William Brand

The Watch Dog

3,460 posts in this topic

William first mistook the request as a prelude to some violence on Saltash, but it was the 'scissors' and her hand that brought him down other roads. "Scissors."

It was not a question. William had known his share of women at sea. Some of them were shorn.

"I have two pairs of scissors." William continued. His tone was matter of fact, though he was at a loss about his feelings on the matter. He found himself in two camps. "One pair is quite fine, being made of well fashioned steel and refined gold, though I expect the quality is not important."

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"Which ever is sharpest." She growled, a vicious enough sound that for a moment he reconsidered his original supposition that she intended violence. The fire in her tone told him that if he did not give her something sharp to do what she planned in the next few minutes, she would set about finding it herself. Still she paced like a caged animal, eyes darting to the door every few minutes and hand still wrapped around her neck.

With a resigned sigh, William stood and retrieved the fine pair of which he spoke and carried them across to the corner where she now stood, but he hesitated in placing them into her open palm. There was a silent understanding that he was offering to help with the clipping, knowing it's not so easy to reach the back of one's own head, but the Steward, angry facade once again melting into broken and weary faced smiled and shook her head at him. "I'm sorry, if there is going to be sharp metal anywhere near my neck right now, it's only going to be in my hand."

Taking the blades up quickly she tugged at a giant hank of hair and chewed through it with the scissors with little regard to the evenness. "It was foolish of me to let it get so long. I always used to keep it fairly close cropped." She said, the first fistful of hair entirely separated from her head, leaving only an inch or two to cover her scalp. She set to work on the next section, capturing the spring like curls in a white knuckled grip, "Y'know, don't give anyone anything to grab onto in a fight." And with a clipping sound, the second handful was freed, the back of her head having less length now then the side. "But, a while back, I was bed-bound for about six months and it started to grow out. I guess I thought it looked pretty so I've not cut it for the better part of 2 years." She set about the final strands, and spoke with a strained cheerfulness that seemed to teeter on manic. "Vanity getting the best of good sense I guess." And with that, the halo of spiral ringlets that always fluttered about her face was gone, in it's place, odd ends and disparate lengths, all evidence that her hair was even curly was now spread between the floor and her two fists.

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William had nothing to say on the subject. He nodded once at the last, then plucked up some of the hair, placing it between the pages of a book set near the windows. He did this wordlessly. Then he took back the scissors with no more command than an open hand. Once replaced among his belongings, he said, "Sit." It was a command and an invitation at the same time.

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Tudor sat, still clutching some hair, still looking every which direction, as if someone might jump out of a trunk our walk through the very walls. She didn't speak any more. As quickly as they tumbled out of her while cutting her hair, they were gone again. She was the discarded rag doll again and sat with no comfort, just weariness. After a heavy sigh, she finally made eye contact with William, as if bidding him to say whatever he had to say, ask what questions he had to ask.

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"Are you harmed in any way that would present over time."

It was a question of many answers. It was a question of many questions. He didn't like asking it anymore than she liked being asked, so that it hung in the air, but William was a pragmatist.

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Her eyes narrowed a moment, as if she had to think, but really the truth was she was deciding how much of an answer she wanted to give. "No. Not for want of trying on his part, only . . . ." Suddenly she had to choke back a bitter laugh. She knew the Captain was only doing as he needed, both as the commander of the ship, and as a caring friend, but she didn't want to say the answer, and no one aboard ship had ever seen the scars she knew she would have to show - a simple no, without evidence, would leave everyone holding their breath for weeks. Without another word, but a resigned shake of her head, she lifted the hem of her shirt, exposing only the lower part of her abdomen. From the navel down, she was riddled with the ridges of a series of old wounds, perhaps only two years into healing. "Even if I wanted children, I've been told it would take heavenly intervention for it to happen. So, no. You will still have your Steward in nine months time." She dropped the shirt again, looking away and closing her eyes, thinking of it all - Saltash, the damage to the ship, the storm, the scars - all of it burdened her, ground her further down into her chair, until with a gasp for air, she stood up abruptly again, but instead of pacing she was practically lunging for the door.

