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SEA

HEART





MARÍA ACOSTA









Copyright © 2017 María Acosta

Translated by: María Acosta

All rights reserved.







'On the Freedom's flag I sewed the greatest love of my life.'

Mariana Pineda. Federico García Lorca.





'My treasure is my gallant bark,

My God is Liberty;

My law is might, the wind my mark,

My country is the sea.'

The Pirate's Song. José de Espronceda.

I



Atlantic Ocean. Spring 1716.

The new day brought the good weather with it. After several days sailing in turbulent waters under an overcast sky, now the sun greeted them from the wide blue yonder.

The ship slipped over the ocean at a good speed thanks to a gust of wind that, if it remain during the next few days, it could save them a whole journey.

Captain Bonfils was in the quarter-deck, looking through the spyglass beside his boatswain, Monsieur Allard. Both men had sailed for many years together and could not be more different from one another: Bonfils was tall and plump, with a special taste for baroque things. He used to wear a dress coat and a wig, regardless of the heat. Allard, however, was shorter, bald and thin and his clothes and manners were humble than his employer's.

At that moment, both men have fixed their eyes on the galleon that could be seen far ahead and which had already spent two days following them.

'It's impossible to get rid of them.' Bonfils tutted, lowering the spyglass with apprehension. 'At that speed, they will reach us in less than one hour.'

'Perhaps they aren't pirates, captain.' said monsieur Allard, hopeful. 'It could be just another trading ship doing our same route.'

'It could.' he nodded. 'The French flag waves in their stern, in fact. But I don't trust them: there are too many men on that deck.'

'How many?'

'Eighty, at least. Maybe more.'

Monsieur Allard pursed his lips and looked around, restless. The Fierté Royal, a ship of three masts which made her route between the French port of La Rochelle and the Caribbean island of Guadalupe, was not prepared to be pitted against a pirate galleon... If that's what it was: galleons like that usually were heavily armed, to an approximate ratio of ten men for each cannon. Taking into account the ship's size and Bonfils' calculations about the crew, it should not have less than eight guns, while they had only three and a half-dozen muskets. Even bringing together all the healthy men of the Fierté, just about forty would be suited up for battle. That was not enough, if comparing their forces with those of their possible opponent...

Suddenly, there was movement in the other vessel and Bonfils hastened to use the spyglass in order not to lose detail. Monsieur Allard watched him with concern, waiting for the answer they both were afraid, being very aware of the moment that his captain had been petrified, seeing whatever it was through the lens.

Finally, Bonfils lowered the spyglass and sighed, defeated.

'They have raisen the black: it's Misson.'

'We'd better give up: we'll lose the cargo but still retain the life.'

'I'm afraid we can do nothing other, my friend. We aren't able to resist them.' he turned around to address the crew: 'Pirates! Hoist the white flag!'

There was a moment of astonishment, while the news spread among the sailors. It took the men a few seconds to meet the orders, rushing at the same time that they prayed for their surrender to earn them the mercy of their enemies, whose barbarity and lust for blood was well known.





The trading ship has been caught half an hour ago. The excitement of the boarding had been extinguished moments before, leaving only the calm of what seemed to have been an assault without incident.

The doctor had just left his surgeon's chest on the table when one of his fellow crew appeared at his doorstep. He was a short dark man, with a peculiar gait due to the weird curvature of his legs.

'Doctor.' the man walked towards him.

'Monsieur Cloutier.'

'Monsieur Deniaud has sent me to find you: there is a sick person aboard the trading ship, a passenger he wants you to examine.'

The doctor nodded, picked up his chest and putting it on his shoulder, he left preceded by the pirate.

'What symptoms does the person has?' he asked, as they crossed the hall to go on deck.

'I have no idea.' Cloutier shrugged. 'But he's someone important, that's for sure: the captain and the crew refused to speak, when Monsieur Deniaud asked them about him... that means there are rich people involved.'

'Maybe.'

They went out on deck and from there they crossed to the other ship, using one of the gangplanks their peers had tended to unite both vessels during the boarding.

They found the crew of the trading ship clustered in the center of the deck, all sitting on the floor and guarded by heavily armed pirates, who were at Monsieur Deniaud's command.

The boatswain was waiting for them not far: blonde and thin as a toothpick, to the point that his clothes were hanging off him, he greeted them with a nod and without speaking – he was a man of a few words - led them inside the ship and into one of the cabins, located at the end of the hallway.

Upon entering, it was obvious that they were in the captain's cabin. Not only because it was located abaft but because the spacious room and its fine decoration in oak and brocade attested that: only a high-ranking official – or in this case, a wealthy merchant - could afford something like that.

'He's over there.' said Monsieur Deniaud, pointing to the bed. It was an amazing piece of furniture and dominates the room with its four posts and dark wood. On it rested a young man in a camisole and socks. 'We found him while we were searching the cabin. He's a rich boy, no doubt: the silk of his socks worth more than a year's salary for any of these sailors. Also, nobody wanted to answer for him when I asked: his family must be very rich, if they are trying to hide his presence on the ship... surely they'll pay well to get him back.' the boatswain smiled, cunning.

'Assuming there was a family.' said the doctor, moving closer to the bed to examine the man.

The boy was lying face-up. He could not be more than twenty years old. A lank long brown hair framed his well-defined features and his white skin. The paleness and the sweat showed clearly he was feeling unwell, maybe suffering from a disease which could be contagious. Therefore, it was necessary to find out if there was danger or not in get him on board with them. No ransom, appealing though it is, worth to face an outbreak of Plague or Fevers.

