36. Haven

65 7 2

Long Island, Bahamas

In fading light and an increasingly heavy downpour, Elizabeth let go her starboard anchor in four fathoms of water, her way carrying her parallel to the shore. When all three shackles had been pulled through the hawsehole, and the rode shuddered taut, Aldrick ordered let go the port anchor to its bitter end. Her way now gone, she began falling back with the wind while the hands scrambled to furl the last of the sails.

The ship yawed back and forth in the confused winds in the lee of the high ridge as she was blown astern, ranging her port rode and slewing her starboard across the bottom. A hand arrived from the chains with a report. "Captain, Sir. Port dropped in four and three, Sir."

"Thank you, Lad. When we have settled, report how each anchor grows."

"Aye, Sir"

Aldrick ordered the sails storm-lashed to their yards, then he stood with his three officers assessing their anchorage and the building storm. After a long silence, he said, "It was Elizabeth's idea to head here rather than to Inagua, and had we not, we would be out there, hove-to or scudding beneath bare poles at the storm's mercy."

"Maybe this will stop the grumbling among those still not happy with women aboard," Wilson said.

"The discontented might say the storms were because of the women." Franklin shrugged. "Still a lot of superstition with some of them."

"True. I will find a way to address it in a subtle manner." Aldrick spoke above the howl of the wind in the rigging. "But not in this; not until the storm has passed. This will give me time to think of a way..." He paused when Elizabeth juddered then lurched forward, and when her motion had eased, he continued, "She has found the end of her port rode, and it has held."

The officers again stood assessing the ship's motion, their long silence broken by the hand from the chains. "Sir. She's back and forth. Three points on one bow, two on the other, then she switches to two and three. The wind don't know what it wants to blow, Sir."

"Thank you, Lad. Report immediately the angle between them drops below five points. It matters not which bow has the greater angle; what matters is the five points. Less than that shows we are dragging."

"Aye, Sir. This is what Cox'n explained."

"Tell him thank you from me."

"Aye, Sir."

After the hand headed forward, Aldrick rejoined his officers, assessing the ship's movement beneath their feet and watching the crew aloft lash the sails. Finally, he broke the long silence, "We seem stable, but let us not be complacent. Maintain a watch on the foredeck through the night to catch the first hint of dragging. One on each bow and rotate them in short shifts to keep them fresh. Between, they may relax below and out of the weather."

When he had received acknowledgements, he continued, "We shall keep the quarterdeck watch as normal for at anchor, but maintain a detailed log of the storm as it evolves, noting all observations no matter how small; wind shifts, increases, decreases, rain intensity and amount, cloud height, shade and direction, record it all. We need to gain a greater understanding of their processes."

"And if we drag, Sir?" Charles asked.

"If the conditions remain as they now are, it is improbable. The land stops the swell and the storm waves, leaving us with small, confused chop here from the wind swirling over the ridge. Though it howls in the upper rigging, we feel little of it down here. Our danger is if the wind backs or veers a broad angle and we lose the protection of the land."

Wilson nodded. "Backing would blow us off into bottomless waters."

"Exactly. And if it veers to the south and comes around the point, we risk dragging through miles of shallows and stranding. Immediately we sense we are dragging, we must prepare to sail."

Aldrick pointed to the last of the hands descending from aloft. "Stand them down, Mister Charles; the watch has little more than half an hour to go."

"Aye, Sir. Stand down the sail watch."

"I shall be below."

"Aye, Sir. I hope we have no need to disturb you."

As Aldrick descended the ladder into the great cabin, Elizabeth greeted him. "Let me assist you out of these wet clothes before you catch a chill."

She knelt to unfasten his soaked breeches, then peeled them inside-out off his hips and down his thighs, letting them drop to his ankles in a slop. "You are already chilled. Here, your tail falls short of its usual place, and here your ballocks purse has wrinkled near out of sight." She giggled as she cupped him in her warm hands and gently kneaded. "You had said they shrink in the cold, but I had imagined not this much. Shall we work at restoring them?"

"Ummm! Another superb idea from you." Aldrick trembled, both from his coldness and the new warmth, swelling in her hands as he peeled off his sopping shirt.

Elizabeth swaddled him in towels and dried him, then they lay abed, conjoined and warming, the gentle motion of the ship complementing their own. A long and pleasant while later, when she had recovered from a third bout of convulsive shuddering, they rolled to have her beneath him, and as she resumed her slow churning, she asked, "Should we be concerned? The howling grows louder and higher in pitch."

"All is fine. The force of the wind reaches only the upper rigging, and there it plays the stays and shrouds as a bow does a violin's strings. On deck, the wind swirls in a confused manner, broken by the ridge, much as a rock in a river offers eddies and calm downstream."

She nodded, remaining silent for a long while, concentrating her movements to increase his excitement, and as Aldrick showed signs of nearing the time to withdraw, Elizabeth asked, "Do you wish to spill into me rather than on my belly? Shall we see if we can create a child?"

He stopped his hips and rose to arm's length to gaze down into her eyes and nod. "I would love to." Then he puffed out his chest and resumed with increasing vigour until he threw back his head and bellowed a howl to rival that of the wind in the shrouds.

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