It was a hard thing indeed, to be promised pirates, but instead to be forced by circumstance to converse on the nation’s unexpected reliance on grains.
“Ah, but we are boring the ladies, Wentworth, with all this talk of the corn bill,” Captain Harville said, with good humor - perhaps becoming aware of this fundamental truth. “My apologies.”
Though it must be acknowledged, this was said more for Louisa’s benefit, than for Anne’s.
(While both women had greatly enjoyed the expansion of reading material allowed a newly married woman, there the similarities ended: Anne, free of the influence of the disapproving and frivolous Sir Walter, enjoyed keeping up with the news of the day, as any person of sense might wish to, and read the papers (openly!) over her morning chocolate; Louisa’s taste of late had run more toward salacious novels.
Which, Anne must admit, also had their merits).
And Louisa, perhaps aware of this fact, seized upon this opening to join the conversation.
“Well, but - it all seems rather a lot of fuss, doesn’t it? Over a bit of corn?” Her manner was difficult to parse - part blithe unconcern, but with an underlying hesitancy. Anne, who hadn’t even felt particularly enthused by the prospect of the promised piratical reading (‘a Tragedy of Honor and Brotherhood on the High Seas, in verse’), no longer felt quite so grateful that Captain Benwick had been prevented from this dramatic recital by the scratch in his throat.
Benwick sat in a chair by the fire, quietly reading his poetry - alone, oblivious, and content with it.
Indeed, since Captain Benwick’s marriage his dark moods had tempered into a state of general contentment, if not outright happiness. Yet Louisa, without the romance of her own illness and a lover in need of saving from himself, appeared on occasion to have lost her footing, unsure of the shape she wished her character to take. It pained Anne; Louisa had always been a firm-minded, good-natured girl, and while Anne quite liked Captain Benwick, she did wish he would be for Louisa a more attentive partner, in navigating this new stage of her life.
“Ah, yes, but Mrs. Benwick, it is indeed a lot of fuss, when it is all one has to eat,” Captain Harville said, not unkindly.
“Well, then, why should they not eat it?” Louisa replied, with some asperity. “The papers need not go on about it.” Nor we, she seemed to imply.
“Louisa,” Anne remonstrated, nonplussed at this casual incivility. Louisa may have been tiring of the political talk - and to be sure, in mixed company it would have been unusual in another home, one not ruled by the principle of shared experience, as was Frederick and Anne Wentworths’ - but it was unlike Louisa, who was frank but seldom rude.
“Well, then, explain it to me, will you Anne?” Louisa asked, with a sigh. “It is so very trying, to be forever hearing of it, and not understanding, don’t you agree? Forgive me, sirs,” she added.
And Anne, who did indeed agree with Louisa, was nevertheless surprised (and pleased) by her request - not so much for its substance as for its being directed at Anne, when Louisa had always generally preferred the conversation of gentlemen.
“Well, I can hardly claim the surest understanding of the matter myself,” she began, and it was no false modesty, “but I believe it is something to do with preventing very inexpensive food from coming into Britain, so that Englishmen shall buy English bread; but of course, the poor would wish for the cheaper, so that they might more easily feed their families.”
“But why can we not have the cheaper?” Louisa asked. “Is it - French?” - this with a frown, and Frederick hid a smile behind his hand.
Anne did her best not to smile as well. “No; it is only that, if one does not buy English bread, then English farmers and bakers cannot easily feed their families, nor maintain their farms.”
“Oh,” Louisa said. “It is not so easy then.”
“No indeed,” Captain Harville interjected, “but that does not excuse the shameful misconduct of the protesters.”
Louisa looked intrigued by this comment, which Harville visibly regretted making. Seeing this, Anne took pity on him, and used his words to steer the conversation toward a natural end.
“Though it is easy to say so, is it not, in a warm room, after a good dinner? Surely, Captain, Louisa is right: it is not so easy elsewhere.”
But Louisa thwarted Anne, frowning thoughtfully, “but then - is there no way for Parliament to avoid hurting one or the other? Surely we cannot excuse that either? That cannot be right.”
There was a general pause, after which Frederick said, gently, “Sometimes, the good of the realm must be considered over the good of individual men, even men in its care.” And Anne’s heart was struck, for - having just that week accompanied Frederick, in calling on the young widow of one of Frederick’s former lieutenants, killed at Trafalgar - she knew this was a lesson he had learned hard. “And so such decisions must not be made lightly; the stakes are too high for anything less.”
Silence fell again. Louisa looked exceedingly cross. Captain Harville looked grave, and even Captain Benwick had looked up from his slim volume of poetry. The gentlemen (who were willing conversationalists, but mostly unaccustomed to such weighty talk in mixed company) looked to Anne, prepared to defer to the wishes of their hostess as to the direction of the evening’s conversation.
Anne was keenly aware of the naval officers in her home, and the breadth of their experience of which she was ignorant. To Louisa, she said, “Yet this consideration cannot end there, at the decision, or so I believe.” Anne spoke with particular care - the conversation seemed to her to have veered into dangerous waters, but was no easy thing to dismiss. “In such difficult matters, where no easy course is apparent - if one’s actions must necessarily cause harm to another person - it must be carefully considered - the damage - it must be acknowledged? If only to oneself.”
She glanced at Frederick, in time to see something shift in his countenance, a sudden stiffness. He said nothing, though he did nod. Anne frowned, discomfited and unsure of her footing, and wondered when they had stopped speaking of the bill. She wondered what precisely they were speaking of now.
“Well - so - how should it turn out, then?” Louisa burst out, breaking the strange tension in the room. “What is best for England?”
Thank God for Louisa.
Frederick smiled. “We are none of us lawmakers, ma’am. But, for my part, I think we should be importing cheap food.”
“And I think we should be supporting English farmers” - this from Captain Harville, also smiling again - “though, to be fair, I hail from a long line of farmers.”
Louisa looked to James Benwick to break the draw, but he did not offer an opinion. In truth, he was rather enchanted with his wife’s fierce passion in that moment, though Louisa did not note it. She scowled before addressing the room.
“Well, then, I think we should just feed everyone,” she said, high-handedly. “And I don’t care if it can’t be done; I don’t. And it is still inescapably dull.” Here she looked chagrined, and added ”- thank you for explaining it to me, Anne. I meant, dull, for the paper men. They must not be very good, for it seems to me that something so important should not seem so tedious.” She hummed a bit. “Say, do you suppose the papers wish there were still battles and such to report on instead?”
“No - no doubt,” Frederick said shortly. And here the party shifted easily to safer topics, and wound to a close shortly thereafter. But with the morning papers came the news:
Napoleon had escaped from Elba.
Frederick was to leave with all alacrity. The simple joy which had infused Anne’s life since their marriage, even the most mundane activities, had dimmed. He was going to war, and (despite Mrs. Croft’s continued plans to be on ship with the admiral) Frederick had said nothing of Anne’s going with him.
Preparing for bed some few nights later, Anne decided abruptly that Frederick’s intentions mattered not at all - not in this. She would go with him, and this was no matter for persuasion, but only the truest fact.