The doctor left his chest on the bedside table, next to a bowl containing the last vestiges of some apples... green, judging by the peeling. He bent and checked the temperature and the pulse of his patient. Examined his skin and eyes – they were bright blue, as was proved when his owner gave him a confused look – in search of anomalies that were not found. The inside of his mouth was healthy, with the denture in good condition, although the throat was slightly irritated. Nothing strange, if one had in mind the potty that had been left beside the bed to contain the vomiting...

Suddenly, the young man grabbed the side of the bed, retching. He was able to depart on time but still his patient vomited all over his footwear before he can avoid it. He didn't have much in the stomach, thank God, but the vomiting was poured directly on his boots, ruin them.

The pirates watched it with disgust and they stepped back, wary.

'Is it the fevers?' asked Cloutier, suspicious.

'No fever.' said the doctor. He made a grimace at inspecting his footwear. It was going to have to be cleaned thoroughly upon return to the ship. 'There is not blood in the vomit and he doesn't suffer from seizures, or bleeding, so it's not the Plague or the yellow fever. Also, his gums have a healthy color, so it's not about scurvy, either.'

'What happens to him then?' asked Monsieur Deniaud.

'It's seasickness: the waters have been riots these days, the boy had it roug.' he turned to open his chest and pulled out a ribbon he tied around the young man's wrist. 'This will serve for the moment. Monsieur Cloutier, help me to get him on board. I'll take care of him in the infirmary.'

'Until further notice he's under your custody, doctor.' declared Monsieur Deniaud. 'When he'll be in a fit state, contact us to speak with him.'

He nodded because there wasn't much more he could do or say: the youngter's destiny had already been sealed.

With the help of Cloutier, he picked up the ends of the sheet and they both got the boy out of there, as if they carried him on a stretcher.

II



The seasickness had disappeared. He was in a nice state of sleepiness now, only disturbed by the mild pain on his throat. Still, he had not vomited even once in several hours and that was enough for him.

He felt grateful to be able to sleep in peace finally. Still he was getting used to live in a ship and, to make things worse, during those weeks he had had to face an ominous sickness that had started upon leaving the port of La Rochelle. At first, the breeze on the deck and the green apples Bonfils had advised him to eat in order to defeat the seasickness had worked but as soon as they came to the high seas and the waters began to curl, he felt so bad they had to move him to the captain's cabin... where his personal hell truly began: he was trapped in a cycle of seasickness, vomiting and exhaustion, without finding rest and being not able to retain anything in his stomach, feeling worse with each pounding of the waves against the hull of the boat, in a sea that has given him no respite during days.

In the midst of his agony, he prayed for the journey to end soon and be able to reach the port of Saint Loïs. He wanted to step on land again, never return to the sea if possible and be stay safe in his brother's home... his new home. He had heard so many things about the island, the Caribbean, the pirates...

He opened the eyes suddenly.

He looked around and discovered, startled, he was no longer in Bonfils' cabin. This place was smaller and was decorated in a different way: the large oak bed has been replaced by one smaller, older and more humble. There was a shelf full of books that occupied the wall on the right and a large canvas a few metres from the bed, separating the room in two. To the left he could see a desk under a porthole.

'Good afternoon.' greeted a man sitting in a chair next to the bed. 'Are you feeling better now, sir?'

He looked at him as if he were an apparition. Certainly, he could be: he had not seen that man in his entire life. He was considerably tall, with a slender body he accommodated in the chair like a big cat on a tree branch. He wore green clothes, simple but of good quality and taylor-made. His hair was long and blonde, combed neatly back and tied with a dark ribbon. His grey eyes showed confidence and a friendly smile appeared on his thin lips.

The man's presence contributed in some way to relax him. He did not seem to be dangerous, though he was still a stranger to him. He must behave with caution:

'Who are you, sir? Where I am? What's happened?'

'My name is Aloys.' the man introduced himself. 'I'm the doctor of the Liberté. You're in my infirmary. My fellows and I got you on board and it has been decided you'll be temporarily our guest.'

'Your guest?' he swallowed, confused. 'Where is captain Bonfils? I'd like to talk to him.'

'The captain is in these moments on his route to Guadalupe: he decided to continue on his way, once we release him and his men.'

He looked at him with astonishment:

'Release them... you have captured our ship!' he realized. 'Are you pirates? I have been hijacked!'

'Please, don't be alarmed.' the doctor changed position and leaned toward him in a gesture that showed conciliation and obviously was intended to reassure him. 'We're going to return you to your family as soon as possible. But first you must tell me your name. My fellows want to know who they're dealing with.'

'I wont say anything.' he went away from him, scared.

'As you wish.' declared the doctor, without losing patience. He stood up and turned around to take from the bedside table a tray which, until then, he didn't noticed. He put it on his lap and his stomach could not help a desperate roar at the sight and smell of a delicious soup of vegetables and a generous grilled chicken breast. 'You must eat all, so you need to get your strength back. Our cook is one of the best, I'm sure you'll enjoy the food... and while doing so, I recommend you to think about the situation: my colleagues will pay you a visit before the end of the day and they didn't want to settle with a no for an answer. I say this as an advice, not a threat.'

He looked at him: the man's eyes showed understanding. There was neither aggressiveness nor arrogance in his words, only knowledge.

The doctor said goodbye then and he departed, leaving him alone after he lost sight of him at crossing to the other side of the canvas.

He looked away, feeling a knot of apprehension in his stomach.

Pirates.

He had fallen prey to pirates.





'How is our guest doing?' the captain asked, at seeing him in the doorstep. 'Is he awake yet? Is he in the mood to chat?'

