Freedom Pioneers : "Expeditions" [Ch5i]


Life aboard ship went on, setting a routine of duties including washing the ship from bow to stern, crows nest to hull; caulking the spreading planks and replacing those desperately requiring it. They even indulged in scraping off barnacles and brushing up her paintwork.

As the heat progressed Rhiannan was finding it exceedingly difficult to function actively. The sea sickness was plaguing her morning and night, even when the boat glided tranquilly on the glass-like water. Maloney was alerted to her dismay by Furness who took her her meals. Maloney came to see her and immediately carried her above decks ordering her cabin washed out in her absence. The fresh air revived her somewhat but he suspected something more to her malaise than just seasick and confinement in the heat.
Michael strode from his cabin straight to the pair; Maloney sitting on an upturned pail the girl weakly on his lap. Maloney had never seen his young friend look so angry.
‘Why have my orders been disobeyed? What is she doing out of confinement?’
‘Captain the woman was wasting away down there. She is violently ill and dangerously close to death you would not have that on your conscious nor taint this ship with that.’ Maloney advised strongly.
‘She is not to be trusted.’ Michael pronounced each word with bolts of pain stabbing his heart. ‘No man is to trust her or they do so at their own peril.’
But seeing her so weak was indeed squeezing the life from his heart. She would have to come out of the cabin and he would have to deal with seeing her around but Maloney was right he couldn’t allow her to die.
‘Find her something useful to do to keep her busy perhaps assist the cook considering she is a woman and previously under your sister’s care whom was a cook I presume she was taught to wash dishes at least.’
He turned to leave incapable of further looking at her limp pale form; dressed in just a shift and the rug from her cot; draped still somewhat wilted across the big man’s lap like she were a child; her small dainty feet peaking out making him long to caress them kiss them.
‘But I warn you ship’s mate, if she causes havoc you shall hang from the yard arm for it along with her.’
Maloney’s face showed his shock at Michael’s coldly delivered threat. This young man was not one to be trifled with. Over the years Maloney had watched him mature from a young lad with hatred in his heart to a young man with anger and hatred in his soul. He had studied cautiously the most effective ways of fighting and of managing dangerous vicious men and his place on this ship as captain was self earned as much as Maloney’s loyalty protected it. So for Michael to deliver such a threat it was not done in jest, Maloney had seen him deliver the promise before and once even had to carry it out.
‘Just take care of her.’ the young captain added almost as a soft prayer, and he then strode away barking orders at a group of men sitting about on their time off. ‘Get about some business you lazy dogs!’

It took two days for Rhiannan to regain her strength Furness helping her to eat and Maloney making sure she took in air and sunshine every day. She was pleased to help Furness with his new cooking duty, assisting him not so much with cooking but more with cleaning out the galley and stores; a chore neither room possibly had ever received in living memory, and in the afternoons she rested wherever she could find the coolest place.

But it was the evenings and the nights she was happiest. The crew enjoyed themselves in the balmy cooler evenings. A few played instruments and another few sang. They sat about the deck amusing themselves with cards and other games, hobbies of simple crafts and just chatter. Gradually, because Maloney kept her with him when she was not in her cabin or at work with Furness, Rhiannan found herself more and more included in Michael’s company, even though she felt she could be in other company; for example Furness or even Jake’s, now that he’d been released from the box and had marked on maps all the caches he knew; more rum, whisky and French cognac brandy, bolts of cloth and other material equipment, and of course gold and jewels.

But she had to admit the company of the captain and the first mate far out weighed that of the rest for interesting conversation and amazing levels of wit. And she felt safe and confident about them, especially Michael. Even though his demeanour was aloof and detached from her, his quietness and reserve exuded confidence and gave her spirit peace; imagining herself to be fully protected from all evils and ailments when she was about him.

It was nearly two weeks after they left the island when Michael had called her and Maloney into his cabin. He’d had Furness serve an early dinner for them, cold meats the last of the island vegetables and fruits and a decanter of the crisp rosé from Portugal. After they ate and felt very merry indeed Michael made his announcement.

