fact yew've got gold...even the 'prisoner.' So it would seem yer jus' not thinkin' clearly as me."
Erin smiled, "Well, he's got us there. And if Will's the only clear headed one among us, we're in a peck o' trouble."
Cecile was still in the loft, comfortably stretched out in the hay, "Well, I for one was so busy savoring my victory over the giant bartender that I neglected to purchase a beverage."
"Well, Jamie boy, guess that means we're the losers in this bunch then," Erin said.
James replied, "Guess so. Wotever will we do?"
Erin laughed, and said, "We're going to get our own drinks, that's what."
Before they could start for the door, however, a young woman entered the barn carrying a stack of not terribly clean gray woolen blankets. "Beggin' yer pardon, Mister," she said to Will, "but me da told me to bring this out to ya."
Will smiled at her, "Ah, good, yeah, yeah, come on in."
The girl approached the group timidly, and handed the blankets to Will, who asked, "Wot's yer name, girl?"
Will leaned over conspiratorially, "Tell ya wot, Maggie, see this lot here?" He indicated the other three in the group with a tilt his head. Maggie nodded, and Will continued, "They're all a wee bit t'irsty, so if yew'd do us the favor of keepin' the ale comin' until we call 'enough!' then there's a nice gold piece in it fer ya."
Maggie's eyes widened, "Oh, aye, sir. I was about ter fetch yer supper anyways. Would the gentlemen and ladies prefer a tankard now before yer food?"
Erin took the blankets from Will and started up the ladder, "Whatever you'd like, Maggie. We'll appreciate anything you bring."
"Yes'm," Maggie replied, and exited the barn.
"What'd you do that for?" Cecile spoke up, "I'm for ale now."
Erin laughed and said, "Just take these damn blankets, I can't climb and hold them at the same time."
Cecile took the blankets from Erin's outstretched hands, and put her nose to the fabric, "Ugh. These smell like horses."
"Then that's probably what used them last," Erin said.
Cecile raised one eyebrow in the captain's general direction, and could see a sparkle of mischief in Erin's eyes. She's really enjoying this time away from the ship, Cecile thought. She concluded to herself that without the pressure of her captaincy hanging over her head, Erin could likely relax more fully.
It was, in fact, seeing her crew and her 'prisoner' so happy that made Erin happy. And it was in the tavern during the exchange between Cecile and the barkeep that Erin finally admitted her attraction to the woman. During Cecile's time on the Argonaut, Erin had learned what strength of character lay beneath Cecile's haughty exterior, but the recent time on the road and in the tavern taught Erin how resourceful and delightful Cecile could be. Certainly, Erin admitted to herself, a sexual attraction had always been present, even when she found Cecile infuriating. But over the past two weeks, the attraction had deepened, and Erin found herself seeking Cecile's company whenever she was not at The Blue Ray or attending to her duties. Her last moments with Delia were more guilt-filled than Delia realized. Erin had found the strength to be so firm in her conviction that she didn't love Delia because she thought it might just be love she was starting to feel for Cecile. Erin was thrilled that she could feel this way, and disheartened at the same time, knowing a relationship between them was out of the question. Cecile wanted to get home, and Erin had promised her she would provide her safe passage. Thus, while Erin would certainly admit her attraction, she refused to even consciously entertain the idea of love.
For her part, Cecile recognized the symptoms of her attraction for Erin; after all, she'd had them often enough with her several suitors. But because she had quickly lost any interest in the young men that her father paraded before her, she did not give much thought to her attraction to Erin. Too, having grown accustomed to Erin's relationship with Delia, it was not odd to her that she was attracted to a woman. This was a new experience for her, and she enjoyed the sensations that Erin's proximity produced, but she did not give much credit to her feelings. Perhaps, if she had, she might have been nervous or uncomfortable around Erin, or even dwelled on their impending separation. Instead, she simply enjoyed Erin's company while she could still do so.
For the remainder of the evening, the four comrades lazed in the loft, eating and drinking everything that Maggie brought into the barn. And true to his word, Will paid the girl with a gold piece and a kiss on the cheek. Maggie blushed furiously, stammered her thanks, and backed out of the barn, forgetting to close the door behind her.
Erin smiled at Will, "Looks like someone's smitten with you, William."
Will grinned, "Ya think? Aye, she's a lovely lass. I might just stop back by here on our way out and say hullo."
"Don't you go stirring up trouble, Will. Guarantee me that you'll be a gentleman, and we'll see about stopped back here," Erin said.
"Me? Am I ever anythin' but a gentleman?" scoffed Will.
"Ach, don't get me started, boyo. Now let's get some shuteye. We've got a bit to walk tomorrow."
Cecile awoke the next morning disoriented. All around her eyes was a golden glow, and she could not see anything more than a few inches in front of her. Remembering suddenly that she was asleep in a barn in Marigot, no more than 4 hours walk from her home, and realizing she'd likely burrowed into the hay, she pulled the straw away from her face. Dawn's light streamed through large gaps in the walls, and cast a golden hue over the loft. On the other side of a large pile of hay, she could hear both Will and James snoring loudly. Turning to her left, she was startled to find Erin's body sprawled within inches of her own. Erin had one arm raised above her head and the other across her stomach. Cecile marveled at how lovely Erin was in the early morning light. Even with her hair and clothing covered in straw, Erin's face in repose was breathtakingly beautiful.
With a start, Erin's eyes suddenly opened, and Cecile, who had been staring intently, was caught. Erin raised an eyebrow in question, and Cecile laughed, "Good morning, Captain Skinner. I'm afraid you caught me looking."
Erin yawned and stretched and stood up, "Was I snoring too loudly?"
"No, no. You just looked so sweet and innocent asleep," Cecile replied.
