If you haven't read the first 2 parts of this story (Letter of Marque and Letter of the Law) you won't know what's going on. Go read those before continuing here. This story contains violence and crudity associated with most pirates, and I don't tone it down for the squeamish. Please see "Letter of Marque" for all other disclaimers. Thanks for reading, and please send any comments, good, bad or indifferent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Cecile Rembert stood on the deck of the Argonaut, watching as the crew unloaded food stuffs under the eye of the cook's assistant, Mr. Kensington. She had been told to lend a hand, and was now tallying each item as it came on board.
"Oy, mates!" Mr. Kensington shouted at the men on deck, "Mind yew lot bring that pilsner on board gentle-like. Cap'n Skinner don't like flat beer."
At that point, all activity ceased. The man laughing at his own joke, noticed too late that work had stopped. He glanced around and quickly dropped his hands to his sides as the Argonaut's crew glared at him. Mr. Harding, a dingy bowman who had served with the Argonaut since before Erin became Captain said in a low rumble, "Yew want a berth on this boat, laddie, yew'll soon learn we brook no insult to our Cap'n."
At that point, all activity ceased. The man laughed at his own joke, then noticed work had stopped. He glanced around and quickly dropped his hands to his sides as the Argonaut's crew glared at him. Mr. Harding, a dingy bowman who had served with the Argonaut since before Erin became Captain said in a low rumble, "Yew want a berth on this boat, laddie, yew'll soon learn we brook no insult to our Cap'n."
The man stuttered, "I…I meant no 'arm. I seen 'er meself at the Blue Ray. I mean, she's one o' them what loikes women her own self. I's not right, that's not."
Harding's glare grew more pronounced, "And who says it's not right?"
Liking his lips nervously, the man replied, "Well, yew know…the Bible and such…."
"And wot would a thievin', whorin' bastard like yerself know about the Bible?"
Seeing that he would have no support among any of the crew, the man tried to back out, "Really, no offense, lads."
"Too late for that," Mr. Kensington spoke up. He motioned to the other crew, and they unceremoniously picked up the interloper and tossed him over the side. He emerged from the water flailing and sputtering. Mr. Harding shouted down to him, "No offense, lad. Sure 'ope yew kin swim."
The man tried to shake his fist and shout curses at the crew on deck, but all he got for this effort was a mouthful of water. The crew only laughed even louder than they already were, and the man turned and started paddling towards the not too distant shore.
The crew completed unloading supplies, and stowing them in the hold. Cecile continued to assist Mr. Kensington tally the goods, and they were finished in record time. Cecile offered to return to the galley, but Mr. Kensington stopped her, "No, lass. Cook lets few into his kitchen until serving time. Yew might think about cleaning up any place yew see a mess. I'll be helping to repair sails this evening, and you're welcome to join me then, alright?"
Cecile nodded her head in acceptance, and started back to the Captain's cabin with a thought to cleaning the stale room. Pausing to check the progress of the man thrown overboard, she could no longer see him in the water, and assumed he either made it back to shore or drowned. Not caring for the man's tone when he talked about Captain Skinner, she had no compunction about what the crew had done to him. Truth be told, what she'd learned from the man's insults, as well as from the Cook earlier in the day had intrigued her, and she began also to keep an eye out for the dingy that would carry Erin Skinner back to the ship.
When Erin left the ship that morning, Cecile had been determined to put in a full day's work in the galley. She knew her other jobs had not yet been up to snuff, and she was getting more and more anxious about getting back to Jamaica and her father. It was surprising to her, therefore, that as she worked during the day, her thoughts frequently returned to the diminutive Captain. It was as though without Erin onboard, the ship lost its vitality. It could also have been the fact that nearly two-thirds of the entire crew were on shore leave, but judging by the remaining crew's demonstrated loyalty, she knew it was Erin's presence that set the morale. As she worked in the galley, peeling potatoes and cutting onions, she could hear the crew banter and got more than an earful about Skinner's exploits and whereabouts.
About midday, the cook, a portly man named Tucker, whom every one simply called "Cook," returned to the galley with a freshly scrubbed boiling pot. "Aye, yer doin' a foin job there, Missy. Cap'n shoulda put ye here first t'ing," Cook observed.
Cecile smiled, "Thank you, Mr. Tucker. I am doing my best."
"It's just 'Cook.' No one calls me Mr. Tucker but me own wife."
