Thank you to the guest and deleni12 for the reviews!
So we've finally come to the reveal of Fiona's story. I don't know why but as soon as I started writing this fic I knew I was going to keep her whole story back for a good while because as she's narrating, it feels only right she'd not bring it up right away. In this chapter she tells the reader and James what really made her leave home. Maybe I'm wrong but personally I think it fits that she tells him now. We also see some more of Patrick O'Malley!
Chapter Twenty Six - In the Name of a Better Life
I sat in the seat that Patrick directed me to, paying little attention to my whereabouts until his shadow disappeared. I glanced up to catch sight of him at the bar. He'd dragged me willingly through the streets with him in my sorry state until he'd claimed he'd found somewhere quiet for us to talk. I wasn't feeling much like talking if I'm honest. The sight of Patrick had somehow brought things home again. I felt all the pain and grief keenly that I pushed down on a daily basis. The inn he'd brought me to did indeed seem quiet enough, and he'd placed me at a table in a little alcove out of the way of the other drinkers who were all lined up along the bar.
I watched the movement of Patrick's shoulders as he leaned against the bar and conversed with the woman there. A few moments later he returned to the table with ale and two glasses. "I know you're not fond of rum so..." He set the bottle down and moved towards the bar again and I frowned at him as he returned carrying two plates laden with food. I stared own at what looked like chicken and some bread all heavily marinaded in herbs and spices. Truly it did smell wonderful but I was struggling to locate my appetite.
"For God's sake Fiona just eat it will ya? You're half the size that you were last I saw you! Don't you eat any more?"
I threw him a glare and began to pick at the chicken. It was as full of flavour as I'd expected and I kept eating, suddenly not caring about my lack of appetite. "What are you, my mother?" I mumbled as Patrick poured the ale into the two glasses.
"You'd wish I was your mother Fiona," he said with a smile that didn't reach his eyes. "Do you know, I can't believe you're sitting here in front of me right now! I thought you were all gone Fiona! I was cursing Mick in my head for leading a girl like you to her death! I was thinking he should have had more of a care for you!"
"Don't speak that way about him!" I cried indignantly. "Mick couldn't have looked after me any better, and you Patrick O'Malley are the biggest scoundrel I know! You've no right to say such things when we think of how little you cared for me!"
"Jaysus," he sighed heavily. "I don't want to argue with you lass. Eat your food and then we can talk but lets not argue. My last words to Mick and yourself were cold and unfeeling. I won't get to remedy that with my brother but I can do so with you."
He was right, of course. I didn't want to argue with him either. I hated him and was yet so glad to see him at the same time. I showed my compliance by clearing my plate as he did. I felt terrible afterwards though, for I'd not eaten a meal so large in such a long time. "How did you manage to get The Grace into port then?" I asked softly as he drank deeply from his glass.
"Dragged her didn't I. Managed to call in a favour. I've not had a ship in months Fiona! I understand that you'd be angry with me because it's Mick's ship and it's disrespectful and it's bad luck but-"
"Can I sail with you?" I interrupted sharply.
He appeared shocked by my question. "Is that what you want Fiona? I can't imagine you'd ever want to share a ship with me again? Who are you sailing with now? Can't you find something better suited to yourself?"
We'd reached a sore point in the conversation and I braced myself for his reaction. "I've been on a navy ship for months Patrick. I can't sail with just anyone. It needs to be someone I know and trust. We're family after all, are we not? Mick was the closest thing to a father or a brother or friend I've had all these years. That makes you family too. Much as you're an arse I trust you not to throw me overboard at the first sign of trouble."
Patrick appeared to be struggling to get his words out. He was shooting fruitive glaces around the bar. "Why did you not lead with that lass?" he whispered across the table. "Are there navy men here in the port?"
"Well of course there are," I replied with a laugh at his discomfort. "We only docked this morning." I reached across the table and patted his hand in an attempt to stop him fretting. "Patrick relax. They're good men. I doubt they'd bring you any trouble unless you caused some yourself. So can I? Sail with you that is?"
He took another decidedly long swig of ale as he appeared to contemplate what he wanted to say next. "Did you see what happened Fiona? Did you see how Mick passed? I only ask because my friends and I had scoured that ship to try and find out what happened to you all but there was no answer."