Anne tied her dressing gown tightly around her waist, knocked quietly on the connecting door between their sleeping chambers, and entered without waiting for a reply.
Frederick sat on his bed in breeches and his shirt sleeves, looking distracted, contemplative. At her entrance he looked to her and reached out his hand. “Anne.”
She went to him, took his hand in her own, and stole gently into his space - drawn into it, drawn into him. As always, it felt desperately sweet to be there, to belong there.
Looking up at her, Frederick released her hand and lay both his own - so large, lovely and warm - at her waist. She sighed at his touch, and couldn’t help but touch him too, settling her hands on his shoulders, her fingers playing with the hair at the nape of his neck. He leaned forward to rest his chin against her stomach, looking up at her with a small smile, before sitting up again.
It felt good to touch him. They had not been - intimate - since before the night of the party. Anne had not yet decided quite how she felt about their marital relations, but she always wanted to be close to Frederick. Sometimes she wanted to crawl right inside him. She wanted him to crawl right inside her, and stay there.
He must have seen her blush in the low candlelight, for his smile turned just a little bit wicked. She liked that look in his eyes. “What are you thinking, Anne?”
She smiled back, but said frankly, “I wondered if aught were wrong between us.”
A crease appeared between his brows. “No. But please, tell me why you should wonder. I would not have you think so, if I am to leave tomorrow.”
(And that was an issue she would certainly revisit.)
“There was a look on your face, the night of the party,” she explained, though hearing it aloud, it suddenly seemed a foolish concern. “And - we have not spoken overmuch, since.”
But perhaps it was not nothing, for his smile faded. “Oh. I am sorry, Anne. I had hoped you hadn’t noticed, but - I should have spoken. We have learned not to make assumptions, you and I, haven’t we?”
“Please, tell me.”
Frederick’s hands tightened around her waist, and he pulled her down to sit beside him on the bed. For a half-moment she was nearly breathless with want. She ignored this.
His expression was rueful. “It was dreadfully egoistic of me. I saw parallels in the conversation, to our own circumstances when we first met. That you may have carefully considered my own hurt at being rejected, and rejected me anyway; and that you may then have carried that knowledge forward with you, as a sort of penance.”
She had, and she had. But she didn’t know what to say just then.
He kissed her forehead, and then her temple, and Anne turned a little more to face him, leaning into these small caresses.
“But this has all been settled between us,” he said softly, “and I am sorry. It was a mere nothing, Anne. I didn’t speak of it because I wished I hadn’t thought of it.”
One arm yet remained around her waist, and Frederick moved his other hand to rest lightly at her elbow, then to slide it up her arm - up, over her shoulder, only to settle at the crook of her neck - content to have reached bare skin. His thumb made little distracting caresses; under her jaw, beneath her ear. “And because it pains me, to think of you in pain.” Frederick watched her closely, trying to catch her eye, but Anne looked to his mouth.
His breath caught. “Anne?”
“Kiss me, Frederick.”
Frederick surged forward and kissed her, his arm around her waist drawing her closer, his body pressing against hers - his kiss gentle but his hands wandering - hungry, coaxing, persuasive. It was thrilling. There was a passion in him that Anne was unaccustomed to, not before the final moment at least, and it made Anne feel as though she was made only of need, like there was no room in all her body to think or feel anything else.
But in slow steps his kisses gentled, Frederick taking little nips at Anne’s lower lip, the corner of her mouth, and his hands slowing, settling on her waist. The need in Anne remained, but banked, and made way for the desire to touch as well as be touched. She was disappointed to lose that wildness from him, but she relished the return of her wits. As she began to be able to think again, she had the absurd thought - what a wondrous marriage she had made, to a man who would take her breath away, but would also give it back.
Anne wrapped her arms around Frederick and finally kissed him back. She loved to kiss him; she sometimes thought she could kiss Frederick for hours, if only that were a thing people did. Her whole body felt warm and yielding. She allowed her hands to roam over his back, across his shoulders, and felt the heat of him through the thin shirt he wore. She wanted to remove it. She suddenly hoped quite desperately that he would wish to lay with her tonight.
She pulled back. “Frederick,” she murmured.
“Anne,” he said with another small kiss, and then another, “my Anne -”
“Stay with me tonight,” she said, all in a rush, “or - I will stay here, with you, I mean to say -” and Frederick was smiling, holding her flush against him again, chest to chest, and when he fell backward onto the bed she fell with him.
Anne woke before Frederick, feeling lovely and sleepy and satisfied. The previous night had been very pleasing, particularly the bit at the beginning, when she’d been sprawled atop him - because it had been new, and she liked for Frederick to share things with her. Perhaps she should seek out new ideas with which to surprise him - perhaps in one of those books Louisa read. Anne resolved to ask her.
The room was limned in that peculiarly warm light of the early morning, as though the world were still dreaming. Anne stretched, luxuriating in the pleasant aches of her body, the softness of the sheets, the low light of dawn. Frederick woke through these proceedings, and watched her. Anne settled back and looked across the space between them, a look both content and serious, because she felt happy but she needed him to understand that she was firm on this point.
“I am going with you today,” she said.
And Frederick smiled. “I think I knew that,” he said.
Anne smiled back. She was developing a particular fondness for this sort of morning.
A Prior Interlude
It had been a morning much like that one, that Frederick had seemed most… free, with her.
There was that same limned quality to the light, making everything lovely and soft-looking. It was perhaps a week after their marriage, and she had woken and slept several times through the night, restless - a new bedroom, a new bed. A new bedmate. In one such moment she had opened her eyes to find Frederick looking back at her, and she hadn’t had words for the look in his eyes.
He had kissed her.
Frederick was always so in control. She suspected this to be a boon for her, in truth, for his attentions were surely masterful - so thorough and watchful. She had been shocked and delighted with the pleasure she found in their marriage bed, but his touches drove her mad with want, while - until the apogee of the act itself - Frederick’s pleasures seemed to be…academic, or second-hand. And Anne had found that it was very difficult to feel free in such mad desires, while doubting her ability to arouse the same in her chosen partner. Yet she could not be sure even if her suspicions were correct, let alone detect a reason for it if they were. Was it so easy to be unmoved in her presence? Or was this some hard-won consideration for her? The former notion bothered Anne a great deal, aggrieved her even; of the latter, she could only think that she was beginning to suspect that this distance was not the sort of consideration she preferred. She wanted Frederick to forget himself.
But that morning!
The way he had breathed her name before kissing her - reverential, almost - that was not new, but he had been. He still asked her if she liked this, if that was alright, all murmured like kisses into her skin, but seemed pleased then to trust her answers; to give up his careful observance and to take as he liked, as she liked - oh, how she wanted - and she never really stopped saying yes. He was distracted by her, by everything he was allowed to touch - and so very moved simply by her hands on his shoulders, his back, skin she had the right to touch and to explore. She held him to her, as close as she could. His distraction and arousal might almost have been more interesting than her own, had they not fueled her own desires.
