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The Golden Cage

Chapter Text

 

 

Jared POV

 

June 1853

26°54'08"N 51°26'49"E, the Persian Gulf

 

Jared placed his fountain pen down and carefully closed his journal around it, using the pen as a makeshift placeholder. The tan leather binding, dotted with a few stains, was worn smooth and shiny with age. Unconsciously, he traced the dips and divots of the cover as if it was his personal palm stone. Jared tipped his head back, leaning more fully against the taffrail of the poop deck, and let the sun warm his face, washing everything a dull orange behind closed lids. The creaks and groans as the teak ship rocked were now familiar to him after more than three months aboard the Blackwall Frigate Northfleet. And they, along with the flap of canvas, were oddly soothing. An occasional splash of water accentuated the nautical lullaby, bringing with it a fresh whiff of the distinctive smell of the sea like primeval tears – an ancient and bitter tang.

The rhythm of the ship was different, however, since they’d departed Calcutta. Not the ship itself, per se, but the hum and bustle of the crew and passengers. The trip out from London had been full of excitement, both on Jared’s part and that of the other passengers and crew. Newly acquired midshipmen had run eagerly across the yards in games of “follow the leader” when not studying knot tying or the proper use of a sextant, while seasoned crew had smiled fondly at the skylarking of the “young gentlemen” – as midshipmen were known – and filled their heads with tales of adventure and derring-do that they could look forward to during their life at sea. Many of the passengers, equally young and starry-eyed, were eager to burst onto the scene of India’s society. Debutantes, with trunk-loads of dresses and sundries, ready to make their mark and griffins – civilians entering Indian Civil – alike were set to conquer the social circles. More than one tropical night during the outward voyage had been filled with concerts and theatrics. The excitement had been palpable and there was an air of giddiness that was infectious.

But now that ship had turned homeward, albeit following a rather circuitous route, a somber mood had descended like a pall. The ‘tween decks housed ill soldiers and already there’d been one case of a tolling bell and a Union Jack draped something at the gangway, ready to be returned to the ocean depths. Pale faced women flitted above deck, torn between the husbands they’d left behind in Calcutta and the children they were returning home to. And more than one haggard man had snapped at a too rambunctious midshipman, quelling the young gentlemen’s natural exuberances. Jared wondered if the reaction was truly because of the monkey-like mischief gone sour or rather said gentleman was already dreading having traded the stir of frontier campaigning for a smoking-room chair at the “Rag”, where all he had to look forward to was swapping tales of yesteryear with other retired Army and Navy men in their private, elite club.

The only positive light Jared was able to find in the rather morose change was the deck had become more sedate; he’d been able to update his journal above board, rather than in his small and somewhat stuffy cabin, without risk of too much distraction. Glancing at the metal case that rested by his side, he was once again thankful he’d invested in a selection of fountain pens, not to mention a box of A.W. Faber’s finest Polygrade pencils, which freed him from being tethered to a desk with ink and dip pen. And, as he reclined farther against the rail, he found his thoughts drifting like the tides with each roll of the ship.

“Writing again, Mr. Padalecki?” came a familiar, deep voice. Jared opened his eyes, quickly bringing up a hand to shield them from the sun, and squinted at the source of the sound.

 

capn

Striding over, confidence clearly visible in his every step, was Captain Omundson. As usual, the commander was dressed to the nines in his blue uniform coat with gold embroidery, black velvet lapels, cuffs and collar. His waistcoat and pants were of the deepest buff. His black stock immaculate, side arms pristine and cocked hat placed just so. The gold buttons of his coat were stamped with the lion and crown of the Honorable East India Company and shined only moderately more than his boots. His salt and pepper hair was, not unlike Jared’s own unruly, nut-brown locks, a touch too short to effectively tie in a queue, so it brushed his stiff collar in thick waves. His beard was neatly trimmed, although the gray was more noticeable there. His eyes, a startling blue, were sharp and his brows were quirked in a sardonic manner.

