~ The Golden Age ~
Of all the ways to die, Adanya never thought it would be by sea. A blade through the heart by a traitorous crewman, perhaps. Swaying at the end of a hangman’s noose, very likely. Old age, certainly. But not by sea. Not by the mistress she had feared and revered for nigh on three and ten years since first she had been put to sea at the tender age of nine.
As she lay floating in her batteau with her breeches and shirt shredded, her salt-sprayed hair tangled and plastered about her bruised face, Adanya marveled at how serene the sea felt. Last night, the sea had heaved and pitched in fury as if in battle with the storm clouds above. Now a blue cloudless sky stretched the length of the horizon, and the sea rolled and sighed like a satisfied lover who had just mended a quarrel.
She shielded her eyes from the glaring midday sun, but the movement made her rib ache where grapeshot had skimmed her flesh, and a dull throb persisted from the blow her quartermaster had dealt to her head, but she preferred these pains to the wrenching of her heart when she considered the fate of her ship, the Sea Falcon, and her crew.
“They’ll hang us all – if we live,” Adanya had shouted to her quartermaster, Damon, as a chain shot flew above them, tearing into the rigging. The HMS Forte, a rare fourth rate, had been battering the Falcon for over an hour, finding her aim despite the darkness of night.
Adanya meant her words, but an ugly doubt wormed through her. Not of Death. An early visit from that angel was inevitable for most pirates. And for her and the crew of the Sea Falcon, they had all but made a pact with Death. She could almost relish dangling from Gallow’s Point, but more dreadful to her than the tar, feather and gibbets was the prospect that the British would not even dignify her with the fate of Charles Vane or Jack Rackham, perhaps choosing to burn her at the stake as if she were a common witch instead of the dread pirate who had amassed the largest collective bounty on her head.
“Or worse,” she added beneath her breath, the words lost in the wind raging about them.
But Damon seemed to hear it nonetheless and despite the darkness, she saw clearly in his eyes that he would sooner lie at the bottom of the sea than be sold back into slavery – a sentiment shared, no doubt, by the rest of her crew.
“What now, Cap’n?” Damon demanded.
Like her, he would betray no fear. She scanned her ship and crew — all dedicated, all family to her. They, and the purpose that propelled her reason to live, had done much to relieve the hollow left by one Dominic Bold.
The wind, behaving like a wild banshee, howled at her, throwing droplets of rain into her face that stung like pellets of stone. But the storm was the least of their concerns. They had as many men at the pumps as could be had and still the Falcon was taking in water. The Forte was pulling up on the starboard side. Within half an hour, His Majesty’s Navy would be boarding the Falcon. Their small but mighty crew would be no match for the number of men aboard the Forte.
“We fight,” she declared to Damon, drawing her cutlass and biting back the burst of pain at her side.
Damon grunted. “Ye can escape, Cap’n. We can hold ‘em off. Ye can sail off in a batteau. They’ll not see you in the dark.”
Adanya shot Damon an admonishing glare. “I would sooner writhe in Davey Jones’ locker than live a coward to watch my brothers die.”
“We reckoned that to be our fate when we joined you,” Damon shouted. “If ye lived, ye ken assemble a new crew. Find a new ship. Carry on the dream of yer father.”
For a moment Adanya hesitated. Was she being selfish for wanting to die in the comforting company of her crew? Vain for not wanting to be a coward? Weak because the prospect of starting anew daunted her? Was she already a coward for knowing that she could not bear the grief she would suffer were she to survive and all else perish, leaving her an empty shell whose bowels had been ripped from her. She had no wish to die alone and in such a state.
“I go down with the ship, Damon,” she said. “Have the men find whatever weaponry they can.”
She turned to shed her coat. The garment, weighted by rain, would hinder her in close combat.
Damon had mumbled the words, and before she could ascertain what he meant, she was thrown into a deeper darkness.
* * *
The sun peered over the horizon, its glow bringing the promise of another warm day. She had spent the day drifting in a daze. Adanya eyed the apparition of a ship in the distance. Already she was suffering delusions. What were the chances the Sea Falcon, had escaped the HMS Forte? The Falcon was one of the fastest ships but had sustained heavy damage.
