Here’s part 2 of my made-to-order story, Kidnapped to Freedom.
Val waited in the shadow of the trees. It must be at least 30 minutes past moon rise. She wasn’t coming. Again. Five years ago, he had waited the whole night, and come back again the next. This time, if he couldn’t carry Phoebe off tonight, he’d have to give up. It had taken him all his powers of persuasion to convince his crew to make one try. They weren’t privateers. The letters of marque that let them take an American ship while the United States and England were at war wouldn’t cover a land raid on a plantation. If she didn’t come, the men wouldn’t agree to a second attempt.
There! Someone was coming. He straightened in anticipation. Yes, it was her—12 years older and a mature women rather than the girl he remember, but even in the moonlight he couldn’t mistake her.
She wasn’t alone. He couldn’t take a herd of children with him! What was she thinking?
He stepped out from the sheltering trees. The mask would hide his face, and his voice had never been the same since Chan tried to strangle him the last time he saw Phoebe close enough to talk to.
“Are you Phoebe?” He was 12 years older too, and a man changed more from 17 to 29 than a woman did, but he couldn’t risk being seen and recognised by anyone on the plantation.
She nodded. He noted that she gathered the children protectively behind her, but the older boy, his face grimly intent, evaded the sweep of her arm and stepped in front. Brave little bantam rooster.
“I was commissioned to take one woman to her brother in Canada, not a parcel of brats,” he said.
“Can’t leave without ma babies, Sir.” Her voice was barely a whisper, but determined.
Her children? All of them? His brother’s children, then, possibly. He surveyed them quickly. Yes the little bantam had the Blake look, and the girl rocking the baby could be a darker version of the childhood portrait of his mother that hung in the parlour.
The men wouldn’t like it, but he was taking them all and be damned.
He met the eyes of each in turn as he said, “You must be quiet. Not a sound. Do everything I say, and I will take you to your uncle in Canada.”
“Perry, give the signal.” He gave the command over his shoulder, not waiting to see if it was obeyed. Perry could be trusted to carry out the raid with maximum noise and minimum damage. He didn’t want anyone actually killed, but he did hope that many slaves would take the chance to escape in the confusion, masking the disappearance of one maid and her children.
He led the way down to the creek, where Jimson stood ready to row them back out to the coast and the waiting ship.
Phoebe startled awake at the knock on the door. Three of the children still slept on the bed in the small but luxurious room. No. It was what Mist’ Finn called a cabin. Venus and Jake were awake, but unmoving in the tangle of little bodies, watching her with anxious eyes. She smiled to reassure them and wished she had someone to reassure her.
When she opened, the little man who had shown them to this cabin nodded at her. “The cap’n wants to see ye, ma’am.”
He’d called her ‘ma’am’ last night, too. Unaccountably, being addressed so courteously made her even more nervous, as if an overseer hid just out of sight waiting to punish her for aping a lady.
“Do I come with you?” she asked.
“He’ll come to ye, Ma’am. In a few minutes, like. To have breakfast with ye and the nippers. He thought ye might want to have a wash first.” The man handed her the jug he was holding, filled with steaming hot water, and crossed the cabin to put the towels off his arm onto the back of a chair.
He turned in time to save the jug as the ship lurched and she lost her balance.
“Ye’ll get yer sea legs soon, ma’am,” he said, not unkindly, and put the jug into a hole that was obviously made for it, next to a basin in a hole of its own.
She had the children and herself washed and tidied before another knock heralded the man from last night. He was still masked, his eyes glittering at her, and his chin and mouth showing, but the rest of his face covered in black cloth.
The little man scurried in behind him, carrying a laden tray that smelled of bacon and fresh-baked bread.
Venus, who had already been looking a little ill, gave a piteous moan. Before Phoebe could react, the masked man, moving with blinding speed, had grabbed the jug that had held their wash water and placed it under Venus’ chin. He was just in time, and Jake was the next to say, “Phoebe, I don’t feel too good.”
Phoebe hurried to feel his forehead. What could be wrong with them? They were never sick!
Some of her fear must have conveyed itself to the masked man, because he said, calmly, “Seasickness, Miss Blake. They will recover once they are used to the motion of the boat.
“Jenkins, remove the bacon, will you? Miss Blake and I will have breakfast in the wardroom with whichever of the children is well enough to join us.”
He was holding the jug with one hand, and calmly supporting the vomiting girl with the other. “Oh, and Jenkins, bring some buckets, please? I rather think this young lady may have imitators.”