Jared found himself straightening his posture imperceptibly under that watchful, hawk-like gaze and tugged his waistcoat a bit straighter as well. Like all H.E.I.C. ships, genteel behavior was expected of the passengers, although Jared had heard that things were more lax on the Australia bound vessels. Though the men who commanded the ships were in the Merchant Service, most ran them to Royal Navy standards, especially on the India ships. The officers and midshipmen dressed similarly to the captain. And passengers, no matter who their parents might be, were expected to behave with a certain amount of decorum. Part and parcel of that was appearing properly attired when above deck, no matter if the pitch in the seams was bubbling from the heat; coat and stock were a must. Jared was secretly glad he had splurged some of his monies in Calcutta and had had a few cotton suits tailor made for his long form. If he would have had to manage solely with what he’d brought from England, he was certain he would have disappeared in a puddle of perspiration.

“Collecting my thoughts and impressions of Calcutta, Captain,” Jared replied. “I’m afraid I’ve let myself lag a little.”

Glancing at the closed journal, Omundson said wryly, “Don’t let me keep you then,” and made as if to leave.

Jared smiled, dimples peeking out, and ducked his head. “Clearly, I’m still lagging,” he admitted. He was a passenger on the ship and had no real duties, but found he couldn’t remain idle for long. His journal was a labor of love, however, where he could catalogue the day’s events and organize his thoughts, not to mention include sketches of things that caught his fancy. He’d been told more than once he had a dab hand at drawing.

Omundson nodded and drew himself up taller, if such a thing were possible. “I’ve been meaning to pass along my personal thanks for the time you spent with the middies in Calcutta.”

Jared’s smile deepened at the rare slip of language in the usually formal man. “No thanks necessary. It was my pleasure to have their company as we discovered the city together.”

“Still,” the captain continued as though Jared had not spoken, “I know they can be a rambunctious lot at times.” He scanned the deck, eyes briefly pausing at each of his crew above board, and nodding minutely to himself, as though checking something off an invisible list.

“Their behavior was beyond reproach,” Jared assured the captain. And they had been good lads, Jared thought to himself. At nearly eighteen, he wasn’t much past a lad himself – only two years older than the oldest of the middies – but he certainly felt it in his heart of hearts and didn’t consider himself one any longer. And, although he wouldn’t dare admit it to the captain, as soon as the ship had begun its navigation down the Hooghly River, both he and the midshipmen had reined in their excitement as the duties and schedules altered and the atmosphere grew weighty. Jared had almost immediately missed their earlier frivolity and wanted to restore at least some small measure of it.

The captain, a navigator beyond compare like most with John Company, had to employ the use of pilot sahibs, dispatched by the British Raj, to steer the vessel through the final stretch to port. The Hooghly was a treacherous section of water and quicksand that, like some demon shapeshifter, changed from day to day. And as such, telegraph lines between Diamond Harbor – the first point of entry to the river – and Calcutta exchanged information hourly. Such was the inconstant and lethal nature of that particular Ganges tributary. Once in port, Jared was dismayed to realize that a daily, morning chore of freeing the Northfleet’s moorings of dead Hindus was added to the roster. The bumboats from port paid them no heed as they hawked their wares of exotic fruits and fabrics to the crew that remained onboard. Death, Jared realized, was a daily fact of life here and most seemed inured to it.

He could see that the midshipmen, especially those on their first voyage, were not unmoved by the sight and he had approached the captain with the idea to take the young men with him on a tour of the city that he had been planning for months. Captain Omundson had been surprised, but pleased with the offer. He didn’t allow the middies to run wild ashore; they were granted leave like the men. But, as with many captains of India ships, Omundson had an impressive home in Calcutta and needed to attend to it while docked. Soirees and other events were expected with his arrival and, as the captain was unwed, much of this fell on himself to address. So when an invitation by a respectable gentleman to chaperone his young charges was offered, he gratefully accepted.

Jared and the young gentlemen had made their way to Tank Square to pay homage to the Black Hole of Calcutta, as most British first-timers to the city often did. They were sorely disappointed that the place where a dungeon used to stand, a place where over one hundred and twenty souls had lost their lives, had nothing to note its significance. In truth, very little remained of the original Fort Williams there, either. What of it did had been repaired and reclaimed as a customs house in the years following the Nawab of Bengal’s fateful siege, while a newer and larger fort bearing the same name had been constructed nearby. Still, he and the lads removed their hats at the spot and offered a few moments of silent prayer for all those that had perished. Despite the high temperatures, Jared had shivered as he recollected John Holwell’s account of the nearly one hundred and fifty bodies pressed together in a near-windowless space no bigger than fourteen by eighteen feet, with no food or water, smothered by the heat for a single, deadly night. It was no surprise that only twenty some emerged the next morning still alive, the rest either crushed to death or suffocated. The bodies of the rest had been thrown in a ditch. Jared couldn’t think of a living fate much worse than captivity.

