~ Letter of the Law ~
By V. Anderson
If you've not read the first part, "Letter of Marque," you'll have no idea what's going on. Stop, go back, read it, then return here. The disclaimers are there too, but I do have one thing to say: this installment is not nearly so gory, but ever so much sexier...if you're under 18, go no further. Comments and feedback are encouraged! Send to firstname.lastname@example.org.
At the turn of the 18th century, Grand Cayman was a sparsely settled British colony. Georgetown, its main city, retained only a small local population of 400 or so. Island traffic, however, was a much larger proportion. Traders and navy sailors alike frequented the town, so that often its transitory population swelled to over a thousand. Bodden Town, located only a few miles from this 'metropolis,' was the haven for less legal sorts of activity. It was here that smugglers, pirates and privateers made their home while on the island. No one asked questions, unless they were looking for trouble. It was also here that the types of trade most associated with these groups popped up. Gambling, liquor, and prostitution were abundant in Bodden Town, and each could be found in all of the town's limited number of buildings. The Argonaut and its crew made frequent use of the welcoming hospitality of Bodden Town's finest establishment, The Blue Ray. For the crew, it was the closest thing to a home on dry land that they had.
Capt. Erin Skinner stood on the deck of her ship, looking over the railing at the beachhead that led to the town. For some time now, as they had neared Grand Cayman, the water around their ship had grown paler shades of blue, until Erin could clearly see 40 feet to the bottom into which they now dropped anchor. A small puff of sand ebbed and flowed in the spot where the anchor struck, finally settling after several minutes. The sun's reflection glinted off the white sand beach that lay ahead, and the crew could see others gathered there, enjoying a swim or laying in the shade of palm trees.
Erin could almost smell the roasting meat and ale that awaited her at The Blue Ray, and gave orders for the dingys to be lowered and the first group go ashore. Standing procedure meant that the crew would enjoy the bounty of Bodden Town in shifts. This would ensure that at no one time did more than two-thirds of the crew leave the ship unprotected. The first shift, a third of the crew, would row to shore, and remain for up to 12 hours. The second shift would take the other dingy to the island sometime during the 6th hour. The final shift would go to the island upon the return of the first dingy at hour 12. Erin was quite fair in her practices, and did not go ashore until the third shift. Penalties for infractions of these guidelines were severe. Only in special circumstances, such as injury or when fighting another ship at sea, could a crewmember remain off the ship for more than 12 hours at a time.
The only other time the crew stayed on land for extended periods were the infrequent visits to other islands. Here too, the 12-hour rule applied. Most of the men used their allotted time to drink and carouse, then returned to the ship only to sleep. Erin occupied her time by continuing to rest. It had not been that long since an encounter with a former crewmember had left her with two broken ribs. She was sleeping fitfully when a knock at the door woke her.
"Enter," she sleepily croaked.
Her first mate, Will Morgan, stooped as he stepped over the threshold. "How're ya feelin' this fine day?" Will said as he entered.
"Groggy, but better than I've felt in a couple of weeks," Erin responded, swinging her legs over the rail of her bed.
"Delia will be happy to hear that," Will leeringly said.
Erin squinted up at Will's tall figure, "You, boyo, keep your mind and your mitts off Delia."
The first mate held up a placating hand, "Are you daft?? Gisele would have my right ball hangin' over her door if I so much as looked the wrong direction."
Will mock shivered at the vision he'd created, and Erin laughed at his antics. "Well," he continued, "I jus' wanted to check w' ya before I left the ship."
Erin raised an eyebrow, "Oh, so you think you're leavin' with the second shift?"
"I know I'm leavin', even if I have to swim."
Erin laughed again and said, "Would you tell Delia I'll be along as soon as I can?"
"I've no doubt she already knows we've weighed anchor, and is at this moment bathing in oils in preparation."
"'Bathing in oils'?" Erin laughed, "Where do you get this stuff, Will?"
"Overactive imagination. My Da usta whale the tar outta me for daydreamin'."
Erin smiled, "At least until you got big enough to hit back....which was when? You were six, right?"
"Is that a crack about my height?" Will deadpanned.
Erin shrugged, "If the size 14 shoe fits...."
"Well, Captain Leprechaun, at least I kept growin' after age six, which is more'n I can say about some wee folks around here."
