Chapter Five: A Merry Traitor's Band
The cabin door swung open, revealing the scrawny figure of Rafe Cooley, the second mate. His expression was carefully neutral; if he thought there was anything unusual about the sight in front of him - a tearful, half-naked lady's maid in bed with his Captain - he didn't show it.
"Beggin' yer pardon, Cap'n," he said, averting his eyes and staring at the floor. "Miguel said you was to come."
"Come where?" Graciela slid out from behind Elizabeth, keeping a strong grip on the girl's shoulder. "Problems above deck?"
"Nay," Rafe said, scratching his head with a grimy fingernail and absently cracking a louse. "T'is the Countess. She's raisin' holy hell down in the cargo hold and Miguel says it were best if you was ta come yerself."
Graciela rolled her eyes and got off the bed. "If any of those scurvy bastards have been at the woman..."
"Oh, no, Cap'n! Me and Jack Dark been watchin' her close, we have! Ain't nobody been in there 'cept Miguel, and he come out faster'n a scalded cat when that bitch started throwin' stuff at him!" Rafe raised his eyes and grinned widely, showing a gap-toothed smile. "Anyhow, he says maybe you outta come yerself and get her sorted out."
"Aye." Graciela turned to Elizabeth. The maid was shivering, arms crossed in front of her breasts.
"Stay here, querida," Graciela said, carefully putting a blanket around Elizabeth's shoulders. She put a finger beneath the maid's chin and forced her head up, until she could meet Elizabeth's gaze with her own. "I mean it," Graciela said with gentle force. "I'll be back soon, I promise... and we'll be continuin' our discussion."
Elizabeth stared mutely. At Graciela's prodding, she mumbled, "I'll stay. I promise."
"Good girl." Graciela smoothed a cluster of red-gold curls from Elizabeth's forehead and suddenly kissed her, forcing her tongue past the girl's lips, probing deeply, savoring the slightly salty, slightly sour taste of her mouth.
Graciela felt Elizabeth stiffen in shock and put a hand on the back of the maid's neck, holding her in place for another moment before releasing her slowly. Elizabeth's eyes were wide and she crimsoned, the flush creeping across her face and down her throat.
Turning back to the smirking Rafe, Graciela said forcefully, "All right, wipe that grin off your monkey's arse face, Mister Cooley! Let's go see to this Countess... I've much more important business to tend."
Together they left the cabin, the door shutting behind them with a thud.
Elizabeth was left alone... confused, utterly miserable and wishing she was dead.
She clutched the blanket to her naked breasts and
wept, hot tears of shame trickling down her cheeks.
She was very aware that, after the little display in her cabin, the news about Elizabeth's possession would spread among the crew like wildfire. She grinned to herself; one kiss had branded the maid as the Captain's private property and she doubted that any of the men - no matter how long they'd been at sea - would risk Graciela's wrath by laying a single lusting finger on the girl.
Miguel was waiting for them. "Cap'n," he said, touching a swarthy finger to his head. "She's quieted down but I think that's only because there isn't anything else to break." His one good eye twinkled.
Graciela smiled. "Open the door, amigo. Let's see if the hellcat's claws are still sharp."
Miguel chose a key from the bunch that hung on a ring attached to his belt and unlocked the door, swinging it wide open. Inside, the room was gloomy and Graciela peered into the darkness, drawing back abruptly when a squalling female figure burst out.
Miguel and Rafe made a grab for the screaming Countess, snagging her flailing arms and forcing her back into the room. Graciela followed, cheek smarting from the stinging slap the Countess had managed to deliver before being captured.
Once Margaret was back inside, Graciela shut the door with a bang. "Quiet!," she commanded.
The Countess threw her head back and screamed again, struggling against the two men's grips.
Graciela stepped forward and snapped the back of her hand across Margaret's face. The Countess' mouth closed and she glared at the captain with frustrated fury in her amethyst eyes.
"That's better," Graciela said sardonically. She eyed the tiny smudge of blood smeared across Margaret's lips. Taking out a lace-trimmed handkerchief, she offered it and said, "If you behave like a gentlewoman instead of a half-drunk hellion, I'll have my men let you go."
Margaret nodded, her burning gaze never leaving Graciela. As soon as Rafe and Miguel loosened their grip, she shrugged them away. With a contemptuous sniff, she hitched up the fallen neckline of her gown and snatched the offered handkerchief. When she wiped her mouth and saw blood, her eyes came up and met Graciela's... there was painful retribution in that crystalline glare.
Graciela smiled slightly. "Sit down, Your Grace." As soon as Margaret had seated herself with regal dignity on the narrow cot, she continued, "We're goin' to have a nice talk."
