|09-28-2005, 11:39 PM||#1|
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On the rising tide chapter 3
** Disclaimer: the following is a work of fiction and in no way meant to be mistaken for reality. Inspired by real people, but purely and completely false and written without the consent of any of those people. No offense is intended to anyone. It’s all meant in good fun.__________________
On the rising tide Chapter 3
*Stupid! Careless! Foolish!* These were some of the things Fiona was silently calling herself as she barely escaped a confrontation with Carra. Why had she opened her mouth at all? A key element of her plan was silence. She was not good at lying, and so had decided that it would be best if she simply spoke as little as possible. So why had she blurted out that nonsense about selchies?
Because she’d never met a man who reminded her more of them than the captain did. He was sullen and dark in mood, but his features were fair and seductive. She could believe that he might have the sort of mystical powers as would make a woman incapable of denying him anything at all which he wanted. He also possessed the coldness to walk away from a woman, she suspected, without a second thought.
She sat quietly on the far end of the table from the others and ate her meal hungrily. It wasn’t the sort of food you ate for enjoyment, but for sustenance. She was constantly famished these days, the stress and strain of new physical demands and of simply worrying about being found out taking a toll on her. She had cleaned her plate and was mopping up the last of the broth with a crust of bread when she heard his voice to her left.
“Your enthusiasm for the meal makes me hungry simply witnessing it.” He told her as he settled into the seat beside her, sliding a second full plate under her nose. “I would think the food was exquisite, had I not already eaten some myself.” He added as he leaned back and struck a match, lighting a cigarette casually.
“What’s this for?” Fiona asked suspiciously, eyeing the second plate hungrily.
“You looked like you could use another serving, and I’ve noticed you don’t tend to speak up. Why go hungry when you don’t have to?” Adam replied, his words breaking the stream of smoke he exhaled. Fiona looked at him warily, but finally decided there was no malice in his actions.
“Thank you.” She mumbled, grabbing the thick slice of bread off the plate and breaking it in her tiny hands. Adam simply nodded in reply. The man had her completely baffled. She had immediately distrusted his English accent and his upper class manners, but really, he had not done anything which she could hold against him.
“So you’d planned to be a farmer, rather than a sailor?” Adam asked after a long pause. “I don’t suppose the child of a farmer learns much about wielding a weapon.”
“I can shoot a firearm, if that’s what yer askin’.” Fiona told him with a mouthful of bread. She did not turn her head but peered at him from the very corners of her eyes.
“I was speaking more along the lines of swordsmanship.” He said, not having to look at her to realize she was watching him suspiciously.
“No, I can’t say we’ve much use for a fancy blade on a farm.” She replied, hoping that was true. In reality, Fiona and her mother had done laundry and sewing for the upper class families in their neighborhood in Dublin. She knew little of life on a farm, let alone what a young boy would be expected to do.
The only reason she had known about the families who had been driven off the land they had lived and farmed on for so long was that the people whose washing and mending they did were the land owners who had driven them off.
Fiona had never held a sword, or a firearm either, in truth. Her father carried a dagger, the weapon of a brawler and a sneak she had heard it called. There had been neither the money nor the need for other weapons in their home.
“Would you be interested in learning?” Adam inquired, finally turning his gentle blue eyes her way. Fiona looked back down at her plate, perhaps too quickly.
“Why would I?” She asked, sopping the last hard crust of bread in the mug of ale which had accompanied her dinner.
“There are plenty of reasons for a sailor to know how to wield a rapier.” Adam replied casually. “Not the least of which is pirates. They certainly won’t care if you’re armed or not, but you’ll wish you were, should you cross their path.”
“Pirates.” Fiona repeated the word, her stomach tying in a knot of fear. She dropped what remained of her dinner and pushed the plate away.