Before Erin could respond with another sharp retort, there was a crisp knock on her cabin door. "It's a darn fine thing I didn't need any rest," she muttered. "Enter."
The crewmember who knocked was the cook's assistant, and he opened the door, but did not step into the room. Even as small a vessel as the Argonaut was, he had never been near the Captain's quarters. Twisting a well worn cap in his hands, he shifted from foot to foot as he stammered, "B-beggin' yer pardon, Cap'n. I'm right sorry to be botherin' ya...."
Erin interrupted, trying to put the young man at ease, "It's quite alright. Mr. Kensington, is it?"
The young man smiled, glad that the Captain remembered his name, even though he had only just come on board a few weeks before. "Yes, ma'am."
"Mr. Morgan and I were just discussing our island visit. When are you due to head for shore?"
The young man nodded his head in Will's direction to acknowledge his presence, then said, "I'm leavin' on the second shift. But that's not why I've come."
"Well, then," Erin replied, "what can I do for you?"
"It's the oddest thing, Cap'n. Ya see, the cook, he put me in charge of fetching the supplies he might need to cook with...and I don't want no one to think it was me that done it."
Erin was naturally puzzled, "Done what, Mr. Kensington?"
"Well, ma'am, food's missing."
"Yes, ma'am. I been told to keep count of wot we use so's cook can plan and get more if we need it. It's not much that's gone above wot we use, but it's enough to be noticed."
"Exactly wot's missing?" Will chimed in.
Kensington pulled a slip of paper from his vest pocket, "Near as I can figure, in the t'ree weeks since we left, we're missing a quarter barrel of water, half box of dried meat, and one box of dried apples, and three tins of biscuits. Oh, and 6 bottles of ale."
"Is it possible those supplies were overlooked while we had our guests from Mr. Gib's auction?" Erin wondered.
The lad shook his head, "No, cap'n. Like I says, I keep good track. I took stock right before we left."
Will and Erin exchanged a look that the boy mistook for disbelief. "Really, Cap'n, Mr. Morgan, I kin show yew me books...."
Erin held up both hands to stop the assistant cook mid sentence, "There's no need for that, Mr. Kensington. I believe that Mr. Morgan and I are thinking the same thing. What do you say, Mr. Morgan?"
Will scowled, "I'm thinkin' wot we have is either some very large rats, or a stowaway."
"My thoughts exactly," Erin confirmed, "about the stowaway, not the rats. Honestly Will, that's disgusting."
The assistant cook snickered, and Will turned an evil eye his way, "Yew, laddie, can be replaced. The Captain is allowed such levity with me, but no other word leaves this cabin, is that understood?"
Mr. Kensington stood at ramrod attention and squeaked, "Yes, sir."
Erin, not sure whether Will was completely serious or not, piped up, "Thank you, Mr. Kensington, for bringing this to our attention. We'll take it from here. You're dismissed."
The young man nodded, and ran back towards the galley. Will walked over and shut the cabin door and turned to see an angry looking Erin, scowling at him with her hands on her hips.
"Wot?" he feigned innocence.
"You know what," Erin responded, "you nearly frightened that lad to death, Will. No need for threats, you know."
"Erin, I'm of a mind that yer too lax with these boyos. I been meanin' to say somethin' fer a while now. The crew gets too friendly with their Cap'n and discipline goes out the window."
Erin truly was angry now, but tried not to let it show. "How long have you thought this?"
Will, knowing his captain better than he knew anyone could tell she was furious with him. "Not long. It had't really been a problem...YET. Yer a great leader, Erin, but I don't want the men getting' any ideas about yew bein' weak in any way."
Erin's anger quickly dissipated. Clearly Will was, as always, looking out for her welfare. "I appreciate the advice, Will. It just gets difficult sometimes being on alert all the time. While I want the crew to respect me, I don't want them to fear me. It's a fine line I walk."
Glad that his advice had been taken to heart, Will grinned at Erin, "Yer right. It's a tough spot to be in. But that's why yew get the king's share of booty."
Erin scoffed, "Yeah, right. I'll be sure to watch my levity more in the future, except, of course, with you." Will nodded affirmative. "Now," Erin said rubbing her hands together, "let's go catch us a whey-faced stowaway."
Will laughed, "Seems to me I recall a certain someone stowing away on..."
