The intervention of the notorious Pirate Blackbeard has reunited Susanna with her lover Eric Northman, and they are now en route to the island of Barbados. Her brutal husband has been cast adrift to an unknown fate.
The Queen Anne's Revenge was brought into a secluded bay on the south of the island. Lady Sophia, Eric, and I were lowered into a rowing boat with our possessions. To my great relief the sea was calm as Lady Sophia had insisted on bringing all of her travel chests, and I was sure they would have sunk our little vessel if there had been a swell.
Eric rowed us along the coast, keeping just far enough from the shore to be safe. We saw the outline of a fort on the hill before a harbour came into view.
It seemed so small and ramshackle, compared with the city of Plymouth. This anchorage was nothing but a collection of wooden buildings lining a riverbank. Some were but a single-story high. Others had an upper floor, and a few even boasted balconies. They would be the whore-houses; at least that was Sophia's opinion.
We proceeded carefully. Eric demonstrated great skill in maneuvering us into a small mooring just out of sight of the several tall ships moored on the dockside. It would not do for the arrival of the Governor's new wife in such ignominious circumstances to become too widely known.
The hustle and bustle around us was no different to that found in any seaport. Seafarers shouted their curses, porters rolled barrels of goods up and down, rigging was unloaded and stored, and fresh supplies carried on board the ships. I had never seen such a variety of mankind. There were people of every hue: black, brown and even yellow-skinned Chinamen.
I had seen blackamoors in Plymouth, of course. It was the fashion in the grander households to have a pair of black servants as coachmen. They looked very fine, dressed up in a grand livery. Some of the ladies had a little black boy amongst their personal servants whom they would pet and dress up like a little doll. Here though were men, women and children of every age.
One of the black fellows had a horse and cart that transported the three of us and our belongings up the hill to the Garrison where the Governor's residence was located. The Governor was clearly surprised at the identity of his unexpected visitors. We were shown into an ante-chamber from where we could hear the sound of raised voices coming from a nearby room. The identity of the speaker and the reason for his anger remained a mystery, but after a few minutes the Governor himself emerged.
"My dear," he said sounding somewhat insincere, "I feared the worst. Your ship docked yesterday with its crew and remaining passengers in a fearful state. They reported that most of the ladies had been abducted by pirates."
"I can assure you that nothing untoward happened. Indeed, we were well fed and treated with respect, were we not, Mrs. Compton?"
I felt it prudent to agree with her, even though her account was not strictly true. Her husband to be would certainly not appreciate knowing how friendly she had been with the pirates.
Lady Sophia's intended was a fine-looking man. His manner as he greeted me was quite charming and he showed admirable, if misplaced, concern for the fate of my husband. There was however a great deal of suspicion when he greeted Eric.
"You are the son of Sir Godfrey Northman, I presume. I know of your father by reputation. I hope you are not intending to make trouble on our little island."
"Indeed not, sir," Eric responded with a low bow. "Miss…Mrs. Compton has engaged me as her agent and overseer. Her husband's cowardly abandonment has left her to run the Clifton Hill Plantation on her own."
"I shall be glad to see that property in safe hands. It has become most run-down since its last owner died with no heir. It sets a bad example to the other farms. However, I do believe I heard talk that you were forced to leave England in less than auspicious circumstances."
"Eric…" I interrupted, intending to defend his character. He put a hand on my arm to silence me.
"I was falsely accused of a crime, but I can assure you that I have the evidence to prove my innocence if I should be challenged."
Sir Russell laughed. "I am sure you do, but it is of no matter to me. Provided you cause no trouble here, I am sure we will all get on famously. It appears that your employer and my intended are the best of friends." He laid such stress on the word employer that it was clear he knew perfectly well the nature of our true relationship.
Lady Sophia insisted that we spend our first night at the Governor's mansion. This formed part of the fortress which we had seen from the sea. In contrast with the mean dwellings on the dockside, it was a very fine red-brick house furnished just as well as any great house in England would be. My spirits rose at the thought that my own home might not be as primitive as I had envisioned.