Wanting to push aside his morose thoughts (and that had probably been a factor in the delayed updating of his writing), Jared set his journal aside and stood up to address the captain.

“We’ve made good time since leaving Karrack, haven’t we?”

The captain, still scanning the horizon, stroked a rail along the starboard side. “That we have. She’s bluff-bowed and apple-cheeked,” he replied almost lovingly, “from the finest English oak and Malabar teak. I don’t think there’s anything that could stop her.” The Northfleet had only been finished at the start of the year and this was her maiden voyage. The captain did not appear to find her wanting.

Moving up alongside the man and grasping the rail with a free hand (Jared might have found his sea legs a month in, but they weren’t that steady even in the calmest of seas), he pressed the captain further. “You wouldn’t trade her in for one of those more newfangled steamships? Wouldn’t one of those be even faster?” He couldn't hide the teasing in his voice.

The captain turned and raised a crooked eyebrow. Jared was hard-pressed not to laugh.If looks could kill, he thought to himself.  “Speed isn’t everything, Mr. Padalecki.” He pointed back towards the bow of the ship and Jared leaned over to watch sleek, gray bodies undulate in the waves created by the front of the ship. Occasionally, the dolphins tagging along burst from the water only to dive right back in and repeat the whole process over and over, with no end in sight. Jared had never seen anything more free-spirited.

“Dolphins, albacore, tuna, porpoise…even the albatross can’t keep up with a steady 15-knotter for more than a few moments. There’s no steamship captain that can claim he’s seen a whale harpooned from his boat, watched whales mix with swordfish and killers in battle or who’s observed porpoises migrating in lines that reached from horizon to horizon.” The captain paused, his eyes grew distant. “What steamship crewman has ever witnessed the ice blink, the ripples of wind on sea, white water or the red patches? Who amongst them has ever seen the fiery sea?” He fell silent, lost in memories that Jared was dearly envious of.

“‘And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire’,” Jared quoted from the King James Bible.

Captain Omundson slowly grinned. “Revelations 15:2. Exactly, Mr. Padalecki, exactly. And speaking of the wonders of the seas…Mr. Kelly!”

It only took a matter of moments before the oldest midshipman, cap straight and uniform pristine, appeared before the captain. “Sir,” he acknowledged with a salute.

“Mr. Kelly, haul up the dredge-bags. Sort through them and set aside anything we haven’t studied yet. Have Mr. Ford go to the sickbay and collect my microscope from the surgeon and bring everything to my quarters before the next ship’s bell.”

“Very good, sir,” Mr. Kelly breathlessly answered, clearly excited to see what the bags might have caught. He spared a brief glance towards Jared and gave him a demure smile and a nod. Jared smiled back, once again momentarily taken with the sixteen-year-old. With his green eyes, dark blond hair and full mouth, he reminded Jared all too much of someone else. And with that recollection, his smiled faded. But the young middie hadn’t noticed his change in expression, already turning toward his task with barely restrained glee.

Like many H.E.I.C. captains, Omundson was an excellent naturalist and didn’t waste an opportunity to catalog the strange and wondrous species they came across on their voyage. His personal collection, spanning years, was impressive and Jared had spent many nights in the man’s company, eagerly soaking up knowledge like a thirsty plant in the desert. The captain made sure to instill his love of all things aquatic with the midshipmen, and Jared realized, not for the first time, what a lovely opportunity and education the lads received under his tutelage.

“Would you care to join us, Mr. Padalecki?” he offered amiably. And Jared was sorely tempted. He sucked in his lower lip, worrying the soft flesh.

“I should probably catch up on my own work,” he finally admitted. “I’ve put it off for too long and shouldn’t waste the light.” He gestured vaguely to the clear skies overhead.

The captain gave a quick jerk of his head. “Fair enough. I do hope you’ll join me for dinner this evening, then,” he invited. “I’m sure Mr. Ford would be happy to catch you up on anything you might have missed from our discussions this afternoon.”

“And you’d enjoy the chance to test the lad so soon, wouldn’t you? I’d be honored, Captain,” Jared smiled, tilting his head in acknowledgement. As he made his way back to his spot against the taffrail and settled himself once more, the captain paused, eyeing the narrow case beside him as it glinted in the sun.

