As we rounded the tip of the headland, a lithe black figure materialized next to the rail. Now clothed in spare seaman’s clothes, with his scars hidden, Ishmael looked less like a slave and a good deal more like a pirate. Not for the first time, I wondered just how much of what he had told us was the truth.
“I be leavin’ now,” he announced abruptly.
Jamie lifted one eyebrow and glanced over the rail, into the soft blue depths.
“Dinna let me prevent ye,” he said politely. “But would ye not rather have a boat?”
Something that might have been humor flickered briefly in the black man’s eyes, but didn’t disturb the severe outlines of his face.
“You say you put me ashore where I want, I be tellin’ you ’bout those boys,” he said. He nodded toward the island, where a riotous growth of jungle spilled down the slope of a hill to meet its own green shadow in the shallow water. “That be where I want.”
Jamie looked thoughtfully from the uninhabited shore to Ishmael, and then nodded.
“I’ll have a boat lowered.” He turned to go to the cabin. “I promised ye gold as well, no?”
“Don’t be wantin’ gold, mon.” Ishmael’s tone, as well as his words, stopped Jamie in his tracks. He looked at the black man with interest, mingled with a certain reserve.
“Ye’ll have something else in mind?”
Ishmael jerked his head in a short nod. He didn’t seem outwardly nervous, but I noticed the faint gleam of sweat on his temples, despite the mild noon breeze.
“I be wantin’ that one-arm nigger.” He stared boldly at Jamie as he spoke, but there was a diffidence under the confident facade.
“Temeraire?” I blurted out in astonishment. “Why?”
Ishmael flicked a glance at me, but addressed his words to Jamie, half-bold, half-cajoling.
“He ain’t no good to you, mon; can’t be doin’ field work or ship work neither, ain’t got but one arm.”
Jamie didn’t reply directly, but stared at Ishmael for a moment. Then he turned and called for Fergus to bring up the one-armed slave.
Temeraire, brought up on deck, stood expressionless as a block of wood, barely blinking in the sun. He too had been provided with seaman’s clothes, but he lacked Ishmael’s raffish elegance in them. He looked like a stump upon which someone had spread out washing to dry.
“This man wants you to go with him, to the island there,” Jamie said to Temeraire, in slow, careful French. “Do you want to do this thing?”
Temeraire did blink at that, and a brief look of startlement widened his eyes. I supposed that no one had asked him what he wanted in many years—if ever. He glanced warily from Jamie to Ishmael and back again, but didn’t say anything.
Jamie tried again.
“You do not have to go with this man,” he assured the slave. “You may come with us, and we will take care of you. No one will hurt you. But you can go with him, if you like.”
Still the slave hesitated, eyes flicking right and left, clearly startled and disturbed by the unexpected choice. It was Ishmael who decided the matter. He said something, in a strange tongue full of liquid vowels and syllables that repeated like a drumbeat.
Temeraire let out a gasp, fell to his knees, and pressed his forehead to the deck at Ishmael’s feet. Everyone on deck stared at him, then looked at Ishmael, who stood with arms folded with a sort of wary defiance.
“He be goin’ with me,” he said.
And so it was. Picard rowed the two blacks ashore in the dinghy, and left them on the rocks at the edge of the jungle, supplied with a small bag of provisions, each equipped with a knife.
“Why there?” I wondered aloud, watching the two small figures make their way slowly up the wooded slope. “There aren’t any towns nearby, are there? Or any plantations?” To the eye, the shore presented an unbroken expanse of jungle.
“Oh, there are plantations,” Lawrence assured me. “Far up in the hills; that’s where they grow the coffee and indigo—the sugarcane grows better near the coast.” He squinted toward the shore, where the two dark figures had disappeared. “It is more likely that they have gone to join a band of Maroons, though,” he said.
“There are Maroons on Jamaica as well as on Hispaniola?” Fergus asked, interested.
Lawrence smiled, a little grimly.
“There are Maroons wherever there are slaves, my friend,” he said. “There are always men who prefer to take the chance of dying like animals, rather than live as captives.”
Jamie turned his head sharply to look at Lawrence, but said nothing.
Jared’s plantation at Sugar Bay was called Blue Mountain House, presumably for the sake of the low, hazy peak that rose inland a mile behind it, blue with pines and distance. The house itself was set near the shore, in the shallow curve of the bay. In fact, the veranda that ran along one side of the house overhung a small lagoon, the building set on sturdy silvered-wood pilings that rose from the water, crusted with a spongy growth of tunicates and mussels and the fine green seaweed called mermaid’s hair.
We were expected; Jared had sent a letter by a ship that left Le Havre a week before the Artemis. Owing to our delay on Hispaniola, the letter had arrived nearly a month in advance of ourselves, and the overseer and his wife—a portly, comfortable Scottish couple named MacIvers—were relieved to see us.
