She was quite a vision. Even with her back turned against the group that accompanied her. They were only a handful. Two maids, the footman, and a guard. She never went anywhere without them.
They could see the tension in her squared shoulders and stiff spine – straight as ever, the embodiment of nobility. Yet, it had been a while since they saw their lady hold her head up. She was almost always this way, these days – head bowed.
Long black hair that shone in the sun and moonlight with a sheen worthy of marvel, complimented the black dress that adorned her frame, forming curtains around that lovely heart-shaped face. One that many men pined for.
They knew her sorrow and hated to see their lady this way, but there was nothing to be done. Nothing that they had not attempted. Nothing that had borne fruits.
Her anguish hung over her like an invisible cloak, it drew lines of sadness on her mouth and put a wetness in her eyes. If only, they knew a way to take those away.
Her pain was their pain, for they, too, mourned. And in their private chambers when they were allowed to, they wept. Silently for their beloved master and mistress, the kindest souls they had ever met, gone too soon, and so cruelly.
The unfairness of it all drew dark drapes down, around their outlook on life. All of it was bleak.
She had chosen a black dress today – like every other day since that dreadful news arrived. It was plain and very different from the usual style of ruffles and ribbons that she had once been accustomed to. She did not mind, one bit. In her thoughts, this was more of her fashion.
The drab clothing, the dull color- it mirrored the state of her heart, the deep sadness that plagued her. The unending ache that would not go away.
They had sworn that she would feel better as the days rolled by. That the pain that festered like an open sore in her heart would heal slowly. They had spoken falsehood.
Either that or they were simply quite ignorant of the sorrow that loss was.
She took in a deep breath. The streams in her eyes flowed.
Aware of the company she had, grateful that her back was against them, she lifted the kerchief she held clutched in her fingers and dabbed slowly, quite discreetly at her eyes.
They hated to see her cry, and today, she was in no mood for their scolding or pleas. She simply wanted to be left alone. So that the silence that echoed in her heart, would fill her ears.
As she put her kerchief away, her vision cleared and she took another long, hard look at the graves that laid before her. The epitaphs read,
“Duke of Amersham, His Grace, Raleigh Emmelstone. He was the noblest of men.”
“Duchess of Amersham, Her Grace, Cecilia Emmelstone. Fair, but fairer even, in the heart.”
The engraver had done a great job crafting such beautiful resting places for her beloved parents. The words that had been written were not hers. She had been too distraught to craft such simple, but beautiful words.
When she had finally come to after denial had passed and acceptance had dawned, she had finally inquired and her maid had told her her Aunt was responsible for them. She would hold her dear to her heart- always.
It had been two months since a messenger rode into Emmelstone Manor like a storm was on his tail. His urgency had worried everyone, but the moment Odelia had laid her eyes upon his face, fear had ceased her heart.
She had known instantly. How she had, remained a mystery to date. Yet, she had felt it in her heart, and she had known why a chill had befallen her all day.
Nevertheless, she had hoped and prayed that she was wrong. Fervently and desperately prayed.
Until he finally spoke. Those words spilled out like poison. The kind that ate one’s blood. Odelia heard it all as he explained.
Her parents had been returning from a trip to London. A bad storm had met with them. Their carriage had lost its balance, a wheel, and eventually… her parents and the coachman had lost their lives.
They had been found only after the storm had passed and people had dared to venture out of their homes, but it had been too late. Terribly late. There was nothing that could have been done for them.
Odelia had heard of houses crumbling, the bricks falling apart into a pile of rubble. She had never imagined what it would feel like, trapped in an edifice like that.
That day, she had known. Her world came crumbling down, heavy bricks hitting her soul and heart until she too crumbled from the pain. To the ground, she had fallen. Her despair, deep.
It seemed a long time since then. Almost like a year without her parents. The ones who put joy in her heart. The smiles that were lost to her forever. Yet, the pain, still fresh in her heart, made it seem like it was only a night ago.
She could not say goodbye. Not yet. She had tried very hard, but the words would not come out. She was past hoping that it was all a terribly wicked jest and that her parents would walk in the door with their arms open to receive her into their safety and warmth.
That was never going to happen, she knew that now. They were gone for good. Yet, she could not say goodbye.
Just then, a sudden chill filled her bones, rushing down her spine like she had just been bathed with cold water. A small look up at the skies showed that it was not a strange thing.
The clouds had gone dark, and the blue sky was beginning to disappear behind them. The trees swayed in the rhythm of a sudden wind that had picked up, and the dry, fallen leaves rustled in its wake.
As though in confirmation of her thoughts, a deep rumble bellowed and a flash of lightning whipped across what little blue was left to see. Before she would drop her head, her maid, Leah, was by her side.
“My lady, I’m afraid a storm is coming. It is a long ride still to the manor. If we do not want to be caught in its havoc, then we must begin our return. Right this moment.”
She could hear the fear in Leah’s voice, she saw the meaning in the vivid green eyes that the maid had. Odelia understood. A storm had taken her parents, and it would be foolish to risk letting it take her too.
Suddenly weakened, too tired from the emotional turmoil she had been subjected to in recent times, a deep sigh slipped past her lips. It was ladened with pain.
She turned to her parents’ graves and cast one long last look. She would return another day.
Heaving another sad breath, she began to rise from the stone that had served as her seat. Just as she did, the chill came again and she shivered.
Leah was quick to drape her cloak around her. Odelia welcomed the warmth it brought and, with her fingers, gathered the thick velvet closer around her. Yet, the chill remained in her bones, and something nagged at her heart.
This chill, she had felt it before.