“So what do you say? I saw some things I could use to fashion some training swords. I can teach you some basics.” Fiona swallowed hard as her throat tightened up nervously, and she wondered if she make her secret too obvious if she spent a great deal of time on such a pursuit with this man. Perhaps it was worth the risk, she told herself, to have some hope of defending herself against pirates.
“Come on, it will be something to do while we’re stuck out here at least.” Adam said, rising from the table and resting a surprisingly big hand on her shoulder. “And it doesn’t matter a bit to me, that you’re a woman. All the more reason for you to learn, I’d say.” He whispered in her ear. His breath was warm on her skin, but his words sent a chill through her entire body. Her eyes opened wide in shock and she turned to deny it, but Adam was smirking at her knowingly.
“I – I’m… I’ve no idea what…” she stammered, doing her best to scowl at him and act insulted.
“I’ll gather what I need to make the practice blades and meet you on deck, near the bow.” He told her with a wink before he turned and left her staring in shock and horror. How could he know?
“What have you there, m’lord?” Carra asked, her tone slightly cold and bitter although she tried to hide it. The title his father was so very proud of was worse than an insult when used by these people.
“Training swords.” He informed her, balancing one in the palm of each hand. Carra reached out and took the one on the left, the tips of her fingers grazing the palm of Adam’s hand. “At least, the best I could fashion at a moments notice.”
“Are you asking me for a lesson in the fine art of swordsmanship, Lord Clayton?” She asked him playfully. Adam smiled in return.
“Would you please do me the favor of calling me by my Christian name?” He asked her with a sigh. Carra nodded slightly and raised her training blade.
“En guarde, Adam.” She told him, and Adam smiled and raised his blade in response. He was far from prepared for the aggressive manner with which she fought, barely managing to side-step in time to avoid the initial thrust of her mock blade.
“You’re out for blood.” He said, smacking his lips as he tried to hide how pleased he was at her skill.
“If I were, you’d be bleeding already.” She replied, side-stepping to keep up with his retreat and following immediately with a full pass, her rear leg coming forward as she made a cut at his knees. Adam voided again, none of his movements seeming the least bit awkward or urgent even. He moved as naturally and gracefully as if he were dancing a well timed and choreographed dance. Carra was obviously surprised at the man’s footwork, and more than a little irritated that he had gotten the best of her thus far.
“At what point, may I ask, do you plan on getting to the swordsmanship? Thus far, I’ve seen nothing but some artful footwork.” She complained, and Adam smirked at her as the light from the lanterns flickered in her green eyes, reflecting her vexation.
“I will use my sword when your comes near enough to me to warrant it.” He teased, and a ripple of laughter erupted from the group of men who had begun to gather to watch this interesting lesson. Carra gritted her teeth and drew in a deep breath before advancing once more, their ‘blades’ finally meeting for the first time. Adam was not hesitant to fall back, and in so doing, he controlled where he went, and was able to turn away from the side of the ship. If he had not retreated consciously, he would surely have found himself pinned against the side rail and defeated.
Carra continued to be on the offensive, but Adam blocked every parry, every thrust, every cut and every swipe with such a cool, calm demeanor that she quickly grew frustrated. Adam watched as her hair began to pull loose of the leather binding with which she had tied it, damp tendrils curling around her cheeks as a light sweat built on her skin. Her chest was heaving with exertion, and her face was flushed. Adam was not the only one taking notice of her physical state, he knew. He’d heard Larry’s voice as he came on deck and knew he would have his chance within moments.
“What’s going on here?” Larry asked one of the men as he pushed through the now rather large crowd of onlookers. Carra heard him, too. Her attention was immediately drawn to find him standing nearby, his arms folded across his chest and a scowl crossing his handsome face. Before she had the chance to either speak or regain her focus, Adam was on her.
He swept her feet out from beneath her with a booted foot at the back of her knees, one arm catching her around the waist as she fell. He pulled her tight up against his body, her back crushed against his broad chest. His arm was like a steel band around her waist and the mock blade against her throat kept her head back and chest thrust out. She was at his mercy.
