|Primary Characters:||Morgan Adams, William Shaw|
|Spoilers:||Just watch the movie, ok?|
|Warning:||adult themes, language, m/m referred to, sex with minor referred to|
|Description:||Morgan and her crew are on their way to Madagascar. They end up too close to England. Shaw wants to go ashore. The visit brings back memories from his past.|
Morgan stood on deck watching her crew raise the sails. It had been easier than she’d anticipated, trying to convince her men that the western seas were a little too hot for them these days. Besides, there might be riches enough for the taking on the isles of the Caribbean sea, but the East most likely had more to offer.
It had long been Morgan’s fancy, to see other waters than the ones where she’d been raised. In particular, the huge island of Madagascar on the other side of Africa tempted her. In all the accounts she’d heard from other travelers, there was plenty of gold to be found there. And if they tired of Madagascar there were other lands further east, all as bountiful. China. India. Sumatra. Java.
So now they sailed east, for the first time in anyone’s lifetime. Shaw and Trotter hailed from England, but both had sailed west at a young age.
Bowen loved to hear their stories about the old country. After his watch had ended, Bowen would pester Shaw and Bowen for stories of their far off homeland. Shaw told long, embellished stories, which made Morgan laugh, but Bowen took them for truth. Trotter had less adventure and wonders to tell of, but Morgan deemed them more truthful.
By the time young Bowen had turned in, Morgan would pour herself another drink, offer one to Shaw or anyone else who visited her cabin, and talk. King Charles would scamper across her desk to snatch up pieces of fruit or nuts, then dart away and hide on a high shelf, never taking his eyes off the hairless ones.
The night after they’d set sail for Africa, Morgan cast William Shaw an amused glance.
“You are filling that boy’s head with nonsense. Even I know that not even half of what you tell him is true.”
Shaw looked aggrieved. He opened his mouth to assure his mistress, or – quite literally – his owner – of the veracity of his accounts, but Morgan stopped him with a hand gesture.
“No. I’m no gullible child you can dazzle with tall tales. Tell me something that is true or don’t bother telling me anything about your home.”
“My lady, it is merely a matter of perspective -”
“Mm. Quite so, and I prefer the perspective of scientific truth. Come now, didn’t you tell me you were a man of science, on the day we met?”
“I may have done so, and that, my lady, is the truth.”
“Oh, please. Spare me the shop talk. Tell me about the tides around the English coast. Which way did you go? By Ireland? Scotland? A southern route?”
“We sailed by way of Ireland. I was told we were lucky. Our journey lasted a mere four months. At times, I hear, one might be delayed for months on end, and be forced to take in supplies in foreign ports.”
“Ah. What about the tides?”
“I am no sailor. That I cannot tell you. I believe we were lucky. No great storms shook us.”
“You have your sea legs, I’ll grant you that.”
Morgan frowned as she thought ahead to the long weary months of travel, before they even rounded the Cape of Good Hope. She had been told that pirates traveled the waters around Mauretania. If they attacked the Morning Star, they would learn that not all travelers sailed unprepared. They were welcome to try.
In the end, she pushed the charts aside. Time enough to worry about what lay ahead when they’d crossed the Atlantic.
“I’m weary. Time for bed.”
Shaw put down his tankard and rose from his seat, a smile playing on his lips. Morgan too, was smiling, a wicked glint in her eye.
“Well. I trust you like your accomodations below?”
Shaw’s smile faded slightly. There was a bunk below decks which had been given to him, but he rarely spent the night there. It was a matter of silent comment among the crew men, but Shaw did not think any man dared speak openly about their captain’s morals.
“My lady -”
“You have a complaint? Shall we bring it to mr Blair’s attention? Or mr Glasspoole’s? Is mr Bowen keeping you awake with clamors for more stories? Are you perhaps concerned less mr Trotter ruin you in a game of dice?”
Shaw put a stop to his mistress’ hilarity by slowly and deliberately removing his shirt. Morgan’s grin widened, but the words spilling out of her mouth came to an abrupt stop as she caught sight of her slave’s chest. The candlelight flickered across his smooth honey-colored skin, set off the golden highlights in his hair and made his eyes glint.
“Enough talk. Since it appears you do not appreciate our hospitality below decks, I suppose I shall have to bid you welcome here.”
Shaw’s smile returned and he bent to remove his breeches. When he looked up, he found that his mistress had likewise shed her own garments and was already stretched out, on her side, watching him. Her hand shot out and grabbed Shaw’s wrist and pulled him down.
This time, she really did cease to speak.
Many weeks passed and though they had timed their journey well, twice rough weather had forced them off course. They were now too far to the north, for Morgan’s taste. If they did not watch out, they would find themselves yet again within reach of the British Navy. Morgan sat at her desk, fingers drumming restlessly against the wooden surface.
She called Blair, Glasspoole and Trotter to her cabin, leaving Bowen, Shaw and the others, nervously pacing the deck.
“Gentlemen. It seems we have to make a choice. Do we keep trying to find the southern route or do we risk passing this close to British waters? Trotter? What do you say?”
“Captain, I cannot say much as to the sea routes, since I have never traveled in this direction before, nor have I ever been commander of a ship, however – I do know the risk of getting caught by my former colleagues, brothers in arms, as it were, is great.”
“Mr Blair? Mr Glasspoole?”
The dark-skinned man caught her gaze and held it. He was an awe-inspiring man, to say the least. Morgan was glad he was on her side.
“As Trotter is saying, the risk will be great. However, I believe it is the only way. The winds have blown us severely off course and we will run out of supplies long before we reach shore anywhere less hostile. We could try to land on the Dutch or French coasts, but both would take us dangerously close to England. Our only other option would be to return to the Americas and try again next season.”
That was not at all to Morgan’s liking. Turning back simply wasn’t in her vocabulary.
“If we risk running out of supplies going in this direction, I’d say we risk it even more if we go all the way back.”
“So you are telling me our only option is to continue and stick our heads in the noose?”
“That is so.”
“Very well. So be it. This long journey was beginning to bore me. Perhaps a bit of a fight will cheer me up. Dismissed.”
Her two right hand men bowed and left, followed by Trotter, who also bowed politely.