"Sweet and innocent, I'm not. Even when I'm sleeping."
Cecile smiled and said, "Well, I cannot vouch for innocent, but I do know you're very, very sweet on occasion."
From the other side of the hay, Will spoke up, "Would yew lot please keep it down over there? I'm tryin' to get me beauty rest."
Erin spoke back, "Beauty rest? There aren't enough hours in the night for that!"
Cecile and James laughed as Will's body plunged over the haystack and 'tackled' Erin around the knees, "Yew'll pay fer that, Skinner."
Drolly, Erin replied, "Would you kindly get up off your arse and see about some breakfast?"
Just then, Maggie peered through the door. Seeing her guests were all awake, she continued into the barn carrying a tray laden with bread and fruit. "Be-beggin' yer pardons. I t'ought yew would be wantin' breakfast since yew said yew's gettin' an early start," Maggie stammered.
Will scrambled down the ladder, "That tray looks mighty heavy, lass. Let me help you."
Maggie gave a small curtsy, while behind Will's back, Erin rolled her eyes, causing Cecile to giggle. Will turned a scowl in her direction, then a smile back at Maggie. As he set the tray down on an oat box, he said, "We thank ya for the grub, Miss Maggie." And pulled a shilling from his pocket to give her.
Maggie's eyes grew wide, "Oh, no sir, I couldn't take that. Yew've paid me enough already."
Will took Maggie's hand in his, and placed the coin in her palm, "Yer services are worth more'n this, Maggie girl. Don't let anyone tell ya different."
Maggie blushed, curtsied, and nearly ran from the room. Whistling a soft tune to himself, a smiling Will turned to find Erin, James and Cecile stuffing their faces with breakfast.
"Hey! Leave some o' that fer me, you bilge rats!"
Erin turned to James, "Did you hear something? I could swear someone who wants some of this food just called us a nasty name."
James, his mouth full of banana, replied, "I didn't hear a thing. Pass me the butter would you?"
"Certainly," Erin replied.
Swiping an apple off the tray, Will said, "Yew'll regret not feeding me later, ya know."
Cecile, in mock horror said to Erin and James, "It's true. I've seen him eat whole cows at a single sitting, and still ask for more."
Erin laughed and said to Will, "Well, then sit your ass down and start eating. We haven't got all day you know."
Four hours later, the group stood in front of a large iron gate behind which loomed an impressive structure. Cecile, beside herself with excitement had run ahead of the pirates, only to find the gate locked. Seeing no one around, and not finding the gate key hidden in its usual place, Cecile was forced to wait until Erin, Will and James finally came into view.
"I can't seem to locate the key," Cecile said helplessly.
"Is this gate usually locked?" Erin asked.
"No, in fact it's quite odd that it is," Cecile's earlier unease at the locked gate was taking on a sense of foreboding. Her father had never locked the gate except in emergencies.
"Alright, Will, looks like we're climbing the wall," said Erin.
Before they could even begin, however, a servant carrying a large machete emerged from behind a palm tree. Cecile smiled in relief, "Jean, how good to see you! Please open the gate for me and my friends."
But Jean stood impassively and stayed a good 10 feet from the gate.
Cecile, worried and afraid, said, "Jean, what's wrong? Open the gate. I want to see my father!"
Jean smiled a smile that never reached his eyes, "Your father is dead. You speak to de new masta now. Wait here. I will go get heem." Jean turned back toward the house, while Cecile collapsed roughly to the ground.
Her eyes already getting a far away look, as if just for a moment Cecile was no longer with them, she whispered to herself, "Dead? Dead....my father is dead." Cecile shuddered when Erin placed a hand on her shoulder.
"I am sorry, Cecile. I know what it means to lose one's father." Erin helped Cecile up off the road. "Let's see if we can find out more from whomever Jean brings back, alright?"
Cecile merely nodded, small tears working their way to the corners of her eyes. A hundred yards from the gate, the group could see a man emerge from the front of the house with Jean in tow behind him. As the man approached, Cecile said, "What is Adrien doing here?"
Erin asked, "Who's Adrien?"
Cecile, still leaning heavily on Erin's shoulder, replied, "Adrien Charbonneau. My father wanted me to marry him."
Cecile didn't say anything further as Adrien stepped up to the other side of the gate. He was a tall, dark man, nearly Will's height. He wore faded black work pants and work shirt with scuffed boots, and stood sneering at Cecile with his arms folded across his chest.
"So," he said, "my little blackbird has come home after all."
Cecile sprang from Erin's side and gripped the bars of the gate, "Adrien, Adrien, is it true? Is papa dead?"
Adrien reached out and stroked Cecile's cheek, "One can only assume. Of course, I thought you were dead too, and here you are! What a lovely surprise."
Confused, Cecile replied, "So you don't know for certain if my father is dead?"
Adrien laughed, "He might as well be. You see, little blackbird, this land is mine now."
Cecile was starting to become angry, "Yours?! How can it be yours? It belongs to my father, and in the event of his death it will belong to me."
At this outburst, Jean and Adrien both laughed, "You? No, no. You know as well as anyone that a black person, even a free black, cannot own land on Martinique."
Cecile, not sure if she had heard correctly, and clearly confused said, "Black....what has that to do with me?"
Adrien turned to Jean, "Will you go up to the house and get the document tied with the red ribbon that is on my desk? Bring it here when you've found it."
Jean nodded, and ran quickly to the house. No one said anything in the uncomfortable silence until Jean returned. He handed the document to Adrien, who in turn handed it to Cecile, saying, "I believe this will answer all of your questions. Now, if you will excuse me, I have work to do. Good day."
Cecile stood dumbstruck, looking at the scroll as Adrien and Jean both walked away.