Cecile was surprised, "Wife? You're married? How can you be on the ship for such long periods of time?"
"Oh, I dinna say 'happily married.' Last I saw me wife, she was t'rowing a fryin' pan at me 'ead and screaming fer me to get out o' the house."
Cecile might have been shocked, except that Cook told the story with a barely suppressed smirk, so she laughed instead.
"Wot aboutchu, darlin'? Got a 'usband back 'ome?" Cook inquired.
"Me? Oh, no. I do have some suitors, but I wouldn't give a single shilling for the whole collection of them. No, I've not found the right man, mostly because I value my freedom too much."
Cook laughed, "Oh, aye, this is freedom a'right."
Cecile blushed, "Well, my normal freedom." She thought some more about the topic, "This actually hasn't been half bad. I was lead to believe British pirates were the worst of the lot, but everyone here has behaved like a perfect gentleman, including Capt. Skinner."
"And she won't have it any other way," Cook replied. "At first, the lads all thought she was a bit daft. Goin' after slavers the way she does. But we've naught to complain about. She keeps us all well fed and clothed…and rich," Cook winked then continued, "Her rules are a bit odd fer a pirate ship, but it's the best damn vessel I've sailed on, that's fer sure."
Cecile was intrigued, and wanted to ask more about Capt. Skinner and the slavers, but another line of questioning occurred to her, "How did she…I mean, she's not very big…that is, how is it that she's Captain of such a large crew and ship?"
Cook took the peeled potatoes and onions, and placed them in the pot along with fresh water and four skinned rabbits, then hung the entire thing on a hook over a grated fire. Wiping his hands, he said, "There, that should do it. Won't need but a wee bit o' food since we've only a t'ird of the lads." Cook sat next to Cecile on a low stool and addressed her directly, "Erin Skinner is Captain of the good ship Argonaut by vote of every man aboard 'er. I served me time in 'er Majesty's navy before I deserted. Now, you might t'ink me low for such a crime, but I'll tell ye lass, 'er Majesty can keep 'er damn navy. Floggings daily, more'n one man too. Half rations. Dysentery, scurvy…it was 'orrible. Since I've been on the Argonaut, I've seen but one man flogged, and that was for the worst crime on this ship-interferin' with a woman without her say so. Like I says, Cap'n Skinner keeps us well, and she's one of the best fighters among us. Not afraid to do 'er share of the dirty work neither. And, she the smartest of the lot, bar none." Cook stood up from the small chair, stretching, "Excuse my goin' on that way, but I'm partial to our Cap'n, and I'll have no one sayin' a harsh word against 'er."
Cecile shook her head vehemently, "Oh, no, you misunderstood me. I wasn't questioning the Captain's abilities. Indeed, she seems quite able. It's only unusual for a woman to lead such a crew."
"Aye, it is that. Now, why'nt ye run along and help Mr. Kensington with the supplies? His dingy should be back from the island any time now and ye can unload the boat with the lads, then help take stock."
Cecile nodded, "I really didn't mean any offense, Cook…."
"I know ye didn't, lass. Thanks for all yer help today."
These and other stories were painting quite a favorable picture of the Captain, and Cecile was secretly pleased at this knowledge. There was some indefinable something about the Captain that made her want to know her better. Cecile had always harbored a desire not to marry, to spend her life as she saw fit. When she had once broached the subject with her father, he scoffed, and refused to even talk about it. After that, he became a near fanatic about the subject, and brought as many young men to the house as he could find. To Cecile, while Captain Skinner's life seemed harsh, it did have its benefits, and Cecile was intrigued about how exactly Erin had pulled it off. Too, there was something about the redhead that made Cecile want to spend time with her. Aside from the obvious part about Erin saving her life, for which Cecile was grateful, she found herself captivated by Erin's lively green eyes and droll sense of humor. She'd never met anyone like Erin before, and she truly wanted to know her better, even if their time together proved short.
Erin was standing on the moonlit, white sand beach anticipating the return of the Argonaut's dingy, when Jonas Willoughby staggered into view. Upon seeing his Captain, Jonas straightened visibly and attempted to walk toward her with some semblance of sobriety.
Erin laughed, "Give it up Jonas. I know you're drunk."
"I'm not…[hic]…I'm not drunk, and I resent the accusation, Cap'n."
Erin cocked her head at him, "Right then, how many fingers am I holding up?"
Jonas squinted at her, and replied triumphantly, "None, yer tryin' to trick me!"