Erin put a hand over Will's mouth, "Not another word, bucko. All stowaways on my ship are heretofore 'whey-faced' or 'shag-eared' or whatever I chose to call 'em. In my day, I was simply resourceful."
Will removed her hand, "Oh, is that wot we're callin' it these days? Resourceful. I'll keep that in mind next time I swipe yer ale when yer not lookin'."
Erin snickered and waved Will out as she reached for her cutlass and scabbard and put it around her waist. Will waited outside the cabin door until Erin was finished splashing water on her face and running a brush through her hair. As she emerged from his cabin, he guffawed, "Took yew long enough. Wot need have yew to tidy up?"
"Stowaway's not going any place. Besides, didn't you just tell me I needed to appear the leader at all times?"
"I said I wanted to be sure the men respected yew, not lusted after ya," Will replied.
"Oh, it's way too late for that. They already lust after me," Erin joked.
Will pretended to double over in laughter. "It's not THAT funny, bucko. Come on. You lead the way in case the lean-witted bastard's dangerous."
"'Lean-witted bastard?' I like that one."
Will and Erin gave Jonas the bridge, and started down the stairs to the hold below. Will whispered as they neared the food storage hold, "Why is it that we always end up doin' this stuff?"
"Because," Erin whispered back, "we lead by example."
"Yeah, but we could set a' example without putting ourselves in danger."
Erin scoffed, "Danger? Bah. This is child's play. Besides it's fun."
Will smirked, "Remind me not to follow whenever yew say somethin's gonna be 'fun'."
"Shhhh, the bilge-rat will know we're coming," Erin waved Will behind her and she stealthily opened the storage room door, ducked low under its bulkhead, and slowly moved about the room. After a short time, Erin motioned Will to remain still, and they both just stood and listened. The ever-present sound of timber creaking, and the faint sounds of the shouts of the crew could be heard above, but nothing else. Finally, after some minutes, with sweat dripping in his eyes, Will was about to tell Erin to give up the ghost and have some other crew members find their prize, when they heard a small scraping sound from the corner of the room. They both crept closer until they were as close to the noise as possible without being seen. Will moved further, and was able to see over the top of the three small crates of breadfruit stacked there. In the dim room, he could just make out a slight figure rolled into a fetal position. He pointed to the location of the stowaway for Erin and held up one figure to indicate the number of people, and then his thumb and forefinger together to display the person's small size.
"All right, lad, we've found your hiding place. You may as well give yourself up," Erin spoke loudly.
There was a small groan from behind the crates, then from the corner emerged a somewhat dirty and very stiff woman. "Took you long enough to discover me. Wasn't sure how much longer I could stand it down here," the stowaway complained.
Erin arched one eyebrow, and said faintly, "Well, I'll be damned. So you found a way back onto my ship after all, Miss Rembert?"
The woman emerged from behind the crates to reveal a disheveled Cecile. "It wasn't really that difficult, Capt. Skinner. Your security is surprisingly lax."
Erin, not sure whether to be angry or bemused, was trying very hard not to show either. "You'll follow us up to the bridge, Miss, and you will not speak a word to myself or First Mate Morgan. Understood?"
Cecile, mistaking Erin's business-like demeanor for anger, merely nodded acceptance. They all made their way onto the deck, with Cecile sandwiched between Erin and Will. Cecile had spent days in the hold, and upon emerging on deck, she had to completely shade her eyes from the bright sunlight. Will nearly ran into the back of her when she stopped to cover her eyes, and seeing that she was momentarily blinded, he took her by the upper arm and led her up the stairs to the quarter deck.
Once on the quarterdeck, Will blew briefly on a whistle that he kept on a chain with his newly gotten pocket watch. Erin smiled at him again remembering how he'd swiped it from Governor Dudley. The whistle call was the signal for the crew to gather around on the main deck below for announcements and pronouncements. Once the crew was assembled, Erin held up one hand to silence their murmuring before speaking.
"Well, lads, seems we have a stowaway in our midst," Erin began as she waved her hand in Cecile's general direction. The men responded with good-natured booing and hissing, until Will took it upon himself to remove the kerchief on Cecile's head and reveal her lustrous black hair. At once the noises changed to appreciative cat calls and whistles. Erin again held up her hand to silence the men, then placed one booted foot on the railing and leaned her arm on her knee in a casual stance. "The question is, what shall we do with her?"
