The silence awoke Tiola, her half-asleep state registering that the rain had momentarily stopped. Sleepily, she turned over feeling the scratch of rough-spun linen sheets on her skin, expected to find Jesamiah asleep on his back, snoring, beside her. He was not there; his portion of the narrow bed quite cold. Far away lightning flickered; then a distant, predatory growl of thunder.
Shivering, all the warmth and comfort of the earlier part of the night gone, Tiola swore a sailor’s explicit curse, and winding the sheet around herself padded from the small side cabin into the main room. The headache was above both eyes now, stabbing into her brain and her body felt languid and heavy as if she were carrying a solid weight on her shoulders. The distant flash of lightning through the curve of the stern windows and the skylight provided enough light, although she swore again as she bumped into the truck of the larboard cannon. She hated the things being in here, but Jesamiah insisted they stay. In case. In case of what she never asked, knowing she would not appreciate or approve the answer. Ugly, gape-mouthed death bringers, even when they were cold and silent, squatting there with brooding menace.
She made her way to the door, yelling for someone to bring a lantern, expecting Finch, the ship’s galley cook and Jesamiah’s self-appointed steward to appear. Or young Jasper who had claimed for himself the duty of cabin boy. Instead, Rue was there, his hand raised, about to knock and seek admittance. Aside from being quartermaster and second in command, he was Jesamiah’s closest friend beyond Tiola. He ducked beneath the lintel, without saying a word hung the lantern he carried from a ceiling hook where it cast an eerie blur of mildly rocking shadows. Thunder. The flash of lightning quicker on its tail, the storm rolling nearer.
“Where is Jesamiah?” Tiola asked, concern making her voice curt and angry, one hand, with fist bunched, on her hip. “Do not tell me he has gone ashore, Rue. Do not dare tell me he is that stupid!”
The Frenchman responded with a loose shrug, his tone gruff. “I was coming to ask you the same question,
. You know Jesamiah. When ‘e decides to be stupid ‘e does it in grand style. The jollyboat is gone and ‘e is the only one missing.” He glanced into the cabin as if hoping his statement was wrong, hoping to see Jesamiah come from his bed, yawning and scratching at his backside.
Tiola hitched the slipping sheet higher. “If they gave prizes for stupidity, on occasion Jesamiah would be the outright winner.” She swore a third time, one of his often used, more colourful phrases. “Hell’s balls, I suppose he has gone after Stefan?”
Rue nodded. He supposed the same.
A large man, Rue was burly, with muscled shoulders, a bull neck and stamina to match. In his mid-forties, his dark beard was beginning to show the badgered grizzle-grey of his age, but his eyes missed nothing and his courage was never wanting. He thought of Jesamiah as the son he never had, Tiola the daughter-in-law. Was as annoyed as her at Jesamiah’s idiocy. As damned angry at the threat hanging over Tiola.
“Did you not try and stop him?” Tiola admonished as she searched for her clothes, gathering them to her, partially regretting now her abandon with Jesamiah when they had so desperately made love here in his great cabin.
“You ever tried stopping
from doing something ‘e is determined to be about?” Rue answered pragmatically. He peered dismally into the rain now falling as if it were being emptied straight from a bucket. Sighed. “You are going to tell me we must go ashore and stop ‘im from getting ‘imself arrested,
?” He paused, wistfully hoping she was going to disagree. She did not. He puffed resigned air through his cheeks. “I will stir the boat crew. They will not be best pleased.”
, do so. Tell them to complain to their captain. It is his fault we will be getting wet this night.”
Five minutes later Tiola was descending the hull cleats and stepping into the gig, a larger craft than the jollyboat, the men grumbling at the oars, Rue, equally as irritated, at the tiller. The rain was falling almost vertical.
The jetty was no more than two hundred yards away but the offshore wind and the swell of the tide made the distance seem twice as far; the effort to pull twice as hard. Tiola screwed up her eyes to peer through the murk, the curtain of rain obscuring the beach to the left with its haphazard sprawl of tents made from sails and oars, and the scatter of the more robust wooden bothies and lean-to shacks. From the upper walls of the fort and some of the grander houses further around the harbour, a few lights were haloed in the shrouding and watery darkness. Otherwise, the town was unlit. There were no bonfires on the stretch of sand this night; no flaring pitch torches. No laughter or carousel, not in this downpour.
