Written for the Summer 2003 Pirate Challenge
Constance Norwood looked over the worn wooden railing and out onto the calm empty sea. Watching the myriad stars reflected on it, she wondered if she would ever again see the shores of home, or for that matter, even the next dawn.
Had it only been four days since her nightmare had begun? No, she answered herself as she drank deeply of the night air; her ordeal had begun two months before. Her current set of circumstances, horrendous as they seemed, were but the latest tragedy to take hold of her young life.
Seven weeks ago, only days before her seventeenth birthday, a messenger had appeared at the convent to which she had been sent when she was ten. In his pouch he carried written instructions to the Nuns into whose care she had been placed upon her entry into young womanhood. Instructions that forever shattered the peaceful, if mundane, existence Constance had been living.
The seventh and youngest daughter of Edmund Norwood, a prominent British merchant, Constance had learned that day that she had been promised in marriage to Rowland Torrungton, a business associate of her father's. That this day would someday come was hardly a surprise to the young woman. After all, it was no secret that her father had little use for the daughters that three wives had bestowed upon him. It had been cruel fate that had let his only son die hours after his birth, despite his mother haven given her life for his.
What had shocked Constance was that she had been betrothed to a man her father had never even met face to face, as well as nearly two score older than she was. Rowland Torrungton lived in far off Jamaica, His Majesty's colony in the Caribbean, some three thousand miles distant. A decades-long trading partner, the older man had mentioned in one of his correspondences to her father of his desire to take a bride in order to produce an heir to his fortunes. Quite sympathetic to his desire, Edmund had wasted no time in offering him the youngest of his offspring. An offer that Rowland accepted just as quickly as he knew that despite his wealth, few women that young would ever be interested in sharing his bed.
Edmund's reasons for the match were twofold. It would make their profitable business relationship one of blood, and ever more secure. Also, if he couldn't have a son, perhaps he could have a grandson that could inherit both mercantile empires. It was a thought to warm an old man's bones. That Constance hadn't been informed of the negotiations until long after they had been finalized bothered neither man. After all, even in the year of our Lord, 1724, what were women but just another commodity to be used to serve the interests of men.
So without much fanfare, Constance had been bundled off on the transport, Esmerelda, just one more piece of cargo on its way to the colony. She hadn't even been granted the luxury of a companion, as neither her father nor her betrothed saw the need to waste the cost of another passage.
Instead, the young woman had been entrusted to the care of the ship's doctor, a disreputable looking man who constantly entered her cabin unannounced to, as he always said, check on her welfare. When Constance had pointed out to him that a gentleman would give a lady time to make sure she was presentable, the doctor, and that was a title she soon grew suspicious of the validity of, would insist that as a man of medicine, he was hardly a stranger to women in a state of undress. The result of his unwanted visits was that Constance soon learned to make sure her door was locked at all times.
In was behind that lock that, four nights before, Constance had awakened in the early hours to the sounds of screams and gunshots. Fearing the worse, but afraid more of not knowing, she opened her door just in time to see the blood covered body of the doctor tumble down the stairs that led to the upper deck. Her hand had covered her mouth in horror as she looked away from the body and up the stairwell, only to see a half naked man carrying a pistol and cutlass appear on it. One word screamed in her mind before she mercifully blacked out - Pirates!
Much to her astonishment, Constance awoke the next day, alive and unmolested. Two contradictions the stories she had heard of pirates seem to contradict. Especially after she had pieced together what had happened to the Esmerelda after she had lost consciousness. Aside from her, there had been no survivors. Quarter had been offered and accepted, she had been told, only to have the truce broken by men who foolishly valued their cargo more than their lives. The ship itself had been set afire, after being stripped of valuables.
She was no longer bound for Jamaica of course, but for some island she had never heard of, San Cristobal. Despite the opinion of her father, Constance was a highly intelligent woman and had been well educated by the Nuns. She had even read books that dealt with many non-religious matters, giving her a vast knowledge of the world beyond the convent walls.
It was soon apparent to her that she was being held for ransom, as the papers in her cabin readily identified her as the fiancée of a rich and powerful man. One that might pay a handsome sum for the return of his bride in one piece. Aside from leaving her in peace as well, they had given her a cabin of her own, one that had belonged to the second mate. In size and comfort, it surpassed the one she'd had on the cargo ship. If they expected to make a profit on the merchandise, it stood to reason that they make sure it stayed healthy.