Various shouts came out of the crowd. "'ang her from the crow's nest" and "The Plank!" could be heard. Cecile blanched considerably at these suggestions. She had been under the misguided impression that once found, she would be summarily tossed from the ship onto the first convenient island. Erin glanced in Cecile's direction and couldn't help but smirk at the panic she saw on her face.
"All right, all right, enough," Erin piped up. "Since there's still a two-thirds majority on the ship, I don't think the other boyos will mind if we put it to a vote while they're cavorting on the island." Erin pretended to be thinking about Cecile's fate, rubbing her chin thoughtfully. "Here's what we'll do. Our uninvited guest can either learn to do the Dance of the Seven Veils, and perform it for the entire crew tomorrow or...let's see...work off the entire amount she owes us for food and drink."
"Dancedancedancedance," the crew shouted back.
Erin turned to Cecile, and said, "You heard them. Ever danced the Seven Veils before?"
Cecile, doing her best to appear brave, drolly commented, "Not before such an appreciative audience."
Will guffawed at Cecile's comment, and Erin shot him a dirty look. "Well, then, Miss Rembert, you're in for some fun. I'll have Will fetch his girl from The Blue Ray, she's a right fine dancer, and we'll get started immediately with lessons upon their return. If you'll follow me to my cabin, you'll wait there with me."
Cecile nodded in acquiescence, but before she could take a step, Erin motioned to Will who used Cecile's kerchief to tie her hands together behind her back.
"What are you doing? Are you mad?" Cecile seethed.
"No ma'am, just cautious," Will replied. "Wouldn't want yew getting' any ideas about swimming to shore or anything."
Cecile only glared at Will, and meekly followed Erin down the stairs to the main deck, and into her cabin.
Erin pointed to a chair next to her bunk, "You can sit there. Do you want some water?"
Cecile raised an eyebrow, and said sarcastically, "Will I have to dance some more to earn it?"
Erin tried not to laugh, "Makes no never mind to me if you go thirsty. And, yes, every person on this vessel works for their share, so I guess you'll be dancing until you drop." With that parting shot, Erin sat down at her writing desk, with her back turned to Cecile, humming a tune and quite satisfied with herself.
Cecile sat and stared in open wonder at the back of Erin's neck. She had tried several times to engage the Captain in conversation, but it seemed Erin was intent on ignoring her. Why is it, she thought, that my hands are continually tied of late? Looking around the sparsely appointed cabin, she felt vaguely let down that it was not more flamboyantly decorated. The chair in which she now sat was comfortable enough, made from cherry wood and blue velvet upholstery. Along the wall to her right was the Captain's bed. Unmade white cotton sheets and a course wool blanket were all that covered the frame. It was neither very wide, nor very long. The only concessions to creature comforts were the numerous pillows scattered along the wall and on the floor. Judging by the disarray, the Captain did not sleep well. Erin sat in a chair that matched her own at a plain desk. Along the wall to Erin's right was a large table with maps, a bowl of fruit, a compass, a telescope, a mug, and a rather lethal looking knife.
Cecile cleared her throat and tried again for conversation, "Well, if you're not going to talk with me, I think I'll lie down."
Erin turned slowly to face her, "Do you have a pillow?"
Cecile was nonplussed, "Well, I thought I could just use one of these...."
"No, no, you misunderstand. Each of my...um, 'conquests' shall we say? Each of them has brought a pillow to me as an offering for the pleasure of lying in my bed. Since I allow no one to sleep there uninvited, those who do are generally invited for a very specific purpose. Since you're not my type, I'll only issue the invitation unless you have a special talent to share AND a pillow for me. Otherwise, you won't be laying down any where in here."
"Special tal...?" Cecile finally understood, "I...I...." She didn't want to appear na‘ve or inexperienced in front of this woman, but she didn't want to seem whorish either. "You know perfectly well I do not have a pillow with me."
Erin shrugged, "Your loss," and turned her back again.
