Chapter Thirty

 

Ariana choked on a bite of pork, and Rosemary tapped her gently on the back whilst Pete looked back and forth between the two women and the Barbarian. The Barbarian wore a broad smile.

Well sighted, lass. We do favor one another, my sire and I, do we not?

 Swallowing past her shock, Rosemary recovered her voice and replied,

Aye, the resemblance is uncanny. But if I may venture Auld Robb is himself an imposing titan of a man. Yet thou hast outdistanced thy father in breadth and height alike.

The Barbarian smiled at the flattery that was his due, and inclined his head in thanks.

Auld Robbs son? Ariana asked. Truly, I cannot believe what I see. And yet thou art so alike mine eyes cannot be mistaken. Be you his son, in sooth?

My good mother swears that I am. And my looking glass only confirms her words. I am the eldest of his making, and have two brothers and a sister who herself can nearly best me at swordplay. But thou shalt learn more of me in good time. I believe I now have the right to request an introduction to thy companion and inquire of thy business aboard my ship?

Ariana looked to Rosemary.

Erm kind sir, Rosemary began.

Jarahd, the Barbarian firmly corrected her.

Gramercy, Jarahd. Erm may I present with all respect our friend and newest band mate, Pete? Sometimes goes by 'Wicked Pete'.

Pete looked at the Barbarian with an unreadable expression.

New band mate, art thou? Jarahd smiled. Lucky man.

Lucky? T be abducted because of them? T feel responsible for th safety of two twittering females who had not the sense to stay out of trouble?

The matter be debatable, Pete muttered, but the Barbarian quickly upbraided him for his lack of gallantry.

Thou wouldst surely be paying thy respects to Davy Jones locker wert not for the favor these women show thee. I have stayed my hand only at their obvious affection for thee. Tis these debatable friends who have saved thy life, thou knowest. I should think a man who deserves to be called such would show two such loyal lasses a bit more respect!

Erm, in fairness, good my lord, Rosemary interjected, forestalling the Barbarians further wrath, if it pleaseth thee to know it, he did us that good turn first. Only a single day after we met, he did save both our lives and our maidenly virtue. Therefore, his present mood aside, and here she gave Pete a bewildered look if we have saved his life with our honest affection it is only fair recompense for the great favor he did for us when we were little more than strangers.

Pete squeezed his eyes shut in discomfort. It embarrassed him to know that no matter how cranky he got with them, Rosemary still hailed him as her hero.

The Barbarian took the reins and redirected the conversation toward the answers he sought.

 So, lucky or not, you became one of the band, and formed a friendship of sorts. How ist thou came to be in my cargo hold?

Pete merely shrugged, and looked to the two women for the answer he was certain was in their possession.

Prithee, sir, Rosemary began. Jarahd, I know not all that has happened since Pete was taken aboard thy ship, but I can begin his story. Ariana and I had just returned from market when a young friend of ours came running to tell us that Pete had been knocked oer the head by three men and taken, senseless, towards the dock. Our informant said he had heard the name The Moira, and with all haste, we ran to the docks to find the Moira departing, and an enemy of ours standing to watch her go!

Looking at Pete, who was listening with surprise to her tale, Rosemary continued, and her voice changed as her emotions oertook her.

Knowing that we owed our lives and maidenheads to his bravery, how could we desert him in his own hour of need? I owned some good cloth, a dowry from my father, and Ariana had a few precious bits of silver given by her mother. We sold and pawned the lot, left our horse and home in the care of our young friend, and hired a ship to chase down thine.

Looking again at the Barbarian, she bowed her head.

Forgive us, Captain Jarahd, for sneaking aboard thy ship and deceiving thee. But we could not let our friend face what might have befallen him without trying somehow to save him.

Pete could only stare in mute disbelief. Then, th girls were not forced aboard as I was? They do no need rescuing but instead came t' rescue... me?

The Barbarian noted Petes reaction, and resumed speaking.

But how didst thou manage to come aboard?

Ariana oertook one of thy youngest crew members little more than a boy - on land, dressed in his apparel as thou canst see, and came aboard by the last dinghy to return to thy ship last night.

Samuel. I thought that shirt looked familiar. When he was reported missing from his quarters last night, I thought he had merely tired of sea life and fled once on land.

