Part the Two Hundred Fifth: The Lady Nereid
“Aren’t we a fair one, now?”
Hope didn’t recognize the voice of man saying that over her. And when she opened her eyes to look at him, his face was likewise strange.
Her first reaction was to kick back and away. Her feet planted themselves on the deck and she edged her back against the mast, raising her up to get a level look at him.
His long white hair and beard had streaks of brown in it. The wrinkles around his eyes were accented by the scar over his right eyelashes. The gap in his teeth when he smiled looked wide enough to mount a penny between them.
He smiled wider. “Aye, and quite alive, too.”
Hope put her hands up and only then felt the weight of the coat she was now wearing.
“Thought it best ye be covered,” he said with a nod. “I can keep Bernard in line and have him continue to behave himself, though I can’t keep an eye on the rest of the lot all the time. I can give ye something dry to replace what you have on and some privacy to do that, but I have no skirt to offer.”
“You’re too kind,” Hope replied, her voice breaking like rock under a hammer.
“So tell me, lass, how you came to be awash on me deck.”
“I… I barely recall coming aboard. I was in the water, and then, I found myself here.”
He smiled. “You can thank Bernard for that. He was keeping watch to port and saw you as the storm threw you into us. Had enough presence of mind to grab a line and lower himself down to snatch you out of the foam like a Nereid.”
She put her hands up to her head to massage the sore spots where she met the hull, checking her fingers after pressing a few times.
“No, no cuts on your crown there. I’m sure that must be a relief for ye, then, and the lad too.”
“How do you mean, sir?”
“There’s very few reasons why a lady would be at sea, and this far from known ports I’m guessing the most likely is that you’re on your way to some place, mayhap someone special.”
“And the other reasons I’d be awash?” Hope asked.
“Well, you don’t have the look of a trollop about ye, and again so far from the main port that’s less likely.”
Hope considered whether this gentleman’s limiting his assessment of her to two narrow and wrong choices was an insult or a blessing…
She decided, “Yes, my good sir, I am to meet someone special, in Port Royal. And I am ever so grateful for your saving me aboard the…” she circled her hand before her.
“The Constance, m’lady,” he informed her of the ship’s name. “Though if I may ask, how you ended up meeting a good man in that city?”
“And is Port Royal really no better than Sodom and Gomorrah? I’ve heard that Lot could easily find his fifty good men there.”
“With more than a night’s work, maybe. It’s possible, I’d be willing to grant, and for you to be this far out here I’d take ye to be a lady.”
“You’re far too kind, sir,” Hope smiled…
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