I nodded grimly and stared down at my lap, not able to look into his eyes as I recounted the tale to him. Mick listened in absolute silence and for ages after I spoke he said nothing. I could see that for all of his bravado there was a love there for his brother. I knew he must be feeling the renewed grief again as I did. "Patrick I want to sail with you because we both loved Mick. I don't care about the past and you shouldn't either. I know you're worried about the navy thing but honestly I was well looked after. It's not right that I stay with them though. I'm not saying I'm going to sail with you forever because I might go home soon, but who else is there in this world for me to trust?"
"Of all the people I know I never thought you'd be the one wanting to go home," Patrick mused as he reached across the table and took my hand. "You must have it bad then. Look I'm not worried about the past Fiona, I'm just worried that you are. Whatever it was we were back then, we cannot be so again. I've only ever seen you as a friend lass. You can say whatever you like, but you used me just as much as I used you. It was a long time ago and we're older and wiser now."
I shook my head at him. "I was sixteen Patrick. I was just a child."
"A child who knew exactly what she wanted!" Patrick released my hand and sat back in his chair. "You wanted to piss off whoever it was at home who threw you out. What's a man to do when a good looking girl like you lays it on thick eh? It's not as if I knocked you about or anything is it? Yes we knocked boots for a week or two, but we both knew it wasn't going to last. If you've any visions of a repeat of that, then I can't take you aboard with me Fiona, for both our sakes."
"And you think I'd go near you again?" I cried in an attempt at humour. "I'm desperate Patrick. Dry land doesn't suit me. I can't stay on the navy ship. It wouldn't be right. I've no designs on you at all! Honestly my mind couldn't be further from all of those thoughts! I'd still be taking a risk though and you'd have to forget those notions you had of trying to sell me off to Tia Dalma the last time we sailed together. That can't happen again Patrick. That woman's not safe! So what do you say? Can I sail with you for a time? Please?"
Patrick sighed heavily. "Alright then, but you won't get to be as high and mighty as you were with Mick. No first mate station for you as that's taken by a friend of mine. You'll just be a reglar deck hand, a crew member. I'll let you have that cabin of yours back of course for your own safety but I can't watch you all the time Fiona. You'll have to help me out on that front. Don't give anyone the reason to mess with you."
I grinned at him, suddenly feeling the first surge of real hope I'd felt in weeks. "I'm grateful to you, really I am!"
He barked with laughter. "Don't be too grateful, I've no cook yet."
"Patrick O'Malley you are not shoving me out of the way in the galley!" I expected him to find my retort funny but Patrick was suddenly concerned with something over my shoulder. I turned and caught sight of some officers from The Surgence milling around in the doorway. I'd unknowingly found myself in the very inn James had directed me to.
"I won't stay here and drink with that lot," Mick said thickly as he gathered up his hat and stood. "We're sailing tomorrow lass. If you're not at the docks by midday then I don't have time to wait for you."
I nodded my understanding as Patrick leaned towards me. He pressed a soft kiss to the side of my cheek then and took a few steps back. "What was that for?"
"In case I don't see you tomorrow Fiona."
He tipped his hat to me and was gone. I sat back in my seat and sighed. Patrick had sensed my apprehension, I knew. I was worried about sailing with him because of the past and the future, but I had no one else who I could think of trusting. There was also the thought of having to step back aboard The Grace after what had happened. I didn't know if I'd the strength in me to sail aboard her again. Would it not cut me like a knife every morning when I emerged onto deck to look for Mick and find Patrick in his place? I knew that Patrick was up to his eyes in trouble but there was something about that; something about that mischief that felt freeing just as much as worrying.
My thoughts were cut short by a voice that flew over my head a as a shadow fell over the table. "So that was the elusive brother then?" My head jerked up as James sat down opposite me and set his bottle of port down on the table. How much of our conversation had be been privy to? I chastised myself for not realising that he was more than likely ensconced in one of the other booths listening to every word that Patrick and I said. "So you have settled to sail with him then Miss?"
"I think it will be good for us both," I replied. "I need to get back on my feet after what happened and Patrick could probably do with having a woman around who talks sense."
James offered a small smile as he poured himself a glass of port. "I shall not try to dissuade you Miss, but I would have you know that my offer still stands. I would sail you to whichever port you wished to disembark at. But of course, you would wish to sail with your friend."
"I appreciate the offer Commodore, I really do. I can't take it though. It hasn't really been right for me to be sailing with you for so long. Could you not find yourself in trouble for it?"