Lightning cracked open the sky illuminating everything and reflecting on the restless sea. Tiola glanced at the swirl of water, at the depth of blackness beneath her and shuddered. Something was coldly observing her, she could feel the glare of its all-seeing eyes, the seething hatred. Tethys was awake and watching.
The air suddenly smelt of rotting seaweed and dead fish. Through the rain and the growl of thunder, Tiola heard the voice of the sea, sounding in her head like the wash of a wave lurching upon the shingles of a storm-wracked shore.
~ I want him. He is mine Witch-Woman. Give him to me. Jesssh..a..miah! ~
~ He is not yours to have, Tethys. ~
For answer, a wave hurled against the side of the gig drenching the occupants further and rocking the boat wildly. No ordinary wave; the claws of the Queen of the Deep.
~ He is not yours, ~
Tiola repeated with adamant finality, the words spoken in her mind as she raised a shield of protection around herself and the crew. She should have done that immediately she had felt the ominous presence of Tethys. This damned headache was slowing her reactions, muddling her concentration and judgement!
He is mine, Tethys. Accept it.
I ssh…shall not. I ssh…shall not.
Then you must fight me for him. But remember, those with the greed or death-wanting of the Dark Power cannot win easily over those of the White Craft.
Another wave rolled beneath the boat tilting it to starboard, the oarsmen, glancing uneasily over their shoulders, cursing as they fought to keep it steady.
What a night!” Rue called to Tiola as he struggled with the tiller. “Damn the fool; ‘e will make your situation worse.”
“Tell him that,” Tiola answered, brushing aside a sodden lock of hair from her face, wishing she could as easily brush aside the foreboding coursing through her like a drowning tidal wave.
, I will be telling ‘im,“ Rue promised, not realising beyond her annoyance with Jesamiah there was anything wrong. “Do not doubt it
I will be telling ‘im!”
Tiola shrugged aside the oppressive illusion of fear. There was little Tethys could do to permanently harm one of the White Craft, but Jesamiah was human, he could die. Although, if she was honest, at this precise moment Tiola felt inclined to kill him herself.
Where are you Jesamiah? Do not dare tell me you have played the part of an idiot!
She sent the thought to the harbour towards the taverns and accompanying brothels lining the narrow alleys, and to the ramshackle scatter of huts that made up the pirate slums of Nassau. Received nothing back.
He either had not heard or had closed his mind to her. He had the knowing of how to do it now, how to consciously erect a shield against the words she sent into his mind, and how to silence his own thoughts against her probing.
Gazing towards the fort, a suspicious feeling that Jesamiah was in trouble nibbled at Tiola’s mind. She turned to look back at the rain-blurred form of the
shifting moodily uncomfortable. The ship wanted the soothing presence of her consort, of Jesamiah. A ship was a thing made from oak trees that had once grown in a forest and had spread their branches upwards to embrace the sky; had thrust their roots downwards to grapple the rich, dark, earth.
remembered the echoes of once being alive, and possessed a soul, of sorts. In her own way, lived for her beloved Captain, and pined for him when he was not aboard.
The gig pulled past the lichen-covered walls of the fort; much of the place was dilapidated, the outer, northward side more a cracked and disintegrating ruin than solid brick; the inner tower crumbling. Only this part overlooking the harbour was intact, the six huge cannon, poking their vicious snouts through the upper battlements, in prime condition.
As were the cells, the dungeons below ground. They were dirty, damp, full of filth, vermin, insects, rats and rot, but they were secure. The inch-thick outer doors were of solid oak, the locks new and oiled. A succession of corrupt governors had stored their portion of looted treasure in those dungeons. Only Governor Rogers used the place as it ought to be used; for drunks beyond ability of keeping the peace, and for miscreants. And idiots.
Where are you Jesamiah?
She received a sheepish, apologetic answer.
In gaol, sweetheart.
Her audible oath startled Rue’s eyebrows into raised surprise. An expletive even he, a sailor from the age of ten years old, had not heard before.
“Up oars,” he called, and the gig bumped gently against the jetty, Tiola already standing, her skirt hitched in one hand to above her knees, the other reaching for the iron rails of a weed-covered ladder. The jollyboat was warped to a bollard alongside.