A cheer went up from the crew as the fight was settled. Larry stared in silence as Adam held fast to Carra, who was panting for breath. Her head rested back against Adam’s shoulder and he stared into her eyes for a long moment, their faces far closer than propriety demanded.
“Are we supposed to be impressed?” Larry asked, all eyes turning toward him as he spoke. “Because you beat a woman in combat?” A few of the men laughed nervously. Anyone who knew Carra knew that she was more talented with a sword than most men. Adam finally released Carra from his hold, though it took her a moment to find her balance once he did. She turned toward Larry, poised to speak, but Adam beat her to it.
“I think I hear a challenge being put forth.” He said, addressing the men. “Would you like to see a display of swordplay from your captain as much as I would?” The men all cheered heartily, and Larry glared at the newest member of his crew. Finally, he shrugged out of his loose shirt, folding it over neatly once and setting it aside. The men cheered as he held out his hand for a sword of his own. Once again, Adam proved quicker than Carra.
“I am looking forward to this.” Adam said, handing over his mock weapon and stepping aside. Larry frowned in confusion, and Adam elaborated, gesturing to Carra. “If she is such an easy adversary to beat, then show me. You were not impressed by the way I fared against her, let me see how easily you defeat her.” The laughter and cheering which erupted from the men could likely be heard for many miles, if there had been anyone within miles to hear. Larry pursed his lips and clenched his jaw tight, his shoulders set back in indignation.
“He won’t fight me.” Carra announced with a melodramatic sigh. “I can’t blame him for not wanting to be bested in front of his crew. And by a woman, no less.” Larry let out an indignant snort and shook his head as a sign of his irritation before he turned and raised his blade to her. She cocked her head to one side and smiled as she, too, raised her blade.
When they were children, they would often play at fighting to ‘the death’. Over crates and under ropes, climbing the masts and weaving in and out of sailors trying to do their work, they would chase each other around the ship. It was one of Carra’s fondest memories.
Carra was the first to attack, using a move which Larry easily anticipated and dodged. Again she advanced, and this time their blades met. Carra did her best to Cavatione, to use a circular movement to force Larry to drop his blade, but Larry spun away and quickly advanced, nearly catching her with an affondo thrust.
For each advance one made, the other had a void ready. They knew and anticipated the others next move and so neither one could get a leg up on the other. They pushed each other from one side of the deck to the other, making the other sailors scramble to get out of the way more than once. Rather than growing weary of such an excruciatingly long battle, the longer it went on, the more heated their fight became.
To everyone’s surprise, the pair were smiling and laughing as they fought. Over tops of crates, in between the other sailors, springing off the sides of the ship… for a moment they were the same children they had been what now seemed like ages ago.
Finally, as Carra darted around a mast and prepared to attack low with a cut to the knees, Larry surprised her by advancing rather than dodging. The collision of his body into hers set them both off balance, and they stumbled against the bow, a tangle of arms and legs. Carra’s back slammed against the wooden side of the boat, her head snapping back, and for a moment the world seemed to be upside down. All she could see were the sky and the water.
When she managed to try and right herself, she found that she was pinned there by the weight of Larry’s body. One of his hands was on the rail beside her, the other clutched her waist. As she lifted her head, she could feel the heat of his body seeping into her, could feel the sweat on his skin as she reached up to hold fast to him instinctively. Her hands found the bare skin of his back, her nails biting into his flesh as she held on.
They were both smiling and panting for breath when their eyes met and locked. Carra wondered if any man had ever had such lovely eyes, such long lashes over eyes the color of a springtime sky. She licked her lips nervously, every nerve ending in her body awake and waiting. Waiting for him to kiss her, to caress her. Waiting for him to drop her like a rock. Waiting for anything. But for the longest time, they stood there without moving except for the steady up and down rise and fall of their chests as they drew breath.