"Only if anyone ever found out who you are," James supplied thinly. "Speaking of which, I had something I wanted to ask you. I cannot make you answer my questions Miss, but I think I am entitled to ask them regardless. My doctor friend believes that your knee injury was sustained by a fall through a window which broke upon impact and the glass fell with you. I am trying and failing to fit all of that into what little I know of you. I would be obliged if you might tell me the circumstances that led to such a drastic flight."
I watched him for a moment to see if he might rethink asking such a question even though I knew he was deadly serious in desiring an answer. The strangest feeling was that although I knew I wasn't required to tell him and he would never force me to do so, I wanted to.
"To understand the context I would have to start further back than the night in question," I answered. "I think perhaps you'd not think very well of me unless I told you every detail. It's a long story Commodore."
"Do we not have time?" It was as if he wanted to be nowhere else in the world. Those keen emerald green eyes held such a curiosity about myself that I found it quite hard to resist telling him everything. I'd never really found myself in that position, with someone so poised and ready to hear what I had to say. Mick had not even been so keen to know my story. Mick had not really asked. I suppose he wanted me to feel ready to tell him on my own without being pushed. That's the thing about me though, sometimes I require a push. I never think that opening up about myself will be of benefit to me at all so I normally bottle things up. I always think people would rather not know. I think that's the nature of the sea though. Everyone you meet at sea has a tale whether they tell it or not. James had been so good as to keep my secret to himself though for all of those weeks. He had not even made me aware that he knew. He had saved my life again, so perhaps he was entitled to know the truth when he had promised to readily to help me.
"I don't know if I told you that my father was a lawyer," I began.
"You did not," James replied.
"Well he was. His family did not have much in the way of money and so cousins from England came calling when they could not have a child of their own. Thus the Lefroy's first son Malcolm was sent to England to console the woman who so longed to be a mother. It was all done in the name of a better life, but I'm not sure who had the better one, my uncle or my father. My father met my mother and settled down. He would often work for the local earl and that gave him a bit of social standing as it were. It didn't go to his head though. He always kept that head down and was always working. I think that's what killed him in the end. After some time had passed my mother received a letter from my uncle calling in a repayment of the loan he had given my father when he first went into the law. Of course there was no way for us to pay back such an amount. My mother tried so hard to think of something, and it appeared that my uncle was trying to be kind and appreciated the circumstances.
"He then asked my mother if she could manage without me for a few months. If so, I was to go to London so that I might learn a few things. In my mind I thought I was to be trained up for a marriage to someone else. I thought my uncle would have in mind that he might reap the benefits of such a marriage. I didn't want to go but my mother readily agreed. She thought she was sending me off to a better life. I had no choice but to go when I saw how dire things were. We could barely afford to eat. So, off I went. As soon as I met my uncle I knew I didn't like the man. Those beady little eyes were upon me all of the day. I was bought new clothes and hats and shoes and stuffed into them all like some doll. I was never consulted on the matter. I'm not a frills and lace type of girl. What was the point in it all, I thought; when I'd be going back to Ireland in a few month's time. There would be no such place for expensive things when I was home again.
"Within weeks Things had changed within the agreement. My uncle had written to my mother without my knowledge and told her he would forget the loan repayment altogether if she gave permission for me to marry him." I stopped and sucked in a breath. "Telling this part makes me feel foolish. How many girls my age have been married off to a man old enough to be their grandfather? Most of those girls had money too, and I was just some country girl. I had nothing and there I was sneering at the opportunity to rise infinitely in station. It was the last thing in the world I wanted though. I just wanted to go home. I tried to make sure I was always around servants, and persuaded a maid to stay in the room with me whilst I slept. I was scared of what might happen. We've all come across creepy old men before who can't help themselves. Back in Ireland they are two a penny but I could hit them on the mouth and everyone would just fall about laughing. The creep would learn to keep his distance after a smack and that would be that. In London though I knew that kind of behaviour was not going to go down well. If I wasn't careful I could end up locked away just for defending myself. I didn't really have anyone to talk to apart from the maids as I was not allowed out until I could be properly schooled.
"One of the maids found out my uncle had already arranged and planned a wedding for us. He had even sourced a dress for me. That spurned me into action and I knew I had to get away some how. I wasn't marrying the man who followed my every step, leering over my shoulder. The night that I made my escape, I was not prepared. I had been considering so many options but in the end my uncle left me with no choice. He'd been out at a party that night and had decided in his drunken stupor that he was not going to wait until we were married in church. He burst into my room before the staff could stop him and tried to force himself upon me.