With nothing to do, and no one to talk with, Cecile found herself dozing in the warmth of the closed room. Upon first entering the cabin, Erin had thrown open the only window to shed light on her work table. While a faint breeze now blew into the room, carrying with it the scent and sound of water, it did nothing to cool the tropical heat. Cecile could see a thin line of sweat in the middle of Erin's back as she leaned over the desk working-it was evident in the way her white shirt stuck slightly to her mid back. In addition to the gentle lapping of water against the hull, Cecile was lulled by the muted scratching of Erin's pen across the paper on which she worked. Patience was not one of Cecile's strong suits, and she was also unable to get any additional information about this dance she was expected to perform. Forced to wait out Erin's silence, her mounting frustration and curiosity grew.
All at once, in a lightning move, Erin stood and spun her chair around setting it very close to Cecile until their knees were nearly touching. She then waved the paper under Cecile's nose. "Now then, missy," she started, "here's how I figure it. You owe the crew of the good ship Argonaut a total of 5 shillings for the provisions you stole. We pay each man a basic wage of 2 shillings per day to perform his duties. Provided you are able to pull your weight, you'll get the same wages, and be out of here in no time."
Cecile was stunned, "But I thought I was supposed to dance?"
Erin barked a laugh, "No, lass, that's the crew having a wee bit o' fun with you. Anyone caught doing petty stealing works it off. Larger theft has a stiffer penalty. Good thing we found you when we did, before you ate your way to a flogging."
Seeing that Erin was only teasing her, Cecile let out a sigh of relief. "Besides," Erin continued, "the Dance of the Seven Veils requires the dancer to strip naked, and I won't have any woman subjected to that on my ship."
Cecile tried joking, "Naked?? Well, it's a good thing no one here will be subjected to that. Your poor crew doesn't need the torture."
Erin looked closely at Cecile and mock shuddered, "Oh yeah, I pity the lads that would have to go through that."
Is she flirting with me? Cecile wondered. Oh well, no matter, I'll be off this ship in a couple of days.
"So, what's on this paper you're sticking in my face?"
"Every man on my ship is as good as his word. Still, I'm a firm believer in getting as much as possible in writing. This here's a contract of sorts wherein you promise to do your share of the work, and we promise to pay you 2 shillings a day, and release you once you're debt's paid."
Cecile again raised her eyebrow, and said incredulously, "I never knew pirates to be such men of honor."
"Well," drawled Erin, "You'll notice first that I'm not a man, and second we're not the standard against which all pirates should be measured. I run my ship my way. Now, are you willing to sign?"
Cecile nodded, "If you'll just place the pen in my mouth, I'm sure I can make some kind of mark...."
Erin tsked and shook her head, "I'm not daft, you know. I was going to untie you." Then she said in all seriousness, "Before I do though, I warn you I'm being a good host right now in the privacy of my quarters." Erin then stood directly over Cecile, and cupped her chin painfully, so that Cecile was forced to look directly up at Erin, "You are already on thin ice with me. I'm not remotely happy you boarded my ship without permission, or that you've stolen provisions. You will show me the respect due me as Captain in front of my crew, or you'll suffer their same punishment for insubordination. It's 3 lashes for each infraction, got it?" Cecile nodded, seeing the flash of power and anger behind Erin's green eyes, and feeling for the first time afraid.
Erin untied Cecile's wrists, and she looked at the 'contract' while she rubbed circulation back into her hands. "Wait," she said, "this says I'll be onboard for 30 days. How can that be? I owe 5 shillings and you pay 2 a day...."
Erin smiled, "Well, you do plan to sleep and eat while your on board, yes?" Cecile nodded slowly. "Since you're not a member of my crew, I'm charging you 1 shilling, 10 pence per day for room and board." Erin forestalled what she could see was Cecile's growing rant, "It's a perfectly fair rate. You'll not find a better cook in Martinque, so you won't suffer in that regard and you'll have to bunk with me so as not to tempt my men. Semi-private room, you might say...."
Cecile could not decide whether to feel furious or defeated. She really had no argument with the terms of the contract, but she was also in a great hurry to get home. "Can I negotiate these terms?" she asked.
Erin folded her arms and shrugged, "You can try."
"All right. I see the need to bunk with you, so I'll concede that point. I really don't think, however, that even when pulling my fair share of duties, and I will do just that, that I will eat nearly as much as a full-grown man. Did you base the cost of my meals on that kind of consumption?"
Erin nodded, "Yes, I did."