Once the meeting was over, Shaw returned and sat down facing her.
“The men are talking about our route, which will take us dangerously close to British shores. Is that true?”
“Yes. It seems we have no choice.”
Shaw nodded, but it was plain his mind was elsewhere.
Morgan got up and went outside. She loved to stand on deck, to see the waves crashing around the bow, to watch how the wind filled the sails and listen to the yards slapping against the mast. This far out to sea, you didn’t hear the cries of seagulls as much as when you approached land. Still, a few bold ones would follow a ship straight across the sea.
The tang of salt in the air made Morgan recall how many times she’d stood like this on the Morning Star, with her father. She didn’t feel sentimental. After all, life on a pirate ship cured you of that early on. Still, it made her think fondly of the old rascal.
With each day, they approached the coasts of the British Isles more closely. They had decided to round the west coast of Ireland, then try for a southern route, taking them down the coast of France, then Spain and Portugal, and finally, past the Pillars of Hercules.
If they made it that far, without incident, they would try to land on Gran Canaria, the largest isle of the Canaries, to take on water and other supplies.
Any day now, they would sight the Irish coast.
Morgan had noticed that Shaw hadn’t been himself lately. His buoyant spirit seemed somewhat dampened. In the past weeks, Bowen had been hard put to draw any words about his homeland out of him. It occurred to Morgan that Shaw was concerned with the risk of capture by the British Navy. She realized that beyond what she’d learned for herself, since they’d made each other’s acquaintance in the slave market, she knew little or nothing about his past.
That night, after she’d conferred with mr Glasspoole and mr Blair, she decided to have a word with Shaw. He might still be her slave, formally, but in her heart, she saw him as any other lover, not a mere possession. His welfare weighed on her mind, as much as that of any member of her crew and perhaps a little more.
“Will – what is on your mind?”
Startled, Shaw looked up, facing her, yet somehow, she had the impression that he was attempting to hide something from her. His gaze was veiled.
“My lady -”
“Don’t bother. Your prattle does not fool me. Tell me or not, but don’t try to pull the wool over my eyes.”
“I – could we find a way to go ashore?”
“In Ireland? Why?”
“No. In England.”
“Are you crazy? I thought it was that very prospect which frightened you.”
“Yes. It does frighten me. However – there is something I feel it is my duty to tend to, since we are now passing so closely by the west coast of England.”
“What is in England? An old sweetheart?”
“No. I would rather not -”
“You would rather not tell me, yet you would have me risk my ship and my crew by landing on enemy territory. You ask a lot, William. I trust you are aware of that?”
“My lady – it is a family matter.”
“Family? Aha. Tell me more.”
Shaw bowed to his mistress and, remembering that he was technically still her property, he forced himself to go on.
“My brothers. It is them I wish enquire about. When I left England it was as a prisoner. I was being deported for – theft.”
Morgan noted the brief pause before Shaw named the crime he had been convicted of. She wondered if if perhaps he had committed murder, but instantly dismissed the thought. As she well rememered, she had been the one who had had to teach Shaw how to kill. Unless he’d poisoned or suffocated someone, she didn’t think murder was a crime he would be wont to commit.
“What about your brothers? They must be grown men by now.”
“When I left them they were not. I would like to make sure of their welfare.”
“Under what circumstances did you leave them?”
“They were apprenticed, Tom to a carpenter, Dan to a mason.”
“Well, then. I should think they were in better hands than you yourself. How old were you when you were deported?”
“I was eighteen. Tom was fifteen and Dan thirteen.”
“What makes you think they are in need of your help now, so many years later?”
“I feel honor bound to seek them out and if I can, offer them my assistance. My share of the treasure -”
Morgan sighed. She could understand Shaw’s wish to provide for his brothers. However, his request was quite out of the question.
“I do see your position, Will, but would you have me risk getting us all killed just so you can see your brothers again?”
He bowed his head again, but wouldn’t meet her eyes. It was ridiculous, but Morgan felt as if she had just stricken Shaw across the face. His love for his brothers was touching. She disliked having to disappoint him. To cover her discomfiture, she began to talk again, picking a topic at random.
“So there were three of you? I believe I had at least that many bastard brothers or sisters, but my father never acknowledged them. He was married to my mother, which made me his heir.”
“There were five of us. However, before I left, my sisters were already dead. The plague took them.”
“I’m sorry. Will, I wish I could take the risk, but -”
“I understand. Think nothing of it.”
His face, normally so open and amiable, for once shut her out.
They passed Ireland but just half a day to the south, they ran into trouble. The ship was not of the British Navy, or at least it did not fly their flag. Morgan guessed it might be a privateer, and if so, it might as well have belonged to the Navy. She cursed her luck, but deep down, she welcomed the chance to test her strength against the English.
The ship was heavily armed, but it seemed the captain lacked in seaman’s skills. Morgan’s crew easily outran them and fired a cannon ball through their rigging. Just as they were leaving, the others scored a hit which gouged a hole through the hull, well above the water, but bad enough.
The Morning Star made its getaway, but found itself forced to dock and make repairs.
Morgan called a meeting with Glasspoole, Blair and Trotter to determine where they would be least at risk. These seas were strange to the former two, but Trotter suggested somewhere along the shores of Leinster.
Morgan studied the charts, considered their position and recalled Shaw’s request. Surely now that the damage was already done, they might dock somewhere along the coast of Cornwall or even enter the Bristol Channel. She’d never been one to shun risks and now she fancied seeing the old country, from whence her mother had come.
“Trotter – could we not find a harbor on the southwestern coast of England? Cornwall or – even enter the Bristol Channel?”
Trotter’s eyes darted from her face to the ones of the other two participants of the meeting, seeking to uncover the jest in her words. Finding none, his face fell.
“My lady -”
“What makes you think I’m a lady?”
“I have a good mind to give you thirty lashes. You may address me as Captain or if you wish, Morgan, but do not call me madam. It makes me sound as if I run a bordello. As you might understand, that is quite out of the question. I am not partial to hearing women’s chatter. You were saying -”
“My apologies, Captain, I meant no offense. Please, if you want my opinion, do not venture so close to the English coast. It would not be safe.”