Erin waved three fingers directly under Jonas's nose. "I know you can count better then that. Don't worry. You're a good man, Jonas. Your secret is safe with me. But don't let me catch you drunk again when it's near your time to return to the ship."
Chagrined, Jonas replied, "No Cap'n. I wouldnta been drunk this time if it t'weren't for a wee bet."
Erin smiled, "Did you at least win your bet?"
"Oh, aye. You should see Mr. Morgan, he's under the ta…ble…uh…."
Erin tried unsuccessfully to keep from barking out a laugh, "You mean both my First and Second Mates have drunk themselves stupid?" Jonas turned a bright red that was not visible in the pale moonlight. Erin's eyes suddenly widened, "Wait. How is it that all three of us are on dry land at the same time?"
A sobering thought for Jonas, "I don' know Cap'n. Truly, I've only been on the island 4 hours. Dinna even take me full shift."
"Tell you what," Erin said, "think you can make it up to the deck on your own once the boat gets there?" Jonas nodded. "Good man. I'll go back to The Ray and get Mr. Morgan sobered up as much as possible. It's likely no one even noticed we'd all gone, not that it really matters, but I don't want the lads to think their leaders have deserted them."
Jonas nodded, the action nearly pitching him forward on the beach. Erin trekked back the way she had come and in a few minutes was standing back in front of The Blue Ray. "Bloody hell," she whispered to herself, "What will these lads do next." She entered the now crowded and dimly lit bar searching for her First Mate. She found him propped in a corner of the room, snoring almost loud enough to be heard over the din. Satisfied he wasn't going anywhere, she walked back to the bar and ordered the house rum. Fermented from coconuts, this liquor was known as the worst swill on the island, and something Will was known to be quite a snob about. Erin navigated the room, spilling as little of the drink as possible as she was jostled on the crowded floor. She made it back across the room, and stood directly in front of Will lest she miss her intended target. With a quick flip of her wrist, she threw the drink in Will's face, with most of it going up his nose. Will sputtered to life, his hand automatically going for his sword, while Erin joined the rest of the room laughing uproariously.
Through bleary eyes, Will could vaguely make out his Captain bent over double in laughter. "Oh, aye, kick a man while he's down why dontcha."
Erin, still laughing said, "Oh you poor boyo. And I suppose these lads forced the liquor down your gullet?"
"No, I take full responsibility for that Cap'n Skinner, but I don't appreciate yew hittin' me in the face w' this…," Will experimentally tasted the rum's remnants on his lips, "…this rot gut."
"Well," said Erin, "I knew if I bought the good stuff, it would go to waste. Besides, that'll teach you to try to out drink Jonas."
Will sheepishly said, "Oh, yew saw him didya?
Yes, he stumbled into my path down on the beach. Tsk. Will you're getting a might old for this non-sense, aren't ya?"
Will scowled, "Jonas' is older 'n me, and still can drink more'n I can…can."
Erin replied, "And he has been able to since I've known both of you. When are you ever going to learn?"
"Guess I was hopin' the older he got, the more chance I stood. No such luck." Will then tried to get up on his own, only to fall back onto the bench. "Are you going to stand there gawking, Cap'n Skinner, or will ye be helpin' me up then?"
"I should let you rot here, Will, but good First Mates are hard to find. Come on, up ya go." Erin pulled Will's extended hand and he came heavily to his feet. They both staggered under his weight. "Whoa, there, lad. Stead as she goes. Are you alright?"
Will, who had suddenly turned a shade of green normally seen on trees shook his head no, and bolted as fast as his drunken legs would carry him. Amused, Erin strolled out behind him, wishing her crew a good time and admonished, "I'd better not catch a one of you repeating Mr. Morgan's evening performance. I can't have my entire crew blasted, now can I?" The crew laughed at Erin's remarks, and although many took the words as a joke, more than a few slowed down on their imbibing.
Erin walked outside, but Will was no where in sight. Faintly, she heard the sounds of retching and followed the noise until she found Will in the trees just beyond the bar, throwing up into what had once been a beautiful flowering bush.
"Hey! I picked those earlier for Delia, and I resent you tossing your load on them!" Erin teased.
A very whoosy Will replied, "I'll get her some other flowers, these are taken just now."
Erin waited a few minutes while Will lost what was left of his supper, before she said "Feel good enough to make it back to the ship?"
