The cart had been travelling for over an hour and despite the bumpy ride, Melisande had managed to fall asleep in the back. She was roused when she realized that the cart was slowing down. The sounds of activity all around her were a good indication that she’d arrived in Granville. She raised her head and smiled when she realized that her trip was over. Now she needed to figure out how to get aboard a ship.
The cart passed through the market and was heading for the docks. She looked in front of her as the buildings parted to reveal tall masts and open ocean. This was where Melisande wanted to be. Quietly, she hopped off the back of the cart and went to take a closer look at the ship.
Upon examining her surroundings, Melisande saw several ships with men lining up to sign on. She walked over to one of the ships. A man was sitting at a small desk signing crew on.
He looked at her sternly, “This ain’t no place for womenfolk, move along.”
Hurt, Melisande turned her back to the ship without replying, and walked away. Looking at her clothing, she realized that there was no way she would be able to sign on as long as she looked like a castle maid. It was obvious that she would need to diguise herself as a boy.
Without another thought, Melisande turned and headed for the marketplace. Finding what she needed was easy enough with so many places to shop. She went from stand to stand looking for the right tunic and some trousers, but none seemed to suit her. Finally, as she was about to give up, she found what she was looking for at the last stand at the end of the road.
The shopkeeper was an older man who eyed her suspiciously, “You want to buy these clothes?”
Melisande looked at him nervously, “Yes sir, if that is ok. They are for my… husband.”
“Indeed…” The man said quietly, “and where is your husband?”
She began to sweat as she tried to come up with a credible story, “He’s… he’s at sea… he should be home at any day now.”
“This is how it always is.” She said, trying to be casual. “Every time he comes home, his clothes are always torn to shreds. I can’t have him looking like a beggar, you know?”
The shopkeeper narrowed his eyes, “Odd… I haven’t seen any reports of a ship coming in… lots going out, but not one coming in.”
The whole thing sounded suspicious, but he was a shopkeeper, not the local constable, “Oh well. Do you have enough money?”
Melisande pulled a small sack of coins from her dress and handed it to him. He opened it and looked in, “You’re a little short… but it’s ok, I’ll accept this for questioning you.”
She smiled and curtseyed, “Thank you sir.”
She took the clothes and backed away, looking for a place to change. Privacy was in short supply in this town, but she would not give up.
At the other end of the market stood an old tavern which was a favorite hangout for sailors that had just returned to port. Anytime a ship arrived, there was always a party and the doors would remain open all hours of the night. It seemed like a fairly rough spot and not suitable for her to change.
As Melisande walked by, the door to the tavern flew open and a man fell through them. He landed hard on his side on the dirt path. He was followed by a crowd that was led by a much larger man wearing an apron. The large man stood in front of him with a sneer, “Don’t be showing your face around here again!”
“Aw come on innkeep!” The man replied slyly, “I was just enjoying a drink! She came on to me. What’s the harm in me coming around and enjoying the local spirits?”
As though answering his question, eight swords suddenly appeared, pointed at his throat. The young man looked the mob that was now poised to strike and his lips twisted, “All right, you’ve made your point. Not a good idea.”
The men put their swords away and headed back into the tavern. As the innkeeper followed and closed the door, he called back to the young man, “Oh, and if I see you anywhere near my daughter again, I’ll fix you in a way to make you fit for the choir!”
Hearty laughs came from inside the tavern as the large man slammed the door. The smaller man stood up, brushed himself off, and straightened up his short black hair. He smiled and called back, “I’d still be more of a man than you!”
The young man laughed as he began to stumble down the street. He tried his best to steady himself as he continued, but he stumbled over a stone and fell forward. The man closed his eyes, certain he was about to hit the ground again, but instead felt pressure on his shoulders, holding him up. When his eyes opened, he saw Melisande holding on to him, “Are you okay?”
The man rubbed his eyes and looked at her again, “I beg your pardon?”
She looked at him oddly, “Are you okay? You’re stumbling all over the place and you reek of booze!”
Snap out of it man! He thought to himself as he straightened up, “My apologies miss. I seem to have had a bad string of luck lately.”
He smiled as he looked her over, “Until now, that is.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” she replied.
The man brushed off his white tunic, straightened up the large golden medallion the rested on his partially bare chest, and stood up straight, “Allow me to introduce myself properly. I am Captain Baltazar de la Fuente, at your service ma’am. May I have the honor of your name?”
Melisande immediately noticed that his eyes were not on her face, “You may have the honor of my fist in your mouth if you don’t redirect your gaze.”
Baltazar shook his head and bowed, “My sincerest apologies, my fair lady. It is hard to keep one’s eyes focused on but a single aspect of such a work of art.”
At hearing his words, her eyes went fluttery, “You… you see me as a work of art?”
“Aye,” He replied drunkenly, “indeed the great painters of the church, including the mind of Leonardo Da Vinci could not have envisioned such perfection.”
