The Ravishing of Constance Ch. 11bySabledrake©
The Falcon fired a cannon blast, a single warning shot. It was apparent even to Constance that the Ricarda had no hopes of outrunning the other vessel. Whittington gave the order to come about, and surrender.
"On your head be it," Cuthburt said to the captain, glowering darkly.
The two of them had been arguing bitterly since the sighting of the pirate flag. Lord Cuthburt wished to fight. Captain Whittington said that those who resisted the pirates were treated in the most barbaric fashion. By yielding, he hoped to spare the lives of his crew. As for the women, Whittington claimed that the pirates had their own curious brand of honor.
Constance hoped he was right. Although this was the very fantasy that had lived in her girlish daydreams, she found that she had no desire to see it carried out now that it was upon her.
The pirate ship came up alongside. Its rails were lined with men who bristled with cutlasses and guns. They were hooting and cheering and shouting, waving knives. Some threw lines and secured the two ships together, side to side. Then the pirates swarmed onto the deck of the Ricarda.
"Stand as you are," Whittington told his men. "No bloodshed."
Laughing pirates surrounded the crew. A few men were shoved, knocked to the deck planking, but it was more in a spirit of rough good fun than malice. Lord Cuthburt put an arm around Constance.
"Fear not, my dear," he said. "I shall not let them touch you."
She did not know what to say, but it was just as well for speech failed her in the next instant. She saw the man, the pirate, the very image from her dreams.
He was tall and well-muscled, in scarlet breeches and a loose white shirt. His straight teeth were startlingly white in his bronzed face, his long hair was jet-black. Vivid green eyes avidly took in the scene, and lingered boldly when they happened to fall upon her.
Constance averted her gaze, feeling roses bloom in her cheeks. Her fear was still present but a sneaking desire was slowly growing in her nonetheless. She clung to Lord Cuthburt, breathless.
The pirates were busily looting the Ricarda. Some had sacks and were shaking them in front of their captives, demanding that money and jewelry be dumped within. Others were raiding the galley and stores, making off with rum, sugar, grain, cloth, tools, and other provisions.
The black-haired man approached Captain Whittington, grinning. "Thank you for your cooperation, sir," he said, with the barest hint of a French accent. "You have a fine ship here. I would have hated to scuttle her."
"You have what you came for, Merlion," Whittington said. "I pray you, allow us to continue on our way."
"Is this your lady wife?" Merlion kissed Lisabeth's hand. "A pleasure, madam. Please forgive us this intrusion. You and your servant-girls are in no danger from us."
A short pirate with sun-bleached hair stopped before Lord Cuthburt and held the open mouth of a sack at him. "Pay up, squire, lighten that fat purse."
Cuthburt blustered, but quickly stuffed his valuables into the sack. "There, have it, just leave us in peace."
"An' who's this? Yer daughter?" The short pirate ogled Constance. He had squinted hazel eyes and a scar that hooked up from the corner of his mouth. "Got any jewels, darlin'?"
She had only brought a little money and a few pieces of jewelry when she fled Veradoga. Now she dropped them into the sack, not letting herself wonder how she'd possibly make her way in the world with no money.
"Good, good," the pirate said. "How about a kiss?"
Constance turned her head away and shut her eyes. She heard Walter utter an angry oath.
"Oh, now, there's no need of that!" Lord Cuthburt said. "You've robbed us, isn't that enough?"
"Just one kiss is all I want. Ye c'n look away if it offends yer sensibilities."
"Please, sir," Constance said. "Do not."
"Oh-ho-ho, the girlie's shy!" he chortled. "I'll soon cure ye of that."
He curled his fingers into the neckline of her dress and yanked her toward him. His lips clamped over hers, his tongue poking rudely into her mouth. He cupped a breast, squeezed hard.
She pushed him away and slapped with all her might. Her palm cracked smartly against his cheek. The short blond man touched his cheek and looked at her with mean, narrow cruelty.
"Ye'll pay for that, me fine girlie."
"Leave her be!" Lord Cuthburt said.
"And who's t' make me?"
The pirate seized Constance and flung her to the deck. She screamed, but it turned into a gusty cough as he leapt atop her and drove out her breath. His coarse hands were under her skirt, pawing at her thighs. She hitched in a breath and screamed again.
A gunshot split the air. Constance knew a moment's horror when she was sure someone must have been shot, and her innards turned cold and watery.