Will nodded affirmatively, then put his hand over his mouth, and turned back to the flower bush to have another round. Erin, now showing real concern for her friend's health said, "Boyo, you sure you don't want to go back to the Ray? I can make an exception to the 12 hour rule if you're really sick."
"No ma'am," he replied as he shakily got to his feet and started on his own down the path to the beach, "it's all me fault and I'll take me punishment like I should. Heaven help me if I make it back to the Argonaut in one piece. At least I won't be quite sa drunk since I've lost most of wot I drank back there."
They managed to make it to the beach without any further incident, neither speaking a word on their way. Theirs was a relationship that required few verbal exchanges. They knew each other as intimately as two people could without being family. Indeed, each thought of the other as a sibling, although neither had ever expressed these feelings to the other. While fighting individually, each was outstanding and difficult to best. If fighting together, they were powerful and unstoppable. It was one of the things that made them an excellent balance in the leadership of the Argonaut.
"Say, William…" Erin queried.
Will knew he was in trouble when Erin addressed him by his full name. With an almost audible sigh, he replied, "Wot is it, Erin?"
"Why on earth were you trying to drink Jonas under the table anyway? Seems I recall someone had a rather urgent appointment with a curvaceous redhead?"
Will, looking quite chagrinned, replied "Um….well, she…that is, we…"
Erin stopped on the path with her hands on her hips, "Do not tell me you've managed to piss her off again so quickly?? Will Morgan, you ought to be ashamed."
Will silently working against tears that threatened to fall, stammered, "Uh, no Erin, I dinna piss her off. She…that is, she already had a guest when I arrived."
Erin was stunned. "Oh Will. I am sorry." While both Erin and Will were quite well aware that the women they bedded made their living on their backs, both Delia and Gisele made it a practice to be available for their favorites whenever the Argonaut dropped anchor. Gisele was sending a clear message she no longer desired Will's company or his attentions. "Did she say why, Will?"
Will shuffled a bit, "She said she still loves me, but can't waste her time waitin' fer me. She needs to know someone will come along to take care of her. I can't say's I blame her. I don't even know if I'll live from one day to the next, let alone come back and care for her and be wot she needs."
Erin nodded, but said nothing further since they were now on the beach, and the dingy was fast approaching. She knew all too well the limitations that she and each of her crewmembers had placed upon themselves when they became pirates. One of those limitations was the ability to form any lasting relationships outside the crew itself. They both rode back in the dingy, the only sound the soft slapping of oars on the water, each lost in their private thoughts. Once back aboard, Erin helped Will to the quarters he shared with Jonas. They entered, and while Jonas' back was to the door, the snoring sounds he made were not muffled in the least.
"Fer crissake," Will complained, "How'm I supposed to sleep through that God awful noise?"
Erin lead Will to his bunk, sat him down, and helped him off with his boots, "I'm quite sure you'll manage, boyo. Regardless of the damage you did to that flower bush, you're still three sheets to the wind."
Will laid back on his bunk. "Hey, Cap'n, kin yew stop the boat rockin' so much?"
Erin laughed softly, "We're in perfectly calm waters, old man. 'Fraid it's just the rum that's got you so dizzy."
Will did no more than grunt in reply before his mouth lulled open, and his own snoring sounds joined in chorus with Jonas'. Erin left them to their own devices, but let the night watch know to check on them once or twice in case they got sick again. Erin retired to her own dark quarters, not even needing to light a lamp to see her way. She carefully picked her way across the floor, careful not to step on Cecile, who had been sleeping on a pallet during her stay. For her part, Cecile was unsure whether to let the Captain know she was awake. She could hear Erin remove her boots and could just make out the Captain's outline against the light coming through the window. Erin removed her pants, but left her shirt on. She fell back heavily onto her bunk and spent several minutes trying to get comfortable. Letting out a frustrated breath, she swung her legs over the side of the bunk and put her head in her hands while resting her elbows on her knees. She sat that way for several long minutes. The only sound Cecile could hear was Erin's faint breathing. On such a calm night, not even the usual ocean sounds could be heard.
Erin was snapped out of her reverie when Cecile cleared her throat and whispered, "I'm awake, Captain Skinner…if you wish to turn on a lamp or something."
Erin got up, walked to her maps table, and unerringly found matches to light the hurricane lamp on her desk. She turned to see Cecile propped up on one elbow, squinting at the light. "Sorry if I woke you, Miss Rembert."
