port of Nassau
New Providence Island
January 1 - 2, 1770
The boy sat alone upon the Falcon’s deck watching as the sun lowered. Solo and Khaueri had gone ashore into Nassau port to see about supplies. The twins had taken an opportunity to walk up the shore as well, ostensibly to check the other ships upon the wharves and make inquiries about which captains might or might be taking on extra crew from here but also Sabe knew to speak among themselves of whether they would go or remain.
“If Captain Solo truly means to send us on our way and take on another crew they must find two new places, since wherever they go they must go together,” Luc said.
“Aye,” Sabe agreed, “and Darian must choose carefully. The world is a wicked place. Few captains in these waters now will knowingly engage a woman, even one who who sails in a man’s garb, and even if the captain will turn a blind eye, the chance taken amongst an unknown crew is cruel. Nassau is a discrete and independent port, at least for one held within the British fist, but it is a small one. If their intention is to return to Europe, as I have sometimes heard them say, it might be better for Zachary to take passage alone to VeraCruz or Havana and for his sister to book paid passage and meet him in one of those busier ports in some women’s guise, if she can bear it.”
“No,” the fair-haired youth demurred, “Whether it be better policy or not, they should stay together. Blood is a foundation that builds a stronger wall than any other. I have heard each of them say many times that they were never afraid save when they were parted to be sent away to school. He was told she had died but knew in his heart it was not true and went as a soldier to find her in an army camp.”
She sat beside him on the deck. With his blond hair bound back in a scarf, as it was now, she saw his mother’s face outlined in his. The good are often thought simple by the wicked but it was not so. They had a wisdom and a strength Evil refused to see. The boy knew somehow. His heart felt the shape of even those truths the cruel world demanded be hidden forever.
Dyan had come and found her at the Abbey. She had been bringing the cattle in when one of the younger nuns came to tell her a common woman was standing in the milking barn and refusing to leave.
She had not known her for a long moment.
“Senhora Sabe você se lembra de mim?” the matron asked quietly, in the first Portuguese she had heard in fifteen years.
Feckless little Dyan the chamber maid was now a charcoal-burner’s stout wife, gray before her time from hard work with five children and a grand-child on her hip.
Sabé wept, knowing there could be no good news to come.
“Diane’s” son Tosh had been sent up to the little slate-sided village once a year to the saints-day market, set the task by his mother to lay eyes on a certain farm family there and return with news, a task that had been his father’s before him..
“Did they never ask you why?” she had asked as they sat amongst the brown cows and the babe sipped a little milk from a tin cup. “Oh no,” Dyan, said with a shade of her old saucy laugh, “He knows far better than to do that.”
Tournmere had been spared the worst of the predations of the border towns, saved by it’s poverty, it’s remoteness and the fact that slate roofs do not burn, but the people were still in terror of a brutal raid on one of the local farms a few weeks before. The Lares family, husband and wife, burned alive in their house while the nephew they had raised as their son was out with the flocks in the hills.
“There were whispers that both bodies bore signs of torture," Dyan said, ruffling the little one’s yellow hair as she slept upon her ample lap, and a number of goatherds and farm boys were found murdered in the hills over the same three days….all blonde and of an age… but the Lares boy returned safely for all that he was only a mile away. They did not give him up.”
No, Sabé thought, God forgive me. They swore before the Virgin that they would not.
Tosh knew the boy, named Luc, he had met him at market so it was not thought strange that he had inquired. Brokenhearted, the youth had buried his family and walked out of the hills, away from Tournmere. “There is nothing for me here now,” he had told the neighbors who offered him shelter. Like many young men he spoke of going to the coast.
Sabé, had bowed her head, ten years and more within these Abbey walls and she still could not pray, though in her sorrow she did try.
“Senhora,” Dyan laid her calloused hand upon the Handmaid’s own rough and chapped one. “While my boy was there, a few weeks after the burning and the murders a wandering hermit came into the village, dressed in rags, leaning on a staff. To see the relics he told people, on a pilgrimage, but he showed much interest in the recent sufferings of the people thereabouts and asked the way to the burned farm. My child has been warned since birth to stay away from such men and left at once but…”
Her heart turned cold. To leave the prince to wander, to find his way as a man anonymous, alone, might be the safest thing for him, who was she to say? But not Kenobi…..not that, never.
“Irmã fiel,” she said, “Who knows what powers that old fool still commands? He may find you.”
“Let him,” Dyan said, “I cannot tell what I do not know. If he plays his tricks on me he will at least have to listen to me tell him what I think of his sanctimonious ass.”
They had walked mountains together, risked death, two young women little more than girls with babes in arms. When brigands had menaced them in the Pyrenees little Dyan had struck one in the head with a bench to buy Sabé time to stab the other with his own knife. Dyan had clutched the rail of the fishing boat seasick and in utter misery while Sabé had held her hair even as she once held that of her beloved Rainha Mariana. Nobility lay in the bone and the heart. All else was but show and chance she knew now.
They embraced each other then, the nun and the charcoal-burner’s wife, and parted.