Fearing the Barbarians reaction, Rosemary quickly added, I have no doubt that the boy, er, Samuel lives, my lord, for she but knocked him senseless long enough to erm borrow his clothes. If he was a favorite of thine, I am certain he may be found in good health back in La Rochelle where we left him.

The Barbarian merely nodded.

Brave and resourceful, he replied, nodding approvingly in Arianas direction. But mistress Rosemary, thou art still dressed as a maid, and thy hair is tangled and wet. Didst thou swim, mermaid-like, to my ship? he teased.

Aye.

The Barbarian laughed.

Nay, lass, thou hast come this far. Tell me the truth.

My lord, I do. I waited until I thought all men aboard might be asleep, and when the moon was high, I swam from shore. Ariana met me with blankets she found on thy ship and brought me to a hiding place, within which thy watchman did, alas, find us hid.

Jack looked at both women in amazement.

Let me see if I have this aright, Jarahd said slowly. You sold your possessions, left your home, hired a ship to chase mine, managed to overcome one of my crew, battled sharks and leviathans in the moonlight for nearly a mile a distance many of my men would not dare swim - and hid thyselves aboard a pirate ship to save a man who shows thee little gratitude?

The Barbarian looked disbelievingly at Pete, who himself was too moved to notice. Rather, he was looking back and forth between Arianas eyes and Rosemarys, his own face seeming to crumple before them.

You humble me, friends, he murmured, his cheeks a mottled red, and Ariana reached across the table to touch his hand. Pete put his hand atop hers, and looked up at Rosemary, his eyes saying most eloquently what his tongue could not.

“’Tis but what you would have done for us, Rosemary whispered, her throat tight.

More.

Rosemary shook her head, her eyes shimmering wetly. Pete pressed the point.

More, I say.

The Barbarian sighed, and leaned back in his seat.

Remember this moment, then, all three. For sea life is hard and arduous. T'will tax thee to the utmost, whether thou stayest aboard the Moira a week or a year. It taxeth me oft, and since childhood I have loved the sea and knew my heart was with the water! I have dealt with this by amassing a crew mostly of men I have chosen for their loyalty as much as their skill. They have served me for years, and though I command each one, I also call each one friend. And that hath made the difference. If thou hast each others ears and arms, thou wilt live to see England again, I vow unto thee.

The Barbarian looked at the three a moment more, but they seemed to have eyes only for each other. Again, he spoke.

Pete, the work will be hard. And as thou hast not yet earned thy way up the ranks, the more unpleasant tasks will naturally fall to thee if you choose to remain aboard until we return to England. But as a member of the crew, thou shalt naturally have a share in any riches we acquire. Thou mayest spend thine evenings afore thou dost retire for the night either with my men, or in gentle counsel with these fair lasses which, by their eyes, I infer twould be most welcome?

Rosemary laughed softly as she blotted a tear from her lashes, and Pete answered her with a gentle smile of his own.

And with bravery such as thine, Pete, the Barbarian continued, thou shalt soon be among more friends than these fair ones. Wilt thou stay? Or shall you depart when we reach Malaga?

Pete's hand still rested atop Ariana's, and she turned her palm over to squeeze his own in supplication. Rosemary, likewise, looked at him with eyes still shimmering, and he saw warmth and fondness and hope therein.

Th' girls. T' come all this way...

For me.

He nodded, swallowing.

Aye. I will stay as long as th girls are aboard.

He was surprised by how proud the answering smiles he received made him feel.

The Barbarian put his linen napkin over his plate, signaling that the meal was ended, and Jack rose to collect the plates from all. When the Barbarian saw that Rosemary had drunk all of her wine but eaten none of her pork, he eyed her strangely. She caught him looking, and ducked her head, the gesture almost as one who is guilty caught in the act.

Surely she is hungry after swimming all the way to the ship. And if she was not hungry, wherefore the guilty face?

As if to prove him right, at that very moment Rosemary's stomach growled loudly, and she put an embarrassed hand to her midsection. The Barbarian narrowed his eyes, scrutinizing her.

She hath drunk all of her wine, and even appears to have licked a spoonful of mustard. But she did not touch the meat.

He looked at her face, noting again her exotic coloring and almond-shaped eyes. An idea came to him, and as Jack passed, the Barbarian beckoned and whispered something in his ear. Jack glanced once at Rosemary, nodded, and exited the room.

Now, fair maidens, since thou didst embark for rescue and not adventure, may I assume that thou wouldst prefer to stay aboard until we return to England rather than be put ashore at some exotic clime?

