Chapter

Twenty-Nine

 

The knock came upon the door where the huge raider known as the Barbarian awaited. Once again, Lieutenant Jack Finch stepped forward to open it. OMallie advanced as the Barbarian rose to his feet, holding tightly to the bound hands of the women before him. The Barbarian looked at the women quizzically as OMallie stood at attention.

“’Twas my understanding from Edward that twas a man who wast aboard.

Aye, Capn, but so were these two. I found this with them.

OMallie held out the sack, and Jack stepped forward to take it. As he did so, Rosemary dared to raise her eyes just long enough to catch a fleeting glimpse of the Barbarian as he received the sack from his lieutenant and upended it on his desk to inspect its contents. He was bare-chested save for a thin, open vest of Indian design, and he wore an Arabian turban about his head. Well over six feet tall, he was almost impossibly broad in the back and shoulders, extraordinarily muscular, and wore expensive-looking leather breeches which encased thighs the size of tree trunks. A gleaming, Saracen-style sword hung at his waist, so comfortably and naturally that it seemed almost like an additional limb. His bare arms were liberally decorated with tattoos, but artfully. Rosemary did not think she had eer seen such a large or imposing-looking man, and Ariana whimpered as she was pushed forward, stumbling slightly as OMallie released his grip.

Jack Finch reflexively reached forward as if to help her, but one look from the Barbarian froze his arm to his side. The Barbarian continued to sift through the clothing and other items in the sack, and then pulled out a small silver tube with holes and pads to cover them. He looked at it carefully, then unrolled several of the folded garments until he found the two matching pieces.

A flute.

To whom doth this belong? he asked, and Ariana glanced up and quickly down again as she whispered,

“’Tis mine, sir.

Jack regarded his captains face as he took in the maids blond hair and tiny stature. The Barbarian's mouth quirked slightly at one side as he surveyed the boyish raiments which did little enough to disguise the flare of her hips.

Jack himself had already decided that she had wasted her time in donning them; any fellow who mistook this beauty for a boy was sorely in his cups. The Barbarian then turned his eyes on the brunette, who, like her companion, was staring submissively at her feet. But to her credit, she neither trembled nor cried. She, too, was generously endowed and, despite their bedraggled state, her bodice and skirts were of materials finer than those permitted the peasant class. Clearly her parents had been merchants of some sort, and her bearing and ivory skin confirmed her breeding. Yet, for all her fine garments, her hair hung in rat-tails down her back as if it had been drenched in seawater recently. Jack watched as the Barbarian assessed her alabaster skin, midnight hair, her voluptuous figure, and then, strangely, her hands.

Nay, he looks not at her hands, but at her fingernails. Strange, Jack thought. Her hands are soft and unblemished - she is clearly a woman of relative leisure, yet her nails are short. Short, but not bitten. They have been cut apurpose-- almost to the quick. Could the Captain be seeing something in those fingernails that told a story?

Suddenly, the Barbarian threw back his head and let loose a gargantuan laugh.

Both women could not help but look up at him in surprise, and might have even spoken had not another knock come from behind them, rapping sharply on the wooden door. The man called Diego entered, throwing his bound prisoner to the ground.

Pete! Rosemary exclaimed, and before she could think better of it, she ran and sank to her knees before his prone body. She could not examine him with her hands bound behind her, yet she scanned him frantically with her eyes. She found his arms and wrists bloody and raw. A hole marred the calf of his breeches, through which she could clearly see scraped and bloody flesh. With bloodshot eyes he looked back at her with a mixture of astonishment, concern, relief, and then frustration.

His first thought was gratitude that he was not alone and friendless upon the ship. But it was quickly followed by the sinking realization that if the girls were also aboard, his own abduction was likely due to his association with them.

Did I try t keep them from harm an' get knocked over th head an' bound for me trouble?

            Pete cursed himself for an idiot.

Apparently tis me new habit. The girls get themselves in trouble, an I get meself hurt trying t save their silly hides!

Pudding fer brains, aye, thas what I ave.

Yet even as he cursed himself, he knew that if any man should offer further threat to the girls, then - fool that he was - he would no doubt scape all rational thought and leap valiantly to their aid.

Again.

It was not at all a welcome feeling.

As if to punctuate the idea that the girls might need rescuing and soon, Rosemary turned blazing eyes on the Barbarian.

What hast thou done to him? she demanded, but Arianas gasp drew her attention back to the fact that she had just raised her voice to a pirate captain, and, horrified, Rosemary quickly stood and returned to her place, biting her lip as if to hold in further speech. But, like Ariana, she could not keep her down-cast eyes from straying to Pete, and the Barbarian watched, amused, as they eyed their comrade like two protective mother bears with a cub whilst he endeavored to stand.