It was not from the cold. It was from dread. It was the same she had felt on the day of her parents’ death.
Was it a bad omen? A sign of something terrible to come? What more could happen? She had already lost the people dearest to her heart.
Rising fully to her feet, she turned and began to lead the way out of the cemetery. Leah fell in step behind her and as she reached the rest of her companions, they let her go first, falling into step with Leah.
Just as her feet proceeded to take the last step out of the graveyard grounds, tall, dark shadows fell over her.
Her first reaction was fright. Eyes flying wide open, she stepped back out of impulse and looked up into the menacing glares of men who were almost twice her size.
A lump formed in her throat and with great effort, she swallowed it. Remembering who she was, she found the courage to speak.
“We want no trouble, good sirs. We have simply come to mourn our loved ones. Please, be gracious to step out of our way and we shall continue as we were.”
One of the men scoffed and the other curled his lips into a snarl. Odelia had never seen a more frightening smile. Aware that this was no accidental encounter, she started to withdraw slowly.
“What do you want?” she asked again, her voice less brave this time. The men moved forward, covering the distance she had put between them.
“Well, milady… is that not obvious? We want ye. And ye shall have to come with us.”
The accent was thick but it was definitely not British. These were not English men. Who had sent them and what could they possibly want with her?
“What do you want with me? I have done nothing to no one.” Her heart had begun to hammer against her chest, and she cursed herself for not being brave enough.
She did not want these men to see her fear. To know it. Between herself and her guard, they would put up a good fight. The coachman would do well for himself. However, she had Leah and Helen. She could not afford to put them in harm’s way.
The one with the menacing glare chuckled. His eyes were as black as his soul. An ugly gash slashed from his temple to his cheek. It looked to be the mark of an ax. More than anything, it spoke of how dangerous this man was.
For all her training, Odelia had never fought men like this.
“You ask too many questions for someone that’s about to be a prisoner. I best teach you how to shut your mouth.”
He raised his hand then, but before he would bring it down, her guard intercepted him. The coachman went for the other man and a fight broke out. More concerned about the women with her, Odelia turned to them, frantic.
“You two, go now. You must run. As fast as your legs can carry you. Do not stop for anything. Do you hear me? Run hard till you can get help. Then come back for me.”
The fear in their eyes haunted her, and she hated that she was putting them through such danger.
“My lady, what nonsense do you speak? You too must come with us. We must keep you safe,” Leah cried.
“No! That would be foolish. It is me they want. If I come with you, then they would come after us, and you two might get hurt. I cannot bear the weight of that guilt on my conscience. Please, listen to me and go. Go. Now!”
The chill was gone, replaced by a hot fire burning in her veins. Somehow, Odelia knew that she might never see these two women again. From the look in their eyes, she knew that they knew it too.
She did not understand a thing about this. Who those men were or why they were after her, but this was not the time to ponder. She had a duty to her staff, all of them, and she would see that they escaped this safely.
“Go now!” she cried again, pushing them hard this time.
Helen broke into a sob, and Leah followed. Then for one last time, they crushed her into a tight embrace.
“Oh, my lady! Please fight. We shall find help and come back for you. We promise. We can’t lose you too.” That was Helen.
Tears filled Odelia’s eyes, threatening to fall but she held them back. If not for anything, for them, she had to be strong.
She relished the hug for a moment, but aware of the fight going on not far off, she broke it and pushed them again, harder this time.
“I’ll come back to you. I promise. Now, go!” She didn’t believe it herself, but she hoped that she would keep her promise. She was a woman of her word.
This time, they listened and, as she had instructed, they picked up their skirts and began to run, as hard as they could, as fast as their legs could carry them.
It was just in time, for as Odelia turned around to assess the situation behind her, she felt a brute strike land against her temple.
The last thing she remembered feeling was the pain that simmered through. The last sight she beheld was her guard and coachman, sprawled on the floor, injured.
Then, her world went blank.
Somewhere in Spain…
Odelia woke up with a throbbing pain in her head. She had grown quite accustomed to waking up this way over the past few weeks, yet she wished she did not have to.
As she struggled into a sitting position, the first thing she realized was that there was no feeling of movement around her.
It was strange. As strange as waking up on a ship at sea, after that attack at the cemetery, had felt.
As her eyes adjusted to the darkness of the poorly lit room, she whipped her head around, taking everything in. The walls were still wooden, just like the floor, and outside, she could hear torrents of rain beating down hard on the earth.
Nevertheless, it was clear that they were no longer at sea. They were now on dry land.
How had she slept through it all? She could not remember leaving the ship or being carried out, just as she had not been able to remember entering, or being carried in.
They must have drugged her meal with some sort of substance. One more potion than the one they’d been using to keep her weak and drowsy. It had been her punishment for attempting to escape.
She had lost the sense of time and could not fathom how long it had been since the capture. When she first awoke, she had been scared but at the same time very angry, and intending to break her way free.
She was frantic by not knowing what had happened to her staff. If the girls had made it out safely. If her guard and coachman were still alive.
She hoped the men had let them be, after capturing her.
After her anger dissipated, she began to devise means of escaping the moment she felt well enough. She must have suffered a terrible concussion, for it took a while. On her third day, she awakened with her strength returned.
She managed to break free, easily wearing off the rope that had bound her wrists together.
She had made it past the two men that had been positioned below deck, to keep her in. However, as she got to the deck, she met many more men who were more than willing to return her to the basement.
This time, the ropes were made tighter, and the men were doubled. She had given up any plans of flight, anyway, aware that they were in the middle of the sea with no land in sight, and she could not swim to save her life.