Finally, Carra could take the sweet torture no longer. The need which being pressed up against him stirred in her was unsettling, overwhelming. She leaned forward suddenly, catching his full, slightly parted lips with her own. The heat that suddenly spread through her body at the feeling of his soft lips was like nothing she’d ever felt. Her hand slid up into his shaggy, sweat dampened hair as she pulled away slightly and tilted her head to get a better angle for kissing him more deeply.
She felt every muscle in his body turn rigid under her grasp, and when her lips met his again, they were pursed tight; hard and unwelcoming. She drew back and opened her eyes just as he released her as if she were on fire, stepping back away from her and leaving her unsteady on her feet.
His eyes flashed with some emotion she could not identify as he scowled at her. He ran a hand through his hair, pushing it back out of his face, he knew every eye was watching them. Larry was not comfortable being watched, Carra knew all too well. Her eyes began to burn and she knew, desperately, that she could not let him see her cry. She drew in a shaky breath and forced a smile.
“I think that counts as my win.” She said, earning a round of laughter from the men who had been watching. It seemed as if they, too had been holding their breath. Waiting. Carra tossed her hair and squared her shoulders, pushing past Larry and hurrying below deck. As soon as she was safely far below with the cargo, away from where the others would sleep, or eat, or have any reason to linger, she sank to the floor, buried her face in her hands and wept.
She was embarrassed and frustrated, broken hearted and confused. For a little while, she had him back. Back the way they had once been. For a fleeting moment, she had him in her arms, she tasted his kiss. It was a terrible knowledge to have, the way he felt and tasted and smelled. Before she could only wonder, imagine, what it might be like. Now she knew; and she wanted more.
The men quickly dispersed as Larry turned and stormed off to his private quarters, none of them wanting to look at him the wrong way and end up on the receiving end of his foul mood. Adam’s eyes scanned the deck and found ‘Finn’ amongst the ever thinning crowd of sailors. He waited until the deck was nearly emptied of people before moving to join her.
“I suspect it has gotten too dark to start training with the swords tonight.” He told her. “Perhaps tomorrow.”
“What do you want from me?” She asked softly, her eyes cast down on the black night waters.
“I beg your pardon?” Adam asked, frowning at the question.
“Please, I’ll do whatever you ask, just don’t tell the others.” She said, turning to look up at him meekly. The emerald colored flecks in her hazel eyes glistened in the dim light cast by the lanterns. Adam’s lower lip parted slightly from the top as his mouth fell open in silent shock and dismay.
“I would not tell anyone, you’ve no cause to be afraid.” He told her seriously, but he could see the doubt in her eyes. “What is your name?” He asked gently, and then he waited patiently while the girl debated whether or not she should reply honestly.
“Fiona.” She finally told him, her eyes cast back down at the sea.
“Fiona. Well, Fiona, I don’t know why you have hidden on this ship. I imagine if you feel safer here, hiding your true self, than you do wherever it is you are coming from, you must have good reason.” Adam drew in a deep breath here, his lips moving over his teeth as he paused, smacking slightly as he spoke again. “I know a thing or two about running, as I’m sure you’ve already heard. I boarded this ship with naught but the clothes on my back and the coins in my pocket. I can't go back to London. Not anytime soon, anyway.” He turned his back to the water, leaning his hip against the rail and looking directly at her now. Fiona looked back at him out of the corner of her eyes.
“That is something you brought upon yourself with your own actions.” She told him, and Adam smiled a cheeky smile as he heard her speak in her true, clear voice for the first time. He accent was as lilting and defiant as anyone he’d met from Dublin, and the combination of that with the sweet pitch of her voice, it was almost musical. There was a hint of spirit in the girl which she had kept well hidden, but it was threatening to break through to the surface.
“Aye, it was my own actions that resulted in being challenged. Yet if I had truly wanted to stay in London, I would have stayed. My accent may be different from your own, but my heart is as Irish as any man or woman on this ship. I am restless. I need to see the way other people live, taste what exotic foods I may, to hear the different tongues spoken.”