With a single nod, the Barbarian dismissed OMallie and Diego, and Jack moved to shut the door behind them. The Barbarian took a moment to scrutinize the male prisoner, the one the brunette had called Pete and who claimed to have been taken aboard against his will. He was surprised to see the man staring back at him, grim defiance in his icy blue eyes. The man was clearly no fighter; his hands were soft and his body even softer. But he was brave, and the Barbarian admired bravery.

Nodding to himself as though he had made up his mind about something, the Barbarian left his scrutiny and crossed back to his writing desk. Slowly he unwrapped his turban, revealing thick brown waves of shoulder-length hair. He wound the cloth into a neat bundle before handing it to Jack, who carefully laid it atop a chest. Rosemary almost had the feeling that the gesture was to make himself less threatening in appearance, or perhaps to make their encounter more informal, though she could not imagine to what purpose. More tellingly, though, he also removed the long, curved sword that hung at his hip and set it aside before turning once again to face them.

This is not the first time I have had stowaways aboard, but I will admit this is the first time I have had such pleasantly unexpected guests.

 His voice was deep and full, his tone disarmingly warm. Pete grunted at the Barbarians polite overture and eyed the windows, wondering how long he would last in the water even should there be a chance of escape. Ariana and Rosemary exchanged bewildered glances.

Was he in jest? Did he merely toy with his prisoners before disposing of them?

 Holding her breath, Rosemary cautiously raised her eyes until they met the Barbarian's. Strangely, they seemed kinder than a raiders had a reason to be.  Unperturbed by her direct gaze, he continued on.

 “Aye, he spoke, as if reading the question in her eyes. I am in earnest. Guests thou art and guests thou shalt remain. Jack, prithee release our guests from their bonds.

Raising his eyebrows in obvious surprise, the lieutenant moved quickly away from the door and one at a time gently cut through the bonds with his ivory-handled dagger. Pete winced and pulled his abraded wrists into his chest after his cords were cut and Rosemary clasped her hands before her, but not before briefly touching Petes arm and asking with her eyes if he was all right. The Barbarian took note of the gesture, and of Petes short nod in response.

Lastly, Jack cut the blondes cords, and Ariana could have sworn that as he sawed at the ropes she felt him draw a deep breath, as if taking in her scent. Yet it was so subtle that perhaps she had imagined itand finally, she too was free as the lieutenant moved to throw the cords in a corner.

Rubbing her wrists, Ariana cautiously eyed the Barbarians right-hand man. He was small of stature, with straggly brown hair and a scruffy beard braided with small shells and beads. His raiments, though well used, were neatly kept and beautifully tailored: a gray knee-length coat of very flattering cut, a beige, patterned waistcoat, knee-high brown leather boots with a thick layer folded over at the top, and a blue and burgundy head scarf which dangled down his back, over which he wore a weathered tricorn hat. There was an energetic, childlike quality about him that seemed to Ariana to make him trustworthy. Can a pirate be trustworthy?

He caught her staring at him, and she quickly nodded her thanks before looking again at the floor in front of her. What am I doing, looking a pirate in the eye like that? Do I want my head severed?

Meanwhile, the Barbarian had resumed speaking to Rosemary and Ariana.

Fair creatures, during the time thou art aboard, it would please me greatly if thou wouldst explain thy not unwelcome presence upon my ship, and repay my hospitality with music in the evenings for my men. Only if thou wishst, of course I make no demands upon thee. The Moira will dock in Essaouira in a fortnight, at which time thou mayest stay or go as pleases thee.

Thou, and here he eyed Pete must work thy passage as a member of the crew whilst thou art aboard. But if you work hard and do remain true, thou shalt sail unharmed until we put into a port which pleaseth thee and then thou art free to go. Until such time, quarters shall be found for all of thee. Cramped they may be, again addressing Pete - but rest assured they are far more comfortable than my cargo hold.

The Barbarian turned to Jack.

It shall not do to have the women eat in the mess with my men, so see that their meals are sent here to be shared at my private table. I am sure they shall be pleasant company. The man will eat at mess with the other Able-Bodied Sailors.

The Barbarian seemed to have finished speaking, for he sat in silence, smiling gently at them. His smile seemed genuine, but Rosemary was wary of such unexpected good fortune.

 Wherefore, if we are all stow-aways, doth the Barbarian treat Ariana and me so differently from Pete? Doth he mean merely to separate us so as to make whatever plans he hath easier? Surely it is more than mere deference to our gender.

