Chapter Six: Full Fathom Five
Graciela went back to her quarters, shaking her head. The pleasurable fire that burned in her veins had been entirely extinguished by the look of horror on the Countess' exquisite face.
It's not the first time, nor the last, she thought philosophically. Graciela was resigned to the fact that she was fascinating to women as long as they thought she was a man; when her sex was revealed, they all too often reacted the way Margaret did.
While she would have been happy to spend an hour or two in Margaret's company - or rather, in the Countess' bed - Graciela was glad things turned out the way they did. Perhaps Margaret would change her mind, perhaps not. It didn't matter either way to the pirate.
She really hadn't wanted to leave her poor little mouse of a serving girl alone for too long anyway.
Poor little mouse! That was how Graciela thought of Elizabeth; the girl was so shy, so diffident, so very, very frightened of everything and everyone. For a moment, she'd felt Elizabeth's body pliant against hers, the quickening pulse beneath her lips, heard her breath catch and take on a ragged edge. Graciela smiled to herself; perhaps she hadn't rushed things after all. It seemed that Elizabeth was ripe for seduction...
But damn Rafe Cooley for the interruption, anyway!
When she entered the cabin, Graciela called, "See, querida! I told you I wouldn't be long..."
Her voice trailed off when she realized the room was empty.
"Lizzybet?" Graciela looked inside the oak wardrobe, the only place big enough for a girl of Elizabeth's size to hide. She found nothing except her own clothes.
She had a sudden thought. She'd obviously forgotten to lock the door... what if one of her men had taken the opportunity to steal away her prize?
The idea of the maid abducted by one of her own crewmen made her mind go up in flames.
Elizabeth is mine!!
An ugly flush darkened her face; the normally faint scar above her left eyebrow became a silvery line that flashed and pulsed, cords stood out on her neck and a vein throbbed in her forehead. She drew her cutlass, gripping the hilt so hard her knuckles were white, and exited the cabin, each step of her booted feet sounding like echoes of doom.
No one dared steal what belonged to the She-Wolf!
The prisoner in question, one of the seamen taken from the Queen's Grace, began frantically scrubbing the deck in front of him, his face white with fear.
Hovering over his shoulder was the scowling face of Benjamin Cutter, a gunner's mate with a nasty temperament. "Aye," he growled, flourishing a short-handled whip, "keep scrubbin' or ye'll skip to the merry rope's end!"
Graciela burst out on deck. Her face was so engorged with blood that everyone who saw her gasped in fear; her pale eyes glowed like the heart of a candle's flame. "Where is she?," she snarled, shaking with rage. "Where's Lizzybet? Which one of you thievin' pigs took her?"
Miguel carefully approached the enraged woman, hands held out in front of him. Every one of the Quartier's crewmen was in awe of Graciela, but no more so than when she was held in the grip of fury. They'd seen the small woman defeat much larger and better armed foes with a viciousness that had surprised them, hardened rogues though they were. Not a man among them would have been willing to face her in a fight when she was like this.
Miguel said, "Who do you seek, Cap'n?"
"Elizabeth!" Graciela shook her sword. "Which one of you scurvy bastards took her out of my cabin?"
Miguel glanced around...
And out of the corner of his eye saw something white flapping in the breeze.
He turned just in time to see the red-headed maid step over the rail and balance herself briefly. "Capitan!," he shouted, pointing.
Graciela looked and her sword fell to the deck. "Lizzybet!," she called, already in motion.
But she was too late. Elizabeth fell over the side, straight down into the embrace of the sea.
Cursing beneath her breath and frantically ripping
off her boots, Graciela dove in after her, a knife clenched between her
Thrashing, choking on bitter salt, heavy skirts becoming water-logged and dragging her inexorably down, Elizabeth splashed and heaved with all her might, struggling to keep her head above water. The keel of the ship slid past her and away, her fingers clutching futilely at white-foamed waves.
Her legs entangled in the suffocating folds of her skirts, Elizabeth sank beneath the water, tiny bubbles billowing past her lips, green eyes opened wide in terror...
Then closing as she was pulled down into the stubborn
embrace of the cold sea.
