Derelict -1-

1

The boat floated on the glassy water, the stillness belying the previous day’s storm. The ravages of the foul weather were evident on the small craft. Its mast had been snapped off. Tattered rags were all that remained of the sail. Only the quick work of a knife had prevented the rest of boat from following the mainsail into the depths. The mainsail had not gone down empty handed however; it had taken the man down with it. The sole survivor sat rocking amidst the destruction, a keening wail rising from her lips as she clutched the small still form to her chest. In the space of a few small hours she had lost both her mate and her child.

She was still like that when the crew of the —– found her except that her voice had long since faded to nothing. The captain had her brought aboard his ship and the small boat sunk once it was determined there was nothing salvageable.  Even without the captain’s admonition to leave her untouched, the crew would have kept their distance.  Superstitious sailors every one, what they had found unnerved them.  Any who had to go near her made warding signs, all but the cook who doubled as ship’s surgeon.

Massey had taken charge of her and ensconced her in the Captain’s quarters.  Now, he frowned at her condition and muttered in his own language.  With gentle hands he removed the remnants of her clothing then began his examination.  He checked her head and felt carefully through her hair and found nothing untoward.  Then he began dabbing her face with a damp cloth.  There was less blistering than he expected, and that relieved him.  Her eyes, though, concerned him more.  Angry redness showed through the crusty grime that kept them closed, and the lashes curled back in the way of singed hair.  He rinsed out the cloth, squeezed it down to a moderate dampness and then laid it carefully across her eyes.

His brow furred as he inspected the rest of her; sun blistering where cloth did not cover, rope burns on the hands, and a long shallow gash on one thigh.  With another cloth he bathed her then applied salve and light bandages where needed.  For a grizzled sea veteran, his ministrations were surprisingly gentle.

Jonas purposely stepped on the creaky board as he approached.  “Oddest case of exposure I’ve seen.”

“Cap’n?”  Massey did not stop his tending.

“The mottling,” he replied.  “That is from the exposure isn’t it?”

Massey paused before answering, “Might be, Cap’n.”

“How long do you think she was out there?’

“Hard to say.  Several days mayhaps.”  Now Massey did stop and turned to the captain.  “What did ye have in mind, Cap’n, when ye brought her aboard?”

The odd note in Massey’s tone surprised Jonas, and he looked more closely at the older man.  Then the captain surprised himself with his own words, “I don’t know.  It was just what needed to be done.”

Massey searched Jonas’s face a moment before turning back to his patient.  “Will we be putting ashore soon?”

Jonas nodded, “Aye, at Traeva.  I’ll leave you to it, then.”

Massey nodded absently as Jonas left.  He pulled his stool and a small table up close beside the bed then began to tend to her eyes.

*          *          *

Several days later the ship weighed anchor at Traeva.  As was his custom, Jonas and his Quarter Master went ashore to see to the exchange of goods for coin and then to the re-provisioning of the ship.  Jonas would also spend a few nights in town, as would much of the crew.  Massey stayed aboard.  He had not turned her care over to any other although he did accept the help of the cabin boy.  The woman’s wounds had begun to heal and the signs of exposure fade.  As her body strengthened her mind slowly returned from the place to which it had fled.  The first indications were the flexing of fingers.

It was dark here.  Had she died?  She did not think so.  Instinctively, she listened carefully, hearing the creak of wood and the lapping of water but unable to puzzle out what it meant.  She felt weak and did not know why.  It took all her effort as she concentrated on the feel of her hands and tried to move them.  There was movement near her, sounding loudly in her ears.  Startled, she froze.  She thought someone spoke and struggled to make out the words.  Cool liquid dribbled into her mouth, awaking a thirst she did not know she had.  She drank eagerly and waited for more, hoping.

Massey shifted quickly when he saw her hands move.  He would have cursed himself for startling her if he had not been so pleased to see her coming around.  “Easy now, lass,” he murmured.

He wet a small square of cloth then squeezed out the water into her mouth.  He smiled when she drank it and gave her a bit more.  This time he spoke to her more directly, “Just a bit, lass, just a bit.  Got to ease into it.”

She swallowed and listened to the voice.  The sound of the words was familiar, and the tone was soothing, but she still could not understand.   She wanted, needed more water.  She tried to ask for it.  Her mouth moved and a dry rasp was the only result.  He rewet the cloth and laid it over her lips, letting the excess drip down into her mouth.

*          *          *

Her recovery since she had woken was remarkable.  She gained strength quickly and was soon moving about on her own.  Cautious of her eyes, Massey had kept the cabin dim, only opening the port holes for air during nightfall.  She sat by one now, breathing deeply of the sea air, eyes closed.

She turned towards the door, eyes mere slits, as a brief knock signaled the surgeon’s return.  Behind him the wide-eyed cabin boy carried a heavily laden tray.  Trying not to stare, the youngster put the tray on the cabin’s central table.  Massey shooed him out then turned to his patient.

“I thought ye might be likin’ o’ needin’ somethin’ a bit fresher, lass,” he told her.  “I was nae sure what ye kin eat, so I’ve a bit of everythin’.”

She rose and came towards the table.  She blinked and looked Massey in the eyes.  Her voice was hoarse whisper, and every word was a struggle.  “You have been very kind…My thanks.”

Massey smiled broadly.  “If ye please, sit, eat.”

She nodded and took a seat as he uncovered the tray.  Portions of broiled fish, fowl and land beast were there, as well as fresh vegetables and fruits and bread.  She inhaled the scents of the food, and her stomach made known its desire to be filled.  She took the plate and flatware Massey offered.  Although her hunger gnawed at her, she took only a bite-size piece of each offering.  She knew her stomach had been empty for too long.  She looked up at Massey as he poured filled a goblet with water for her.

“What…name?” she asked.

“Me be Massey,” he replied, “but aboard most call me Cook.”

“Cook? But…” She looked down at her bandages.

“Oh, aye, I be the surgeon and cook,” he answered.

“Good…surgeon,” then, after a small careful bite, “Good…cook…Massey…join …eat.”

At her behest, Massey fixed a plate for himself and sat across from her.  Frequency of fresh food being what it was for sailors, he enjoyed every bite while watching her carefully.

*          *          *

Jonas returned to his ship the following noon, the day watch greeting him with an “All quiet” as he came up the gangplank.  Jonas nodded.  He had not expected any trouble but always posted a watch.   A successful captain always had enemies, and Jonas was exceptionally successful.

He completed a walking circuit of the deck before heading towards the aft cabins.  Massey awaited him at his door.

“How’s your patient, Cook?” Jonas asked.

“See fer yeself, Cap’n,” Massey answered, opening the door for him.

The woman stood by the table shading her eyes with her hand to dim the brightness from the open door.  Her rags had been replaced by simple homespun shirt and breeches and her feet were bare.  She appeared to have been waiting for him.  Jonas indicated she should sit and joined her at the table laid out for the noon meal.  Massey stood at the door for a moment, watching; a brief smile creased his face before he closed the door and left the Captain and the woman alone.

Jonas studied the woman across the table from him.  Tilted gold-green eyes gazed at him from under a coarse shag of mutli-colored hair.

“I’m Jonas, Captain of the [ship name].  Who are you?”

She looked away as if searching for something, then turned her gaze back on Jonas.  Her voice was harsh when she spoke. “I do not yet know.”

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