By Meyari McFarland
Chapter Two: Boarding Ship
Cadfael did his best not to whimper as Gwen walked down the gangplank, leaving him and Annie onboard the Wave Dancer. She’d stayed until the very last instant, one arm around Cadfael’s shoulder to protect him from the sailors surrounding him. Annie, of course, had clambered up the rigging to chatter with the sailors getting everything ready to go. If it weren’t for Gwen waving goodbye to him from the dock Cadfael would have already run for his cabin so that none of the women could get close to him.
“Drop sails,” Captain Ula called. “Release the moorings!”
“Aye-aye, Cap’n!” one sailor called out directly behind Cadfael.
He hadn’t realized that she was so close to him because he’d been so focused on watching the sailors in front of him and to the side so he jumped and whirled to stare at her. She grinned back at him, wagging her eyebrows as if she found his fright amusing. As Cadfael curled inward on himself, clutching his shawl tighter to his chest, the sailor laughed and clambered up the rigging. Everywhere Cadfael looked there were other women staring at him, glancing at him from the corners of their eyes or just grinning with that look that said they were looking forward to getting a taste of him.
“Caddie!” Anwyn called. “Heads up!”
“What?” Cadfael asked.
A rope swung right past his nose, nearly smacking him. It did briefly tangle with his kilts but the sailors on the deck caught it and pulled it away from him, four of them hauling on the rope at once. Cadfael shuddered and edged around them, heading for the cabin that Gwen had said would be his. He had to stop twice for sailors running towards the bow or stern, and once he had to duck for the boom swinging around as they tacked to catch the wind. Eventually he made it to the door to his cabin, heart pounding and breath coming entirely too fast. The further they got from shore, the more Wave Dancer rocked, making Cadfael’s stomach warn of impending upset.
“Heh, already heading inside?” one of the sailors asked. “Need company?”
“No!” Cadfael snapped at her. “Leave me alone!”
She jerked back, glaring in offense. As she straightened up, her lip curling on one side, Cadfael shrank back against his cabin door and wished for the size and courage to be able to tell women to back off without feeling like they were going to break him in two for it. Even though the ship was just setting sail, even though everyone should be busy, it looked to Cadfael like the sailor was going to grab him or yell at him or something.
“Hey!” Anwyn bellowed. “Back off Caddie!”
The sailor jerked again, this time turning to find Anwyn glaring down at her from the rigging. “Just talking to him.”
“Get your tits back to work,” Anwyn growled loudly enough to be heard over the entire ship. “Caddie’s off limits and you know it.”
That made the sailor’s cheeks color but she moved away from Cadfael’s side and back out to do whatever it was she was supposed to be doing. Cadfael sighed with relief and nodded to Anwyn before slipping into his cabin. He leaned against the door, counting to twenty in every language he knew until his heart finally slowed down. Only once he could breathe without shaking did he look around the cabin.
It was a good size for a ship with the Wave Dancer’s draft, easily four paces by four when you included the bunk built into the wall on the far side. He had a window, a luxury he appreciated, a very comfortable looking bunk that he knew he was going to despise by the time they got to Ntombi, and a nice clean bucket in the corner for when his stomach finally decided that all the shifting and moving that went with being at sea was unacceptable. Cadfael had no doubt that he’d be using it in the next half hour. He could already feel it coming.
“I wonder how long it will take before I’m sick enough of this room to leave it?” Cadfael whispered as he went to rescue his embroidery from his trunk.
He was fairly sure that it would take at least a week or so before he would venture out for more than a few minutes at a time. As much as he loved Anwyn, and he did despite her maddening habit of only protecting half the time he needed it, he knew that she wasn’t going to be there constantly. With months of travel to get to Ntombi, Cadfael knew that the sailors would have many more chances to try to steal a grope before Anwyn could stop them. All he could hope for was that Captain Ula would actually do as Gwen had suggested. Having two protectors on board would keep him much safer than having just one.
“You planning on staying in your cabin the entire trip?”
Three days later, Cadfael looked up from his embroidery to find Captain Ula staring at him from the doorway. She wasn’t bad to look at, honestly. Tall, nearly six feet tall, with skin burned brown by the sun and wind, Ula had sun-bleached hair cut short enough that it stood up in spikes. Her Captain’s coat was a lighter brown that worked well with her coloring. She smiled at the way he stared, taking his attention as an invitation to enter the room.
“I get sick when I watch the horizon,” Cadfael said, fingers trembling on his embroidery needle.
“You get sick a lot,” Ula said as she settled on the end of his trunk. There was nowhere else to sit other than Cadfael’s bed. “Has Anwyn been making sure you get enough food and water?”
He looked up at her, a little glance through his eyelashes, as he started sewing again. “She tries.”
Ula laughed quietly, watching his face instead of his fingers. The longer she watched him the warmer his cheeks got. By the time the blush had spread to his ears, down the back of his neck and under his high-necked shirt Cadfael had to set his embroidery aside. If he didn’t, he was going to have to tear out everything he did. He let out a breath as he folded his hands in his lap. When he met her eyes Ula grinned.