“I thought surely the winter storms had got ye,” Kenneth MacIver said for the fourth time, shaking his head. He was bald, the top of his head scaly and freckled from long years’ exposure to the tropic sun. His wife was a plump, genial, grandmotherly soul—who, I realized to my shock, was roughly five years younger than myself. She herded Marsali and me off for a quick wash, brush, and nap before supper, while Fergus and Jamie went with Mr. MacIver to direct the partial unloading of the Artemis’s cargo and the disposition of her crew.
I was more than willing to go; while my arm had healed sufficiently to need no more than a light bandage, it had prevented me from bathing in the sea as was my usual habit. After a week aboard the Artemis, unbathed, I looked forward to fresh water and clean sheets with a longing that was almost hunger.
I had no landlegs yet; the worn wooden floorboards of the plantation house gave the disconcerting illusion of seeming to rise and fall beneath my feet, and I staggered down the hallway after Mrs. MacIver, bumping into walls.
The house had an actual bathtub in a small porch; wooden, but filled—mirabile dictu!—with hot water, by the good offices of two black slave women who heated kettles over a fire in the yard and carried them in. I should have felt much too guilty at this exploitation to enjoy my bath, but I didn’t. I wallowed luxuriously, scrubbing the salt and grime from my skin with a loofah sponge and lathering my hair with a shampoo made from chamomile, geranium oil, fat-soap shavings, and the yolk of an egg, graciously supplied by Mrs. MacIver.
Smelling sweet, shiny-haired, and languid with warmth, I collapsed gratefully into the bed I was given. I had time only to think how delightful it was to stretch out at full length, before I fell asleep.
When I woke, the shadows of dusk were gathering on the veranda outside the open French doors of my bedroom, and Jamie lay naked beside me, hands folded on his belly, breathing deep and slow.
He felt me stir, and opened his eyes. He smiled sleepily and reaching up a hand, pulled me down to his mouth. He had had a bath, too; he smelled of soap and cedar needles. I kissed him at length, slowly and thoroughly, running my tongue across the wide curve of his lip, finding his tongue with mine in a soft, dark joust of greeting and invitation.
I broke loose, finally, and came up for air. The room was filled with a wavering green light, reflections from the lagoon outside, as though the room itself were underwater. The air was at once warm and fresh, smelling of sea and rain, with tiny currents of breeze that caressed the skin.
“Ye smell sweet, Sassenach,” he murmured, voice husky with sleep. He smiled, reaching up to twine his fingers into my hair. “Come here to me, curly-wig.”
Freed from pins and freshly washed, my hair was clouding over my shoulders in a perfect explosion of Medusa-like curls. I reached up to smooth it back, but he tugged gently, bending me forward so the veil of brown and gold and silver fell loose over his face.
I kissed him, half-smothered in clouds of hair, and lowered myself to lie on top of him, letting the fullness of my br**sts squash gently against his chest. He moved slightly, rubbing, and sighed with pleasure.
His hands cupped my bu**ocks, trying to move me upward enough to enter me.
“Not bloody yet,” I whispered. I pressed my hips down, rolling them, enjoying the feel of the silky stiffness trapped beneath my belly. He made a small breathless sound.
“We haven’t had room or time to make love properly in months,” I told him. “So we’re taking our time about it now, right?”
“Ye take me at something of a disadvantage, Sassenach,” he murmured into my hair. He squirmed under me, pressing upward urgently. “Ye dinna think we could take our time next time?”
“No, we couldn’t,” I said firmly. “Now. Slow. Don’t move.”
He made a sort of rumbling noise in his throat, but sighed and relaxed, letting his hands fall away to the sides. I squirmed lower on his body, making him inhale sharply, and set my mouth on his nipple.
I ran my tongue delicately round the tiny nub, making it stand up stiff, enjoying the coarse feel of the curly auburn hairs that surrounded it. I felt him tense under me, and put my hands on his upper arms to hold him still while I went on with it, biting gently, sucking and flicking with my tongue.
A few minutes later, I raised my head, brushed my hair back with one hand, and asked, “What’s that you’re saying?”
He opened one eye.
“The rosary,” he informed me. “It’s the only way I’m going to stand it.” He closed his eyes and resumed murmuring in Latin. “Ave Maria, gratia plena…”
I snorted and went to work on the other one.
“You’re losing your place,” I said, next time I came up for air. “You’ve said the Lord’s Prayer three times in a row.”
“I’m surprised to hear I’m still makin’ any sense at all.” His eyes were closed, and a dew of moisture gleamed on his cheekbones. He moved his hips with increasing restiveness. “Now?”
“Not yet.” I dipped my head lower and seized by impulse, went Pffft! into his navel. He convulsed, and taken by surprise, emitted a noise that could only be described as a giggle.
“Don’t do that!” he said.
“Will if I want to,” I said, and did it again. “You sound just like Bree,” I told him. “I used to do that to her when she was a baby; she loved it.”
“Well, I’m no a wee bairn, if ye hadna noticed the difference,” he said a little testily. “If ye must do that, at least try it a bit lower, aye?”
“You don’t have any hair at all at the tops of your thighs,” I said, admiring the smooth white skin there. “Why is that, do you think?”