|A Saucy Tale.
It's near midnight, September 5th. 1589
A late September Viking moon drifts eerily between darkening clouds hanging over Portsmouth docks. Standing on the wooden jetty, sailors gather, raucous, filthy and drunk; returning home after five months at sea serving on Her Majesty's newest galleon, HMS Revenge, which had put to sea as Drake's flagship and now returns after a failed attempt to invade Spanish controlled Portuguese waters. The ship has returned in unseaworthy condition, and without prize, for which Drake will surely fall out of favor with his Queen.
Along with fruit and vegetables spoiling, urine puddles, rats in their hordes nesting in the spoiled cotton bales, rain now begins to fall, shining the dock and dampening the oil-fat lamps, making it hard for the flint man to re-ignite. The Portsmouth dock area is no place for a lady; though with each ships’ return from the high seas women of a lesser station abound in assorted provocative dress, one or two breast feeding babies, but all offering female companionship to earn what bits of silver the sailors have left after paying Dead Horse. (debt)
Lady Sarah Belington, daughter of the fleet commander, Sir James Belington, fresh from her August bath and carrying a small bouquet of flowers close to her face, has disobeyed her mistress; fleeing into the night from her home high above the harbor upon hearing that Pirates had anchored offshore. In her eagerness to get close enough to see the ship, said to have outgunned several Spanish galleons laden with gold, something the Queen's best naval ships had failed to do, the Pirates had been offered safe passage and food in exchange for treasure. Drake's men, with little money, and nothing to boast of, were in no mood to hear of victories over the Spanish.
Lady Sarah had made a wrong turn, finding herself on the jetty and trying to hide quietly until a rat crawled over her shoulder. She let out a scream. A burly sailor, grinning toothlessly, reached out a callused hand to seize her by the hair, pulling out his dagger and holding it to her throat.
"Wott we got 'ere, then, lads, eh?" He growls, rubbing a stubble'd, scurvy chin into the exposed flesh of his victim's neck.
Another sailor, sporting only two more teeth than his colleague, jumps down from astride the barrel of a damaged Demi-Culverin, and gestures his admiration with a pouting of his hips. "Purty little thing, ain't she? How much will ya cost me, sweet little trollop? I jest got paid, see!" He seethes, spittle spurting between the gap in his teeth. His grin is devilish, rubbing a grubby and scarred musket finger across her chin, and pulling a chip of a silver from his vest pocket.
"But hell, this ain't no hooeer. Can't ya see, this 'ere's a fine lady, we should all be bending over for the likes of her." Her captor mocks.
"Aww, Jacko, ya blubber smellin' sea dog, she's a woman, ain't she? She probably stole that fancy dress! Now, if ya doesn't cotton to my plans, ma'lady, you'll go swab a deck someplace!" He rants drunkenly, turning his gleeful attentions back to this pretty wench still in the grip of his Crow Nester sea-mate, giving him a shove windward and then bowing sarcastically.
Other sailor's laugh hoarsely, not daring to get between these two; Jacko and Lugg, whom start brawling with each other as to who is going to feel these fine breasts first. The Lady Sarah takes desperate advantage of the situation, breaking free, leaving one brute clutching a fist full of hair, fleeing frantically into the darkness, knowing not to where.
Her worst fear is realized when she hears the two men coming after her, calling out lewd suggestions and gaining on her as if they know every footing on the docks so well. She, on the other hand, does not, so leaping and dodging barrels, coiled ropes, she scurries like a rat to the end of the pier where she whirls right, along a smaller dock plied with more cotton bales and timber, splinters of which tear at her dress and underskirt.
This is probably foolish, she believes, breasts heaving with terror, trying to find her way to a lamp lit customs area, rain falling heavier, her shawl becoming heavy, and immediately discarded, but she elects to continue fleeing down what seems the easiest escape route. The truth is there's not a soul at this end of the wharf, no help anywhere. The darkness has aided her somewhat, but now, that full moon skids from behind a cloud, monochrome light falling over the dock and on the inshore waters.
Fearing her visibility she crouches down behind an empty crate, hearing the men coming still closer, cursing and pushing barrels aside as they shove their way toward her, daggers drawn. She's just about to make another dash to safety when, instead, she emits a muffled shriek! A powerful hand clamps over her mouth. Someone very strong is pulling her down, sweeping her off the wharf and into a rowing boat anchored directly below the dock. She flails and kicks until her arms are pinned in an iron grip. No longer seeing anything but blackness or hearing anything but the slap of water against the sides of the wooden boat, which reeks of fish.Bbetter judgment warns her to lie quiet, at least for the moment, but she gasps furiously from behind the big hand,
"Let go of me, you miserable piece of sea scum!"
