A protest from his stomach brought Seamus Firnan from a dizzy dream to groggy consciousness. The world pitched and rolled, and his fingers grasped weakly at floorboards. He tried to open his eyes. When a hint of light pierced them, he gave up with a moan. Bloody hell, what had he been drinking?
He remembered having dinner with a gentleman, on some business for his uncle. Seamus had never met the man before, but it wasn’t unusual for his uncle to ask him to handle a few things when he made his annual trip to Galway.
I just had a few pints. I went out back to get some air. The tavern was crowded and I was feeling dizzy… Where am I? What time is it?
That question brought a sense of foreboding. He told himself it couldn’t have been too long, or Rupert would have found him lying in this stinking alley. He was still dizzy, incredibly so, considering how everything was moving up and down like a ship on the ocean. He tried again to open his eyes, but all his questions disappeared under a panicked wave of nausea when a hand grabbed his shirt, and he felt himself hauled to his feet. He fought down both bile and panic, and tried to focus on the blurry figure holding him upright.
“Up with ye!” Pain lanced his head at the shout, the voice just inches from his face. Rancid breath filled his nose. The hand on his shirt released him with a sudden jerk, just as an agonizing punch to his stomach threw him to his knees. The punch pushed his stomach past endurance and he stayed down, hacking. As his coughing slowed, his tormenter placed a booted foot in his side and shoved him, sending him to his back. Feeling exposed and helpless, he scrambled onto his hands and knees, then forced himself to stand. A growing awareness of his danger kept him silent.
He really was on a ship. He’d not been on ships often in his life, but he sure wasn’t in the alley behind the Merrow’s Sight, and the movement he felt was not in his mind. In the weak light from a lantern, he saw a dark hold crowded with boxes. To his right, a short stairway led to an open door. His doublet and shirt were gone, leaving him in just his undershirt and trousers, ripped, dirty and clinging to his sweat-soaked body.
Dear Goddess. What has happened?
He turned his bleary vision on his tormenter, a large, ugly man, with long dark hair held in a string, and a kerchief over his head. Water and grime stained his clothes. Sturdy boots covered his feet. His face showed scars from pox and his leering grin lacked a tooth. Most ominously, he faced Seamus with a whip folded in his hand.
He pointed the whip at Seamus’s face. “Aye, mister. First thing ye learn is to mind yer place. Ye do what yer told, when yer told to, and ye won’t have much acquaintance with lil’ Rob, here.”
Seamus shook with the effort to keep standing, but he didn’t lower his eyes. “Would ye tell me,” he said, careful to not show his fury, “what place that is?”
The grin widened. “Ye’ve been given employment on the Good Ship Moran, in His Majesty’s service this year of 1803. Name’s Robber Carmichael. What do ye answer to?”
Dear Lady. This can’t be happening. He tried a desperate attempt at reason, although his voice shook. “I’m Seamus Firnan. I’m a landowner, I have funds. Ye could get a good sum….” The whip flashed into his side before he even saw the man’s arm move. His legs collapsed, sending him back to his knees, hands clenching his side. A grunt escaped through his gritted teeth.
“Did I ask ye all that?” The whip was folded again and poked under his chin, lifting his face to the leering countenance of his captor. “The second thing ye learn, Seamus, is to talk when you’re told to, and answer the question put to ye.”
The whip left his chin as Carmichael stepped back. He held it at his side, but Seamus kept his eyes on the man’s face and said nothing. The whip gestured to the hold. “Ye’ve missed breakfast, Seamus. Ye can have some water from the first barrel, there. Then start stackin’ the cargo and secure it against the bulkhead. See to it ye do it well.”
The man’s booted feet disappeared up the stairway, and Seamus lowered his head, dizzy with fear and despair. “My Lady.” He tried to pray, but no other words came. “My Lady,” he said again, softly. He stood, forcing his hand away from his side, jaw tight against the pain.