‘Maloney, I’m stepping down as captain of this ship.’
‘What?’ Maloney leapt to his feet, nearly exploding with the shock and Michael’s smiling face didn’t make him any calmer. ‘Have you lost your mind? What has addled your wits? For four years now we have sailed in this tub and never a word of you giving that up.’
‘It’s only been two years, I’ve only known you four and the first two years you dragged me across America and back.’
‘We had to make the money for this tub.’
‘We could have done it in half the time but you drank half your share twice over.’
‘Well I can’t be first mate if I own the ship, now can I?’
‘So you say.’ Michael smiled and motioned the older man to resume his seat which he did. ‘However it holds no bearing on my future plans and I find I now wish to retire as captain.’

Rhiannan was suddenly fearful. Would this mean that he would leave the ship? If so where? When? How? And what would she do? Would he leave her there or take her with him? Would he care what happened to her? What made it so that she would consider her future connected to his? Yet she could not think it not so. And to think now that she just might have to consider for herself her own future safety, scared her more than it had when she left the house in London. Being surrounded by immeasurable amounts of water that she had no idea how to survive could account for her fear but she preferred it was the company on board and her doubt that they would behave so nicely to her without their captain King Michael Kent’s influence.

‘But why?’ Rhiannan asked. ‘Where will you go? Do you plan on stopping in Rio then?’
She missed the knowing and warning glare that Maloney gave him regarding that idea.
‘No I’m not leaving.’ He assured her smiling extending that smile to Maloney with emphasis in widening his eyes. ‘As Maloney, you so rightly pointed out, you may not own the ship but I do. And I don’t have to be anything to be aboard her. So I’m stepping down and promoting you captain.’

Rhiannan stared first at Michael and then at Maloney. The older man was a complexity of pride, rebuff, fury and bafflement. She couldn’t help but chuckle at the picture he made, red cheeked frowning but with a huge smile and his chest all puffed out.

‘Well I … I … I don’t know what to say.’ he finally choked out.
‘Say nothing, but I warn you, there is an ulterior motive.’
‘There is?’ both Maloney and Rhiannan chorused looking at Michael in surprise.
‘And that will come to light in due course.’ He grinned. ‘Go on out then and find yourself a mate.’ He told Maloney then grinned at that, ‘A first mate,’ he clarified then lowly added, ‘Rhiannan is not available.’

Rhiannan stared agog at Michael and missed Maloney’s change of face from confusion to complete understanding as the penny dropped and he fully comprehended his master’s true motive.
‘Aye aye sir!’ he acknowledged and beaming he left the cabin.

How she contained her anger until Maloney had gone she could not say.
‘How dare you?’ Rhiannan hissed.
Startled by her anger Michael turned looking uncomprehendingly at her. He stood up to walk towards her instinctively knowing he needed to placate her.

‘Now Rhiannan …’
‘And don’t you dare cuckoodle me.’ The made up word made him pause, amused by it.
‘Don’t you mean …’
‘Don’t you patronize me!’ she yelled. ‘You have no right to declare anything about me and I’ll thank you to remember that in future. When this ship docks in Sydney Harbour our relationship will be exhausted.’
‘I’m hoping we’ll be exhausted too but not in the way you mean.’ He said quietly and she stared at him giving him the chance to reach her and begin gently sliding his hands about her waist.
‘What do you mean by that?’ she demanded
Then realising his closeness as he went to explain she slapped his hands away and spinning, escaped him, putting a chair between them; her next words cutting his off again before he’d even had a chance to utter them.
‘Never mind I don’t want to know and I’ll thank you sir, to remember I’m a lady and not to be so forward with me in future without making your full intentions clearly known.’ And with that she fled the cabin for the safety of her own.
‘I was about to.’ Michael muttered then sat back in his chair his face splitting in a huge smile.

The next few days had been a true game of cat and mouse. Michael delighted in attempting to sneak up on Rhiannan and she would exult herself in escaping him or better still anticipating and avoiding him. it was hard for her to believe just a few nights ago she was terrified of being in control of her own destiny thinking he would leave the ship and her, and now it was as if forced to accept his obvious intentions to take over her life completely she realised her independence was the most precious thing she wanted. She did not want this man, or any man for that matter, to possess her before she had completed what she had set out to do. And she found herself clarifying that mission in this sudden assault of her freedom. She must find her mother and make sure the woman was peaceful in her life, something niggling at her made her feel she needed to make amends to if not make peace with her mother. Even though she was beginning to think that mission would never be completed, or was that her mind was beginning to focus on the handsome young captain and forget the distant memory of a woman who sat white eyed beside the smoldering ruins of her childhood?