“We are the last Handmaidens,” Sabé said, “Faithful unto death. When you come before God I will meet you there with your gown and dagger and you will stand among the bravest.”
Each knew that they would never meet again.
She had stolen clothes and money from the Abbey hostel and departed before dawn. If the boy would go to the coast, all roads in time would lead to Marseilles. She had found him on the docks at that venal port, just one more country boy displaced and orphaned by war.
“Will you stay with the Captain?” Luc wished to know.
“He has not asked,” she shrugged, “Who knows which way that weather-cock will turn?”
“The Captain would not have taken me on at all, green as I was, if you had not said you would not sign without me. If he casts us off I have no desire to stay in the West Indies. The days of the pirate are done it seems. Whaling is a dogs life, I hear but I thought maybe to go North and try it. What think you? Would you go?”
She could not help but smile. “I will go where you go, for now cher Luc. I think you are lucky for an old woman.”
“Have you any family Sabé,” he had asked her as they sailed out of Marseilles and he watched his childhood recede behind him with the shore.
“I had sisters once, but they are all dead,” she said.
“Yet you never married?” he asked, “Never had a child?” At once he blushed and began to stammer an apology for his blunt country manners in asking such a thing.
“No,” she had said, with a laugh, “I never met a man I trusted enough to lend a dressing pin to, much less marry.”
She found herself adding, “I had a child once…for a little while…but I had to give him up.”
That kind boy, ever solicitous to avoid unnecessary injury to any, had asked no more after that, only nodding as if he understood. Perhaps in his way, he did.
“Besides, the Captain has always treated Darian fairly, and yourself as well,” he said.
Aye, there is a certain fairness in a man so self-involved he never looks past the curtain for the window, she supposed. She was fairly sure he could not tell one of the siblings from another and herself he had taken on after he had seen her drop a Customs guard with an elbow strike and when she said she would share her pay with the farm boy.
Still a man who did not abuse his crew was rare enough.
The Dutchman did not disturb her, it was the shadow that swirled around the Alliance and these dark doings on the Florida shore that set her on edge.
That dark-eyed Spaniard, “Avelar” Solo had said, then changed to “Andor”, had a look she had seen somewhere before.
Not of himself, he was far too young for that, but of his kind. The clever poor boys were the dangerous ones, the ones who became the spies, the agents, the assassins, the pirates, the Jesuits.
As they had disembarked the Falcon to come over to his fine ship he had turned and held a hand out to her sideways, as if to aid her in climbing into the dinghy. It was a gesture she had not seen in many years. The way a gentleman servant holds his hand to assist a lady of rank, so that she might use him for support without the impropriety of actually touching his palm. She had laid her hand upon the back of his without thought, betrayed by some long-forgotten reflex. Those shrewd eyes had snapped up to meet hers then and she cursed herself.
He knew and he wished her, in that instant, to know that he knew. If not who she was at least what she had once been.
Maybe he was a good man. Some of them were. Certainly that quick-handed pirate girl loved him with a fierce love and he looked at her as if she were the last line that bound him to shore. Whatever cold deeds he had done he still had a soul in him.
Sabé would withhold judgement so long as he posed no danger to her prince. The Alliance were the Enemy of her Enemy, but that did not make them friends.
By the time Captain Solo and Khaueri came back with a wagon of supplies to restock the Falcon’s depleted stores, Darian and Zachary had both returned seeming still undecided
“Fix yourselves as you may for this last night,” Solo said. “I have seen the coin that will pass briefly through my hands to yours tomorrow. Before you sign any contract or drink your pay away, you are invited to wash your ears, tie on any clean scarves you have remaining and attend a dinner yonder, at the invitation of our late passengers.” He waved toward the brigantine, moored some little distance off. “You may find yourselves made offers of employment thereafter you wish to consider, or you may not. At least you can dine one last time together as a crew upon our late employers expense.“
At dawn Luc watched from the deck as the very tall…nearly as tall as Pa Khaeuri!….Englishman rowed out with a a short sailor to the shore and set up a small tent with a table under it. The sailor returned to the brigantine shortly after but the gentleman remained.
Curious, Luc took himself ashore as his watch was done to go see what the goings on where.
Peering inside he spied the tall man, his shiny grey waistcoat covered with a large white surgeons apron and snowy sleeves rolled up high and gartered with ribbon, laying out a number of items upon a folding table.
He would have thought he made no sound audible over the surf but the man turned his head to look at him. His eyes were wide and the palest blue Luc Ceil-Marchuer had ever seen.
“You are the boy from the sloop,” the giant affirmed, as if to himself, “I remember you. Why are you here?”
“I beg pardon sir, I was merely curious as to what you were doing.”
“Oh, I understand,” the man said and turned back to his task.
Then he paused, as if abruptly recalling some task he had left undone, turned back and bowing his head said, “I am Mr. Timothy Samson Kay.”
“My name is Luc Ciel-Marcheur,” the boy returned in answer.
“Bonjour Monsieur Ciel-Marcheur,” the man said with cool courtesy.