"Then, let's say I eat 2/3 of what a man normally eats. What kind of offer would I get?"
Erin, secretly pleased that Cecile had done so well negotiating, felt generous. "Tell you what, I'll amend the contract. IF you pull your weight, and IF you really only eat 2/3 of what, say, Mr. Morgan eats, I'll consider charging only 1 shilling, 6. If you do as much as you say, you'll be off the ship in 10 days, not 30. I will, however, be the judge of whether you're working well enough, and I won't starve you if you want more food. Deal?"
"If I continue to work and pay extra, would you be willing to sail to Martinique?" Cecile tried one more tack.
"A colony under Spanish rule? With me running under a British flag? No, lass, we'll stay here for at least 10 days, so you can catch the first ship heading your way. Again, only providing that you pay the debt in that time. Be thankful I'm willing to put you on dry land at all."
Three days had passed since Erin and Cecile had struck their bargain. During that time, Erin had observed Cecile's interaction with the crew, as well as her ability to "keep up." While Cecile had made a valiant effort, it was clear that she was not used to working under such adverse conditions. Spending time holed up as a stowaway also likely did nothing to improve her constitution.
On day one, she was assigned the task of lookout. Cecile, completely unaware that she was afraid of unsecured high places, gamely tried to reach the crow's nest. She made the mistake of looking down about halfway up the rope ladder. At that height, the ship's mild rocking became quite intense. The motion coupled with the location made Cecile turn green with sickness. She swallowed, and tried again to climb, but lost the contents of her stomach before she could go any further. Her next task, naturally, was to swab the deck. She did this well, until it was discovered that she used fresh water stores instead of hoisting sea water onto the deck. This mistake, Erin conceded, had not been Cecile's fault because no one instructed her on the task.
Day two, Erin placed Cecile under Jonas' tutelage and asked him to literally "show her the ropes." That is, how to make the rope necessary to maintain repairs on the ship's rigging. Jonas, a patient man, did his best to help his captain by teaching the novice but she never seemed to grasp the fundamentals. Several times, he was forced to undo the work she'd completed and ask her to do it again. Both gave up in frustration, and Jonas set her to work cleaning cannons. This, Cecile did quite well, but it was dirty, exhausting work, and she went to bed right after supper.
On day three, Erin returned to her cabin to find Cecile still asleep well after sunrise. She knew that Cecile was not used to the workload, and was probably exhausted. But she also knew that she wanted to help get Cecile off her ship as quickly as possible. Too, she had foregone her visit to The Blue Ray in order to keep an eye on Cecile's work, and Will reported that Delia was getting very impatient. Erin stood in her cabin for a moment, gazing down at Cecile's sleeping form. She was surprised to discover that, as much of a pain in the ass as Cecile had been, she was impressed with her tenacity. Regardless of the danger from heat stoke, sickness, and even death, Cecile had stowed away in order to find her father and make sure he was well. Erin knew that in her place, she would have done the same thing. The captain also knew, however, that she could not afford to cut Cecile any slack. The men, as Will reminded her, would see this as a sign of weakness and favoritism.
There was very little light in the cabin once Erin shut the door behind her, but she could make out Cecile's profile against a pillow. I'll bet she's considered quite a catch where she comes from. That hair alone is beautiful, not to mention those startling blue eyes. Erin shook her head to clear these thoughts. Now where did that come from? It's been way too long since I've seen Delia. Speaking of which....
Erin lightly shook Cecile's shoulder, "Hey, sleepy head, wake up." Sleepy head?
Cecile rolled over onto her back, stretching her arms above her head. Seeing Erin, she smiled up at her. It was only a moment, put the intimacy displayed in that disarming smile struck a chord deep inside Erin. She could have sworn at that moment that a large wave hit the side of the Argonaut, so heavy was the feeling in the pit of her stomach. Cecile's smile turned to a puzzled frown when she caught a glimpse of the expression on Erin's face. "What's wrong? What is it?" she questioned.
"Hmmmm?" Erin replied.
"You just looked...I don't know, like somebody had hit you...dazed...." Cecile concluded lamely.
Erin struggled to keep her wits about her, "Uh, no. I'm fine. Really." She paused, and Cecile said, "Well, good then." Cecile swung her legs over the side of the bed, and groaned, "I've never been this sore in my life. Not even breaking horses is this hard."