“Quite. However, if I were to tell you that I have suddenly found myself craving the sight of my mother’s homeland?”
Trotter’s mouth gaped slightly open, but he recovered himself. He had already seen that this woman could perform miracles. It appeared she had the devil’s own luck and perhaps she had good reason for her seeming madness.
“In that case, I think I can suggest a place in Cornwall. A smuggler’s nest, but I believe you will be able to find a way of negotiating a deal with them.”
“We shall see. Mr Glasspoole? Mr Blair? What say you?”
Glasspoole shook his head, but knew better than to argue with Morgan. She had always been headstrong and unless he wished to challenge her right to command the Morning Star, he had no way of dissuading her.
Blair looked as if he had much on his mind, but merely nodded his agreement, without making any comment.
“Then we are in agreement. Carry on, gentlemen.”
Later that night, once Bowen had returned below, Morgan sat, a tankard in her hand, deep in thought. Shaw studied her face closely, oblivious to the tankard in his own hand. He had heard the men talking about her bold move and knew it was for his sake, but that did not make any sense. Why should Morgan go to such lengths to please a slave, albeit one that was also her lover?
“My lady -”
Morgan looked up, a smile playing on her lips.
“Well? You must have heard the change in plans.”
“My lady – I – find myself at a loss for words. Your generosity is beyond measure -”
“Will. Cut the crap. If you’re pleased, say so. Thank me if you want to, but do not seek to dazzle me with your fine turns of phrase.”
“Thank you. I will do my best to serve you well to show you my gratitude.”
“Mm. Still a bit flowery, but much better. Shall we?”
She had abandoned the pretense of making him sleep below decks. Without much ado, she pulled off her shirt and breeches and lay down. She watched Shaw do the same. Lying like this, he found it easy to forget the official nature of their relationship.
The talk of returning to England, had turned his thoughts to memories of the old days, a time he rarely revisited in his mind. Yet, that night, he slept fitfully and was haunted by bad dreams.
He was back. Yet again he was a small boy, leading a carefree life in the lanes and alleys of his home town. His father was dead, and his sisters were of marriageable age, but he and his brothers still lived with his mother. Edward, his mother’s newest friend, was coming by in the evening and Will was pleased. They would have pie for supper.
Edward did not stay long. Owen, the Welshman, did. He was short and wiry and had a fierce temper, but at least he moved in and spent part of his wages on Susan and her boys. By that time, his mother had already begun to cough blood. Her once so pretty, rounded face, was now lined and sallow, her eyes bloodshot and dim.
Most of the day, she spent lying in the kitchen, overseeing the work. That was mainly done by Will. He barely remembered the days when a girl from down the street came in during the day to see to most of the chores.
Once, Will had even had hopes of going to school for a year or two. His fondest wish was to learn his letters. Now, he was glad if he could go to bed with a full stomach. Owen grumbled over the cost of keeping three such big lads. At least one of them ought to be apprenticed, or put into service.
Susan objected. Tom and Dan were too young and she needed her Will to help her around the house. Owen scowled and spat, mumbling something about a girly boy. Will’s golden curls were pretty enough to please any girl and at thirteen he had already had his share of girls, smiling at him and giggling behind their hands. He would smile and stare, but though his mind was full of elegant phrases, they died unsaid on his tongue, his being too shy and usually too tired and hungry to bring them forth in time.
One night, Will woke up to hear his mother’s persistent coughing. He slept lightly, worrying about her health. This time, he heard Owen curse at length, in Welsh, before getting out of bed.
Will lay in his bed, wondering where Owen was heading. It was not uncommon for Owen to go to the outhouse during the night, but this time he stumbled around the small room, until he was more or less brought up short by Will’s bed.
Will lay unmoving, hoping he had not somehow angered Owen. He could hear the man’s harsh breathing, and now he felt a hand moving across the rags he covered himself with at night. It was no use pretending to be asleep. If Owen wanted him to get up and do some chore for him, he might as well do it, before Owen flew into a rage.
“What is it?”
“Be quiet, boy. You will wake the others. There. You’re a good boy, aren’t you? Pretty, too, like a girl. ’tis almost as if -”
To Will’s horror, he felt Owen’s full weight getting on the bed, then on top of him.
“No. What are you -”
“I said, be quiet. If you’re a good boy, I will make sure you have something nice for supper tomorrow.”
Will felt Owen grab his hand and guide it towards his groin. The boy’s mind was a blank. This he could not have foreseen and he felt at a loss as to what to do. On the one hand, he sensed this was a grave sin, on the other – if Owen did not get what he wanted, he would be angry. Already, Will had learned to fear those outbursts of violence. Tom was half deaf in one ear, because he’d answered back one day nearly a year past.
In the end, Will dared not disobey. His fingers clumsily performed the service Owen demanded of them, though he felt frozen and numb. Afterwards, Owen grumbled and said he could forget about the nice bit at supper. He’d have to do better.
In the nights that followed, Will perforce learned how to please Owen. On the nights he didn’t come, he lingered over Tom’s or Dan’s beds, making Will hastily offer his own services, rather than let his little brothers suffer the same fate.
His mother passed away, not long after, and from then on, Owen often brought Will back to his own bed. He also managed to apprentice Tom and Dan to local craftsmen.
Then one day, there was talk of the plague. At first, it wasn’t in their small town, it was in Oxford and in the harbor towns closer to the coast. Only days later, the first victim was found in their town. It was a traveler, a tradesman come from Gloucester. The week after, two people in Will’s street were stricken. One of them, a young woman who was a friend of his oldest sister, fell down and died, in the church, during mass.
After that, anyone who had the means, fled to the countryside. Will’s family did not. His oldest sister died within weeks of her friend. Owen was struck down, one day in the marketplace. Will’s one remaining sister died late that spring.
Will had moved in with her, after Owen’s death, but now, he found himself without a roof over his head. His sisters’ widowed husbands took their children and fled to the countryside, leaving everything behind. One of them offered Will to come along, but as his brothers were still in town, he did not want to go.
As summer progressed, the dog days made it difficult to stay, even for those who had the means to support themselves. The carpenter to whom Tom was apprenticed, moved his household to a cousin’s farm in the Thames valley and the mason Dan was apprenticed to, fled to a village on the other side of Oxford, where his kin hailed from.