"Captain, I need to go back to work. I need to not sit still right now . . . I can't . . .I can't . . . I just can't . . ." She didn't know what she was trying to say, and she was literally choking on the words, they stuck in her throat and she fought the urge to cry, but she didn't know what she was weeping about.

Edited by TudorSmith

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William did not completely hide his reaction to her revelation, despite a long life of such revealing deprivations. Of course the how and why of it bothered him, but this was a moment of pure 'now'. She was showing all the signs of someone who's emotional compass was on the spin. Of course she had every right to be that way, act that way, but he wouldn't have any of it for her sake.

"Harry Saltash is in chains. No work will be required of you." He threw the water from the basin out the casement window, which proved fruitless, since so much more water came in at the open window from outside. He continued. "If you go out there, they will see the bruises and cuts that weren't there from before, and questions will be asked of you. No, you'll stay here the night and you'll pick your marine, or if you like, any other man or woman to guard the threshold."

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His words smarted as they hit her - he knew her too well. He knew how little she wanted everyone to see how damaged her face was, and, in kindness, he used that against her. "I will go mad if I sit still too much longer. More mad, at any rate." She smiled a bit at this, clearly aware of how insane she must seem at that exact moment. "You think this is just reaction to . . . today." She couldn't bring herself to refer to anything more specific. "This is an everyday fight for me. Today just has me too broken to hide it." She felt she was being too dramatic, too cryptic and she forcibly shook her head, as if the action would clear it. "Please, if Saltash is in irons, I have no reason to sit in here, wallowing while others labor, cowering in fear while there is work to be done. As much as I hate the idea of questions, I hate more being seen as weak, and injured and . . . damaged." She could tell her babbling was not convincing the Captain. He looked at her, kindly, but in an unyielding sort of way. She sighed, defeated once again. It was becoming the theme for the day. "I won't have an able bodied crew mate wasting his time being my nanny at the door. I'd rather have all hands working to right the ship, as long as I can have a pistol and a knife with me in here." It was a request, stated as a preference. "But, just . . .what will I do to occupy myself all night?" Her tone implied sleep was the furthest thing from her possible agenda.

Edited by TudorSmith

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She was talking more than him. He understood. She was asking and answering questions aloud. He understood. She was arguing with him about things she knew he wouldn't relent about. He understood. Like many times since going aft, he nodded. Just one more nod among many, but he wasn't accustomed to giving orders twice. "Sit." She sat.

He freed her of shoes, stockings and everything but the shift like shirt that was so common between both sexes aboard. He did this mechanically, like a footman. Again, it would have been intimate if not for the circumstances and he hoped not too intimate considering them. Then he nodded again, unable to help himself. To see her now, with her short hair and trailing shirt, she was boyish. He might have tussled her hair but for the bruises. He was more careful with her clothes than he had been with his own. He laid them over a chair and fetched up a cudgel, which he gave to Tudor. All of this without a word. Then he excused himself into the companionway, but was gone less than a minute.

When he returned, the doorframe filled behind him as Ajayi stepped into the space. The Yoruban, a sober man most of the time, sobered more still at the sight of Ajayi. Tudor did not look happy for the added company, but William made no apology. He simply closed the door and turned to them both. "Ajayi is injured." he began, "More than once these few weeks…and…being a man of few words AND being relieved of any duty on deck, he will sleep here." He did not give her time to protest. even if she meant to. He turned instead to Ajay and using English seasoned with some few Arabic words he made it clear to the man that his duty was now to the room as much as any other part of the ship.

"You will stay here and guard this door and that one." William gestured to both the companionway and the small door that separated his sleeping quarters. Ajayi nodded, unfettered by any excited ideas or the judgements that might have come from any other person aboard. William knew that the Yoruban wouldn't read into the presence of a half dressed woman in his apartments, but would take only that explanation given him. It wasn't that Ajayi failed to grasp the implications. No, quite the contrary. Ajayi was actually a better man than most aboard. He was an intelligent man, free of rash or wandering thoughts. In that way, William believed Ajayi to more civil and civilized than any other man aboard ship. Compared to Ajayi, Saltash was barely an animal at all, let alone a man.