'He's awake and almost recovered.' said the doctor, getting into the cabin to take a seat in front of the desk, behind which the captain awaited for him. 'I've left him getting a snack. Still he's shocked by the news.'

'Hasn't been enough your personal charm to take away the fear and make him talk?' the captain joked and earned a smile in return. 'I'm surprised, doctor.'

'It's not surprising, considering the circumstances: our guest is young and he's scared. I don't think he's ever faced anything like this. Even so, I think he'll give in when he had time to assess the situation.'

'Let's give him a few hours to think about it. Later, I will pay him a visit... I hope the feminine touch could convince him.'

'I'm sure it will surprise him.'

'It wouldn't be the first time.' the woman smiled. 'Do you fancy a drink?'

'Yes, thank you.'

The captain stood up and walked to a showcase nearby, from where she took a bottle and two glasses. She returned then to the desk and poured the rum in the glasses, giving his glass to the doctor and taking a seat again, leaning back in the chair as she used to do when she was relaxed and confident.

The doctor could not avoid looking at her and thinking, while drinking, how much things had changed over the past year: twelve months ago, the crew had another captain and the ship another name. All that had changed by being chosen Vianne as captain after her brother's death... suddenly the young woman, who had impersonated a man since the age of thirteen, was uncovered and the reaction of her peers – after more than a decade of living together in brotherhood, fighting, bleeding and suffering by her side - was to accept her, not without some astonishment, because despite everything she was one of them, an authority figure who they appreciated and respected... otherwise, things would have been very different.

The appointment of Vianne had brought a new reality to the ship: o more democratic and safe environment for all, a significant decrease in the mortality among the crew and some succulent booties that kept the men satisfied and happy... Alongside with several positive reforms that had been long time demanded and some which at first were not to the liking of many but soon have proved to be beneficial to the general well-being, so that they were currently complied without hesitation.

One of those reforms had to do with the treatment of prisoners: their guest would benefit from the rule prohibiting abuse against the hostages... as long as circumstances or his own attitude doesn't compelled them otherwise.

They had got him on board in order to ask for a ransom and certainly they could not do that if they didn't know who should sue for the money.

The doctor knew Vianne would make sure to get the information out of the boy by not harming methods, preferring to intimidate him rather than hurt him. But if the lad decided stick to his guns...

Well, none of them wanted to go to such lengths.



III



There was no escape.

After the doctor's departure - and once he has got his strength back with the food - he had got out of bed and went round the room looking for an exit: the cabin's door was locked and there was no other form of getting out of there that was not using the windows. The toilet window was too narrow and the other two, although spacious, only will lead him to take an unwanted dip.

Over his head was just the sky and the three masts of the ship and at his feet the ocean, blue and vast. There was not land in miles...

He snorted, frustrated, and got off the desk where he had hopped up to look through the porthole.

He tried to think.

He was trapped in that ship. He was at the mercy of pirates, who would certainly make use of torture and other nefarious methods to get the information they wanted out of from him. Although he had refused to speak in front of the doctor, the truth was that after thinking about it for a while he had come to the conclusion the man was right: he could not persist in such an attitude. No, if he wanted to preserve his integrity or his life.

'They want to know who I am,' he thought, 'in order to know who they should ask for ransom... Bernard is going to get mad. He could even try to fight them.'

Should he wait for that to happen? Had his brother the resources necessaries to defeat the pirates? He surely would make them hang for daring to kidnap his younger brother. But in the meantime...

'I need to stay safe.' he said himself. 'Maybe I won't get hurt if they think I'm collaborating with them and don't see me as a threat. I could even gain his trust and try to escape, if I have the chance. In addition, the sooner I let them know my identity the sooner mi brother will heard of what happened... that would be the quickest way to put an end to all of this.'

He did not want to bow to the pirates, much less that his family had to get rid of what surely would be a hefty sum of money. But neither he wanted to suffer or lose his life at the hands of his captors. What he won with that? Would he be considered a hero for dying standing his ground or do he simply would be remembered for his recklessness and stupidity?

He must keep calm and use his head.

His brother would do everything to prevent him from suffering any harm. Bernard wanted him alive and whole, in Saint Loïs, so that he could fulfill his duty to the family and start a new life on the island.

It wasn't like he refused to do so. Although he had not been granted the privilege of issuing his opinion, the true was he found the idea more than appealing: to change the bucolic and peaceful French countryside by the ardent and fascinating Caribbean, about which so many stories were told in Europe and so many new things had to offer to the newcomers as him. He loved his native land but he did not care to abandon the benefits of the countryside in exchange to discover the New World.

As to the pirates...

There was no other solution. He must play along with them to survive until his brother came to rescue him. It would be just a few weeks, if he was lucky. He could stand it.

He turned his blue eyes to the cbin's door and looked it frowning, challenging.

When his captors come for him, he would be prepared.

They arrived two hours before dinner.

He was reading a book in bed when the cabin's door opened and he could heard clearly two people entering the room.

He left immediately the book aside and got out of bed to receive his visitors, crossing to the other side of the canvas. He already knew the doctor, so that his gaze fell immediately on his companion: he was tall and slim, with broad shoulders just like him. His eyes were bright and his red hair was tied back. He wore pants and a dark blue dress coat, with a hat and boots and a sword worn at the waist and a strap crossing his chest, carrying two guns.

If his outfit itself was somewhat shocking, it was much more the fact that that man had breasts.

He stepped back stunned, looking his visitor up and down in disbelief:

'A woman!'

The aforementioned smiled, amused by his reaction.

'Have you never seen one, sir?'