Just when her lungs began to ache and burn, she caught a glimpse of red hair.
Graciela followed, gaze never leaving those strands of hair that curled like liquid ribbons in bars of greenish sunlight beneath the water. She managed to get close enough to grab a handful and immediately turned herself around, hauling Elizabeth's unconscious body behind her, pulling herself and the drowning girl up, always up, stale air burning like hot coals in her chest.
As soon as her head broke the surface, she flipped Elizabeth over onto her back, hooking an arm underneath her chin. With her free hand, Graciela removed the knife between her teeth and began slicing through the maid's dress, quickly but carefully. Finally, the gown fell free and Graciela's burden was eased considerably as Elizabeth floated, not weighed down anymore by heavy lengths of wool.
Graciela looked for her ship; the Sans Quartier was coming about, her white sails silhouetted against the peacock-blue sky.
She let the knife slip into the water. "Hurry, you bastards!," she called, spitting water.
Elizabeth wasn't breathing. Her face was white as paper; Graciela could clearly see the tiny blue veins that criss-crossed the maid's closed eyelids.
"Querida...," Graciela whispered in Elizabeth's ear. "Breathe for me. Don't go, not yet... breathe, stay with me, live..."
Elizabeth gave no indication that she heard... but
water trickled from the side of her mouth.
She passed Elizabeth up to eager arms then swung herself aboard, snapping, "Get me blankets and rum!"
When the men stood around eyeing the scene, Graciela snarled, "Jump, you motherless sons of bitches! Or I'll see how the lot of you look hangin' from the yardarm!"
The pirates began bustling about, not a man among them willing to disobey the Captain when she was in this mood.
Graciela knelt down beside Elizabeth; the woman still wasn't breathing. Pressing an ear to Elizabeth's chest, Graciela could barely detect the heavy, slow thumping of her heart.
She rolled the maid onto her stomach, straddling her back and turning her head to one side. With both hands, the captain pushed in powerfully, again and again... and an astonishing amount of water flowed out of Elizabeth's mouth and nose, finally slowing to a bubbly trickle.
Graciela turned the girl over. Pinching Elizabeth's nose closed with her fingers and shaking wet strands of dark hair out of her eyes, Graciela clamped her mouth over Elizabeth's and blew air into her lungs. It was a trick she'd learned from the Quartier's former surgeon.
As the crew watched, Rafe Cooley muttered, "I seen Old Flatface do that once, 'member? Brung Robbie O'Neal back after he were fallin' overboard in a storm."
Miguel nodded. Drowning was a sailor's worst nightmare; most of the men couldn't swim and had a superstitious fear of learning. He thanked God that the Captain hadn't had such reservations; in fact, she'd learned to swim as a child.
After several breaths, Elizabeth spluttered, coughed, then gagged. Graciela hastily pushed her over on her side, patting her back and making encouraging noises as water and vomit pooled on the deck. Finally, Elizabeth's helpless heaving stopped and she began weeping weakly.
Graciela held the maid closely, putting a blanket around her shoulders, both to warm her and to shield her nakedness from the gaze of the crewmen. She looked up at Miguel.
"Continue on our course to Port Royale," she rasped, her voice harsh from swallowing seawater. "I'll take the girl below... and I'm NOT to be disturbed for anythin' less than Neptune his own self comin' up from the waves. Understood?"
Graciela gathered Elizabeth up in her arms and stood
with a strained grunt. Taking very deliberate steps - and praying her knees
wouldn't give out - she carried the softly crying girl to her
It amused her highly to think that this scum, this black hearted monster, this mewling insect, this puking, self-righteous worm named Black Michael - could possibly believe that a lady of quality would eagerly enter into a such a half-baked scheme with him. Hah! The very thought was laughable!
Oh, the Countess had two reasons for pretending to go along with it - or at least, cooperating with part of the plan. For one, it would get her off this horrible pirate ship and back into more civilized surroundings. She'd heard rumors about the governor of Jamaica, rumors that had her licking her lips in anticipation. Perhaps exile to her family estates wasn't the only option.
But the other reason made Margaret's mouth curve into a cruel smile.