A/N: I tried a new writing method with this story, and, well... It didn't work. But at least now I know that and I can spend the rest of my days not writing like this ever again. So. This story is 18 chapters long and I will post a new chapter every five days. Hope you'll enjoy. :)
Noah Murcutt's background up until his going to sea.
It was a murky day in 1834 when Nelly Murcutt went into labour. At the tender age of 14, she was only a child herself, and with a child's stubbornness, she refused to let anyone know the name of the man whose offspring she had been carrying in her womb for a little over 40 weeks.
"Do tell, Nelly," her mother had pleaded, "father will see that he does the honourable thing."
Nelly had pursed her lips, pointed her nose to the sooty ceiling and shook her head.
"Tell us, you cursed spawn of the Devil and I'll feed the fella to the dogs!" Nelly's father had cried in despair. When Nelly looked away in silence, he had raised his hand, but he couldn't bring himself to strike her.
As it happened, Nelly didn't actually know who was responsible for the state she found herself in. Due to a series of unfortunate events, there were two plausible candidates. There was Jack Bowden, who ran the village grocery shop - a well-fed, plumpish man of nearly 40. Jack Bowden had been slipping Nelly free sweets since she was old enough to go with her mother to his shop. He had always thought she was an unusually cute child, and would sometimes pinch her apple cheeks or pat her on the head. A little later, he would eye her budding body whenever he imagined no adults were around to catch him doing so. A little later still, he would make propositions Nelly was yet too young to understand. Then, finally, a little over nine months ago, Jack found himself with the trump card and decided to play it.
That fine day, he had caught Nelly thieving in his stock room. It was only a couple of pieces of fudge that found their illicit way into the pocket of her apron, but even before Nelly told him as much, Jack Bowden knew that she would rather die than have her parents finding out. He decided that there was only one way that she would be able to compensate him. Nelly cried silent tears of indignation as Jack Bowden finally took what he had wanted for a good many years, but she angrily wiped her tears from her face before he could see them.
The other man to compete for the paternity of Nelly Murcutt's child was Oscar Price, of the Mellanden Hall Prices. A dashing young man of 20, he was what you would expect from the flawless young aristocrat of the day; his naturally tall and athletic body perfected by hours on horseback or on the tennis court. Though wholly attractive, his most striking feature was his greyish eyes and the way they seemed to peer into the very soul of whoever dared to meet his gaze. Oscar's stormy irises reminded of the sea on a foul day.
His fateful meeting with Nelly had taken place at the annual village fair. Everyone had been involved, from the grandest lords to the meanest paupers. Nelly and Oscar were both thoroughly drunk when they chanced upon one another at a secluded part of the beach. Tipsy and talkative from the drink, Oscar offered Nelly his arm as they strolled on together down the sea front. Nelly ended up telling him about what Jack Bowden had done to her only a week previously. Talking led down the winding road to action, and thus, Nelly couldn't tell for sure who the father of her child was.
Had she lived to see her son as a man, there would have been no question of the paternity. Nelly Murcutt's son grew up to be the spitting image of Oscar Price. But as fortune would have it, Nelly took her last breath as the boy took his first, and even though Nelly's mother, Mrs Murcutt, held up the boy to her daughter, Nelly's staring, dead eyes never saw him.
Mrs Murcutt took pity on the boy, named him Noah and raised him as her own, to Mr Murcutt's great displeasure.
"Get that bastard out of here, I'm eating," Mr Murcutt bellowed when poor Noah ran into the kitchen on his way somewhere or other. Then he mumbled, "That eternal reminder of Nelly's disgrace. She brought shame over us all." And he'd continue a well-rehearsed rant about what a decent and respectable family they had been before Nelly went and got herself pregnant.
"Here Noah, sit down here," Mrs Murcutt whispered to the boy and brought him bread and fish stew to eat out on the veranda.
