Hiding as best I could, I trailed after Captain Alexander Caine, keeping my head down as I tried to ignore the glaring sun above us. Having not been in pure sunlight for two days, it felt foreign and intrusive once more, and the heat was the worst part. The sweat trickled down my brow, but I wiped it away with the white shirt I had been wearing for over a week. Apparently, the shirt belonged to the captain, which should have prevented me from wearing the clothes of my captor, but I preferred the loose shirt to the constricting linen dress that was the only other option.
He was like a flickering flame, always shifting and creating shadows of darkness. I hadn’t had a choice with my roommate, and he had made it as uncomfortable for me as possible, simply for his amusement. The captain never quite smiled, simply smirking or looking smug, but he wasn’t quite happy enough to share a smile. Now, he was in my mind at all times.
Suddenly, I crashed to a stop, nearly tumbling over but barely keeping my balance. I peered up at the captain to see that he had randomly stopped. He turned to look at me, but I instantly ducked my head to avoid his soul searching gaze.
Something soft dropped on my head, and I glanced up, only for that thing to cover my eyes completely. I pulled it off my head to finally realize that the captain had placed his tri-corned hat on my head. Confusion led me to do exactly what he wanted, and I looked up at him, my eyes finally meeting his. Then, I flinched. He didn’t hold any emotion in his eyes as I had been expecting, and the very sight of his emotionless charcoal eyes was terrifying. Turning away from me, he spoke loud and clear, making all the working crew stop and turn his way.
“From this day on,” He paused, waiting for every single member of the crew to turn his attention to him. “This woman is under my protection. If anyone is to lay a single finger on her, he will be flogged and keelhauled.” Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a few men visibly flinching, and I knew that I would be safe.
Then, he started walking away again, setting the entire crew back into motion, and this time, I trailed after him like a baby duck following its mother. I kept my eyes peeled open, too scared of causing him another inconvenience, so I scuttled after him. The hat helped, keeping the glaring sun out of my eyes and allowing me to look around warily.
Every time I glanced at one of the men, he would avert his eyes, as though he had been staring until that moment I noticed, and it felt strangely perverse. It was similar to the maids with big bosoms hustled around to serve food at the dinner table, and Beth’s father would have invited his men, who leered and copped a feel every once in a while. Never before had it bothered me until this specific moment, and the feeling of eyes leering at me made a shiver crawl up my spine. I wanted nothing more, despite the stifling heat, to cover every inch of my skin until my very figure couldn’t be discerned.
He walked towards the rear of the ship and ripped open a door with more force than necessary. I could only scramble after him, after being frozen in confusion, but I barely stopped myself from running right into him, as he had stopped in front of me. His overwhelming build meant that I had to peek around his torso to truly see the room, though I could already tell it was small.
The floor was lined with tin, and there were many different barrels that lined the walls, probably storing some form of food. Some form a table held the equipment, but there wasn’t much equipment, a few pots, wooden ladles and spoons, and a stack of wooden blocks and bowls. Standing in front of an iron stove hung from the ceiling beams with chains was a large man with sandy blond hair, and he was cursing under his breath as he poked at the boiling stove with a ladle. Since the only forms of light were the fire and the small window in the door, it was a rather dark area.
“Captain, I’m busy.” The man grumbled without even looking back. “Bone soup ain’t gon’ cook itself.” Bone soup? Never before had I heard of this ‘bone soup’.
“I brought Grace.” He said as he stepped to the side, presenting me to the man. Almost immediately, the seeming cook turned around with more speed than I would have imagined. His dark brown eyes gleamed as he looked at me, not in the same way as the other sailors, but with interest and almost excitement. His glistening red face seemed an odd contrast to his pale blond hair, and he was even larger than the captain, which seemed oddly terrifying.
“Delicate looking lass, don’t ya think?” He sneered, peering down at me. I didn’t rise up to the challenge in his voice. Beth would have.
“Apologies for not being able to handpick the finest cook of the island.” Sarcasm filled Captain’s voice as he gave me a little push forwards. I stumbled forward, a tiny squeak of protest escaping my lips, but I managed not to fall as the cook cackled.
“Weak little thing. Do ya know how to cook?” He demanded, and I managed a small nod. I didn’t quite know what bone soup was, but I had been in charge of Beth’s food for as long as I had been taking care of her, so from the age of nine.
“You’ll be working with him, Grace. You have to earn your freedom on this ship, and consider yourself lucky. Your mistress will never have that option.” Again, his words sounded threatening, and I managed a slight nod. He was right. Walking free wasn’t normally something prisoners had the option to, and I had to embrace what I got. Unfortunately, Beth wasn’t so lucky, and I knew it.
Without another word, the captain walked away, and I spun around, only able to watch as the sunlight streaming through the door embraced him. He was gone in an instant, and the room went back to being dimly lit. His absence was odd, since I’d been surrounded by him and only him for the past two days, and his presence always lingered on my mind at the back of my head.
“Don’t fall in love with him.” I spun around as the cook returned to stirring the pot. “It won’t get you anywhere.” My face was hot as I answered.
“I have no feelings for him.” I inched closer to him, rustling the foil accidentally.
“Maybe you don’t think you do. But the way you look at him says otherwise.” What could I say to that? I had no words. “Don’t just stand there, bring me some bowls.” Shakily, I stumbled towards the bowls and carried several to him, going back and forth a few times with the surprisingly heavy bowls.
“He’s just helpful.” I protested as my muscles strained with the weight of the bowls. As a maid, I had never been expected to do anything that involved too much manual labor, which was left to the few men who helped around when needed.
“He kidnapped you and set your house on fire.” I froze. Never had I been someone to hold a grudge, but then again, never had someone gone to the extent of kidnapping me and setting my home on fire. The cook seemed sensible enough, despite his gruff tone, thick accent, and heavy build.
He dumped a bowl in my hands, and I had no choice but to hold it for him as he began ladling a pleasant smelling pale soup in it. It made me realize the bowls were deliberately made to be deep, as to ensure there would be space to pour liquid in it that’s substantial while not being too close to the brim. He pointed at the somewhat table, and I placed the bowl there, while reaching for another one to fill. He sighed at me in impatience, and my cheeks flushed once more.
“What I mean is that he hasn’t brought any harm upon me during my temporary residence.” He snorted in response. “And he isn’t attractive to me in the slightest.” I had to add, and once again, he snorted. It was odd, but I felt the need to defend the captain and his word to keep us safe from any other threat.
“He’s the most popular man with the whores. They throw themselves at him and beg for his attention, and he has his fun with every one of them.” He watched me intently as he continued ladling soup into my constant system of more bowls, as though he were waiting for my reaction, and he got what he wanted. I cringed at the thought, and my brief expression gave the cook all the information he needed. As he went on ladling, he started to whistle. “Don’t worry. He’ll have his fun with you too, like one of the many whores.”
The clear insult didn’t go unnoticed, but I didn’t have the boldness to retort. After all, I had once been a whore too. Except for me, I hadn’t had much of a choice over who to throw myself at.