Erin raised an eyebrow, "Indeed? And how many horses have you broken, Miss Rembert?"
Cecile smiled at Erin, "You have the loveliest brogue. Has anyone ever told you that?"
Erin laughed to cover her embarrassment, "As a matter of fact, someone has. And that someone is waiting for me as we speak."
Cecile tried to hide her disappointment that Erin had someone waiting for her, then spent some time trying to figure out why it was that she should feel disappointed. Erin said into the silence, "You didn't answer my question."
"What? Oh! Yes, well, that's what I do on my father's farm. Break horses that is. The poor things have suffered through an ocean voyage by the time they get to me though, so I'm afraid they're fairly docile."
Erin, who knew nothing about horses, just nodded in response. "I've come to let you know that I'm leaving the ship for a bit. I'll be back by dark. Mr. Morgan and Jonas will look after you. You've been reassigned to assist young Mr. Kensington in the galley. Can you cook at all?"
Cecile, who'd never so much as seen the inside of a kitchen, simply shrugged and said, "I do alright."
"Well, it's about half past 9, and Cook and Kensington expected you at 7, so you'd best get a move on."
Cecile jumped up and started dressing frantically, giving Erin an eyeful of her backside. "9:00?? How could you let me sleep this long?"
"And when did I become your maid servant?"
Cecile stopped frantically dressing, and turned chagrined, "Sorry. I'm used to....sorry."
Erin smothered a smirk, "I'll be at the Blue Ray. Mr. Morgan can get me in 30 minutes if anything goes awry."
Cecile nodded, then added, "See you at dinner?"
"Not likely. It'll be full dark when I get back."
Erin took the first available skiff; fairly jumping over the rail of the ship in her haste to see 'her girl.' She arrived at The Blue Ray by late morning. The streets were painted in a warm glow, and the air, while only just starting to heat up, was heavy with moisture and the scent of the sea. Pausing only long enough to pick a handful of tropical flowers as a peace offering for Delia, Erin practically ran to the inn. She was smart enough to know that Delia had feelings for her, and while a local prostitute, the captain treated her with the respect she felt due all women. Excuses for being late would not be proffered, but apologies would.
Inside the tavern, Erin spotted some of her crew. They all knew where she was going, and while she tried to avoid detection and a cacophony of catcalls, crewman Billingsly spotted her just as she put one foot on the bottom stair.
"Ahoy, cap'n!" he shouted to be heard above the din. The room became noticeably quieter, and Erin turned to face the teasing.
"Ahoy, there, lads. Enjoying yourselves?"
A general rumble of agreement rose in the room, then Billingsly spoke up again, "Yer girl's waitin', Cap'n." He said nodding towards the stairs, "Enjoy yersef too."
Erin, playing along, said leeringly, "Oh you can count on it. Don't wait up for me boyos."
The whistles and shouts followed Erin up the stairs and could still be heard as she walked to the end of the hall. Before she could even knock, Delia had thrown open her door and leapt onto Erin's body, wrapping her long legs around Erin's waist and planting a smoldering kiss on her lips. Trying not to drop the flowers or the woman, the captain moved into the room and shut the door.
The kissing paused long enough for Erin to say, "If this is the kind of greeting I'll get, I'll be late more often."
"Don't... 'kiss' ... you... 'kiss' ...dare, Erin Skinner."
Erin pulled back and looked into the dark brown pools of Delia's eyes. "Please believe me when I say I got here as quickly as I could. I've dreamed of you since we left Tortola."
This set off a fresh flurry of kisses that quickly escalated into more passionate embraces. Erin carried Delia, who was still attached to her hips, over to the bed and laid her down as gently as possible. Standing at the edge of the bed, she reached down and pulled Delia's blouse up over her head, tossing it in the corner. Delia was already breathing heavily, wanting Erin's gentle touch with a hunger she experienced with no one else. Erin smiled and took one of the flowers from the bunch she still held, placing the others on a table next to the bed. She extended the stem, and first traced Delia's forehead and chin with the soft, fragrant petals. Delia closed her eyes and inhaled deeply savoring the scent. Slowly, Erin swept the petals across the ebony skin of Delia's neck, and down her shoulders settling on her breasts. The nipples immediately darkened and hardened, and a soft moan escaped her lips.