Not to mention, she was not good enough to take on so many men successfully. She had counted about twelve of them. Too many for a woman like her. So, she had accepted her fate- for now.
No one said a word to her, no one tried to explain anything to her. Most thankfully, no one tried to touch her. For that, she was very grateful. She was no naivete. She had heard of men like them and what they did to ladies like her.
It hadn’t taken long to figure out that they were drugging her meals. Still, she had been unable to refuse to eat. If the drug didn’t kill her, hunger would.
She was also wise enough to know that the men needed her alive, so whatever they were drugging her with was not intended to kill her. With that in mind, she had continued to eat.
The days seemed endless and the nights dragged on for too long. She was mindless, most of the time – too weak to think well or do anything else, for that matter.
The few times she had felt a semblance of herself, she had tried to think. To figure out who was behind this and what they hoped to gain. It had been futile.
She had not an inkling who would choose to harm her this way, or what justification they may have for their actions. Her parents had been the kindest people she had ever known, unable to cause anyone harm, what’s more, make enemies.
She had led a quite sheltered life up until now. Having only debuted a year ago, she had had little opportunity to make enough friends or foes of her own. It was maddening as it was confusing.
What did anyone want from her? And at such a time like this when she was not done mourning her dead? Well, at least, she was on dry land now and could resume plotting her escape.
She looked around her once more, her insides twisted, crying tales of hunger. It would appear that she had not eaten for a while. How long had she been sleeping? A day, two?
How long had they been in this place that looked like an old, abandoned barn? Most importantly, where were they?
She would stop the meals, and deal with the hunger. She would be better off weak from that, than drowsy. Though she had no idea where they were, she was certain that, if she ran hard enough, she would be able to get help.
Suddenly, the door opened and, as little light filled the room, the noise from the storm intensified. Things went back to what they’d been when she heard the hard slam of wood against wood.
Two men, whom she recognized from their build and stance as the same men who had captured her, sauntered into view and stalked to sofas far away from where she was.
They seemed oblivious of her presence, as though she didn’t matter. It was just as well, Odelia thought. And it was also just as well that the only candle that afforded the room light in the darkness caused by the storm, was far away, shrouding her in darkness.
She could see her captors, but they could not see her, not clearly.
She went deathly quiet, unwilling to provoke their awareness of her. Perhaps, if they thought her still asleep, they would feel free to speak and divulge information that would be vital to her plans of flight.
In no time, deep voices filled the room, and she commended herself for her quick thinking.
“Ah… Rigard, this storm is hellish. It’s been hours now, and it still will not let up. I hate this place. Ye know how much I hate being holed up. I wish it would just stop, so we would make our next move.”
The soft light helped her identify the speaker as the one without a scar.
Now she knew the name of the man that had frightened her the most – Rigard. Somehow, she found it suiting for his character.
“Normin,” Rigard began… “Ye are simply afraid of the storm. Ye have nae problem with being holed up. All these years and one would think you’d have grown into enough of a man to slay yer fears. It’s a good thin’ ye know how to slay men.”
Normin grimaced, not taking the jest lightly.
“Every man has that which he fears. Storms are terrible and speak of bad omens, I tell ye. Too many things could go wrong in a torrent like this.”
“At least, we were granted a safe voyage from England. We are safe here. No harm will come to us, Normin, and if it does, we shall fight back.”
Seemingly comforted by that, Rigard’s furrowed brows melted away, and he bobbed his head in agreement.
“Of course, dear friend. Y’er right.”
Silence reigned as both men retrieved their pipes and began to smoke. The smell of smoke filled the air and lingered, floating over to Odelia. It stung her nose and tried to elicit a sneeze, but she struggled to hold it in.
They were starting to get comfortable – they had to continue to believe her asleep.
“The lass seems to still be asleep,” Normin said.
Ah… finally, they were speaking about her. Straining her ears, Odelia listened more attentively.
“I’m glad that she will be off our hands soon. She is too much trouble. Thank goodness we brought those potions with us. I didn’t know the last one would knock her out so badly. It’s been three days.”
Three days… they had been on land for three days.
“’Tis for the best if ye ask me. I cannot believe she managed to take down Autis and Harson. How in the wicked world does a woman of her status learn to put up such a fight?”
“I hear that she was the pride of her parents and they denied her nothin’. They must’ av hired someone to teach her to defend herself. ‘Tis the only explanation.”
“Hmmm. Ye know, somehow, I admire her. She has spine, that one. Not somethin’ ye see in many women.”
Rigard simply chuckled. “She’s a lovely thing. Any man with eyes and blood in his veins can see that. But the master was clear in his orders. She is not to be touched or harmed.”
“Lucky bastard! No wonder he’s gone through so much trouble to have her. Not many heiresses are as beautiful and strong-willed.
“I only hope he does not break her so… Part of her allure is her spirit. Without that, she shall become a shadow of herself.”
There was a moment of silence as Rigard regarded Normin pensively.
“Still quite the poet I see. A pity, luck did not smile on us. If ye had been born into a finer home, ye would have made quite the scholar, my friend.”
“Ahh… Alas, I was not, and wishful thinking never did any man any good. ‘Tis only to put a damper on his mood.
“The last letter received says the master shall be here soon and she shall nae longer be our problem to worry about. Drink up, my friend. We are about to get paid for a job well done.”
Rigard fetched a bottle of rum and, after he filled their cups, they began to drink.
Odelia welcomed the silence. It gave her the time to think clearly and put all that they had said together.
One thing was certain: they were no longer in England. She also now knew that a man called master had hired these men to capture her. They had said something about her being an heiress.