The hull of the ship advancing towards her was too wide to be the Falcon, the tonnage not enough to be the Forte. Perhaps it wasn’t a mirage. Adanya sat up. A schooner. Even without full sails unfurled in all her glory, the approaching vessel had grandeur to her. Adanya admired the ship from the tip of the bowsprit to the top of its mainmast. No flags flew from its mast-tops. No pendants. Then it wasn’t a war ship. Perhaps a privateer. Or…another pirate. Adanya fell back onto the planks with a groan, willing the sea to swallow her whole at that moment.
Of all the miserable luck. Of all the people, it had to be him.
She heard rather than saw the ship pulling abreast. And though nearly five years had passed, a voice more familiar than her own reached her ears.
“Well, well…Captain Mbwana.”
She could hear the grin in the way he spoke. She kept her eyes closed as if hoping to wake to a different fate.
“Would you be needin’ a hand?”
Her eyes snapped open to find a pair of dark eyes laced with mirth gazing down at her. Damn. Dominic Laurel Bold was as handsome as she last remembered – mayhap more. The sun’s rays played on his auburn hair with russet glints. Dressed in a blue coat with trim, the top buttons of his shirt undone to reveal the muscular ridges of his chest, and with but two day’s growth of beard on his rugged chin, he looked particularly refreshed and debonair. Dominic had always looked half gentleman, half pirate. She was struck by how miserable she must have looked in comparison.
“Only a fool need ask,” she called back as she rose to her feet and reached into the water for the rope that had been thrown down the side of the ship for her.
“’Tis an honor to have the illustrious Captain Mbwana aboard the Phantom,” Dominic said once two of his crew had hauled her onto the deck. He bowed with a grandeur befitting a king’s court.
Adanya moved her gaze from the muscular leg he presented up the length of his broad chest and shoulders. When she met his eyes, the half smile on his face indicated he had seen her appreciative sweep of his body. She quickly changed her focus to the ship. Except for the addition of another square topsail, a new topgallant on her foremast, and new faces among the crew, the Phantom looked much as it did the last time she had been aboard. She found comfort in the familiarity, and as much as he unsettled her, there was comfort in Dominic as well.
She was handed a flask of water, which she tried not to swig too swiftly in her thirst.
“I shall have our quartermaster arrange a cabin for you,” Dominic informed her. “It won’t be what you’re accustomed to—”
“Anything will do, thank ye,” Adanya said. She almost reminded him of where she used to sleep – with the crew of the Phantom – but decided not to bring up the past. She did not trust herself to venture there, and she could not decide if she was relieved or hurt that he could muster such a blithe tone, as if they were about to sit down to bloody tea, as if they did not share a past.
“I take it you won’t be needin’ your, er, vessel?” he inquired.
Adanya looked down at the batteau that had served as her home for the last two days. An ache filled her heart. What if that was all that remained of the Sea Falcon?
As if reading her mind, Dominic dropped his humor and said, “We passed her a day ago, a British warship in pursuit but losing ground by the hour. That were a fine fast ship you have.”
Relief flooded her – and then a swelling of pride. He approved of her ship. The smile on his lips indicated he was glad to be the bearer of good news. She felt a sudden urge to bring those lips down upon her own. An uneasy warmth surged in her loins as she recalled how it once felt to have his mouth consuming hers. Their gaze connected, and suddenly it seemed as if they were the only two people in the world and five years had melted into none.
Adanya looked past Dominic to find the source of the sweet feminine voice was a beautiful redheaded woman wearing a yellow and ivory gown that displayed slender sloping shoulders and a small waist. With alabaster skin, rouged cheeks, and soft and supple flesh, the woman was the mirror opposite of Adanya, whose years of working on a ship had further darkened her ebony skin and hardened her flesh into toned muscle.
