Dunham 22: Chapter Twenty-Two

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March, 1780
In the middle of the Atlantic Ocean

Fury sighed.

Elliott heard the feet running toward Fury’s cabin, so the subsequent pounding on her door was not a surprise.

“Cap’n!”

“Aye! Aye!” she croaked. “I’m coming.”

The only answer was the receding sound of those same feet. “She’s fixin’ her voice, mates!”

Another roar of approval and what sounded like people rearranging themselves.

Elliott listened as she cleared her throat.

And again.

Thrice before she began to hum, low in her throat. Hoarsely at first.

Then she pushed away from him and stood whilst beginning to sing the scale. She stepped out of the tub, went to her door, and opened it.

“FRESH WATER!” she bellowed.

With the scales, her voice gradually cleared in the time it took for her to enrobe herself in her kimono and tie it closed with the gold sash. A pitcher of water was brought by a crewman with a half-wild grin.

She chuckled at him, then tipped the pitcher back, drinking as if she were dying of thirst, water spilling out of either side of her mouth. She finished half of it, then fetched her box of herbs. She withdrew a small flat pot, pulled off the top, dipped her tongue in it (which stirred Elliott’s desire for something other than her voice), and tilted her head back to work it down her throat.

“What was that?”

“Honey.”

She put it away with the same sort of ritual she did all her small tasks, then finished off the water and thumped it down on the table with a satisfied sigh. It was when she began to sing the scale, louder and louder that Elliott realized he was listening to a woman he would have paid to see perform.

As her voice grew louder, the men and women above began to cheer and the instruments began to play the scales with her, to tune to her voice. Whilst she sang, she checked her chronometer and sang the time: four of the morning.

Then she stopped singing and looked at him. “Come,” she murmured. “You wanted to know why Skirrow never molested me. I will show you.”

Elliott arose and exited the tub, accepting the towel she proffered him, then pulled on his breeches. “I thought ’twas your navigation.”

“Half,” she conceded, holding her hand out to him, leading him out the door, down the hall, and to the hatch. “He thought I was a witch, that I could bring down the wrath of Satan upon him at any time just by opening my mouth.” She grunted as she attempted to pull her kimono out from under foot where she had caught herself. “On the other hand, my crew believes me to have the power to protect them from evil.”

“Do you?”

“Do I believe it or do I have it?”

“Aye.”

She chuckled. “I am an educated woman, Sir, so neither. But the superstitions themselves have always served me well, thus I do not discourage their notions.”

If Elliott had thought the clamor was great when he lay in Fury’s cabin, it was deafening now, akin to that of a battle, without the sound of cannon fire or stench of brimstone. And when she emerged from the hatch . . .

“God almighty,” he whispered, coming up through the hatch after her to see nigh seven hundred fifty men and forty women gathered across the three ships, all bathed in the cool light of a full moon and the warm light of hundreds of lanterns hanging from all the lower yards.

Fury’s crew was standing and applauding. The crew of the Mad Hangman followed suit. She dropped into a deep curtsey, the ends of her loose hair brushing the deck.

She arose and looked around, then up toward the poop deck of the Silver Shilling looming high above the Thunderstorm. She turned to him. “There,” she murmured, pointing to it. “Would you be so kind as to assist me, Captain?”

At that moment, watching her dignified grandeur, Elliott would have given her the world. Yet he only grunted, “Aye,” because he was so besotted he could not speak.

A dinghy was lowered to the Thunderstorm, into which he assisted her as if they were in a grand ballroom. Once she had her feet, it was slowly raised until it was level with the wale of the Silver Shilling. He swept her into his arms and set her gently on her feet.

She smiled at him and he was lost to her. She might fall in love with every flap of a sail, but Elliott had only done so once. He could not point to the moment, but some time in the past four days, he had given her his heart.

The makeshift orchestra had taken it upon itself to play some sort of entry march as she climbed higher and higher until she stood at the rail of the Silver Shilling’s poop deck. She looked down to her musicians and nodded. Everyone settled in and grew silent as they began to play and Fury stood with her fingers clasped, relaxed, in front of her and her head bowed.

He saw Fury’s mother sitting on the main deck of the Mad Hangman in a chair next to Mrs. Gjaltema, who snuggled against her husband. Several of her crew then stood where they had sat before: ten men, four women.

Elliott intended to join his men down on the main deck, but her head snapped up and she said, “No, please, Judas. Stay.”

He did, seating himself on the deck at her feet, his back against the rail.

As the makeshift orchestra (which was, by comparison to the very few performances Elliott had ever attended, not particularly bad) wound down and finished that piece, Fury raised one hand.