'No. I mean... yes, of course.' he blushed and seeing the fun in the eyes of the others, made an effort to maintain composure. 'I thought pirates didn't allow women on board.'

'They don't. But I was chosen by my crew to lead the ship: I'm captain Misson. I'll be your hostess while you're with us. You're under my custody, sir...'

'Delaney. Remi Delaney.'

'Monsieur Delaney. Tell me, what family you belong to and what they do for a living?'

'My only family is my brother, madame. He's the governor of Saint Loïs.'

The pirate and the doctor watched him surprised and exchanged a look between them, before the captain re-focus her attention on him:

'Well, well! So Bernard Delaney... he's well-known in the French Antilles. Thank you for your kindness to inform us, monsieur. We'll head to Saint Loïs right away and I'll write to your brother as we got closer to the island. I'm confident he'll reply soon. If you need anything more, please let us know.' she added. 'In this ship we know hospitality and for now I can't find a reason to make uncomfortable your stay among us.'

He nodded, satisfied. A moment later, he cleared his throat:

'Excuse me, captain. Would it be possible to get me some clothes? I was get on board with no more than my underwear... I'd like to be able to dress properly.'

'Of course. I'll have someone bring you fresh clothes.' she looked at him to get an idea of his measurements and, thereupon, she turned again to look at the doctor. 'Would you mind to bring our guest up to date, doctor?'

'I'll take charge of that.' nodded the physician.

'In that case, I'm leaving. Pleasure to meet you, monsieur Delaney. I'd be honoured to have your presence tonight at my table for dinner, if you're willing.'

'Thank you, captain. I'll be there.'

The woman walked away. He was left alone with the doctor, both looking – weighing up – at each other. Finally, after long seconds of scrutiny, the doctor cracked a smile and spoke:

'I'm glad you've changed your mind: talk to the captain about your brother has been the most sensible thing.'

'What did you expect me to do?'

'At the beginning you refused to speak.' he reminded him and his tone seemed more fun than reproving.

'That was before I realized I couldn't flee from this place. Being stubborn serves no purpose, doctor. Death or torture are not the fate I want for myself, so that, as you well have said, to tell the truth on this occasion was the sensible thing to do.'

'You wont regret it. And you wont either have any complaint of our deal... as long as you play by the rules.'

'What rules are those?'

'You'll be our hostage until we make the exchange, meanwhile you'll be in my charge. You don't have permission to leave the cabin or wander through the ship, unless you do in my company. If you need to use the latrine, you must ask for permission... or you can use one of the urinals of the infirmary.' Remi nodded, showing he understood. After a few seconds the doctor spoke again, always with that refined and polite tone, contributing strangely to reassure him: 'This evening you'll have dinner in the captain's cabin. I will accompany you during the evening and it's usual we be accompained by Monsieur Deniaud, the boatswain. The captain's invitation is an act of courtesy, as you may have already been able to guess. This is not the norm: during your stay here, you will eat here with me, unless we decide otherwise, do you understand?'

'I understand.'

The doctor nodded and then he made a pause before added, with a serious tone:

'I have to tell you, although I trust that there will be no need to repeat it: if you fail to follow the rules, you will lose the privilege of being well treated and will spend the rest of the trip chained in the hold. If you shows any belligerent or inappropiate attitude or you try to escape... the captain personally will apply you an exemplary punishment in front of the entire crew. Do you get it?'

'I do.' he swallowed. 'How long I will be retained?'

'Till the governor payed the ransom. Luckily, it wont be more than a month. The exchange will take place at a safe distance from Saint Loïs. Don't worry, before you notice it you will be sailing with your brother to home, intact.'

The young man sighed at the thought.

'That's what I desire the most.'

'I understand you.' the doctor nodded, understanding. 'Now, would you like to take a bath? After having spent days in bed, I'm sure it will help you to feel better.'

'Yes, thank you. I agree with that.'

'Very well, then. And since we both know you'll have already looked for an exit.' he smiled slightly. 'I assume that in the process you'll have seen the bucket that hangs behind the window.' he pointed it out. Remi nodded. 'You can use it to collect the sea water and fill the tub with it. I guess you already know where the toilet is.'

'I know.'

'If you want to heat the water, you can use the cooker in the background. Would you know to do it all alone?'

'Of course.' the doubt in his tone offended him. 'I'm neither useless, doctor, nor armless.'

'It wasn't my intention to insinuate such a thing. I was thinking that maybe your lineage has prevented you from learn that kind of tasks.'

'My lineage is not as high as it may seem. You'd be surprised with the kind of tasks I'm able to do, monsieur.' he said and earned a broad smile in return.

'I'm glad to hear that. Now, if you excuse me, I have work to do. Enjoy your bath, Monsieur Delaney.'

'Thank you, I'll do.'

He walked away heading to the window, passing very upright by the doctor. He ignored him as he opened the window and put his body thought the window to get the bucket and began to maneuver with it to get the water. With lineage or without it, he was perfectly capable of prepare a bath without help: the process was as simple as fill the bucket and then pouring it into the tub. He had already seen before how it was done... and turning on a cooker wasn't different to lighting a fireplace. He knew the routine, since he was the one in charge of doing it each winter in the bedroom he shared with his classmates at the boarding school. So, he was more than prepared to perform both tasks.

Concentrated as he was in his work, he had not noticed in his comings and goings of the smile of the doctor, who has delayed for a moment his return to work to watch him. The young man could not see the satisfaction in the physician's eyes at checking like his hostage doesn't disdained the hard work and he accomplished it with the dignity of a king... still dressed with a simple camisole.