That sounded logical to the young woman, but she well knew that life was seldom logical. It was true that she had never met her future husband, yet just the same she had little reason to think that his reaction would be any different than her fathers. Mainly that Edmund Norwood had six other daughters, four of which were still looking for husbands. No, she told herself honestly, there was little chance that she might be ransomed.
As an additional, unexpected courtesy, the first mate of the Falcon's Claw had informed her that the Captain, whom she had not met, had granted her the privilege of the poopdeck during the night watch as to get some air. With most of the crew asleep, it would be the least disruptive time for her to be above decks. He warned her, however, not to venture out of the small area. On the last two nights that she had accepted the offer, she had been too nervous to move more than a few feet.
But tonight, with the certainty that there wouldn't be many more beautiful nights for her to enjoy, she didn't pay as careful attention to his words. Watching the moon drift in and out of the clouds, Constance strolled past the small passageway along the quarter-deck and onto the large expanse around the main masts. Scattered across the deck were the bodies of a number of crewmen, driven from their hammocks below deck by the early summer heat.
Paying little heed to the sleeping men, Constance's eyes wandered up to the mainmast where the ship's colors flew. There, in place of the black jolly roger she had read about in forbidden books, flew a blood red flag adorned with a bright blue falcon. It was the symbol of the infamous pirate, Morgan the Red, of whom it had been whispered that no man had ever seen the face of and lived. Not for the first time, the young woman wondered what kind of man could be to both the bearer of such brutality towards the crew of the Esmerelda and yet kindness towards her.
Intent on her thoughts, the long haired blonde didn't notice that her passage had awakened two of the crewmen she passed. Half naked men who silently rose from their makeshift bedding and followed her steps. They were upon her before she realized they were there, trapping her in a small dark alcove that was hidden from the eyes of the second mate who had the watch back on the quarter-deck.
One, a tall, skinny man wearing only a torn pair of trousers, grabbed her from behind, his hand over her mouth and a deadly edged cutlass resting against her neck. The other, clad in little more, moved in front of her. His hands were empty, but just his appearance was enough to fill her with dread. The stench of both men was overpowering.
"Cry out and it'll be the last sound yer pretty throat ever makes," the man behind her, whose name was Rourke, warned as he slowly removed his hand from her mouth, applying the slightest of pressure with his blade to reinforce his words.
He need not have bothered as the young woman was far too terrified to even gasp. Feeling no resistance on her part, Rourke brought his hand to her left breast and squeezed it roughly. The feel of her flesh, even beneath the layers of her dress, was enough to cause a stirring between his legs. He pressed up against her from behind, until she could feel his manliness hard against the cheeks of her ass. At the same time, he dropped his hand lower, until it rested between Constance's legs, groping her there as well. It was the first time any man had touched her, much less than in that manner.
"Don't hog it all to yeself, Rourke," the second man, Griff by name, insisted as he produced a dagger seemingly out of nowhere and moved closer to the two of them.
For a heartbeat, Constance thought he intended to kill her with the knife, then realized that he had a far worse fate in mind. Griff reached out with the tip of the dagger and quickly cut the laces that held the top of her dress together. Once gone, the material fell away quickly, exposing her ample breasts to the night air.
Rourke relaxed his hold on Constance, lowering his cutlass as to get a better look at her bounty. In the moonlight, both men could see the bright pink nipples that capped each breast. Each compared them in their minds to the mounds of the native women found on the surrounding islands and quickly decided that there was no comparison.
The lust in his eyes reached other parts of Griff's body and he responded by reaching down into his cut off pants and pulling out his erect cock. Looking at it only a foot or so away, Constance loudly gasped as it was the first time she had ever seen such a thing. It bore little resemblance to the crude drawings that some of the girls in school had secretly passed around. What he intended to do with the enlarged organ in his hand required little imagination.
"Griff, Rourke, have the two of ye been at the grog?" a third man, who had been awakened by the rising of the first two cried out in a low voice as he moved close to them. "Or have you simply gone mad? You know the Captain gave orders that no man was to come near this woman. Do you have a death wish?" he added.
"This is none of your concern, Jeffers," the man who had exposed himself spit back in anger as he pushed his cock back inside his pants. "The Captain isn't here and no one is ever going to know if no one opens their mouth."