“I see you’ve not given up your taste for wenches,” Adanya noted, trying to keep the jealousy out of her voice. She licked her own chapped lips to make them less unsightly before the rosy lips of the other woman.
“Old habits die hard – or not at all,” Dominic replied. He turned to the gentlewoman. “Miss Wrenwood, I present to you Captain Adanya Mbwana.”
Miss Wrenwood bobbed a curtsy. “Pleased to meet you, sir.”
Adanya stiffened, though she could not fault the woman for thinking her a man. Not only was she dressed in a shirt and breeches, but her bosom, as was her custom, was bound to disguise her form. Her crew knew her to be a woman, but they did not need reminders of her womanhood.
“Captain Mbwana has the current honor of being the scourge of the Atlantic,” Dominic praised. “The English have placed a bounty on her head of no less than twenty thousand quid.”
“Her?” Miss Wrenwood echoed, her eyes searching Adanya with obvious doubt.
“Surely the bounty on your head differs little,” Adanya returned graciously.
“Alas, I am told that I am worth but five thousand nowaday.”
“Then,” said Miss Wrenwood to Dominic, “he—she is a pirate as well?”
This time Adanya bowed but kept her gaze on Dominic. “I learned from the best, m’lady.”
“Too well,” Dominic replied with foreboding. He turned to a bearded man he addressed as Mr. Collings and told him to set an extra place at the Captain’s table for supper.
“My first mate will see you to your quarters,” Dominic said to Adanya.
“Rowland Stirling, at your service,” greeted a tall man with raven hair and icy blue eyes.
The first mate was almost as attractive as Dominic, but in Adanya’s eyes, Dominic was a near perfect specimen of man, being a perfect blend of his mother and father. Dominic’s dark eyes and full lashes came from his French]mother, a beautiful woman whose portraiture Adanya had seen in Dominic’s cabin. The broad shoulders, expansive chest, and skin that bronzed easily in the sun Dominic inherited from his father, a Mongol pirate. Dominic bowed, then offered his arm to Miss Wrenwood and led her away. Adanya watched their departing backs. She wanted to hurl.
“I shall have a set of clothes brought to you,” Rowland said as he showed Adanya below deck and opened the door to a small but well-lighted cabin. “I am sure Miss Wrenwood would spare a gown—“
“I’ve not worn a gown but once in me life,” Adanya interrupted, “and no desire to do so again.”
It wasn’t entirely true. She could well remember the way Dominic had looked at her that day she had dug up a gown from a recent pillage. He had looked at her differently that day, no longer as his pilot, but as a woman. Adanya would have given anything to see his eyes light up in the same manner once more.
But gown or not, she knew she could not hold sway over his attentions as well as the likes of a Miss Wrenwood. She imagined Dominic running his hands through Miss Wrenwood’s long silken tresses. He could not do the same with her motley curly hair. And to her horror, she felt the tentacles of jealousy gripping her once more. How she loathed that feeling. Five years should have squelched such sentiments.
“Be you wantin’ anything—?“ Rowland asked with a restrained but eerie eagerness. His eyes bore into her as if he sought to unearth her secrets.
“Nay,” Adanya replied, meeting his stare. Rowland would be a devilishly handsome man but for the subtle sneer upon his lips. He wore his light brown hair streaked with flaxen in a loose queue, a single earring of gold through an ear, and two pairs of pistols at his sides. She wondered why the man armed himself when on his own ship and imagined he was the kind to sleep with one eye open. A man who trusted no one could not himself be trusted.
She went to stand by the door, waiting for him to leave. He smiled – to her or himself, she knew not, but cared little that he should find amusement in her.
“If there be anything,” he said as he stepped outside, “we are at your service.”
He began an awkward bow, but he lacked the grace that Dominic, a man of many worlds, could conjure. She shut the door in the middle of his bow.
Alone, she sat down on her bed and released the groans and grimaces that she, not wanting to reveal the slightest weakness before Dominic, had forced inside. She put her head in her hands. She had to find a way back to her ship. But most of all she had to get away from Dominic and all the terrible wrenching feelings that knotted her guts whenever her gaze met his. His tone had been lighthearted enough, but she knew he had not buried the past any more than she had.