It was all so deliciously slow and warm, and near the end he’d lifted her hips up to meet his, had grasped her thighs and wrapped her legs around him, and then sank into her with a sudden roll of his hips. It wasn’t gentle. It was animal, and it was perfect. Frederick groaned into her neck and did it again, and then again, and she met each thrust so that they moved together, sweet and slow for several glorious minutes, Frederick quite as out of his head as she was and saying such lovely things, “sweet” and “good” and “mine,” and -
Driven to bluntness by the early hour and Frederick’s body and her own, Anne said - indignant, almost - “well, and you are mine,” and bit his shoulder. He gasped and shoved into her, his body bearing hers into the mattress, and heat raced from her core in waves, to the very ends of her limbs - even the soles of her feet grew hot! - but for once she didn’t feel that familiar tightening and release where their bodies met, just an intolerable need. Frederick spent and collapsed over her but didn’t wait a moment - had three fingers buried deep in her just moments later, slick with her own wetness, pressing and filling her while his thumb moved over - something! - relentlessly, and all the while Frederick continuing to kiss that spot on her neck and her release simply crashed over her.
Frederick apologized for it over the breakfast table.
Anne had until that moment been unable to keep from smiling, and had been taking a sweet and secret pleasure in the feel of her fichu brushing over the tender kissed-bruise on her neck. She was shocked into silence, and did not regain herself with sufficient time to tell him how very much she had liked it, before he moved to some other, safer topic.
Anne always liked what they did. But she also wished to reclaim that moment, discover what exactly he felt he had to apologize for, and then do it again, and again, and again.
The Wentworths made for Portsmouth, where Frederick was to take possession of the dear old Laconia and sail with all haste for Gibraltar, there to rendezvous with Admiral Croft and receive orders.
Without yet knowing the nature of Frederick’s task - to the extent she would be permitted to know - Anne was mostly preoccupied with worry for him, but nonetheless, it was difficult not to take delight in her new knowledge of Frederick.
The first and most astonishing thing, was that Frederick got seasick, and she did not.
“It will pass,” he told her ruefully. “Within days. You, my love, are a marvel.” She fairly glowed with pride at this, while also acknowledging such pride to be somewhat foolish - it was hardly as though she had accomplished the feat on purpose.
She also noted with satisfaction the care and respect Frederick’s men had for him, and he for them. Many of the men had been his crew for years, and they had a bond between each other and to their captain that seemed to her unfathomable, unassailable.
Frederick affirmed this observation as they walked the deck together. “And with the ship itself, if you can credit it,” he said, running his hand across the rail with evident affection. “We have all been though a great many things together.”
“And the officers? Are you very much acquainted with them as well?”
“Lieutenant Bramley - my first lieutenant, you remember - and Mr. Midshipman Norris were with us at the Trafalgar action,” Frederick answered. “Good men, both of them.”
“I have not yet met Mr. Norris, but the lieutenant seems a very good, worthy sort of man.” And a flirt, she did not say.
“Should I be alarmed?” Frederick teased, delighting Anne.
“No indeed,” she teased back. “For I rather suspect his devotion to you to surpass my own.”
Frederick burst out laughing, and shook his head. “We are all of us very reliant on each other, it’s true, but -” he looked at her sidelong, still smiling “- I am very glad to have you here. No one who knew me before would credit it - with how strongly I spoke against the notion of having women on board! - but it is very true. And,” he added, with a sly grin, “I shall of course endeavor to grow your affections towards me, by any means possible.”
In Gibraltar Admiral Croft came aboard, to confer with Frederick. The admiral greeted Anne with real affection, which she returned with mingled pleasure and anxiety. “I shall take a turn around the deck,” she said quietly, and left them.
The walk was pleasant, for Gibraltar was warm, but not unbearably so until the summer months; and the views were fascinating. Gibraltar seemed to Anne to be as anxious as herself, yet everywhere it was blessed with purpose and occupation in which to channel it. Both in the harbor and on shore she saw constant activity. Many of the crew were on shore leave, but Anne had not yet gone ashore herself. While she wished very much to see all that she could, to experience different places in the world, she had a strange and unfounded notion that if she left the ship now she would be made to stay. Anne was accustomed to being invisible, and fell back on these habits, wishing to make it as easy as possible for her to remain on the ship.
She was nearly to the front of the ship when she heard a muffled oomph, and then a quiet, high curse. Anne frowned, and began looking around her, wondering if one of the young gentlemen - the little midshipmen-in-training - had injured himself.
She was about to look into the forecastle when she caught a flash of red in the corner of her eye, and wheeled around to see a young woman sitting on the deck with her back to the wall, wedged between a crate and a coil of rope on on one side, and one of the great guns on the other. She had clearly been attempting to pull the rope over herself.
Anne blinked, slowly. The woman was uncommonly beautiful, with a heavily painted face and her (red) skirts partially tucked up, perhaps as a sign of her calling. Her dark hair was coming out of its chignon on one side - due to her efforts with the rope? - much like Louisa’s tended to.
“That’s not the best place to hide,” Anne heard herself say. “The men would notice the rope, as they are expected to keep the guns clear to use.”
The girl dropped the heavy coil. “Ah,” she said. “Plain sight, you see - I was thinking I might not get kicked off with the others.”
“Oh, I’m sure there’s a dozen of us hidden away,” the young lady - the prostitute - replied, cheerful.
“I’ll be going,” she said, struggling to stand from her awkward position. “Begging your pardon, miss. I didn’t realize there was a lady on board.”
“Would you like a cup of tea?” Anne asked, dear God.
The woman stopped brushing off her skirts and stared at Anne. Anne stared back.
“Well. Yes, ma’am. If you’ve a mind to.”
Anne gestured numbly to the door on her right, which sheltered a variety of supplies and a good quantity of dust. “If you can excuse the accommodations…”
“I can excuse a great deal for a meal I’ve not got to pay for,” the woman said frankly, and went in.
Bearing that in mind, Anne returned with a cup of tea and all the cake she could carry, which she immediately handed off. The girl fairly fell on them.
“Thank you, miss. Ma’am,” she said.
“Not at all.” After a moment, Anne said, “I am Anne Wentworth. What is your name?”
The strange woman nodded, perhaps recognizing Anne’s name and what it meant. There was a considering pause. Then: “Isadora,” she said.
“That is. Lovely,” Anne said, and Isadora sighed.
“It is, isn’t it? But I’m just Rose. Rose Higgins.” She took another bite, finishing the cake with evident pleasure. “This ain’t a good hiding place, ma’am. First sort of place they look, when they’re made to shoo us off.”
“I don’t need much time, I think,” Anne said. “And I can pay you.” At this Rose blinked at Anne, then looked her over keenly, and finally shrugged.
“If it please you, ma’am. Not my usual line, but I’ll do my best.”
“Oh? Oh! No, I mean, I wondered if I might ask you some questions?”
Rose settled back into the crate she sat on. “I’m not looking to reform,” she said flatly.
Anne gingerly seated herself on a neighboring crate, as well. “No, I was hoping - I wondered if I might call on your - expertise.”