Was this why? Had someone desperate enough to lay claim to her inheritance, decided to strike now that he knew of her parents’ death? It was the only reason she could think of, and that would mean that she had done no wrong to deserve this.
They had said this master would be here soon, and they had been quite confident about the fact that he would take his time to break her. What did it mean to break someone?
She was certain she never wanted to find out. She waited in silence, biding her time as the men drowned their senses in fermented wine. If she had any luck, they would loll to sleep, and that would be her chance of freedom.
She tugged on the ropes that had her hands bound – they were firm and she knew that she would have no luck loosening them like the last ones. It was just as well, she had something else.
With great effort, she reached her hair and retrieved a clip. It was one of her favorites because it was, in fact, a weapon. Sharp as a blade, small enough to serve as a decoration. It was the shape of a butterfly and would easily be overlooked as an item of fashion.
Her father had purchased it from a merchant who brought strange items from China, and it had quickly become Odelia’s favorite.
She began to work on the ropes and, in no time, she was cut free. It was just as well, for, by the time she looked up, the men were already half asleep.
This was it, this was her time to act. Somehow, she knew that if the master caught her here, she would bid her freedom goodbye forever. She could not afford that.
Noiseless and agile as a cat, she rose and began to find her way to the door. The storm was beginning to let up, but its noise still filled the barn. Perhaps she shouldn’t be running while being hungry, and mindlessly in the rain, but she would not miss this chance. Never.
Her heart hammered in her chest and the hair on every part of her body stood in fear. Her ears perked up, straining for the slightest indication of danger and she kept her eyes alert.
Carefully, she reached the door. As quietly as she could manage, she pulled it open, all the while looking behind her to make sure that those men were still asleep.
One delicate step, another, then another, until finally, she was out of the barn. She turned to close the door, shutting the very little space she had stepped out of.
She could not have taken the risk of opening the door any wider, lest the light poured in and woke them from their slumber. As the door shut close, her heart leaped for joy. She had accomplished this first feat. Now, the hardest part had come.
She turned to look around, searching for a way out, though blinded by the rain. She found nothing, not really. Just trees and tall grasses. Pathways she wasn’t certain would lead to escape.
Nevertheless, she had to try, didn’t she? She hadn’t made it this far to give up. Making up her mind quickly, she lifted her skirts and began to run.
Her skirts, soggy from water, threatened to weigh her down, but she would not have it. With fierce hands, she ripped some of the inner fabric away. Relief surged through her blood as she felt lighter. Finding more strength, she quickened her pace.
Her limbs ached, so did her stomach and her head. She was in no position for such adventure but there was no alternative. So she kept running, changing paths at every turn, hopeful that she was not simply going in circles.
Soon, heavy footfalls began to thud behind her. They were on her trail. Of course, she had expected them to follow. Silent pleas began to spill from her lips and her heart prayed desperately for a miracle.
A house, a village, a cave – anything that would afford her shelter from her pursuers.
The rain thudded even heavier, clouding her site, but she ran still. She could not stop. Never. Odelia struggled, she gave it her all. Howbeit, she lacked sufficient strength and soon, she began to grow weary.
Her legs slowed down, her head pounded, her ribs closed in on her, desperate for air. The footfalls drew closer. They were near. She could not afford to stop, she thought to herself.
All of this. It could not have been in vain.
She heard them closing in on her. Tried as hard as she did, she could not go any faster. She was weak. Spent. And she would pay the price for her weakness.
Tears streamed down her face as the candle of hope went out. She came to a stop and the footfalls that were right behind her did the same. Doubling over, her hands rested against her knees and she tried to catch her breath.
Nothing was done, nothing was said for a long moment. Until another person joined them. This time, the footfalls did not halt. One of the men marched straight to her and yanked her up by the arms.
She winced, feeling a bruise form, but she held her whimper in. They might have won this chase, but she would not give them the satisfaction of cowering before them.
“You stubborn wench! I shall teach you a lesson for your disobedience!” he thundered, lifting his arm.
As those hands raised to strike her, something snapped inside of Odelia. With a force whose source she could not fathom, she yanked herself free from his grip.
He reached out to catch her, but she simply backed further away. Then, he began to yell something. Something she couldn’t hear, not with the rain deafening her. Why did the rain suddenly sound so loud?
Nevertheless, she could see him reaching for her, and she would not allow it. Not again.
She took one more step backward and as she did, regret filled her. The earth slipped from under her feet, throwing her to the ground. It happened like lightning.
One moment, she was standing on two feet, the next, she was slipping and falling… falling off something, into something, and the sound of the rain, kept ringing louder. All her attempts to latch on to something proved futile. She was moving too fast.
That was when it finally became clear… what he had been yelling…
“Stop! There’s a cliff behind you!”
Of course… she was falling off that cliff. The rain had not gotten louder, it had simply been the sea beneath, bellowing in her ears.
Oh… why was fate so cruel? Why had she fought so hard, to go so easily? Well, at least now, she would be joined with her parents.
That thought gave her peace as she plunged into the water, and the dark tides buried her deep within.
Spanish waters – en route to Italy
It was a fine day. That very much was certain. After the storm that had threatened to tear the ships apart just the day before, one would think that the skies would be bleak today.
Ah, but it was not so. Captain Arnold Reynes felt his lips perk up in a smile as he raised his face to the heavens and breathed in the air that smelled of sea salt. This was perhaps one of his favorite things about the sea.
The air. It always felt so pure, unadulterated. There was no air as clean as sea air and that was not up for dispute.
