The weather stayed calm—calmer than normal for this time of year, but the crew dared not complain, a suspicious lot. Most were Scotsmen, a few Frenchmen scattered amongst their ranks, and all had varying ideas as to what constituted luck—ill or otherwise. Some sneered at their captain for allowing so many women on board, but they were soon quelled. Marriages between prostitutes and criminals, it seemed, only perpetuated such deplorable acts, and the quarters below deck were rife with fights.
The majority of the crew, though, were happy enough to have willing women so nearby. Erik watched it all unfold with disdain, staying close to Captain Robert Cameron and his first mate, Charles Ross, as much as was possible. Both men seemed to favor Erik more each day, and after a fortnight, he was invited to dine with the Captain that evening.
To be fair, Robert Stuart Cameron found Erik’s young bride quite enchanting, and yearned for time in which to spend in her presence, as he’d only seen her just the once. Erik had been rather excellent at keeping her hidden away, but he couldn’t blame him for doing so; every man that had witnessed her little jaunt onto the main deck that fine morning had bolstered the story until it seemed to be of mythic proportions.
Erik had married an Irish faerie queen, they said.
Robert scoffed at such proposals, yet secretly he believed there to be some truth to such tales; being from the Highlands, he was as superstitious as they came.
The captain of La Belle was in his late forties, and had been sailing since he was a boy. In that time, he’d never once sought to marry, for doing so meant he’d be giving part of his soul to a land-bound creature, and much like Erik, his spirit belonged to the sea. It was lonely at times, to be sure, the long nights spent alone in a cold bed, but every so often God would grace his life with a striking woman, and he would appreciate her from afar.
He’d come to France often throughout his maritime career, and had made rather solid connections with the more elite of society. It was helpful during their Scottish Rebellion of 1715, just a few short years ago. Discontent with how that rebellion had panned out, he’d gone in search of more money France had to offer, a patriot to his very core.
Sitting at the head of his dining table, he ensured his staff supplied him with the finest whisky on board, as well as an array of meats and delicacies. He wanted nothing more than to see Erik’s bride give a true smile, for he knew that upon seeing that, he could last another forty years alone at sea.
The sky, Brigid thought, was rather dreamy tonight. The waters were calm, the clouds a brilliant yellow and blue and orange tinged with the faintest hints of pink. Her small window offered her enough of a glimpse to satisfy her curiosity day by long, dragging day. Erik often left before sunrise, and came back well after sunset. She was just as happy to be alone, even if she was cooped up, for she knew the alternative would mean her being put on display for the crew.
She’d already rifled through the trunk numerous times, her heart racing each time she did so at the prospect of being caught. Her searches never turned up anything of worth, though—nothing damming enough to pin on her broad shouldered husband. There were a few trinkets, weapons of all sorts, and clothes for the both of them, which was all rather mundane.
In short, Brigid was left with more time alone than anything, which forced her to reflect upon her life until this point. Her heart and head were in Ireland, as they always would be, and she knew she’d make it home, damn the consequences. There was something nagging at her, though, something persistent and aggravating and turning her mood more and more sour each day.
Erik would often leave before she even woke, and arrive back when she was already fast asleep. He never touched her, he never climbed into bed with her or attempted to get to know her any better. Perhaps he was exhausted, she thought, for he seemed to work hard enough to keep the entire ship running by his strength alone.
Perhaps he didn’t care for her company, sexual or otherwise. This, she found, bruised her ego and made her rather flustered. Then there was his admittance of his virginity. Had she not pleased him, at least in some capacity? Had it not been as grand as he’d been expecting? Her late husband had used her almost every night, yet Erik felt as distant as the New World.
It came to the point where her heart would stutter when he entered their cabin, and she’d bolt awake just to see if he would talk with her—give her anything to decipher. He was kind enough, often smiling and telling her to get back to sleep. And once her erratic heart would slow, she would, only to be plagued by his face in her dreams. She wanted to know his crimes, know how he ended up here, with her, but she was much too frightened to ask, as brave as she often thought herself to be. Every time she was near speaking, she would clam up and find a reason not to.
It was this evening, as she stared out over the beauty of the Atlantic, that her frustrations finally piqued. She’d brushed her hair a thousand times, but it never sat just right. She slammed the comb down, crossing her arms and thumping back in the chair, her lips twisted in displeasure.
She was greeted with a dark chuckle, and she whipped around in fright to find Erik standing in the doorway. He had an uncanny ability to be as lithe as a cat, and she hated him for it. She wondered how long he’d been there.
“I did not mean to frighten you,” he said, stepping into the room and shutting the door. She mustered her perfected glare, turning back to the vanity as though he were simply a bother. She could still watch him, though, in the silvery reflection. He tossed open the lid of the trunk, lips pressing together in concentration as he eyed the contents. His lengthy, deep honey locks were tied up in that strange style, accentuating his harsh jawline. She’d noted how well-groomed he was for a sailor, tending to his beard every other day or so, and he never smelled foul, as so many men did.