"You didn't wake me. I had some trouble falling asleep, and you came in before I'd dozed off. I could hear you tossing and turning, and thought you might want to read, or…well, at least use your cabin as you see fit," Cecile finished lamely.
Erin looked at Cecile speculatively a moment before replying, "Yes, thank you Cecile, I would like to read. I…." Erin trailed off as she glanced around what had once been her dirty cabin. All of her maps had been stowed into their respective slots along the wall, her books placed on the shelf, her compass and all her other tools placed in a box or hung on the pegs by the door. The floor had been swept and she realized with a start that her linens had smelled fresh when she lay down. It wasn't that Erin was terribly sloppy, she just had very little time for much beyond Captaining her ship. She turned a questioning eye back to Cecile, who actually blushed. "I had some time today, you see," Cecile started to explain, "between loading cargo and serving dinner. And I thought you might like your cabin cleaned. I didn't look at any of your private maps or papers if that's what you're worried about."
Erin softened her glare a bit, "I've nothing in this cabin you wouldn't be welcome to look at. And, since you're actually staying in my room, it's not like you invaded what little privacy I have." Erin had said this last almost wistfully, and Cecile wondered about the forlorn mood that Erin seemed to be in. She got up from where she was reclining, and retrieved Erin's current book from the shelf.
"This was the book on your bed when I came in. Is this what you're reading now?" Cecile questioned.
Erin took the proffered book from Cecile's hand and glanced at the cover. Seeing that it was indeed Oroonko, she looked up to say thank you. Erin found herself caught by the brightness of Cecile's eyes. She had known they were an attractive shade of blue, but the sleepy iridescence caught her by surprise. Erin came to fully realize that Cecile Rembert was quite a fetching woman, and that if she didn't break their gaze soon, she might do something she would regret. What exactly that was, Erin wasn't sure, but she did briefly have visions of running her hands through Cecile's dark hair and kissing the soft pulse below her jaw.
Erin shook her head slightly, no, this was a reverie she could ill afford. She looked away, but not before she saw Cecile blush and drop her eyes to her fidgeting hands. "Um," Erin stammered, "since you're awake, can I interest you in a book from my shelves? Or shall I read to you?"
Erin had by the end of her statement moved back to her bunk and sat on its edge. Cecile turned to face Erin, then sat in the chair at the desk, "I would like it very much to hear you read."
Displaying her usual humor, Erin teased, "Say, weren't you working all day today while I was gone? Shouldn't you be sound asleep and snoring by now?"
Indignantly, Cecile replied, "I do not snore." She then saw that Erin had her customary smirk in place and was in fact teasing her. "You know, it's a shame you get my goat so easily. I fall for that stern look every time."
Erin laughed aloud, "Don't worry, Miss Rembert. Mr. Morgan has known me for years and he still falls for it." Erin turned a few pages in the book, then said, "I've read much of this already, but since you haven't, I'll start at the beginning."
Cecile protested as she moved to her pallet on the floor, "Oh, no, Captain. Anyplace is fine. I so rarely get the pleasure anymore that any reading is alright with me."
"No, really, the pleasure is mine. I often reread the things I have here since I get so few books. I don't mind." Erin opened the book and started reading from the beginning.
I do not pretend, in giving you the history of this Royal Slave, to entertain my reader with adventures of a feigned hero, whose life and fortunes fancy may manage at the poet's pleasure; nor in relating the truth, design to adorn it with any accidents but such as arrived in earnest to him: and it shall come simply into the world, recommended by its own proper merits and natural intrigues; there being enough of reality to support it, and to render it diverting, without the addition of invention."
Erin continued to read from the book for another quarter hour, enjoying again the story of Oroonoko. This story was quite different from many she had ever read. While she doubted that the author, an Englishwoman named Aphra Behn, had first hand knowledge of the story of a "royal slave," she told the story as if in fact she did. It was fantasy set in reality, and was very refreshing. Erin stopped reading when she could hear soft snores emulate from Cecile's prostrate form. She closed the book, covered Cecile with a blanket, and blew out the lamp. Thinking she would again have trouble sleeping after this afternoon's cat nap, Erin's eyes soon grew heavy and she too slept soundly.