"That's it," she cooed, petting her grandson's light brown hair. "Oh, little one, I wonder who your father is."
"Mr Murcutt is," Noah said between bites of bread.
Mrs Murcutt didn't say anything then. She had never encouraged Noah to think of Mr Murcutt and herself as his parents, yet the boy seemed utterly unaffected by Mr Murcutt's mutterings and her own pondering. The only sign that Noah knew that they weren't his biological parents was that he called them Mr and Mrs Murcutt.
Despite Mr Murcutt's unhappiness about the boy, Noah got a decent upbringing. At the very least, it wasn't so different from that of his peers. Noah was always inquisitive, always curious and always hungry for new experiences. He spent some days doing mischief with other boys in the village, and other days playing on his own in the Murcutt garden. Sometimes, the old cherry tree in the garden corner was a ship, on which young Noah travelled the seven seas. Other times, it was a shop, where Noah sold cherries to imaginary customers. He was denied any toys other than the ones he could create for himself from the things he could find in the garden or in the nearby fields and forests, but his imagination was all he needed.
Over all, during the first 14 years on earth, he lived a relatively happy life. Mrs Murcutt's affection more than made up for Mr Murcutt's lack of it. There was always food on the table, and there were always playmates close by should he want company. He started school and learnt to read and write; he even learnt to do a bit of algebra. The young teacher praised his curiosity and appetite for knowledge. The future seemed like a straight road, stretching out in front of him. He would finish school, take increasing responsibility in the Murcutt household, marry a girl from the village and father a few children. He would be a respectable man. Not a rich one, but certainly not a poor one.
But when Noah was 14, then a couple of months older than his poor mother had been when she passed on, Mrs Murcutt fell down the stairs and died instantly. Suddenly Noah found himself the dependant of Mr Murcutt, who was utterly incapable of taking care of himself, let alone taking care of anyone else.
On the day after Mrs Murcutt's funeral, in the early spring of 1848, Mr Murcutt told Noah to pack his belongings in a rucksack. Noah didn't own much of anything at all, and when he trotted by Mr Murcutt's side away from the village, wearing his Sunday best, his bag only contained a change of clothes.
"Where are we going?" Noah enquired of Mr Murcutt.
"We ain't going nowhere," Mr Murcutt grunted in reply. "You're going to sea."
Noah stopped in his tracks, looking at Mr Murcutt's grumpy figure with parted lips and big greyish eyes. Mr Murcutt pointedly refused to meet his stare, knowing that if he looked into Noah's eyes, he weren't likely to be able to part with the lad.
"To sea?" Noah repeated. "I'm going to sea?"
"That's right, lad. So this is where we're parting ways, you and I. I'm sure you're as happy about it as I am."
Mr Murcutt put his big hand on Noah's skinny shoulder, urging him along down the muddy path. The day was as murky as it had been when Noah was born. The sun was hidden behind clouds as thick as lead and just as drab in colour. The only sign of life in this gloomy world was a few big black birds pecking in a near-by field. Noah took a look around, trying not to stumble as he was being led forward by Mr Murcutt. He realised that it would be the last time in very long that he would see the village where he was born. He had never been outside it before.
Mr Murcutt didn't let go of Noah's shoulder until they reached the shore. Something turned in Noah's stomach when he saw the huge full rigged ship docked by the wharf. He looked past the ship at the ocean, as grey and stormy as his eyes, the white foam crowning the waves as they hit against the pier.
"No!" Noah cried, tears overflowing and streaming down his cheeks. "No! Please, Mr Murcutt, let me stay with you! I'll be ever so nice, I'll learn to cook for you, and clean the house and I won't eat anything other than bread and you'll never even notice that I'm there." Mr Murcutt ignored him, and instead dragged him further along towards a man waiting for them by the gangway. Noah continued begging in a forcibly controlled voice, promising Mr Murcutt whatever he wanted as long as he could stay.
"Here we are then, Mr Jackson," Mr Murcutt said to the man who was waiting for them.