Jeffers shifted his gaze towards Constance, then back to Griff, asking the unspoken question what was to prevent the woman from saying what happened. His answer, also unspoken, was found in both of the other men's eyes. It would be too easy for the woman to have an accident after they were done. Many a land-lover had misjudged the sway of a ship like this and fallen overboard.
"We've plenty of time before they change the watch, Jeffers," Griff suggested, thinking to involve his shipmate in their planned rape, "more than enough time for all three of us to have a go."
As beautiful as Constance was, and as much as her exposed breasts had hardened his cock, Jeffers wanted no part of the offer. His fear of the Captain far outweighed his desire for a woman. Not saying another word, he began to back away from the two men and their prize.
As he took a few steps back toward where he had been sleeping, Griff turned away from Constance and Rourke for a moment and made a cutting motion with the knife in his hand. The meaning was crystal clear. If Jeffers so much as breathed a word to any of the officers, he might not wake up one morning. Even if something happened to Griff and Rourke, they had mates that would be happy to make Jeffers pay the price of betrayal
Jeffers had barely gone a dozen feet when the thunderclap of a gunshot broke the still of the night. The echoing boom instantly awoke the other half dozen or so crewman who had been sleeping, each of them reaching for weapons that were never far from their grasp.
Griff just had time to look down at the tattered remains of what once had been a fine shirt taken on a previous raid, and watch as an expanding red stain quickly spread across it. His eyes then rolled back in his head as his fingers lost their grip on his prized knife. It dropped to the hard deck, hitting it only a half second before his now lifeless body.
Ignoring his corpse and the still expanding pool of blood beneath it, all eyes turned to the quarter deck from where the shot had come from. The sight that greeted them was enough to make the strongest man's blood run cold.
Standing on the edge of the upper deck was the Captain, holding a still smoking flintlock. A few feet away stood the first and second mates, the former holding a pistol and the latter a blunderbuss in the direction of the now awakened crew. A stern warning in case anyone else cared to question the Captain's orders. It was quickly apparent that no one else did.
"Captain, I..." Rourke stammered as he released what was left of his hold on Constance, realizing that there was nothing he could say that would save him from the Captain's wrath.
Images flooded his mind, graphic examples of the fate that now awaited him. A ruthless flogging and then keelhauling until he was a shattered husk was a particular example the first mate liked to set. Stepping away from Constance and moving closer to the railing, he made his choice in an instant.
Racing as fast as he could, Rourke tried to leap over the wooden barrier to the safety of the open sea. As unlikely as was the chance that he might make it to one of the nearby islands, it was still more of a prospect than he had if he remained.
It was a gamble that failed as, just before he made it over the side, his shaved head exploded in a bloody spray. Momentum carried his body forward and he dropped into the sea, food for the fishes.
Hudson, the first mate, who could put a pistol ball through the center of a doubloon, handed his just fired weapon to a bosun and ordered two of the men on deck to pick up what remained of Griff. With a powerful heave, they tossed his remains over the side as well.
The brutal example of pirate justice should've totally unnerved Constance, yet it left her almost totally unaffected. Perhaps later it would all hit her, but for the moment, she was too stunned by what she had seen up on the quarter-deck. Never, in all the hours she had considered the matter over the last few days, had she ever imagined that Morgan the Red, one of the most feared marauders of the sea lanes, was a woman.
"If you men don't have a need for sleep," she called out as uncocked her own pistol and slipped it into her belt, "I'm sure Mr. Hudson can find something for you to do."
The price of disobeying her orders still staining the deck, the small group of men quickly dispersed and tried to make the most of the few hours of rest before they would be called to stations. Morgan the Red then turned her attention to Constance and said that she might want to cover herself up, unless she wanted to give any of the other men any ideas.
It was only then that Constance realized that her breasts were still hanging free and quickly pulled up her dress to cover them. It was doubtful that any man would care to repeat the actions of the late Griff and Rourke, but lust did strange things to a man. Or so the Nuns constantly admonished her and the other students.
Constance heard the Captain give Mr. Hudson instructions to return her to her cabin, and to see that she stayed there until the ship reached San Cristobal two days hence. The privilege of the deck was no longer hers.
As the door to her cabin closed and was locked behind her, Constance knew she would have trouble getting to sleep. The excitement of the last hour still caused her heart to race. That two men were dead didn't seem to bother her, even though she knew that it should. They were already fading into memory, just as the crew of the ill fated Esmerelda had.