But in the heat of the day as she walked the deck seeking relief in the shade of the sails she would often stare out at the glistening sea and see only his face and then she would allow her mind to drift as the ship did and reminisce over the times he had spent with her. These would be the times he would catch her, when she was not aware of his presence until it was too late. A word of greeting would snap her from her reverie and she would gasp to find him before her, and caught out thinking of him as she had been, she would blush. The first few times she would endure his company and then find an excuse to escape and then she just gave up on the petty small talk and would escape him as soon as she recovered from her gasp.

For Michael her timidity made him all the more adamant to woo her. He could not look at her enough, and the more he watched her he became all the more certain it had been she in his cell that night. But was she an accomplice of Grouse or not? He had wanted her to stay hidden from him but with the virtual freedom of the ship she had he could not help but see her and socialise with her and he was all the more sure that she had no recollection at all of what they had gotten up to in his cell that night. Where as he was tortured constantly of how excellently she had fitted beneath him, above him, beside him. How soft her skin how silken her hair. He was so enamoured of her now that even if it had not been her in the cell he was able to make it so in his mind anyway.

The attraction he felt for her and the restrictions of the ship size enabled him to know exactly where she was every minute of the day; if not, he would soon find her. He’d recognise the softness of her step; be drawn to her laugh; would close his eyes and fill his mind with the images of her. His favourite time was in the early morning, usually before six bells. He would find her on deck alone. The first morning she fled to her cabin as soon as he coughed. So he decided to keep his presence a secret from her and just watch her from afar. At first it had been an interesting study, a game to see who could outlast the other, but then it became a necessity to see her almost as important as breathing, or fresh water. The days she remained in her cabin he would quickly become surly and ill tempered. The next morning to see her on deck would be as to see land after the water ration had completely run out. It made him fully aware that she was vitally important to his well being;
…to his life.

As they grew closer to the equator the crew began the usual preparations for the celebrations. Maloney had ingratiated himself in on Michael’s estranged courtship, with the will to help him win her over. The new mate, Gavin Fairchild, the quiet serious wiry man, a man well known and well liked by the crew and proving to be the right choice for the position by his consistent, calm, his reliable organisation skills, fair and even-handedness and strong warranted disciplinary tactics. His appointment enabled Maloney time on his hands to join in on Michael’s mission of the heart.

‘What do you mean we’re all dressing up?’ Rhiannan asked staring at Maloney now captain and for some strange reason in her cabin. ‘How do you know we are anywhere near this imaginary line? How long do we have to be dressed up for? And what, pray tell, am I to dress up in?’
‘Well it might be the whole day or it could be two so we thought this would be more appropriate than the other.’ Maloney told her holding up the grass skirt and lay from the Hawaiian Islands they’d collected in their travels last year.
‘Do I put that on my head?’
‘No, it is a skirt.’ The horrified look on her face was enough to tell him he had no hope in Hades to get her to wear it. ‘No I didn’t think so.’
‘And what was the alternative?’ she asked and he brightened that she showed an interest.
‘Just this ma’am,’

He held up the shining silk dress; its colours blue and green yet with a sheen of the mother of pearl rainbow to it. The material was from China and the dress had been made for a Polynesian princess, if the merchant selling it to him was to be believed. Maloney had liked the sheen of the material so, in his true no nonsense tolerated bartering style, bopped the man on the head and took the dress, dropping some coins on the unconscious man’s chest as he left. It had been in his trunk waiting for the right woman to come along and now he was keen to see what it looked like on such a woman.

Rhiannan looked at the beautiful material. There was no where near enough material for it to be a dress but she could not help but stare at the glints of colour through what was predominantly an iridescent blue or was that green? Before she thought, her hand had touched it and found the soft material to be the finest Chinese silk; fluid and graceful as it slid through her fingers. Only once had she felt such material before, when she was at the Urquhart Scottish castle and the maid of a guest had thrust a dress upon her requesting it be cleaned then snatched it back when the Urquhart maid Faye had corrected the other and explained Rhiannan was only a scullery maid.