“Did you want something?” Cadfael asked. He could hear the hostility in his voice but didn’t apologize for it. She was the one who’d come in and interrupted him, not the other way around.
“Just to make sure that you’re okay,” Ula said. “And to lay claim, at least as far as the women are concerned. They’re pestering your sister with questions about how much it would cost to get some of your time and attention. I don’t want her breaking bones so I thought I’d make it clear that you’re mine for the trip.”
Cadfael couldn’t help but shrink back into his bunk at the sheer thought of that. As bad as the thought of being sold like a common street whore was, the thought of actually servicing Ula’s needs for months was worse. It wasn’t that he hated women’s bodies. He didn’t, or at least he wasn’t completely repulsed by them. He just preferred to be left alone. His response made Ula glower as if she wanted to do some skull cracking of her own. She glared at the door of his cabin and then looked at Cadfael with the sort of solicitousness that he was used to getting only from his older uncles.
“Did someone hurt you?” Ula asked. “On the ship, I mean. If they did, tell me and I’ll make sure that they never do it again, Cadfael.”
“No, not here,” Cadfael admitted with a shamed little shrug. “I’ve always gotten a lot of attention and it makes me uncomfortable. I don’t know how many women have tried to ‘sample the wares’ when they thought my family wasn’t watching.”
“…Used to Aravel, I take it,” Ula said after staring at him for a moment.
That comment made Cadfael laugh out loud despite his nervousness. “Everyone loves Aravel. He’s so bright and open. I’m… not. And women get annoyed when I’m not him, which makes them do things that, well, I like to think they normally wouldn’t do those things to me. Or to anyone.”
Ula sighed. She came over and sat on the bunk next to Cadfael, far enough away that he didn’t feel like she was about to attack but close enough that his already nervous stomach took one big step closer to vomiting up his breakfast. Three days at sea and he already knew that this was going to be a long, hard trip. Throwing up after every meal was horrific enough without the surges of nausea he’d been having between meals. It felt like every time the wind shifted he had to throw up.
“All right,” Ula said. “This is what we’re going to do. You can stay put as much as you want. I’ll tell Anwyn to back off on making you go outside. I do want you to get out of the cabin at least a little. No wasting away inside if you can help it. I’ll make it known that you’re mine for the trip. I’m a married woman, Cadfael. I’m not about to demand things you’re not willing to give me. When we hit port along the way I’ll make sure that you get time off the ship to settle your stomach. Sound good?”
“Very good,” Cadfael said warily enough that she grinned at him. “What do I have to do?”
“Pretend that there’s more going on then there actually is,” Ula said with a shrug. “I want the girls to leave you be and I want Anwyn to stop picking fights to defend your honor. If you’re the Captain’s boy, no one else will dare touch or even comment. I might not be as vicious in a fight as your brawler of a sister but I am the Captain. Even Anwyn respects that.”
Cadfael bit his lip, studying his hands. They’d clenched so tight that his knuckles were white but that was partially because of the rising nausea that had his head swimming and his stomach lurching. He looked back up at Ula who sat patiently, waiting for Cadfael’s decision. Nodding made him whine and put a hand over his mouth.
“That’s making you ill?” Ula asked.
“No,” Cadfael said through gritted teeth. “Just sea sickness.”
He kept control for a few moments longer before the nausea won. Cadfael hurled himself off the bunk and into the corner where Anwyn had left a bucket for him. The entire ship seemed to roll and pitch in time with his heaving stomach. On the second heave Ula’s arm wrapped around his shoulders while a blessedly cool hand supported his forehead. By the time he managed to stop throwing up Cadfael was all but curled up in Ula’s lap.
“No wonder you hate travel,” Ula murmured as she carried him back to his bunk. “I didn’t realize that you got this sick.”
“Every day,” Cadfael said even though his mouth felt like it was lined with flannel and his throat burned from vomiting. “Every single day, usually several times a day.”
Ula pet his hair and made him drink a little water. When she left, quietly, a few minutes later, she took the bucket with her only to return it empty and clean. Cadfael smiled at her as he drifted off to sleep. Maybe Gwen was right. This might not be as bad as he’d been expecting if Ula would stand between him and the rest of the crew. Now all he had to worry about was Ula keeping her promise and Anwyn being a pill about Cadfael staying in his cabin all the time.
The next day proved Ula quite reliable on that front. He woke nauseous, a common enough event every time he’d ever traveled by sea, but unusual for Cadfael, the cabin seemed stuffy to the point that he could barely breathe. Opening his window helped a tiny bit but not enough that Cadfael felt better. After fighting with his reluctance to go outside Cadfael finally dressed and poked his head out of his cabin door.
The main deck was more or less clear. There were three sailors up at the bow coiling rope and several in the rigging doing some sort of maintenance on the blue Dana sails but no one was close to his cabin. Cadfael left the door open to air out his room and focused on the mast so that he wouldn’t watch the shifting horizon line. It was a gray morning, with fine haze overhead so the movement of the division between blue seas and gray skies was entirely too clear for his stomach to handle.