Laying awake on the wooden bed, Constance's thoughts instead dwelled on the image of Morgan the Red. The woman was unlike any she had ever seen in her life. As tall as any man, the Captain had fiery red hair tied back in a style more appropriate for a boy than a woman. The physique beneath the half open blouse and tight fitting britches she had worn on deck, however, certainly belonged to a woman. Even across the distance, she had been able to see the swell of breasts not much smaller than hers in the moonlight.
The Captain's face showed a mixed heritage, her skin a rich bronze. The seventeen year old guessed her to be in her late twenties or early thirties, and while many men had called Constance beautiful, she felt like an ungainly youth compared to the older woman.
Sleep finally came about an hour later, but until her eyes closed, Constance found herself able to think of nothing but the pirate Captain. An image that followed her into her dreams.
The Falcon's Claw made port two days later, and in that time Constance didn't see the Captain again. Nor did she see her during the next month while, after being transferred to a room in the pirate's onshore stronghold, she waited to be ransomed.
As captivities went, Constance found hers far from unpleasant. In fact, all in all it was a more agreeable experience than her early days in the convent school. Her quarters were hardly the stone walled dungeon she might have imagined. In fact, they were quite comfortable.
In fact it was easy to forget she was a prisoner as she was free to come and go pretty much as she pleased. She was even allowed to venture into the small town beyond the compound, as long as she was accompanied by one of the native women who worked for Captain Morgan. Word quickly spread that she was the "guest" of the Captain and under her protection, after which the townspeople and crewmen from other ships gave her a wide berth.
There didn't even seem to be much concern that she would use her freedom of access to try and escape. After all, where would she go? One end of the settlement was bordered by the open sea, the other three by a tropical jungle. As well educated as Constance had been, her years in the convent school had ill prepared her for either environment.
One day soon blended into the next, until the morning of the twenty-eighth day when Constance awoke to find the weather to be even more glorious than usual. That was one thing she didn't miss about her native England, the sometimes harsh drops in temperature. Donning a simple one piece dress, one of many that she had been 'loaned' from among looted stores, the blonde haired woman decided to again take a walk into town and explore the varied sights found there.
She quickly located, Maria, a friend among the servants who usually accompanied her on her walks. Luck would have it that the younger girl was headed into the market and said she would enjoy the company. Under a sunny sky, the two women set off down the half mile path to the village.
They had only gotten half way when a rider overtook them. The well dressed man, which set him apart from many of the men they encountered, was tall and exceedingly handsome. His black hair was cut short and his mustache and beard well trimmed. In short, he was the kind of man most women would easily swoon over. A feeling that Maria felt instantly. But when Constance looked into his cold blue eyes, she only felt fear. Those eyes belonged to Hudson, first mate of the Falcon's Claw.
His appearance was a surprise as the buccaneer had set out to sea two weeks past and was not expected back for at least a fortnight. That they had returned unexpectedly didn't bode well, Constance thought.
"The Captain wants to see you back at the compound," Hudson said, his tone carrying a mix of displeasure and impatience.
Sure that the news wasn't good, Constance considered for a brief moment the possibility of escape. Her eyes flashed to the edge of the forest, only a few dozen paces to her left. Then reason returned to her thinking as she recalled how ill-prepared she was to act out such a plan. As much as she had put it out of her thoughts, the memory of that night aboard ship and the first mate's skill with a pistol were still there. If she did choose to run, she mused, it was doubtful that she would make half the distance before she met the same fate as the late, ill-fated Rourke.
Instead, Constance took a moment to give Maria what she thought might be a farewell hug, thanking her for all of her kindness during her stay. Hudson watched without comment, keeping a close eyes on the blonde woman until she turned and began to retrace her path back. He followed behind her a ways, never offering to make her journey quicker or easier. Then, just as they reached the edge of the encampment, he turned his horse down another path and moved off to settle another matter.
Once she passed under the large archway, Constance was met by a small boy who seemed to have been waiting for her. He guided her to a part of the old fortress that she had never seen before. They moved past a series of intersecting corridors and up several stairwells, until they reached a large set of wooden double doors. Standing aside the portal were two guards, leaving her to believe that beyond was the Captain's quarters.
Seeing her approach, the guard on the left opened his half of the door and motioned for her to step inside. Constance found her heart pulsing as she followed his instruction, knowing her worse fears lay within. She promised herself that she would face them with courage, as she had tried to face all else in her life, short as it had been.