I was trying to look at anywhere but James's face, for although he was listening quietly I was sure I would see disdain there. "I fought him like a wild cat and I got in a fair few good punches but you've met him so you know he's a large man. He was too strong for me to get away from. When I managed to finally break free and reach the landing I was frightened to take the stairs at a run. I knew he would come lumbering after me and that he might even throw me down the stairs or over a banister. Then I really wouldn't be able to get away. All of the frustration at being locked in that house for weeks on end had taken such a toll and I just wanted to be out of there as quickly as possible. He came at me fiercely and caught hold of my hair. He was yanking me about with it when I grew worried he would through me through the window. He was so drunk and angry that I thought anything was possible. That was when I realised perhaps I should let him. I stopped putting up a fight and eventually his grip loosened upon my hair. His mind was upon other things then as he thought that was my submission. As soon as he was distracted I let myself be spun around again by my hair and just as I faced the window I pulled with all the force I had. He wasn't expecting me to willingly fall from that window. His grip on me was not tight enough to keep me from falling. That's how I fell through the window and landed on the gravel outside. I'm lucky it was only my knee I injured."
I finally stole a glance at James, who appeared upset by something, but not entirely shocked. He's told me since that he knew I had to have a good reason for jumping from a window and expected a tale of the kind that I told, but that he was grieved to hear that I'd gone through it all the same. "Did you return home to Ireland then?"
"I sold the dress I wore for something a little more understated and used the money to buy passage home to Ireland. I still don't know to this day how my uncle and his men did not catch me. I was stumbling around in the darkness for hours before I managed to even find out whereabouts in London I was. I thought I'd feel relief when that ship left the Thames behind but I couldn't shake the feeling that it was all only just beginning for me. I knew I couldn't go home to my mother as they would be watching for me. I didn't know what to do."
"But then you met O'Malley, if I am correct?" James asked.
I smiled at him softly and shook my head. "No, not quite. That was in fact almost two years before I met Mick."
It felt odd to me to be an object of such interest but James seemed so avidly interested by my story that I knew he'd ask more of me. "How did you get on then, if you were not able to return to your mother?"
I shrugged nochalantly. "I lived rough, that's it basically."
James was gazing at me in a way that told me he knew there was far more to it than living rough. The experience with my uncle was not really something I was that ashamed of as I'd managed to get myself out of the situation before anything untoward actually happened. I'd shown strength and resilience in a situation where many women would have been too frightened to do more than lie back and take it. It was more the fallout that ashamed me.
"You were fourteen I think you said? I think Miss O'Connell that there is no basically about it. How did a child of that age manage to survive alone? You are incredibly strong of mind I know, but surely the temptation to return home would have been too great?"
"Oh it was," I agreed swiftly, "But I was prevented from doing so." He wanted to know more, I could tell but I felt like even talking about that part of my life made me weaker in remembrance of it. "I lived rough for quite a while. I moved from town to town quite often. I didn't want to stay too long in case I ended up in the workhouse or something. I came across this pretty little town on the west coast and I was trying to keep my head down there for a week or two. The thing was, this old woman kept giving me food. I was grateful for the kindness, but it almost worried me that she was paying me so much attention. I didn't want anyone to notice me too much. I thought she was nice enough though. Then she started bringing her sister out with her to speak to me. I was the only person living on the streets there because it was a nice place. Those women took pity on me. There was another sister who was house bound but they all lived together in what was actually quite a big cottage. I think they had inherited some money but none of them had ever married and had children so they were just sitting on it all.
"They invited me to visit them one day and have tea. I went because I was hungry and I thought they were good people trying to do a good turn. Whilst I was there drinking my tea they offered a proposition to me. They were old and unable to look after the house as well as they would have liked. They obviously knew I had fallen on hard times so they offered me a job. I'd get a room of my own and square meals if I kept the house clean and tidy for them. They also mentioned that I'd be able to run errands for them and that if they could spare a few coins at the end of each month it would come to me. The kindness overwhelmed me so much that I did not take certain things into consideration. That cottage had three bedrooms and three alone. There was no space for me. They made up some excuse about clearing one of the rooms out for me and I believed them. That night I slept by the fire in the kitchen, and I did so for almost two years. For the first few weeks I thought I'd landed on my feet with three old women who were kind and agreeable. They kept piling up the work for me and I was eager for it to take my mind off my troubles. Soon though I did not even have time to eat.
