Part of The Physician and the Siren. This vignette occurs on board the Siren in the last days of the Captain’s condition:
Calm as glass, Isaac heard a crewman speak so of the flat sea and windless night.
The Captain stands with her face reflected in the leaded windows which grace her cabin. That glass is anything but calm. Her cheeks are flushed and ruddy, her hair unbound in the privacy of her quarters. Her eyes contain storms he fears might blow them both apart, tear the ship asunder, consign the crew to the monsters who dwell below.
All this Isaac knows from the watery reflection in her cabin’s windows, for she has neither turned nor spoken since he announced himself.
There are gifts from the cook who rules the galley on her table–poached fish, cooling, and precious sliced fruit, untouched. Fine silver gleams from the pocked and patinated wood, laid out as if for a duchess. The china, like his Captain, is both delicate and stronger than it might appear; despite appearances, it is completely at home aboard the Siren.
His imagination takes wing in the quiet: this treasure, the heirloom silver of some noble family in pursuit of riches in the West Indies, the china perhaps a second son’s consolation when he was sent to manage the far-flung sugar interests. A drowned bride’s dowry. How the Captain came to have her table settings is yet another secret she keeps close.
She lifts her blazing tangle of hair from her neck and blows a hot breath against the window. Her silence speaks eloquently of frustration, he thinks.
The Captain turns from her contemplation to address him. “She is restless.”
The burden of her belly is no longer something she can conceal, even in ill-fitting men’s clothing. She wears a linen shirt long over loose-laced breeches, but her legs and feet are bare as a child’s. Isaac feels the stain of lust rise in his cheeks at the sight of the soft, gold hair on her lean, muscled calves, just visible like an aura in the candlelight. His gut twists–such thoughts for this woman, for any woman in her advanced condition, shame him. He is her captive, bound to her like a possession since she took him from his ship–spared his life in hopes he would save hers, devoted to her as a hound in the sheltered chambers of his heart.
Still, she keeps him as her physician, so that is the voice he uses to speak to her. “Your time is near, I believe.”
Her hands, worn and cracked with work, stained around the nails with ink and ash, rise to rub the roundness of her child. “She’ll need to be strong if she wants to survive.”
“The sea is a harsh home for a child.” He does not mean to admonish. It is not neither his place nor his privilege to hand out judgement, but he cannot help worrying for a baby born into its pirate mother’s saltwater legacy.
The Captain meets his eyes. Her voice is strained. “I did not mean the sea. I meant the world. A weak woman is a dead woman, even while she walks.”
“You’re certain, then, that the child is a girl.”
When she does not reply, but turns from him to her vigil at the glass, he steps tentatively around the table to join her there. The linen over her belly ripples.
His hand hovers between them. “May I?”
She spreads her arms in a mock bow, opening herself to his inspection. Such shocking informality would never be permitted by his sister or her circle of fine ladies, and yet he cannot help but think again of the Captain as a duchess.
He rounds his palms over her distended figure. The life within strikes out at him with such force that he laughs. He dares a glance up at the Captain’s face, and is rewarded with a slight smile which quickens upon her lips and kindles for a moment in her eyes. He explores the topography of her pregnancy through her shirt, marveling at the fierce and tiny life she carries.
Having granted him this intimacy, the Captain stretches, rolling her shoulders and pressing her hands into the small of her back. A groan of pleasure escapes her, and Isaac is once again conscious of her body. She smells of salt, sweat, and a sweetness he believes to be her milk coming in, and he pulls away.
“All is, as far as I can tell, as it should be, though I am no midwife.”
The Captain strikes an imperious tone. “You will be.”
Conscious of his position, he retreats with a courtly bow to mirror her own. He gestures to her bed, simple, but luxurious compared to the rest of the accommodations aboard, then raps the table top with his knuckles. “You should rest. And eat.”
She says nothing; Isaac accepts this as his dismissal. She is mercurial and accustomed to command.
His hand is on the door when her voice floats across the room.
“You’ve gentle hands. I’ve half a mind to take you to my bed. Perhaps that would tame this terrible unease I cannot escape.”
His fingers clench on the handle. Four long strides and he could do her bidding, take her, be her lover. The silence, once eloquent, is charged like the tempest in her gaze. A moment becomes an infinity over calm seas.
She laughs, quietly, bitterly. “I’ve shocked you. Goodnight, my Physician. Give my regards to the watch this night.”
Isaac dashes through the door, praying his body doesn’t betray him to the crew, to the men who would kill him for far less than his baffled and helpless desire.
If you’d like to hear it read, you can check it out alongside what one of the authors described this way:
— M. A. Fink (@onetarot) May 14, 2014