I detected Lady Sophia's hand in our sleeping arrangements. She was careful to point out the inner door as she showed me to my room. A gentle knock revealed that it opened into the adjoining room, which was occupied by my lover.
Eric was waiting for me, wearing nothing but a red silken robe. It suited him very well, set against his golden hair and his equally golden skin.
I slipped off my linen robe as I moved to join him on the bed. My dearest wish was to be able to rediscover that uncomplicated passion we had shared in our moorland idyll. Eric was tenderness personified. His kisses and caresses could not have been more gentle but something in me held back.
"I am afraid I can no longer give you satisfaction," I whispered sadly. "You have no tie to me; you can find yourself another woman."
"What nonsense is that," he retorted, his voice firm. "The one thing I know most surely from these few weeks apart is that I have never loved anyone as I love you. You have been brutally treated and that is in part my fault, but I fully intend to make it up to you."
I lay back on the bed and allowed him to attend to my pleasure. There was no doubt he had both lips and fingers that were quite skilled. I kept my eyes open, fearful that if I closed them I would see the image of that monster who had tricked me into marriage. Eric loved to have me watch him. He raised his eyes to meet mine as he trailed kisses down my body.
The expression on his face had the power to send shivers of delight through my whole body. For one glorious moment I thought that I could rediscover that unfettered passion we had previously shared. His mouth latched on to my breast, which was so swollen and sore that I could scarcely bear his touch.
He was immediately sensitive to my needs and caressed me gently, all the while kissing my neck and mouth. His restraint surprised me as I could feel the urgency of his own desire pressing against me.
I could no longer deny him. I pushed against him and he fell back onto the bed.
"Suki, are you sure you are ready?" he asked. "Do not think you have to please me."
"I must, it is the only way that I can forget. I know it will be painful at first, but it is what I want." With that assertion I moved to straddle him and took him inside me, slowly at first, but then with greater desperation. I wanted nothing more than to feel that sweet release which had been denied me for longer than I could bear.
With a swift movement, he turned our bodies so that he could take control. I cried his name out loud, not caring who might hear me. So close, I was so close to that golden moment, but it would not come. He reached his own completion and sank down by my side. Now it was my turn to rain kisses on him.
"I love you, I always have and I always will." Nothing mattered more to me than that he knew the strength of my feelings.
"I know," he responded simply, with a smile of great satisfaction on his face.
I slipped back into my own room just before dawn. I must have fallen asleep as the next thing I knew the room was flooded with light as the wooden shutters were opened. The sensation of waking on dry land for the first time in weeks was most pleasurable. It took a little time to become used to the absence of motion as I rose from the bed and performed my toilet. There was no sound of movement from the adjoining room. I peeped around the door and saw that Eric was absent. All that remained was a tangle of sheets on an unmade bed.
It was an unpleasant surprise, I remarked to Lady Sophia over breakfast, to find that I was still experiencing some sickness in the morning. I had thought to leave that behind me when we reached our destination.
She regarded me with a quizzical expression.
"Do you not realise that you are with child?" she asked, smiling kindly.
The last weeks had been so turbulent that I had lost all track of my monthlies. I realized now that it had been some time since I had experienced that curse of womanhood.
Lady Sophia stared at me as I burst into tears. "What is wrong, my dear? It is a woman's greatest joy to have children. How devoutly I have wished for that joy myself, but alas it is too late."
"You would surely not wish to carry the child of a monster," I retorted angrily.
"I do not believe that William Compton is the father of your child. When did you marry?" She took my hands in hers.
"Two days before we sailed from Plymouth."
"A little over four weeks then. You had no congress with him before then?"
"Of course not."
"Then there can be no doubt of it," she confirmed. "By my reckoning you must be at least two or three months gone. It will be your lover's child, and I have no doubt whom that man is."