All was still. Not a breath of wind. Not a stir of sail. Not a whisper of a voice. Then Fury dropped her hand and when the musicians began again, Elliott watched her raise and lower it again, both now, his astonishment growing as he realized she was conducting.

A strong male voice rang out over the still ocean.

“Comfort ye . . . comfort ye, my people . . . ”

Elliott closed his eyes and let his head fall back against the rail as he listened. To have a few musicians aboard a ship was, in Elliott’s opinion, an absolute necessity. To have as many as Fury did meant she had deliberately sought them out.

. . . good entertainment of an evening . . .

A degreed musician, who had not been able to rise above the chorus. Yet she could also conduct. Why was he surprised? A ship’s captain who was a trained musician should be able to lead an orchestra as well as a crew into battle.

The next piece, another male part. Elliott was already half enthralled, never mind she had not sung yet.

“Ev’ry valley . . . ev’ry valley shall be exalted . . . ”

He didn’t know what this was, but it sounded vaguely familiar.

Fury took a breath. “And the glory, the glory of the Lord . . . ”

The other women were singing with her, then all the men joined in. Fury was not overpowering her chorus, but all Elliott truly heard was Fury’s voice, high and pure. As she conducted, her kimono sleeves created a small breeze only Elliott could feel.

The night went on, Fury and a handful of her crew performing for three ships’ crews in the moonlight cast large over the still Atlantic. They were alone in the world, these three ships, and nothing could touch them.

The music wound around him, cradled him in its majesty and safety.

And then . . . Then!

“There were shepherds abiding in the fields . . . keeping watch by night . . . ”

Her voice, powerful but delicate, high and pure but warm. It rang out into the night without accompaniment, and he could indeed believe that she was a sorceress, keeping her crew safe from evil.

He drew his knees up to his chest and pressed his face into them to simply absorb the sounds.

. . . could not rise above the chorus . . .

Dear God in heaven, why?

. . . cannot maintain a sufficient vibrato . . .

He had no idea what that meant. He only knew he was at the feet of an angel in the guise of a pirate captain, one he had had the privilege of bedding.

“And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone ‘round about them, and they were sore afraid . . . ”

His mind cast back to the moment Fury and Old Ben had descended from the platform, when she had sent her girls up in the ratlines of the Silver Shilling with glasses. She had then bid Kit go to the platform both master navigators had just vacated, and keep watch.

Sails?

Nay. Nothing to be concerned over.

That was a lie, but he did not want to consider the truth overmuch.

The music went on and on for an hour, as skilled and joyous as it had begun, but Elliott knew this was the end of their idyll.

“Hallelujah . . . Hallelujah . . . ”

Her voice was majestic, powerful, blending in with her crew’s but rising above it, and with her voice gaining more strength, her arms began to rise slowly—

—as slowly as the dawn was breaking. She stood toward the east with her arms outstretched, her face to the sky as she sang to the rising sun.

“And he shall reign forever and ever . . . ”

And as the sun rose to worship her, he saw tears running down her cheekbones, down the valley of her ear and jaw.

Her voice gained strength and soared over the world, to the sun. Elliott heard nothing but her.

“For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth . . . Hallelujah, hallelujah . . . King of kings . . . And Lord of lords . . . And he shall reign forever and ever . . . Hallelujah, hallelujah—

“—’allayyyyyyyloooooooyaaaaaaa!”

Silence.

Fury dropped her arms whilst gasping for breath through her sobs, her chest heaving. At the first sniffle behind him, Elliott looked over his shoulder through the balusters to see hundreds of men wiping their noses. Some had buried their faces in their bandanas, their shoulders quaking. Fury’s mother was curled up in her chair, also sobbing. Even Gjaltema, who cradled his weeping wife in his lap, pressed a thumb to his cheekbone.

whuuuuufffff

Elliott’s head snapped up to the topgallant sails, which began to flap, and his mouth dropped open.

whuff-snap!

A bit of breeze stirred the ends of Fury’s hair, now a blazing orange halo between the red sunrise and red silk.

A strong wind filled the sails, pushing all three ships forward together at once with a bevy of protesting groans.

“Begorra,” he heard a man whisper. “She summoned the wind.”

To a man, Elliott’s crew looked up at her in frightened awe. Elliott watched her, as stunned as his crew, as the corner of her mouth turned up.

The angel was disappearing and the pirate taking her place.

She cupped her hands ’round her mouth and bellowed, “SORT YOURSELVES OUT AND MAKE READY! WE SAIL IN ONE HOUR!”

Three ships’ crews scrambled to do her bidding, and Elliott blinked up at her. “I think Skirrow was right to fear your voice.”

She grinned. “Whisht!” She leaned down to him and whispered, “He was too busy fearing my voice to hear me sharpen my ax.”

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