"Here, belay that," Merlion said. "Adam, what's this?"
The blond pirate, sprawled half atop Constance, scowled guiltily. "Michel –"
"On your feet, man."
He grudgingly obeyed. Constance rearranged her garments, her face flaming with the knowledge that half the ship had been afforded a view of her legs clear to the waist; only her silken pantaloons had shielded her nudity.
"I was after a kiss, an' the wench slapped me," Adam grumbled.
Merlion was standing over Constance, one dark brow raised speculatively. He held a smoking pistol at his side, but must have fired into the air because no one seemed to be hurt. "My, my. I can see how you were tempted, my good fellow."
"Sir," said Lisabeth, "you did promise me that we women would go unmolested."
"As I recall, my precise words referenced you and your servant-girls," Merlion said. "I was not then aware that we had a noble lady on board. Who is she?"
"The daughter of a good friend," Lord Cuthburt said as he helped Constance stand and set her behind him.
"This friend, I take it, is a wealthy man?"
"A governor, in good stead with the Crown."
"And this lovely young miss … is she a virgin?" He inquired it casually, with a slanting smile.
"I say!" Cuthburt roared. "Have you any idea about whom you're speaking? This is the only daughter of Lord William deGranville! A fine and proper lady. Her virtue is beyond reproach."
It was all Constance could do to keep her emotions from showing. Virtue? If Lord Cuthburt knew but the half of it! To have him here, vehemently defending her chastity when he himself had unwittingly fucked her once … under other circumstances, it might have been funny.
The utterance of her family name made Merlion regard her with renewed interest. A slow, sly smile curved his mouth. "William deGranville, the governor of Veradoga? I'm sure he would pay highly for the safe return of his precious daughter."
Cuthburt sputtered. "Now … now just you … now, see here! This is an innocent girl! Have you no decency?"
"No one shall harm her," Merlion said. "We're not novices at this, my lord. We know that the ransom we receive would be less if she were ruined. Profit is what we're after." His green eyes mocked Constance as he spoke. "Personally, I'd rather have a skilled whore than an unschooled virgin any day."
Walter's expression was agonized. Constance knew that he must be in a quandary, on the one hand wanting to act in her defense, on the other knowing that to do so would be to bring questions as to how well the first mate happened to know her. If Merlion learned that she was not, as he believed, a virgin, he might decide that she was worth more in other ways.
While the thought of being carried off by the handsome black-haired pirate did fill her with a shameful thrill, she quailed at the prospect of being turned over to the crew at large. Adam, sulking and nursing his slapped cheek, sent stormy glares her way. He'd probably like nothing better than to punish her, hurt her. Perhaps he'd want to go up her bottom as Rob had done. The very thought made her stomach churn and her backside ache with remembered pain.
"We've loaded up a good haul, Michel," another of the Falcon's crew reported.
"Well done," Merlion said. He addressed Lord Cuthburt. "You, my lord, are to bear a message. Go to Lord deGranville and tell him that the ransom shall be a thousand pounds, and must be delivered to the fortress at Falcon Bay within the month if he ever wishes to see his daughter again. Miss deGranville, you're coming with me."
Doing her best to warn Walter against any rash actions by the silent appeal of her eyes, Constance took the pirate's proffered arm and let him lead her to the rail. He lifted her over, set her down on the deck of the Falcon. Walter stayed where he was, fists clenched and body taut, but he did not do anything foolish.
The pirates all crowded close around her, leering and making crude remarks. Merlion waved them away, laughing.
"Steady, now, lads. She's a guest, not a prize."
The lines securing the ships were cast off, and the Falcon and the Ricarda went their separate ways. Constance watched the other ship dwindle into the distance. She was surrounded by pirates gloating over the goods they'd brought back. They swigged rum, dressed themselves frivolously in clothing, gorged on food, draped themselves in cloth.
"Well, and what are we to do with you, Miss deGranville?" Merlion stroked the line of her jaw with his forefinger. "Ah, but you are a beauty. What a pity you're a maid, else we'd have a fine time."
She cringed away from his touch. "What do you mean to do with me?"
"My very question. I suppose it's for the captain to decide."
"The … you are not the captain?"
"First Mate Michel Merlion, at your service. Much to the disappointment of my father, Philippe, I grew to be much more capable at carrying out orders than issuing them. My baby brother Jean-Pierre is even more hopeless. So it falls to Jacques to captain us."