Remi would not know until much later but his refusal to surrender in the face of an adverse situation earned him instantly the doctor's sympathy.







IV



After a relaxing bath and dressed with the cloth a sailor had brought to him on behalf of the captain, Remi came to dine that night in the company of the doctor.

Captain Misson's cabin was a few steps away from the infirmary, on the same corridor. Aloys knocked on the door and both got in, after receiving the passing order from the other side.

Remi looked around with an innate curiosity. The cabin was spacious, with curtains draped in the windows and a large desk at the bottom with three chairs that was surrounded by shelves from floor to ceiling, built in the wall and filled with books. To the right hung a large bunk bed made of wood and to the left stood a beautiful folding screen of oriental design, among whose crevices the young man was able to catch a glimpse when he pass of a basin and a mirror and something that seemed to be a large tub. No doubt that was the toilet area, justifying a greater privacy from the rest of the stay.

The center of the room was occupied by a huge oak table. Remi could imagine it full of maps and instruments of navigation, though now it has been dressed up with a white tablecloth and on its surface there were trays of food and jugs of cut glass containing red wine.

Captain Misson was sitting at the head of the table, chatting with another man who must be the boatswain. He was blond and lanky, he wore a blue dress coat and leather boots, which identifying him clearly as one of the officers of the crew.

To see them arrive, both Vianne and her companion rose from their chairs to greet them:

'Welcome.' greeted the captain with cordiality. 'Please, sit down. Pedro has prepared us a delicious dinner, as usual. Would you fancy a glass of wine?'

The doctor nodded and their hostess poured them the wine in cups of cut glass, whose design matched the pitchers. After the first sip and while they still enjoyed the fruity flavor of the wine on their palates, the four took a seat. Remi watched his table mates, although his attention was soon attracted by the delicious dishes that were spread on the table: a tray full of fruit of the best quality, some of them exotic, since he had never seen before and he was sure they must come from the West Indies; an enormous pheasant roasted; a tureen that exhaled an inebriating smell of fish; and to complete the tasty picture, a tarte normande whose aroma did roar shamefully to his stomach.

'It smells very well.' he praised, trying to disguise it when the other looked at him.

'And tastes even better.' smiled Vianne, before doing the honours so that the dinner would start.

'So your brother is the governor of Saint Loïs.' said monsieur Deniaud, after a while. The boatswain pierced him suspiciously with his brown eyes.

'Yes, sir.'

'I've heard of him: a shrewd man, as they say. His island has prospered almost from nothing in just five years.'

'Bernard is a very competent man, monsieur. He takes his responsibilities very seriously and has always had the desire to excel. When his Majesty appointed him governor, he felt he had to honour his duty the best as possible.'

'No doubt he has made. Are you going to follow his example? Would you honour your duty, when you meet him in Saint Loïs?'

'That's my intention.' nodded Remi. 'I'm expected to help my brother with the issues of trade on the island.'

'Are you a trader?' asked Vianne, curious.

'I've learned the basic skills in the school, madame. And I'm going to learn a lot more, working for my future father-in-law.'

'Are you going to get married?' the doctor looked at him surprised, leaving his glass half-raised into the air.

'Yes, I am. On my arrival at Saint Löis is expected I'll contract a marriage with the daughter of Monsieur Giroux.'

'Caroline Giroux.' Vianne frowned, intrigued. 'People speaks about her in the West Indies... although not much is known about her. She's a mysterious figure.'

'It's said that she's not graceful.' stated Deniaud, a mocking smile in his lips. 'Some people think she's a deformed creature: they say that's why her father locked her in a convent at the age of three, just after her mother died.'

'Henri.' the doctor admonished him, pursing his lips. 'I don't think we should give credit to gossip without foundation.'

'I'm just saying, doctor. I don't personally know the girl or have anything against her.'

'Evil tongues lie, monsieur.' replied Remi, upset by the insult to his betrothed. 'My brother knows the lady's family and he has always praised the qualities and beauty of mademoiselle Giroux. I can assure you that there is nothing wrong with her. And if she was put in the care of the Poor Clares of the island, it wasn't due to any deformity but to her father wish of which mademoiselle received a careful education and her virtue remained preserved from the vices and dangers of the world.'

'The vices and dangers of the world aren't left at the doors of a convent.' intervened Vianne, looking at him bearish. 'The sacred isn't enough to protect yourself. Enclose an individual between four walls preserve him for nothing. The only thing you get with that is isolate him from the world and deprive him of his freedom... a freedom that God himself granted us by creating us. Therefore, we neither can nor should denied it to anyone.'

'I'm sure Monsieur Giroux wasn't intended that, madame. Surely he was just thinking of the well-being of his daughter.'

'Sometimes our intentions and our actions differ, monsieur. Personally, I'm of the opinion that no one should be locked up. No matter the reason.'

She was so blunt an inflexible in her words that Remi could not help but feel attacked in some way. He knew he should not react to any act of provocation, that it was not sensible, but he did before being able to avoid it:

'Thus both must agree that you're right, captain. I'd add that not only our intentions but also our speech may differ from our actions. You yourself is proof of what I say: defending freedom uncompromisingly... while deprive your hostages of it, in order to benefit from the ransom their families will pay for them.'

There was silence on the table. Remi could feel the moment all the eyes went on him, full of surprise and disapproval in equal parts. He swallowed, becoming aware immediately of his impertinence and sure that it was going to cost him a punishment.

Deniaud was the first to rise from his chair, his face red with anger:

'You little...!'

'Henri.' the captain stopped him, laying a hand on his forearm. 'There is no need to be altered. Our guest is tired, no doubt the emotions of the day have betrayed his tongue.'

