tagNovels and NovellasAboard the Lady May Ch. 02

Aboard the Lady May Ch. 02


If anyone's actually reading these, I apologize for the horribly long wait. Being a grad student eats my life. Anyway, I hope you enjoy, and please let me know what you think (if anything).

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Jamie was roused from a deep and dreamless sleep—the first she'd experienced in the six years since her father's death—by a loud pounding that seemed to shake the hold around them. Before she was fully awake she registered a stream of swearing in Felix's rough voice and felt her body being briskly, but gently, lifted and set aside. Despite the noise and her annoyance at being wakened, Jamie felt herself smile slightly. Felix. Whoever it was on the other side of the door, he would make them go away. He would keep her safe. He'd promised.

Then her eyes flew wide, and she began to grope frantically for the fragments of her discarded clothing. There was someone at the door. She was naked, and there was someone at the door. If any of the sailors besides Felix were to see her body, were to discover the truth that she was in fact a woman instead of the young boy she portrayed, the previous abuse she'd been subjected to would pale to nothing in comparison to the treatment she would endure at the hands of sixty sex-starved men.

Still fumbling in the dark, Jamie found only useless scraps of fabric. Her pants were shredded, her shirt worse than threadbare. The bands she'd used for years to bind and flatten her breasts had been sliced from her body by Felix, resulting in severed strips of dingy linen, the longest of which was barely the length of her arm. Worthless.

She looked around quickly for a place to hide, but the small hold was empty. She'd witnessed the unloading of the cargo in Bridgetown but hadn't stopped to wonder that they'd taken on nothing else. They must have been en route to another port—on Hispaniola, perhaps, or any of a dozen other islands—to fill the holds before heading north to the colonies or to England. She did not know as yet where the Lady May's homeport was. Not that it mattered. Knowing none of these things mattered. But Jamie couldn't seem to stop her mind from leaping from one irrelevant subject to the next. It was better than wondering who Felix was talking to—his large body angled to block their view into the hold—and how soon he would be thrust aside and the door flung open.

Despite knowing it was hopeless, that she was mere moments from being found out, from being taken away from the only man other than her father who'd ever treated her with kindness—despite knowing all this, Jamie had never been one to surrender without a fight. The first man who'd sodomized her when she was barely fourteen had lost an eye in the encounter, which likely accounted for the viciousness of the beating that followed, leaving her unable to move for the next several days. Her own knife was gone now—left behind by accident when she'd abandoned her previous ship to beg a spot on board the Lady May—but the small, sharp blade Felix had used to rid her of her clothing lay forgotten on the plank floor, shining silver in a shaft of cool moonlight.

Jamie snatched the knife by its smooth bone hilt then scrambled backward to press herself into the darkest corner of the hold. She folded her knees in tight to her chest and wrapped her arms around them, hugging herself with one and using the other to point the knife toward the open doorway where Felix was nodding, making a move to step back. Now, Jamie thought, It will be now. And it took all of her considerable courage to keep her eyes on the doorway rather than to sob and bury her face between her upthrust knees.

When Felix merely closed the door and turned around, walking back toward where he'd left her in the hold, Jamie did sob then. She wasn't going to be taken now. It would happen. Sooner or later it would happen. But not now. She had more time. With Felix. She'd have more time with Felix.

* * *

The girl wasn't by the porthole where he'd left her, still half asleep, and Felix glanced around, momentarily panicked, but then found her an instant later. Even if the harsh sound of her sobbing hadn't drawn his attention to the corner of the hold, the space was well enough lit with moonlight to delineate her small, white form from the surrounding darkness. She was curled into a tight ball, obviously terrified, using two hands to brandish his own sharp blade before her.

"Christ," Felix swore, then, "Jamie." And he was by her side in an instant.

Afraid that she might cut herself—or him—Felix gripped both her wrists in one hand and used his other to carefully extract the knife from her grasp. She didn't fight him, and as soon as he released his hold, she reached out, her hands twisting fistfuls of his shirt, climbing him as if he were a mast and his clothes the rigging. He caught her easily, one arm beneath her bottom, the other spanning her back, and lowered himself fully to the floor. He settled her on his lap, holding her in much the same way as he had while she slept, except now her arms and legs were twined about him, her muscles strung so tight Felix could feel the tension thrumming through her body.

