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Jane Barbour or To Hell With All Your Land

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Jane doesn't do hearty welcome backs, and she doesn't like to talk about how much she's missed me. She takes care of that ahead of time, when she tells me how much she resents me for leaving her behind, how she never meant to marry a ghost. On my return I'm greeted with a sullen silence and the evidence that Jane's eating has been suffering, again, while I was gone.

Dinner is an awkward affair, with her father taking me aside to tell me to make this better, with an only barely implied or else at the end of his little speech.

"I would if I could," I say, knowing as I do it that it's not good enough. "But she chose to marry a sailor, and that's what I am."

"Decide what's more important to you, your wife's health or your sailing."

When he puts it like that, of course, it's not really a choice at all. That evening, as we're preparing for bed, I speak to her about it. "I've been giving some thought to spending less time at sea," I say.

Jane smiles sadly at me. "Tired of it, then?"

"I'd like to spend more time around you." It's not remotely a lie, but my main intention is more years, rather than more days in a month.

"There are other ways to manage that," she suggests. Her eyes sparkle, and for the half a second it lasts she looks like the woman I fell in love with.

"I don't really know what you mean," I admit.

"Take me with you to sea."

I stare at her for a long moment. "You can't mean that."

"I do. You don't actually want to give up the sea, so why are you asking me to?"

"It's no place for a woman," I say firmly.

"It's no place for a man either. It's a place for fish and seaweed, and you never let that stop you. I'm not asking you to make me an honoured member of your crew, only to let me come with you."

"I promise when I'm at sea I think only of you."

Jane laughs. "I'm not jealous of the fish, that they get you. I'm jealous of you, that you get the sea."

I sigh. "And the children?"

"The ones we don't have yet?" She shakes her head at my frown. "I'm not saying they shouldn't be a consideration, but they don't have to be one yet." Jane sighs. "I'm going to go mad if I spend my whole life on my father's lands. I thought you understood that."

"You're not on your father's lands any more."

She waves a hand in a frustrated gesture. "Instead I'm a full half-mile away! Which changes very little, as it turns out. Just let me come with you, once. If it's miserable and I hate it then I won't come back, and it doesn't have to be a time when you go far. And if I love it, and if I can take care of myself, then...we can talk then. You don't have to be committing to anything more than one trip."

I shake my head. "I can't see a way to get your father to agree to it."

Jane snorts. "Yes, because when in doubt you can just hide behind my father. He wasn't that fond of you, to begin with, and you turned him from that. I have faith in you to manage a similar feat now."

I have no idea how this is going to work, but I don't see that I have much of a choice. I agree to speak with him.

"Well?" she asks the next evening.

I grimace, because I don't understand it myself. "He agreed, if that's what I thought was right."

Jane grins at me, her eyes bright and excited, and I can't bring myself to tell her that taking her with me to sea isn't what I think is right.

Jane's delicate on land. There are times I'm worried a strong breeze might knock her over, or that her horse wouldn't notice if she was knocked off.

She's no less delicate, the first time she steps onto my boat. She is, however, determined, and her determination translates directly into strength, given time. She proves herself, that first voyage out, and I can't deny that it's a pleasure to always have her in my bed, on land or at sea.

More than that, though, she's truly happy, for perhaps the first time in her life.

We're John and Jane Barbour, and we plough the raging sea.