The knowledge that I was carrying Eric's child filled me with joy. The problem remained though that our infant would be branded a bastard if it carried his name. I could see no way out of this dilemma. I would not give the child the name of a man I despised, but I could not give it the name of the man I loved.
"Perhaps I could suggest a solution. I would like to offer myself as her godmother. We could put out the story that I have made her my heiress on condition that she takes my name. I am childless as you know, and have no-one to leave my fortune to. I am family to Eric, of course. It is the perfect solution, do you not agree?"
I had to confess it was a most attractive option, but everything depended on her reaction to the truth which I now felt compelled to share with her.
"Before I agree to your proposal, I have something which I have to share with you. I hope you will not hate me for it." I reached into the small purse sewn into my skirt where I kept my few valuables and extracted the ring my grandmother had given me.
For the first time since I had met her, Lady Sophia was lost for words. A flash of concern briefly crossed her face, as she indicated to me to continue.
"Did your father ever tell you the truth about your parentage?" I began, keeping my voice gentle.
"Truth?" she repeated, her face blank of all expression.
"Your mother…" I continued.
"I often wished that she were not my mother. I could never believe that a woman could hate her own child so."
"She hated you because you were not her child. You were your father's daughter but by another woman. He had a lover before he was married. That woman was my grandmother."
Sophia clapped her hand to her mouth. Her eyes grew wide as I told her the whole story.
"So you are my niece, and the child will be my grand-niece as well as my godchild. This is truly a tangled web, but a most wonderful one." She took me into her arms and hugged and kissed me over and over.
Eric returned to the Garrison later that evening. He had ridden out to inspect the plantation house and had to report that it was in need of some restoration before it would be habitable.
"I suggest you make haste, nephew," Lady Sophia interjected. "Your Anna does not have too long before she will need a comfortable lying-in room." She reached over to stroke my stomach just to ensure that there could be no mistaking her meaning.
Eric was struck with a quite uncharacteristic silence. I swear I could read the thoughts going through his head. Who was the father? If not him, could he raise another man's child?
"There is no need for you to worry," I had to put an end to his misery. "There is no doubt the child is yours. I am now nearly three months gone."
He seized me in his arms and embraced me with such force that I had to protest.
"Then there is no time to waste. We shall ride out to your new home tomorrow and you can give instruction for the works."
Sir Russell kept a fine stable and was able to provide me with a sweet and good tempered horse. He insisted that I should treat her as my own for as long as I needed. I was indeed eager to see something of the island that was to be my new home. We soon left behind the ramshackle wooden houses which characterised the little port town. The countryside which spread before us was lush and green, with mile after mile of crops interspersed by tall trees of a kind I had never seen before.
These crops were to be the source of our income – they would produce sugar, molasses and rum, all of which were in great demand in both England and the colonies and would command a high price.
I was struck by the intense heat as we rode through the cane fields. It was quite unlike even the warmest summer day in England. The constant breeze made it tolerable, but I was very glad that Sophia had insisted on my wearing a broad hat.
"There is a special place which I must show you," Eric announced mysteriously as we rode up a wide track to a high point a few miles inland. From there it was possible to see the ocean on both sides of the island. He pointed into the far distance where I could just make out a sandy bay.
The descent to the sea was steep, and I was glad that my horse was sure-footed. Below me I could see high cliffs and jagged rocks. The crashing waves put me in mind of the coastline of my homeland.
"If you ever long for your home, we will come here. It is the nearest thing this island has to offer."
"It is a beautiful place, Eric; I know I shall love it. What is this beach called?"
"The local people have named it Bathsheba."
We dismounted our horses and sat on the rocks overlooking the sea. The place was totally desolate and isolated, the only sound coming from the ebb and flow of the tide. I felt a sense of peace I had not experienced since those days we had spent on the moor. That seemed to me now as the experiences of another person in another life.
