Upon a Painted Ocean
A Plot, a Plan, and a Reward
It was one of those disgusting tropical days. The rain had been pouring out of a completely gray, almost black sky since the night before. The dirt streets had become slimy, slippery trails of muck. Thunder rumbled somewhat idly in the distance, and even the water in the bay was frothing at the tops of the wind-driven waves like a small sea on its own.
There were three ships on the bay, their masts swaying back and forth in such a manner that the movement could be seen from the shore. "The Papillion," and "The Swallow" were familiar merchant ships in the area. They came for the precious spices that grew here in the islands, hoping that the demand for them in Europe would make them rich and allow them to retire to a life of leisure. Both of these ships were no more than large schooners for the transport of heir goods, in good condition, and indeed almost new. The sails, should they have been unfurled, would have been stark white, un-frayed, and without holes. Works of art in their own right, one might say.
The third ship was a great deal larger than the others, the size of a frigate, but not built so. The hull was much narrower and longer, a very unique looking vessel… and none in the village on the shore could say where she hailed from, or what her business was, nor had anyone seen anyone on the decks by the light of day. This unknown ship had the name "Persephone" painted across the stern in golden-yellow letters. The hull itself was colored crimson red, and though the paint was old and chipping, it was surely a sight to distract the eye…
On this dreary, awful day, a peculiar couple were to be seen on the docks, to the curiosity of those who's business brought them to the docks regularly. The first one to be noticed was a tall young man, dark haired, with deeply-tanned skin, who had the rough look of a rogue about him. His clothes were dirty and wrinkles, his face unshaven though at this point there was no beard to speak of either. His thick black hair was in a soaked tail behind his head that clung to his neck and back, along with his sopping wet clothes, and the most peculiar things about him, that most people noticed before his unusual height, were his eyes. His right eye was a sort of dusty blue, almost gray, and cloudy, as if he was blind in it, though this was not the case, and the other was a very intense green that seemed to display the raging fire in his soul which, consequently, was not burning at all. Alejandro was a good man… in a way. Obedient to his commander, and a loyal friend and companion to her as well.
The girl standing next to this character of unsavory appearance was as great a contrast to him as could have been possible. Her face was pale, as if the tropical sun could do nothing to mar the perfect pallor of her skin. Fiery red hair fell in perfect curls to her waist, setting itself out against the emerald green of her gown. She held an umbrella of the same color as her dress, and so had avoided becoming completely drenched by the torrents of rain. This girl's face was nothing short of remarkable. Her eyes were very large and very blue, and her lips fill and naturally bright, as though they were painted, giving her an innocent child-like appearance The young lady turned to the man who stood beside her and shook her head, "No, Alejandro, I told you I don't like it. Something's still not right. I don't like to give things away before I'm satisfied with a complete, infallible, flawless plot… I'm not going to surrender it now. Not until I am sure."
"But my lady, every plan of yours I have seen is flawless. You are a genius. What makes you think this one is different?"
"Alejandro, you ask too many questions, the answers to which are none of your business," she replied haughtily.
"Then why to you always answer them?"
The girl made a pouty face and stomped her foot angrily, "Because no one else ever questions me! How am I supposed to know my brilliance if there is no one to explain it to?"
Alejandro laughed, "Isabelle, if there ever was a captain like you in His Majesty's Navy, , anything in their path would be doomed."
"Well then, we must be thankful that I am one of a kind, mustn't we? And do not call me Isabelle. I hate my name, you know that."
A clever smile crept over the man's face. "You're avoiding the original subject of our conversation, Milady Captain. That is hardly decent manners for a young lady such as yourself."
Isabelle gave a slight smile that almost made her face seem to glow, "You are clever, Alejandro. Not much gets by you, does it?"
"No, my lady. If it did, I doubt I would find myself in your employ, since you do not hire the dull-witted as your crew, do you?"
"Or course not. Dull-witted sailors never reach a good end either for their captains or themselves," answered Isabelle.
Alejandro nodded, "Indeed it is so, my lady. But, as your most trusted seaman, your loyal friend, and your faithful admirer, do I not have the privilege of knowing the manner of your plan?" he inquired.
"Since you put it so nicely, I suppose you deserve to know," she paused, as if thinking how to explain, and trying to look dignified as she did, "The heroine is engaged to a wealthy nobleman, whom she has no affections for, but is marrying him for the convenience of the match. When she is on her way to the residence of her betrothed, she is abducted, and taken hostage in hopes that the said nobleman would pay a handsome ransom to recover his bride-to-be…"
"Er… my lady-"
"I am not finished yet, Alejandro," she interrupted, coughed purposefully, and continued, "Her fiancé cares nothing of her abduction, and a few days later has found a second eligible maid to marry in our heroine's stead. The kidnapper is an ugly, deformed man with only one eye, the other having been burned from its socket as a punishment for past crimes. Our heroine is a romantic, and believes that there is kindness in him, despite his apparent cruel and evil character, and with this illusion, falls madly in love with her captor, only to anger him one day to the point where he sees no benefit ion keeping her alive and throws her into a raging river to be bashed to pieces on the rocks, and/or drown. There. That is my plot. But I don't like it. Something isn't right…" she looked to her companion awaiting his opinion.
