The sun was setting as I walked home from the pub, my feet aching from being on them for so many hours without end. The barmaids weren't allowed a break, and tonight had been so busy, I couldn't even sit down for more than a minute or two. I was glad to be heading home, even if I did have to go past the cemetery to reach my house, where a warm fire and bed awaited me, Mother baking a ham for dinner, father smoking his Spanish tobacco. It was worth the shivers walking past the rotting tombs brought, just to get home faster. The night was coming on far too fast for my liking, shadows pooling under the few dead oaks littering the paths like wraiths.
I glanced at the tombs as I walked by, pulling my shawl tighter around my shoulders, feeling a sudden chill that might have been in my mind, might have been real, who honestly knew? The tales and legends my mother had told me of the evils of graveyards ran through my mind, making me hurry a little quicker, despite how sore my heels were: this caused me to not watch where I was going, tripping over a protruding root, snapping the heel off my right shoe. Down I went, right onto my face in the dirt, the breath whooshing out of my lungs all at once. The embarrassment was immense. I sat up the best I could, a sharp pain racing through my arm: a scratch ran up from wrist, bleeding sluggishly. Cursing, I wrapped it up in my sleeve as best I could, getting back on my feet.
"Nasty scratch, lass...best to bind it," A voice said from behind me, making a slight shiver run up my spin, as tales of ghosts and god forsaken souls ran through my mind. I almost didn't dare to look behind me. It was a man, that much was for sure, but what he wanted, or what he might do...
The ideas swirling through my mind about made me swoon, as every horrible lie and truth I'd heard about men danced through my thoughts.
A hand rough with calluses on each palm took my arm, the fingertips lightly skating over the skin, as they explored the wound. My skin tingled where he touched, my breath coming in hitches.
"Don't..." I tried, my words catching in my throat, only a whisper escaping. "Please..."
"Don't?" The man asked, his voice lilting. Hot breath was near my ear, scented with salt and smelling of peppermint. "But this must surely sting."
He pulled a bandana from his hair, wrapping it around my cut, tying it snug, but not tight enough to hurt. He adjusted it, and gently kissed the inside of my wrist. "All better now, my lovely?"
I nodded, haltingly. "M...much better, sir...thank you kindly." I took a step back. "I...I should be..going now..."
"Scared of me, lass?" He stepped in front of me, smiling softly. He brushed tangles of black hair off his tanned forehead, as took a deep bow. "Nothing to fear... I assure you I am nothing less than a gentleman."
I nodded, looking at him; his clothes were patched and torn, dirt smudged into them, but he was clean shaven, and smelled of peppermint, for some reason.
"I can see that, sir..." I said, softly. "I apologize for my actions earlier..." I sounded like a child, after a scolding by a parent.
He smiled, a crooked grin that made me feel hot: I was blushing, and it made me feel worse than I already did. "No worries, lass, been treated worse by worse... an insult from someone like you should be taken as a compliment."
I frowned. "I...my name isn't 'lass', sir. " My tone was harder than I'd meant it to be. "It's Maria."
"Maria," he repeated, making the R roll across his tongue like a wave. "What a lovely name, lass... like the name of a mermaid."
I felt my cheeks heat up, and quickly looked away from him. "Yes...well...Mr...?"
"Bellamy...Sam Bellamy," He replied, with another bow. A gentleman he wasn't, but he did put on good airs and pretense. Clean him up, and it would be a reasonable facsimile. I wasn't impressed with his levity, however, and made a soft noise in my throat. "Well...anyway...Mr. Bellamy, I really must be going."
"Sam, please, lass...Mr. Bellamy was my father."
He was rather thick, wasn't he? I gave him a look, hoping he would catch on. I'd never been one to flirt with men in the village, and most assuredly not strangers I'd known for only a few moments. This Sam Bellamy struck me as a cocksure rouge, obviously used to getting his way from women. I'd had enough: giving a sigh, I turned to leave. "Goodnight, Mr. Bellamy."
I didn't hear his footsteps behind me as I walked down the path, and I was grateful for it. I'd honestly been worried he would follow me, trying to spark a kiss or kind word from me, when I had none to give. I wasn't the type of girl to throw myself at a pretty face.
I sighed, hurrying on so as not to miss supper, as mother was surely already cross with me.
It wasn't until another week had wasted by that I saw Bellamy again, stubble dotting his cheeks and chin. He was drinking in the pub with a rogue looking crew of men, each more burly and unstable looking than the last. They sat and cat - called, pinching the buttocks of passing barmaids, the perfect picture of would be villains. The other girls whispered about them, a few on their looks, others on their pasts. The same word passed each of their lips: Pirates.
Not the storybook pirates of novels and romances, the dapper, singing gents eager to wine and woo. No, real pirates, dark, murderous men who killed without a thought, took women they desired for wench brides, and stole what caught their eye. Dirty, terrible men, who only deserved the hangman's' rope. These men, pirates?
My glance caught briefly with Bellamy's, and he smiled, raising his mug in toast. I felt my cheeks heat, as a blush no doubt surely raced across them, and avoided the look, not replying. He frowned, lowering his mug.
The day slid by, and the crew never left: clearly on leave, the men ordered drink after drink, downing rum like it was life's blood, cackling and singing the hours away. The barmaids left one by one, until only I remained, serving cast iron mugs to the men, whose gazes wavered often, making me wish for a higher cut blouse.
Only Bellamy kept his eyes decent, meeting my gaze often, casting what my mother would've called "The Eyes" on more than one occasion. It was all so lovely, like something out of a fairy tale or romance novel. But, common sense overruled all this, and I tampered down any notions I gave towards it: Bellamy more likely than not only desired a wench for a night of pleasure, and I was not that sort of girl. My virtue wasn't to be handed off to a passing man at whim.
The men grew louder as my shift continued, demanding more and more rum. Bellamy shot more and more looks my way, but prevented his men from touching me in any way, even as a few other barmaids received pinched bottoms for it. He was tipsy, but refrained from drinking as much as his men downed, nursing his second rum from earlier, looking more and more embarrassed of the outrageous behavior of the men, who catcalled and told filthy jokes. Finally, he stood, slapping the mugs from their hands, and strode out.
I was charged with cleaning the table, scrubbing the stains and burns with annoyance, as the men obviously had no respect for the bar. I sighed, tossing dropped papers into a sack for later burning. Under a slip with my name scrawled messily on it, three gold coins glittered, meant for me. I glanced around, making sure no one was watching me, and slid them into my apron.