It was a week of recovery before Katherine would allow me to venture onto the deck of Adriel’s ship. When I was a young girl, my dreams had been full of ships and adventure. Adventure, and of course, William. William, who had shown me kindness. Even now, years later, I could see him sitting there at the canal beside me, all arms and legs with gentle green eyes. I could see him standing outside my sister’s home in the gentle snowfall. He looked handsome in his formal attire. His light blonde hair was falling onto his forehead. William had sparked my yearning for adventure. He had spent his life traveling around the world with his father, a wealthy Merchant making a name for himself across France and wherever else they’d been. He’d taught me to read, to write, something unheard of for lower-class women. I’d wanted so badly to run away with him.
The door before me opened. Bright sunlight warmed my face. I raised a hand to shield my eyes as Katherine guided me onto the deck. Adjusting to the sudden light, I blink rapidly, the moving shapes before me turning into men. I lower my hand to look about the deck. Some of the men slowed in their tasks, stopping to gaze at us. I stare at the faces of the strangers, finally seeing one I recognized. Across the deck, Adriel spoke intently with two men, his hands gesturing vividly as he spoke. I smile, just like William, when he used to tell stories. Adriel spots us and smiles.
“It’s okay,” Kat whispers at my hesitation. She pats my hand, and I look down to see my hand on her arm. I’d been death gripping her arm. I loosened the grip and moved closer to Kat as Adriel and his two companions approached us.
“You’ve found your sea legs,” Adriel says with a smile, “Are you feeling better?”
“Yes,” I say with a wary glance at the two strangers.
Adriel nods, and in the sunlight, I can see flecks of gold in his eyes. He is tan like I remembered, his black hair short, as was his facial hair. It was easy to tell he had a way with words. There was also a scar that went from above his brow to his cheekbone. It wasn’t gruesome, but I did wonder what adventure had caused such a wound. Adriel turns my attention to the man on his right.
“This is my second Matthias,”
I nodded a polite hello to Matthias. He was younger, maybe a year or so older than I. He had dark hair that parted in the middle falling to his brows in slight curls and dark eyes, almost as dark as Kat’s.
“And this is John.”
John was the older of the three. He’d either been in more fights or lost more battles because there were light scar marks around his face. His hair was more golden than his two friends falling at his shoulders.
“Your boat is beautiful, Adriel.”
“She’s one of my most prized possessions,” he takes Kat’s hand and brings it to his lips. “You, of course, are the most prized.”
She rolls her eyes playfully, pulling her hand back.
“Sure, now, if you don’t mind, I must walk my friend about the boat lest she falls in.”
The three men nod. We begin our tour. Though curious, the men did not approach us or even glance too long at Kat. I wondered if there had been an incident, or perhaps they were just that loyal to Adriel. I didn’t want to admit that the brief walk had left me winded, so I paused and asked to take the view in. Wrapping my arms around me, I closed my eyes, breathing in the salt air. There was a sense of freedom that came with the boat. It felt good to have the sun on my face and a light breeze blowing through my hair—even the soft crashing of waves against the ship. I didn’t know how long I’d been standing there when a voice interrupted-
“Peaceful, isn’t it.”.
I opened my eyes to see Adriel stood in Kat’s place. Over my shoulder, I could see Kat talking with some crew members. She wasn’t one for long pauses, nor silence. I roll my eyes. Adriel’s hands were clasped behind his back, and his gaze was outward on the sea.
“Is this your first time on a boat?”
I nod, “I used to dream of traveling. I wanted to go on adventures across the world, but it never happened.”
I consider him for a moment before answering, “At first, I’d hoped to go with,” another pause, “With someone, I cared for. But my father quickly signed me off to my husband,” I pause, “Ex husband.”
Adriel gives me a sidelong glance, “I’m sorry for your loss.”
I stare out at the waves with furrowed brows hoping to change the subject.
“Does it ever scare you? Being on the deep water? What if you fall in?”
“I’d swim my way back to the boat, and hopefully, they would stop to notice my absence; otherwise, I’d be a castaway, and the sharks would surely eat me.”
I took an involuntary step back from the edge of the boat. My fear of drowning had been one thing; now, it was combined with being eaten alive.
“Don’t worry. They can’t get you up here.”
“I don’t plan on being close enough to the edge to go down there either.”
We were close to land again, far from Bordeaux France I’d always known. According to Adriel, we were halfway to Paris. I’d heard Paris was a prominent place full of travelers and excitement from William’s stories. Although I’d gained some weight and muscle back from my two weeks on the ship, Kat informed me I would not be joining them on land. So I leaned against the edge of the boat, pouting as we docked. A dark silhouette joined me, and I nearly jumped from my skin. The dark veiled costume of the plague doctor who’d nearly been forgotten in my nightmares opened both hands and posed in a feminine fashion.
“Kat?” I say, clutching my chest to keep my pounding heart within.
“You don’t like it?” Her muffled voice teases. She twirls.
“Why?” It was all I could manage.
“ We dress up and enter the homes of the damned. It’s like a safety jacket that doctors used to wear when they would actually see the plague patients.
“You’re using a doctor’s uniform to rob houses?”
“Is it really robbing if they’re dead?” Adriel joins us, the head of his outfit tucked under his arm.
I frowned, “I’m pretty sure, yeah, “ even though I couldn’t see her face, I could tell she was rolling her eyes. I reached out to touch the long beak protruding from her face, “In technicality, yes it is, but I don’t think the dead will miss it.”
Adriel fastened his mask and lifted the hood. As they stood there beside one another, my mind flashes back to the foggy streets of Bordeaux. The thought sends chills down my arms. My hand involuntarily rises to my neck where my attacker had held me, strangling me. The bruises had faded to ugly yellow marks against my skin. Kat gently touches my arm.