Her captor, unmoved, pulls heavy canvas over the two of them, warning in a low, but sizzlingly serious tone:
"Don't make any sound, unless you prefer they find you!"
"Who...who in the hell are you?" The Lady Sarah says in stifled dry whisper.
"Never mind. Someone who doesn't want to be seen any more than you do."
"Get your hands off me, you damn wharf rat!"
"Keep quiet!" He tells her sharply, making sure she understands by again muffling her mouth, though not so roughly this time, and with his other arm wrapped around her middle, holding fast.
The Lady Sarah waits, heart thudding beneath the lacy bodice as she becomes aware of his body up against hers. He's lean, hard-muscled and strong, she knows that much. Her chest continues to heave and fall, lying entangled with her captor on the bottom of the boat, listening for sounds of the men approaching.
Jacko and Lugg search hard, increasingly agitated at not finding their prize, bewildered and drunk, falling over barrels, Jacko flashes his cutlass against the iron work in frustration.
Maybe she's safer from them, but what about the man holding her so tightly, though not hurtfully? He certainly smells a lot better than those ruffian salt dogs. Clean as soap, a hint of leather mixed with mint, her nose detects. His muscular arms, glimpsed in the moonlight, along with his light colored, glossy, shoulder length hair. But that is all she knows about her newest captor, and yet her instinct to scream is lessened, something holds her still; obeying his order to stay quiet.
Her captor, too, finds it impossible to keep his senses attuned to the danger while he wonders curiously about this woman captive in his arms. She swears like a Portuguese, yet feels soft and feminine and smells of exotic floral scent as exquisite as the frothy gown she wears, now tattered, and showing a shapely calf and an ankle wrapped in short boots.
He'd come ashore from the pirate galleon to reconnoiter; make sure Drake is not setting a trap for his men, something he might try, if only to assuage the depth of his failure over the Spanish. Drake would like nothing better than to have him and his men captured; his cargo impounded for the Queen, and in doing so have Queen Elizabeth appoint him a new quest.
He, however, being on the other side of right, didn't seek favor from the Queen, or Drake, he sought only gold, while his Jolly Roger crew had taken on the Spanish and brought home a valuable cargo, gold, timber and tea. Now, needing food and supplies, he's willing to make a deal with the Queen's emissaries, but trusts them not. This particular pirate has a loyalty, firstly to his men, their loot, and lastly to her Majesty, having once been a Captain in her navy, and long ago betrayed by Drake himself. Using the blustering of night's cover to come ashore he'd heard the commotion, seen the men crashing down the wharf, chasing what appeared to be a woman; a woman as pretty as deep purple. It was his way to do what came naturally to a Pirate, namely follow trouble. The prize did indeed look worthy.
Reluctantly he tore his attention away from her immediacy, listening intently for a sound, lifting the canvas just enough. The seamen are still moving farther down the wharf and it sounds like another rip-roaring fight is going on. Maybe a tumble into the chill waters of the Solent would cure what ailed those troublemakers, he thinks, relishing the opportunity.
His captive stirs against him, trying to speak. He relaxes his grip and asks:
"What's your name?"
“I... sir..," she sputters. "...am Lady Sarah Belington, so if you know what's good for you, you'll kindly let go of me."
"Lady, if I knew what was best for me; I would not be protecting you from Her Majesty's scum. Are you down here alone?" He asks, not believing she's been quite so foolish.
"No. My carriage and driver are on the street." She lies.
"Really?” He says, shifting his head to one side like a dog trying to understand a spoken word. “Come with me, and just play along. If they spot us, I'll swear you were mine, first!"
Her mouth gapes, but his language is crisp and all business. He lifts her onto the wooden boards of the dock with uncommon ease before nimbly bouncing up beside. Treading with stealth he leads first into an area lit by dripping fat torches, where she gets a good look at him. Not a displeasing sight in the least, she has to admit, trying not to gaze. He, too, appraises her with steel blue eyes, glittering ice beneath expressive blond brows. His hair pulled back and tied at the nape. Bronzed beard, almost white with flecks of sea salt, covers a strong jaw which she believes has to have been sculpted, so perfect is it. She tries not to be seen letting her eyes cast downward, noticing a leather necklace holding what looked like a shark's tooth on his chest beneath the open white, fully sleeved shirt tucked tightly into black pants; a wide blue sash snug around his trim waist, over which a leather belt holds a curved handled pistol and a glittering cutlass. She is caught staring and is embarrassed, knowing a warm flush is visible on her face.