“That’s quite lovely craftsmanship,” he remarked. “Exotic. Turkish, I suspect.”

Jared looked down at the box that had caught the captain’s attention. The oblong case, which housed his various pens, was made of dark steel. Its domed lid had an intricate design of cursive lines and flowers, all inlaid with gold. Jared briefly stroked it with his long, elegant fingers. “You’ve got a good eye, Captain. It was a gift from…a friend,” he finally said, stumbling slightly over the last part.

When no other information was forthcoming, the captain gave him a curt nod and walked toward the companionway to disappear below deck. Before too long, the ship’s bell rang the hour. Out of habit, Jared tugged on the fob of his watch and removed the timepiece from his waistcoat. But rather than verify the time once he’d opened it, his eye was caught on the item tucked into the inside of the cover. Jared stared at it for a short while with an unreadable expression on his face before snapping the case shut. Returning the watch to his pocket, he opened up his journal and retrieved his pen. The groan of wood faded into the background as he began to write.

*****

When evening fell, Jared freshened his face and changed into suitable dinner attire before making his way to the captain’s cuddy. Located beneath the poop deck at the stern of the ship, the cabin was the largest of them all and rightfully so. What Jared loved about it, aside from the tantalizing collection of preserved sea creatures, was the row of windows located above the rudder. Most of the cabins were small, with only a single, tiny opening if one was fortunate, and therefore felt quite closed off to Jared. But here he could watch the ocean and see the moonlight spill across the waves. And he felt he could breathe easier.

The captain’s table was immaculately set with stark white linens covering the scarred and nicked piece of furniture that, during daylight hours, held the captain’s charts and correspondence when not serving double-duty as a dissection board for whatever fish or crustacean had caught his interest. A pair of silver candelabra, along with a few lanterns swaying on hooks above, lit the quarters with a cheerful and ruddy glow. Along with Jared, two of the ship’s top officers, the surgeon and a midshipman were in attendance for the evening meal. Every night, a different midshipman was invited for dinner, and this evening’s rotation meant it was Jared’s favorite – Mr. Collin Ford.

Sneaking the young man a grin, which was readily returned, Jared wondered if the warm feelings the boy evoked in him were what his brother James had felt towards him over the years. More than once, Jared had daydreamed of being an older brother, longing to take care of a younger sibling as James had done for him, but that had never come to pass. His parents had only the two of them. So Jared had indulged his nurturing side with the youngest midshipmen almost from the onset of the voyage. More than one member of the crew had pointed out that they shared more than a passing resemblance to one another, with wayward, chestnut hair and deep dimples, and could have easily passed as brothers. They even seemed to share the same temperament. Of course, neither of them were angels by any stretch of the imagination and when Jared took the blame for a joint prank gone awry involving a young lady and her prized Pomeranian – with only Jared’s repeated assurances (and dimpled smiles) afterwards that the dog’s coat would grow out again by the time they reached India finally mollifying her – he had earned the boy’s undying gratitude.

The captain sat at the head of the table. Only missing his cap, he was still impeccably dressed and groomed. Once he determined everyone was present, he called out, “Singer!”

The white-haired steward entered the cabin, only slowed down by a slight limp. Jared didn’t know the origin of the injury, but suspected he’d received it when in the Royal Navy, serving under Captain Omundson. The men had known each other for years.

“Cap’n,” he acknowledged with a salute, before clasping his hands behind his back.

“We’ll start with an aperitif tonight. Some of the Madeira, I think,” he requested. When Singer paused for a moment to push his spectacles farther up his nose, the captain added more sternly, “No one’s been tapping the Admiral, have they?”

“Of course not, sir,” Singer answered quickly.

“Well then, we should have enough to spare tonight,” he dismissed.

Jared recollected that they had only stopped once on their outward bound voyage and that was at Funchal, Madeira where they had loaded some sixty pipes of wine onboard. The logic was that by collecting the dry wine at the beginning of their trip, it allowed for extra time to mature before the ship’s eventual return to London. But Jared hadn’t a clue what Omundson had meant by “tapping the Admiral”. And, as if the man was a mind reader, the captain explained.

“Having all that wine below deck for the duration is somewhat of a temptation for the crew,” he started, flicking a quick gaze around the room as some of the officers chuckled knowingly. “And it’s not unheard of for some cunning, old fore-bowlineman to drill a hole in one or two, stick in a goose quill and sample the goods. That, my dear Mr. Padalecki, is known as ‘tapping the Admiral’.”