"Can we truly be happy here?" I could scarcely believe that it was possible after all the travails I had suffered.
"Of course we can, dearest," Eric stroked a hand across my swollen belly. "You will have my child, and he will be followed by others. Eventually we will be able to declare William Compton dead, and you and I will be married. I do not care if we never return to England, as long as we are together that is all that matters to me."
We remounted our horses and followed the track along the coast and back inland. I could see a windmill and a cluster of buildings in the distance. Behind them a row of tall trees appeared to hide more buildings. Around us people worked in the fields. toiling in the hot sun.
"There it is, my dear," Eric gestured with his arm. "Your new home."
We approached along an avenue of trees. I could see even in the distance that the property was sadly neglected. There had been wooden shutters at every window but some were hanging loose and others missing altogether.
There were a few items of furniture in the house, but I had a suspicion that anything of value had been looted. I was untroubled by that thought. I had never wanted fine things and even without them the house felt warm and comfortable. It was a place to raise a family. I declared that I would have it plain, with just a pale wash on the walls and simple cotton drapes at the windows.
It took Eric very little time to make our new home habitable. We furnished it very simply. The only item he insisted on was a fine-carved wooden bed. I had no idea how he procured it, but he insisted that it was the one thing he had always promised me. It was made up with fine linens and swathed in muslin drapes as protection against the many insects with which we were destined to share our home.
I was very glad of the comfort, as Eric made love to me often, showing great ingenuity in finding ways to accommodate the changes to my body. I was surprised to find that my condition made me even more desirous of his attentions. Finally, one magical night, as the moonlight streamed through the open window and the cicadas sang loudly on the lawns outside, I experienced the true fulfilment of love once again.
It felt as if some great weight, some curse even, was lifted from my shoulders.
Lying together each evening in that great bed we would talk for hours about the events of the day.
"You have made an honest man of me," Eric grumbled. "I have never done a harder day's work in my life."
"I do not think you have anything to complain about, compared to the lot of those poor creatures bound in servitude to us," I retorted. It was a thing which made me most uncomfortable, and I was not sure I would ever become accustomed to it.
"Your workers have less to complain about than most. They seem to think you are a saint. It is 'Miss Anna' this and 'Miss Anna' that. It is said that your food rations are the most generous on the island, and the improvements you have made to their houses have caused comment even in the Governor's mansion."
"Eric, the hovels they lived in were worse than our old drover's hut. You would surely not begrudge them a little comfort; you have seen how hard they labour in the burning sun."
He had to acknowledge the point. It was true, though, that my improvements drew attention from some of the other plantation owners.
I knew there was gossip about my marital state, or lack of it. Sophia thought it most amusing to report it all back to me. Some said I was never married at all, others that I had murdered my husband in order to take Eric as my lover. It was only the protection of the Governor's wife that prevented me from becoming a social outcast.
To be quite truthful, I would not have cared one jot. I was happy in our own little world. We kept a small household comprised of only a maid, a cook and a butler. It was only through Sophia's generosity that this was possible, as until William could be declared legally dead I was unable to access his accounts. We would have no income until our first harvest came in.
The forthcoming addition to our family was a source of both delight and apprehension. The heat seemed more oppressive as my belly grew heavier. I swore I would never lie with a man again if this was the punishment which God had devised for us.
I was never more grateful for Sophia's support than when the date of my confinement approached. She insisted on staying with us and brought with her a trusted midwife. Truly, she was like a mother to me.
Every woman is warned of the pain of childbirth, but none can truly anticipate how excruciating it actually is. My labour seemed to last forever, fraught with many moments when I thought I could bear it no longer.
Sophia held one hand tightly in hers while the other stroked my hair. "Not long now," she whispered as I screamed with pain.
"Eric Northman, I hate you! I will never allow you to touch me again. This is all your fault."
The call of his name brought him rushing into the room, despite the protests of the women.
"She is my woman, and it is my child. I will be with them, propriety be damned," he scowled.
