Chapter

Twenty Five

 

Aaargghhhhugh….ugh.”

Pete woke to feel a throbbing pain at the back of his head. All about him was pitch black, and at first he thought that his eyes had been put out. But as he adjusted to the darkness, he realized that he could see thin, faint lines of light above him, now dark, now light again, and he sputtered as the lines suddenly darkened once more and dust fell into his face from the same direction.

Blowing disgustedly and shaking his head to clear the dust from his temple and cheek, he tried to roll onto his back but found that his hands were tied behind him, preventing him from doing so.

Where am I, then? Captive, clearly. But t’ whom?

Pete focused past the pain in his head, straining his eyes and ears in the dark for some clue. He could smell tar, and salt. Rhythmic creaking could be heard off towards his left, and each time the lines of light above him went dark, a bit more dust or powder of some sort fell into his face.

Footsteps. Footsteps above me, blocking th’ light each time they pass.

Pete strained against the darkness for some further hint from his senses. The creaking sounded like ropes, but there was another sound… sloshing…

‘M on a boat. A large one, if I can judge from her calmness in th’ waves. Below decks someplace, and bound.

Will they leave me ‘ere to die? Or come for me? An’ which is worse?

He had no idea how long he had been there, nor how many days it had been since he had last eaten or drunk anything. He was hungry, to be certain, but that could be born of a fast that was merely hours long or whole days.

If I can get t’ a wall, I shall see if I can stand. If I can, mayhaps I have been ‘ere only a short while. If I can not, then I have been ‘ere some time – or am so broken I cannot even feel th’ pain. Better to know, all ways ‘round…

Carefully, Pete scooted on his side towards his right. The darkness was so profound that he could not tell whether the room was small or large, nor how long he might have to scoot before he reached a wall.

His foot caught in something, and he shook it, dragging something that sounded wooden across the floor. He shook more violently, and heard a twang of strings.

My guitar!

He scooted his body around in a half circle until his back was to the guitar, then – still determinedly ignoring the pain in his head – shuffled a bit more until his bound hands came in contact with the instrument. He grasped the neck, and felt along the length of its body. It was clear that two of the strings were broken, but the instrument seemed otherwise intact.

Losing his patience with trying to find a wall, Pete rolled onto his stomach, then clambered around until he managed to sit up. From there, he rolled onto his knees, nearly landing on the neck of the guitar and catching himself before doing too much damage to either himself or the instrument. Re-placing his knee a few inches to the left, he shifted his weight about, and after a few grunts and heaves, finally stood.

So… no’ broken, nor too malnourished t’ stand. I ‘ave been ‘ere no more than a day or two, I reckon.

He waited a moment to let the throbbing in his head clear a bit, then shuffled around with one foot until he again found the guitar. Wishing to move it to a corner before he stepped on it in the darkness, he placed his foot on the side of the guitar’s body and very carefully slid the instrument across the floor until it connected with something hard. Feeling around with the toes of his boot, Pete explored the hard thing. Hopping around on one foot whilst the other felt its way around the object, he lost his balance and scraped his calf upon the pointed edge of whatever it was he had encountered.

Ow ow OW!!! Od’s bloody bollocks with knobs on!”

After bending at the waist for a moment and trying to breathe away the pain, he shuffled closer once again, and, more carefully this time, explored the thing with his boot. At length, he determined that the hard thing was some sort of low, long crate, about knee-height, as might hold maps or swords. Gingerly he felt his way past that crate, bumping belly-first into another near it, larger and more square this time. His senses were gradually growing more acute, and he realized that the larger crate smelled of spices: cinnamon, pepper, and some other spice he could not name.

Maps or swords, an’ spices. A trading vessel? Or a raiding vessel?

Slowly, slowly, a measure at a time, Pete moved in the darkness past more crates, all of which were stacked one upon the other. Some smelled of spices, some were heavy as though laden with books or cloth, and in some he could hear the contents rattling a bit as he shifted it with his foot.

Given the amount of time that it took him to traverse the entire circumference of the room – which he determined by the fact that he had first moved to the left of where he had pushed his guitar and, having followed that path all the way around, was now upon it again – he decided that his earlier thought had been correct: the ship was indeed large if a simple storage room had taken him so long to navigate. How much bigger, surely, were the living quarters, the poop deck, the mess?

Pete was no sailor, but neither was he wholly unfamiliar with the workings of boats, having drunk with enough seafaring men in enough taverns and listened to enough of their talk to know a thing or two. And he knew that, sooner or later, someone was bound to come for the crates, either to make use of their contents during the voyage or to shift them upon its completion.

In either case, should he manage not to starve or die of thirst before that happened, he ought to prepare himself to be found.

And, until I am found, would it not be preferable to ‘ave me hands free?