"Sir...” she says, keeping in mind her modesty, “I thank you for rescuing me. Now I need to find my carriage driver, hoping to convince him help is near at hand.
"No doubt you will, Lady Sarah. But first, I'll claim my reward..."
She stares disbelievingly into his blue eyes, set so prettily in his wind-tanned face, and catches a flash of the even white teeth of a roguish grin.
"Re....reward?" she stammers, then it comes to her. Those ships...the rumor of the traitor turned pirate, Captain James Rause, yes, the very one who had sailed under Drake himself, now a pirate!
"All right, sir..." she fumbles for time with a small satin purse attached to her waistband ribbon, "I have a few coins here..." But his long, tapered fingers close around her outstretched hand, gently folding her fingers back over the coins.
"Not the reward I had in mind, Lady Belington..." And he smiles like a panther regarding its prey, standing close. "What I want from you is worth more than a handful of money."
"Sir! Please!" she exclaims, cheeks flaming, "...surely you do not think that I..." she ceases to utter another word under his touch, quieting her, disconcerting in its pleasant way, more so than the notion he's simply another rake on the hunt for a willing woman.
He grins wider.
"As much as I would relish what it is you believe I'm alluding to, I haven't the time. Only enough for this..." And he pulls her to him softly, stealing a kiss on her cheek.
"You..." She gasps, feeling she could be swept against him without remorse, held in his powerful arms. "...Pirate!" she finishes in fiery indignation. Fearing this man might know her thrill, like a bolt of lightning past through her body.
“Your father has the power to pardon me, and my crew, before the Queen. Drake has lured me here with promises...offering freedom for treasure. I know from experience that he's not a man of his word. Once he has me where he wants me, he'll try to gain favor with the Queen. Having her troops capture me before a trade is made official.”
She makes no effort to push him away. What is the matter with her, she wonders in a raptureous daze, stared at his smiling mouth, secretly wishing to feel their warmth on hers.
But then she becomes aware that from somewhere, someone is shouting her name. An instant later her demanding, tantalizing captor releases her. There is something in his eyes she'd never seen in a man's eyes. Such a sparkles enraptured her .
“Your carriage man has found you.” He says; ready to go back from whence he came.
“Wait...please...where will you go...if it's a trap, why come?”
“Trouble...Vega lights my way, to die with grace, but first to ride the swell of possibilities.”
And with not another word his presence is no more.
Silas, the carriage man, is coming down the wharf as fast as his skinny legs will carry him, toting a lantern and horse-whip, is spouting threats of what her father will do to her Ladyship.
"Missy, my lordy lord...your father’s gonna lock you away for a month of Sundays when he hears about this! I swear the Commander's gonna be fit to be tied!"
Silas goes on and on about her indiscretion as they make their way back to the carriage. For once Lady Sarah has no retort for the scolding, moving slowly as if in a daze, putting two coins back into her purse. But there is something already filling its softness, a leather necklace, and a shark's tooth. Quite vividly remembering where she first saw it, and all the events just a short while earlier. She begins to form a plan to wriggle out of the hot water she is sure to be in, smiling at her father's old, but loyal servant.
"Silas, I'll put in a good word for you with Miss Hattie if you'll be kind in the telling?"
"That ain't a'gonna change things, Missy! Your father needs to know about this! I think Mistress Charmaine is right, it's high time you had a husband who'll see you stay out o' trouble!"
The Lady Sarah Belington turns once to gaze over the charcoal waters that roll under the moon's September glow.
"Silas," she turns her smiling eyes toward the old man, "do you think there might be pirate ships out there?"
“Only a pirate that's stupid enough to want to visit the end of a rope, Lady Sarah.”
When they arrive back at the house, a candle of fat is burning in the window, flickering its light against the walls. Silas helps Lady Sarah down before urging the horse forward toward the stable. Peering inside she sees two men, both seated at a table. One man is her father, the other, Sir Francis Drake. Her father insists she go immediately to her room, and tells her she will be dealt with come morning.
“Retire, daughter, for tomorrow there will be a hanging.” The Commander says, proudly. “A pirate, no less...and a traitor to boot!” He places his hand on the shoulder of Drake.
Lady Sarah, filling with rage, as when a cat, furious with passion, flies at a dog many times larger and heavier than itself, then hurls herself at Drake, startling her father to near heart attack!
What now for Lady Sarah? Will there be a hanging come the morning? Find out in the next chapter.