“Leonardo Da Vinci…” She repeated in a whisper. “I have heard of him and read of his works.”
She forced a half smile as she moved closer to him, “Answer me something honestly my noble Baltazar…”
“Anything m’lady,” he replied in a sensual tone.
The blushing look on her face quickly turned to a cross between malice and deviousness, “How many women were fools enough to believe a single word of that flattery?”
Baltazar was caught off guard and his expression turned to one of shock. He struggled to regain his composure as he organized a retort, “It… matters not how many women I have said such things to, what matters is the sincerity with which I say it now.”
“And you’re badly lacking in any.” She replied with a snort. “Out of my way, I have no time for ruffians.”
Melisande pushed past Baltazar and made her way back to the docks. Baltazar watched her from behind. Well now, she certainly has spirit. He then took a moment as he examined her appearance before she turned away. She’s an unusual one… those eyes are unlike any other I’ve seen…
Once she was away from Baltazar, Melisande decided to try a shortcut through a large alley. She could see the masts of ships on the other side and quickly made her way through. She was a few feet away from the docks when two men appeared in front of her, “Well well, what have we here?”
Melisande didn’t give them a second thought, “Excuse me, please. I need to get to the docks.”
The taller man pushed her back, “What would a woman like you want on the docks? I better check your bags.”
Melisande backed off and tried to leave the alley the other way, only to see it blocked by two more men, “Let me be, I have nothing of any value to you!”
The leader looked her over, “Is that so? I think you have a few things of value, what do you think boys?”
The other three snickered as they closed in on Melisande. She began to breathe heavily as she dropped her bag and pulled the two swords out of her blanket. With one in each hand, she pointed them in both directions at the gang, “I know how to use these, back off!”
The swords looked tarnished and her quivering hands were not helping her case. The group scoffed and continued to move in. The leader kept his eyes on her, “Come on boys, let’s see what she has to offer.”
Suddenly, another voice appeared behind them, “What’s the matter Jaspart, roughing up local merchants becoming too tough for you?”
The leader looked up, “This doesn’t concern you La Fuente, isn’t there some merchant’s daughter you should be defiling?”
Baltazar laughed, “Yeah, but I only gamble my money, not certain parts of me. The price proved to be a little high. Anyway, you heard the lady, she said back off.”
“Really,” Jaspart replied, “I don’t think I have to back off… in fact, I appear to have three swords that agree with me on that, don’t ya boys?”
“4 swords against one?” Baltazar said with a frown. “Almost seems a little unfair!”
As the first gang member, a fat man named Grard, drew his sword, Baltazar grabbed his own and sliced the air. His sword clashed with Grard’s, while a second man, Allart came up behind him. As Baltazar dueled, he watched Allart out of the corner of his eye.
Once his attacker got close enough, Baltazar used his impressive speed and brought his leg back hard. His foot impacted against the Allart’s stomach, causing him to wheeze and fall to the ground. Then he forced Grard’s sword away with his own, balled a fist, and struck right on the bridge of Grard’s nose.
The man dropped his sword and cupped his hands over his face as he fell to the ground. The third man who had been standing next to Jaspart flinched and then ran as fast as he could in the other direction. Jaspart called after him, “Coward!”
Baltazar shrugged, “Almost unfair.”
Jaspart sneered, “This isn’t over La Fuente!”
“So you keep saying, old friend,” Baltazar called as he ran away, “but you just never learn, you should hire better men!”
Once they were gone, Baltazar grabbed Melisande’s bag and brushed it off. He then turned and handed it to her, “My apologies miss. Some of the locals around here are a bit rough around the edges.”
Melisande lowered her swords, “Thank you for your help good sir, though I am sure that I could have handled things.”
Baltazar smiled, “Of that, I have no doubt, even with such poorly kept swords. In truth I was going to let you handle it yourself, but then I thought, ‘What kind of a man would I be if I let you do all the work?’ So I figured I’d do at least one good deed today.”
“I see.” Melisande chuckled softly as she turned to keep moving. “Well thank you again.”
Baltazar nodded, “You’re welcome miss… um…”
“Melisande.” She replied. “My name is Melisande.”
“A beautiful name for one so fair!” Baltazar said with a bow. “Do you live around here? May I have the honor of escorting you home?”
“I would like that very much.” Melisande said politely.
“Very well then,” Baltazar replied, “which w…”
“Unfortunately,” Melisande interrupted as the devious grin once again appeared on her face, “I don’t live anywhere around here. So it looks like you’re going to have to escort yourself home.”
Melisande brushed passed Baltazar with a giggle, leaving him standing in the alley with a sheepish grin on his face, “It would appear that this rose has thorns…”
Baltazar watched Melisande until she disappeared from view. She turned a corner and hid behind a stack of barrels. After making sure that she was completely out of sight, she stripped off her dress and threw on the clothes that she had just purchased.