'I don't care about his stupid tongue...'

'You should: circumstances must be taken into consideration.' she looked at him significantly before she turned to look with a serious face at the doctor and the boy. 'We'll let it go this time. Doctor, take Monsieur Delaney back to the infirmary. He must rest... and if tomorrow morning his discomfort persists, you already know what to do.'

'Yes, captain.' the physician stood up and turned, giving Remi a black look. 'We're leaving, monsieur.'

Remi stood up, apologising in a rush before run after the doctor and towards the exit. Vianne dismissed him with a gesture, while Monsieur Deniaud snorted and made a big deal about it as he sat down.

The captain, for her part, remained silence and poured herself another cup of wine, drinking it with parsimony.

She was angry. She has been in fact so close to punish that insolent for his audacity. But she couldn't deny the guy was daring – or perhaps just a fool - to say what he thought... and even it was possible he was partly right.





'I'm sorry.' apologized Remi, as they crossed the doorstep of the infirmary.

Aloys snorted, closing the door behind them. The boy had disappointed him with his stupidity. He was angry and now that there were not public, there was no need to hold back:

'What the hell were you thinking about!?' he confronted him. 'Didn't make myself clear when I explained you the rules and the consequences of violating them?'

'You did and I understand perfectly your anger. You have a right...'

'So why you didn't listen to me? How dare you to offend the captain that way? You called her a hypocrite in her own face.'

'It wasn't my intention. I felt attacked by her words. She was so emphatic and I...'

'She usually is. It's part of her personality, nothing personal. Vianne has always been a passionate woman.'

'Now I know. And I'm sorry for what happened.' he apologized again. He was truly repentant. 'It was reckless and stupid of me. Tomorrow, I'll apologise to the captain.'

'You'll do well in doing so. And from now on, tame your tongue and your attitude. You have already earned the animosity of Deniaud and he's a man who doesn't forget easily. Don't provoke him in the future. As for the captain,' he added, 'You must know her understanding is limited when it comes to those who question her authority. Next time you wont be so lucky.'

'There wont be a next time. I promise. I've realised my mistake.'

'You'd better.' he snorted, turning away his gaze from him and looking at the row of bunk beds on the left, which could accommodate up to eight patients but now they were all empty. 'Choose a bed.' he ordered the boy. 'You will sleep in it while you're here... that if you don't screw up again and makes yourself sent to the hold.'

'That's not going to happen, I've already said.'

'Well, I hope so because my word doesn't have much influence in this ship. I cannot help you, do you understand? You have no friends or protectors here. Your survival depends solely on yourself. Learn that lesson as soon as possible, if you don't want to pay the consequences.'

'I'll do. I'll play by the rules. You wont have to worry about me in the future, I assure you.'

'I don't care for you.' he disowned. Then sighed. 'I don't even know you! This morning I thought you were an intelligent boy and you would know how to behave in these circumstances but now I've realised you're only a fool, who doesn't have an idea about how to hold his tongue.' he pierced Remi with his eyes and the young man lowered his gaze, embarrassed like a child reprimanded by his father. 'Good night, monsieur. See you tomorrow.'

'Good night, doctor.'

The doctor walked away, disappearing on the other side of the canvas. Remi watched the shadow of the man while he prepared to get into bed. He swallowed, chiding himself for having goofed and not having been able to contain his temper or his words. In such a situation that was the last thing he needed.

In addition, he discovered that a small part of him felt sad for having let the doctor down. While he was picking one of the bunk beds to sleep, he reminded himself that meet the physician's expectations was not his purpose. He was not obliged to do it and he should not be worry because the doctor will feel disappointed... however, he has never liked to disappoint anyone.

Aloys had done well with him and from his words, Remi knew he actually concerned for his well-being... for its integrity, at least. The doctor was not going to admit to it, of course: they didn't know each other and the physician couldn't allow himself to feel compassion of the hostages. He was on the side of the pirates, with all that that entailed.

'Even so, he's noble enough to care for others.' he thought. 'He feels frustrated because he knows he wont be able to help me, if I don't help myself. Any wrongdoer without scruples would be worried about that. No, that shows he's a good man.'

Wrapping in the sheets, he promised himself he would not put his foot in it again. He would not put its integrity at risk and would try not to displease his kind guardian. From now on, he would be prudent and sensible. He should not forget what was his true position on that ship.

He was decide not to make the same mistake twice.



V



The next morning, after having breakfast, Remi asked him for permission to go to see the captain.

He granted it to him, of course, and watched him while he walked away with a sigh: the truth was he was no longer angry. In fact, that morning the boy had shown a clear willingness to amend, to compensate, looking at him with that puppy eyes that had made him consider whether he has been too strict with him the night before. After all, he was only a boy and boys made nonsense once in a while. Especially if they had to deal with being kidnapped and holding against their will by pirates, with the consequent danger to their integrity. In addition, Remi had admitted his mistake immediately...

'Don't relent.' he said to himself. 'You were strict with him in order to make him learn the lesson and it seems you have succeeded. There is nothing to regret.'

That was true. Although after thinking of what happened, he could not help but believe the boy's words had been accurate. He was sure Vianne also would have noticed it. She was an intelligent woman and usually she didn't miss a thing. No doubt that's why she had not punished the boy. He has been lucky. Otherwise, he would be chained up in the hold now, waiting to receive his punishment in front of everyone and then he would have to treat his wounds...

He grimaced. He didn't want to think about that. It was not his desire the young man was harmed in any way and he didn't want to have to repeat the unpleasant experience of assisting a prisoner who has been mistreated, either. Before Vianne was elected as a captain, he had been forced to heal many in that situation and he has never liked it.

