Read Time: 5 min | Historical Fiction | Romance | Drama | Part 6
By the time we had sighted the island of Hispaniola, I had mastered many of the tasks on the small ship. Mostly the task of scrubbing the deck once my strength had returned. Tahiris and I would spend days altering clothing, patching, darning, and being creative with meals. The men had objected to me doing any menial tasks, but I had no intention of pretending to be a lady, content to idle away my time reading poetry and pampering myself needlessly to frustrate a boat load of desperate men. But I did still afford them the luxury of poetry and stories at night.
Tahiris had a different charm about her. She was quite at ease among them, a charisma enriched with the bawdy effervescence of brothel champagne. If there were such a thing, she would have had it by the barrel load.
The men loved her and respected her. Me, on the other hand, they preferred to treat with a filial deference. I was a little sister, who needed the protection of the mob. I still didn’t drop my guard around them. Vasco had become the captain’s right-hand man and had taken to this life like a duck to water. At first the men would do their best to rankle the boy, but he had grown up wild, and tough, and soon they began to treat him as an equal. He blossomed in this environment. But Tahiris and I still treated him as though he was our child.
It had been smooth sailing for the most part, except for three straight nights of dismal weather about a week ago, where we lost one soul and would have lost Vasco as well, had they not insisted on strapping him to the rails. There was a flogging, something I had never witnessed in my entire life. A brutality which Tahiris petitioned the captain to cease, to no avail. He reminded us that these men were unsavory characters at the best of times, and out here in the middle of nowhere, his ability to maintain order was made more difficult by the presence of two women. He said it with a vehement disdain that I could not replicate. It was our duty to tend to injuries sustained by the men. Mostly bandages and poultices. There was a broken arm, and we had pulled a tooth. There was also the fledgling romance between Tahiris and the captain. I had witnessed the quiet glances between the two of them and seen her attempting to slip away at night to visit him on several occasions.
Today, Tahiris was inspecting my scars. A process which required a privacy impossible to find on a vessel filled with men. But we made do in the captain’s quarters which he gladly vacated for my sake.
“The walls have a million eyes.” Tahiris whispered, and we both laughed.
There was no point in trying too hard at being overly discrete to maintain dignity. Once you had shared sleeping quarters with a bunch of men, one tended to behave as they did. When I say sleeping quarters, I meant hammocks in the hold, elbow room only, with all the sounds and smells which accompanied a boar hunt. But they still allowed the two of us the semblance of privacy for just this moment.
I had yet to look at my scars. But I could feel them and see them in my mind’s eye. They were ugly, mocking reminders that fates’ cruelty had robbed me of the ability to have children or even be an attractive woman. No man wanted a barren spouse. I was perhaps fit to be a handmaid at best, or worse, one of Uncle Carlos’ offerings.
“It has healed nicely.” Tahiris said after removing the poultice.
“If you say so.” I stood partially nude in front of her, as her eyes finally met mine.
“Don’t you trust me?”
She reached for the only mirror between the new world and Cadiz and held it up for me.
There were three tiny scars, almost imperceptible. One just beneath the navel, and two more slight discolorations just a little lower. Those still hurt. It was less a physical ailing, and more of a self-inflicted mental anguish which I would replay almost every day.
“In my heart, Tahiris. In my heart I have lost so much already.”
“We do not know anything, Vanesa Laura.” She returned the mirror to the table.
“But I can feel it, here.” I touched my chest.
She smiled and adjusted my shifts, then held up a pair of uniquely designed breeches for me to clamber into. Clothing which we had both made ourselves, as ocean life did not cater for the two dresses, which either of us had fled Spain wearing. We had carefully altered some used and tattered linen and made for ourselves functional items to fit in with the men, and to be able to work. We looked like poorly dressed court jesters, and probably smelled much worse than cattle farmers. If my father could only see me now.
It was always wet on the ship, and there weren’t many options available for drying one’s clothing. But we found ways on the days when sunshine and wind were available. The men grew tired of ogling after a week and being threatened with floggings, which I felt was a tad unfair since we were the ones who had intruded upon their lives.
“It is safe to come in now, Vasco.”
Vasco had been the only one of the three of us who had adapted perfectly to life aboard a ship. Every day was an adventure for him. He had learned to fish, read the captain’s charts, and began to have the faintest inkling of facial hair, which of course had him spending more time with the tortoise shelled mirror.
“Hispaniola. I can’t wait to set foot on dry land.” He sat down on a large chest and nursed his feet. I never had the time to get him the shoes I had promised.
“How much longer?” I asked him.
“The captain has orders to take you directly to your father, so this will be a short visit, perhaps just to resupply.”
“How much further to Puerto España?”
He smiled. “Not much longer, Sister Laura.”
Just then, Arturo barged into the room. “Señoras, we have a vessel tailing us.” He seemed winded.
“Friend or foe?” Tahiris asked.
“We don’t know, but the captain isn’t waiting to find out.”
We ran on to the deck, as the men busied themselves, hoisting sails, and preparing for the worst. In the distance, hugging the horizon, I could barely see it. It appeared harmless to me, but there was concern on the face of the captain as he spoke to Tahrirs.
“They are pursuing us.” Tahiris informed me when she returned. “He has decided to push for Hispaniola. Port Royal, just further to the west, is a pirate haven, and we cannot outrun this vessel which pursues us.”
We were caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, and I could feel my anxieties returning. I uttered a silent prayer, that I would be given the chance to see my family. It was the only thing I had been desperately holding on to these last five weeks.
To be continued…
YOU CAN READ THE PREVIOUS ENTRIES IN THE SERIES:
PART ONE | PART TWO | PART THREE | PART FOUR | PART FIVE
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