Seeing the sunlight streaming into her port window from a position on her bunk was not a sight to which Erin was accustomed. Normally, at this point in the day, she had long been awakened by her trusty First Mate and they saw the sunrise together. Confused, she swung her legs over the edge of the bed, then she remembered why Will had likely not shown up. The motion of bolting upright so quickly brought to fore her own drink-addled brain. She didn't think she had consumed that much yesterday, but the pounding headache was telling her different. Still, if Will was not yet up, it was up to her to roust him out of bed. In fact, she thought evilly, I'll see what trouble Jonas is in as well.
Erin pulled her boots on, tied on her scabbard, doused her face in water from the wash basin, and brushed her hair before venturing out onto the deck. The day was dawning clear and cloudless. The sea continued so calm that even the seasoned Captain had trouble distinguishing the sky from the horizon. Taking a deep cleansing breath, Erin wandered over to the galley to scrounge up some breakfast and tea. While her head was certainly pounding, her stomach was never shy about demanding a full meal. She came into the galley to find Cecile busy over the cooking fire.
"Well, I'm glad to see you've found your niche, Miss Rembert," Erin said appreciatively.
Standing up from her stooped position, Erin could see rivers of sweat pouring from Cecile's face, and circles of sweat under each arm. Still, Cecile was smiling when she said, "Indeed I have, Captain Skinner. Who knew I could cook?"
Erin laughed and said, "Well, that remains to be seen, now doesn't it?"
Cecile harrumphed and said, "Do you think your Cook would leave just anyone alone in the galley? Why, Mr. Kensington isn't even afforded that privilege. Now, name your poison…"
Erin eyed the porridge simmering over the fire. "I'll take a spot of that with honey, and a cup of the blackest tea you've got."
"Coming right up," Cecile fetched a bowl.
"I'll be right back, Miss Rembert. I've a certain First Mate to harass this morning."
Cecile only nodded, hoping the Captain would take it easy on Will. She'd seen him earlier this morning his head hung over the rail of the quarterdeck, tossing both the contents of his stomach and any remaining dignity into the sea. She didn't know what the penalty was on this ship for drinking on the job, but reckoned even the First Mate wouldn't escape his Captain's wrath. Erin found Will still on the quarterdeck, legs spread out in front of him, back against the rail, snoring. She kicked his boot, and he snorted once before waking.
"Huh….wha…," Will stood immediately once he saw Erin, "Beggin' yer pardon….ehhhhhhh…." He turned to throw up again over the rail.
Erin slapped him on the back, "I haven't the heart to give you the lashing you deserve this morning, Will. We'll tell the crew you've a touch of bad food. But, what the bloody hell were you thinkin' last night??"
Sheepishly, while wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, "I weren't thinkin'. Tha's the problem. Won't happen again, Cap'n"
Erin squinted up at him, "I am sorry about Gisele." Will nodded glumly, but didn't respond. "Come on, lad, let's get some breakfast." Will only groaned in response, but Erin insisted, "You've got to get some food in you, and I'm famished."
They both entered the galley where Cecile had set up two bowls of porridge and two cups of tea. Both sat at the same time and began eating, although Will ate considerably slower then Erin who tore into the cereal with gusto.
Cecile cleared her throat, "Uh, Captain Skinner, before you drink your tea…I've uh, taken the liberty of adding a few things to it. Might not taste good, but it will cut the hair of that dog that has your throat."
Erin raised an eyebrow, "And what makes you think I need such a restorative?"
Cecile smiled, "I know what rum and wine smell like, Captain. You put up a good front, but I knew you'd had a bit yourself last night." Will laughed as loudly as his head would permit. "And you," Cecile turned her attention to the first mate, "did you manage to save any rum for the other lads, or did you drink every drop on the island." Erin guffawed at Will, who was no longer laughing, and took a sip of her tea, which she promptly spit out.
"Are you trying to kill me woman?? When you said name your poison, I didn't think you meant literally!" Erin spewed and wiped her mouth out with the end of her scabbard.
Cecile did her best not to laugh, but a devious smile did break across her face briefly, "Captain Skinner, that tea is made from dried flirtwort, sage, rosemary, and lemon, and while it does not taste good, it will cure your headache. So you can drink it or not. But if you want to be miserable all day, that's not my problem."
Normally, Will would have mercilessly teased Erin about getting a verbal thrashing at the hands of their new servant, but thought better of it. His stomach and his head simply couldn't allow him to manage more than a few grunts. He had to admit that the tea was indeed wretched, but a bowl of porridge and two cups of the dreadful stuff later he was feeling at least passable. He rose from the table and spoke to Cecile, "Thank ye, Miss. The tea was swill, but it has helped me head. Think I might just live."