 He had no weapon, but with free hands, he might at least see if the door to the room was by some fortune unlocked. Failing that, he might be able to open one of the crates and find some sort of sustenance therein.

So, feeling around once again with his foot, he found the low crate that had first injured him. He located the protruding corner, and turned himself around so that his back was to it.

Awkwardly, clumsily, he dropped to his knees, cursing again as he landed hard upon them. He carefully placed each knee on either side of the crate so that his wrists and buttocks were just about level with the pointed corner of it. With small, agonizing shuffling movements, he backed up inch by inch until he felt the corner with his hands. Then he began to saw at the ropes that bound him by using the corner’s edge to cut into the thickly-braided hemp.

It was excruciatingly slow and painful work, for his arms were pinioned so tightly that he had to continually rise up and down, first upright on his knees and then sitting upon his heels with each stroke in order to scrape the ropes against the point. Several times he missed, viciously abrading his knuckles or the backs of his hands against the wood and causing them to bleed profusely. But he bled not entirely in vain, for he found that the blood coursing down his hands made them slippery, and, by twisting his wrists to and fro, he loosened the ropes bit by bit.

It seemed to Pete that he had been at it an hour; he could feel a wetness through the knee of his trousers that he knew was his own blood, and his back ached, his head throbbed, his shoulders screamed in protest, and sweat poured from his face like a fountain. But slowly, certainly, bit by bit, the ropes were fraying and loosening, his arms gaining a fraction more mobility with each pass against the wood.

Giving a final jerk and twist, Pete managed to yank one hand completely free of the bonds. Quickly he brought his other arm around to the front, and with his free hand, unwound the ropes from the other blood-soaked wrist.

Tossing the slippery ropes from him, Pete sagged onto his side, breathing heavily and wrapping his sore wrists in the hem of his shirt to staunch some of the bleeding. Then, more tired than he had ever been in his life, he whimpered once, and, too exhausted to do more, simply slept.

 

 

 

 

So, let me count,” said Rosemary, worrying her lower lip with her teeth. “With all my remaining cloth having sold for sixteen sovereigns and ninepence, and Ariana’s ring and necklaces pawned for four sovereigns six shillings, that gives us a total of four hundred and twenty six shillings, ninepence. With less than half of that, we ought to be able to hire a boatman to take us close enough to Malaga to plan from there, if not all the way.”

Rosemary doled a third of the coins to Ariana, a third to herself, and a third to Jimmie. Putting both hands on the boy’s shoulders, she asked in her most serious tone,

“Jimmie, lad, we can trust thee, can we not?”

“M’Lady! D’you need ask? I may be poor, but’m honest as th’ day is long! I’ve said I shall take care o’ things, an’ you may count on me that I shall.”

“Aye, Jimmie, I know. I can see it in thy face, and I trust thee. So, let us review one last time, quickly, so there is no mistake.”

Jimmie nodded at Rosemary, drawing himself up as tall as he might to make a good impression.

“In exchange for paying our rent on time for however long we might be gone and caring for Morley with the money I have left thee, you may live here warm and dry whilst we go to find Pete.”

Ariana nodded. “Feed thyself with that money, too, whatever thou needst.”

“We will find some boatman to take us to Malaga… or as close as we may. Jimmie, I do not know when we shall return. If we can, we shall send a letter… just take it to the doctor near Billingsgate, and he can read it for thee. But, Jimmie, if we are not back by the time the money has run out, then… rather, I mean to say, if something should happen to us…”

“Never fear, miss. I shall find a home for Morley or care for ‘im m’self, but he shan’t starve.”

“You are a good lad, and we thank thee. Gramercy, Jimmie.”

Rosemary affectionately hugged the boy, and Ariana patted him kindly on the back. Rosemary pulled her sack with food and drink onto her shoulder, and looked sadly at her harp. There was no way they could take it or Ariana’s guitar with them; unlike the flute, neither could be stowed in so small a pack as to travel quickly with them in tow, so only that small instrument would come with them. The others would be left behind.

Ah, well, naught for it. Pray G-d we may return ere long, and spend hours laughing before a fire and playing to our hearts’ content.

“Come,” she addressed Ariana, “we must make all speed, lest they leave Malaga ere we arrive.”

“I follow thee,” the gypsy said, and the two sped down the stairs and into the street.

By the time they reached the harbormaster’s dwelling, both were panting and out of breath. Rosemary took a moment to catch her wind before pounding on the door of the hut. The harbormaster appeared and greeted them.

“G’day, lasses. What may I do fer thee?”

“Pray, canst thou tell us of any small vessels whose owner might accept good pay for a voyage of some length? We have coin enough, if such a man can be found.”

“Oh, I should think Ewan there could help thee,” the harbor master said, pointing a gnarled finger at a single-masted sloop midway down the docks. “Just come back from Nantes, he has, and already looking antsy to return to sea.”