Rose’s eyebrows flew up, and she waggled them expressively. “Oh, of course!”
Then it was only a matter of how to put it. Anne handed Rose a coin, partially as a stalling tactic. Anne didn’t really have words for what she hoped to accomplish.
“How does one make a - a gentleman caller” - Rose laughed, and Anne smiled to acknowledge this bit of foolishness - “how might you help him to, to loosen his… control?”
Rose frowned at her. “You’re wanting him to spend quicker, ma’am?”
Anne paused. “Spend,” she said faintly, feeling herself blush. This would be a difficult conversation.
“Spend,” Rose confirmed, mistaking Anne’s discomfort for ignorance. “It’s the bit at the end when his seed is ready, and his face corks up, all“ - here she made a fantastically ugly expression, her mouth slack but twisted, and somehow contrived to make one eye twitch. It was all the more incongruous for her being such a lovely woman, and Anne burst out laughing. Rose grinned at her.
“Well,” Rose said thoughtfully, “if he’s been swiving on and on for a bit, you just give him a good squeeze, and he’ll be off like a shot.”
“Squeeze?” Anne said blankly.
“With your cunny.” Rose looked apologetic. “Begging your pardon, ma’am. I’m not knowing what you ladies call it.”
Ah. Inside. In a fog, Anne handed the young woman another coin. “Nothing, really,” Anne said. “At least, not where I would hear of it. And - thank you. But I was more wondering - that is, I should like his passions for me to be more…expressed.”
“Oh!” Rose said, then frowned. “I don’t know as that’s a problem I’ve solved, ma’am. Gentlemen are fairly…expressive, with me.”
Rose tapped her fingers on her chin. “A surprise might be easiest. I suppose you can’t just take him in your mouth?” she asked, and at Anne’s shocked look she nodded and continued. “Ah, well. Shame. It can be nice, with one what likes you well enough.” While Anne was still trying desperately to absorb this information, Rose went on blithely. “But here’s a notion: Touch him. All day, and mostly regular-like. Touch him in the naughtier bits too, if you’re moved to” - this with a grin - “but just…make him think about you. Make him think about touching you. All day.”
When this advice registered Anne felt a wave of gratitude to Rose. It seemed sound, and comfortingly like something she could actually implement. “Thank you, Rose,” she said, and gave her another coin.
Rose pocketed this with the others and nodded, then stood. “And you might also ask him. What he likes. And then do it.” She grinned. “Ad infinitum.”
Anne was too surprised by the Latin to reply, which on reflection wasn’t fair - she didn’t know anything of Rose except her profession, Rose could have any number of interests - and Rose shrugged and gestured toward the door.
“Best not to be seen with me, ma’am,” she said frankly. “Why don’t you head out first?”
Anne supposed Rose was hoping to make a little more coin before heading ashore, and knew she ought to be scandalized, but she made no comment on it. It would hardly be fair, after all. In a daze, Anne left the little store room and strolled aft, toward the council chamber where Frederick conferred with Admiral Croft.
To Anne’s relief, Frederick’s orders were such that he felt no compunction with her remaining on board, for Napoleon’s fleets weren’t what they once were. The Laconia (and a few others) was to cruise the Mediterranean as a deterrent to those who might threaten British trade and supply lines.
“Pirates,” Anne said, exasperated. “We’re to fight pirates?”
“And privateers, and any ships Boney’s managed to pry from the French crown,” Admiral Croft replied. The Admiral seemed much invigorated by events.
However, the Laconia, having deposited Admiral Croft (and, indeed, about a dozen women with hiked up skirts) ashore, proceeded from Gibraltar to confront nothing, pirates or otherwise. The mission seemed to Anne remarkably like a pleasure cruise.
It was more than a week before they saw so much as a sign of another living soul, but the day eventually came that Anne witnessed her first sea battle.
It was not quite what Anne might have expected.
She was writing dutiful letters to her sisters when she heard a round of shouting. Curious, she came out on deck to see two ships off into the distance: one of them a large, tubby thing; the other sleek and beautiful and deadly. Anne came up to the railing just as this more dangerous craft launched a broadside attack against the larger, ungainly one.
Even at such distance, it was one of the loudest things Anne had ever heard.
Frederick watched through his spyglass, then spoke in a quick undertone to Lieutenant Bramley. Bramley nodded and turned away, and Anne crept up to take his place at Frederick’s side. Bramley strode across the deck in fine form, shouting a list of incomprehensible orders at impressive volume, and the men instantly started doing an array of tasks that made the Laconia seem to bloom. The ship turned toward the fight and picked up speed, her sails straining to catch the wind, and teams of men prepared each of the guns.
She and Frederick had already spoken of this moment. She had agreed to go below if he ever asked it of her, but until then she intended to know the danger as well as she might.
Bramley returned, and stood near to Anne. “The larger is an East India Company ship, likely with a full cargo, given how low she sits in the water,” he said in a low voice. “And they are beset by a vessel with no colors - if she didn’t begin a pirate, she may legally be treated as such now.” Anne realized this speech was for her benefit, and smiled at him gratefully. She did not seek to distract anyone, and did not know when it would be safe to ask questions; it was kind of him to think of her.
The fight, if it could be called such, was astonishingly quick, and, strangely, not at all exciting. The Laconia came close enough to engage the pirate vessel, who left off harassing the merchant ship in order to deal with the threat the Laconia presented. The Laconia turned sideways to fire off their own broadside attack - Anne felt nearly deafened by this - and had the good luck to destroy their mast on the first volley. The pirate ship surrendered immediately. The merchantman, having already fled once free of the pirates’ crosshairs, kept on their course and never returned.
“Is it always so simple?” Anne asked Bramley over dinner that evening. Frederick had invited all the officers to dine in celebration of the victory, and Bramley was seated to Anne’s right, a Lieutenant Cooke to her left. The atmosphere was convivial, and maybe a bit prideful. Anne found it all rather amusing.
Lieutenant Bramley laughed. “Would that it was, ma’am, but no. It was a lucky shot. We are also lucky they did not have enough men with them to consider a boarding action; in their place, in a broken ship and without the freedom to repair it, many other pirate vessels would simply have taken someone else’s ship.”
“Are there very many boarding actions?” Anne asked, with some worry.
The Lieutenant looked unsure of how to answer this.
“Perhaps I should find a blade?” Anne asked him, and Bramley now looked alarmed. “No, no, do not think on it. I shall ask the Captain.” Bramley did not look terribly reassured by this, so she quickly changed the subject. “Will the ship be able to make it to shore?”
He nodded, and looked cheered again. Mr. Norris had been placed in command of the men delivering the ship as a prize, and Lieutenant Bramley seemed proud of his friend. “Oh, yes, it should limp along well enough, and be more properly repaired in port.”
“And why did the other ship, that we rescued - why did they not stay, and say hello, and thank you?”
Bramley laughed. “Yes, how do you like that?” he said. “They were likely afraid of losing their men to us, ma’am. With a new prize dividing the crew, we could have used the extra hands.”