“You mock me, Captain Bold. She is no pirate captain,” said Sarah Wrenwood as she walked Dominic back to his cabin. “I never heard of a woman pirate.”
Dominic looked into her large green eyes, fringed with thick golden lashes. The daughter of a wealthy merchant, Miss Wrenwood had been sailing on a ship bound for South Carolina when it had been overtaken by the Phantom. His gaze dropped to her gloved hands carrying a white lace parasol. Miss Wrenwood was unlikely to have worked a day in her life, let alone experienced the harshness of a life at sea. And though now she found herself a captive aboard a pirate’s ship, Dominic had allowed her many more comforts than he granted to his own crew.
“In China, you’d find women pirates have existed for centuries.”
“Or have you never heard of Anne Bonny or Mary Read?”
“I can’t imagine why a woman would want to take to piracy.” Sarah shuddered. “This Captain Moo-wana must be a dreadful person.”
“Mbwana. A dread pirate, yes. A dreadful person, no.”
Miss Wrenwood narrowed her eyes at him. “You know her?”
Not wanting to explain the past to her, he faced her with a grin. “Are you jealous, m’lady?”
She quickly flushed and snapped, “Of course not! What is there to be jealous of? I can hardly wait to rid myself of your company.”
He stepped towards her, backing her up against the wall. “Your screams in my bed last night would indicate otherwise.”
“You are a rogue, Captain Bold!” She shook her head and tore herself away from him.
Dominic watched her indignantly arched back disappear up the steps to the deck. As much as he would have liked to prove her lie further by grabbing her and kissing her until she whimpered, he was more grateful for the solitude at the moment.
Entering his cabin, he made straight for the sideboard to pour himself a shot of whiskey. He did not believe in Providence or Fate, but what were the chances that he would come upon her – in the middle of the ocean – if not by the hand of some greater design? His crew had detected the battle between the HMS Forte and Sea Falcon from a league away, and in a rare fit of curiosity, Dominic had ordered the Phantom closer. When at last he spotted the flag of the Sea Falcon through the telescope, he felt his stomach plummet. He had never seen the Jolly Roger of the Falcon, but he recognized the skull and shackles. It must have galled Adanya to no end that she was being rescued by him, Dominic thought with satisfaction.
The poor thing had looked a miserable wreck.
And magnificent. The mantle of captain hung about her well. She had always been a little defiant, a little arrogant, but now her arrogance had true deeds to prove her confidence was not misplaced. She had always possessed fortitude – he had seen it instantly that day he had plucked her off a slave ship when she had been a mere urchin not ten years of age. She had survived the ghastly voyage where many others had perished.
Trading his glass for the entire bottle, Dominic threw himself into his armchair and propped his heavy boots on the footstool. Their initial meeting had not been auspicious. Wielding a sling shot she had stolen from the cabin boy, she had launched a stone at his groin. It was the first slave ship he had ever attacked, having thought it to be a merchant ship carrying finished goods.
He remembered the ship well for it carried with it the most horrific stench – a mixture of the urine, feces, and unwashed bodies of over six hundred men, women, and children crammed head to toe, filling every inch of space such that they could not stretch their legs nor lie down to sleep. The emptiness in their penetrating eyes made them appear something other than human. The sunlight crept far enough into the hold for him to see one woman in particular, her eyes swollen shut, her cheeks blackened and crusted. He would later learn from Mbwana, Adanya’s father, that the woman had refused to eat, choosing to starve to death. To force her mouth open, the crew of the Bountiful had burned her with hot coals.
“We’re not taking a bloody thing from this cursed ship,” Dominic had told his quartermaster, a small sinewy man named Ponso, after scrambling from the hold back onto the deck to take a much needed gulp of fresh air. He could not bear staring into all those ghostly eyes any longer.
“But Cap’n,” Ponso had objected, “the men be expectin’ a prize. This cargo can fetch a fine sum.”
“I don’t bloody care.”