He indicated the aftcastle of the ship. Constance went with him apprehensively.
The cabin was comfortably furnished in gleaming dark wood, polished brass, and dark red fabric. A desk and a bed, both monstrous in mahogany, vied for dominance of the room.
"Wait here. I'll inform Jacques that we have a guest."
She looked at the bed, looked at Michel. "You gave your word I'd be well-treated."
"So I did."
"But what of your captain? How am I to know your word will be honored?"
"Are you afraid that Jacques might ravish you?" He lowered his voice to an insinuating whisper. "That you might find yourself on your back in that big bed, your pretty wrists and ankles bound to the great mahogany posts, entirely at the captain's mercy? Mon Dieu, but that's a sight I would give a goodly price to see."
"You lied to me. This has been your intention all along!"
"Not at all. Jacques will be greatly interested to know that the daughter of William deGranville is our captive." He dipped his head to her, and left by a different egress than the one through which they'd entered. The heavy door closed behind him.
Constance hugged herself, rubbing her upper arms. She wondered why it was that the pirate captain hadn't led the attack on the Ricarda. Perhaps Jacques was ugly, terribly scarred, missing an eye or a hand or a limb. Perhaps some grizzled monstrosity was going to appear, stinking of rum and rotted teeth and sour sweat.
The sounds of the ship were much the same, sailors going about the business of tending sails and lines. They sang sea shanties as they worked, and burst out often in gales of hearty laughter. She went to a porthole in the wall and looked out through the brass-framed ring. They were running with the wind, making good brisk time.
"So. The cherished daughter of William deGranville is my prisoner."
The voice was a throaty contralto. Constance spun to the door, and gaped at the woman who stood there with hands on her slim hips.
She was quite a bit taller than Constance, tall enough to look down scornfully from her lofty height. Her body was lean and athletic, with long legs encased in snug breeches. A cap of unruly golden hair framed a face that was both strikingly attractive and hard-edged. Her eyes were a piercing blue, her skin almost as bronzed as that of Michel. A swordbelt girded her hips and flat belly, a cutlass swinging at her side. She wore a necklace of gold and matching hoops in her earlobes.
"You're a … a woman," Constance stammered.
"And you are a pampered, spoiled, coddled little girl. I should turn you over to my crew and when they're done with you, throw your battered body to the sharks."
"Wh … what? Why?"
"Constance deGranville. When your father learns what's become of you …" She shook her head, and smiled coldly.
"Your first mate swore I'd be unharmed," Constance said.
Michel, lounging in the doorway and observing with a wry glint in his eye, nodded. "That I did, Jacques."
"And you actually believe that pirates will keep their word?" Jacqueline asked.
"I … well …"
"Look at you," she said, nose wrinkling. "The perfect genteel lady, never known a day's work or hardship in all your life. All safe and locked away on your sheltered little island with no idea of what the real world is like."
"So what are we to do with her?" Michel asked.
Jacqueline paced around Constance, who dared not move as the other woman examined her the way one might examine livestock.
"I suppose she is pretty," Jacqueline admitted. "Fat, though."
"Fat!" The outburst startled Constance, but then, so had the insult.
"All hips and titties and pale, creamy skin."
"Some men like it," Michel said.
"Do you, Michel? Would you tumble her?"
"Is that a query or an order, mon capitane?" He winked lewdly at Constance.
"A query," said Jacqueline. "Of course, you'd take a poke at anything with a hole, from what I've heard."
Michel looked wounded. "That's unkind, Jacques, not to mention untrue. But, yes, I'd have a go at her. She's a luscious little piece of pastry."
"Men." Jacqueline rolled her eyes. "And the crew, no doubt, are slavering with anticipation. If I gave the word, they'd line up six deep for their turn."
"So they would. But they also know there's the ransom to think of."
"An excellent point." Jacqueline raked her fingers through her short, wavy hair and blew out a sigh. "We'll hold her, then, until deGranville himself arrives to buy her back. To keep her from proving a distraction to the men, she can share quarters with Jean-Pierre."
"Bon fortune for Jean-Pierre," Michel remarked. "Are you quite confident it'll assure her virtue? He is a Merlion, after all."
"It may show in his features, but hardly in his actions. Pere Philippe tried to make a man of him, you've tried, I've tried, we've paraded wench after wench in front of him and all he does is make the sign of the Cross and then drink himself into oblivion. She'll be as safe with Jean-Pierre as she would in a convent."