She lowered her eyes, but her voice was clear when she spoke.

Guests, sir?  We are truly grateful for thy magnanimity, but I imagine we are far from being thy guests. To ask no payment from us yet to offer safe passage? Tis implausible. My lord.

Yet it is truth. I ask nothing of you.

Rosemary waited, but he said nothing more.

She was losing her patience. The man was like a cat playing with a mouse afore devouring it whole!

Thou askst for nothing? What wilt thou take, then?

The Barbarians tone turned low, intimate.

Naught but what thou wouldst freely give, wench.

Rosemarys face heated to a deep red, and she stared hard at her feet. She could feel Arianas furious gaze upon her at her obstinacy in speaking and inviting danger. Rosemary looked sideways at her and shrugged an angry shoulder. Ist not better to know our fate straight out than to believe the man a friend and find him a mortal enemy?

Ariana glared but made no argument, so Rosemary pressed the issue.

Forgive my disbelief, dread lord, but it is difficult to imagine an erm privateer with thine extraordinary reputation treating mere stowaways with such kindness.

 His smile broadened as his arms opened. 

What good fortune then that piracy and you may call me what I am - is not my sole profession. Thou art correct; a man in my position would ordinarily deal with any who cared to board my ship in stealth with swift and merciless justice. These are, however, far from normal circumstances. Ordinarily, your scrappy friend there would be feeding the fish at thirty fathoms by now. And I must admit I would be having some quite spirited negotiations with the slave merchants of Damascus concerning the pair of you.

 Though Ariana knew her knife had been confiscated, she reflexively reached for it behind her back. Rosemarys eyes, though still downcast, flashed, her nostrils flared white, and her mouth pursed as though to hold in the venomous words to which she dared not give voice. So he would ask nothing of them, eh? Nay, he would merely sell them to a filthy Arab slave merchant!

The Barbarian exhaled a small laugh, as though he could hear her thoughts. At the sound, Pete looked directly in the Barbarians eyes. His look seemed to say that the Barbarian would have to go through Pete ere he could fetch a price on the girls heads. And that threats of feeding the fish would fall on unimpressed ears.

The Barbarian smiled to himself. The man was brave indeed. And the women displayed an arousing mix of spirit and submissiveness. No stranger to adventure, he thought to himself that life aboard his ship would be especially interesting in the next month or so. Stretching, he reached towards a hook upon the wall and drew from it a full wineskin. Uncorking it and gesturing to Jack to fetch goblets and set the table for five, he waved the wineskin in their direction. 

But as I said before, I insist that these are unusual circumstances. By mine own fathers advice, thou, gentle ladies, are my guests now and need not concern thyselves with such things. And as this man appeareth to be dear to thee, I shall see he sails unharmed. So. Come! Sit, drink, eat.  If thy last few days have held as much excitement as the last few moments, thou shalt find all three endeavors to thy liking.

And, seating himself regally at the head of the large table, he gestured to the three to be seated. 

There were enough chairs for all of them and more, each one beautifully made and quite comfortable. Rosemary looked carefully at her two companions, her silent message plainly conveying that though phrased with utter gentility the Barbarians instruction had been as much an order as a request.

Jack gestured to two seats at the left-hand side of the table, and slowly the women lowered themselves into the ornate chairs whilst Pete was politely led by Jack to a seat on the right. Having had only two small pieces of salted fish since he had been taken aboard, Pete barely restrained himself in falling upon the delicious-looking meat which bedecked the table. But he reined himself in whilst Jack formally poured wine for each of them before taking his own seat at the Barbarians right hand. 

The two women remained on their guard as the Barbarian served himself and began to eat. Jack, too, helped himself before passing the platter of cold pork and mustard on to Rosemary, who, not to appear impolite, took a small slice for herself and put a larger one upon Arianas plate. She then passed the platter to Pete, whose generous portion seemed to indicate that if this was his last meal, he would at least make it a good one.

For a moment, all that could be heard was the sound of cutlery against fine gold plates as Pete, Jack, and the Barbarian fell to, and Ariana toyed nervously with her meat with the point of her table knife before finally taking a small bite and then another. Rosemary could do no more than stare squeamishly at the roast pork upon her plate.

Ought I eat it so as not to displease the Barbarian who, despite his gallant words, could yet take my life at any moment? Nay, even though it cost me my life, I have neer eaten pork and shall not start now.

Finally, able to take the tension no more, Rosemary put down her knife and broke the silence. 