Ponso twisted his long bony fingers, clearly not wishing to give up the bounty. “Should we not put it to vote?”
Dominic collared the man and pulled him in until they were nose to nose. “You sail on my ship, Ponso. My ship, my orders.”
He was about to explain that he would give up his share of future bounties when he glanced past Ponso to a little girl standing a few arms away. She had thick lips and eyebrows that arched over a pair of deep, intense eyes, made all the more striking by the profound grooves of her eyelids. He felt a sudden odd sense of shared destiny with the girl, and then his scrotum seemed to explode. He doubled over and fell to his knees, his sword clattering to the deck. Biting back a howl of pain, he looked up to see a sailor from the Bountiful falling upon him with an axe and certain death. He could not reach his sword in time. Nor could he pull his pistol from his belt, cock it, aim and fire.
A dark body flew before his eyes, colliding with the sailor. The two bodies landed on the deck. The man on top was a Negro – one of the slaves. Before the Bountiful sailor could raise his axe against his assailant, a long dagger was plunged into his throat. Dominic grabbed his sword and scurried to his feet. Sword in hand, he faced the Negro, who had also risen to his feet. Despite having been on what was no doubt minimal nourishment, the Negro was an imposing specimen of man.
They had stared at one another in tense silence before Dominic had finally lowered his sword. They had spoken no words, yet had come to an understanding. That became the way between Dominic and Mbwana. When Mbwana had indicated he wished to join Dominic instead of returning to the Ivory Coast with the other slaves, Dominic had agreed without qualm. The girl, however, Mbwana’s daughter, had been another matter. A woman – a child – had no place on a pirate’s ship, but Dominic could not refuse the man who had saved his life.
He should have listened to his gut, Dominic recalled as he downed another gulp of whiskey in the quiet of his cabin, relishing the way the liquid burned down his throat. He knew then a woman on board meant trouble – he simply had not known that she would be trouble for him.
After Adanya had deserted him five years ago, he had vowed never to have a woman aboard who was not a captive being held for ransom. He would not even allow the strumpets at port to tour the ship. Now she was back aboard his ship, and it was half a fortnight at full sail to the closest land. He did not know where the Sea Falcon made berth. And he would need to be mindful of the HMS Forte. What was he going to do with Captain Mbwana – Adanya – for a whole sennight?
What he wanted to do was tear off her clothes and fuck her. Fuck her hard. Fuck her until she cried. Until she asked his pardon for what she had done. And then he wanted to worship her in his arms. With all the passion and desperate longing locked inside him.
Dominic threw the now empty bottle of whiskey at the fireplace, where it shattered into pieces. His cock stretched painfully against his breeches. Where had Miss Wrenwood stormed off to when he needed her? He unbuttoned his pants, grabbed his cock and pulled at it.
It had been five fucking years. And though he had followed her exploits with interest – was decidedly proud to learn that she had become Captain of her own ship – Adanya should have faded to a distant memory. There had certainly been more than enough women between the years. She hadn’t even been the best tumble he had ever had.
He remembered how awkward she had appeared in that gown. He had never seen her in one before. Aboard the slave ship, she had been permitted only a loincloth though her breasts had been well on their way to womanhood. When she had come to live aboard the Phantom, there were only shirts, breeches and boots to offer her. Dominic wasn’t even sure where the gown had come from. Most likely from a recent pillage.
Not surprisingly, the dress had looked all wrong on Adanya. It had been too small for one. The back of the gold taffeta dress remained open, possibly because the pins could not keep it closed. The stays barely laced – he wondered who in the world could have helped her with those and was amused to think it might have been Mr. Withers, the ship’s cook, for that kindly older man could never refuse Adanya anything.
The dress had hung like a deflated balloon about her hips for she had neglected the panniers and petticoats. Her round ripe breasts were bursting against the bodice. And beneath the ensemble, she wore her black leather bucket boots.