Aye, my lord, answered Ariana. In sooth, we do wish nothing more than to be safely back in London. How soon may we expect to reach England again?

Lass, not for at least two months. But I shall see that thou art comfortable until then.

Two months? Pete choked.

Aye. The Moira doth not merely sail her way around the globe idly waiting for a fat merchant ship to pass her by! I am a pirate, but also a trader we weigh anchor for Malaga this very morn, then I am already scheduled to be in Morocco in a fortnight, then Sardinia, then Algiers ere I return to England. There are merchants there counting upon me to keep my word, and much gold to be lost if I do not! Wert not for that, I might be persuaded to return to England early, but I have given my word.

Evidently this was unwelcome news.

Now, now, such long faces! Wherefore so sad?

As briefly as she could, Rosemary explained why they needed to be back in London on December the twenty third. Sadly, the Barbarian shook his leonine head.

If the winds are fair and we encounter few delays, we may barely expect to reach Dover on December the twenty-second. Een should we make that date, there is no way thou canst reach London from Dover in a day.

The Barbarian stared at three crestfallen faces and drummed his fingers upon the table as Jack re-entered, carrying a single plate covered by a linen napkin.

 Cheerily, me hearts. Were someone to say to me it cannot be done, I should prove him wrong just for spite. I shall think of something. Meanwhile, twill not be so bad for thee aboard. A little music from thee, ladies, and a bit of good work from thee, Pete, and the months shall fly ere thou knowest it.

The Barbarian motioned for Jack to leave the plate upon the table, and addressed himself to Ariana.

Before we introduce thou three to the remainder of the crew, mayhap thou shouldst reclaim thy feminine raiments. I fear the sight of thee in those britches would incite a riot. Jack, prithee escort our guest to a chamber where she may don her skirts? They are in thy bag, aye? Take that with thee, and Pete, you may follow them. Jack will show thee to thy quarters Jack, I think mayhap there be room with Drew and Dave. Once thou art settled, Jack will assemble the men abovedecks so they may meet their three new ship mates.

Rosemary rose to leave with the others, but the Barbarian motioned her back to her seat. Ariana cast a concerned glance at her friend.

Fear not for thy sister, lass. I merely wish to inquire of my fathers health. She shall join thee shortly, never fear.

As the door closed, Rosemary looked apologetically at the Barbarian.

Alas, sir, I have not seen thy father in several months, not since we departed Portsmouth for London. But when last I saw him, he was in good health.

The Barbarian reached across her for the plate, his smile saying that he had not truly detained her for news of his sire. He pushed the plate in front of her, and uncovered it.

Chicken. Surely thou art hungry after thine arduous journey. Mayhap this is more to thy liking than my roast pork?

Rosemary stared at him, her confusion evident in her eyes. The Barbarians voice softened to almost a whisper.

At Bas Yehudi, nachon?

Thou art a Jewess, correct?

Rosemary gasped. The Barbarian, Captain of the dread pirate ship the Moira, speaks Hebrew?

Once again, the Barbarian seemed to read her thoughts.

Lass, I have traversed these seas more times than Magellan, speak six languages well and can get by in seven more, and have met more people of more climes than ere thou canst imagine. Thou art not the first one, as dark of hair and eye as an Egyptian but as pale in skin as those from Siberia, whom I have seen abstaining from pork. So. Am I correct?

Rosemary nodded, wary.

And I should venture to guess that Rosemary is not een thy given name. Do thy companions know?

Ariana doth.

Not Pete?

Rosemary shook her head.

Well, thou hast naught to fear from me. I have mine own unique relationship with my Maker, as thou mayest imagine. I am in no position to judge another on theirs. And even if I were to, I have met enough good men and women of thy faith to know that thy people are indeed chosen by G-d. So, fear not of me, lass. Go on, I am certain thou art famished. I shall tell the Galley Dog that thou canst eat only chicken and fish thou canst eat beef, too, correct? Good. I shall tell him that all else makes thee ill. If I speak it he shall not question it, and thou shalt not starve aboard the Moira for keeping thy religious laws. Nay, truly. Thy secret shall remain thine own. Go on. Eat.

Rosemary, famished, looked into the Barbarians eyes, and then at the chicken. Without another word, she bent her head and ate as though she had not smelt food in a fortnight.