At last, Will found himself without any ties to keep him, and he too, ran as far as he could. He was lucky enough to be given a ride on a cart, pulled by a tired horse. The farmer was kindly and asked nothing in return. He was headed south, and so it happened that Will ended up in Devonshire.
Another cart took him further south and before the worst days of autumn made the roads impassable, he found himself in Plymouth.
The plague had taken so many victims, there was work to be had, but Will was a slight boy and had no particular skills, other than household chores and the shopkeepers and craftsmen were reluctant to let a stranger into their houses.
As the weather turned colder, so the number of victims grew more scarce, but the chill made it hard for Will to find a place to sleep, where he would not freeze to death. He found himself drawn towards the inns and taverns in the dock area. There was warmth and food and at times a landlord would let him sweep the floor or the yard. For that, he would be given a piece of bread or pie, half a tankard of ale, and a place in front of the fire, once the last customers had departed.
The sailors were often friendly and had all sorts of wonders from foreign shores to show off. One had a brightly colored bird sitting on his shoulder. The bird could speak. It said a few words, like land ho, all hands on deck or ahoy mates.
Another sailor had a wooden leg, and there were others who spoke strange tongues. Once Will saw a Chinaman, and once even a Hindu with skin brown as mud.
Will listened to their stories and told himself that one day, he too, would sail the seven seas and see all the strange sights on the other side of the world.
The sailors not only told strange tales, they showed themselves appreciative of a pretty towheaded boy like Will. He learned not to turn his nose up as those offers, though deep down, all he wanted was to run a mile. To begin with he feared the sailors, but as time went by, he learned that if he took care and did not follow too far or let himself be shut in, he would not be harmed.
In the spring, it seemed the outbreak of the plague was over for the time being. Will began to frequent other inns, closer to the town centre and there he had the fortune of meeting a physician who had use for a servant boy. Will could hardly believe his luck, when the man offered to pay him half a crown a year, room and board and one set of clothing per year.
The first night he spent under the physician’s roof, Will learned the real reason for the man’s seeming generosity, but the prospect of learning, not only letters, but also Latin and other scholarly mysteries, made Will swallow his pride and accept the terms. Nothing came without a price. He had learned that at a young age. Again, he found that there was nothing to fear. The physician did not cause him any pain.
He stayed in the house just outside of town for almost three years, until his master suffered a fatal stroke. His heirs had no use for a servant boy, and the house was put up for sale.
Again, Will drifted back towards Plymouth and the docks. He had not forgotten his childish dream of sailing the seven seas. But he was disappointed. Cabin boys were hired at a much younger age and a youth of his age was expected to have years of experience at sea. No one would employ him, even on a fishing boat.
He did find that even at his age, there were men who would pay for his companionship, but again, times were hard and he found no other employment. At times, when he was ravaged by hunger, he would succumb to the temptation and steal a piece of bread, a fruit, or a pie from a market stall or even, from the windowsills or on counters inside open windows.
A friend taught him how to pick pockets and soon he had perfected the practice. After learning fine manners and the speech of a gentleman at the physician’s house, he used the the loot from a foolish customer who had drunk too deeply of a landlord’s beverages, to buy a coat, shirt and breeches more suited to a man of letters.
From then on, he put his mind to perpetrating minor fraud, with great ¯©lan, which he’d developed during the years of his service to the physician.
One day, he had the misfortune of defrauding the wrong man. The gentleman in question turned out to be a judge and Will’s fledgling skills were no match for his trained eye. While Will was sitting in a tavern, spending some of the gold he’d taken, congratulating himself on his deftness, the door opened and two bailiffs walked in. They marched straight up to him and before he had time to make his escape, hindered by the untimely appearance of a new customer, he was apprehended, taken to the Sheriff’s dungeon, awaiting sentencing.
During the course of the trial, witnesses came forward, encouraged by a reward, posted by the judge.
He sat in the dock, listening to the list of charges against him. They not surprisingly, included theft, fraud and – that of performing unnatural practices in exchange for money. Each one of the charges carried a heavy penalty and Will was not surprised to find that he was being deported. He was going to the American colonies. At last he would be seeing the world, though in a way he had not been able to imagine, or wished to even contemplate.
The other prisoners in the dungeon had heard of his crimes and most would not abide his proximity, while others would taunt and jeer him, and more than once, he had the contents of a stinking bucket overturned on his shoes. One morning, he woke to find that during the night, someone had stolen not only his shoes, but also his jacket.
As he was being taken to the docks yet again, to be placed in the hold of a ship bound for America, the public had been warned of his arrival and boys and young men cast stones at him, or pieces of refuse. Women would jeer and call out names.
He found himself thrown into the cargo hold, along with twenty others, all men – no women on this journey. The crewmen, too, seemed aware of who he was, and while he was being shackled in place, along with the others, the men would paw at his hair and face, and again, call him names.
In the darkness below decks, he and the other prisoners were left alone, and kept shackled until they had passed the northern coast of Ireland. That far out at sea, it was deemed safe to let them walk around freely. They were fed water and pieces of stale bread, worm-eaten and mouldy. The crusts were so hard, Will found them hard to chew, and was forced to soak them in water. Even then, they were scarcely edible.
His fellow prisoners mainly treated him with disdain and paid him no mind. There was one man, who appeared to be less harsh, but during the first night at sea, Will found out why that was so. He resigned himself to his fate and did as the man wanted. But what had passed between them did not go unnoticed by the other prisoners and seeking favor with the crewmen, who brought them food and water, a few of the others denounced them.
Will was taken up above decks, tied and subjected to ten lashes. The next three or four nights, he lay in agony, on his face, while he heard the other prisoners laugh and whisper about him.
Morgan was woken by the unfamiliar sensation of Shaw’s body shaking with sobs. The sounds of distress which escaped his lips surprised her. She had, after all, indulged his whim.
“Will – wake up. Will.”
She put a hand on his shoulder and shook him lightly. He came awake, suddenly, and overcome with shame, lest he’d given himself away, by talking in his sleep, he buried his face in the pillows, not wanting to tell Morgan anything of his past.
“Will? Are you awake?”
He mumbled something barely audible.