Neither spoke for a moment. She clung to him like a limpet, and Felix began running his hands over her exposed skin. He traced the sharp protrusions of her shoulder blades, counted the knobs and knots of her spine, stroked her thighs as far back as he could to where her legs wound around him.

"I have no clothes," she finally whispered, the choked words muffled against the side of Felix's neck. "I thought they'd come in, and I have no clothes."

"I know, girl." He'd had the same fear himself, but they hadn't come for the girl—or boy, as they thought she was. They'd come for Felix himself. He told Jamie as much.

"Why?" she demanded, far from comforted. If anything her limbs gripped him more tightly. "What do they want with you?"

He laughed softly and began trying to loosen her arms from his neck. "It's alright, girl. They mean me no harm." Then when he'd made no progress toward freeing himself, "Jamie, you have to let me go. There's a man hurt. They need me."

That caused Jamie to draw back, obviously surprised. "You're a surgeon?" she asked.

"Carpenter," Felix corrected, taking advantage of her confusion to extract himself from her suddenly pliant limbs. "Man fell from the rigging, has a bad break. If there's sawing to be done, it'll be me who does it."

"Oh," Jamie said. And then wide-eyed, with more understanding, "Oh! You must go."

Not wanting to distract him further, Jamie scrambled off Felix's lap. She was unable, however, to stop herself from reaching for the tatters of her ruined clothing, or from reclaiming the short knife Felix had taken from her and set aside.

Intent on his duty, Felix stood abruptly and brushed his hands once over his clothes, making sure everything was in place. His mind was already on the wounded man three decks above. Thaniel was his friend, and one of the few tars Felix could trust to look after his boys in his absence. He was also experienced, a lifer like Felix himself. It made no sense that he'd slipped; Thaniel wasn't the sort to make careless mistakes.

Felix would need bandages, water, whiskey, his saws, hot iron to seal the flesh, lanterns for light. There would be plenty of men to hold Thaniel, but he'd need either Peter or Luke to assist as well, as they both had swift, nimble fingers that were smaller than the average sailors'. In fact, Jamie would make an ideal...Jamie.

Felix glanced down at the girl and swore again softly. She was back in her corner, not so obviously petrified as before, but his knife was in her hand again, and her lap was piled full of tattered scraps of fabric. He couldn't leave her like that.

"Here, girl." Felix stripped his own shirt past his head and knelt before Jamie. "Put this on." Rather than waiting for her to take the shirt, Felix dressed her himself. He tossed the rags of her clothing aside but left her the knife, just made sure not to snag the fabric as he pulled her arm through the sleeve. "Don't leave this hold," he instructed, never taking his eyes off her face. She nodded, wide eyed and serious. "Good girl." He began to turn back the sleeves. It took four wide cuffs before he could see her fingertips. "I'll be back as soon as I can, but if this takes as long as I'm thinking it might, I'll send one of my boys."

"No—" Jamie began, but Felix shushed her, soothingly.

"It's alright, girl. Luke and Peter won't hurt you. They're loyal to me. In fact, I think they'll like having a little sister." He paused then, considering. "Although, you're actually a year or so older than they are."

He shrugged then, dismissing the thought, and gripped her shoulders, which were barely wide enough to span the neck hole in his shirt. He knew he was speaking too fast, but he had little time to spare, and he wanted to be sure the girl would allow others to care for her in his absence.

"Listen to me now, Jamie. This is important." She nodded. "Don't leave the hold," he repeated. "If Luke or Peter comes in, you can't scream. It'll attract attention." She nodded. "Do as they tell you. Eat and drink whatever they bring. I'll look for some clothes for you, but that may take a bit longer. Alright?"

She nodded again, and Felix smiled encouragingly. He kissed her brow, her nose, once hard on her mouth. She leaned into his kiss, but he drew back, pushing her shoulders away from him when she attempted to follow.

"Stay here, girl," Felix said. "Wait for me. I'll be back, and you'll be safe. I promise."

Jamie nodded once more, and watched Felix rise. He looked back once, and then he was gone. The sound of the closing door sounded to Jamie like cannon fire, and she winced, scooting as far back as she could into the darkened corner. Drawing handfuls of Felix's shirt up around her face, she breathed in the salty tang of sweat and sea, then closed her eyes and imagined he were beside her—just out of her reach, but close enough to sense and to smell.