Reviewing the divisions his quartermaster was recommending on their latest booty, Dominic had been seated at his writing desk when Adanya had knocked on his cabin door and requested to speak to him. She had become his pilot two years ago at the tender age of six and ten for her sea acumen was nearly unparalleled. As a child, she had a voracious appetite for learning anything and was forever at his side or that of his boatswain. Ten years her senior, Dominic had come to regard her almost as if she were his own son.
“What the devil are you wearing?” Dominic had demanded.
Adanya seemed taken aback, and Dominic instantly regretted the edge in his tone. But then she became affronted. “’Tis a dress or can’t you bloody tell?”
“I know ‘tis a bloody dress,” Dominic responded. He would not have tolerated such insolence from any other crew member, but for some reason he could never bring himself to punish Adanya. “Why are you wearing it?”
She shrugged her shoulders. “Wanted to see what it felt like.”
“It’s not proper attire for the pilot of my ship,” he told her and turned to review the coordinates she presented so that she wouldn’t find him staring at her bosom, sure that her nipples would spring out over the top of the décolletage at any moment. “Why are we traveling so far south when our destination lies due west?”
“Because the stream pushing east is strongest at that latitude. It were quicker taking a southern route.”
“Very well,” he said, handing the navigation map back to her.
She took the map but did not turn to leave. She bit the bottom of her lip and fidgeted with the map in her hands.
“What is it?” he asked, tilting his chair as he reached his arm back for his quill.
“Will you lay with me?”
He fell out of his chair.
After scrambling to his feet, he looked at her through narrowed eyes. She stared back with those bright wide eyes of hers, the whites of which he could always find in the darkness.
“Have you been drinking foul beer?” he demanded, though he knew the answer. Any beer aboard the ship had been exhausted already.
Adanya flushed but pressed her lips together in determination. She sounded exasperated when she spoke. “Will you?”
It was absurd. But absurdity what was gotten when one took a woman aboard a ship.
“Your father would kill me were he still alive – nay, he would flay the skin from my bones and dig out my eyes before hanging me from the yard by my scalp.” Dominic hoped that that would put an end to the matter.
“Well, he ain’t alive,” said Adanya in a low voice.
Damnation. Dominic ran a hand through his hair. Why him? There were any number of men among his crew that would have gladly gone at her quim. Only they knew if Mbwana didn’t kill them, he would. Tumbling a willing female captive was one thing. Consorting with a fellow crew member was another. Only he would never have had to face such a problem if he hadn’t been such a fool to take on a woman in the first place.
“Am I not fair enough?”
Again her words cut at him more sharply than her smallsword. He turned to face her, and it dawned on him that she was a woman. As one who had known all manner of women, from older seasoned matrons to young guileless maids, and who had come to learn all the chicanery, seduction, coquetry and tribulations employed by that most damnable, desirable and devastating sex, he had somehow overlooked the one and only woman he set eyes on every day. Beyond the shirts and breeches that he was accustomed to seeing Adanya in, beyond her role as his pilot and a member of his crew, beat the heart of one who was clearly of the tender sex.
“I know I haven’t the dove white skin, nor them ruby lips, or flaxen hair—”
Dominic looked down at her with softened eyes. “You’re worth more than all of them put together.”
“Then why will you not lay with me?”
“Because you’re my pilot,” Dominic replied firmly. He felt uncomfortably warm, and his cabin felt as if it had shrunk in size.
“I’m a woman.”
“Aye – a mistake I don’t mean to ever make again.” He saw a flash of hurt in her eyes, so he decided to change his tact. “Why would you wish me to bed you?”
“I see how they look at you – them women you take captive for ransom. Even the whores in the ports. I – I hear them scream…in pleasure, like.”
This time it was Dominic’s turn to flush. Again, if his crew had been all male, this would not have been a problem.
“I want to know what ‘tis like,” Adanya finished. She stepped towards him, covering the distance between them, her thick black lashes lowered. “What is it like to give and receive such pleasure?”
When she looked up at him with those brown doe-like eyes, Dominic knew he was about to make the second biggest mistake of his life.
Em Brown © 2013 | All Rights Reserved
Em Brown © 2013 | All Rights Reserved