Fortunately, he knew he would not have to face that with Monsieur Delaney. Unless the boy was stupid enough to upset Vianne again and he was almost sure that would not happen...

Half an hour after his departure, the boy came back. Aloys was in front of his desk at that moment and the young man came to him, not without hesitation, and he stopped what he was doing to look at him.

'How did it go?' he asked, curious.

'Well.' he sighed. He seemed relieved. 'The captain and I are now at peace.'

'I'm glad.' seeing the boy has not departed from his side and was looking at him expectantly, he added: 'Do you want to tell me anything else?'

'I had thought...' he cleared his throat, mustering the courage to speak: 'I'd like to make you a request, doctor.'

'A request? To me?' Aloys rose his eyebrows. 'What's it about?'

'I haven't dared to ask the captain because I didn't know how she would react.' he admitted. 'Perhaps, a cause of my position in this ship, my request could seem somewhat unorthodox. It's for that reason that I prefer to discuss it with you first and know your opinión about it.'

'Very well.' he gestured to the bed, where the boy sat down to talk to him. 'Go ahead. I'm all ears.'

'I know I'll have to stay here for several weeks,' he declared, 'and there's not much I can do in that time except reading, which I don't wish to do forever. So that I had thought to find myself an occupation: some of my skills could be useful on the ship, I think. What do you think about it?'

The young man watched him with curiosity, awaiting his verdict. Aloys weighed it for a moment:

'It's not a commond request, that's true, although it's not unusual. In fact, it could be perfectly feasible.' he leaned forward slightly, interested. 'Tell me, do you know anything of navigation?'

'Very little, I'm afraid. I had thought rather to be your assistant.'

'My assistant?' that's caught his attention. 'I didn't know you had knowledge of medicine, monsieur.'

'I haven't.' he grimaced at seeing he looked at him with skepticism and he hastened to add: 'But I can read and write in two languages, sir. I could help you with the inventory. I also have a head for figures and you've seen I can do simple tasks.'

'What else you can do, apart from turn on the cooker and prepare a bath?' he asked, intrigued.

'I can make beds and I know to use a broom... I could even empty the chamber pots, if necessary. I've seen how it's done.'

'I appreciate your willingness, monsieur.' he acknowledged, nodding in agreement. 'Certainly those are all very useful skills but I wonder if that wont be too low tasks for a man of your position.'

'My position wont be a problem.' he assured. 'Although my brother is a governor and our family is ancient and renowned, we have never been more than rural nobles... we're mere landowners, monsieur.' he said it humbly and that pleased the doctor. It seemed there was no arrogance in him. 'In Addition, I don't have anything better to do and I'd like to contribute, if I can.'

The doctor observed his face carefully, looking for a lie that he didn't find. The boy was being sincere, although he can't help to wonder what were his true intentions on that. Were such a willingness to lend a hand real, or was it only a trick to gain his trust and that of the rest of the crew? Was he intended to be useful in the eyes of everyone, maybe even to arouse their affection and thus to obtain some advantage over them? He may wish to achieve greater freedom, to be released of his confinement in the infirmary perhaps...

Despite everything, he had to admit it was not a bad idea. In fact, having a assistant will be positive for him. If he didn't trust the boy, he just had to watch him well... and that was his obligation, anyway. In any case, it wasn't even sure that he got Vianne's approval. If she accepted his proposal, it would be with some conditions: if he himself had his doubts about Remi, she surely wouldn't trust him at all and she would act accordingly. She would not allow that young man could cause any prejudice to her plans or her men.

'We must inform the captain about it.' he said. 'It's her who must give the nod to your proposal. I'll go to see her after lunch and we'll see what she says. Just in case, don't get your hopes up. There is no guarantee you was going to get what you want.'

'Okay.' said the young man. 'Thanks anyway, doctor.'

Aloys frowned as he watched him, evaluating him as a candidate:

'Tell me, does it bother you to see blood?'

'No.'

'How much blood exactly have you seen in your life? It's important: some people can't handle its vision and passes out upon seeing it.'

'That's not my case.' Remi shook his head. 'I remember seeing a clean break a year ago: an accident suffered by one of my classmates at the boarding school. The bone could be seen. It was very unpleasant, certainly.'

'Didn't it affect you?' he asked, intrigued.

'No.'

'Well, that will serve, I suppose.' he sighed, before remembering something: 'Excuse me, what languages have you said you speak?'

'I haven't said, actually, but I speak French and Spanish.'

'I see.'

He rose from his chair and walked away to cross to the other side of the canvas, heading to the apothecary, whose door was just by the toilet's, and returning some minutes later with a bucket that he put on Remi's lap. Looking down, the boy saw that inside it there was a brush, a clean cloth and a huge green bar of soap.

'I want you to clean the floors.' the doctor declared, when the young man rose his eyes to look at him for an answer. 'It will be one of your basic tasks if you becomes my assistant, so I want to verify you're able to do so. I will assess your work and if the results please me, I'll recommend the captain to accept your proposal.'

'Agreed.' he stood up, determinated. 'You wont have any complaint of my work, doctor.'

'I hope so.'

The boy nodded and walked away, ready to fulfil his task. Aloys went after him and stopped at a safe distance to observe interested as the young man put the brush, the towel and the soap on the floor, beside one of the beds, and headed then to the window for picking up a bit of water. Seconds after, he put the bucket on the floor next to the cleaning utensils and knelt down, ready to start.

