Kingston Harbor, Jamaica
It would not have entered her mind to reproach Captain Andor with regards to the matter. He had warned her from the very first suggestion that it would be most difficult, for her and for all of them.
The Ships Master Gunner, Mr. Cor, had volunteered to come along to act the role of an enslaved servant, and was supplied from the seemingly endless store of trunks with a fustian jacket and waistcoat, cut well in English fashion as befitted a successful merchant’s man and all accompaniments thereof. He and Captain Andor clearly had much previous acquaintance, for the confidence involved in such a project was great.
“¿Captain Andor, son los botones correctos?” he asked at the Great Cabin door, but the Captain had answered him in English “We must play it seamlessly from the dock onwards, Baldwin. Check with Kay.”
One of the other sailors, revealed as a member of the sisterhood of eleven, was a slim midshipman named Hera Syndalla. She had acted the role of agent in the West Indies in her girlhood and now elected herself to serve as Jen's “maid.” Syndalla joined them in a pale blue gown suitable for a well-off ladies personal servant, although Mr. Kay had to search to find a sleeve of just the right cut to conceal the bird-winged tattoo on her upper arm.
“Sometimes I inquire of myself where an Englishman-born, who stands near seven feet tall in slippers, learned to straight lace French stays,” she said holding her ribs and groaning, “And then I recollect that I have no real desire to know the answer.”
There was a certain light-heartedness to all their sartorial preparations that masked the real risks they all took. Cor and Syndalla were vital to the shore party by virtue of their African descent and their experience as agents, but the risk they took was the greatest, not least because they dared not carry any weapons themselves in case searched. Jen noted Midshipman Syndalla making sure that the leather cord that bound her pocket was strong and sharp enough to cut if required to and nodded as she showed her the concealment of an additional knife in the false side of one of the trunks, where it might be reached quickly at need. For all the trappings of pantomime Jen was painfully aware that this was not even remotely in the nature of a game.
"My birthplace is more accurately placed as Scotland,” Mr. Kay, who among his other myriad duties was apparently the ship’s costumer, tartly corrected Syndalla and that lady laughingly apologized for her unwitting insult.
Jen felt herself to be the weak link in a chain, by virtue of being the least experienced Alliance operative on this part of the venture. In the years after her departure from Gerrere’s company Jen had lived a dozen lies, taken on many names and guises, but her aim had always been her own survival and whatever theft might be necessary to accomplish the same. Never had she undertaken a masquerade where the lives of others depended upon the quality of her performance.
“You have often seen such women,” Cassian had said to her, a few days before, when the plan was broached.
And despised them, Jen thought.
“Aye, and robbed them,” she said.
“A demure new bride on her first voyage at her husband’s side will be expected to say very little. English women are still rare birds here so most will be content to stare or fawn. Be shy, be polite. If they ask you of anything it will be with regard to fashions or gossip from England. Where shall you be from?”
She had considered upon the question. “Cornwall,” she said.
A captain’s daughter from Penzance might marry a Madeira merchant met on familial travels but no one here would expect even a well-off Cornishwoman to be remotely current or fashionable.
Besides, she thought, it might help her better recall the cliffs above the tossing sea and the little house at the end of the meadow.
She had forced herself, through all these weeks of confusion and preparation…..and this unexpected respite she could not dare call happiness, even to herself…..not to think of Papa.
“Stay by me,” he told her. “Don’t kill anyone unless I tell you to and keep your eyes open. You are likely to note things the rest of us miss.”
“The contact is Captain Han Solo?” Cor had said, as measurements had been taken for shirtsleeves “His ship is the Faucon San Rival?”
“You have personal acquaintance with the man?” Captain Andor asked.
“I? None sir,” Cor replied as he tried on another waistcoat. “I know him only by reputation. He sails a single masted sloop of extraordinary speed, it is said, with a crew of never more than six, and that six changed often. All save for his First Mate…who is said to be a fearsome fellow.”
“Is this the first mate who might or might not be an East Indian cannibal?” Syndalla said, tying on petticoats.
It occurred to Jen that such a First Mate might prove a good incentive for frequent changes of crew. It also seemed to her that Solo was a name she dimly recalled, though she could not be sure it was the same man. Smugglers all looked alike but surely she would have remembered a cannibal?
“We will deal with Solo,” Captain Andor had said….and Jen found that that “we” affected her more than she would have credited….. “The fewer of us he sees the less of our company he can betray if pressed.”
Ah, you do not like this fellow, Jen thought, or at least you do not like the mold that he is fashioned from.
When she joined her “husband” on the deck, the crew was finishing work tying up. She had caught a glimpse of Mr. Malbus at first working hard at the ropes and then, as he tied off, approaching Mr. Imway, who sat with his back against the fo’castle wall. As Malbus moved back from the rail he glanced in her direction with a rough chuckle and could be seen to whisper in his friends ear. Mr. Imway laughed delightedly and held a hand up toward her as if in greeting.
Damn the bastard monk, he is telling him how I am dressed.
It was a strange sensation to blush at the thought of a blind man’s opinion of one’s clothes.
“It is hard to take you for yourself, sir,” she said, standing close to "Mr. Avelar", as befitted a new bride in unfamiliar surroundings.