She was slightly surprised when the door was closed behind her and both the guard and the boy remained outside. A large decorative screen, twice as wide as it was high blocked her view, so it wasn't until she stepped around it that she understood why they had done so.
The room was vast, equal to four times the largest room in her father's house. It was lavishly furnished, filled with the spoils of uncounted plundering. It was also filled with walls of books, more than she had seen in the convent library, matched only by the equally high piles of what she could only guess were sea charts. There was so much to take in that Constance didn't really see at first the large metal tub situated on the far side of the room, its open end facing a large and equally open set of double windows. Beyond was an expansive panorama of the deep bottomed cove and the ships that filled it.
Even when she did take note of it, the high back of the tub prevented Constance was seeing the tub was occupied. That was until another serving girl appeared from an adjacent room with a small pile of clothing in her arms.
The apprehension in her heart was momentarily replaced by fascination as Constance watched Captain Morgan rise naked from the soapy water. With her back to her, the pirate leader rose to her full five foot nine height and brought her hands to the long red hair that stretched halfway down her back. She squeezed the water from it, sending steady streams down her back and across the compact cheeks of her ass to her equally firm legs.
The muscles of her arms and back flexed as she twisted her locks one more time, exhibiting a power equal to a man but still that of a woman. As she turned to take a drying cloth from the top of her servant's pile, Constance was able to look at her in profile, taking in the fullness of the rounded breasts she had only glimpsed in the moonlight.
She quickly dried herself after stepping from the still warm water, wiping away the small droplets that were already fading in the warm morning sun that flooded the room. Dropping the towel to the floor, she reached next for a pair of long brown breeches she quickly donned, excluding the need for any undergarments. As she moved in the sunlight, Constance was able to see a number of small scars on her body. Not enough to mar her beauty, but enough to attest to a life not spent in comfort.
A cream colored linen shirt came next, one that she left the uppermost half undone just enough as to allow a significant amount of cleavage to be visible. A dark brown leather vest followed, its laces just tight enough to further enhance the bounty of her chest. Boots of a similar hue completed the ensemble, but she was still not completely dressed.
The Captain wrapped a thin dark belt, the buckle of which appeared to be solid gold, around her waist, into which she slipped a long, deadly looking sword, the handle of which was the work of a master craftsman. Several smaller blades followed, filling spaces on the right and back of her belt, as well as the sides of her boots and the inside of her vest.
Finally, Captain Morgan reached down next to the tub and picked up a loaded and fully cocked pistol. She carefully released the hammer and slid the weapon into a holder near her sword. Evidently, not even when bathing was the beautiful woman ever really unarmed.
Turning to face a tall, full length mirror that rested against the wall, the Captain took a few moments to check her appearance. Satisfied, only then did she turn and even acknowledge Constance's presence.
"Leave us," she said to the dark haired servant girl who, after quickly picking up the now wet towel, exited the room back the way she'd come.
The door to the other room closed with a small noise and then a loud click as it was locked from the other side. It was a symbolic action, but one that showed just how much the girl respected her mistress's privacy.
"We seem to have a problem," Captain Morgan said without preamble as she moved over to a long table and poured herself a drink from a silver edged pitcher.
Constance didn't ask what kind of problem, sure that she already knew the answer. Instead she tried to project a look of innocence and confusion, hoping that she could look equally surprised if it turned out to be what she dreaded it was.
The Captain paused to talk a long drink of the cold liquid, glancing out the window at the pirate fleet that was hers. She took a Second taste, then continued her statement.
"I have to confess that I was somewhat surprised when Mister Torrungton failed to immediately pay your freedom price when my agent contacted him last month," she began. "I did not think it excessive for one of his means, especially for one of your beauty."
She paused again to drain the last of her glass, then set it on the table as she turned around.
"But knowing of his reputation as a man reluctant to needlessly part with his gold, I decided to grant him his request to first contact your father in England for instructions. I suspected that in reality he was asking your father to shoulder half the burden, but that is none of my concern. I care not from where my payment comes and I can afford to be a little patient for it."
She stepped closer to Constance, then added a more menacing corollary that particular decision wasn't popular with some of her associates.