“The manners of a Lord and the heart of a gypsy rover.” She said, and Adam could detect the hint of a smile in her voice. He chuckled and nodded in agreement.
“I’ve been told that more than once.” He informed her.
“So why would you protect my secret?” She asked, her voice growing suspicious again.
“Why should I tell anyone? If they choose to be so small minded and blind as to think that you are a young boy, then let them think it. I knew from the moment I laid eyes on you that you were not what you claimed to be.” He said with a shrug.
“How?” She asked, her eyes scanning his face for any hint that he was playing with her. She could find nothing but what seemed like sincerity.
“You may be of about the same size and stature of a boy of twelve or thirteen, but your body is softer. Your neck has the gentle curve of a swans, your cheekbones are poised high on your face. Your mouth is small and pert, like you’ve been sucking on a lemon…” he teased, and she smiled despite herself, ‘but your lips are a perfect bow. Full but not thick. Your movements remind me of a little bird, afraid that they are always being hunted.” He said, gesturing with his hands as he spoke elaborately about her feminine features.
Fiona shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other while she listened to him speak, and wondered if all of this were true. He painted a picture for her of a lovely young woman, but it was not the picture she had of herself.
“I’ve done everything I could to hide my identity, but there is nothing to be done about many of the things you have claimed are true about me. How am I ever to feel safe in my guise now?” She wondered aloud.
“I will keep your secret, Fiona.” Adam assured her. “And truly, most people believe what is presented to them without question. Only a man who appreciates women as much as I do myself will be likely to see through Finn and find Fiona.”
“I think Carra suspects.” She told him on a sigh.
“She’s sharp, her. It’s hard to fool a woman.” Adam said, rolling a cigarette with surprisingly deft fingers. “Women are far stronger and smarter than men. I think that is why we fear you so.” He said, making Fiona stare in shock at his words. Surely, she had not heard him correctly.
“What did you just say?” She asked once he’d lit his smoke and drawn in his first breath.
“Women are clearly stronger than men.” He told her with a slightly crooked smile. “The clothing you wear, the physical demands you suffer…” he let his voice drift off as his eyes scanned the deck for any signs of life. Paul was at the helm, thought they were going nowhere, it was still his watch. Another man had climbed up into the crowes nest, and they were the only two on deck. They were as alone as they would ever be aboard a ship at sea.
“You’re serious.” Fiona muttered, disbelief thick in her voice.
“Of course I am.” Adam told her. “I’ve had occasion to suffer the donning and doffing of a woman’s wardrobe, and it nearly bloody killed me.” He said, and Fiona’s shocked laughter rolled out over the water into the night before she could clamp a hand over her mouth to silence herself.
“I think I would have liked to see that.” She told him, her eyes shining with amusement. He grinned at her and tapped the ashes from his cigarette.
“I doubt I will ever do that again, but if I have learned one thing in my life, it is to never say never.” He laughed, drawing another breath from his cigarette, his blue eyes narrowing. Fiona realized she was staring and forced herself to turn away.
“You are truly a mystery to me, Adam Clayton.” She told him softly.
“I’m not nearly so complex as you might think.” He told her. The two of them stood together in companionable silence while Adam smoked the rest of his tobacco. Finally, tossing the butt of the cigarette over the side of the ship, Adam turned and stretched his long legs, lifting his arms over his head and arching his back.
“Do you think it’s safe to retire yet?” He asked.
“Safe?” Fiona repeated.
“Safe to go below into a room full of sailors whose bellies were recently filled with a meal of cabbage stew.” He teased, making Fiona muffle another laugh. This was not the humor of some refined gentleman, she acknowledged. Nor, did she suspect, was it the way a man would behave were he trying to lure a woman into a false feeling of security.