He wore a cut away silk frock coat with covered buttons, breeches of a matching pattern in blue on grey ground, and a buff waistcoat of fashionable length for a young ambitious man of businesslike demeanor and more than modest means, along with snowy white shirt with good cravat and sleeves.
No wig, thank God, only his own dark hair tied back, and a good hat with braid and feather. That he had shaved nearly unsettled her altogether.
She felt, quite unreasonably she knew, that he might have given her some warning of the change, for he looked now barely older than herself, save for a weariness in his eyes, as he looked out on the ordered fronts and boarded wharves of Kingston. It occurred to her that she had no idea of his true age, and so she steeled herself to ask when….if….she might find herself again in that safe current they sometimes managed to sail.
“Mrs. Alevar,” he said, giving her his arm, “it is time to go.” His voice and accent was not his quite his own. Christ! but he was good at this.
“It will not be for long,” he had told her, below decks, the night before, “Two days, three at worst, but there will be many eyes on us for many reasons and we cannot be marked for what we are.”
It almost came to her to be annoyed at this, to protest her capability, but something in his grave tone arrested that impulse. Her thoughts brought to her the memory of her Olori speaking in just such a voice the first time he taught her to walk the ropes on a boarding party under fire.
“It is not about who is bravest or strongest, when one runs the ropes. It is about not falling. Not falling is a trade, àşádì, like any other. It has its tricks.”
They had been sitting upon Captain Andor’s bunk with just light enough through the small casement to see him by. She had slipped her shift back over her bare shoulders in preparation to depart, but he had halted her this one time, reaching to hold her two hands with his own as he spoke.
She calmed herself at the sight of his serious expression. It was his trade to teach then, and hers to learn. “Where should I watch my steps?” she said, “What are the best places to grasp the ropes?”
He understood her meaning and told her several things she might best do.
Amongst his lessons was one that ran thus, “If you are suddenly lost or at risk in your feelings….it may seem almost like drowning…..fashion for yourself some simple thing that can be done out of sight and silently and set that in your mind as an anchor, a reminder of who you are and where you are.”
He showed her a trick he had of pressing his thumb against his forefinger.
“Is it so simple as that?” she asked, wondering.
“Sometimes it can be,” he said.
Now as she looked out on the bustle of the mornings activity on the docks and streets before them, brave Midshipman Syndalla standing behind with her arms hidden and eyes downcast, Jen felt a cold shiver that she never had on any mast in any weather.
Mr. Avelar took his wife’s dainty arm in his own, as she took his hand she pressed her thumb gently to his fingers.
“My dear husband,” she said looking at that handsome young gentleman’s face, in an accent she hoped recalled her lost mother’s, “Let us see what lies before us in Kingstontown.”
He assisted her in putting her foot upon the gangway and they went down together into the city with their servants.
A number of the wealthiest dealers in town were most glad to meet with Mr. Avelar with regards to contracts for good wines and spirits. His company for such supplies at Porto and Madiera was well known. The quality of the additional goods he had brought for his British backers, chiefly in the form of woolen cloth and tea, was also most excellent. He was willing to fix price for wares of similar quality next year and was obligingly amenable to taking good quality sugar in payment now and setting some contracts on credit to be redeemed upon his return journey. His backers were most interested in dye-stuff and as he had already taken on Brazilwood and cochineal, he made many inquiries in the town about the price and quality of any indigo available.
Several of the representatives for the merchant houses and plantation companies chuckled to themselves and ventured to each other that sending a young man out to bargain new contracts when newly wed, might not have displayed the sharpest of business sense, though in general they were impressed with Mr. Avelar and most charmed by his petite and pretty wife. The delightful couple were asked to stay by several well-off clients and a man with most of his mind on trade would surely have been expected to take advantage of such opportunity for connection.
Mrs. Simon Taylor, however, related to her husband that Mrs. Avelar had shyly related as how that they had been married only eight weeks ago at her uncle’s home at Madiera and had commenced upon the voyage immediately after. It was easy then for all to understand why Mr. Avelar might be overeager to conclude his day’s business and seek the comfort of his lodgings earlier than shrewd dealing might warrant.
Sometime after a good dinner at Mr. Simon Taylor’s fine town house, during which they were urged to return and stay through the New Year if their business permitted, their man brought round a hired chaise and they departed for their lodgings convenient to the Spanish Town Road and their next day’s travel.
Mrs. Simon Taylor watched from her window as young Mr. Avelar helped his bride into the chaise and seated himself beside her as their girl, no doubt a wedding gift from the Madeira uncle, climbed up to take her place beside the driver. As they drove away that estimable lady could not help but sigh.
She was by no means a sentimental woman, and considered that Mr. Taylor’s annual income of 47,000 pounds, 2000 slaves, three houses, two ships, outright ownership of four plantations with controlling interest in a dozen more, and greater political influence than any gentleman on the island, up to and including the Royal Governor himself, more than made up for a great many personal shortcomings and disappointments over the years. Notwithstanding, she found herself wishing for just a moment that he at least once had looked at her the way Mr. Charles Avelar looked at his pale young wife as he carefully lifted her into that conveyance.