Read Time: 5 mins | Historical Fiction | Romance | Drama | Part 5
Sad sounds, like a mother bewailing the loss of her child. The whale sang this woeful melody, as though nature, and the darkness of the ocean’s depths were welcoming me. I would spend nights on deck simply listening, for in the cargo hold, her cries terrified me. As crusty, hardened sailors drank and howled at the moon, the creature in the black waters would respond, and I would resonate with her. For what I mourned, I was uncertain. But my heart said that the attack which I had barely survived would be the cause of many sorrows. “As a dear pants after the water, so my soul…” I whispered into the ocean breeze.
“She is not anywhere near us.” It was one of the sailors assigned to watch over me.
Arturo would follow me around while I was on deck. As one grew familiar with their shadow, so I had also come to appreciate Arturo. I had grown accustomed to him, and he was never intrusive, or overly talkative. It was nice for him to engage me in idle chatter from time to time. For the last month I had spent most of my days locked away in the captains’ quarters, reading poetry, of all things, and being sick. I was not born for the water, and I desperately yearned for dry land. But I would always feel right at home on the deck at night. And I would come up here, and listen to the mourning of the whales, and the inebriated sailors.
“What brought you to that conclusion, Arturo?” I never met his gaze, but I could feel his eyes lingering on me. At least I was still attractive, though only to sexed starved, drunken sailors. I was being overdramatic, of course, but melancholy is its own malady.
“The Basque fishermen killed her calf last spring. She prowls the waters, following ships, crying after her child… grieving.”
“Why would they do such a horrible thing?”
“Whale oil is big business, Senora Laura. One whale, and her calf, is worth two to four years of fishing to most crews.”
“We are weeks from Spain. You believe that she would follow us this far?”
“In the silence of the ocean depths, in the hollow of the hull, you can hear them. We reckon that there be many nights of sailing between the vessel and the whale.”
“A bit of a wild guess if you asked me, Arturo. You sailors have the most vivid imaginations.” He sulked back into the shadows, perhaps I had hurt his feelings. “But if you were correct, then it makes her cries all the more heartbreaking.” I tried to redeem myself.
A loud cackle of laughter from the few men on deck, broke the deadlock. These men, who were the night watch, were my companions. I would listen to them, singing, telling stories, always the most fascinating and improbable tales. Not a soul among them would ever dare tell the truth. There was nothing more delightful, or hopeful, than fairy tales.
“Would you like to share a story with the lads, Senora Laura?”
I hesitated. Clutched in my hands, and tucked under my shawl, was a small pamphlet I had borrowed from the captain’s quarters. Would these men appreciate poetry?
“I am sorry. But I fear I am not as versatile a bard as any of you gentlemen.”’
A chorus of sighs went up. Five men, seated around a coal fire, huddled together for warmth. I was wearing several layers and could use a few more. I loved reading to any who was willing to listen. It was entertaining, and it gave me something to do, rather than sulk.
“You can sing us one of those fancy songs that you and the boy dance to on occasion.” Arturo suggested, and they all cheered. I foolishly blushed.
Vasco and I danced more as a form of exercise. And he knew far more songs than I did. Songs that should not be sung by a child. But he worked in a brothel, so I could not hold him accountable.
“What magic spells have you been reading in that book of sorcery?” One of the men pointed to the pamphlet in my hands.
“It is called Velvet Cheeks. They are stories written by a poet from the courts of Francesco de Tello de Guzman. She tells of the affairs which occurred in the home of the Governor of Manila.”
“Pure sorcery.” Arturo teased.
“Oh no. They are quite melodic and romantic.”
One of the men, stood up, and brought a pail closer to the hot coals, and gestured for me to sit down. Tahiris had stirred, and was now standing on deck, watching me squirm, her face beaming with delight. She had been my strength on this voyage. She would tell me tales of where we were headed, and what to expect, though she herself had never been to the new world. Tahiris was a descendant of the captured natives brought as tribute by Don Cristobal Colon to Queen Isabella. Her story was more fascinating than any poetry I could ever read to these men. But they were hers to tell. For her, this voyage was just as important as mine. A return to her home, to her people, and to her heart.
The mischievous look on her face was begging me; “please recite the pure sorcery” for my audience of five. I sat on the pail and allowed them to share the intimacy of the space.
“Velvet Cheeks, by Countess Navajas.” I blushed and paused. My father would not approve of me reading such scandalous tales to a group of unruly men. He lived and breathed Sola Scriptura. But I was never known to be one who followed sound doctrine. This setting made me feel so alive. As the men jostled for whatever little elbow room there was, I cleared my throat, and read tales of love and debauchery. Even the whale had ceased her mourning.
To be continued…
YOU CAN READ THE PREVIOUS ENTRIES IN THE SERIES:
PART ONE | PART TWO | PART THREE | PART FOUR
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