“What? I can’t hear you.”
“I said, yes, and I am sorry I disturbed your sleep, my lady.”
Morgan shook her head. What was it about her that inspired certain men under her command to thus address her? However, she did not feel up to arguing about it at the moment.
“That’s fine, Will. What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. I believe it might be a disturbance of the humors, nothing of grave import. Perhaps something I ate.”
“I see. Well, shall we go back to sleep?”
“If you please, my lady.”
“Then by all means, let us do so. Oh, Will?”
“You know you will tell me eventually, do you not?”
He sighed. She was like enough right. There was something about this woman that could make him do anything she asked of him. It had been a long time since he’d last felt that way about anyone, and after his mother, it had never been a woman, until now.
Against Trotter’s better judgment, Morgan set out, in a carriage, with Will, to find any surviving kin of his. She refused to take any of the men, but as a concession, took Bowen, dressed as a servant boy. The boy reveled in the finery, and did his utmost to act the part.
Once again, Shaw found himself dressed as became a gentleman, or at least a man of some refinement. Morgan had indulged a rare whim and dressed the part of a lady, once more. Something about it appealed to her sense of humor.
Morgan kept her eyes and ears open and studied the strange countryside around her diligently. Before many days had passed, she had picked up their manner of speaking and was hoping she could pass herself off as a native lady. After talking the matter over with Shaw, she settled on a story to tell. She was from London and was seeing the countryside, while her husband was visiting friends in Oxford.
She did not see how Shaw could hope to find two young men in such a densely populated land, but did not wish to discourage him.
To her astonishment, it wasn’t long before he found an old neighbor who still remembered his family. It did not altogether surprise Morgan to find that Shaw was a name her lover had adopted after his arrival in the New World. But to her it mattered little what name a man went by. At least William was his given name and that was how she thought of him in any case.
By following the elusive trail from so many years ago, Shaw was at last able to trace his brother Tom. The carpenter had set up shop in Gloucester.
He stood at the carpenter’s door, heart pounding, trying to gather up the courage to knock on the door, but each time he was about to do so, his nerve failed him and he had to begin anew. Whatever else had happened in all these years, at least one of his brothers was still alive. He told himself that was more than he had a right to expect.
“Will? What are you waiting for?”
Morgan sensed his hesitation and unable to bear any more delay, she raised her own hand and brought it down on the surface of the door.
A woman opened the door, squinting suspiciously at her visitors, but their appearance seemed to reassure her and she smiled in what must have been intended as an inviting way.
“My lady, my lord. How may I help you?”
“Do you have a man by the name of Tom Marsh here?”
“Yes, my lady. It is my husband’s prentice.”
“May we speak to him? We have a message for him from his kin.”
“I didn’t think he had any kin left, except for his brother Dan in Oxford.”
Morgan kept staring pointedly at the woman, who stepped aside and let them in. She took them through and into a workshop at the back of the shop, where three men were hard at work. One seemed to be about the right age.
The three men stared at them in surprise and there seemed to be no recognition in Tom’s eyes, as they slid indifferently across Shaw’s features, ignored Bowen outright and lingered on Morgan. She smiled broadly at him, and his cheeks took on color.
Again, Shaw appeared to have lost the power of speech, so overcome with emotion was he. Morgan once again took charge.
“That is my name. How may I help you, my lady?”
“May we speak to you in private? We have a message for you from your kin.”
“Is anything amiss with Dan?”
“Not as far as we know.”
The carpenter, a man in his fifties, got up and greeted the visitors politely, but not servilely.
“Perhaps you would like to step outside, into our back yard? The wall separates it from the other yards. You may speak there in private.”
They proceeded outside, and once there, Morgan and Bowen retreated as far back as possible, to leave Shaw in peace to speak to his brother.
For a while, not a word was said and Morgan was wondering if yet again, she would be called upon to speak for her lover. It would seem rather gauche of him. But it appeared she need not have worried.
“Tom – do you not recognize me?”
“No, my lord. I can not say that I do. Have I made your acquaintance at some time in the past?”
“Yes. Tom, I’m your brother. Will.”
Tom stared at the visitor, seemingly unable to credit what he had just heard.
“Will? But you were – it’s impossible.”
“No. I have returned from across the sea. I wished to see you again and to ascertain that you were in good health.”
Tom’s expression changed and a scowl spread across his face.
“You – I have nothing to say to you. You should not have come. Do not tarnish our name. Begone.”
Shaw stood as if transfixed. It was as if he had not heard a single word his brother had said. He took one step forward, as if to placate his brother, or perhaps to plead with him. But Tom would not have any of it. He brushed past Shaw and his companions, without dignifying either of them with a glance.
Morgan did not understand what the exchange between the brothers had been been about, but she knew that their visit had failed dismally. She walked up to Shaw and placed a hand on his shoulder.
“Come. Let’s not linger here.”
Numbly, he let himself be led away from the murky, dank place.
They made their way back to their inn, where they spent the night. After Bowen had retreated to the small adjacent room, Morgan gently asked Shaw about his further plans.
“Do you wish to continue to Oxford to see your other brother? Or shall we leave well enough alone?”
“I – have to see Dan and make sure he is well too. Could we go on to Oxford before we sail?”
Morgan shrugged, feigning indifference. After all, she had given her word.
“The repairs will not be finished yet. And we shall want to take on supplies. Besides, I have a fancy to see this fabled Oxford. The weather is fine. Let us make the most of our little outing.”
Shaw shot his mistress a thankful stare, but Tom’s response had left a chill that was lingering inside him. So his brothers had been told about his disgrace. It saddened him, but he could not blame them. Tom was right. He had no right to tarnish the family name.
He spent another miserable night, barely sleeping, tossing and turning until dawn. Shortly afterwards, the first servants began to build the fires and bring buckets of water for those of their guests who wished to make their ablutions.
Within the hour, they set out for Oxford. Here, their search took longer and Shaw met no one he knew from the past.
Eventually, by the time Morgan was chafing at the delay, Shaw finally found the right mason. After enquiring at the mason’s home, they were directed to a building site not far from the house. It seemed a wealthy merchant was rebuilding his old home on a grander scale.