He opened the eyes that had fluttered closed as he had filled his lungs and gazed up again. He had never seen the sky so blue. Not in a long while. And the clouds, so white – it could be compared to nothing.
The sun peeked from behind a very large cloud, brightening the sky. Its lucent hues colored the sky with golden streaks, making the day completely perfect.
The soft breeze caught in his hair and brought it to his eyes.
Absentmindedly, he brushed his hair away, tucking it behind his ears. It was beginning to grow too long again. He was long overdue for another cut, but lately, he had not felt the will to put his golden locks to the razor.
Strange, as it was already past the length he often kept it. Perhaps, he would simply find a band with which to be knotting it, so that it wouldn’t get in the way all the time.
Deciding that that was a good idea, he continued his admiration of the fine day. His hard, long fingers wrapped around the railing and held on firmly. Finally, he tore his gaze away from the clouds and down to the sea.
There was no evidence of the wicked storm. None at all. Today, the sea was at peace, as if it had never known war. It was just as well. His men had worked all night, trying to make sure that their lives didn’t end with the ship.
As wonderful as life at sea could be, it was just as dangerous. The tides were not always kind and the billows, many a time, rose too high for comfort. Nevertheless, it was all part of the exhilaration that came with such a life.
Living on edge for most of your days, feeling the freedom that came with being in the middle of nowhere, knowing you could steer the ship in another direction and end up in a completely different destination than that which you had had in mind when you set sail.
Knowing no other responsibility than that to your crewmates, and what family you may have back at home. Having no need to behave so properly, taking great pains to observe propriety and not feeling the weight on your shoulders, the eyes of society on your back, watching, waiting for you to make that one mistake that will haunt your days forever.
Ahh. Indeed, the sea had its disadvantages, but he would choose it over and over again, for the advantages it came with. Besides, what other choice did he have? He had found his love for the sea when he had been only a child of eight years old.
Joining the King’s Navy at only eighteen years old had been a dream come true. When he had finally left the service to begin his privateer business at twenty-four, Arnold had known that this was what he would do for the rest of his life.
The day he acquired this ship, his beloved Sea Rose, was the happiest day in his entire life. Never had a man felt more fulfilled. She had called to him, as though she had been specially made for him. He had known that she was the one upon first sight.
Every time he took her wheel to steer, they blended like one. They were one. Sea Rose was his one true love.
He knew how that sounded… if Mannington heard him, he’d call him a lonely man. Mannington would not be wrong and he knew this, for Arnold was as lonely as one could get.
Perhaps, that was why he loved the sea so much. It kept him away from the reality that he had no one to go home to. No wife or child waiting for him. No family who waited for his return. It was just as well.
He had made the sea his home, and he was grateful that he did not have to worry about anyone back in England whenever he was away on business.
His heart dropped in silence, and when he felt the fading ache rub against his ribs, he knew he was lying to himself all over again.
He wanted all of those things too. However, he had accepted that a man like him could not have them… did not deserve to. He refused to dwell on them.
Jarring his mind away from the saddening thoughts, he began to look around. They were passing the shores of northern Spain. Soon, they would reach the port where they might stop for rest and new supplies.
It would be a while before they made it to Italy and back to England, escorting that merchant ship to ensure the safety of its merchandise. Everyone would want to cherish what little land time they would manage to get in-between.
His eyes continued to roam, taking in the cliffs and white sand… That was when it caught his eye.
He had almost looked it over, but it glistened, reflecting the sun so perfectly, that it cast golden rays across the sea.
Ah… it was not unlikely to find one every now and then on a voyage. But he was not in the business of hunting for treasures – that was the pirates’ business. He had no intention of stopping for anything.
With that in mind, he tried to look away but could not bring himself to. Whatever it was, shone so brightly. If he wouldn’t stop for it, perhaps it would not hurt to take a closer look and see the object behind such twinkle.
Lifting the wooden spyglass he held, he set the frame around his eye and took a good look.
What Arnold found, startled him so much, that the spyglass nearly dropped from his hands. Believing that he had not seen clearly, he wiped his eyes with a kerchief, brought the spyglass to them and took another look.
When he was met with yet the same view, he finally accepted that his eyes could not be deceiving him. He might have had a long night, but he had a very restful morning. His eyes could not be tired.
However, just to be certain, he looked around his ship. He easily spotted his first mate, Mannington. Quickly, he beckoned his mate and friend.
“Mannington. If you would spare me a moment. Please, do come over.”
Mannington did not hesitate to halt in his steps and change his course. Soon, he was by Arnold’s side.
“You called, Captain?”
“Yes. I did. Take this, Mannington and follow the line my finger is making. Pray tell, what do you see?”
He relieved himself of the spyglass and handed it over to Mannington who eagerly received it, without question. The first mate raised the spyglass to his eye and as Arnold pointed in the direction of the sparkle, and Mannington did as instructed.
Arnold knew that he had not seen wrongly the moment Mannington’s jaw dropped.
His first mate removed the spyglass. With eyes wide from surprise, he turned to Arnold who nodded, then, he took another look. Two looks sufficed.
“My goodness! Captain, that’s a woman!”
“Thank the heavens you see it too, Mannington. I was afraid my eyes were playing tricks on me. It is nice to know that I was not wrong.”
“But… how did she get there?”
“I suppose that is a question that we shall ask her to answer.”
Arnold took the spyglass and took another look. This time, he looked more closely, regarding the small frame for any sign of life. The way she was sprawled, her dress stained with dirt so much that it blended into the dirt, did not hold promises of life.