"I'll be safe here," she whispered. "He promised me. I'm safe here."

Jamie began repeating the words to herself over and over again. She was trying very, very hard to believe them.

* * *

As frightened and determined as Jamie was to guard herself, she was equally as exhausted. The few hours she'd slept in Felix's arms had been wonderful, but weren't nearly enough. After staying upright for as long as she could, she began slowly to sink toward the floor. The tattered rags of her clothing made a passable pillow, and once she was lying down, Jamie's eyes dropped shut as if weighted with anchors. She would sleep very lightly, she promised herself, and only for a moment. She clutched Felix's knife so the blade pressed flat to her chest, and then all was oblivion.

It might have been hours or days later when she finally awoke. Sunlight poured through the open porthole along with the loud and shrill squawking of seabirds. They must still be within a few miles of shore, Jamie thought groggily, likely traveling northwest toward Guadeloupe and Antigua. Then her ears registered another sound—one that was manmade and that she knew very well: the steady drag of waxed thread through canvas. She wasn't alone in the hold.

Jamie scrambled upright, clutching a thick woolen blanket to her chest—a blanket that she did not remember having before she fell asleep but that she was grateful for, as the rough itch against her sore breasts informed her that Felix's oversized shirt had fallen from her shoulders while she slept, hopefully after she was already covered. Then, casting a frantic glance around the hold, she quickly located the source of the stitching. Sitting cross-legged less than five feet from her side, his back braced against the wall beneath the open porthole, was a heavily freckled tow-headed boy. More of a young man, Jamie quickly amended. For all that he was slender and barely bearded, his face had none of the softness of boyhood, and he was nearly twice her size. He was also staring at her, his hands frozen in mid-stitch, with eyes the brightest shade of green she had ever seen.

Startled by his close scrutiny as well as by his presence, Jamie pressed herself back deep into the corner, still clutching the blanket tight to her chest. The boy raised one white-blond brow while the opposite side of his mouth tipped up in a half smile. The expression gave his face a comical lop-sided look, and Jamie felt her own lips twitch in response.

"It's a mite late for that now," the boy said, dropping his eyes to her white-knuckled fists that peeked over the blanket's edge. His voice had a thick Irish lilt and was deeper than Jamie had anticipated."If I was wanting to strip you bare and have my way with you," he continued, "I'd have done so hours ago. Not that you'd have required much stripping, mind."

The quick grin he flashed made Jamie abruptly aware that she'd lost her shirt before he entered and that he was the one who had covered her up. She felt herself flushing and was unable to meet his eyes as she fumbled beneath the blanket for the sleeves of Felix's shirt. Once she was as decently covered as possible, she allowed the blanket to fall to her lap, then reached up to smooth the jagged strands of hair around her face. She usually struggled to suppress such feminine gestures, but there was little point to pretense now, and she enjoyed the rare luxury of being able to act naturally.

"What time is it?" she asked, eying the angle of sunlight on the hold's floor.

"Half past the seventh in the afternoon," the boy answered, returning to his work.

Jamie jumped in surprise. "Three-thirty?" she squeaked. Then whispered, "Holy Mary." Felix had left before the eighth bell of the mid watch; she'd slept for nearly twelve hours.

"Aye," the boy laughed, glancing up between stitches. "Luke bet you'd go on til sundown. I said you'd wake by four." His smile widened. "Helped me win two shillings off the sod, you did."

"Glad I could help," Jamie answered, returning a slight smile. She was finding it very hard not to like the boy. Then, Peter and Luke, she thought. "You're Peter?" she asked.

"I am." The boy nodded without looking up. "Luke'll be by to spell me shortly. I've got first dog tonight, and we promised Felix we'd not leave you alone."

"Where is Felix?" Jamie asked, unable to keep the concern from her voice. He'd been gone a long while now.

Peter was quiet for so long Jamie thought he wasn't going to answer. Then his voice came choked and so low she could barely hear it: "Thaniel didn't take well to having his leg cut. He's like to die. Felix won't leave while he still breathes."

"Thaniel?" Jamie whispered. "Is he the man who was hurt?"

"Aye," Peter replied, but would say no more.

