3rd of Coldeven 380 ONT on Board the Better Days on the Lower Promethean River
Aurellia worked to scrape the last few barnacles off of the starboard side of the ship. It was hard, tedious work and was taking up most of her days lately. Her arms were sore, and sweat covered her flushed face. She pulled her shirt away from her drenched chest and used the wind to cool herself slightly. Though there was a slight chill to the air, this was the warmest Coldeven of her life, and she was happy to be here, on the water with the wind in her hair.
Finally, she scraped the last barnacle free. She heaved a sigh of relief as she untied the third rope from around the seat, wrapped it around her wrist, and began to pull herself and her wooden seat up the side of the ship. It had been 4 months since she joined the crew, and she had been put through the wringer. It seemed that she was given every job that anyone on the crew might not want to do, and since everyone out-ranked her, she had no choice but to do as she was told. Serenity assured her as they lay together in the dark at night that most of them liked her well enough, but they had all served their time as cabin boys, and they took the rite of passage to become a crew member seriously.
It had been hard for her at first to acclimate to the general sense of humour aboard the Better Days, Serenity had acted as a discrete translator, offering a wink or a slight nod of encouragement when she noticed Aurellia looking uncertain. After a while she began to understand most of her crewmates fairly well, but the ship’s bosun remained a mystery to her. Bosun Whynny was hard on Aurellia, often forcing her to be the last hand working on deck long after the others had retired for the night, and no matter how hard she worked, nothing ever seemed good enough for the bosun.
Aurellia had finished scraping the ship’s hull a full 4 days ahead of schedule (after packing her meals and eating on the side of the ship each day while she worked – a little plan she and Serenity had hatched to get her ahead of schedule and finally into Whynny’s good books) and she felt certain that Whynny would have to be impressed this time. She reached the ship’s railing and pulled herself over in one fluid motion. Her body moved gracefully with the ship as though this were all one well rehearsed dance. She tucked the wooden seat away and turned quickly, nearly walking straight into Bosun Whynny. In the moment before she realized who was in front on her, Aurellia’s hand flashed instinctively to the dagger on her belt.
“Getting scrappier every day, Lia.”
Aurellia forced herself not to react to the nickname she had told Whynny she didn’t like, the first couple of times she’d protested she had found herself cleaning out the ship’s privy and she wasn’t keen to relive that experience any time soon.
“Planning to knock off early today, are we?” there was something odd in the Bosun’s voice, a slight anxiousness that Aurellia had never heard before, it set the Cabin Boy on edge and though her hand relaxed, it remained on her hip, within easy reach of the dagger.
“No Bosun, I was just coming to tell you that I’ve finished scraping the hull and ask if you would like me to start on something else.”
“You can’t be done already, it’s only been a week,” her voice seemed forced and rehearsed, and it made all of the hairs stand up on the back of Aurellia’s neck.
“I’ve been working hard Bosun, I can assure you there isn’t a barnacle left above the waterline.”
An exaggerated look of disbelief played briefly on Whynny’s face, then she seemed to switch gears completely, “Well, I’ll check it out for myself tomorrow, right now I’ve got a job for you on the bridge. Grab your coat and follow me.”
Puzzled and guarded, Aurellia rolled her pant legs down and pulled on her coat, fastening the buttons at the chest as she followed.
Whynny almost ran up the stairs and disappeared onto the bridge. Following cautiously, Aurellia kept her left hand on the dagger’s hilt. She had never seen the Bosun behave this way, and she smelled a trap.
As she climbed the stairs she found the Captain waiting for her at the top, wearing a dress uniform she would not have previously believed he owned. The Captain was clean shaven for the first time since she’d met him, and his eyes were playing at a grin that was otherwise hidden on his face.
“Why Miss Ouellette, would you take a walk with me?” though his voice seemed calm and serious, the mirth had not left his piercing blue eyes. He held out his elbow to her the way she had once seen nobles hold out their elbows for lady’s as they disembarked flagships in Rehume’s port.
This did nothing to calm her nerves, but she stepped forward and took the captain’s elbow uncertainly. She scanned the deck of the bridge and saw that Whynny was nowhere to be found. “I’m sorry captain, but Bosun Whynny said she had a job she needed me for, did you happen to see which way she went?”