He took up a place on the other side of my bed, gently stroking my hair with his hand. The gesture was comforting.
"They say the pain is soon forgotten, my dear, just a little longer and the child will be with us."
I screwed up my face and pushed with one last great effort. I was rewarded with the sound of a soft cry as our child entered the world.
"It's a girl," the midwife beamed, holding her up for us to see. She wiped the blood off the tiny form and handed her to me to hold.
Eric was transfixed by the sight of her. "She is beautiful," he whispered, bending down to kiss my damp forehead.
"I will call her Sophia Anna," I declared. It seemed the ideal name, one which would acknowledge both her mother and godmother. "Sophia Anna Leclerq."
"Perfect," Sophia smiled. "We shall book the Church of St John for the baptism."
Three months later
I sit on the low balcony of our beautiful home, dandling little Sophie-Ann on my lap. She has managed to charm the entire household and I fear she will be the most indulged of children. The little tufts of blonde hair and her bright blue eyes leave no-one in any doubt as to the identity of her father.
Inside the house I can hear Sophia arguing with Cook over the supper menu. Although she fusses around me like a mother hen, I confess I am grateful to have her here for a few weeks. Her marriage to Russell is not a happy one as once again she has chosen a husband who prefers the company of men. Naturally it has not taken her long to make alternative arrangements which she will not divulge, even to me. I cannot find it in me to be shocked by her behaviour, she has become far too dear to me.
As the sun sinks low in the sky I see my lover riding up the long drive towards the house. The sun has bronzed his skin and enhanced the gold of his hair. He is more handsome than ever, if such a thing were possible. In a few hours I will once again be lying in his arms, a thought which makes me shiver with pleasure.
I find myself laughing out loud and Sophie-Ann gurgles happily in response. If only her life could always be as happy as we both are at this moment. I would not think about the one thing that cast a shadow over my contentment: the true whereabouts of my husband William Compton. Sophia had prevailed on Russell to use all of his connections, and Eric had used his much more disreputable contacts. Their efforts were in vain. There was not a trace of the little boat which had abandoned ship in such a cowardly manner, or of any of those who sailed in her. It is most un-Christian of me, but I hope he died a slow and agonising death.
A/N So there you are, me hearties – I hope you enjoyed the ride. As always thanks to Charlaine Harris who owns the characters; VampLover1 - no 1 beta; and everyone who has put this story on their alert or favourite list and left feedback – the reviews for this story have been just wonderful and I have learnt so much from people's comments and suggestions. Any other thoughts will be most welcome.
I have tried to get the overall historical sense of the period for this story. I know there are a few mistakes - for example about the proper period for mourning - which people very helpfully picked up on.
All the ships mentioned did exist, and the historical events took place but I wasn't able to fit their dates into a neat time-frame.
Wrecking was a common practice in Devon and Cornwall in the eighteenth century. On stormy nights, the wreckers would stand on the cliffs waving their lanterns, luring the ships onto the rocks below in the belief that they were approaching a safe port. The wreckers would then descend and collect the goods which were washed up on the shore.
Edward Teach, known as Blackbeard, was the most infamous pirate of his day, although his career lasted only a few years. He would weave live firecrackers into his beard to appear more fearsome. Not only did he create the image of the pirate copied to this day, he is probably also responsible for the way fictional pirates speak. He was born in Bristol and the influence of his west country accent can still be heard in today's fictional pirates.
I could go on at length about the history of Barbados, but I will spare you. One point which the historian Hilary Beckles makes is that the temperate climate of the island meant that planters were more likely to bring their wives with them than to some of the other islands, and this led to a much less harsh and cruel regime for the slaves. I think Anna would be one of these kind women who wanted to improve the lives of her workers.
Finally, apologies for making William Compton quite so beastly – I was severely provoked by the sickly 'Saint Bill' of True Blood Season 3 – a complete exaggeration of book Bill.