The site was full of burly men, naked to the waist, carrying heavy loads of bricks or pushing carts full of mortar.
This time, Shaw forced himself to push on. He could not very well let Morgan address these men. God only knew how men like these would react to the presence of a lady. He asked Morgan and Bowen to remain a few paces behind and as boldly as he could muster, he walked up to the man who appeared to be the foreman.
“Is there a man by the name of Marsh here? Daniel Marsh?”
The man regarded his visitor closely and reassured by his seeming wealth and standing, he let his face relax into a smile.
“Yes. He’s here.”
“May I have a word with him? I bring a message from his brother.”
The man turned and shouted at a group of three men who were working at a kiln at the far end of the site.
“Dan. Over here. Paddy can take over.”
A young man, as tall and bulky as the rest of the them, approached at a leisurely pace.
“Who are you?”
“May I speak with you in private? I have tidings of your brother.”
“Tom? Is aught amiss with him?”
“No. Can we -”
Dan looked around the building site, took in the visitor’s two companions, then studied the gentleman again, closely. At length, he nodded. He took his visitor to a sheltered corner under some trees, still within earshot of the visitors, if no one else, but at least the spot afforded them a measure of privacy.
“Dan – it’s Will. William. Your brother.”
Dan’s eyes bored into Shaw, nailing him to the spot. He felt as if Dan was laying bare his very soul, seeing not only his worst shame, but every petty little misdeed; each lie and fraud and theft. Suddenly, Shaw knew that coming here had been a mistake. He’d placed his new friends at risk, for his own selfish reasons and it had all been for naught.
Dan’s face hardened and he frowned at the man standing before him, who was at least half a head shorter.
“How dare you show your face here? Get yourself out of my sight.”
“Dan, please – I merely wanted to see for myself that you and Tom were well and -”
“We want nothing to do with your kind. It’s a disgrace. Do not show your face here again, you filthy bugger.”
Shaw’s face drained of all color and he must have taken half a step backwards, because he caught his foot in something and nearly went down.
Dan raised his fist in the air as if he was about to bodily cast his brother out.
“A pox on you, you bloody catamite.”
He blinked and found that the lady in his brother’s company had moved forward and was now standing in front of him, a strange look on her face. She took another step forward and suddenly Dan felt a pinprick of pain in a spot he sorely wished to keep safe. The lady – or whatever kind of woman she was – spoke softly, so close to his ear he knew no one else must have been able to catch her words.
“Go easy on the name calling, my friend. One little jab of this and you can find yourself a whole new career. Isn’t that exciting? Now, I want you to apologize to my husband here and tell him how very sorry you are that you spoke out of turn. Can you do that for me, Dan, my boy? No. Don’t back off now. Just smile and say you’re sorry.”
As if to emphasize her words, she stabbed once more, making Dan whimper softly, his eyes round with fear.
“Will – I’m sorry.”
Morgan beamed at Dan.
“There. That wasn’t so hard, now was it? And now we shall take our leave of you. Other pressing engagements. You know how it is. Or perhaps not. Just carry on with your work. Turn and walk away, there’s a good boy.”
She grinned broadly as Dan hurried away, back to his kiln. Nodding towards the gate through which they had entered, she was able to herd Shaw and Bowen along, until they were outside in the street. She didn’t dare to relax her guard until they’d turned and turned again, and found themselves in the same street as the mason’s house.
They were trying to find their way back to the inn, when an elderly woman appeared at Morgan’s shoulder.
Morgan glanced unconcernedly at the woman. She was too old and frail to present any danger. As an afterthought, Morgan began to rummage through her purse. There was no harm in giving a penny to a poor old beggar and it might be in character for the sort of lady she was supposed to be.
“Are you the lady who asked about the Marsh boy?”
“So what if we were?”
“I was merely wondering. You see, Ellie Marsh – Daniel’s sister – left a child, or at least there’s still one of her brood left here.”
“A child? I see. Thank you, my good woman. Where can we find this child?”
“Truth to tell, my lady, he’s a bit of a rascal. You will find him over in Beggar’s Lane.”
The old woman pointed her thumb in the direction of a narrow, mean-looking street. Morgan gave her a penny, then continued on towards the alley. It might be a trap, but she failed to see how Dan might have set it up so fast. They were only five minutes away from the building site. It might merely be part of the usual setup to lure unsuspecting gentry into an ambush. If so they had a surprise coming to them. They were welcome to try.
“Will? Are you still determined to seek out all your kin here before we take our leave of this charming island?”
“If you please, my lady. The child might be in need of my help. Ellie – poor Ellie, she’d be devastated if she knew how the boy was living.”
“I thought so. Alright. Let’s go and see if we can find him. He sounds like a handful, but who wants a meek, dull child?”
Will recognized his mistress’ sense of humor and did not reply.
After asking around, they were directed to a small square, where some farmers were trying to sell their produce, wilting greens and other hardly appetizing fare. A few boys were swarming around the stalls, begging and trying to snatch away a tidbit when the owner of the stall wasn’t looking.
It wasn’t long until they’d learned which one was Ellie Marsh’s son. Morgan gave a few brief orders and she and her men spread out. Compared to many other chases, this was rather easy, but the boy kicked and squirmed hard enough almost to break free.
Morgan grabbed his chin and made him stand still.
“Enough. Are you Ben Taylor?”
“Who wants to know?”
“William Marsh. Your uncle.”
The boy’s eyes darted suspiciously from face to face, settling on Shaw’s.
“The pervert? He’s dead or at least far away. They deported him to the colonies. You’ll have to come up with something better than that or I aint coming. What you want with me anyway?”
“For starters I want a little respect out of you, when you talk about my husband.”
Morgan let that word sink in, before she continued. She could tell she had the boy’s attention now.
“That’s right. My husband, William Shaw, also known as William Marsh. Any objections?”
“It’s your funeral, lady, not mine. What you want with me?”
“Will, are you sure you want to help this guttersnipe?”
“It’s Ellie’s child. I can tell. The eyes, the nose – it’s all her.”
“Fine. Alright, Ben, we can do this the easy way or the hard way. I can have my husband and our servant drag you all the way to our inn – or -”
The boy seemed to be listening keenly.
“Or you will follow us, at our pace.”
