Eva stirred, surrounded by pillows and softness. Shifting slightly, she realized that she was in a bed. She blinked her eyes open and glanced around, disoriented and confused until she caught sight of Shelley sitting slumped in a chair at her bedside.
He must have heard her move, because he blinked and raised his head to look at her. As soon as he met her gaze, a relieved smile crossed his features. "You're awake," he murmured in a tired voice. "How are you feeling?"
She groaned weakly. "Well enough, but you're the sick one."
He shook his head. "Haven't you noticed? I'm on the mend now. I hear I have you to thank for that."
Eva's gaze fell. "It wasn't me. Thank the mermaids."
Shelley regarded her with quiet curiosity for a few moments, long enough that Eva started to feel uncomfortable.
He shrugged. When he spoke, it was on an entirely different subject. "You've been having nightmares."
She didn't respond at first. "I think," she began tentatively, "I think I'm beginning to remember."
"Remember what?" the man inquired.
"The shipwreck." Eva hesitated, staring at her hands. Eventually she continued, "There was a man in the boat, when the mermaids brought us back to the ship. I don't know if you recall…"
Shelley shook his head. "I don't recall anything since we left the cavern. Just darkness."
"The mermaids rescued us. They brought a boat. There was a man…a body, I mean. I think he was the captain of my ship."
"You recognized him?"
Eva shrugged. "I think so, yes. It was hard to tell, but…" Trailing off, she glanced up at Shelley, who was nodding in understanding.
"I'm sorry," he said simply.
"For what?" she asked in surprise.
"That you're here. That you've seen things nobody should have to see."
Eva managed a weak, brave smile. "Well, it's not all terrible. At least I have you."
Shelley looked curiously at her, his brow rising slightly.
"I-I mean the crew," Eva hastily amended, realizing the implications of what she'd just said. "You all. A-all of you…pirates."
Grinning, Shelley laughed softly and reassured her, "I know what you meant, Miss Ross."
Eva bit her lip, hesitating before she whispered, "Eva. Please, call me Eva."
Again those gray eyes met hers with curious interest. "Eva," he echoed.
It was quiet for a few moments. Eva could hear the distant shouts of crewmen on the deck, the groaning of the ship as it rocked on the water. Growing steadily more uncomfortable, she cast around in her mind for something to say, anything that would alleviate the awkwardness of sitting in silence with Shelley at her side.
He was no help. He seemed comfortable, content even, to simply sit and watch her.
"I wanted to thank you again," she blurted out, her voice sounding strangely loud in the quiet cabin. "You came for me when I didn't think anybody would. And," she added regretfully, "I'm sorry that I've been nothing but a burden since I arrived."
Shelley leaned forward and opened his mouth, obviously with the intention of protesting, but she stopped him.
"No. It's true. I'm tired of being useless, of needing to be rescued. I should be able to defend myself."
The man considered her for a few moments. "Well, if that's the case, perhaps you should have a word with Derwin. He may be able to teach you a thing or two."
Eva remembered the ease with which Derwin had defended her from Alf. "How does he know so much?" she asked Shelley.
"He was in the navy," the captain explained.
"Yes," she recalled, "he did mention that he was a tar."
"A tar?" Shelley echoed with an incredulous laugh. "Eva, the man was captain of a warship. He was a decorated war hero."
She frowned skeptically. "How do you know that?"
"He told me, and I believe him." Seeing Eva's expression, he added, "He doesn't want people to know. He feels responsible for the sinking of his ship. Nobody on his crew survived. When I found him, he was on the cliffs, about to take his own life."
"Derwin?" she asked incredulously.
"Yes." He waited for the information to sink in before continuing, "Don't let on that I've told you any of this. I'm certain that if you ask him, he'd be happy to help you learn to defend yourself. And as for being useful, I already told you, there will come a time when you will be of great help to us."
"How?" she inquired, perplexed.
Shelley shook his head. "All in good time, my dear. In the meantime, I'm happy to have your company while I recover."
Eva met his gaze, saw the small smile on his face. "Me too," she agreed softly.
Aside from Lachlan's checkups and the occasional, infrequent visit from Derwin, Eva and Shelley didn't receive much company. In a way, it was good. Eva wasn't sure she was ready to face the rest of the crew yet, not when most of them probably still held a grudge against her for what happened to Mr. Grayson.
Things had changed, though, despite the crew's opinion of her. Shelley didn't seem to hate Eva anymore, and she didn't hate him either. They talked. At first it was frivolous things, like the strange weather on the island—snow one day and muggy heat the next—or the odd creatures that Shelley had seen in the water. He asked her about the outside world, inquiring after the smallest details. What did people wear? What was the music like? What was a water closet? She in turn learned that he was familiar with the city of her birth, Portsmouth, including the very street she lived on.
"Tell me, is the Black Dragon inn still there?" he inquired curiously.