He didn’t know the woman, but for some reason, Arnold found himself hoping that she was safe. Even more strange, he began to feel a stirring of anger deep in his belly. Anger at whoever had done such a cruel thing to a lady.
“The dead cannot speak, my lord.”
Arnold was about to respond when something caught his eye.
A movement. It was her hands. Her hands were moving. She was alive! Hope bubbled inside of him and spilled into a huge smile.
“It would appear that we shall get our answers, after all, Mannington. She is alive!”
He was pushing the spyglass into Mannington’s hand the next moment and yelling for the other mates to let down a boat.
“She’s alive? But she looks…”
“I saw her hands twitch, Mannington. Man the ship. I’m going for her.”
With that, he was gone from Mannington’s side. By the time he reached the mates that had obeyed his orders, the boat had already touched the water. Calling on two of them, he said,
“Humphrey, Olsen, come with me. You shall row the boat.”
Like Mannington, they obeyed without questions. It was one of the reasons Arnold loved his crew- their obedience. No, it was not born out of fear. It was born simply from trust.
They trusted him to make the best decisions and he had never let them down.
In no time, the three men were in the boat and rowing to the shore. As they arrived, Arnold jumped out and went for the woman. His heart was nearly brought to a stop when he came to kneel beside her. She was young. So young.
She could be no more than twenty years old. Despite the bruises on her face and arms, he could tell that she was lovely to behold. From the dirt that painted her body and dress, he could tell that she had been washed ashore.
From her attire, he could also tell that she was English and high born. More questions arose in his mind.
What was an English lady doing on Spanish shores?
Olsen came to kneel on her other side. The captain and his mate shared a look. Upon Olsen’s nod, Arnold pressed his clasped hand to her chest and began to pump.
He had done this plenty of times. He had had to learn as part of training for the navy. He had also had plenty of practice, one too many times when his crew had met trouble at sea and some men had taken too much water.
He pumped as softly as he could, aware that she was delicate. As he did, his heart sent a fervent prayer up above that they had not found her too late, and that her lungs could still recover.
Time seemed to stretch into hours. He kept pumping, but she would not come to. His hope began to diminish. Had he really seen her hands move? Or had he simply been too desperate for a sign of life, that he had imagined things?
Oh Lord, please let her be alive, he pleaded one more time.
As though the heavens had opened and his prayers had gone up without distraction, the lady twitched and coughed out her first mouthful of water.
Joy ran through his body, filling every inch of him. Eyes wide, Arnold looked up to Olsen who reflected the smile on his face.
Encouraged by her response, he continued to pump, and she continued to cough until there was no more water left to exhale. She laid asleep still, but he was glad that the worst was over.
Wanting to waste no more time, unaware of how long she had been out in the cold, he gathered her into his arms. She was so cold, that the chill sunk into his skin.
Nevertheless, it was not the cold of death. It was simply from being in the sea for too long. As he took her back to the boat where his men waited, he spotted the object that had captured his attention.
It was a locket around her neck. Finely crafted and made from pure gold. Definitely highborn, he thought to himself.
The rowing back to the ship was very quiet. As he stepped on the deck once again, the lady in his arms this time, his mates gathered around, curiosity etched on their faces.
Arnold felt embarrassed for the lady. He wondered how she would feel when she awoke and learned that so many men had seen her in this state. A good thought settled in his mind then, and calmly but firmly, he said to the men,
“You all may leave. Only Mannington should stay behind. We shall take care of the lady.”
Their response was swift. One by one, they all turned to leave until the crowd fully dispersed. When they were only two left, he knelt to the ground and carefully put the lady down.
Mannington came to kneel at her other side. He threw his captain a look of awe. Arnold simply shrugged in return. Then, his attention was back to the lady on the floor. Lifting his hand to her cheeks, he began to tap as softly as he could.
That was when her eyes fluttered open.
She came to, very slowly. They backed away as she rose to sit. Arnold watched her carefully, understanding the raw, unguarded emotions that flashed across her face.
First, pain. As she looked around, taking in her surroundings- confusion. Then, her eyes fell upon Arnold and Mannington, and he knew he was not mistaken, he saw fear.
The intensity of that emotion shook his core, so hard that when she began to scramble away, he was hopeless to stop her.
He recovered soon enough and as softly as he could, he began,
“My lady, you need not be afraid. We are good men. I am Captain Arnold Reynes and this is my ship, the Sea Rose. I am a privateer and I am escorting a vessel to Italy.
“I have just found you, lifeless on the shores of Spain, and I thought to bring you to my ship, where you will be safe and have a chance at a full recovery. Once again, I give you my word that no one here will cause you any harm.”
As he finished, he waited, patiently – he was a very patient man. He watched her again, easily seeing through her emotions. He observed as she struggled to make sense of his words, to understand them, accept them, believe them.
He saw as her fear began to wane, as her guard began to wear off. It made him happy. She trusted him – for now. Over the days that she would have to spend with them, he would try his best to gain that trust completely.
Her voice was not at all what he had expected – meek, feeble. Ah, no. It was firm, yet soft. It spoke of a strength that laid beneath. Oh, but she had to be strong to survive the tides.
“Yes, and this is my first mate, Kenneth Mannington.”
She looked at Mannington then and regarded him as carefully as she had regarded Arnold. She nodded in acknowledgment and returned her gaze to Arnold.
“You said you had found me lifeless, and saved me?”
Oh, that voice… it reminded him of cocoa, melted and mixed with honey, ladened with freshly brewed milk. It was quite exotic, and it reached places in Arnold that had not been reached in a while.
However, now was not the time to consider that.
Nodding, he responded. “Yes, my lady. It was the noble thing to do.”