The man was obviously a friend and, despite her curiosity, Jamie decided not to push for more information. It was strange, though. While it was far from unusual for a sailor to be injured while performing his duties, to fall from the rigging on millpond water was a beginner's trick, and this Thaniel was obviously not new to the ship, or else Felix and the boy Peter would not be so attached to him.

Still wondering, Jamie settled back to watch Peter work. All sailors were skilled with a needle, but it was apparent to Jamie after watching Peter for only a short while that he was exceptionally proficient. He manipulated the scrap of canvas, twisting it in his lap first one way and then the other, working all the while with his tongue tipped between his teeth and a silver thimble on his left forefinger. Eventually he tied a deft knot, then broke the thread with his teeth and held the canvas up for Jamie's inspection.

"For you," he said, his grin back in full force.

"For me?" Jamie echoed, and Peter nodded, leaning to toss the canvas onto her lap.

"It's a vest," he explained. "I made it quick, though, so don't judge me by it. I'm actually quite the haberdasher when I'm not rushed."

Jamie investigated the cream colored vest and, despite Peter's claim that his work was rudimentary, she found it to be remarkably well made. Rather than a single sheet of canvas, he'd stitched three together, then cleverly hemmed the edges so she'd not be chafed by the coarse fabric. A row of wooden toggles lined the edge of one front flap, while matching waxed-thread loops had been stitched along the other. The garment was thick and sturdy and could be securely fastened. Jamie blushed again, suddenly understanding its purpose.

She glanced up to find Peter watching her, grinning still.

"Aye," he said, apparently reading her blush. "Felix said you were needing something to hide your bubbies. That way you can stop mashing them flat."

"Oh!" Jamie gasped and, without pausing to think, threw the vest at Peter's head.

Peter ducked, laughing, then retrieved the vest from where it had sailed past its mark. He brushed it off, folded the garment over his forearm. "You're not wanting it, then?" he asked, feigning affront. "And after all my hard work. Fine then, you ungrateful wench. It's a mite small for me, but I can let it out, clever as I am. Wear it myself, I will."

Jamie found herself laughing then for the first time in more years than she could remember. Weak as she was, her muscles soon began to ache. She subsided into quiet hiccoughs but found herself unable to stop smiling, which was ridiculous, really. Nothing had changed. If anything she was more vulnerable than she had been now that two people in addition to Felix were in on her secret. Not that she believed Peter would purposely betray her—because of his obvious loyalty to Felix, if for no other reason. And, if Luke were anything like his friend and mentor, he wouldn't turn on her either. But the more people who knew, the more likely something was to slip. Jamie knew this. It was the reason she'd never confided in anyone before—not that there had been anyone to confide in, really. Still, even if her safety aboard the Lady May were illusory at best, it was an illusion she was not yet ready to relinquish.

Letting lose a final quiet chuckle, Jamie held out her hand demandingly. "Peter," she said, "give me back my vest."

* * *

When Luke came to relieve Peter a short while later, Jamie found herself immediately drawn to the second boy in a way that couldn't compare with even her near-instant camaraderie with Peter. Luke was of a size with his friend and had brown eyes and brown hair that constant exposure to the sun had not managed to substantially lighten. He arrived carrying a bucket in one hand and a mug in the other, with a trencher held in the bend of his elbow and pressed to his chest for balance. The stew it contained was delicious—thick with fish and fresh vegetables taken on board in Barbados—and the milk in the mug was the first Jamie had drunk in months. When she was pleasantly full, Luke produced a cake of soap from his pocket and asked if she'd like to wash her hair in the bucket of water he'd brought. Jamie just barely refrained from throwing herself into his arms and kissing him.

It was not until he dispassionately suggested she remove Felix's shirt while she washed that Jamie understood what it was about Luke that appealed to her: He did not look at her with longing. The sailors who thought she was a boy, albeit a small and pretty one, wanted her out of the mistaken belief they might touch her and pretend she was a woman. Even Peter, for all his harmlessness and humor, had obviously enjoyed the sight of her bare breasts and thought nothing of teasing her about them. Luke was different. He wanted her as neither a feminine boy nor as an actual woman. He wanted—if Jamie were not mistaken, remembering the soft tilt to his lips when he first entered the hold and found her laughing with Peter—his friend. Jamie wondered if the knowledge that Peter might turn to him for lack of another option but that he could never return his feelings were the reason for the sadness she sensed reflected in Luke's wide brown eyes.

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