"Then, just five days ago, the latest cargo ship from England reached Hamilton, escorted no less by a Frigate carrying thirty guns to ensure its safe passage," she went on. "Hearing that your intended had been there to meet the ship when it made port, I again sent my agent to his house. What he discovered was most unsettling."
The pirate woman paused once more, giving Constance a chance to comment on what she had said so far. The younger woman declined to do so, but suspected that her captor knew that the information she was imparting wasn't exactly unexpected.
"There was a woman on that ship, whom I've been told is your older sister, Prudence. My agent initially reported that he believed that she might have been sent with the gold in order to make sure that it was used for your release. Then, much to his surprise, Torrungton not only didn't make any arrangements to unload any gold, he instead immediately set out to arrange a wedding ceremony. In less than forty-eight hours of her arrival, your fiancé instead took your sister to his marriage bed. Where I might add. he had reportedly remained since."
Unable to totally control herself any longer, Constance let out an audible sigh. Not at the turn of events, which as she admitted to herself was surely a possibility, but over the fact that she would no longer act as if were not. That her ransom might actually have been paid.
"If it's any small conciliation," the tall woman offered, "it was the opinion of my agent, who has seen both you and your sister by the way, that Torrungton has settled for an inferior bride."
The words brought her small comfort as Constance thought of her sister, Prudence. Fifteen months older than her, Prudence had the misfortune to have been caught in an inappropriate situation with a man who already had a wife. The scandal that had resulted had been muted due to their father's influence, but had been enough to make in near impossible for him to arrange a suitable pairing for her among the sons of his fellows who had heard the whispers. Evidently, Torrungton hadn't heard them or didn't care. Constance's only real regret about it all was that her father didn't send him Prudence in the first place so that she would be standing here instead of her.
"Still, as I said in the beginning, this has left me with somewhat of a problem," Captain Morgan said, interrupting Constance's musings.
Constance banished any thought of her sister, now giving the woman now only a few feet in front of her full and undivided attention. Everything up to this point had been a preface. Now she would learn the reason she had been sent for.
"A Captain who fails to secure their crew their promised share of a bounty might soon find themselves in a precarious position," the Captain said. "There comes a point where fear of retribution might not be enough to stay certain elements."
Constance took that statement with the proverbial grain of salt. She wasn't so naive as to think that the infamous Morgan the Red was really worried that her crew might mutiny over a few lost pieces of eight. Even if her contact with the Captain had been severely limited, she'd seen the way just about all of the people on this island regarded her. It wasn't so much fear as awe.
No, the pirate leader was using the scenario to make a point. One that Constance couldn't figure out, but was sure she wasn't going to like.
"It's been suggested to me by Hudson, who aside from my agent is the only one who knows the ransom isn't forthcoming, that there is another way for us to recover our loss," Captain Morgan said as Constance hung on every word. "That we might turn you over to the slaver auction on San Marcos and be able to get an equal if not greater price for you."
Constance's mouth fell open in shock, her mind unable to form words.
"This, I assure you, is not a decision that I would make lightly," the other woman extended. "Cold hearted as I have been accused of being at times, I would take no pleasure in sending a woman such as yourself into a life like that. There are men who would eagerly bid on you there that would actually make your sister's new husband seem like a prize catch."
Constance still had trouble finding words to express what she was feeling. The image of Rourke and his filthy hands upon her filled her mind. A night that might just have been a harbinger of things to come.
"Yet, as I explained before, my men expect to be paid and I'm at somewhat of a loss as to what other options I have," the Captain said as she brought their discussion to a conclusion. "Unless you have any suggestions?"
Obviously, she didn't, but Constance did decide to take the opportunity to ask if she might ask a question. One that she had been wondering about since that night on the Falcon's Claw. After all, even a condemned prisoner usually got a last request, didn't they?
Evidently, the older woman felt that way as well, indicating that she could ask the question.
"How did you wind up as the leader of these people?" Constance asked.
The question seemed to take her captor by surprise, but nevertheless, she did seem to give it considerable thought before answering. That she didn't dismiss it out of hand was a good sign Constance thought.
"Why don't you have a seat," the Captain as she offered Constance one of the cushioned chairs near the window. "That might take a little explaining."
Her curiosity aroused and eager to think about something else than being sold off like a prize cow, Constance accepted the offer. Sitting down, she got the impression that it wasn't a story that she shared with many people, or that it was one that the Captain preferred not be well known. The younger woman now wondered if it was a good thing that she might now be one of the few. It might save her from the auction block, but might it lead her to something worse. Then she asked herself if there was anything that might be worse?