"I meant for tonight, Captain," Alejandro replied simply.
"Yes… tonight I am going to write the bit about her bloody death after we carry out our pla- Oh…" she blushed as she realized what Alejandro had really meant, "You weren't asking about my novel, were you?"
"No. I meant your plan for acquiring the goods upon the value of which we are to become rich and retire…" he paused, "But I am sure that the novel will be gripping."
The young woman stomped her foot again, "You've done it again, Alejandro! You've made a fool of me. You clever sneaky dog! You're lucky I'm as fond of your cheeky tricks or your head would probably be in a hangman's noose by now."
"Forgive me, my lady. I was out of place. I would be grateful if you share with me the details of your plan , though, seeing as how I am to be a part of it…"
"Oh?" began Isabelle, her eyes widening slightly and raising her eyebrows, "You think were highly of yourself to assume that you will be a part of it before I have said anything on the nature of it. What if I told you I am going to carry it out all on my own this time? What do you say to that, my friend?"
Alejandro began to make the most amusing sounds, banging on the wooden railing of the dock, stamping his feet, and snorting repulsively as he nearly doubled over laughing. When eh could breathe and speak again, he turned to the young lady regarding him with perhaps exaggerated disapproval, "Captain, I would say that you had gone out of your mind completely. You can't fool me, my lady I've known you too long for your play-acting to work on me. I know you don't like to get your hands dirty if you can avoid it, and it would be very difficult to conceal a score crates of nutmeg, vanilla, and cocoa in your bodice and petticoats. I am sorry, but it would cost you a fortune in rum to make me stupid enough to believe that."
By the time he'd finished, Isabelle was almost at the shore end of the dock, and going into the public house on the waterfront nearby. Alejandro ran after her and grabbed her by the hand when he caught up with her, "my lady, I most humbly beg your pardon for my rudeness and my assumption. It was wrong of me as your servant to be so bold. Can you find it in your heart to forgive me and allow me to kiss your pretty little hand beneath those gloves?" Alejandro knew exactly how to earn his captain's forgiveness. Flattery never failed to get her attention when she played these little games of hers.
A pretty smile crossed her face and she very faintly blushed, though it was almost unnoticeable. She slowly took off her gloves and placed them in her pocket, holding her hand to the man, "Very well. I forgive you," she replied, and sat down by a window looking out into the bay, avoiding Alejandro's eyes. She unfolded her plan to him in a quiet tone, making sure that no unanticipated eavesdropper would hear…
The night was perfect for her actions to be taken. The storm limited visibility even with a spyglass, and the dense clouds blocked out most of the light from the waning. The wind was howling horribly, drowning out any sound that the oars of the open boat might make to give them away, although the waves in the bay made the light craft difficult to maneuver.
One boat neared the "Swallow" slowly, holding up a light to see the face of the officer of the watch as he came to the rail to investigate. "Who goes there?" he demanded, though his words were slurred when he spoke. Isabelle hadn't hoped for the fortune of drunkenness, and at seeing the man in this condition, she had to hide a smirk.
"My name is Covas… Isabelle Covas. Your vessel is bound for Spain and England is it not?" Isabelle replied .
"It is, miss. How can I help you this terrible night?" he offered.
"Let me and my servant board. I would like to negotiate a passage with your captain. I know it isn't ethical, but it is a matter of the greatest importance… please say you would not refuse to lend aid to a young woman in trouble…" there were tears forming in her eyes when she spoke and her speech was broken by hard sobbing.
"What is you trouble, Miss Covas?"
"Oh… I am not sure I should tell you, sir. If he found out he would surely kill you, and possibly me as well for telling you. He's an awful man… Terrible… He was wonderful when we met, but…" she hid her face in her hands, and her body was wracked with a wave of sobbing and tears.
The officer nodded, even though Isabelle wasn't looking at him and went to fetch the captain of the vessel. Isabelle shivered, soaked to the bone by now and she muttered under her breath, "No manners whatsoever. Any real gentleman would have seen a young woman, cold and wet and invited her in for tea without hesitation."
Alejandro laughed at his captain's comment, but both of them put back on their grave faces as the lieutenant approached with his captain. The elderly man was wearing a thick cloak with a hood to keep himself dry and it was impossible to see more of his face than his abnormally large nose.
"Sate your business, miss, and come aboard," he barked as if he were giving an order.
"I seek passage to Spain," she said, "I can pay you well for it."
