…and if you asked…
…I didn’t ask…
A mountain of patchwork quilt waved as a sun-weathered hand gripped at the pale linen of the feather pillow. Gennie shifted in restless sleep as the composed voice tugged at dreams and awakened memories. That voice dabbled at making nightmares of happier times as it chanted its maddening mantra, “ask…ask…ask…”.
Eyelids constricted, knuckles whitened, Gennie fought with the wadded sheets. A noise that if awake might have birthed a scream instead escaped sleep parted lips as a strangled yelp.
Gennie’s body shot upright, escaping the visions. Her abrupt arousal scattered into wakefulness, the young man who had shared the captain’s bed and quarters. A tangle of limbs and sheets, the man tumbled from bed to cabin floor with a thud. Roused from far more pleasant dreams he found himself dropped into the nightmare of Gennie’s foul morning mood.
He composed his limbs enough to incline his chin against the ledge of the mattress and smiled a fair morning greeting, which soured to a troubled gaze at the sight of Gennie’s pale features.
He received in turn a dark glare. “To your feet, boy!” Gennie emitted the words with venom enough to send tremors through even the most seasoned sailor.
This youthful chap however snapped to a posture vaguely resembling a salute, revealing his narrow torso and limbs of sparsely haired flesh. A few short years ago, Gennie might have blushed, but that Gennie was long gone. He was pretty and close in age to the captain, but clumsy and lacking in the eyes of a woman shaped by years of self-reliance and sea.
Gennie swallowed her shaken state with renewed command against this dandy and the evaporating nightmare. “Retrieve your clothes. Get to the decks.”
She raised a brow, impressed at the rapidity mustered as the man made way to the door, breeches and boots in tow.
“Bring me our distance from Topolis!” Only a minor tremor danced on the captain’s trained tongue. “And knock when you return!”
She vaulted a pillow at the closing door.
Only once the door latched securely into place did Gennie let shoulders and façade drop. The last wisps of strange visions shuddered free. Yet still she swore a final gasp of the voice’s anomalous question hissed at her ear.
She swung her legs over the edge of the mattress. Her feet dangling only a moment from the high frame before she slid to meet the smooth planks. Gennie gathered the sheet and wrapped it twice round and bound the corner at her shoulder. Her bronzed toes peeked from beneath the drape as she strode across her cluttered cabin. Soured by the poor start to the morning and the hollowness of a foolish dream Gennie made way for an amber-glass bottle propped in a nest of charts and maps. Even the remaining watered-down swill the rum supply had dwindled to would settle her mind and her gut. She snatched the bottle by its narrow neck and upended it over sleep-parched lips.
The meager drizzle that dampened her tongue renewed her scowl. “Cette fin? Damned whelp drank more than I.” Crossing the cabin again, she flipped the empty vessel onto the disheveled bed. “Explains why he was worthless last night.”
Gennie’s cabin was less than most captains were privy to. The clutter of treasures, baubles, clothing from varied cultures, books in as many languages, maps, and charts, served to shrink the space all the more. It was a fair price in exchange for a ship as powerful and infamous as Ecstasy. Gennie her fingertips over a stretch of chain long enough to wrap her hips twice over and heavy with burnished coins and bells.
From a shelf bowed with books and trinkets, she plucked a Venetian mask, plumed in peacock feathers and encrusted with gems as vibrant as the plumage. She blew dust from the piece and set it back less askew before shifting her gaze to the door, willing a few minutes of peace before her stowaway returned. With a deep stretch she turned her attention to the row of small panes and the ocean beyond the grey green glass. Ecstasy’s wake slit a foaming slit through the deep blue.
The captain’s moment of meditation shattered as her heel found a splinter in the otherwise smooth surface of the floor. Her body crumpled cross-legged as she breathed a steadying sigh and pulled the offending bit of wood from her foot. Waiting for the color to return to her face, Gennie leaned against the wall beneath the row of windows.
“Zut. Shall we start this day avec plus fair omens?” She flicked the splinter against a leaning stack of wicker baskets.
She hobbled back to the pillows and blankets to rummage for more than a sheet to wear. For all his inexperience and drunkenness, the stowaway had kept her busy. A wicked smile danced across her lips at recollection of a singularly pleasant memory. Stowaways were fair entertainment, willing to do most anything in exchange for the completion of their journey, inplace of a detour to the deep.
“How many years ago were you offended by the same practices, Blackstrap?” she shrugged as her sun darkened hand found the hem of a faded blouse.
She breathed deep. “Things change.”
The youthful musk of her conquest clung to the billowing garment as she drew it over her head. She continued to hunt for trousers and discovered her black silk breeches in the folds of sheets. She buttoned two dainty copper buttons at each hip and laced the closure at the front.
She bent to roll the cuffs to a more convenient length and bound the ends of another silk cord below her knee. The legs of the trousers billowed to fall mid-calf as she straightened. Her sense of control returned as she moved along a line of books. With cautious fingers she ran across the gilt and scrawled spines. Pausing on a thick volume, she slid the false binding from the ranks to reveal a wooden box.
She flipped the latch and rested her eyes a moment on the gilded Medici pistol and its hand-tooled ivory grip. She checked the load of the weapon as her feet wriggled into a pair of thin soled black slippers and pulled on a faded leather belt which she adorned with the holstered pistol. As she crossed to another cabinet she caught up a pouch and tucked into its folds a small gold compass, and a jade spyglass.
Her reflection did not boast pirate captain as she eyed her scant five-foot stature and round face in a burnished framed mirror. She raked her fingers against the complex twists and braids that bound her amber waves in place. She would make time to have one of the harem dancers redo the braiding before they made the next port.
Three sharp knocks turned Gennie’s attention from the mirror. She obscured her wild mass of sun-and-sea-abused hair under a broad-brimmed cavalier hat, scanned the room once more and swept a black coat from a chair onto her back.
She swung the door open expecting to be eye-to-eye with the owner of the shirt she had donned.
“What?” Gennie added with ferocity, as she elevated her gaze roughly two feet above her head.
“Expecting a little whelp returning for more abuse, Captain?” The sarcasm was more than perceptible and had it come from anyone other than her most trusted first mate, it would have justified heavy reprimand.
Instead, Gennie smirked. “Possibly. Did you drag him back for me? Truth be told, I think the gentleman enjoyed his penalty.”
“Aye, I imagine so.” The first mate’s pale green eyes winked down at her. “But no, I set the lad on other tasks.”
“I’ll have it from you then?” Gennie laid a finger on the man’s chest and awaited the familiar rise of brows as he interpreted with ease the duality in her every utterance.
Marrick had watched the once innocent French miss turn cunning pirate. He hoped for the more pleasurable meanings of Gennie’s words, but by now knew better.
“Our position, sir.” She tapped him with yet another innuendo.
“You are referring to the ship, of course, captain.”
“What did you imagine I meant, Mr. Marrick?”
Marrick shook his head. “Two days.”
The statement drew a beam to Gennie’s eye.
“If we stay our course and the winds stay fair.” Marrick gave a slight incline of his head in response.
“Bien.” A broad grin spread her round face and displayed her one chipped front tooth in an otherwise glittering smile.
Five years. Gennie had explored seas and islands in search of select acquaintances as a most capable and trusted crew. Topolis was where she anticipated she would find the last. She would complete this extensive quest, then, fresh exploits would beckon her Ecstasy.
Gennie stepped into the frame of the door, forcing Marrick’s position to shift and permit her course. She allowed, for a breath, their bodies to caress in the narrow space, furnishing memories all but as close as what could have been had the past been different and the future more certain.
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