Her eyes welled with tears then and when he felt they would drop, she exhibited great control and reined them in.
“Thank you, good sirs. You are too kind.”
Arnold nodded, his chest constricted from almost seeing her cry. He didn’t like the feeling one bit.
“You are welcome, my lady. We are happy to give you a cabin and some clothes. Also, we have a doctor on the ship who would be more than glad to examine you and ascertain that you have not suffered any severe injuries that may put your heart at risk.
“We still have many days yet at sea, but we shall do our best to take care of you.”
There was a pause as he waited to see if she was following. She bobbed her head once. It was enough.
“Very well then. We shall have a lot to discuss, I’m certain, but I must first ask your name, my lady. If you do not mind.” Other questions may be answered later.
“Mind? Not at all. You saved me, it is only proper that we make acquaintance. Well, my name is…”
She paused. Her brows furrowed into several lines as a small frown stole its way into her features. Again, Arnold waited, patient.
“Well, that is quite odd. I cannot… I cannot seem to remember my name.”
Arrested, Arnold joined her in the frown.
“What do you mean? You must have a name. Everyone does. Where are you from?”
The lady began to shake her head once more, slowly, as if she was finding it hard to believe herself.
“Captain Reynes, I do not quite understand it myself. I cannot recall anything. My head… it feels empty. There is not one single memory. Nothing.
“I don’t know where I’m from. I don’t know my name. I seem to have forgotten everything…” Panic laced her words and took abode in her wide eyes, as realization dawned.
“I can’t remember a thing. I have lost my memory.”
Pain. It was the first thing she felt when she came to. Prickles of pain all over her body. It felt like she had been beaten all over by a heavy log of wood. The pain stretched from her limbs to her back, reaching deep into her bones.
Her head felt heavy like it had magically increased in size and now weighed twice what it had always had. Then, as her vision cleared, confusion dawned.
She did not know where she was. Or why she was here.
All of it felt strange, yes. She was aware of the oddness, but she didn’t try to consider it, what it meant. She was simply concerned with that moment.
Then, she saw the men. Strange men she was certain she had never met before.
Dread immediately seized her heart. The kind that momentarily chased the ache in her bones away, and filled her with a chill.
Why? Why had she had such a strong reaction to men she had never met? Again, she refused to consider that.
She listened as one of the men spoke. The one that had introduced himself as the Captain. Captain Arnold Reynes. His voice, deep and strong, slowly numbed her fears as his words filled her ears.
And those eyes… how could anyone have eyes so golden? She had never seen anything quite like it. It was as though the sun had given him a gift, and filled his eyes with vibrant hues of gold.
Everything about him was golden. His brows, the thin mustache that lined the top of his lips. The stubble that grazed beneath his jaws and the sides of his face.
If angels were humans, they would look like this captain. Sound like him.
He was so gentle, and as he spoke further, a small smile crept into his eyes and lightened his lips. Somehow, it comforted her. Her fears were soon forgotten and the weight in her shoulders slowly faded, carrying away the stiffness in her spine.
This man was sincere with his words. No harm would come to her under his watch. She was safe. She did not know how she was so certain, but she was. She could not fathom why that knowledge meant so much to her.
He had said she had been found on the shore. Her head ached, so much. And when she tried to think too hard, the pain grew stronger, causing her to wince.
So she did not think. She did not consider what she had been doing, washed ashore… Until he had asked for her name.
She had been ready to answer. Of course, she had a name. Everyone did. She knew who she was, or did she?
The dread that had slipped away began to creep back in as she found herself tongue-tied.
Nothing. There was nothing in her head. No semblance of identity. No knowledge of what was, before now.
She could not remember her name, and when he asked where she was from, she realized that she could not remember that either.
Her heart kicked against her ribs, forcing its rhythm to quicken. The thud grew stronger until she felt her chest begin to ache. The hairs on the back of her neck rose, her palms became suddenly clammy. Even breathing became hard.
Panic. Her nerves were getting the best of her. Had she always been this way? Or was this just a special occasion? How would she know? She could not remember anything. Yet, it could not be possible, could it?
She could not have just dropped out of heaven. She must have led a life before now. A life that she should be able to remember. Why couldn’t she remember?
She thought harder, subjecting her head to more pain. Yet, she did not stop. There was a void. Yes, an undeniable feeling of a wall, tall and strong that she couldn’t get past.
The harder she tried, the more difficult it became to reach past that wall. It only seemed to push her further and further away. Eyes widening, she turned to look at Captain Reynes and Mr. Mannington.
All her efforts had proven futile. The light of hope in their eyes crushed her, as it went out at her words.
“I can’t remember a thing… I have lost my memory.”
It was Mr. Mannington who spoke first.
“My lady, you mean not a thing? Not even your name?”
She shook her head. “Impossible, I know. Yet it feels as though I have not led a life until now. As though I have been born anew.
“Although, I do feel a wall in my head that I can’t get past. I believe that is where my memories are locked up.” She looked from the first mate to the captain of the ship.
“Have you ever heard of such a case? Will I ever remember who I once was?”
He said nothing. Neither did his first mate. Both men simply exchanged a look that carried meaning. When his eyes returned to her, she saw the worry in those depths. The uncertainty. She felt her heart tear in two.
The silence filled her ears, almost deafening her. Then, he finally sighed.
“My lady. Yes, I have heard of such an occurrence. As a traveler, I have been to many places and when one tours as much as I have, they are bound to hear things.
“It is not an impossible occurrence, nevertheless, it is a rare one. I do not know how many who have suffered from memory loss were able to recover. However, I do know that it is possible. Though the chances are quite slim.”