“Why? What’s in it for me?”
Morgan fumbled in her purse and pulled out a shilling. The boy’s eyes grew to enormous proportions. Obviously this was a great deal of money to him.
“This. It’s all yours, if you come with us. Lucky for you that your uncle is still kindly disposed towards you, after the way you were talking about him.”
“If that’s my uncle, then it was all true. He was sentenced and everything. They deported him to America. Honestly.”
“I see. Well, what’s it going to be? Shall I have them drag you or will you come willingly? You have my word that you’ll get the shilling after I’ve made sure you’re going to come with us.”
“Why? What you want me for?”
“I told you, Ben, that your uncle wishes to provide for you.”
The boy seemed to be thinking quickly, then he nodded.
“Alright. But I’m not doing any of that.”
“No one’s asking you do anything. Yet. I might have a thing or two for you to do later on. My servant, mr Bowen, will let you know.”
To Morgan’s surprise, the boy followed them readily enough to the inn and though he was surprised to find they were leaving within the hour, he made no objection. Morgan told him that they’d be going on a ship. That seemed to give him food for thought.
In the time that had passed since Dan first denounced his brother, Shaw had said nothing. He kept himself to himself and avoided meeting Morgan’s or Bowen’s gaze.
They travelled through the night, changing horses twice, before finally allowing themselves to rest. Morgan wasn’t intimidated by Dan Marsh, but she knew they ought to hurry, now that their business was concluded.
She thought she had found the explanation to Shaw’s reticence about his past and the reason why he’d hesitated over the charges against him. A pretty boy such as he would have been, must have been in much demand in that particular trade. Now that she knew the truth, she thought she had found the key to Shaw’s complex character. What a sad life. How tragic to come all the way to England only to find his brothers so little understanding and forgiving.
Once they were inside their rooms at the inn, Morgan became aware of something else. A pervading foul smell. It didn’t take her long to trace it to their new companion.
“Mr Bowen. Send for a barrel of hot water. Please make sure our new cabin boy is bathed and deloused.”
Ben watched them, frowning, but made no comment.
Morgan wished to speak to Shaw alone. They retreated to the inner room and left Bowen in the smaller outer room to carry out her instructions.
He looked up, his face gaunt and raw.
“My lady – I – I do not know what to say -”
“I’m sorry. Those brothers of yours weren’t worthy of your consideration. Never mind. It’s been an interesting outing all the same. I’m glad I’ve seen the old country.”
Shaw’s lips twitched and he seemed about to say something, but in the end, he merely bowed his head in silent despair. Morgan reached out and pulled him close. She could feel him tense up and expected him to pull back, but he remained standing within her embrace. It occurred to her that he still saw himself as her slave, a mere piece of property. She didn’t know what to do about that, at the moment, so she contented herself with holding him.
Bowen’s voice calling her from outside recalled her to reality. What had that acursed brat done now? If the boy had done a runner, she would not waste any time finding him. Shaw would just have to accept that his family was no good and leave it at that.
“Captain. Please. You might want to give this – urchin – a bath yourself.”
Morgan started. What was going on? Bowen was never wont to refuse any order she gave him. She had better find out what was wrong.
“Get some rest now, Will. I’ll be right back.”
He remained standing where she had left him, drooping, as if he hadn’t heard her.
She opened the door and looked around the smaller room. Bowen had backed off a bit from the barrel, filled with steaming water. His eyes darted back and forth but never lingered on Ben, who was crossing his arms across his chest, looking as if he was determined to hold on to his dreadful rag of a shirt.
Morgan had just about lost every trace of patience. She walked up to the boy and with one single strong movement, she ripped the shirt off him. The boy scrambled to hold on to the pathetic rag and thus removed the hands from their position covering the chest area.
Morgan blinked in surprise, then began to laugh. No wonder Bowen was so uncomfortable. A girl, not a boy. Why should that surprise her so? She often chose to walk around in men’s breeches, for convenience. For a girl, living on the street, she imagined that it would also be a matter of convenience to appear to be a boy. At least in most cases, she added, recalling Shaw’s sad fate.
“I see. Mr Bowen. If you wish, you may go downstairs and have some ale or cider. Or you could go into my room and wait there. It seems I will give our new companion a bath, after all.”
Bowen glanced nervously at her, then chose to go downstairs to have that drink.
Morgan turned to the girl.
“Alright. Get in, or I’ll shove you in myself. That stink will have to go. Afterwards, you can choose for yourself if you want a dress or something like what mr Bowen is wearing.”
The girl stared darkly at Morgan, then after apparently having measured her potential strength, gave in and got into the barrel.
Morgan oversaw the girl’s ablutions, to make sure she didn’t cheat, then reluctantly took on the job of delousing her.
“So, what’s your real name? Your mother never named you Ben, I presume?”
“Bess. I see. Now you will listen to me. Will is very dear to me. I will not listen to any talk about his past. Is that clear? As far as I’m concerned, anyone is entitled to starting a new life. You too.”
“I didn’t think one of those buggers could please a woman.”
Morgan’s hand twitched as she considered and discarded the idea of slapping the girl so hard her head shook. She would give it one more try, then if nothing else worked, she’d give the girl a whipping she’d never known before.
“You’d be surprised. And that was the last of your comments about Will. Trust me. You don’t want provoke me.”
“Fine. I’m only telling you what I heard.”
“Then by all accounts, you do not know much. You should consider yourself lucky. Today you have started a new life. Make the most of it.”
“I said fine. It’s not as if I’m not grateful.”
“Good. Now act as if you are. Be quiet and respectful. Take your cues from mr Bowen and I’m sure we’ll get along fine.”
“I’ll never call that boy mister. If Bowen is his name, then that’s what I’ll call him.”
“That’s between the two of you. Don’t give me any trouble or I’ll leave you behind, no matter what Will thinks.”
“Go to bed now. I won’t hear anything else from you tonight.”
The girl nodded, but her eyes still blazed at Morgan. Deep down, Morgan was chuckling to herself. That girl might still turn out alright. She had spirit.