"And you don't mind using a sailor's quarters?" questioned the captain.
"No sir. You see, my situation is rather desperate," Isabelle replied, affecting a pleading tone.
This was enough to convince him and he turned back to the officer, "Help them aboard, and then bring them something hot to drink and some bread and cheese. The girl looks as though she hasn't eaten in a week."
The first man saluted and lowered a ladder, completely oblivious to the fact that, approaching from the starboard, were half a dozen boats occupied by a score of armed men, ready to take the ship at their leader's signal.
Isabelle boarded, and when the lieutenant turned his back, she struck with a well-aimed blow to the back of his head, and he fell unconscious, without any sound other than the dull thud as his body hit the wooden deck.
The captain quickly turned about at the noise only to find Alejandro's saber at his throat. Instinctively, the man reached for the revolver at his hips, upon whish Isabelle drew her own pistol and fired it, hitting the captain's leg, and causing him to fall, and cry out in pain.
At the sound of the gunshot, the other boats rapidly came out of the fog, and, using grappling hooks, boarded the ship just as the "Swallow's" crew appeared on deck. Not one of them had any doubt as to what was happening at this point, and their weapons clattered to the deck noisily.
The fallen captain looked to his men, and he understood what had to happen if he wanted to save his life and the lives of his crew, "Give them whatever it is they want," he said, and Isabelle grinned.
"Your spices and whatever gold you may be carrying," she demanded. The sailors looked to their captain for approval of her orders.
"I said give her what she wants!" he shouted, and the men set about unloading the hold.
"A very bad man indeed," Alejandro laughed.
"It never failed me before. I prey upon the sympathy of my fellow man," she admitted with pride, and a clever grin played over her face.
"Damn you to hell, witch!" the captain cursed and spat at Isabelle's feet.
"I'm sure His Infernal Majesty will give me a warm welcome," she agreed, "But I must make one correction. I am not a witch. If I were a witch, I would have no need to steal from you. I could get whatever I wanted by making it simply appear from the air. That would spoil the fun of ransacking villages, robbing ships, kidnap and ransom… being a witch would have no thrill for me. I think you owe me an apology for your false accusation."
A tall man with dark skin and a 'P' branded on hand came forward, "My lady, the crates are loaded on the boats. I believe if is best if we leave while this fog holds, if I may suggest it."
Isabelle nodded, saluted the captain wearing a triumphant smirk, and slipped over the side into the boat she'd come in. Alejandro followed and steered away from the ship toward "Persephone" anchored on the outside of the harbor.
Isabelle kept glancing behind them to make sure that they were not being followed. When they reached it, Alejandro tossed a rope to a deck hand who'd been left waiting, and helped Isabelle on board. The young woman paused a moment, thinking, and then began barking orders: she pointed to the dark0-skinned man, "Joseph, you make sure that the cargo all get on board and into the hold in the next ten minute! If they're not secured by the time we've set sail, it will be on your head! Alejandro, get these sea rats to ready the sails and raise the anchor. If I'm not up here by the time we're under way, set a course for St. Thomas southwesterly for now until I plot a better course on the charts. I want this ship moving in less than fifteen minutes!" with that, Isabelle darted below decks to put on a set of clothes more suited to her work. As she picked at the corset's strings, she listened to what was happening on deck. She had become very good at listening for trouble. Her constant fear was that her men would one day become dissatisfied with her leadership and she'd have a mutiny on her hands.
Finally, she tossed the dress ion her bunk and pulled on a white cotton shirt, and a pair of close-fitting, brown trousers, socks that were too loose for her legs, and a pair of boots that reached her thighs. As she passed through the door to her cabin, she slung a tri-cornered hat on her head and quickly came out on deck.
She found everything as it should have been. Joseph was loading the last of the crates into the hold, and the sails were set. Alejandro smiled when she came to stand with him at the helm. "We're darn good at that," he said, "Almost seems too easy sometimes. Don't you ever feel sorry for them when they're so helpless like that?" he asked.
"No, Alejandro. Because one day they'll be rich pigs and buy themselves titles, and try to pass themselves off as noblemen, while we'll be eating salt pork and pickles," she answered, "They'll live a boring dull life. In fact, they should thank us."
Her first mate gave her a confused look, "For robbery and attempted murder?" he inquired.
"Yes, Alejandro. Now the good captain and all his men have an exciting story to retell over and over, and exaggerate. When he tells it, I'll become a huge man with a hideous, scarred face from a thousand battles, and my men weren't twenty, but 3 score of ruthless criminals who killed at least a dozen of the crew before they even knew what we wanted from them. We added excitement to their lives. So they ought to thank us."
Alejandro laughed out loud, "Yes… we ought to charge for our conversation material," he scoffed.
Isabelle nodded, "Precisely, yes." She turned to look to the horizon, a satisfied expression drawn on her face.