11.13.2008

A Storm Outside and A Storm Within

I awoke this morning before first light, startled out of a fitful sleep by a terrible howling, shrieking sound. I sat bolt upright, heart pounding, and listened, my mind not yet fully able to comprehend what was happening. After a moment, I was awake enough to think rationally, and realized it was only the wind. But what wind! Eventually I noticed that the ship was rocking very slightly, as if it was pushed somewhat off-course and then fought to go back in the right direction.

I lay down, but could not return to sleep. Deciding to try and make use of this time I had, I went over and over the "map" of the ship I now carry in my head, but still could not come up with any plan for an escape. I thought about hiding myself in one of the big crates below decks and waiting for it to be carried off once we landed, but then thought that the crew would surely realize I'd have gone missing and would search for me before unloading the cargo. Also, when I asked Mr. Miller yesterday what would be unloaded when we docked, he only shook his head and communicated that the captain had ordered him not to tell me. Clearly Belleclaire has considered that possibility. Blast him.

Forgive my coarse language, it is just that I feel so very frustrated at times! And as Captain Belleclaire is in charge of this ship and in charge of the plot to kidnap me, all my blame and ire falls on him.

After another hour, I got up and dressed, and by that time it was light. I had begged Mr. Miller for some books the day before yesterday, and was overjoyed when I saw amongst the half-dozen or so he brought, one of the Catherine the Illuminated series! Unfortunately, it was the second book, which I have already read. However, having looked through a couple of books on navigation and dirigibles, and another on botany, of all things, I gave those up and returned to Catherine for about an hour.

The usual time for my breakfast came, then went, with no sign of Mr. Miller. The wind still howled most terribly, and I worried for his well-being for a while, but reminded myself that he was a seasoned airship pirate and was surely just fine. Nonetheless, I was still relieved when he stumbled into my room, practically blown in, along with a quantity of sand and a great gust of wind. He held a single bowl with a cloth wrapped tightly around it so the wind would not blow anything into my breakfast, and wore a very dirty, long coat, and goggles. When he removed the latter, there were two clean circles around his eyes, the rest of his skin being covered in grit and dust, and I stifled a laugh.

His eyes crinkled at the corners in suppressed mirth, for he was surely aware of how he looked, and he took the cloth off of the bowl of boiled oats, setting it before me with an apologetic look. "Couldn't bring the usual tray because of the weather?" He nodded. "Nor coffee." He shrugged. "That's all right, I'll survive. Ah... we will survive, won't we?" I asked with a nervous glance to the door.

Mr. Miller nodded most vigorously, holding a hand out to me and not quite touching my arm, in a gesture of reassurance. He pointed to my window (curtain, as always, closed) then nodded again, waving his hand in dismissal. "You've been through many storms like this one?" Yes. "Well, that is a relief."

The rest of my meal passed mostly in silence, as was usual. When I was finished, I stood up and went to the peg on the wall for my coat, but Mr. Miller stopped me, shaking his head. "Is it really so bad out there that I may not take my walk?" I asked. He nodded. "And you have no spare goggles or protective gear for me to wear?" I raised my chin a fraction, determined to go out today. Mr. Miller sighed. He gestured to my clothes, then to his, which were covered in a layer of dust and sand. "I do not care," I said. "Who is to see me but... mercenaries and pirates?"

The contempt in my tone must have shocked him, or perhaps the words I used, for his took half a step back and shook his head, frowning. "You deny that is what you are?" I asked. He nodded. "So you are all honest men?" I asked rather mockingly. He hesitated, then slowly shook his head, eyes downcast. "I see."

We both stood there for a minute, but I felt sorry if I had hurt his feelings or his sensibilities. "Please let me go out," I said softly. "It is all I have anymore. I look forward to it every morning and evening."

He looked up at me sharply, the shock in his eyes slowly melting into something else. Tenderness? I did not know how to take such a thing. I hoped he only meant it in friendship, for if it was more than that... Well, he had never been anything but a perfect gentleman to me and in my presence, so it did not bear thinking about. I dismissed the thought. He nodded and pointed at his chest: "Me too," he meant. "I look forward to them, too."

I managed a weak smile. "Then let us go," I said firmly, turning away again for my coat to hide my blush.

Again, he stopped me, and communicated that he would return shortly. Ten minutes later he entered my cabin again, arms laden. Before I was allowed out, I was fitted with a long leather coat similar to his, which was several sizes too big for me; a fringed woven shawl that had certainly seen better days, which he had me wrap around my head to cover my hair as well as my mouth and nose so I was just eyes peeking out; and a set of sort of patchwork goggles, which seemed thrown together from whatever happened to be lying around. Pieces of leather were haphazardly glued (I assume) to what appear to be metal bottle caps with the middles cut out, and glass inserted into the holes. The strap is a rather fancy bit of trim that one might use to decorate a hat or the neckline of a gown, though your guess as to why it was used on the goggles, Dear Reader, is as good as mine. And they fasten with a very large hook-and-eye closure at one side. As I prepared myself for my walk, I noted that Mr. Miller's goggles were similar, in that they were made from bits and pieces of this and that.