This made sense, and Anne thanked him for the information before turning to Lieutenant Cooke, to do due diligence to her other dining partner.
The next morning, Anne asked Frederick to teach her how to fight.
“I don’t expect to become any sort of expert,” she added, attempting to head off any objections, “and will still hide myself away if you should ever wish it. But it seems prudent to learn a little, if only to give myself a chance to run, if I should need to.”
Anne needn’t have worried. “A capital idea,” Frederick replied, and asked the midshipmen to join them.
They gathered on deck: Frederick, Anne, and those officers who had not gone off with Mr. Norris, including the young gentlemen learning to be sailors in Frederick’s care, and called midshipmen by courtesy. Many of the rest of the crew happened to be doing tasks that brought them to their vicinity, as well. Pure coincidence, Anne was sure.
“Do you intend to carry a weapon constantly?” Frederick asked her.
Anne considered. “I do not know. I think I should like the option.”
He nodded. “A knife, then. And perhaps a small firearm. But I would also encourage you to develop an awareness of everything that is around you, and to see all as a potential weapon.” Anne considered this, looking just in their immediate surroundings - several heavy blunt objects, strong lengths of rope, and a convenient body of water - and wondered if this might be the more fruitful avenue in which to direct her energies. Certainly she had a much better chance with the advantage of surprise.
She also suspected that this bit of advice had been directed at Frederick’s men as much as at her. Frederick regarded very highly his responsibilities towards the people in his care, particularly the young officers-in-training. (Anne had noted with approval that this also included their academic and social educations, and not just the combative.)
Very soon after beginning instruction, Anne decided she had made a dreadful mistake. It was almost a kind of torture.
Frederick gave her a knife and then stood behind her to show her how to hold and wield it. He was very nearly wrapped around her. Dimly she thought of Rose’s advice, and thought it might have been very good advice indeed; it would certainly have worked on Anne.
Frederick’s hand covered hers on the hilt, then slid back to turn her wrist just-so, his thumb over her pulse point. He was saying something. It was likely important.
Anne could breathe again when Frederick stepped away to speak to the midshipmen - he had them all working on swordplay, she saw. Anne noted that basic instruction did not seem to require the same closeness as it had in her case, and nearly began laughing. She held it back, but Frederick caught her eye, and they both grinned.
From that point on, Frederick’s instruction became matter-of-fact. He led each of them through a series of motions, periodically giving different instructions to Anne, particular to wielding a shorter weapon. After a time he paired them all off and began running them through drills that resembled duels, but with two feet separating the duelists. When nothing particularly exciting happened, most of their onlookers began drifting away.
Through it all, in the back of her mind, Anne could not help but notice how very appealing Frederick was in those moments, in his knowledge and expertise, and felt a particular satisfaction that he was hers. Then, too, apart from her observation of him, there was a quiet sort of thrill about the interaction, perhaps because it was so easy to please him - like he had given her a map - she had only to do as he said.
But then there was also a small spark of mischief - perhaps even attraction? - that wanted to ignore his instruction. If only to see what he would do.
But all this sat in the back of her mind, to be realized later; for Anne was serious about the new task before her, and did not allow her curiosity to impede her practice. It was a strange sensation, but she rather liked having a weapon in hand.
Anne was under no illusions that her elementary skills should be useful in a fight, but then, she usually felt no great anxiety at the prospect of capture. Sophia Croft had once told Anne of the time that the admiral - or Captain Croft, as he had been at the time - had been obliged to surrender his ship and sword to a captain of Napoleon’s fleet. For all the very real enmity between Napoleon and the rest of Europe, the French captain had been honorable, and generous with his brandy; and the two captains had got on tolerably well. The days that followed (leading up to rescue and a dramatic reversal of fortunes), had sounded to Anne like nothing so much as an extended house party.
But it was pleasurable to learn something new.
And, well. Pirates.
Anne practiced her drills on deck every morning. The men seemed to find this amusing, but no one discouraged her. She even thought they were beginning to hold her in some esteem and affection. Anne was not unaware that this owed less to any fine qualities on her part, than to their deep loyalty to Frederick, and their predisposition towards liking someone that he liked as well as Anne - but it was pleasant, nevertheless.
Frederick had also procured for her a small pistol, and taught her to shoot it, but as the only safe direction was out above the open sea, she had no way to practice her aim. And so, the drills with the knife. They did not yet feel particularly useful, but Frederick assured her it was mostly about settling the movements into her bones.
One morning, as she worked her way through the thirtieth iteration or so - variations on strike, parry, riposte - Frederick came upon her and asked if she might like to practice against an opponent.
She eyed him doubtfully, wondering if he meant to offer himself in that capacity, and unsure if adding such a potent distraction could truly do her any good.
“I believe you’re ready for it,” he said, misunderstanding her wary looks.
“Very well,” Anne said, and why not? Her disadvantages in a skirmish were already so great that adding just one more ought not to cause so great a decline in her chances. She nodded, and Frederick fetched wooden replicas of their weapons - one knife, one sword.
They stood opposite each other, but did not yet adopt fighting stances. “Now, bear in mind, Anne: the sword has a superior range, and there is no escaping that. In such circumstances, if you cannot escape, you must get in - close. Enough to negate the advantage.”
Frederick stepped in - close, Anne supposed. He looked down at her a moment, then seemed to shake himself.
“Until I can escape,” Anne said, slowly.
“Until you can escape,” he affirmed, and stepped back again. “Too close, and the longer blade is a hindrance. I can too easily get in my own way.”
It seemed to Anne that a sword could still easily cut something up close, but she kept quiet.
“Then, remember: in close quarters, your greatest chance to overwhelm a man is to surprise him,” Frederick said, and Anne sucked in a breath. “So it is best to hide your intention until the very last moment - are you quite alright this morning, Anne?”
She huffed out a laugh. “Yes, quite,” she said. “Carry on.”
“Alright, then,” Frederick said, and settled into a proper stance. “The first drill,” he instructed. “I shall come at you.”
Anne took the first step, but Frederick also stepped in, his wooden sword raised. It so surprised and alarmed her that her next step went a little wild; and yet, that step took her out of the path of his attack, and she finished the drill with a strike that tapped his shoulder. She blinked, astonished, and stepped back.
“Well done,” Frederick said, and straightened.
“You attacked in a specific way,” she said, frowning. “So that I must escape it, and hit you.”
“Yes,” he replied. “The third, this time, I think,” he said, and thrust forward again.
Anne scrambled into the movements of the third drill. It began with an oddly offensive parry; she stepped forward as she was supposed to, into his attack, though her whole body wished to retreat; she felt off-balance, but managed to raise the wooden blade to catch Frederick’s. There was a satisfying thunk, and then a stillness; their eyes caught and held, and she froze - he looked down to her mouth, and she remembered the riposte. Anne struck.
She twisted away. “Well done,” Frederick repeated.
“No,” she said, “for I cannot imagine a pirate would be so obliging, as to tell me how to defend against him before attacking.”