“Aye, I think we’ve waited long enough.” She told him. “Though I think I will be searching for a bunk close to the porthole, just to be safe.” She added, taking Adam by surprise and making him nearly double over with laughter. As they headed off to bed for the night, Fiona reached out and touched his hand timidly. Once she had his attention, she pulled away quickly, looking into his eyes and telling him earnestly,
“You’re most welcome. Finn. .” He told her with a wink.
Larry was greatly relieved when he woke in the morning to a sky full of storm clouds to the west. A strong breeze was stirring and pushing them eastward toward the ship. Hopefully that same breeze would catch the aingeals sails and keep the ship ahead of the storm.
“Thank God.” He said on a sigh as he moved to take his place at the helm, relieving Paul of his duties for the morning.
“Are you well rested, then?” Paul asked him, his eyes narrowing as he studied Larry’s smooth face. “That’s one hell of a storm brewing back there. It could be a very long day.”
“That it could.” Larry agreed, glancing back at the wall of thick black clouds which was rolling toward them far more quickly than he had first thought. “I’ll be fine. You go try to get some sleep. You’ll likely be needed within a few hours.” He told the man who was as much a father to him as his true father had ever been.
Paul paused for a moment longer before departing, wondering what was troubling Larry. It was clear to him that the young man had not slept well, but if he did not wish to discuss something, there was simply no forcing him to do so. Larry saw Finn emerging onto the deck, presumably on his way to the galley for breakfast, and called out to him.
“Rouse the others and let them know we have a storm on the horizon. We’ll need all hands on deck before long. Give ‘em fair warning they need to dress and eat quickly.” He told the boy, who turned and retreated below deck to inform the others. It wasn’t exactly a military operation, the way he ran things, but he expected all of his crew to take their jobs seriously. If they faced rough seas, they would all be needed on deck to keep them safely on course. Larry himself, as captain, had not lost a man at sea, but in his youth he had seen more than one swept overboard and lost forever.
As difficult a challenge as a serious storm posed, Larry was grateful for the distraction. He needed something he could wrap his mind around and be able to overcome. The night before he’d barely slept for the way his mind and body had reacted to Carra’s kiss. Damn that woman, she had no idea what kind of dangerous game she was playing. He adored her, though he could not stand to let her know it. This was a hard life, and she should know that by now. It was no place for the sort of distractions she caused him. Someone could get hurt or killed if he was distracted out here.
Besides that, it was hard for him to think of her as a woman. He respected her too much to think of her the way he did the women in the brothels near every port in every country. He knew she was not the type of proper woman a man should try to woo in the usual way. He had been avoiding the subject of her being a woman at all for so many years that he had almost believed they could simply be mates.
He’d forced himself to look past the shape of her body, the softness of her red hair and the fullness of her lips. Forced himself to avoid any sort of physical contact with her which would remind him that despite her strength, she was still soft to touch. Lately, however, that was becoming more and more difficult. At first, he had thought it was just his own mind focusing on those things more than usual. After last night, however, he was certain that she had been doing much of it on purpose.
Did she know, he wondered, what she was doing? Did she realize the implications of her actions? The physical need she stirred in him? No, of course not. She was an unmarried woman, she had no real understanding of such things. He felt sick to his stomach whenever he allowed himself to consider the possibility that Carra had knowledge despite her unwed status. She wasn’t brazen, like the women at the pubs nears the docks, but she was not a proper lady by any means.
Larry was stirred from his troubled thoughts as the first rumble of thunder sounded in the distance, the wind picking up force. He turned to watch as his crew hurried about in early preparation for the coming onslaught. Edge was explaining to Bono what needed to be done. Larry watched as the new man moved to batten down the hatches while Edge proceeded to assist the sailor who was raising the main sail so that they could get underway. He could feel the storm coming, even if he had seen no other sign of it. There was something in the air which made him anxious, jittery. It was indeed going to be a long day.
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