She’d heard rumors, of course, about the men of the northernmost parts of the world. How they were tough, wild and crazed and barbaric, at times. She’d seen Erik’s toughness for herself, day after day of him slumping in the chair to sleep, sometimes on the floor, and all without complaint. She felt a twinge of guilt, deep in her gut.
Never, though, had she seen a savage side to him. There were moments where something sinister would flash in his icy gaze, and it would chill her to her core, but it was still confounding to her. His mysteriousness, coupled with his handsomeness, and her memories of their one instance of intercourse all festered together like a wound. She hated the man with everything she had, yet she wanted him more than she ever thought she’d be capable of wanting a man.
Erik’s eyes flashed to meet hers in the mirror, and she realized too late that she’d been caught staring, teeth worrying her bottom lip. He smirked, standing to his impending height.
“Captain Cameron wishes us to join him for dinner,” he said, gripping the nicest of his shirts. She felt as though her stomach would fall from her body at his words. He frowned at her obvious fright.
“If you do not feel well enough, I’ll have dinner brought to you,” he said, cocking his head to the side. Brigid was, quite honestly, overwhelmed at this new turn of events. He was talking to her, inviting her to spend time near him in a different setting. As much as she wanted it, the traumatized side of her screamed no, that to be put in such a social situation, surrounded by men, was recipe for her to slip up and earn her some form of punishment.
“I…umm…” she stuttered, giving a shake of her head in an attempt to clear her rampant thoughts.
“It would please me greatly, Brigid, to see you enjoy a change of scenery.”
Her eyes widened, her cheeks flushed like wildfire. It was an order, she realized, cloaked by thoughtful words, but an order all the same. She wasn’t upset, as she thought she should be, but rather giddy, hearing that this man would be pleased by her own happiness.
Erik was at a loss as he watched the poor girl’s mind turn over her options, painstakingly slow. He’d known what he was doing to her by leaving her confined, and he felt rather disgusted with himself for using such a tactic on her, but it had worked, at least in some small way. By ignoring her and leaving her to acclimate, she’d grown to become excited whenever he was near, for it meant some form of company to contrast her never-ending solitude. He’d learned this from his years in the military, from watching how prisoners reacted to their captors, after a time.
It was impossible to keep his thoughts from her, to hold himself in check and not dive into bed with her and indulge in his every fantasy. He was a furious man, these past few weeks, and he took out such anger on the main deck by working harder and faster than anyone else, until there was nothing left to do with which to occupy his mind.
He’d taken to playing chess with Captain Cameron in his private quarters each evening, drinking his fill of whisky, before retreating back to his personal hell.
Finally, though, it seemed his efforts were paying off. He’d known how often Brigid searched his personal belongings, but he’d already hidden any letters or journals from her sight, and she’d yet to ask him anything more pressing. She was afraid of him, a battered dog in the streets, too frightened to even ask for scraps.
“Al-alright,” she answered, avoiding his gaze, her bravado fading as her shoulders slumped, a tremble making her fingers dance and shake on her lap. He gripped his clean shirt so tight he feared it would become dust in his hands. He wanted to show her comfort, kindness—protection and love that she should have been given so long ago. He just knew that even now she would not be completely receptive to it.
With a small smile, he reached into his pocket, stepping forward as she eyed him in the mirror, apprehensive. He stood just behind her, their bodies so close he could feel her warmth, smell her floral and honey scent. Bringing his fist around her shoulder and to her front, he unfurled his long fingers, revealing his latest woodwork—a small raven. Brigid reminded him of one, especially with her dark hair and keen eyes.
She glanced up at him through the mirror, mouth open in a show of shock.
“For you, liten.”
Shaking fingers reached up, grasping the raven, her skin brushing across his palm and leaving a trail of warmth behind. He smiled as she eyed it, for in her distraction, he was able to stare at her beauty unabashed. The way her dark hair had a slight curl to it, even after she’d brushed it nearly to its death. The way her pale cheeks held hints of copper freckles, the way her slim nose had a sharpness to it that refined her features into that of regal elegance.
Brigid, to Erik, was a queen and a goddess, as perfect as a woman could be, and he praised God every night for giving him the wife he’d always dreamed of, even if he had to take the time to show her that she was worthy of such love.
Anna, he thought, would have adored her. The glimpses of her fiery tongue had given him hope that she would some day find her own voice yet again. What other man would have welcomed such dissent? He thought humorously.
Yes, Anna and her would have been thick as thieves and as troublesome as they came. It gave Erik a sense of comfort in his sorrow, that the woman he’d found would have been the one welcomed into his family with open arms, Irish or otherwise.
Her deep blue eyes traveled back up to meet his, a blush blossoming in her cheeks. He felt her shakiness, still being so close to her, and knew where her fears were directed at the moment.
“I’ll let no harm befall you, for you are mine as I am yours,” he said, reaching up to brush his fingers down the length of her silky hair. She watched him the entire time, fingers closing around her small gift, holding it close to her heart.
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