Realizing that her face was still a giveaway to her gender, she rubbed some dirt on her cheeks and slightly narrowed her eyes. Among the clothes she had purchased was a vest that helped hide her chest once she buttoned it. Finally, she stood up and looked herself over. She could now easily pass for a boy, or so she thought. A gust of wind blew her golden blonde hair into her face.
Melisande knew that other sailors had longer hair, but not like hers. She took care of her hair and made sure it shined brightly. She could never get it past anyone.
Knowing what had to be done, Melisande grabbed one of her swords and pulled her hair back. At that moment, she hesitated. What was she doing? Did she really want to alter her appearance this much?
I’ve come this far. She thought to herself with a deep sigh. If I really want this, I’ll need to go all the way…
With one quick pull, Melisande felt a ripping sensation as her hair came loose. She looked at the long locks in her hand as the remaining hair on her head barely touched her shoulders. She dropped the severed hair and allowed the wind to carry it away. She was now ready to go.
Unfortunately it looked as though Melisande had taken too long. All of the ships that were hiring had closed up shop and weren’t taking on anyone else. She let out another deep sigh and started walking down the dock towards the town, hoping to find some place to rest for the night. She passed by several ships, none of whom still had a desk out in front of them.
As she continued walking, she noticed a peculiar looking ship at the end of the dock. It was in the process of being repainted dark blue and flew no flag. The name on the back was painted in gold and shined in the setting sun.
On the deck, Melisande could hear two men yelling at each other. She couldn’t quite make out what they were saying, but she picked out the words ‘deserters’ and ‘short-handed.’ As she made her way by the dock, a sailor on board looked over the side and yelled to her, “You there, boy!”
She turned back and looked up at the person who had called to her, “Me, sir?”
“Aye.” He replied. “Ye look like a lad looking for work.”
Melisande nodded as she tried to adjust her speech to sound more like an experienced sailor, “Aye, but it looks like everyone’s already signed up enough hands.”
The sailor smiled, “Well, ye think ye got what it takes to sail on the famous Specter?”
Melisande looked over the small ship. The Specter had a single square rigged mast which was followed by a smaller mast that carried a large lanteen sail. It was smaller than most caravels that Melisande had read about and the ship’s actual design was unknown to her, “Famous huh, what’s the pay like?”
“Ye’d start out a cabin boy.” He replied. “So ye would get a half a share of whatever we bring in.”
There’s almost no difference between a cabin boy and what I do at the abbey… She thought to herself. Still, you have to start somewhere.
Having made her decision, Melisande looked up at the sailor, “Where do I sign up?”
The sailor smiled as he beckoned her aboard, “Haha, that’s the spirit! Come meet the first mate.”
Without another thought, Melisande ran to the walkway and jumped aboard the Specter. She was surprised to see just how heavily armed the ship was. Large cannons lined the deck, making the walkway somewhat cramped. These were in addition to the standard armament on the lower gun deck. Other than that, there was nothing special about this ship. It was small, cramped, and looked like it was over-manned for its size. The aft cabin had three large, lead-plated windows, but that was the only decor on the aft castle.
“She be a simple ship, but she serves her purpose.”
Melisande jumped at the voice that appeared behind her. She turned to see the first officer standing right over her. He was a very tall man with a gray beard and dark eyes. His hair was almost gone and he wore a large hat to cover it. He smiled with every green tooth he still had, “Apologies, lad, my name is Melchior, I be the first officer on the Specter. I understand ye be looking to sign on with us?”
Melisande mustered up what courage she could, “Aye, sir.”
Melchior smiled, “Argh, what be your name?”
“Mel…” She stopped in the middle of her name. She couldn’t very well give her real name or they would know right away what she was. Could she get away with that, or would she need to think of something quick.
Melchior looked at her oddly, “Mel… that be an odd name. Be that short for something?”
She shook her head, “No sir, it’s just Mel sir.”
Melchior smiled guided her over to a table seated in front of the helm. On it was a book and quill. Melchior pointed to it, “All right then Mel, make your mark.”
Melisande picked up the quill and signed her name. Melchior’s eyes narrowed, “You know how to write too. This be quite interesting.”
“My mother insisted I learn.” She replied. “I can’t figure out why.”
“Perhaps she thought it best ye be educated.” Melchior replied. “It be a better way to live then not knowing if something ye be signing be false.”
Once Melisande was done with the book, Melchior closed it and put it away, “Welcome aboard the Specter, lad.”
She nodded, “Thanks, so tell me, who is captain here?”
“Aye.” Melchior replied. “He be the bravest man I ever did sail with. I expect he be back any time. He be a real whirlwind of passion and ferocity. Ye best not cross his path.”
Melisande smiled, “Got it, this should be fun.”