True to his word, Captain Belleclaire discontinued the use of my tether after the first day, though I was still to be accompanied at all times by a member of his crew when I was not in my cabin. Mr. Miller, once we were on the deck and buffeted brutally by the wind, pointed in a circle all around the ship to draw my attention to the fact that nothing could be seen in any direction because of the amount of dust in the air. He pointed over the rail as well, to tell me that the ground below could not be seen, but I refused to look, to keep up my facade of being afraid of heights.

Another man (the second mate, I think?) was handling the wheels, so we met Captain Belleclaire on the way back to my cabin. "Enjoying the sandstorm, Miss Greenwater?" he asked with a grin. I hope he got dirt in his teeth.

"Can we not fly higher to get out of it?" I asked instead of answering, nearly shouting to be heard over the wind.

"We cannot go much higher than this lest the air become too thin to breathe," he told me. "And the storm would be just as bad lower down. We must simply wait and fly through it."

"Will this delay our journey at all?"

He started to answer, then gestured toward the stern of the ship. "Let us retire to my cabin and converse in more comfort," he said. I had no choice but to obey him, but felt a little better when Mr. Miller followed us. At least I would not be left alone with the captain.

His cabin was very slightly larger than mine, but with much better furnishings. Whereas mine could be compared to a rather nice sort of jail cell, with its rough wooden furniture and lack of any decoration, his was akin to an emperor's bedchamber. There was a large bookcase of leather-bound books, wrought iron sconces on the walls to hold lamps, silk hangings over the bed, which was topped with a down comforter, and a beautifully carved desk/table with four rather dainty chairs pushed up to it. "Please, be seated," said the captain, gesturing to the chairs. Still catching my breath from being out in the wind, I removed the shawl and goggles, then my coat. Mr. Miller took them all from me and hung them on the coat rack (which, I noted, was bolted to the floor as the bed and table were).

"To answer your question, this will not delay our arrival in Franklin Bay by much." Bellclaire, too, shed his coat, and Mr. Miller took his things and hung them up as well, before unbundling himself. "We must go slower through this storm, as we cannot see very far ahead, but should not make port more than a few hours later than we would have had the storm not come up." He pulled out the only chair with arms on it for himself. I sat across the table from him, and Mr. Miller pulled a third chair a little ways back from the table to sit in.

"Why, if I might ask," I began, bringing up something I had been pondering for a couple of days, "has Mr. Miller been 'assigned' to me? Is he not needed as the other crew members are? Couldn't they... take turns?" I glanced over at him as I spoke, sorry that I could not ask him personally.

"An interesting question," the captain said. "Mr. Miller is unlike most of the rest of the crew in that he knows very little about how to run my ship."

"Then why did you take him on?"

Captain Belleclaire smiled rather bemusedly, as he often did in my presence. Infuriating. "Take him on," he echoed. "When he joined my crew, I could not have turned him away if I wanted to." Mr. Miller sat forward then, fixing the captain with a hard look. "But," the captain said, "that is, perhaps, a story for another day." Mr. Miller sat back again, looking somewhat relieved. "As for the matter of why he is your... keeper... Well, Mr. Miller has different skills than the rest of my crew. Even if he does not know a propeller from a rudder."

Mr. Miller looked as though he would beg to differ, but of course could not say so.

"What sort of skills?" I asked. Mr. Miller leaned forward again, and gave the captain a pleading look, but Belleclaire continued anyway.

"Anything that must be done covertly. Your kidnapping, for example," he smiled. "He is silent, and... Ha! Silent. Of course he is silent." He chuckled at his own joke, but I didn't think it was very funny. "He can get through locked doors and windows, and go unseen and unnoticed where others cannot."

"What, you mean like a spy?" I asked.

"Spy, yes. Thief, assassin. Whatever is needed."

"Assassin?" I repeated, my eyes wide. Mr. Miller was a murderer? And I had taken my meals with him, traversed the ship with him, for days, alone, trusting him? I looked over at him to see he had gone as white as a sheet. He stared straight ahead, no expression on his face, but clearly Captain Belleclaire's words had upset him. After a moment, he looked at me, his eyes unutterably sad.

"Ah, you did not wish her to know that?" Belleclaire asked. "Well, she will be gone by tomorrow evening, so you needn't concern yourself. If she wishes to dine alone and be accompanied on her walks by another crewman, why, that is her choice."

Mr. Miller looked at me, his expression somewhere between pleading and sorrowful. I could not answer him, unable to admit that I would miss the company of a murderer, unable to admit that I did not wish to dismiss him. I looked down at my lap instead, silent.

Belleclare, the devil, laughed again. "Ah, you will miss her, Zebediah?" He looked at me. "She will miss you too, I think." He chuckled, rubbing a hand over his mustache.

"How dare you?" I demanded, on my feet so quickly I nearly toppled my chair. "How dare you presume such a thing? You don't know anything about me, and I don't think you know anything about Zeb--Mr. Miller, either." Too late, the slip had been made, to my shame. Growing, I am sure, more and more red in the face, I continued. "What on earth would make you think I had any sort of feelings for a pirate and a killer?" I shot Mr. Miller a hateful look, and indeed I think I did hate him for a moment, for deceiving me, leading me to believe he was a good and kind man rather than what he truly was. "I cannot wait to get off this horrible, filthy... ugly ship!" I shouted as I started toward the door, trying my best to wound Captain Belleclaire in some way, for I knew how much pride he took in his Erebos.