Esteemed Captain, prithee we are assuredly most grateful, but I am still much bewildered by our fortunate lot. To what, in sooth, do we owe thine unexpected and, indeed, most excessive generosity?” 

Jack, as perplexed as the others, also looked to his captain for the answer. When the Barbarian merely blinked placidly at her, Rosemary slapped her hand upon the table and glared at him.

Please.

The Barbarian seemed amused by her display of temper. A ride, a meal, and preventing my lads from having their way with you is hardly excessive generosity. But I see thou shalt not be at ease until I have reassured thee that I mean thee no harm. Very well.

He wiped his lips carefully with his linen napkin and pushed back from the table.

I am christened Jarahd. Naturally the Barbarian is simply the name by which I am known to the crew and those who might wish to test their mettle against my mens strength. You two lasses may call me by my Christian name. Raider, trader, considered even a savage by some, but also known as one of many talents and a sense of fair play.

 Pete, having plowed through his first portion of meat, took a second helping and defiantly mumbled through a mouthful, Never 'eard of you.

 The Barbarian shrugged lazily. Reputations take a good long while to build. I am nothing if not patient.

 “For which we are all grateful, Rosemary persisted, but still the Captain -

Jarahd.

Gramercy Jarahd, then, still hath not stooped to tell us why he would treat us so gently!

 The Barbarian crossed one muscled calf over his knee and took a lengthy pull directly from the wineskin before pointing it in her direction. 

Ah, but I did. Thou simply didst not hear, or comprehend, what I spoke. I mentioned my fathers advice, which I did not become as successful as I have by ignoring.  He described thee both perfectly.

 He sealed the wineskin and set it aside before folding his hands before him and pinning his hawk-like gaze upon Rosemary. His deep voice was alarmingly intimate as he described her.

Raven hair, he said, and eyes like the sky before the storm: sometimes blue, sometimes green, but always full of fire and vitality. He neglected to mention the temper. The figure of a goddess, the voice of angel.  His eyes dropped once again to her fingernails. And she plays a harp to match her voice. She is called Rosemary, which is an herb I now see suits her perfectly. Piquant, savory, and when touched, the earthy scent lingers on ones fingertips long after the herb hath been released.” 

 Rosemarys eyes widened and she blushed deeply at the Barbarians insinuations as the raiders eye turned upon Ariana. 

And she travels in the company of the only golden-haired gypsy to walk upon the earth. But gypsy no less, with eyes of blue that a man can be lost in or by which he may be frozen to ice in the same moment, or so he sayeth. Fiercely loyal, quick with a dagger, and she possesseth a heart bigger than she herself stands. Plays the flute like she was born amongst the fey folk. Ariana, I believe?

It was Arianas turn to blush and furrow her brow, as Pete finally stopped chewing and looked back and forth between the two women and the imposing captain.

Aye, the Barbarian continued, thou art without a doubt those of whom he spoke when last I saw him, and hours went by before he would cease his endless praising of thee both. I was sorely tempted to stuff a cork down his throat in the hopes of a moments peace. But nonetheless he did impress me, and he bid me swear upon my sword to give the fair maidens what aid I could, if ere our paths crossed. Ha! I did not imagine at the time that it would actually be upon mine own ship, but I shall take my fortunes as the fates see fit to bestow them.

His eyes slid over to Pete, who looked back at him as if daring him to know aught about him, too.

I do admit my father did not mention thy ravenous friend, but as thou both do seem fond of him, he may live in peace as thou shalt.

 Rosemarys mind raced, straining to identify the benevolent sire of their giant host. She looked to Ariana, but Ariana shrugged and shook her head.

Thy father flatters, to say the least, she said, still a deep blush upon her face, but if it pleaseth thee, thou hast not told us his name. Whom may we thank for our lives and freedom?

 Jarahd laughed heartily, his voice booming as he slapped at his knee. 

Ha!  That old reprobate?  More names he hath had in his long life than you have had hot meals in thine own. But look closely at me. He hath my face, but mayhap picture me with a feathered blue Scots cap upon my head. Canst thou not guess?

 Rosemary peered at him, then startled as if struck by lightning. Jarahds skin was darkened now by a lifetime in the sun and wind, but it had that golden quality which indicated that it had not been so at his birth. And his eyes were not the black obsidian of an Arab, despite his attire. Indeed, they were a blue even lighter than Arianas. His stature, his voice, and his manner were all familiar now that she realized where to look. And above all else, his hearty laugh made it unmistakable.

 “Incredible, she whispered.  Thou art Auld Robbs son.”