Noah couldn't quite make out the shape of the man, since his vision was blurred by tears. He was clinging onto Mr Murcutt for dear life, crying and begging, dreading the sea and the ship.
"You quite sure you want to part with the lad?" Mr Jackson asked. "He seems a little—"
"Never you mind that. He'll grow out of it. Just take him off my hands and we can both be on our merry ways," Mr Murcutt cut in.
Noah saw something glimmer in the scarce light, and realised Mr Jackson was paying Mr Murcutt for him. He was being bought, and he didn't even know what for! He felt how Mr Murcutt finally let go of his shoulder, and how Mr Jackson put his hand there instead. It was of little comfort that Mr Jackson's grip was much softer than Mr Murcutt's was.
Mr Jackson led Noah over the gangway to the ship. It seemed fairly empty, void of any sailors or other staff. Like the empty fields and the quiet village, this ship had something of an abandoned air to it. Noah wiped his eyes with his shirtsleeve, trying to get an idea of what the ship looked like. It wasn't like anything he had ever seen before. Sure enough, he had seen ships from a distance, but he had never been onboard one. It was different from anything he was familiar with. There were things around him that he couldn't even guess the purpose of; there was an unfamiliar smell: the salty smell of the sea, of course, but it was laced with something else. Noah felt lost.
"This is the Achilles," Mr Jackson said with a certain proud emphasis, as he led Noah towards a door. "I'll make sure you get the grand tour later, but first I want to have a little chat with you, so let's go into my cabin."
Mr Jackson opened the door, and Noah suddenly found himself in a small, but cosy room. Its smell was slightly more familiar, it had a faint scent of smoke, wood and food but also something he couldn't quite discern, though the unfamiliar feeling wasn't quite as sharp in there as it was out on deck. It was more lavish than any of the rooms at the Murcutt cottage, only a little smaller. Mr Jackson gestured for him to sit down on a chair by a desk on which a number of maps and navigating equipment were spread out; he then sat down on the opposite side.
"What's your name, lad?" Mr Jackson asked, lighting a cigar.
"Noah Murcutt, sir," Noah replied sullenly, catching a stray tear making its way down his cheek with his already damp sleeve.
"Do you know how old you are?"
"14 and a half, sir."
"I don't suppose you have a clue what you're doing here, have you?"
"I'm going to sea, sir." Noah had yet to meet Mr Jackson's eyes. Instead, he was looking down at his dirty hands and the rucksack he was still carrying.
"That's right, Noah," Mr Jackson agreed, chuckling. He blew out a cloud of smoke that rose to linger by the ceiling of the cabin. "It seems it didn't work for you to stay with Murcutt any longer. Is he your father?"
"Ye—" Noah stopped himself, remembering how many times Mrs Murcutt had told him they weren't his real parents. When he replied, his voice was full of venom. "No, he ain't, sir."
"Oh?" Mr Jackson looked suspicious. Although unusual, he had had others trying to sell him young lads as cabin boys in the past. If the boy in front of him wasn't Murcutt's to sell, he would kick the old fart's arse across the whole of England. "Who are your real parents then?"
"My mother's dead," Noah said. "I don't know who my father is. Mr Murcutt is my grandfather."
"Ah." Another cloud of smoke joined the others. It was quite as misty in Mr Jackson's cabin as it was out on deck. "Well, welcome aboard, Noah. You'll be Achilles' new cabin boy. We'll teach you all you need to know in due time, but your main responsibilities will be to me, the first mate and the boatswain. It's hard work – everything's hard work on board a ship – but it will be good for you. Now. We're putting out from here tomorrow morning. I'll show you where you'll sleep, if you come with me."
"Yes, sir." Noah took his rucksack and stood up, waiting for Mr Jackson to show the way.
Mr Jackson stubbed his cigar dead against the heel of his boot before getting up.
"Very good, Noah."