As she stepped ashore, a surge of power tingled through her; she frowned. She had been feeling most odd this day. Perhaps it was the heavy oppression of the thunder, or the rain?
“Mistress van Overstratten?” A man, a marine, dressed in the red tunic of the King’s Militia stepped from the shadows, his musket resting on his shoulder. Another man, a double as far as the uniform went, with only his leaner build and squarer face different, treading purposefully behind. The fort might be dilapidated but not the men who manned it.
“You are Mistress van Overstratten?” the first repeated.
“You know perfectly well who I am Gabriel Hornsea.” Tiola hauled herself to the jetty. “I birthed your wife’s fifth child last week. How is the boy? Suckling well I trust?”
Hornsea coughed, embarrassed. “He’s doing fine, Ma’am, I thank you, but I am on duty now and it ain’t fitting fer me t’be talking about me missus an’ the bairns.”
“No, I can see that.” Tiola dipped a formal curtsey in honour of his rank of corporal. “How may I help you?”
His embarrassment deepening, chubby face reddening as cherry bright as his uniform, Hornsea lowered his musket and pointed it at her midriff.
“I have orders to arrest you Ma’am. To escort you to a place of confinement where you shall await the Constable, and then trial by judge and jury.”
Rue, padding up behind Tiola swore, his hand going to the cutlass at his side, the sound of steel being drawn from its sheath. “Like ‘ell she…”
Tiola set her hand on his arm. “
, I thank you for your concern Rue, but one fool aboard the
is already one fool too many. I am safe with Corporal Hornsea.”
She looked at the two soldiers, Hornsea and his friend, Barnabus Bradford. As different – as similar – as salt and sugar. “I may have assurance of that I assume?”
Lowering his musket the corporal was genuinely shocked at the suggestion. “Ma’am! You will come to no harm on my watch!”
If it were not for Tiola, his wife and the bairn too, would not be tucked safe in the creaking wooden bed in the loft of their house half a mile along the shore. House was a grand and fancy name for a cobbled together wooden-built hut, but it was clean, dry, and it was home. Vegetables and fruit grew in the garden, chickens scratched in the dirt and a sow grew fat in her sty. The children were fed and clothed and Hornsea loved his wife, even though her face was not as pretty as once it had been and her breasts sagged from suckling the bairns. All the women of Nassau had benefited from the coming of Mistress Tiola. The men too, for a healthy woman was a happy woman.
“I apologise for having to arrest you Ma’am, but I have orders.”
Tiola offered him a genial smile. “I understand. You must do your duty Gabriel, as I assume,” she added as an inspired guess, “it was duty to also arrest Captain Acorne?”
Grim, Hornsea nodded. That episode had not been pleasant either. No one in Nassau agreed with this Dutchman’s maliciousness. Most men would have called an offender out and dealt with the matter quickly and quietly. Unless, as the whispers said, van Overstratten was a coward who dare not face a man, a pirate, like Jesamiah Acorne.
Rue’s lips thinned at the news, wondering how Tiola knew but he said nothing, accepting she was often aware of things without being told. He knew nothing of her Craft, but equally, realised she was no ordinary woman.
She trusted him implicitly, as did Jesamiah, but they could not risk him knowing what she was. Those who knew nothing could tell nothing. Only Jesamiah knew. Only Jesamiah, and he would go to his grave, torn into bloody pieces, not telling.
Tiola gave Rue a gentle push in the direction of the gig. “Return aboard my friend. I have found our Captain; it seems I am to join him for what is left of the night. In a cell he cannot get into further trouble,
The situation was not ideal, but at least her headache had gone.
Did you find him, Daughter? Did you see him?
Tethys was eager, excited, with the high, quick laughter of a young girl, although she was as old as Time.
Her daughter remained silent, oblivious of her sodden state. Yes, she had seen him, but she would not, yet, be telling her mother of it. A handsome man, gentle but strong. Lean but muscled. Black hair that curled below his shoulders, a moustache and a jaw line beard. Large, dark, expressive eyes. A golden acorn dangling from his ear. Blue ribbons were laced into that black hair. A handsome man? No. He was beautiful.