‘I can’t possibly wear it …’ she began softly and Maloney’s hope grew
‘To be sure you could. Why not try it on in your cabin then if you don’t feel confident, you could ask my opinion …’ he left the offer hanging casually, trying not to let her discover how eager he was becoming to see her in the dress. He knew it was wrong, the most horrendous folly of any man on board a ship where there was only one woman but he could not resist. Her hair and eyes would be set off so brilliantly by the material’s glowing sheen.
‘Well maybe …’ she drawled and noticed he folded his arms indicating he would not easily receive the dress back. ‘Perhaps in my cabin … I could …’
‘Why not? Go on, there’s time before dinner.’ Then seemingly nonchalant he left her with it and went off looking for an excuse to be busy; looking for someone to bark at actually and vent some of the pent up emotion within him.

Rhiannan returned to her cabin and closed the door then laid the dress on her bunk. It was long, with long sleeves too, but there was just no volume about it and the neckline was dangerously low. But why not try it on? She looked at it and decided no, it would be just foolishness. She walked to the rear and looked out the windows. The sea behind them shimmered, the same blue as the dress. She looked back at it laid harmlessly on her bunk, the same shimmering blue, glinting a touch gold in the sunlight from the side porthole.
‘Well, perhaps. In here, no one would see.’ She convinced herself.

Cautiously she removed her own dress and pulled the silk over her undergarments. It looked ridiculous and she had nothing fine to swap her serviceable cotton undergarments with. Daringly she reached beneath and removed her drawers from under her petticoat; it took some bulk away but not much. Feeling brazen she dared pulled her petticoat down and finally the dress seemed to sit right, although she felt strange having the soft cool material slink around her legs. She turned to look in the glass stuck to the back of the door and gasped at the indecency of it. But then feeling a little braver studied it.

With her corset on it fitted her waist nicely but the cotton lace of her chemise looked ridiculous poking bulkily out of the dress’s elegant neckline. So even more brazenly she removed everything but her corset and pulled the dress back on over it. Suddenly it felt right, comfortable and cool and making her skin feel alive. She turned to the mirror again and stared in total amazement. Was that really her? She looked like a Greek goddess; with the hem of the dress twisted about her ankles and feet she looked like the pictures of mermaids she’d seen tattooed on the sailors’ arms. She looked nothing like herself. As if in a dream she reached up and removed the band pulling her hair back and suddenly her rich hair cascaded in copper and burnished auburn waves around her shoulders and down her back, one tendril falling down over one breast.

Suddenly a shout from Maloney alerted her to his close proximity and woke her from her surreal state to feel shocked at her brazenness staring at her from the mirror. But before she could do anything her cabin door opened.

‘Rhiannan, Michael requests we dine with him … tonight.’ Maloney said as he tapped and opened the door and saw her. He forgot to breathe and then suddenly gulped pulling the door closed. ‘My apologies miss.’ He muttered through the wood and quickly strode away.

Standing in the bow he gripped the railing tight tensing his shoulders and gritting his teeth anything to just be rid of that sight. He knew it would be folly but he had no idea just how seriously self damning it would be to see her in that dress. The sheer ultimate beauty of her would now haunt him to his grave. Oh to be a decade or two younger. He almost cried with the incongruous justice of it. The most beautiful female sight he would ever see and he would never be privy to it again. And never be able to tell a soul. And instead he had to exist beside her every day in very close proximities. And worse, be expected to assist the man that would be blessed to procure every day the sight of her thus attired or better yet not attired at all. He pounded the wood beneath his hands and then gripped it again roaring testing the strength of it and finally, gulping for air and wishing the sea would just rise up and take him and swallow him whole.

☼ To be continued ….
…. here

Freedom Pioneers : "Expeditions" [Ch5i]


Frankston, Australia

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Artist's Description

For my NaNoWriMo challenge

One Part of a three part novel.
A spin off from my Daintree Daughter’s Book

This chapter continues – here
Expeditions starts – here

Beware: this is a realistic Adult book & not a pretty tale like my poetry

It tells of the fight to become free and happy, with the leading characters first facing the trials of the ugly side of life, and the shackles of their pasts dragging at them as they carve their own standard of living.

Who knew what really happens in the mystical Tropical Islands of South America? Who knows what went on the the dens of iniquity encouraged by the tropical heat and scantily clad people.
Back in the mid 1800s there was still a strong pull for Piracy if for nothing else than the immoral indulgences and the black market trade the world over.

I do wish to apologise if this fictitious re-enactment offends anyone – my intention was to put my leading characters through extraordinary experiences, not offend.

So all that aside I hope you can enjoy the story! ☼

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