“No indeed,” he said. “But you learn to recognize the attacks, and remember how to countermand them.”
“You mean, the bones remember?”
“Exactly,” Frederick said, smiling. She loved that smile. It was so much more open and happy than he had allowed himself to be at Kellynch or Uppercross. Anne smiled back helplessly, then stepped forward - close - just one step too close for innocence.
She touched his arm. “I am done for now, I think.”
Frederick took a deep breath, and Anne did not withdraw her touch. “Do you surrender?” he asked, softly. He had meant it to be humorous, though it fell short of the mark.
“Of course,” Anne replied, contentment like an ocean within her. She continued, with rather more honesty than she meant to express, “It is far too easy to surrender to you.”
Some intriguing thought flashed through Frederick’s eyes, and Anne abruptly changed her mind. She brought her wooden knife to bear, tucked it into his side, and smiled. “Surprise,” she murmured, delighted with herself. And then: “Do you surrender?”
Through his astonishment, Frederick answered, without reserve - “Every day, and always.”
Anne had not forgotten the advice of Rose Higgins. She simply had considered and dismissed its currently viability - or rather, she doubted the wisdom of her goal, not the manner of its achievement.
Their bedsport of late had been satisfying but not as consuming as Anne had become used to. She blushed to think it, but she thought perhaps Frederick were deliberately keeping their relations from becoming so, for the truth was, when she lost her head, Anne could be rather… loud. (This worried her, some, in the light of day; but as it had never seemed to bother Frederick - perhaps he even enjoyed it? - she did not broach the subject with him, and had never attempted to silence herself in their home.) On the Laconia, where they were separated from the men under Frederick’s command by a mere wall, it was different. Anne was too conscious of their presence to lose herself completely. However, rather than limit their time together, this fact had resulted in a delightful new dimension to their relations. There was more of a playfulness in it - no desperate, consuming need, but plenty of want, and desire - and, most interestingly - it was fun. She had always found pleasure and joy in their bed, but there was laughter now, too.
And so Anne had stored Rose’s advice carefully in her breast for some future date, for the simple reason that she did not wish to drive Frederick mad, until she could discover if he was also loud.
Thrilled by her triumph, Anne quite forgot all of this.
She touched him in passing half a dozen times before she lost count. Frederick watched her closely after the first few times, looking vaguely suspicious (much to Anne’s amusement), but she did not acknowledge his glances, and Frederick did not remark upon them.
She asked to see through his spyglass - and leaned against him while he held it, rather than take it for herself. She allowed her lips to brush over his wrist, and asked how far she was seeing; and he pulled the glass back as if burned. Later, Anne skipped her fingertips lightly over the back of his neck, when no one was looking, and was surprised and pleased to elicit nearly the same reaction.
At the play that evening - a particular joy, for the men claimed to have prepared it in Anne’s honor - she sat too close to Frederick, and pressed her thigh to his, their arms just touching as well. Feeling his heat and awareness of her for two blissful hours, she could not recall ever having enjoyed a performance more. (Although, she did not remember that Much Ado About Nothing was meant to have quite so many death scenes? Or goats.)
In their chambers that evening, Frederick seemed preoccupied as he undressed. He kept fumbling the buttons of his waistcoat, and finally Anne walked up to him and took his hands into hers. “Let me,” she said.
“Have you done all this on purpose?” Frederick asked abruptly.
Anne didn’t look away from his waistcoat, watching her hands undress him. “Yes.”
“I wanted to. I wanted you to think of me.” She finished his buttons, and looked up. “Did it work?” she asked, with a false innocence so extreme he had to know it was pure cheek.
Frederick’s mouth gaped open. Anne found this delightful. Anne found herself delightful.
“Oh, I’ve thought of you!” he said. He then picked her up by the waist, and threw the both of them together onto the bed. Anne shrieked with happiness, then slapped her hand over her mouth, her eyes wide.
They locked gazes, and both started laughing. Frederick’s hand began inching up her skirts.
The next morning, they woke within moments of each other in the grey pre-dawn. Frederick would need to rise, soon. It suddenly seemed easy to ask him.
“What do you like?” she asked him.
Frederick frowned, and hmm-ed, sleepily. “How do you mean?”
“Here, in our bed. What would you like me to do?”
Frederick’s eyebrows shot up toward his hairline. He seemed to be struggling to wake. “I - like everything you do.”
“Would you like me to take you into my mouth?” she asked.
Frederick’s mouth opened. He closed it. He said nothing.
“Did you hear what I said?”
“Yes,” Frederick said after a further pause. “I suppose I did. You - where did you hear of - that?”
“Oh, one of Louisa’s books,” Anne lied, without compunction.
Frederick choked out a laugh and turned to lay on his back. “Lucky Benwick,” he said under his breath.
“So you would like me to?” Anne asked, sitting up, and reaching to lift the bedclothes. Surely she couldn’t do harm in the trying.
“No! No, I - that is, I am not opposed, but - wait, Anne. Why do you ask?”
She looked down at him, at his hands holding the sheet over his chest like a shy bride - as she had done, once - and smiled to see it, though she found she could not meet his eyes. “I only - I wish to make you feel, as I do.”
“How is that?” he asked gently, and she made herself meet his eyes, then. It seemed important.
“Quite overcome,” she said.
He released the sheet and reached out a hand. She took it, and he pulled her down, until she could curl against his side, his arm around her shoulders. “Well, I am glad of it,” he said, and could not keep a note of teasing from his voice. She bit his arm.
Frederick laughed, but then grew serious again. “Well, my love. I won’t pretend not to know what you speak of.”
“Good. I like it. I want to make you feel that way, too.”
He hesitated. “I don’t wish to hurt you.”
She considered this a moment. “I only wish you to be less - controlled. Is there something else you would like us to do?”
He didn’t say anything for a long moment, his expression wry, and Anne was suddenly very cross with him - or with all the world - cross with the wide range of experiences that she had not even the necessary knowledge to imagine.
But, no; she could learn. “I want to know anything you want to do,” she said, severely. “It can wait until you are comfortable, but this is what I want.”
Frederick made no indication of agreement or denial. It had been some time since he had guarded his expression so thoroughly around her, and it was maddening.
She sat up again, wanting any advantage, even the false authority of a higher vantage point. “There were bruises, once,” she said, but before the dismay could fully cross his face, she continued: “and I liked them. There was - you kissed me,” she said and gestured to her neck. Oh, heavens, she was sure her face was flaming red. “You kissed me here, and I could see the kiss for days after. I liked it,” she repeated.
His countenance looked oddly naked. With such an expression, she should have been able to know his thoughts. It was impossible.
Anne felt the beginning of panic, but she had already committed herself to this course of action. She soldiered on.
“And once, you - you moved my hands. With your hands around my wrists. They didn’t stay there, but Frederick - if I ever asked you to? Would you - ?”