“So you do come outside,” one of the sailors said as she came down the stairs from the wheel to the main deck. She was a little taller than Gwen, about half a head taller than Cadfael, with long dark hair that she kept in a tight braid on the back of her head. “Nice to see that. Though you do look a little green about the gills, little one. Need someone to help make it all better?”
“No,” Cadfael snapped, trying to move away from her. “I’m fine. I don’t need anything. I just wanted some air.”
She blocked him from entering his cabin and slamming the door, a smile that might be considered gregarious and kind if it weren’t for the way her eyes watched his lips moving with entirely too much eagerness. Cadfael shivered, looking around desperately for Anwyn but she was nowhere to be seen and the other sailors on the bow apparently didn’t see what was happening. More accurately they all whistled and looked away as they worked, pretending that Cadfael and the sailor were invisible.
“Roisin!” Ula bellowed from the wheel.
The sailor jerked and backed away from Cadfael, smiling brightly and innocently up at Ula. “Yes, Cap’n?”
Ula appeared at the rail, glaring down at Roisin with enough ferocity that it made Cadfael cringe even worse. When she looked at Cadfael cowering in the corner of the port stairs up to the wheel what she saw there made Ula’s expression go black with fury. All the sailors went silent. Roisin straightened up, her smile fading away into pale blank seriousness.
“I gave orders, sailor,” Ula said. Her voice had the sort of cold threat that promised beatings and worse punishment when it was Mother speaking. “What did I say of Dana Cadfael?”
“That he was to be untouched, Cap’n,” Roisin promptly replied. Sweat beaded up on her forehead. “Begging the captain’s mercy, but I haven’t touched him.”
“I said,” Ula said even more coldly, “that he was not to be bothered, sailor. Not touched, not spoken to, not cornered, not leered at like a common street whore, not interfered with in any way. My ship is not a brothel and you’ll not be treating one of our employer’s boys as a tart! I catch anyone making the boy cringe like that and I’ll take the hide off the offender and those who stood by and let it happen.”
Her glare swept from Roisin out over the other sailors at the bow. They all snapped to attention, saluting to her even though Cadfael saw one of them glare at him as if it was his fault. Ula waved Roisin back to her post and then nodded at Cadfael to go back in his cabin. He did, slamming the door with relief. Fortunately, his cabin was much less stuffy now. Having the door open had made a difference even if it had come at the price of nearly being cornered by yet another too friendly sailor.
Half an hour later Anwyn poked her head in the door. “You okay?”
“Mostly,” Cadfael sighed as he set his embroidery aside. “I hate sailing, Annie. I hate it. I hate everything about it.”
“Yes, I know,” Anwyn said.
She came over and plopped on the bunk next to Cadfael, pulling him into a one-armed hug. Cadfael sighed, letting her comfort him even though she’d obviously been down in the hold checking the goods. He could smell tar and sea salt on her. Anwyn chuckled as she pressed a kiss against the top of his head.
“So, you and Ula?” Anwyn asked.
“Ah, yes,” Cadfael said as he pulled back and wished desperately that his cheeks would not go flaming red every time he was embarrassed. “We’ve… come to an agreement. She protects me and I keep her company when she wishes to visit my cabin.”
“Company,” Anwyn said just flatly enough to make it everything from a question into the most lurid of innuendo.
“You’re my twin brother and the most you’ve done is let a woman touch your fingertips to say hello, Caddie,” Anwyn huffed. “I think I’m entitled to make a few things clear. I don’t want to have to break Ula’s skull in the middle of a trip but I will if I have to.”
“Don’t you dare!” Cadfael snapped, smacking her shoulder. “Not sex-company, just company-company!”
“Really?” Anwyn asked, this time with both of her eyebrows heading for her hairline.
This time Cadfael smacked her hard enough that Anwyn winced and dove off the bunk, pretending to defend herself with his pillow as a shield. Cadfael glared at her, prompting Anwyn to laugh over the top of his pillow. She eased back onto the bed, passing Cadfael his pillow when he held out one hand imperiously.
“She doesn’t want you breaking the crews’ bones,” Cadfael explained. “So I pretend to be the Captain’s boy and the two of you land on anyone who tries to get handsy. It should work. She seems nice enough and I didn’t get the feeling that she was all that interested in me.”
“And you’d know how to tell?” Anwyn asked, amused.
“I am not Aravel,” Cadfael said while glaring at her. “I’m not constantly astonished and delighted that women find me attractive. I’m constantly horrified that they find me attractive and I’m very good at seeing it, thank you very much.”
The mention of Aravel made Anwyn break into belly laughs. She hugged Cadfael, rocking him side to side until he jabbed her in the belly to make her stop. When she let go Anwyn was grinning approvingly. Cadfael relaxed a little bit. Maybe this would work out. With both of them defending him he certainly had more of a chance of making it to Ntombi and back with his virtue intact.
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