William turned to Tudor then. "Mistress Smith, you are injured. You are therefore unfit for any service of the weatherdecks. Also, you are my Steward and are oft found here. No one will see fit to speak otherwise of this and Ajayi is beyond, even above gossip." He nodded, as much to end any discussion on the matter as to augment his unwillingness to hear otherwise. He walked to the door of his own chamber and gestured to the space within. "You will sleep here. You will not have the use of a knife or pistol. I would have you sleep, but as your sleep might be restless, than a pistol or a knife might bring you harm."

Instead, he gave a knife to Ajayi. It was a wicked wedge of a knife and Ajayi was quick to tuck it away.

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Every minute was an hour, every hour a century. Tudor tried to rest, tried to do as she had been instructed, knowing the surest way to be released back to duty was to follow her instructions. But silence roared loudly in her ears and kept her from sleep, or peace, or any kind of rest. A strange gratitude formed for every occasional noise from the decks that echoed it's way into the room, every gust of wind that rattled at the windows. She lay in the bed, pretending to be asleep, hoping against hope that if she lay there long enough, eventually the exhaustion would take over. But no matter how dormant her body felt, her mind still raced. What little sleep she did was fitful, much like the captain had predicted and when she could not lie still any longer without joints and muscles aching, she paced, bare feet silent against the planks of the floor. She wished they would make noise. Never had she wanted to wear heavy boots that would make a ruckus more than she did just then, if only to drown out the interrogation she felt herself being put through by her own thoughts.

She collapsed onto a the floor after walking miles without traveling any distance, unable to keep standing, but unable to lie back down. She leaned back against the wall of the room. With a sigh, she began to take account of events, just as a tactician evaluated his standings after a defeat. Voices of far distant and long departed mentors demanded to be heard, as clearly if they lived and stood in the same room. She could see them in her imagination, and while none of them had ever met so, she pictured them sitting around a table not dissimilar to the one close at hand in the Ward Room. They were her personal councilors of war, and every one of them had something to say. Why do you sit and let these things happen to you, where is your fight? The first chided. You are at a disadvantage here. You should have retreated months ago - the minute your judgement began to be clouded by emotion. You thought this place was safe and you were ambushed. The second growled. You let your guard down, you stupid little girl! You let them see you weak. That disturbing propensity to trust will get you killed one way or another. The third mocked. The thoughts continued but they didn’t take their turn. You don’t belong here was followed by A solider never is without a weapon which was drowned out by the third, cruel voice shouting at her You are weak, and useless.

This inner conversation went on and on, Tudor took every thought, every word, and clung to it, believing them all to be true even if they were such contrary ideas of both how weak she was, and how much harder she could have fought. They tore her apart inside. The the turmoil ran deeper in her than just the fear and anger brought about by her encounter with Harry Saltash – the attack only dredged up every other fear and doubt – and she could not separate all the emotions, and wished to be rid of every single one of them.

Just when she thought she could bear it no more, more noise invaded the silence. It was just a muffled voice from elsewhere on the boat - perhaps the changing of watches, or repair crews calling out to each other, she couldn't make out the words. But it acted as touchstone for reality - the world beyond her own world.This ship, this floating fortress had been battered, beaten and often times betrayed, and yet it went on. And so would she.

In light of that simple though, that profound lesson, realized on the floor of the great cabin in the darkest hours of night, all other teachers from her past were silenced. She knew that there would be struggles ahead - she'd bear the scars from this day just as she bore from every other thing that ever happened to her. But someday they would heal, fade. Someday, like that very ship, she would be repaired, righted. It might not be in that very moment, but knowing that someday they would no longer run so deep into her gave her something like peace, enough to actually sleep. She crawled back into the bed and as soon as her eyes shut, she slept.

It was dawn until she woke again. She rose again, not because she could no longer lie still from the pain, but because she finally felt ready to move. The light pouring into the room gave promise of a clear day - the storm had finally passed.

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