Jared chuckled. “I can see how that could prove problematic, losing part of the shipment to ‘evaporation’ as it were.”

“It’s really become a bit of a game,” First Mate Hartley chimed in. The newly appointed blond-haired, brown-eyed officer continued, “Almost more of a tradition to see if someone can slip past the captain and pull the wool over his eyes.”

There were more good-natured guffaws exchanged as Singer returned with a large, glass bottle nearly full to the rim. He lowered it in front of the captain, for his obvious inspection. At the commander’s tacit approval, Singer lifted the jug and made his way around the table, filling everyone’s crystal glass, including Mr. Ford’s. Although he was the youngest middie at the tender age or twelve, he was entitled to wine. In fact, all the mids were. When Singer went to pour Jared a glass, he raised a hand to stop the steward.

“Not one of those teetotalers, are you, Mr. Padalecki?” the ship’s surgeon, Dr. Manners, asked him quietly.

“I’m hardly a member of Mr. Livesey’s Temperance Society,” Jared began. “I’m just a bit of a lightweight and with the winds picking up…” he trailed off, somewhat embarrassed to admit to a roomful of sailing men that he still struggled with seasickness in rougher waters.

“In small amounts, it’s not uncommon for spirits to settle the nerves and the stomach,” the soft-spoken doctor added in an assuring manner at almost the exact moment as the ship took a sudden dip. Jared nodded vigorously for Singer to fill his glass and the rest of the men hooted.

“Mr. Padalecki’s health,” the captain raised his glass in a toast and the table followed suit.

A chorus of “Mr. Padalecki” echoed in his ear as he sipped the dry wine gingerly. Jared hadn’t been exaggerating when he’d labeled himself a “lightweight” – alcohol travelled rather quickly to his head and he had no desire to embarrass himself with anything less than seemly behavior.

“It’s quite delicious,” he admitted. “I should imagine it will be even finer after you return to London.”

“That’s right,” Mr. Hartley remarked. “You won’t be there to appreciate it with us, will you?”

“While you all will be sailing back along the coast of Africa, I’ll be making a rather ridiculous carriage trek through the deserts of Egypt and up the Nile on a paddle steamer to catch a P&O Navigation Company steamer back to London. All in all, it will shave nearly two months off my return home,” Jared explained.

Although he looked somewhat sad, Collin pressed on. “I’ll wager you must be a bit eager to return to England, aye?”

Jared took another sip of the wine to fortify him. He didn’t have the heart to admit to the young mid that there was nothing about returning to his parents that excited him in the least, especially when he knew the lad was yearning for hearth and home himself. “Well,” he drawled, “I am interested in having the chance to steal away a few days in Cairo. I’ve got a small excursion planned to take in the Pyramids and that enigmatic sphynx, which Mr. Giovanni Battista Caviglia partially excavated in 1817.”

“And that’s it?” Mr. Hartley teased.

“I suppose Mr. Dickens should be finished with Bleak House by then. He had only gotten as far as the eleventh installment before I left. I’d like to read how that turned.” He grinned as the captain groaned.

“Not Dickens,” Omundson sighed as Singer returned to the table with a large platter. In the center, a gelatinous square comprised of chunks of pork was surrounded by a selection of vegetables and greens. The meat from the animal’s head had been packed away in a wine and vinegar solution for nearly a fortnight so that it could properly congeal and pickle. Soused hog’s face was a particular favorite of the captain’s and it wasn’t the first time they’d eaten it. Jared hid his shudder and took another swallow of his drink. It was probably decidedly un-English of him, but he missed the spicy curries he had indulged in while visiting Calcutta. And it didn’t rest easy with Jared that he had likely passed by and even talked to their meal not a month prior on deck, where the pig pens were kept by the coops.

“Not a fan then, Captain?” Jared hoped to distract him enough so the sharp-eyed man wouldn’t notice he was pushing his food around the bone china plate, trying to hide the congealed meat under some onions and greens.

Pausing from his meal, Captain Omundson regarded Jared closely. “I find much of his work to be maudlin and manipulative, to be honest.”

Enjoying his Madeira and feeling a pleasant flush rising to his cheeks, Jared quipped, “Surely you were moved by little Nell’s sad fate in The Old Curiosity Shop?”