She couldn’t finish the question, and he didn’t answer it, curtailed as it was. She looked down again; then, hesitantly, she took his hand in hers. She traced his palm, caressed it - his rough seaman’s hand. She felt the faint scrape of its callouses against her skin, and its potential for strength, and for gentleness. Then she looked up at him and, very slowly, lowered his hand to the bed, above his head. She held his wrist down. She didn’t press - did not pretend at the strength needed to keep him anywhere - but she held him there, and he allowed it. She felt his blood racing beneath her palm, the pulse of his life, and it was like holding the whole of him in her hand.
It was only then that she realized, she wanted to hold him down, just as she wished him to do to her.
It was no mystery as to why, she supposed. They had allowed each other to slip away, once, years before. And though neither would ever allow it again, she thought - well, it might be nice to feel it.
When she looked into his face again, his eyes were soft, and he was smiling. “I love you,” he said.
“I love you, too.”
“We can try anything you like.”
“Good,” she said. “I should like you to be loud.”
He choked a bit.
“Not here,” she said. “Not on your ship. Also, you will need to contribute most of the ideas.”
“Of course,” he murmured.
“Because there is so much I don’t know.”
“You appear to know a great deal.”
“Well,” Anne said awkwardly. “Louisa’s books.” She really ought to read one of them. She hoped they really were educational. “Would you really like it if I…?”
“Hm?” he asked, then: “Oh. Mouths.” His face took on that rare wicked expression. “Would you like to learn about mouths?” he asked. He leaned over, and kissed her stomach through her nightgown. He kissed her again, lower.
The dim grey light had changed, brightened, and taken on a softer, warmer feel. Her favorite kind of morning.
The Laconia completed her first circuit and arrived back in Gibraltar. There they retrieved Mr. Norris and the rest of their crew, and Anne received dutiful letters from her sisters. Elizabeth’s was short and impersonal, and indistinguishable from any of her previous letters. Mary’s was very, very long, and filled with the very particular details of her current afflictions.
The news was graver. Napoleon had over 350,000 troops. The allies were gathering to oppose him under Wellington’s command, but no one was quite sure of the breadth of Napoleon’s support, and the admiralty suspected he was having ships built in secret. Frederick’s orders had not changed materially, except that they were now also to find, and wreck or take as prizes, any of the suspected warships that were loyal to the Emperor.
Nevertheless, the cruise began very pleasantly just as the previous one had, despite the urgency felt in port. Anne passed her days with long walks on deck, and in practicing with her knife (Mr. Norris was good enough to practice with her, which certainly improved her focus). She passed her nights in pleasurable exploration with Frederick in their quarters.
He was, indeed, inclined to be loud. They had made a game of trying to be quiet, and to induce the other to break their silence. There was no way to lose.
Some few days later, the most conflict Anne had encountered was the ruckus caused when a tearful Mr. Andrews (nine years old) accused the clowning Mr. Jenkins (twelve years old) of eating Whiskers, his pet rat (unknown; also, not a pet). Peace could not be restored until the stalwart Whiskers had been produced, unharmed.
Mr. Norris and Lieutenant Bramley, as witnesses to the quarrel and her handling of it, praised Anne’s fair-minded adjudication with great solemnity. Bramley had a twinkle in his eye, but Anne thought Mr. Norris’s quiet thanks-by-proxy may have been genuine. He was a mild, serious sort of young man. She remembered that he himself had been on ships from an earlier age even than either of the two young gentlemen, and she did not tease him for it.
But then, not an hour later, the Laconia came across two pirate vessels.
There was no thought to flee, even if permitted by their orders. The Laconia could never outrun them.
Anne watched the opening salvo from the deck, standing at the periphery of Frederick and his officers. The enemy closest to them fired a single gun, and its cannonball fell into the ocean far short of the Laconia, with a plop and a great spray of water.
Anne bit her lip. “That’s…rather undignified, isn’t it?” she said to no one in particular.
“They’re gauging the range,” Mr. Norris said to her, quietly, on his way to join Frederick. “Off the starboard bow, Captain,” he continued, and handed Frederick a spyglass.
Frederick took it in some surprise, and looked to starboard. Anne peered in that direction, but without the benefit of magnification, all she could discern was the shape of yet another ship in the far distance.
After a moment, Frederick handed the glass to Bramley, who looked through it and immediately relaxed. “They are flying Louis’s colors,” Bramley breathed out. “God be praised.”
Frederick said nothing.
Anne watched the ship doubtfully. “Frederick, are they coming closer at all?”
“No,” he said. “No, they are not,” and Bramley started, and then cursed under his breath.
Dimly, Anne realized that some dreadfully silly corner of her mind had the wherewithal to be scandalized by the language.
“Who are they?” Anne heard herself ask.
“Boney’s, probably,” Bramley said, and handed the spyglass back to Frederick. “Flying false colors, and waiting to pick off the winner.”
“Beat to quarters,” Frederick said crisply. Lieutenant Bramley started shouting orders.
The next hours were among the most boring - and then terrifying - of Anne’s life. At the first cannon to fly over their heads, Frederick asked Anne to go below deck, and she went, as she had promised.
She went to the council chamber and drew her knife, because she felt better just holding it. She watched the action as best she could through the thick, opaque windows. This became much easier when one of them was shot out. All indignant astonishment, Anne scowled at the cannonball, now rolling about the floor, but she made use of the better view. From what she could tell, the pirate vessel was trying to change their angle of approach, coming head-on. It presented a more narrow target, but to what purpose, she did not understand, as it also prevented them from issuing a broadside attack against the Laconia.
Some twenty minutes later - Anne nearly trembling with adrenaline - the door opened, and Mr. Andrews stepped inside. He stood with his fists at his side, and said, fiercely, “I have orders to protect you, ma’am.”
Anne stared at the boy. “Thank you,” she said evenly. “Have you any weapons?”
“Two guns and two knives and a sling.”
“Might I have one of the guns?” Anne asked, and he emptied his pockets. The sling was produced, as well as a top, a tangle of twine, and half a hard biscuit, and then the promised gun. This he handed to Anne, handle-first. “Thank you,” Anne said, and Mr. Andrews nodded. He eventually found the other gun, and the two of them stood to either side of the exposed window, eying the approaching pirate ship, waiting for it to come in range, hoping it would not.
It came inexorably closer.
Anne discovered, much to her chagrin, that she was an absolutely terrible shot. Mr. Andrews assured her that everyone was, or that guns themselves were, but it was disheartening nonetheless. She and Mr. Andrews aimed in the general direction of the other ship, hitting nothing of particular importance, but this did seem to give the enemy a distraction from their work, at least. Or, it did until some of them finally noticed the origin of these bullets, and began firing back. She and Mr. Andrews stepped back into the room, out of the exposure of the open window.
And then, there was a great crash, and they both fell to the floor as an almighty shudder took hold of the world. When it settled to its proper place, Anne stood again and looked to Mr. Andrews - a boy! a mere child! - with wide eyes.
“We are being boarded,” he said wearily.
“Oh,” Anne said. “Yes. Of course. Boarded.”
She clutched her knife tightly.