Bowen returned shortly and locked the door, keeping the girl inside. Morgan considered being respectable and letting the girl sleep in her room, but decided that being a lady would be far too strenuous. Besides, she knew Bowen wouldn’t try to take advantage of the girl and she didn’t think the girl would dare to physically attack Bowen, so they should both be safe.
Morgan herself was more concerned with Shaw. Once she was back inside her room, she noticed that Shaw had gone to bed. He was curled up with his back to her and though she tried to speak to him, he didn’t stir. She didn’t think he was asleep, but she decided not to push him. Time enough, once they were back on the Morning Star.
To her relief and that of her crew, they made it back safely, then made their way through the Celtic Sea, and further south, past Brittany and into the Bay of Biscay. Rough weather kept them busy for weeks, until they finally passed the Pillars of Hercules.
Still, Shaw wouldn’t speak to Morgan and without a word of explanation, he had returned below decks to sleep among the crew. Morgan had taken Bowen aside and prevailed upon him not to tell the other men about what he’d learned about Shaw. Bowen had regarded her seriously, then nodded. She knew she could take his word for it.
If only she could be as sure about the girl. Morgan had found herself compelled to find Bess a tiny cabin of her own. With considerable difficulty, she had had her men clear out a small storage room. It seemed Bess appreciated it. Morgan guessed that it would be the first time the girl ever found herself sleeping alone like that.
She did not try to deal with the girl again, merely contenting herself with keeping a sharp eye and ear out for any attempts to spread tales about Shaw. Nothing came to her attention and it seemed Shaw’s secret was still safe.
She only wished she could draw him out and get the old Shaw back, the way he had been on the day she’d bought him at the slave market. That charm and grace had impressed her then and very soon captivated her. Now she saw very little of all that.
Shaw slunk in corners and kept himself in the shadows, away from the light. He rarely spoke to her and preferred to keep to his own company.
It pained Morgan to see him thus and puzzled over a way to raise his spirits. In the end, she lost her patience and called him to her cabin, bidding him close the door behind him.
“Will, will you not speak to me?”
“About what, my lady?”
“About what is weighing on your mind. I miss you. Surely I have done nothing to deserve this cold distance you keep?”
“My lady – surely you no longer harbor any doubts as to what manner of servant you have bound to you.”
“Oh, enough of the slave talk. I would tear up that contract if I still had it, but you know I don’t. Don’t hide behind that nonsense. You know what are to me.”
“As you must surely know what I am.”
“Don’t be absurd. Let us talk about that, since it seems to be weighing on your mind. Have you ever heard that the proof of the pudding is in the eating?”
“Why so dense all of a sudden? Where are your scholarly manners?”
“You know, or ought to know by now, that I am a mere fraud. No physician, no scholar, no gentleman. Just a thief and a scoundrel – and -”
“Yes, that is the heart of the matter, isn’t it? What is the truth to those dark allegations? It seems impossible to me that they were referring to the same William I know.”
Shaw sagged and Morgan saw his face drain of all color. She hastily poured him a drink, then pushed him into her own chair behind her desk. Not until he had had a sip or two of the rum, did she let him put the tankard down.
“It is true that I was convicted of sodomy.”
“I see. And were you guilty of the charge?”
His eyes met hers, and the look filled with pleading tore at her heart, but she knew that unless she could make him exorcise the demons of the past, they could never regain what they’d had before their return to England.
In the end, he nodded sadly.
“I – not by choice, but by necessity.”
Morgan nodded. That confirmed her suspicions.
“That’s what I thought.”
“I would rather not speak of it, if you don’t mind.”
“I don’t want to speak of it either, but you forced me. Will you not let the past rest? I know who you are. That is enough for me. You are the one insisting on keeping this distance.”
“I would have given anything for you not to learn the truth about me.”
“Will, did you not hear me? I know the truth about you. The only truth worth knowing. Put the past behind you. Be content you were able to save one member of your family. I quite like her. She has guts. Forget the rest of them.”
“I loved them so much. When Owen – my mother’s new man – would use us I – offered myself in their stead. Yet now, they would not acknowledge me. But I couldn’t have acted differently. They were my brothers. They are my brothers. I am still glad they have done so well for themselves.”
“Then so am I. For your sake. Come on, Will. Don’t let the past stand between us. I am not used to begging.”
It seemed at last that Shaw had regained some of his spirit and even a slight smile played on his lips.
“Then I will not keep you waiting any longer. If you want my company, you shall have it. You might have torn that contract up, but it wouldn’t have changed the fact that I am and always will be your willing slave. You have but to command me.”
“Excellent. I shall hold you to that. Will, get into bed. I will finish my study of the charts presently, and then we shall see.”
Shaw bowed his head, and Morgan fancied she spied a glint in his eyes that hinted that she had had her wish. The old Shaw was back. A little sadder, perhaps, but still the same old Shaw. She’d missed him. It didn’t take her long to finish her study, and once she was done, she shed her garments and got into bed.
“You don’t really speak Latin, do you?”
“Oh, a mere smattering of the most frequent words, no more.”
“And you were never really trained as a physician?”
“Yes and no. I was the servant of a physician once. He taught me many things. One might say that I have the makings of a doctor’s assistant, if not the doctor himself. And before you ask, I – served him in other ways as well. I considered myself lucky he was such a man. Others had used my services for far less recompense.”
“I see. I wasn’t going to ask. My point was merely this: why don’t you serve as our physician? On a permanent basis. I have every faith in your skills.”
“Thank you, my lady. I would be glad to serve you and the crew in that capacity. If you have need of translations or other works of a scholar, I’d be happy to oblige.”
“Good. I trust you will not disappoint me.”
“I will endevor not to.”
“Mm. I shall hold you to that. Now – I believe I will get some rest. So should you.”
Shaw bowed his head in acquiescence. He still wished more than anything that his secret could have remained a secret, but as things were, he was only grateful that Morgan was such an exceptional woman. For saving his niece, he would always be in her debt, a debt he could never hope to repay. And despite the shame, he couldn’t help loving Morgan and reveling in her love for him.
In the end, his dreams had come true. He was now traveling across the world, experiencing adventures his brothers could only dream of. There was no doubt in his mind who had the best end of the bargain, despite everything. He fell asleep, his head resting on Morgan’s chest. His sleep was not disturbed by any incubi.