Blotting his lips with his napkin deliberately, the captain answered, “I think Mr. Wilde and I shared the same opinion. It was hard not to burst into tears,” and he paused dramatically. Jared’s smile grew, sure he was about to be vindicated. “Tears of laughter, that is,” Omundson added wickedly. There were chuckles all around.

“You’re a hard-hearted man, Captain,” Jared berated him good-naturedly.

“I remember how frantic the Yanks were when we reached port in New York City that one year,” Dr. Manners recollected, stroking his chin. “They were shouting from the docks ‘Does little Nell live?’ at every ship that had arrived from Liverpool.”

“I quite enjoyed A Christmas Carol,” Collin offered quietly.

“As did I,” Jared agreed. “In fact, I think it’s my favorite of his. What do you have to say to that, Captain?” he challenged, the wine making him bold.

“I say ‘bah humbug’!” the captain declared with a thump of his fist on the table, rattling the dishes. And everyone chortled. Jared shook his head and grinned.

Placing his napkin on the table, and nodding to Singer to clear the plates, he caught Jared’s eye and replied, “In all seriousness, for so obviously being a statement regarding the more deplorable work conditions of those less fortunate in our society and emphasizing the Christmas spirit towards the destitute, I found it hypocritical that he published it himself on expensive, gilt edged papers with a cloth binding. The cost was too prohibitive for the poor, working man to even afford it.”

“Is that all you took away from it, sir?” Jared wondered, barely noticing when Singer refilled his glass. As he made to take another drink, Hartley quipped, “Careful now or the hog’s face won’t be the only thing that’s soused.” Jared blushed as the men ribbed each other.

“Again, I’m afraid I’ll disappoint you, Mr. Padalecki,” the captain eventually confessed. “I still felt the story manipulative and overly nostalgic.” Leaning back in his chair, he twirled one end of his moustache thoughtfully. “What about it appealed to you?”

“I think the idea of redemption,” Jared admitted. “That a person could make a single, grievous error or more in his life and still redeem himself before it was too late.”

“There was that,” the captain agreed grudgingly. “Hard not to find the thought appealing when there is no one amongst us without sin. And you, Mr. Ford? Was it the presents or the plum pudding that caught your fancy?”

The young boy smirked and ducked his head. “I liked the ghosts.”

The men laughed, but not unkindly. “England is rather full of them,” the captain agreed. “And they were fairly terrifying.”

Colin bobbed his head up and down. “All the clanking of chains and Marley’s jaw falling to his chest when he removed his bandages.” The lad shivered. “I love to be frightened,” he confessed shyly.

“Don’t let Mr. Kelly find that out about you,” Jared warned him, “or I suspect you’ll come to regret it.”

Eyes wide when he realized what type of ammunition he might be handing over to his comrade in arms, Collin agreed readily. “Not a word.”

Jared tapped a finger to the side of his nose and nodded knowingly.

The last of the meal passed uneventfully. Despite the dulling effect of the alcohol, Jared still noticed the increased roll and sway of the ship. Dessert, a sweet pudding, was a quick affair after the officer of the second dog watch came to share a few words with the captain.

“Well, lads, it looks like we’ll need to divert to Doheh. It appears we didn’t outrun the Barih Thorayya after all,” Omundson told them. “Blasted schedule,” he muttered and Jared felt his face heat with shame. “Mr. Hartley, set a course of south by southwest to adjust for that.”

The young officer saluted, “Aye, sir. South by southwest,” he repeated as he excused himself from the table and left the cabin.

Since the crews’ day started at 5AM, the remaining officers bid each other a “good evening” soon after and left as the steward and his assistant cleared away the remains of the meal. Jared started to rise as the captain selected a cheroot from a silver box Singer had placed nearby.

“Cigar?” he offered amiably, sliding the cheroots in his direction.

“No, thank you,” Jared declined, meaning to call it a night.

Leaning towards the candelabrum, the captain lit his smoke carefully and motioned for Jared to stay seated. “A man of few vices. Finish your wine, if you’d like.”

Jared fiddled with his half-full glass, tracing the base of the goblet with his forefinger. “So what is the Barih Thorayya exactly?”

Leaning back in his chair, Omundson puffed on his cigar thoughtfully. “It’s the second of the three summer shamals that plague this region. They’re northwesterly winds,” he elaborated when he caught Jared’s frown. “We missed ‘the driller’, but couldn’t outrun the ‘devourer’.”