Anne was terrified. She wanted to leap from this room and find Frederick, and stab anyone near him at all. And she wanted to stay in that room. She wasn’t even sure she could make herself leave it. And she had a horrifying suspicion that Mr. Andrews had been sent not to protect her, but to be protected. It was preposterous. Neither of them could protect anyone. They should be hiding, for God’s sake. Why could she not have hidden in some closet?
The noise grew louder, and louder - gunshot, the clang of steel, the heavy impact of boots on the deck - and shouting. And screaming.
Anne and the little boy watched the door.
“What is your Christian name?” she asked, because it was preposterous not to know.
“Percy, Mrs. Captain,” Mr. Andrews said.
The fighting on the other side of the door grew louder, and louder, and then the door burst inward as men fell upon it, their fight spilling into the room, a blur of fists and swords.
“Quickly, hide!” she hissed to Mr. Andrews, who ran - straight in the direction of the door, and the men. Anne felt a horrified moment before she realized how very clever he was, as he slid to the other side of the door, effectively hidden by it as it continued to open, concealing him between door and wall.
The new occupants of the room finally noticed her.
It was Mr. Midshipman Norris, Lieutenant Cooke, and three men she did not recognize - pirates? Napoleon’s men? Who had boarded them?
One of these three started walking toward her, stalking her, while the other two occupied Norris and Cooke.
She raised her knife.
He smiled, and with one strike of his sword knocked it out of her hand.
Anne turned and fled.
See all as a potential weapon, she heard Frederick say in her memory. She ran around the large center table, looking around her desperately, but she’d picked the wrong room - everything was nailed down. (Why could she not have hidden in the kitchens? Even her own quarters? What wouldn’t she have given for a cooking pot, or a heavy book?)
And then she spotted it: the small pile from Mr. Andrews’s pocket, at the end of the table. She swept it all into her hands as she ran by, rounded another corner of the table - the window! the open window! - and flung Mr. Andrews’ poor collection onto the planks behind her. The man chasing her tripped over these and veered wildly, and for one blessed moment she thought he might just fall through the shot-out window, but it was not to be. He brained his head on the edge of it, and fell inelegantly to the floor, dazed and with a great gash upon his forehead.
He stumbled up, and toward her; she still had a gun - she was a terrible shot - and then she struck him across the face with it. He sank to the floor, unconscious.
Anne raced to the middle of the room and took up her knife from the floor. Lieutenant Cooke lay on the floor - sleeping, surely he was sleeping - and Mr. Norris now faced both his and Cooke’s assailants, and a third who had just arrived.
She rushed them. She must be a madwoman. One of the men came at her, and obligingly attacked in a manner that she and Mr. Norris had practiced just that morning - she parried it, twisted out of the way, and struck - her knife sank into his flesh.
Anne released the weapon as if burned. She took a staggering step backward.
The door crashed out like a shot, knocking into one of Mr. Norris’s opponents, knocking this man off-balance; Mr. Norris used this distraction to dispatch his other enemy. The door rebounded back toward the wall - back toward Mr. Andrews, of course - and then shot outward again, smashing into Mr. Norris’s final attacker, who grunted and very agreeably fell forward onto Mr. Norris’s sword.
Mr. Norris looked to Anne, then at the man she had stabbed - in the arm. Anne blinked. She had only stabbed him in the arm.
“I surrender,” this man said, and Mr. Norris nodded.
“Give me your sword,” he commanded, and the man did. “Stay here.”
Anne startled, and Mr. Norris’s tone gentled as he turned to her. “You should come with me, ma’am. And you too, Mr. Andrews,” he added. Mr. Andrews popped his head around the corner of the door, which had also been his weapon.
“Yes, sir,” Mr. Andrews said. The three of them left the room, and Mr. Andrews shut the door behind them.
“Can we trust his surrender?” Anne asked. Her voice was steady. How extraordinary.
“One can never be sure, with a pirate,” Mr. Norris said. “But probably. We’ve all but won.”
They came out on deck. It seemed strangely calm - fighting men she could not recognize were being restrained, by sailors she did. Anne could see the other pirate ship fighting Napoleon’s warship, to the west.
Anne searched desperately for Frederick, and after a very short eternity she saw him. He stood in a last circle of fighters, he and Lieutenant Bramley back to back against four or five pirates, who fought with the snarling brutality of men who felt cornered and knew themselves lost.
Just as she noticed them, Bramley went down.
Anne’s heart stopped in horror - Lieutenant Bramley’s opponent stepped over his body - toward Frederick’s unprotected back -
“Tom,” Mr. Norris said in a strange voice. His face turned quite vicious, and he raised his gun.
Mr. Norris, Anne noted, was an excellent shot.
It was over.
Anne walked to Frederick in a miserable daze.
Only moments before, she had felt calm, energized and strong, like someone who could stab a man, or hit him across the face with a gun.
The energy was gone. She couldn’t seem to stop shaking.
He had duties to perform. She didn’t intend to prevent this, only wanted to be where she could see that he was well; but he met her halfway, cradled her face in his hands, and kissed her.
Frederick divided his crew among the Laconia and the Tiger - the pirate ship that had once belonged to the failed boarding party, now the Laconia’s prize - and then divided their prisoners. Miraculously, the Laconia had only twelve dead among her officers and crew. Anne hadn’t known any of them well, and was selfishly grateful.
Anne was exhausted. At odd intervals, she was still overcome with violent tremors, though they lasted but a moment. Lieutenant Bramley - limping, but hale and hearty - told her this was the customary aftermath of that special energy she’d felt, in the heat of the battle, and that he had often experienced it himself. This didn’t make her feel better, though she pretended for his sake that it did. She didn’t think he was fooled.
They all stood on deck, watching the progress of the fight between the other pirate ship, and Napoleon’s, with a strange lack of curiosity. The distant battle had all the immediacy of an opera in a language one could not understand. When Anne asked Frederick what they were doing, he replied, with darkly unfamiliar humor, “We are waiting to pick off the winner.”
In actuality, they were hurriedly working on repairs, so they could join the fight, if the two distant ships didn’t have the courtesy to sink each other. Neither could be allowed to escape.
In too short a time, they began to limp their way westward, prepared to engage them alone.
But then, beautifully, another ship crested the horizon. This ship also flew Louis XVIII’s colors; but hers were true.
Frederick, to Anne’s depthless relief, was unharmed. The shock of the day was discovering that she had herself sustained an injury, though she knew not from where - much of her left side was bruised, and she could not account for it. Frederick was tender and attentive, but also very admiring when Mr. Norris told him of her altercation with the boarders. A small fear she had harbored settled and was put aside, for despite his worries, Frederick would not use the incident to proclaim shipboard life too unsafe for his cherished wife.
Captain Jaqobis of the Charlemagne claimed the French revolutionary ship as his prize, of course, but he ceded both pirate vessels to the captain and crew of the Laconia, quite rightly as far as Anne was concerned. It was her crew that had done all the work.
Jaqobis was graciousness itself, his hospitality aboard the Charlemagne effusive and genuinely welcoming, but what endeared him to Anne was the news he brought:
Napoleon had been defeated at Waterloo.
They were going home.