Melchior shrugged, “Aye lad, if ye say so. I reckon ye be wanting to get started. Stow yer gear and make for the galley, the ship’s cook will be waiting for ye. Lively now!”
Melisande stood at attention and saluted, “Aye aye sir.”
She quickly disappeared below deck, found her bunk, and then made her way to galley. She passed through the small walkway illuminated by lanterns. The wood creaked under her feet as she stepped. Finally, she made it to the galley. This area was well lit and even had hot stove with a vent running through to the deck.
The cook had his back turned to her as she entered the small room. He was working hard on the crew’s supper. Upon hearing movement, he turned around to see who had entered his galley.
Melisande shrieked at seeing his face, “Papi?”
The startled cook looked strangely at Melisande, “Boy, why are you shouting like that? You could have gotten yourself shot!”
He then stopped in his tracks, “Wait… what did you call me, Papi?”
A terrified look came over his face as he realized who he was dealing with. He walked closer to her, grabbed a wet rag from the counter and put his hand to her face. Before she could back away or protest, he wiped away the dirt, “Only one person knows me by that name…”
As Papi wiped her face, his eyes went wide, “Melisande? So this is where you ran off to! I thought maybe you had gone exploring and that Sister Mary was overreacting per the norm but… What are you doing on this ship?”
“I might ask you the same question.” She replied. “I remember you disappearing for months at a time throughout my life, is this where you went?”
“I’m asking the questions here Messy!” He fired back, “This is no place for you! These people are pirates!”
Melisande stepped backwards, “A… a pirate vessel?”
“Yes,” Papi replied with a sheepish look, “I sign on as the ships cook every now and then when I need more money to keep my Inn open.”
She couldn’t believe what she was hearing, “So all these years, you’ve been a pirate.”
“I’ve been a cook on merchant ships too,” he admitted, “but this is the only one I’ve truly enjoyed serving on.”
“I see…” She replied. “So what now?”
Papi shook his head, “Now we’re getting you off of this ship and back to the abbey!”
“No!” Melisande protested adamantly, “I’m staying right here. I can’t go back to the abbey. I am tired of that life. I snuck out early this morning and went for a walk. When I looked back, I couldn’t stand the thought of returning to that cage. I need to get my life started before I rot away behind those walls!”
“This is not the place for you to get started.” Papi insisted. “If the crew finds out who you really are, I don’t know what they’ll do!”
“They won’t find out.” She replied smiling. “Look at me, you barely even knew who I was.”
Papi looked her over and sighed, “This isn’t a game, Messy! You are in real danger here. I’m taking you back. There is no other choice.”
She took a step backwards, “No, no you’re not. If you even try it, I’ll inform the local authorities of what you really are. I’ll then do the same with the abbey.”
Papi’s mouth dropped open, “Messy… after all these years… I was good to you and did my best to make you happy when I was at the abbey. After all that, you’re blackmailing me? You’d really turn me over to be hanged?”
“I won’t,” she replied, “and I don’t want to, but now you can see just how despirate I am. I can’t go back. I’ll die if I have to remain trapped behind those walls. No matter what, you’ll have to kill me to send me back.”
“Messy…” Papi said in a disappointed voice. “You’ve changed. I never thought you’d go this far.”
Melisande frowned as tears entered her eyes, “I’m sorry Papi. I don’t mean to hurt you and I hope you can forgive me, but I was suffocating there. I need to know who I am and where I come from. I need to travel and to find out who my family is. There is more to me than a simple abbey servant… I know there is.”
Papi saw the look in her watering eyes as they pleaded with him. She stepped closer as a tear fell down her cheek, “Please help me… please?”
Papi struggled greatly with her plea. He didn’t know what to do. He didn’t like the way that Sister Mary had treated her, but how could he let her stay on that ship? She was in a lot more danger than he thought she could understand. Even so, what choice did he have? He couldn’t force her back and she did have information on him that could lead to a hangman’s noose.
Defeated, and knowing that Melisande would not give up, he sighed, “If you are absolutely certain that you’ve thought this through… fine. I’ll keep your secret for one voyage and only one! After that, I’m taking you ashore and we’ll find the answers to your past together.”
Melisande looked away as she contemplated his words. Papi watched her think, and knew that he had duties to attend to, “This is the only deal that I’m prepared to make. I’d rather face the gallows than see you at the mercy of these cutthroats. Is it a deal or am I taking you ashore now?”
Melisande looked up and smiled, “I love you Papi, you’re the best. I accept your offer!”
She threw her arms around him and gave him a kiss. Papi pulled away quickly with a nervous look, “Don’t thank me. I’m already regretting this. Keep yourself in check and don’t rouse suspicion!”
“Don’t worry Papi,” she replied, “the guards taught me how to handle a sword. I’ll be fine.”
“I hope so,” Papi replied, “I hope so…”
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