“We won’t belong. They’ll restock supplies, and Adriel and I will do a quick round about the city. Then we will be off.”
“I’d like to see the city,” I glance toward the bustling dock. Bordeaux had been ridden with death and silence. This was the first time I’d seen so much life, and I wanted to explore.
“Next port, I promise you’ll be able to go. You’re still thin and recovering. I like you alive.”
“I don’t know why,” I grumble. She pinches me, and I wince, glaring at her. Rubbing the tender skin, I stick my tongue out at her.
I watch them leave. Those who saw the two disguised plague doctors made wide arcs or traced a cross over themselves as they made their way through the crowds of people.
It was late in the evening when Kat and Adriel returned. They spoke in hushed whispers to some of the crew members who left shortly after. I’d spent my few hours alone with a book in my hand. Granted, I’d borrowed it from the few books in Adriel’s room, but I doubted he’d notice. Closing the book, I followed Katherine into Adriel’s room. She’d removed her mask and gloves and was unfastening the dark cloak around her when I entered.
“How was it?”
“Profitable,” she tossed the cape over a chair, “a few crewmates will go pick up the larger items to sell before we depart,” she notes the book, “Is it any good?”
I shrug, “it’s okay, no pictures.”
I lean against the doorframe, “Your life is more exciting, to be honest.”
Kat laughs, “I know, it sounds absurd, a pirate and a prostitute. Two thieves running through a town plagued with death, as doctors from hell itself,” she picks up the mask, “I mean look at these things. Could they pick a scarier mask to wear to one’s house? Imagine yourself lying there on your deathbed awaiting the doctor and what you get is this terrifying bird demon with a rather large stick.”
“Maybe they made it terrifying to speed the process along?”
Kat stares at the mask thoughtfully, “good point,” tossing it casually aside again.
I sit on the bed and wait for her to redress, “What is Adriel like? Is he kind?”
Katherine buttons up her white blouse, her fingers slowing as she looks up at me.
“Why do you ask that?”
“Because you’re dressing as a plague doctor and stealing from the dead. I can’t help but question his character. Pirates are thieves.”
Kat sighs, “it was my idea if we are honest.”
I must’ve looked awfully shocked because she laughed at my expression. She bit her lip and smiled like a fool.
“Adriel is charming and charismatic. He has a way with words and with people. He can persuade them to do the things he wants. It is quite impressive. His men follow him so loyally. I have never seen loyalty without fear being involved. But they believe in him. It is hard to explain. I was in a tavern a few towns away from Bordeaux. I had no idea where I was going or what I was going to do. I saw him sitting there so stoic and handsome,” she smirks, playing with a loose curl, reminiscing about the moment I supposed, “they were speaking about some score or something along those lines. I heard they were going to be sailing up north, so I approached him.”
“Is this a romance novel brewing?”
Kat snorts, “I told him I had a way to make money, that I could get it if he allowed me to passage up to northern France. I was hoping we would go to Paris. I heard it was beautiful there. So yes, it was my idea. We snuck into the first two houses, profiting more than they had the entire time they were in town. Adriel agreed to give me safe passage up north,” she pauses, fastening her curls.
“And?” I lean forward, and she smiles at me, “That’s all I get?”
“What a tease.”
Adriel brought us dinner below deck. I noted how he was always touching Katherine; whether it be their hands or arms, they were always close to the same room. The two of them looked at one another with a fire that sent envy through me. They’d only known one another a few months, and it seemed nothing could come between them. Kat called it passion, but it was more than that.
After dinner, we joined the crew members on deck. They were playing music and dancing. Whatever they had done in town must’ve lifted everyone’s spirits. I sat down beside Kat, who clapped happily as the men spun and danced, poking fun at one another. Before I knew it, Kat was up and spinning around with some of the crew members. One reached for my hand, but I shied away from them, hoping to be a simple spectator. I watched Kat in her prime swirling around with each of the crew members.
We continued to sail along the coast of France, looking for another town to claim treasures. It was bright and sunny today. Seagulls were in the air, which meant we were close to land. I was leaning on the railing of the boat, watching the landscape when Katherine excitedly smacked my arm.
“There!” She says, placing a spyglass in my hands.
I lift the glass to look. I could see the smoke rising from a town not too far away. I followed the shoreline, amazed by the spyglass, only to stop at a house by the coastline.
“Can you make it focus closer?”
Kat adjusted the spyglass. I glance through once more. The brush has overgrown the house, and there was no movement on the grounds.
“It looks abandoned,” I tell her, pointing to the house.
Kat looks through the spyglass, “at least from here.”
“Can we dock there?”
Kat bites her lip, “I don’t see why not. We should investigate the land anyway.”
Adriel would learn the hard way that Kat was hard to say no to. It only took her a few moments alone with him for our course to turn toward the dock at the end of the water. Together she and I bounced excitedly at the aspect of exploring. Jitters ran through me. I had not been on land in so long, and I could hardly contain my excitement. Once docked, Kat and I made our way to the house. Adriel ordered Matthias and John to keep watch over us, which was annoying, but we agreed regardless.
The grass was thick and overgrown. I was thankful to be wearing trousers and boots though the simple clothing layer still left me feeling quite bare. I was wearing a thick jacket that hung down past my thighs. Of course, too big for me, I kept pushing up the sleeves, which liked to fall over my hands. The land was so poorly in shape that if we had wondered if the mansion was truly abandoned now, it was ever prevalent. The pathway was so overgrown that we had to wade through the grass. When the ground turned more similar to that of a road, the trees gave way, and the mansion could be seen.
It was breathtaking, even in its current state.