“Thank thee kindly,” Ariana said, pressing a groat into his hand.

Rosemary had already started off to approach the sailor called Ewan, and Ariana scampered to catch up.

“Holla, good man! Ewan, sir?” Rosemary called, and a large man with a huge, florid head, windswept graying reddish hair held back by a cap, and muscles straining the cloth of his shirt poked his head out above decks. In a Scottish brogue softened somewhat by his years away from the land, he replied,

“Aye? Who calls?”

“Sir, we are in need of a boat to take us to Malaga by way of the English Channel, and soon. We can pay thee amply if thou wilt agree to deliver us there within a fortnight.”

Rosemary drew her purse from her sack and jingled the coins within to indicate their weight and number.

“Shiver me sides, Malaga?” the sailor exclaimed, climbing fully up onto the deck and striding over to them with a seaman’s wide-footed gait. “An’ in a fortnight? That will be some mighty rough sailing, it will.”

“We know,” said Ariana, also drawing her coin purse into sight. “But if the journey be not to thy liking, I am certain we can find another who -”

“Now, hol’ on there, lass, hol’ on, I didna say I wouldna take ye, did I? Jes’ what are ye twa lasses wantin’ with Malaga?”

“Wilt thou take the job, or nay?” Rosemary challenged. “If you see us safely delivered and swiftly, we shall see that thou art handsomely paid for thy trouble. But our business is our own, and we will brook no question save it mean the difference betwixt life and death. So, what say you?”

Ewan grinned. “Spirit, eh? A fine trait in a lass, I warrant. May I at leas’ assure m’self that th’ law is not upon ye?”

“I promise thee, good sir, we are obedient English women, neither afoul of the law nor sought by any keeper of the King’s peace. We are simply in a hurry to be in Malaga and are willing to pay for speed.”

“Then all’s well wi’ me. When d’ye twa wish tae set out, then?”

“Right away. We have no time to lose.”

“Have ye no luggage, then? No trunks?”

“Only these,” Ariana answered, indicating the packs on their backs.

“Lasses with no trunks, Malaga in a fortnight, I shall have to hire a crew tae do it…” Ewan muttered to himself, shaking his head; but he put a hand over the side and helped the two ladies alight.

“Welcome aboard, lassies. The name is Ewan MacAdams, me ship be called The Willful Dog, an’ if any man jack alive can get ye to Malaga in a fortnight, ol’ Ewan’s th’ man tae do it.”

“I am Rosemary, and this be Ariana. Whither may we stow our things?”

“Down below. My quarters are to th’ right, crew quarters jus’ beyond that, an’ ye may kip in th’ stateroom to th’ left. Ye have everything ye need? Food an’ drink? I have no provisions yet me-self, but it shouldna take me more than an hour tae gather them.”

“Gather what you think we shall need, and we shall pay additionally for our share.”

“As ye will!”

Lightly, with a nimbleness that belied his years, Ewan disembarked and headed off towards the market.

Whilst he was gone, Rosemary and Ariana made use of their time admiring the sloop which they had commissioned for the journey. It was an old ship but expertly maintained, with fresh coats of tar on her keel and a meticulously swabbed deck. The stateroom to which they had been commended was tiny and the bed looked coarse, but the rough woolen blankets seemed warm enough, and a small glass-covered window permitted light to shine into the room. In sum, the ship was small but sturdy, and pleasant enough to be going on with.

In less than an hour, her captain returned, followed by a shopkeeper’s assistant and two crewmen who helped to carry the bundles. Ewan and the boy made short work of stowing the purchases in the hold whilst the hired men untied The Willful Dog’s moorings and readied the ship for departure. When they were done, the boy left with a tuppence in his hand for his troubles.

“Well, that’s that, then,” Ewan boomed, smacking his hands together and rubbing them vigorously. “Are ye ready?”

Rosemary nodded, and Captain Ewan took the helm as the sailors made themselves useful about the sails and jib.

“Malaga, ho!” he shouted, and the two girls crowded to the aft to watch the familiar expanse of the land as they sailed from her. It was the first time either of them had left England, and there was enough danger in their voyage to suggest they might never see her again. Despite her country’s faults, Rosemary felt a tear slip down her cheek.

“Yehi rahtzon milfanecha, Ado-nai Elo-haynu v’Elo-hay avosaynu,” she whispered, reciting by rote the Hebrew ‘traveler’s prayer’ which she had learned as a child but heretofore had never used. Ariana slipped her hand in Rosemary’s and bent her head for the duration of the prayer, answering “Amen” when it was completed. Then the two women simply held each other by the waist as the land slipped further and further from their sight, until they could see nothing of her shore across the rolling, cerulean waves.