The captain motioned for Rafe and Miguel to leave. As soon as they were out of the room, Graciela put her foot up on a nearby stool and loomed over the seated woman. "Now, Your Grace... what's the meanin' behind all this?" She waved a hand at the destruction; every breakable thing in the small room had been smashed or shattered beyond repair. There hadn't been much to begin with - a mug, a pitcher, a chamber pot - but it all lay in ruins.
Margaret glanced at the pirate from beneath her lashes. The captain was handsome in a girlish sort of way; she briefly wondered if he wasn't the type who preferred the company of other men. He was small and petite, but then again she'd heard rumors about how men who were lacking in stature more than made up for it in other areas. She casually let her gaze travel downward but, much to her disappointment, there wasn't a detectable bulge in the captain's tight-fitting trousers.
Perhaps he can be bribed... surely he hadn't ever tasted the charms of a noble lady before, the Countess thought. If I play this carefully, if I seduce him, mayhap I'll gain my freedom and more... it wouldn't be the first time I tumbled a man into my bed and under my thumb.
Wetting her lips, she looked up with an appealing expression and said in her best concillatory tone, "I'm so dreadfully sorry, my lord." She fluttered her lashes. "I'm a lady of the court and unused to such treatment."
"Oh?" Graciela leaned closer. "And how have you been mistreated?"
The Countess scooted a bit closer, allowing her ample breasts to press lightly against the captain's booted leg. "As a lady of quality and gentle breeding, I'm not used to rough, violent men handling my person..." She glanced shyly downward but kept watching the pirate surreptitiously, the better to gauge how effective her efforts were.
She let a tiny tremble into her voice. "What are your intentions, if I may ask?"
Graciela smiled. All the Countess' fire seemed suddenly quenched; she appeared to be a helpless, delectable morsel of a woman. Very pretty, very delicate and imminently desirable.
"Once we reach Port Royale and my men have had a day or so ashore, I'll release the crew of the Grace and give the captain a message to deliver to your people, telling them where and when to deliver the ransom. When its in my hands, you're free to go. Until then, I fear you'll be remainin' my prisoner."
Margaret pressed herself harder against the pirate's leg, compressing her tight bodice and causing her breasts to bulge out over the lacy neckline. "Oh...," she said, forcing a miniscule tear to trickle down her cheek. "I'm so terribly frightened..."
"I give you my word you'll be safe," Graciela said. Almost involuntarily, her hand began to caress Margaret's tangled blonde curls.
Margaret wrapped her hands around the captain's leg, rubbing her cheek on the smooth boot leather. "I'm also so very lonely," she moaned. "I have no company, no one to talk to..."
"Ah, Your Grace," Graciela replied, "I don't think my men would make suitable lady's maids."
One of Margaret's little hands began sliding up the pirate's leg. When it reached the trousered thigh, it stopped, kneading the firm flesh beneath. The Countess licked her lips and with her other hand, began raising the hem of her gown, allowing the skirts to ride up until her stocking-clad legs were fully exposed. "I don't need maids," she declared in a husky, meaningful tone.
Graciela swallowed thickly.
The pirate was a bloodthirsty rogue who killed men without warning and without the slightest shred of decency and honor. A buccaneer who cared nothing for humanity, whose heart was black, lacking pity and remorse. But someone - a woman! - who had kissed her in a way she'd only dreamed about before...
Elizabeth shuddered. In that timeless moment, when she'd felt Graciela's hands caressing her, when that hot mouth had devoured the unprotected flesh of her throat, she'd surrendered briefly to the intimate touch. She'd wanted more, craved the feeling of those strong fingers, that wet tongue, the sharp but gentle teeth; she'd hoped desperately to feel the other woman's wandering touch on her breasts, her thighs... each and every part of her had vibrated with pure need and longing.
That had ended abruptly with a knock on the door... a visit that had exposed her shame for all to see.
Elizabeth didn't know what to do, how to think. This woman had aroused feelings within her, stirring passions she didn't even know she had, ignited a fire that the maid couldn't name but instinctively knew. She couldn't believe this was happening, had never dreamed - in all her romantic fantasies - this would ever happen. But it had. And soon, Graciela would return.
Elizabeth shuddered again. Part of her dreaded that return, another part welcomed it.
She might not be able to understand why she felt so attracted to Graciela, but one thing Elizabeth did know.
She would never surrender
Graciela's blue eyes were wide. She looked down at Margaret with something approaching awe. She'd heard stories about noble ladies and their (supposedly) insatiable natures, but this was the first time she'd ever experienced it first hand.
Margaret resisted the urge to smile knowingly, instead looking as demure as possible while she peeled away her dainty underthings, allowing the pirate brief but heady glimpses of her pale flesh. When she'd removed stockings, petticoats and drawers - leaving herself all but naked beneath her gown - she sank to her knees, placing her palms on the captain's thighs.
"Please," the Countess half-whispered, "you'll be gentle, won't you?"