"Yes," Eva answered eagerly. "Across the street from the blacksmith."
"Blacksmith?" Shelley echoed. "That can't be right. It used to be across from a bakery."
"That entire side of the street burned down in the great fire ten years ago. They had to rebuild half the quarter. We almost lost our house."
The man sighed and leaned back in his chair, drawing a hand down his face as he shook his head. "So much has changed," he murmured in mild awe.
"How long has it been since you came here?" Eva asked tentatively, not wanting to probe too much.
Shelley shrugged. "Too long," he replied. "I've lost count. Twenty, thirty years perhaps? Time is meaningless anyway."
"You said you were a sailor before."
He nodded. "I traveled across the world."
"I would have given anything for that," Eva whispered.
Looking at her curiously, the captain asked, "Why didn't you? Your father was a merchant, was he not?"
"He didn't let me travel with him. He wanted me in school, not running loose on his ships. To be honest," she admitted, "I don't think he knew what to do with me once my mother died."
"Do you remember why you were on a ship when it wrecked?" Shelley inquired.
She shook her head. "No, but I think…" she paused, hesitating for a moment. "I think I was on my way home."
"What makes you say that?" he probed gently.
Shrugging, Eva confessed, "I don't know. I just remember a feeling of relief, the kind you get when you're nearly home after a long journey."
"I know that feeling," Shelley agreed.
"Do you miss it?" Eva asked abruptly. "Your home?"
The man regarded her with a small, sad smile. "I never had much of a home to miss. It's probably long gone anyway."
She could tell he was beginning to grow uncomfortable. She'd started to notice that he did that whenever she asked him anything about his past. But something prompted her to keep going.
"Captain," she began in a quiet voice. "How did you lose your hand?"
He didn't meet her gaze, staring thoughtfully down at his hook. The silence dragged on, and Eva wondered if he was simply not going to answer, when he finally spoke. "I lost it in the wreck," he told her.
He shook his head. "I'm sorry. I don't like to talk about it."
She quickly nodded. "Of course. Forgive me for asking."
Shelley smiled wanly. "Tell me," he said, changing the subject, "do you like playing cards?"
And with that, the conversation ended as Shelley dragged a barrel over to the bed, retrieved a makeshift set of cards from a desk drawer, and began to shuffle them as he explained the rules to Eva. She went along with him, but she couldn't help but wonder why the man avoided talking about his past. Perhaps, she thought, he was like Derwin, shy to mention his past because he was ashamed of it. And perhaps, like Derwin, he had also confided in somebody.
All she had to do was find out who his confidante was.
After a few days, Shelley finally drank his last cup of mossy tea, as Lachlan declared him well again. The wound on his arm had faded to a scar, and his energy had returned. Eva was also on the mend, though her foot still tingled constantly, as if it had fallen asleep, and she walked with a noticeable limp.
The first thing Shelley did as newly recovered captain was to call the crew together. Emerging onto the quarterdeck, wearing his blue captain's coat, he announced, "I'm certain by now that you have all heard the circumstances which led to my recent illness. You are also certainly aware of the efforts that went into finding my cure." He regarded the crew with his stern gaze.
"So," he continued in a steely voice, "if it wasn't made clear before, Miss Evalyn Ross is under my protection, as she has been from the beginning. You are to treat her with the same respect and deference with which you treat me. Any threat to her person will be counted as a threat to me. Is that understood?"
A solid "Yes, sir!" resounded over the deck.
After a short silence, Shelley stated, "Good. Mr. Hughes!" he turned to the navigator at his side.
"Set a course for the bay. We're going back to safe port."
The man smiled and nodded emphatically as he responded, "Yes, sir!"
Eva, who stood near the cabin door, half-hidden in shadows, couldn't help but notice the relief that seemed to sweep over the crew at the news. They'd remained anchored near the point for nearly two weeks while Shelley recovered, in case they needed to return to the island for more moss. Though nothing had occurred, no monster had been sighted, no strange tremors or quakes had been felt, the crew was obviously more than happy to retreat from waters that were known to be the home of Leviathan.
"Everybody seems relieved to leave," she noted as Shelley approached her.
"Aye," he agreed, "these waters are dangerous. I'm more than a little surprised that the crew agreed to come here in the first place."
"It was the only way to save you," Eva pointed out.
Shelley shook his head. "Even so, I wouldn't have expected them to come, much less stay for so long."
"Why? Because of rumors about some sea monster?" she scoffed, trying to seem brave.
His steady gray eyes pierced through her false sense of bravado. "Leviathan is real," he told her in a quiet, calm voice. "I've seen it. Don't think that we were safe because nothing happened. Leviathan sees everything, notices the smallest change. We're alive now, not out of any cleverness or luck of our own. We're alive because of the same mercy you show to an insect, too disinterested to crush it. The next time, we may not be so fortunate.
"So yes," he finished, "be relieved that we're leaving, and pray that we never have to return."