"Safer," Michel said. "One hears such things about those nuns."
"And should our devout little priestling falter and be lured into sin," Jacqueline said with a Gallic shrug, "it may well be worth it to lose out on the ransom. Put her in with him, and then set a course for Martinique."
Constance had not ventured to say anything more while these two discussed her fate. She held her tongue, sensing that one more wrong word might lead to Jacqueline carrying out her earlier threat.
She followed Michel through the door by which he and Jacqueline had come into the cabin. He brought her to a narrow room with portholes looking out to sea and out onto the main deck.
A young man dressed all in simple black was stretched out on one of the two cots. He had a Bible open on his chest and an empty bottle loosely held in one dangling hand. The furniture was plain, almost stark, and the only decoration on the walls was a plain wooden cross. It lent the chamber a monastic feeling.
"My baby brother, Jean-Pierre," Michel said. "He's much better company when he's sober."
"Why does your sister hate me so?" she asked.
"You're a lady of privilege and breeding," he said. "We may have been raised with the wealth of a pirate king, but no amount of gold earned under the jolie rouge can buy nobility."
With that, he left and she was alone with Jean-Pierre.
His resemblance to Michel was quite distinct. They had the same black hair, though Jean-Pierre's was cropped short and neatly groomed, and similar features. Jean-Pierre couldn't have been much older than Constance herself, perhaps even the same age. His skin was fairer, less browned by the sun. Dark eyelashes rested sootily against his cheeks. Were his eyes that same vivid green?
A month, they'd said, until her father was to meet them at the fortress of Falcon Bay. She tried not to imagine her father's face upon hearing the very news he must dread most of all. He had never wanted to let her leave Veradoga for fear she'd share her mother's fate. And now, behold … she was.
She hung a blanket as a curtain around her cot, ate when Michel brought a meal, and sat glumly trying to think her way out of her predicament.
Jean-Pierre did not stir until the next morning. He woke with a start and a bleary mumble. The bottle rolled clinking into a corner. As he sat up, the Bible slid from his chest and hit the floor with a dull thump. He blinked owlishly at Constance.
"What's this? Who are you?"
The green eyes. He had them as well, bloodshot and puffy though they were.
She introduced herself and explained how she'd come to be in his room. He sighed wearily when she had finished.
"Then I am to be your keeper."
"Until I am ransomed."
Nodding absently, he retrieved his Bible and riffled the pages.
"Have there been other noblewomen taken prisoner?" she asked.
A shadow passed over his face. "Yes."
"What happened to them? Were they returned to their families?"
"Most of them."
His haunted gaze met hers briefly and slid away. "Some."
Jean-Pierre, Constance quickly found, was not muchly given to conversation. He passed his mornings in reading or in prayer, and drank himself to sleep each afternoon, where he'd remain dead to the world for hours on end. He rarely looked at her, not even when they were speaking. Yet in his quiet, odd way, he was good company.
On her third morning aboard the Falcon, a general cry went up. A ship had been sighted, and the pirates were preparing to attack. No sooner had he heard this than Jean-Pierre went right to his bottles. He drank as if his very life depended on it, and when Constance presumed to ask him, all he would tell her was that if he couldn't stop the attack, at least he did not have to witness it.
Not that there was much to witness from their portholes. Constance could hear the sounds of battle – the other ship had decided to fight back – the cannons booming and pistols cracking, cutlasses clanging, men screaming in mortal pain. She turned at one point to ask Jean-Pierre a question but he was already insensate, flat out on his back with the bottle tilted against his side.
She heard the triumphant return of the crew, and as the Falcon swung about to leave, saw the burning hulk of a merchantman wallowing in the sea. The merchantman's surviving crew had taken to the longboats and were rowing away, while the pirates amused themselves with cannonshots in their direction.
From her vantage point, she could see the main deck where the men gathered around a pile of goods. They had captives, as well. Two women, a fairskinned brunette in an expensive gown of apple-green silk, and a chestnut-haired girl in the drab blue-grey of a maidservant.
"Unhand me, you villain!" the brunette cried, tearing her arm from Michel's grasp. She had a haughty and imperious look. A necklace of silver and jewels graced her slim throat, and she snapped open a lacy fan to wave in front of her face, as if to ward off the smoky stink of gunpowder. "When my family learns of what you've done, they shall not rest until every last one of you hangs from the gallows."