Water. He could have some water, so his first step took him to the barrels against the wall. With shaking hands, he took the cup that hung on a nail and dipped it into the barrel. The water soaked his mouth and throat, and he focused his mind on it, closing his eyes and relishing each fresh drop. The drink cleared his mind a bit, and when he opened his eyes, he examined his prison.
The hold was large and high, with stairs leading to the closed door his captor had used. Boxes and barrels crowded the deck in haphazard fashion, as if the sailors had just thrown their cargo into the hold and left port in a rush. Ropes and tools hung from pegs along the walls, and he heard the scratching of rats around the room. The ship moved up, down, and to the sides in a pattern he had not yet discerned. He found it best to hang on to something. Bracing his legs against the wall, he reached to push his blond hair out of his face and gather it back. It sprang back to wildness the moment he let go. He had lost his ribbon.
How did I end up here? Blessed Lady, my home. Donamorgh. Will I ever see it again? Verbena… Deirdre. Dear, sweet Deirdre. He closed his eyes against the thought of them suffering. Verbena, who had taught him the ancient Ways and loved him as much as any real mother would, and Deirdre, his one true love, just recently returned to him, but with a troubled mind…. I need to get home. I need to be there for Deirdre. For the fairies. My tenants, my servants. What will happen to them? They depend on me. And… I can’t live without them.
He eyed the barrels and boxes and wondered what would happen if he ignored his orders. He only wondered for a moment, though, before slowly moving the biggest of the boxes against the hull.
Seamus was trembling by the time he finished stacking the cargo. He didn’t know whether to be disgusted or confused at the idea of ship management not having the sailors stow the cargo properly as it came in. Even on a farm, storage was a serious business: size, weight, order of use, and perishability all demanded consideration. A properly run enterprise simply did not treat inventory carelessly. To leave it to one person, who had no knowledge of contents, was laughable. He did the best he could, keeping labels in view, and concentrating on the most efficient use of space.
He worked mechanically and moved slowly. The fear in his stomach joined the pain in his side, and the headache he’d felt since waking, turning his muscles weak and shaky. He wondered if he had been drugged.
Let me out of here. Pounding once on the crate in front of him, he stood straight and focused a hard stare on the upper door. Holding his mind in deep concentration, he pushed his will out to the man who had captured him, to the sailors and the captain of this ship. Ye don’t want me. Ye will let me go. I don’t belong here.
He released his breath in a rush as the irony hit him. He couldn’t convince them to let him go in the middle of the ocean. Any spells he worked to that end would have to be done with great care.
He moved another box, thinking hard about escape. First problem: where was this ship headed? His stomach flipped at the thought they might be bound for the colonies. Please no, my Lady, he pleaded silently. Not so far. If they stopped at another port, surely he’d have a chance to jump ship. He could lose himself in the crowd on a dock and work his way home. But if they were crossing the Atlantic, what would he do?
He paused. Is it possible to… Bashen? Can ye hear me at all? He sent the thought out to the wee fairy who had been his greatest friend since childhood, and concentrated hard on listening for an answer. Over the years, he and Bashen had learned to feel when the other was nearby, and to communicate over a short distance without speaking. Seamus had no idea how far away he was now. He shook his head at the silence which answered his call. He would need time to weave a spell that could send a message across the water and half of Ireland. He sighed, stringing the last net across the highest stack of boxes. He had never tried anything like that before. How would it be done? He had no idea how the mental speech worked, and he had never been particularly good at doing it back to Bashen. He usually just talked like normal. Sound moves through air. Can I weave a spell that will send a vocal message to him on the wind?
The door at the top of the stairs opened and Seamus turned to blink up at the large figure standing in the doorway. No one else had entered the hold during the time he had worked and his heart beat faster with fearful anticipation. It was not his sadistic captor, he was relieved to see, but a different man who held a lantern up against the gloom. The man didn’t bother to enter.
“Robber says to put you to work in the galley,” he said, jerking a thumb over his shoulder. “Move your arse, I ain’t got all day.”
Crimped men evidently couldn’t expect courtesy. Seamus moved as ordered.