Graciela cupped Margaret's chin in her hand. "Do you really want me to?," she asked.
Instead of answering, the blonde woman began kissing the side of Graciela's knee, her hair sliding forward to cover her face. Beneath that concealement, Margaret's lip curled in contempt. Just like almost every other young man she'd met, this one was reacting predictably.
Wave a honey-pot under their nose and they follow you around like a puppy, she thought scornfully.
Graciela groaned as Margaret's hot kisses trailed upwards. Her hands curled into fists, her blood seemed to sing with heated lust.
The Countess unbuckled Graciela's belt and slipped her small hand into the loose waistband. For a moment, her fingers scrabbled, seeking turgid flesh... what she felt made her gasp; she pulled her hand away and stared at Graciela in shock.
Graciela looked down at her, eyes incandescent, a small smile tugging at her lips. "Aye," she said in answer to the unspoken question she could read in Margaret's expression, "I'm a woman."
Margaret drew breath. She wasn't sure how to react and that fleeting moment of indecision sealed her fate.
With a sigh, Graciela buckled her belt and drew away from the bed. "Not that I'd gladly give up the idea of tupping you altogether, Your Grace, but you seem a bit... unsure. If you change your mind... well, its still a few days to Port Royale." She blew a kiss to the rigid woman. "Ask for me at any hour. I'll be glad to attend upon your needs."
It was the way she said this last word that made Margaret suddenly furious. She felt as if she'd been tricked, gulled into believing a lie, and the captain was secretly laughing at her. She'd been made to look foolish and nobody did that to her with impunity. With a shriek, she launched herself off the bed, fingers curved into claws, trying to carve the self-satisfied smirk off the pirate's hateful face.
Graciela avoided the Countess' attack with ease, stepping to one side and assisting the infuriated woman's flight with a boot to her backside. Margaret sprawled on the floor, beating at the wooden planks in a helplessly furious tantrum.
"I'd compose myself if I were you," Graciela said in a parting shot as she walked out the door. "All that caterwauling and the crew will think I'm rapin' you... or that you're a willin' participant."
Margaret stared after the pirate, mentally vowing to flay the skin from Graciela's back in small strips and generously salt what little remained.
She lay there, panting and furious, her mind going around in circles as she considered her position from every possible angle.
After a few minutes, her ear caught a sound... a whisper.
She turned over, seeking the source of the whisper. Finally, she spotted it. On one wall, at waist level, was a small hole that emitted a faint beam of light. She got to her feet and swayed over, bending down to place her own eye to the hole.
A brown eye stared back at her. It was replaced by a beard-stubbled mouth. "Black Michael, at your service," the stranger said in a hoarse whisper. "Be ye alone?"
"Yes..." Margaret had a feeling that this person - obviously a member of the pirate crew - had just witnessed her humiliation, and another burst of sickening rage made her head spin. She controlled herself with an effort. Perhaps this was a God-given opportunity...
Black Michael was nervous. He and his three mates had been confined in a storeroom on the other side of the room occupied by the Countess. Their backs had been well striped by the lash and still stung, but what stung more was the humiliation of being punished in front of the entire crew, and on the orders of a woman at that! Oh, they'd all known the captain was a female before they'd joined, but Black Michael had figured that once he and his mates were aboard, it would be an easy matter to sway others to their point of view and then mutiny, taking the ship for their own.
Unfortunately, their carefully probing questions and hints hadn't met with success.
And now, after being publicly punished, Black Michael thirsted for revenge. He'd sat and thought, finally coming up with a plan. The Countess was part of it.
If only she could be convinced to help them...
Black Michael explained his plan to the eagerly listening woman. When he finished, there was silence and he sweated nervously. He'd taken a chance telling so much to a stranger but he had no choice.
Finally, Margaret's voice whispered through the hole. "Tell me more," she said.
Black Michael grinned in mingled relief and
What she had decided to do was the only decent, Christian course left to her, and she prayed that God would forgive her for the sin she was about to commit. She was no longer confused; instead, her intended path seemed to stretch out in front of her as clear as daylight, and she was not afraid but resigned to her fate.
Decently clad at last, she let herself out of the cabin, taking the unlocked door as a sign that God approved of her scheme.
Climbing up to the deck, she surveyed the scene in front of her. The unfortunate passengers of the Queen's Grace had been pressed into service by the pirate crew. They scrubbed and holystoned the deck under the eagle eyed supervision of the officers. No one payed the maid any attention.
She walked to the brass rail and gazed out to sea. The wind whipped her red-gold hair behind her and her green eyes were narrowed against the blast. From a distance, it seemed that she heard voices calling her name but she ignored them. It was time.
With an expression of resignation and acceptance on her face, Elizabeth stepped over the rail, her skirts ballooning out...
And with a splash fell into the