He hesitated for a few moments. Then he took the soap with decision and the doctor sighed when he saw him rubbing the bare directly on the floor, didn't even passing it through water, making obvious the fact that he had no idea what he was doing. He already knew it could not be expected that a boy of his class knew the way to do that kind of work, although amazingly it was able to carry out some cleaning tasks. At some point in his life he'd has learned or seen them done, he supposed. However, it was obvious his young captive had not taken a cleaning cloth in his life... much less he was accustomed to use it.

He got closer and touched him gently on the shoulder to get his attention. Remi rose his eyes and seeing his face, he composed an expression of circumstances. He was trying to make his best but both were aware of his ignorance with regard to certain tasks:

'It's easier if you wet the soap first and then use the brush to clean the floor.' the doctor recommended, with a gentle tone. He didn't mean to patronise him but someone had to teach the boy. 'The cloth can be used finally to clarify the soap scum.'

'Thanks.' he grimaced, embarrassed. 'I'm sorry, I don't have a habit of...'

'Don't worry, monsieur, you're trying hard.' he smiled to comfort him. 'That also counts for me.'

The boy smiled back and the gesture softened his features, lighting up his blue eyes, which were even more beautiful the more closely you looked at them.

Aloys looked away and stepped back to take distance from his future apprentice during the assessment. While the boy returned to his chores with a renewed determination, he could not avoid a grimace at seeing him: Remi was trying hard but still he was not sure of that. What kind of assistant would be the young Delaney? He didn't even know how to handle a rag and his knowledge of medicine were virtually null...

He sighed.

He could end up regreting that, even if Vianne gave it her approval.





Vianne was on deck, replacing Cloutier behind the rudder.

Keeping the ship's course required a person at the rudder twenty-four hours a day, preventing the vessel from deviating from its route. To do this, they had established four-hour shifts for the sailors, who were rotating and divided their time between the deck and the bilge, where the pumps worked all day bailing out the water that seeped into the bottom of the ship, which was in permanent contact with the sea, and was in danger to become in a swamp of stagnant water if it was not draining well and constantly.

Among her duties as a captain was not pump out the bilges but she had to watch the ship's course and while she did so now, her eyes observed the men working around her, a vision that always had made her feel relaxed, as it meant the peace of the routine to her: she saw the sailors working with the sails, handling the ropes, and a couple of cadets that competed between them to see who was able to swipe the mop faster fore and aft. At the bottom, in the forecastle, another group of boys – none of them was less than fifteen years. Rules of the ship – was washing the sailors' clothes in a wooden tub, chatting and joking.

Vianne smiled, satisfied. That was another quiet day at work...

'Captain, can I have a moment of your time?'

She turned, following the sound of his voice and in doing so she meet face to face with the doctor. He was standing on her left, with his neat stylish appearance and his hands on the back, in a gesture that was a habit him.

'Good afternoon, Aloys. Tell me, what do you want?'

'Nothing relevant, actually: I must ask for your permission.'

'For what?' she asked, intrigued.

'Monsieur Delaney has expressed his desire to help me in the infirmary. I've told him it was you who must approve it.'

The woman frowned.

'He didn't say anything, when we talked this morning.'

'According to him, he didn't know which would be your reaction, due to the unusual of his proposal. He talked with me to know my opinion before communicate it to you.'

'And what's your opinion?' she asked, looking at him with curiosity.

Aloys sighed, while he thought about it.

'Well, it's obvious the boy wants the position: I ordered him a simple task to test him and he carried it out with dedication and without complaints, despite having no idea and being the task itself unworthy of his status.'

'Do you trust his intentions? Do you think he is being honest, or his desire to help is due to some cunning plan? Perhaps he's trying to earn our trust to gain some privileges during his captivity.'

'It could be possible.' he admitted. 'He certainly has the intelligence for that and more. It's what any of us would do, if we were in his place. But I don't see him as a threat.' he added. 'He's inexperienced and impetuous at times, like many young men, but I think he's sincere... though I don't rule out he may have ulterior motives.'

'Me neither. That's why we will be cautious with him: if you want to name him your assistant, I have no objection. The boy will be under your direct supervision and his detention's conditions will remain the same. On the other hand, if he fails at his duties or we discover he's fooling us or his inexperience or ineptitude eventually hurt someone on this ship... I'm confident you'll let him know he will pay the consequences. I wouldn't wish our young friend get the wrong idea about that.'

'I'll tell him.' he nodded.

'Perfect. Is there anything else you want us to discuss?'

'No, that was all. I should go back to the infirmary now. I wont take up any more of your time. Thanks for giving your permission.'

'My pleasure.' the captain smiled suddenly. 'Now Monsieur Delaney wont be able to say I take away his freedom from him.'

Aloys laughed.

'Vianne, you know the boy didn't said that to offend you.'

'No, he said that because he believed it... and he's right.' she declared. 'Defending freedom while you kidnap people for ransom is quite incongruous.'

'Well, in your defense, this is your first kidnapping. And it will be the last, if I'm not mistaken.'

'It will be.' she said, nodding in agreement. 'When all this has finished, only Madagascar is waiting for us.'

Hearing her words, the doctor widened his smile. She smiled back and they both exchanged a knowing look, before they turned to contemplate the vast ocean around them.

They both thought of the future with a broad smile.

VI



The cooks' routine on the Liberté started very early. At dawn, Augustin – the young mulatto who had been recruited a year ago in Martinique as an under-cook – and Pedro left their hammocks to wash up and begin to prepare the breakfast for their fellow crew.

Their work was developed mostly at meals time and both were also in charge of everything having to do with the kitchen, including the pantry and the dining room, which they kept always neat and tidy, according to the rules of the ship.


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