Erin broke the silence, "Hello, my sweet. I've missed you."
"And I you, Captain Skinner. Come to bed."
Erin placed the flower on Delia's chest, and removed her scabbard and shirt. She was about to remove her pants when she noticed that another table has been moved into the room, and a cozy lunch had been set up. The table had on it several candles, a bowel of fruit, a loaf of bread, and a bottle of wine. Erin moved to the table and picked up a handful of strawberries.
Delia sat up and spoke from the bed, "Don' tell me you're actually going to eat NOW."
Erin laughed, "All this time, and you still don't know me." She then walked to the bed, and allowed Delia one bite of a strawberry. Using the luscious fruit, she ran the juices over Delia's nipples before claiming one between her teeth. "I almost forgot how much I love to watch you eat," Delia teased.
Erin rolled over and could see a faint light in the sky beyond the window blinds, and looked at the softly snoring beauty next to her. Her 12 hours nearly up, Erin was thankful that she had spent the first 6 of it making love and eating...well, making love at any rate.
Erin propped herself up on one elbow and took these last moments to observe Delia while she slept. Not beautiful in the traditional sense, it was Delia's heart that attracted Erin most. For someone so ill-used by society and the men within it, Delia was surprisingly gentle and kind. It was these qualities that had first formed their friendship. It was Delia's patience and perseverance that made them lovers. Long before Erin would admit her attraction, Delia could see the hungry looks the pirate gave her whenever she came to The Blue Ray. On one visit, the more worldly woman had simply taken Erin's hand and led her upstairs. For Erin, it had been the closest she had come to knowing the divine since she'd lost her faith. For Delia, it was the sweetest moment in an otherwise difficult life. Now the two of them shared more than just sexual intimacy. They spent long hours talking and even more hours sitting in silence simply spending time together.
Delia was deeply in love with the young captain, but Erin held only deep affection for Delia. Erin honestly did not think her feelings were those of a soul mate or even ardent lover. True, Delia has awakened things in Erin that she had never before experienced, but the yearning she felt in Delia's presence was only sexual in nature, and not that of kindred spirits. Much to Delia's constant disappointment, Erin's feelings did not change. The captain showered her lover with all the attention and affection she had while at The Blue Ray, but never once expressed the kind of love that Delia hoped for.
As Erin looked at the form sleeping in the bed next to her, she felt quite sad that she couldn't return Delia's feelings. She longed to know what it was like to have someone haunt her every waking thought, to feel complete with her love by her side. As for Delia, she felt longing, but it was borne from proximity not distance. Try as she might, Erin displayed only affection and gratitude; but not the grand passion Delia expressed to her.
Putting a stop to her contemplation, Erin rose from the bed. It wouldn't do to break her own rules. It was near dark outside, and she would be lucky to catch the skiff back to the ship. Her pants and shirt on, she turned while putting on her sash, and could see Delia was now awake. The dark woman held out her hand and said, "Can't ya forget the rules jus' once? Come back to bed, love."
Erin sighed, "I wish I could, darlin'. Aside from relieving a few lads so they can come ashore, I've got a stowaway who's about to drive me to distraction."
Delia devilishly said, "Stowaway? Why ain't he hangin' from the yardarm? That'd keep him in his place, and leave you free to spend time with me."
Erin laughed, then explained the 'Cecile situation' in an abbreviated version while she finished dressing. She pulled on her last boot, and said, "So you see, I've got to put up with it for a bit until she works off her debt."
Something in Erin's speech sparked Delia's interest. The captain got an almost wistful look on her face when speaking about the stowaway. She'd not seen Erin speak about anyone this way, and doubted Erin even knew she was doing it. She'd have to wrangle an invitation to the ship and meet the woman she now considered a rival for Erin's attention.
Erin slid her sword into her scabbard and said, "My sweet, I've got to stay on the Argonaut for a bit this time, but...how about we do this...I'll return tomorrow at dusk and we can enjoy a moonlight swim and supper? How does that sound?"
Delia stretched languidly, and said, "I'll hold you to that, my captain."
Erin leaned over for one more kiss, before departing The Blue Ray and heading for the skiff that was waiting for her.
Finished July 10,
Continued in "Letter of the Law, Part 2" coming soon!