"First of all," the red headed woman said as she took one of the seats next to Constance, "my given name is Rachel. My father was Morgan the Red, at least the original one."
"Is he dead?" Constance asked, thinking that was a logical conclusion.
"No, he's alive and well, or at least he was the last time I saw him," Rachel corrected her.
"I don't understand."
"A few years ago, my father decided to retire, to live out his last years in comfort. Something that normally doesn't happen for men in his kind of life," she explained. "The problem was, his Majesty's Navy doesn't like to let men such as him just fade away, especially not after all the damage he'd done to their reputations in these waters."
It hadn't occurred to Constance that many of the stories she'd heard of Morgan were twenty years old or more and that they couldn't have applied to this woman who couldn't be much more than ten years older than her.
"So in order for him to simply disappear, there still had to be a Morgan."
"He just turned it all over to you and the men followed?" Constance asked.
"No, it wasn't that simple," she clarified. "True, he could've just given me the Falcon's Claw since it was his ship, but that didn't mean any of the other Captains would automatically follow me. I had to prove myself first."
"How did you do that?" Constance asked, thinking how little respect men had for women in most parts of the world, much less here in such an untamed land.
"By being better than they were."
The look on Constance's face said that she didn't understand how that could be. Weren't men normally superior to women?
"I guess I should start at the beginning," Rachel said as she leaned back in her chair, her thoughts drifting back to her childhood. "My father loved my mother as few men love a woman. Even now, he still mourns her death from the fever. Any way, next to his love for her, the one thing he wanted most in life was a son to carry on his name."
Constance nodded her understanding of that aspect, knowing that was an aspiration carried by most men, including her father.
"Fate, however, gave him a daughter instead, twins actually, myself and my sister, Elizabeth. A gift that they only let him keep a few weeks before she also died of the fever. His attitude toward a daughter changed after that. He now looked at me as his heir regardless of my gender. From that day on, what he knew, he endeavored to teach me as well, along with every bit of knowledge the rest of his Captains had. By the time I was fifteen, I could sail a ship to almost any point on a map, or hold my own against any man with a sword in my hand. He also made sure that I learned about other subjects as well, trading precious gold for the books you see around you, all of which I've read more than once."
Constance considered Rachel's life against her own. How her father had seen the potential in her while her own had only seen shame to be hidden away. Morality aside, it was a life she almost wished she could have led.
"I worked my way up among his crew, starting from the orlop deck to the bridge, holding every position from loblolly boy to first mate. Finally, about five years ago, my father came to me and told me it was time for him to go. I haven't seen him since."
There was a sadness in Rachel's eyes as she finished her tale. Constance couldn't help but think that despite all that she found herself envying about her, the older woman was very much alone in her life. She wanted to say something, but was interrupted by a loud knock on the door.
"Captain!" a loud voice boomed from the other side of the wood, "the Sea Dog is coming into port."
Rachel rose from her chair and glanced out the window, her sharp eyes quickly focusing on the sails just past the horizon. Duty called.
"I'm afraid we'll have to cut our chat short," Rachel said as she reached for the hat she had left hanging on a post. "A pity, I wanted to ask a few questions about your life as well. Maria had already told me much about it and I was curious about a few things."
"Maria told you?" Constance asked, thinking of the many hours she had spent walking and talking to the younger girl.
"Of course," Rachel smiled as she adjusted the hat in the mirror, "there is little that goes on here on my island that I don't know about."
Constance rose to her feet, realizing that the moment was over and that her problems had returned. A view reflected on her face.
"Perhaps we can talk again later," the tall woman said as she reasserted herself in the image of Morgan the Red.
"I'd like that," Constance said.
"One thing though," the Captain said as she headed for the door, "I've given orders that you no longer be allowed to visit outside the fortress. Until I decide what to do with you, I'd much prefer to know where you are. In fact, it might be better if you stayed in your room until I got back."
"Of course," Constance said dishearteningly.
With that, Morgan the Red was gone.
All through the long afternoon and into the evening hours, Constance sat in her room, now finally feeling like a prison, and contemplated her future. A future that looked bleaker with each passing hour. Staring out the window at the setting sun, she wondered if she would have the strength to throw herself to the street far below. Death might be preferable to the sexual slavery that Captain Morgan had hinted might be her fate.