Cecile responded in kind, "You're quite welcome, Mr. Morgan. You might also try pinching the skin between your thumb and first finger if your headache gets the best of you today." Cecile demonstrated the technique on her own hand.
Will raised an eyebrow, but didn't question the remedy; the tea had worked all too well. He exited the galley to take up his customary duties, leaving Erin and Cecile alone. Erin picked up her bowl and Will's, thinking she'd lend Cecile a hand.
"I'll do that, Captain Skinner," Cecile said, taking the bowls from Erin's hands. "Gotta earn my keep you know."
Erin sat back down to finish her tea as well. She too was feeling much better, even if the taste in her mouth was sour. She cleared her throat, wanting to talk, but finding herself tongue-tied in this Cecile's presence. Not stopping to think how unusual this condition was for her, Erin gamely forged ahead in the conversation while Cecile continued to cook and clean. "Well, Miss Rembert, you are a miracle worker."
"Indeed, Captain Skinner? In what way?"
Erin smiled, "You've cured Will's hangover. One I think might have just had him laid out for the rest of the day. And you've gotten me to drink this rotten concoction when I swore it wouldn't pass my lips again after that first sip."
Cecile turned to see a grinning Captain Skinner, and was brought up short by the genuine mirth she could see in Erin's face. Well,, she thought to herself, when she smiles….she's breathtaking. Cecile was surprised to find such thoughts about the Captain forming. She started to chalk it up to yesterday's lessons about what kind of Captain Erin was, but realized she found Erin attractive long before she had a more complete picture of the woman.
For Erin, once again time seemed to stand still when Cecile turned to look at her. She could see in detail the sweat trickling down Cecile's neck, and she longed to run her lips over the spot, absorbing and tasting. Trying to halt this train of thought, Erin looked quickly to the contents of her cup, "Um, can I have some more tea?"
Cecile noticed that the Captain had quite suddenly blushed, but opted not to comment. Regardless of her good-natured teasing earlier, she was still unsure where she stood with the Erin and did not want to get any further on her bad side. "Truth be told, Captain Skinner, I wouldn't have more than 2 cups of that stuff. It's great for the head, but hell on the stomach."
Erin surreptitiously watched Cecile as she returned to her work. "How is it that you know so much about these cures, Miss Rembert?"
Cecile thought a moment about lying. It was a habit so ingrained when it came to this topic. But part of her growing fondness for Erin also included a growing closeness, and she didn't want to ruin their budding relationship with lies. She continued to work, her back to Erin, while she responded, "My father…he, um, drinks. A lot. It's usually me that puts him to sleep. I learned the cure from a woman who worked for us for a while. It usually helps him, although some days he can't manage to get up enough to drink it." Cecile turned to face Erin, to see if she would find any mocking or derision. Of course, she found nothing but concern etched on Erin's features. Cecile smiled bitterly before continuing, "So, you see, while my father created a marvelous plantation, these days he can barely manage to ride over the grounds more than twice a week. I run it for him now. Which is also why I'm so concerned with getting back. Not only to make sure he's safe, but to attend to our affairs."
Seeing Cecile's obvious discomfort, Erin only nodded in response. The Captain then got up to leave the galley, and was half out of the door before she turned and ducked back into the room, "Miss Rembert?" Cecile turned to the Captain, a questioning look on her face. "You know I can't…I cannot break the rules for any member of this crew, myself included."
Confused, Cecile replied yes, she knew that. Erin continued, "I am not, however, heartless. As soon as we've finished our stay here, we'll chart a course for Jamaica and you'll work off the remainder of your debt while we're docked there.
Cecile, overjoyed at this news, forgot herself so much as to launch herself into Erin's surprised arms. They hugged for brief moments, before Cecile realized what she'd done, and she quickly stepped back. Tears in her eyes, Cecile spoke up, "Thank you, Captain Skinner. Thank you ever so much. I don't know how I'll repay your kindness."
Flustered, Erin replied, "There's no need to repay anything but the debt. I cannot leave now. The men need the rest too much. But we'll leave within a fortnight."
Cecile nodded, "I understand. Thank you again."
Erin nodded acknowledging the thanks, and exited to find Will and tell him the new plan.
Finished September 13, 2002To be continued in "Letter of Discovery".