There he went again, with his soothing voice that performed yet another magic. The panic that had held her captive released its hold on her, and her nerves began to settle.
She pondered on his words, trying to hold on to hope. Then, a strangled sigh wrenched free from her lungs, surprising everyone.
“The chances are quite slim…” she repeated, staring into space. “Well, I suppose all I can do is hope then, hope that someday, I shall remember it all? For if I never do, how would I ever answer the questions that are beginning to plague me? Who am I? Where am I from? How do I return home?”
Her spirits downcast, she heaved another sigh. It was all strange. Too strange.
“You said you found me ashore, Captain?”
“Yes, my lady. This…” she followed the finger he held out and saw that it was pointing at a locket around her neck. She had not even been aware of it until now.
In fact, she had not been aware of her appearance, only of the wetness clinging to her skin. That was when she saw the damaged state of her attire.
It unsettled her to think that she did not know how that had happened. The black she was in was clogged with sand, almost turning a dirty shade of brown.
The thought of what she must have gone through, what she must have survived, weakened her with profound sadness.
Tentatively, she reached for the locket and clasped her hands around it. The wall in her head tugged, and she knew that the locket held memories. Perhaps, it would help her break down that wall with time.
“This?” she asked.
The Captain nodded. “Yes. That. It glimmered in the sun. So fiercely that I could not look away. Instead, I took a closer look and what I saw, had me thinking my eyes were deceiving me.
“So, I called Mannington to take a look, and he too affirmed that he had seen a woman. We had thought the worst, for you seemed so lifeless, sprawled the way you were. Thankfully, on another close look, I saw your hands twitch.
“It was how I knew you were still alive. So, I rowed out on a boat with my men and we brought you back here. Thankfully, your lungs had not completely been drowned.
“It is nothing short of a miracle, my lady. I have no idea how long you were in the water or how you survived the storm the night before. All I know is that that locket might as well have just saved your life.”
His words rang loud and clear in her head, and she understood the meaning of them. Once more, she looked down at the locket. It was a bit large, yet it felt surprisingly weightless.
If she had been carried by the water, how had the locket not been lost in it? Captain had said there was a storm… how had she survived the tempest?
Nothing made sense. Perhaps, it was as the Captain had said. A miracle indeed.
“I hope you do not mind if I take a good look?”
He was so polite, and she admired that. Shaking her head, she took the locket off her neck and handed it over to him. He examined it closely, as though searching for something.
Then, finally, he opened it. A small gasp left his lips, his eyes widening as he beheld whatever the locket contained.
“What is it?” Mannington asked, echoing her thoughts.
“There is a name written here. It would appear, my lady, that we have one piece of the puzzle.”
“A name?” Reaching out her hands, she retrieved the locket from him and looked for herself. It was her turn to gasp. Right in the locket, were beautifully crafted letters.
Softly, she called out, “Odelia.”
That was her name. A flower blossomed in her heart, and she knew that it was right. It was her name. Hope soared, as high as her joy did. At least, now she knew her name. She was Odelia.
Oh, only if her family name had been written in the locket too. A seal or something. It would have been so much easier to find her home.
She shut the locket and looked up to see the captain and his first mate smiling at her. They shared her happiness. That much was clear, and it gladdened her so.
“Now that we know your name, I do believe we are a step closer to finding out who you are. From your attire, my lady, and the way you speak, I do believe you are English. I am from England too, as well as more than half of the men on this ship.
“We are a long way from home, and we have a long way still to go. We must escort a vessel and see it safely delivered in Italy. Then, we shall begin our return journey to England. I am afraid my lady, until then, you shall have to remain with us. However, you have my word that no harm shall come to you. I swear it on my honor.”
He was a noble man. That much was certain. Anyone could have found her on that shore… she was glad that it was this man who did. Managing a small smile of her own, she nodded in understanding.
“Thank you, kind sir. For this graciousness that you have extended a total stranger, I too swear that I shall repay your kindness.”
“Oh, my lady, please, no. I do not do this in hopes of a reward. I do it simply because it is the noble thing to do.” He paused then and looked around.
“We have spent too much time here. Forgive my bad manners. Please come with me. First, I shall show you your cabin and ask that the men draw you a bath. Afterward, I shall bring you clothing and a meal. I am certain that you are famished.”
At the mention of food, a rumble growled inside of Odelia, twisting her stomach into terrible knots. Oh yes, she was famished. So much that she felt it in her soul.
She nodded, urging him to continue. He rose to his feet then and handed her his hand which she took.
As those long, hard fingers clasped hers, Odelia felt something move inside of her. He must have felt it too, for he abruptly stopped and stared into her eyes.
The moment was gone as soon as it came, and it was almost like it never happened. Pushing it away, Odelia concluded that she would consider it later.
“Can you walk, my lady?”
He pulled her to her feet then, and as she righted on both legs, her eyes watered, causing her to swoon. His arms were around her in a split second, and she wondered if that was proper in any way.
Yet, the warmth they afforded her stole any word of complaint from her lips.
“I’ve got you. You need a handsome meal and good rest after the ordeal that you have gone through. If you would permit me, my lady. I shall lift you to your cabin. Once you are well fed and rested, the physician will come to examine you and take care of your injuries.”
“I can walk.”
He nodded, respecting her decision. However, as they took the first step, she felt her legs wobble, almost sending her to the floor.
The captain was swift. Before she could protest, she was in his arms. The quick movement spun her senses, making her light and dizzy. She looked up at his face as her consciousness began to slip away. That angel graced her sights one more time before her eyes slipped closed.
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