Luc laughed, “I am but a common sailor, sir you ought better to call me Luc.”
“Very well Monsieur Luc,” Mr. Kay turned back to the laying out of the tools, a set of small knives, scissors and pins, with utter unconcern. Upon another bench laid behind him lay a canvas-wrapped bundle Luc recognized.
“Is it your intention, Monsieur Kay,” he asked, half in wonderment and half in horror, “to cut up the arm we found?”
“Yes,” the man said, removing that sad object now to lay it unwrapped upon the table beside the implements. “My goal to make an anatomical study of it.”
“It is our mission to make an assault upon the Florida plantation near to where these remains were found. We require as much information as possible on the disposition of the place, the condition of the people held as bonded labor and hostages there and the nature of the materials produced. Physical remains may hold extensive intelligence about conditions prior to expiration as well as means and manner of mortality.”
Luc found himself very unsure as to whether it was his inadequate command of English that rendered the man unintelligible and considered the possibility that he was not speaking English at all, rather after the fashion of Khaeuri.
“The man who left the box wished for it to be found,” the boy ventured. “He was willing to die in the hope that we might. Do you mean to say his poor arm is a message he has left us too?”
The tall man turned again. His expression was most strangely devoid of emotion, almost like a smooth mask, yet Luc could not escape the sense that it was not purposeful aloofness that made it so.
“How do you know the box was placed as a message, or even that the arm belonged to it’s carrier?”
Luc found he could not explain, probably not even in French. As always it had not been a dream or any sort of vision, it had come to him the same way tracking the kids and lambs had come. You saw the layout of the land, you saw the tracks, felt the bending of the grass, the wind. The silly thing had gotten stuck in the rock at the tip of the ravine, came to you clearly. Or you lay a hand upon the ground and felt the sense of footsteps on it like an echo fading and you assembled the picture in your mind. It was not always a happy picture. Sometimes it was a fox, or a slip above the stream and a frantic ewe bleating.
He had thought these things happened to everyone….well, everyone who knew goats and sheep anyway….but he was learning they did not. He had found himself able to find a dropping breeze, the current at sea, and a clean shot with the musket.
As they came down river the sense of a thin old man struggling painfully through the sharp sticks and tearing thorns of the mangle, untying threads from a red rag that was somehow precious to him to mark the way, had come to him as clear as the picture in colored glass in the window of the little church at Tournemere.
Yet I did not see the soldiers come for Tante and Oncle. I found the two little Mâchoire boys with their necks broken on the upper meadow and all their sheep gone. I thought it was bandits and stayed to bury them. It was not until I returned the next day that I even smelled the smoke.
What good is it to see things if I could not see that?
What good were the nightmares that plagued him after they floated, masts down, hardly daring to breath in the foggy dark past that dark foul-smelling shore, with only the flicker as of a few candles or lamps back from the forested shore to tell them where the danger was?
Zachary had held his sister’s hand and Sabé had reached to hold his.
Solo said that it was nothing but another plantation where rich men, or even less-poor-than-very-poor men who were willing to kidnap, maim and murder in order to get rich, made something people wanted to trade coin for and didn’t care how they got it.
“In other words, children, the standard state of affairs, save a little more so.”
Yet for all that even Solo’s face had looked shocked when they pulled up that arm, even he had looked frightened lying down in the dark as the slow tide had pulled them out the Mosquito Inlet with the tide.
As the wind and motion of the boat had told them the sea had taken them back and Luc had looked up to see the stars open above them between the shreds of cloud. Solo had tapped all their shoulders and they had set to to raise the sails quickly.
“Mon Dieu, qu'est-ce que c'était que ça, Pa Khaeuri?” he had whispered as the Mate had boosted him up the mast to tie off.
“Mōkinokino,” Khaeuri had hissed, under his breath, “mōkinokino.” He had not asked for a translation from the Captain. He did not think he needed one.
They had sailed for Jamaica but since that day the dreams had returned, almost every night. The same dream he had first had the second night after he left Tournemere, of a black ship on an empty sea and a lone figure in shadow at the helm.
The first time it came to him he had never seen either a ship or the sea.
“The man was shot, but he was dying anyway and he was not sorry because it meant the men hunting him would go away and not find the box he had hidden. He fell into the water…..after that….I don’t know.…I expect the alligators ate him,” Luc said.
The strange gentleman paused with his knife and stared at him again.
“You are not incorrect that the man was dying. He was seriously poisoned by the nitrates, to the point of damage to his joints and bone.”
“Is that why the skin was blue and did not swell from the water like other drowned things do?”
“Yes. That was from prolonged exposure to the concentrated indigo. It would have effected the permeability of….” The man halted and blinked very slowly, rather like an owl.
“Wait,” he said, “How would you surmise the man was shot pre-mortem?”
Luc shrugged. “I almost see things sometimes.”
“I do not believe you,” the man asserted bluntly.
“That’s alright,” the boy said, “Most people do not. I am growing accustomed to it.”
“There is an extra apron upon the trunk,” said Mr. Kay, “If you are interested you can assist me.”