"At the time I did not really see how dire it all was. I was effectively their slave. They kept me mostly in the kitchen if there were any visitors and I was not to intrude. I don't know why but somehow the fight had been knocked out of me so when their nasty sides came out I just let them treat me badly. They would hit me and scratch me with their nails and I just let them. Calling me names, pushing me while I was carrying heavy things. I didn't leave that house for months and to be honest I didn't realise how time was passing. I didn't realise how quickly I'd changed into a doormat for them to walk over me. I never saw a penny of the money they'd promised and I never ate because there was usually no time in the day and not enough food. I slept on that cold floor every night without argument. It got worse as time went on. The more I suffered the less hope I had. It became such a way of life that I honestly began to think I had brought it on myself in running from my uncle. I thought that was all I was worth. I don't quite know how they managed it but they-"
"They knocked the stuffing out of you," James interrupted.
I nodded. "I suppose that's an accurate description."
"James threw his hands wide. "And yet here you are before me, stronger perhaps than you have ever been."
"It was the day they tried to cut my hair off that I think I came to my senses. Odd; how I'd let them grind me down so badly but I couldn't possibly let them touch my hair. I think it was the only part of me I had left to cling to. I threw a strop and left the house and ran down to the beach. At that point, they let me out to run errands because they knew that I'd come wandering back. I had no drive or determination left to try and make a run for it. They let me go thinking that I'd be back in an hour or two once I'd calmed down. I stood on that beach and wanted it all to just end. I couldn't imagine living like that any longer under their thumbs but what was I to do? I thought I had no way out, nothing to live for. In the end I began to wade out into the water, thinking I'd just let it take me.
"It was the most remarkable feeling I got that day. It was like the sea was calling to me, but not to take me under. It was as if it was promising me something if I just held on that little bit longer. I remember the feel of the water lapping against my ankles, soothing my nerves and my tiredness. It was calling to me, telling me to keep fighting. In the snappiest decision I've ever made suddenly I was trekking back across the beach towards the nearby cliffs. I knew what I was going to do. I was going to follow the coast until I came to the next port and try to get on a ship. I didn't care how long I had to walk for. That's how I found my necklace, in a field along the way. I walked for two days and you know something, I wasn't even tired. That's how I met Mick. I walked aboard his ship when I reached the port and asked him to take me on. I know more than anything he felt sorry for me. He knew I was running from something and he didn't ask what. I'd been working my soul away for the last two years for those old crones so I knew I was strong enough to tackle life at sea. It would just take some getting used to."
James appeared transfixed by me. His intense gaze made me feel awkward and I felt my face turn red. "Thank you for confiding in me," he said at last. "I can tell you've not spoken of all that before. You have no need whatsoever to be ashamed of all that has happened to you. By all accounts you should be proud of your fighting spirit and your knack for knowing the right moment to leave behind that which meant you harm."
I shrugged. "I don't think I had such a fighting spirit when I was on my hands and knees three times a day scrubbing that kitchen floor. I'm ashamed that I let them grind me down so. I just dind't see it coming."
"I doubt anyone would. We have spoken of acts of kindness before have we not? Miss I think you have the kind of good heart that takes kindness for what it should be and that is not a failing. I think though you were a little naive. You did not know the world well enough to understand that not all people who offer kindness at first really do mean well. I only hope that your strength of character you possess so readily now is something that remains. Do not fall into such traps again. Keep your wits about you on the open seas as well as on land. I have the feeling that to Mr. Patrick O'Malley you may be a bargaining chip as well as a friend."
"I can handle Patrick, don't worry!" I replied.
"Now all that there is left I believe, is to thank you for your help Miss."
I was shaking my head at him. "You've thanked me already. You didn't have to pay that doctor you know. I have my own money."
"So I can see," James offered with a nod to my packages that I'd forgotten about.
"The only thing I'd ask for is a name," I said lightly. "Thing is, you won't give me one."
James sighed heavily. "I think Miss O'Connell I am doing you a favour there. Revenge is not healthy and it is not exhaustive. Once your revenge is accomplished it will not diminish but will in fact begin to eat away at your soul. You have a kind heart that should not be exposed to such emotions. You must learn to forget I think. You told me once that I should be moving on. Perhaps it's time you did the same. There's a room for you upstairs. The key is with the woman behind the bar."
With a small smile he left me and retreated upstairs. I was left feeling more confused about a man than I ever have been in my life.
I hope Fiona's backstory fits with the character I've been trying to write! The second conversation between the two is over and we've one more coming up in the next chapter!
Please let me know what you think!