His laughter followed me to the door, but the moment I yanked it open, I was hit with a blast of wind. I had forgotten about the storm, but I did not have far to go. My own room was only a few yards down the raised walkway. I struggled to slam the door behind me, but gave up after several seconds, for I could still hear Belleclaire's laughter. Letting the wind whip the door inwards so it hit the wall, I stomped down the walkway to my own door, which Mr. Miller had thankfully left unlocked. With some effort, I managed to close it, but unfortunately could not lock it from the inside. Fighting tears and brushing grit from my clothes and hair, I sat down on my bed and forced myself to take deep breaths. Then I wrote here the happenings of this morning in an effort to sort out my feelings. It did not help; I am as torn as ever. I feel ill. I shall try and distract myself by reading for a while.

_____

Mr. Miller came with my lunch, as usual. The storm had died down a little, and he was not so bundled up as before. Once he set down my tray (having firmly tucked a cloth over the plate and pot of coffee), he made to leave, but I stopped him. "Please," I called out, hardly knowing what I was doing, or why. "Don't... don't go yet." He did stop, though he didn't turn around. His shoulders, I could see, were tense, his hands in fists at his sides. "I am sorry for what I said this morning." He shrugged and shook his head, his back still to me. "Is it true?" I asked. "Have you... have you killed people?"

It seemed like a long time before he turned around. Looking into my eyes, he nodded once. "Bad people?" I asked. He nodded again, though more hesitantly. "Not all of them were bad, were they?" He put his hands out, palms up. "You were under orders, I understand. But you didn't have to follow them."

Mr. Miller came a little closer; his boots seemed impossibly loud on the floorboards. I had never seen him look more like he wanted to speak, so frustrated and angry with himself. He glanced around the room, then made a writing gesture. "Paper?" Yes. I went to my case, but still could not bring myself to tear a page from this diary. "All I have are these," I said, holding up the periodicals. He frowned and pointed at my diary. "That... that is personal," I said, putting my hand over the top of it. He nodded and sighed, then hung his head down and pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes. I had never seen him so... vulnerable.

I felt the extent of my own selfishness then, and brought the diary to him, holding it out toward him. "Here, it's all right," I said, opening it up to the last page. He just shook his head and pushed it back to me. I let my hands drop, the diary clutched in one, then returned it to my case along with the periodicals. When I looked up, Mr. Miller gestured for me to come near him. He wrote on the table with his fingertip, as he had when teaching me about the names for different parts of the ship. "COMPLICATED," he spelled out on the wood, then drew a line underneath where he had just written to emphasis it.

"Yes, I thought it would be," I said quietly, and sat down on the edge of my bed. "The way you came to be on this ship, and why you follow Captain Belleclaire's orders." He nodded.

After a minute, he pushed my tray toward my side of the table, and I stood up to go to the table and eat. "When do you have your meals?" I asked.

He held both hands out in front of himself, then moved one hand over to his left. "Before?" I asked, after thinking for a moment. Yes. "Before... you bring me mine?" He nodded again.

I made up my mind to do as I should have all along: to treat him with kindness and respect, since he had never shown me anything but. His past offences had nothing to do with our relationship, not really. "You could bring your food here, too," I said, "and dine with me."

A small smile spread across his lips, and he looked down at the floor. But then he nodded, and took the chair across from me.

I didn't know what else to say, so I simply ate my meal, then bid him farewell as he gathered my dishes. "I shall see you for supper?" I asked. Yes. "And then... we shall take our walk?" Another little smile appeared as he nodded again, then started toward the door. "Mr. Miller?" He stopped and turned back around. "Ze--Zebediah." The sound of his given name seemed to light him up from the inside, and I couldn't help the smile I gave at the sight of it. "You have been... my only friend on this journey. The Captain needles and annoys me, and the others ignore me." I am sure they were under orders to do so, since one wouldn't usually think a kidnapped young woman would remain unmolested on a ship full of pirates. I was thankful that Belleclaire gave those orders, though. "I... I am glad of it. Of your kindness. I know we shall part ways tomorrow night when we land, and I shall never see you again, but know... know that I..." Goodness, I did not know what I was trying to say!

"Bernice." I knew what his mouth said, though no sound came out. He smiled at me, a real smile, showing straight white teeth. Then he gave a little bow, and left me.

Oh dear.

1 comment:

Jenny said...

......a storm from within, indeed!

Your goggles must have been a sight! (I feel like I may have seen a picture of something similar recently but that must just be a figment of my imagination. Surely they must be one of a kind items....hmm.) I must tell you how much I am enjoying your vivid details in retelling your harrowing journey! Even though he cannot speak I have such a clear picture of the torment Zeb-I, I mean Mr. Miller feels. I cannot wait to read more, tomorrow will be a big day for you!

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