“That sounds rather wicked,” Jared admitted.

“Doesn’t it though?” the captain agreed. “The second wind can be quite fierce and the folklore surrounding it promises that the wind will eat ships whole. Should last less than a week, but it’s better to be safe than sorry, so we’ll dock at Doheh for the duration. If we weren’t on your father’s damned schedule, this wouldn’t have been an issue. And I wouldn’t have had to fight my way down the coast of Africa without favorable trade winds at my back, either.”

Jared had never seen the man lose his composure before and wondered if the meal and the wine had loosened his tongue somewhat. He fussed nervously with his cravat before offering, “It’s probably my fault he foisted it upon you. My being here at all was, as you know, his reward to me for past actions.”

The captain didn’t say a word, but raised a crooked eyebrow.

“I think this all was to make sure I’d be back in England in time to start college by autumn,” he explained. "My prize was only meant to last so long."

Omundson smirked. “I think,” he opined, “that he did it to be ahead of the Government of India Act of this year. If it doesn’t go favorably for the H.E.I.C., directors like your father won’t have nearly the power they did.”

“So this is all a last hurrah for the both of us?” Jared asked.

“No need to look so glum, Jared,” Omundson replied, slipping into the more comfortable, less formal language they shared when alone.

Jared sighed and stood up, abandoning his wine. “Timothy, he’s sending me off to the East India College in Hertfordshire.”

Moving to join him, Omundson offered, “It’s not a bad writing college.”

Jared whirled around and almost overbalanced if not for the quick, steadying hand of the captain on his shoulder. “It’s a school to teach me how to be a clerk in the Honorable East India Company and nothing more.” He tugged his coat straight and moved carefully over to the padded bench below the stern windows. He was slightly embarrassed by his nearly childish outburst and didn’t want to compound matters by falling flat on his face, so he sat himself down. The growing creaks of the ship were testament enough to the fact that the wind was increasing. He lifted one leg, bent at the knee, onto the bench and stared out into the darkness.

“Jared,” Timothy encouraged him as he sat down on the bench as well. “You’re a smart lad, not without means. You don’t have to go there. You could strike out on your own, make your own future.”

Jared turned and rested his chin on his raised knee to regard the captain. “Our family already has one rebel. I’m the ‘good son’.”

Timothy blew out a small cloud of smoke from his cigar as he exhaled. “Your brother James,” he said knowingly.

Jared smiled, although it was small and wistful. “Dr. Padalecki by now, I should imagine.”

“Your parents disowned him?” Timothy asked gently.

“Close enough. That leaves me to carry on the family name and tradition,” he sighed and let his gaze wander back to the rolling sea. The moonlight was scattered and chaotic now, thanks to the stronger winds.

“Tradition can be a heavy weight to bear,” the captain acknowledged.

“I don’t begrudge him a thing,” Jared was quick to add. “I’m truly glad for him. Truly. As for myself, I suppose this is atonement.”

Timothy cocked his head, but didn’t say a word.

Jared’s smile faded. “I’ve made mistakes, Timothy. Now I have to pay for them.” And part of Jared wanted to confide and share his thoughts with the man beside him. But, in the back of his mind, he recognized Timothy was, in the end, an employee of his father and he could never quite be certain what might be reported back.

“We all have our sins, as you said. I’m no different from the next man,” he finally added. “Now, tell me about Doheh. If we’re to be there for a few days, I think I’d like to try and take in what sights I can.”

Timothy seemed about to question him further, but reined back, appearing to recognize the change of topic and tone for what it was. “There’s not too much to the place. A handful of buildings and inland, there’s desert stretching as far as the eye can see. Probably not even worth disembarking for, truth be told.”

“I’m sure there’s something. I’ll see about arranging a short tour of the desert, if nothing else,” Jared offered.

“There’s really nothing of worth, Jared,” Timothy told him, placing a firm hand on his knee.

Jared grew earnest. “I’ll never have the life you’ve led, Timothy,” he declared fervently. “This is all I’ll ever have and I want to make the most of it.”

He patted the older man’s hand before standing to leave. “Thank you for an excellent meal, sir.” He bowed slightly before marching carefully across the swaying floor. Near the cabin door, Jared turned back briefly.

“I want to make memories that will last me a lifetime,” he added. “Surely you can understand that. Goodnight, Captain.” And he shut the door quietly behind him.