“Don’t worry so much about the Bosun, I outrank her, you know,” he winked and started leading her back down the stairs.
“Pardon me Captain, but is something wrong?”
“Not unless you’ve done something I don’t know about.” He stopped and searched her eyes. “Is there anything I should know?”
Aurellia felt trapped in uncertainty. Was this all part of some elaborate prank? Or was something wrong?
“No Captain, not that I know of.”
Her stomach felt twisted in knots as they began to walk again, the Captain leading her below deck. She could not help but notice that despite it being early afternoon, there were no other crew members to be seen.
“You know, when Serenity asked me to take you on as crew she seemed pretty certain about you. I definitely had my doubts. That girl has always had a keen sense, but she can also be hot-headed and impulsive, and I was pretty sure that living in close quarters for a trip down the Promethean would be enough to remind her that freedom and independence are valuable commodities to her – even more valuable than having her nethers twixed on the regular.”
He stopped outside the door of the mess, and rested his hands on Aurellia’s shoulders. “I’m a pretty clever man you know, my first impressions are often spot on. Before you go in there I want you to know that you’ve proven yourself to be a valuable member of my crew, and that regardless of what happens, I want you here. You’ve earned a bunk of your own, if you should need it.”
Aurellia’s head was spinning – what was happening here? Was Serenity going to leave her? Was she going to ask her to leave the ship? She had been a little distant lately, but Aurellia had just assumed that like her, Serenity had been exhausted by her duties. Or was it something worse?
She looked at the Captain with a superficial smile pulled a little too tightly across her clear apprehension, “Thank you for saying so Sir. But if I’ve done something wrong, or if Serenity is upset with me about something – please tell me. I’ve only tried to do my best, for her and for you. I am truly grateful to be aboard this ship.”
The Captain smiled and winked as he opened the doors to the mess, stepping to the side and gesturing for her to go ahead.
Aurellia’s breath caught in her chest as she took in the scene before her. The mess had been transformed from a modest dining hall into something she expected could be found aboard a state ship. The two worn and pock-marked wooden tables that ran along the sides of the small room had been covered by crisp white linens, Each table held a vase at it’s center filled with white roses and lilies, accented by purple lilacs. The flowers were framed on either side by silver candlesticks holding long white tapered candles. The portholes were covered by thin white fabric, cutting the sun’s rays down to a dull glow.
The intoxicating scent of the flowers in the air and the quality of the light overloaded Aurellia’s senses, making Serenity standing at the end of a trail of flower petals, the last thing she noticed. She felt the apprehension drain from her as she returned Serenity’s genuine smile. Her love was wearing a white fitted coat with silver embroidery and silver buttons over clean white pants, her beautiful blue hair pulled back from her face and fastened at her temples with small silver combs. Serenity was the most beautiful creature she had ever seen.
“…wha-how…..…where did you get all of this?”
Serenity held her hands out to Aurellia as the Captain quietly closed the door behind her. Aurellia walked slowly along the flower petals, trailing her right fingertips along one of the tablecloths.
“I have friends in most of the ports, it just so happens that one of them owed me a favour.”
“This is a big favour.”
“What is it all for?” Aurellia asked as she reached the end of the trail.
Serenity placed her hand on the small of Aurellia’s back and pulled her in close, “It’s all for you,” she kissed her deeply, running her free hand through Aurellia’s dusty rose hair, and letting it come to rest on the nape of her neck. Aurellia reached to undo the buttons of Serenity’s coat and Serenity broke the kiss, “Wait,” she whispered breathlessly.
The burning need that Aurellia had come to associate with the smell of Serenity’s skin, and the touch of her hands, coiled restlessly within her. “What are we waiting for?”
Serenity looked into Aurellia’s eyes and met her urgency with tenderness, “I’ve been waiting my whole life to find you,” she stroked Aurellia’s cheek with her thumb, “Everything feels right when you’re with me, and I want that feeling to last forever.” Serenity pulled a small, elegantly carved wooden box out of the breast pocket of her jacket and took a deep breath. “I want to make you my wife. I want to promise to spend every day doing whatever I can to share that feeling with you.” She opened the box to reveal a thin silver band with a moonstone in the center. “Will you be mine? Because I want to be yours – I have never wanted anything so badly in my life.”