Author's Note: So it's come to this: this wonderful, amazing, talented fandom has this girl writing again after a nearly ten year hiatus. My, how things have changed since Buffy. This story was inspired by a children's book that I teach to my gifted section of literature. I won't reference its full title, as I do not want it hijacking any legitimate searches students may do on that novel. But it is by Avi and the main character is named Charlotte, and that should give curious readers enough. The characters in this story belong to Suzanne Collins, but the words are my own. Any books Katniss references in the story belong to their original authors.
I would be remiss if I did not give credit to the two ladies who have held my hand throughout this whole process: the indomitable jeeno2 and the inspiring ILoveRynMar. Thank you for the encouragement, the laughs and the therapy.
This story is nearly complete, so I am hopeful I can keep to a regular posting schedule. I am sorry...no tumblr. Lame, I know.
Thank you for reading. -Court
Rated M for later content (violence, language, sexual situations)
To fully understand and appreciate the ordeal from which I have finally been freed, you must fully comprehend where my journey began. My name is Katniss Everdeen. Or rather, it was Katniss Everdeen. The Katniss Everdeen that existed for 16 years ceased to be that fateful summer of 1832. I boarded a ship a young lady, eager to return home to the loving embraces of my father, my mother and my precious sister, Primrose. Though American by birth, my parents sent me to England at the tender age of eight, knowing I would receive a much better education abroad. (America was only just establishing private academies for girls in 1824.)
It is only because of a bound book of paper that I am able to convince myself that what happened to me was not a fantastical dream, some sort of nightmare from which I nearly did not escape. My father, in a letter detailing my anticipated trip home, instructed me to keep a journal of my daily activities so that I might properly reflect on my time at sea once I arrived home in Philadelphia. He warned me he would be reading the volume and examining my penmanship, my grammar and my spelling. I should confess that no amount of practice has ever much improved my penmanship.
Two months later, I departed that ship a pardoned criminal, my name cleared as a murderess only after an arduous trial and at the expense of several lives.
And yet, knowing where I am now, what my life became after that momentous voyage, I would not change a thing. Not one.
This is my story. Every word I speak is true.
13 June 1832, Liverpool, England
"…built fifty years ago in Baltimore, Maryland. I wouldn't have thought such fine craftsmanship possible of something constructed in the colonies, but she is exquisite, is she not? Miss Everdeen?"
"Pardon?" I turn and meet the disapproving eyes of my chaperone, Miss Ephrenia Trinket. The older woman purses her lips before pressing them into a forced smile.
"I was introducing you to your ship, Miss Everdeen," Miss Trinket clucks, gesturing grandly to the imposing vessel anchored several yards down the gangplank among a throng of other ships.
I squint and let my eyes focus on the ship. I hardly remembered sailing to England as a child eight years earlier, and while at boarding school, I never had much cause to be in the presence of such a ship. Miss Trinket is right. The Mockingjay is indeed exquisite. The ship is what one would call a brig, a two-masted vessel. An obviously-fresh coat of glossy white paint causes the ship to gleam in the sunlight, and its rails and bow shine black as coal. The sails are reefed, the gentle breeze having no effect on them as a result.
I have to admit it is the unusual name that intrigues me most. I have never heard of a mockingjay. I have seen mockingbirds, and I have seen blue jays, but upon closer inspection of the figurehead, I can only surmise that this ship's commissioner must have enjoyed Frankenstein. (We shall not speak of how I am acquainted with that novel.) That is the only conceivable explanation for the hybrid creature that adorns the front of the ship. I have never seen a bird quite like the one that juts out beneath the bowsprit. Its mouth is open in an obscene shriek, and if it is possible for a bird to appear terrifying, this one does for certain. I feel a shiver consume me in spite of the June sunshine.
"It's lovely," I reply. Miss Trinket clucks her tongue again.
"She, Miss Everdeen. She. A ship is not an "it." It's as much a lady as you or I."
"I shall make note of that." I try to keep the irritation out of my voice, and I am well aware that it is not good etiquette to roll my eyes. I chide myself for thinking that Miss Trinket can be very difficult to tolerate at times, however true it may be.
"Now where is that porter?" Miss Trinket cranes her neck and flutters her fan in front of her face several times as I watch her scan the busy dock. "Ah, there he is. Young man!"
Truth be told, I find myself more in awe of the dock than the ship. It is as far a cry from the Panem School for Better Girls and its stone walls, wrought-iron fences and crawling ivy, and quaint topiaries. I could not have known such a sight could exist beyond the pages of a fictional novel. There are crates piled high everywhere I look, crates brimming with exports bound for the islands and beyond, America. The aroma of tea leaves and coffee beans creates a heady brew in the air, and I'm startled to hear the squawks of parrots and the screeches of at least one monkey. Molasses. Rum. Brocade cloth. Silk. I try to contain an audible gasp as I peer into a half-open crate and my eyes land upon glittering diamonds and opaque pearls.
"Miss Everdeen?" I shake myself from my reverie and am again met with a disapproving glance from Miss Trinket. She gestures to the man who is now carrying my valise in one hand and preparing to haul my trunk with the other.
"Thank you, sir," I smile politely.
"Which ship, miss?" the porter asks, directing the question at me, but Miss Trinket is quick to answer.
"The Mockingjay," she replies with a haughty flourish. "Helmed by one Captain Snow." The porter's eyes widen, and he lets go of both the trunk and the valise, sending the bag to the dock with a thump. I jump at the noise.
"I'll not set foot near that ship, miss," he declares, taking several steps back from where Miss Trinket and I gape at him in disbelief.
"Well, I never!" Miss Trinket shrills. "Pick up those bags, young man. You were given six pence to carry Miss Everdeen's belongings." The porter shakes his head vehemently and plunges his hand into his right pocket. He thrusts his fist forward and reaches for Miss Trinket's hand, dropping the coins into her white-gloved palm.
"I wouldn't take one more step near any ship captained by Mr. Snow." He spits the name as if it was poison. Without another word, he spins on his heel and takes off down the dock, weaving in and out of the jumbled cargo as nimbly as a mouse. I am stunned by the man's audacity, but I glance at Miss Trinket out of the corner of my eye. Her painted-pink lips are barely visible so tightly are they pressed together, and her corkscrew curls spring as she begins to scan the crowd once more.
"You!" she cries, pointing at a burly man moving a large sack of rice across the dock just a few feet away from them. "I have a shilling for you if you will kindly carry this young lady's belongings to her ship."
"A shilling?" he barks, raising an eyebrow at her.
"Two shillings," I pipe up, reaching for my reticule. It is certainly an inconvenience for him to stop his current task, so perhaps a higher offer will raise his spirits and his disposition. Miss Trinket shoots me her third disapproving glare, but I ignore the scornful look and withdraw a shilling to match Miss Trinket's offer.
"Aye, two shillings," the man agrees, taking the coin from me. He extends his hand towards Miss Trinket, who mumbles something as she produces the second shilling. The man winks at me, and I can feel my cheeks flush at the gesture. I am not used to the presence of such a rough looking man, and I know the wink is not a sign that should be directed at a lady of my station. Nonetheless, it provides me a secret thrill, one I have never experienced thus far in my life. There is so much beyond the Panem School for me to discover.
I notice that Miss Trinket and the man have begun walking, so I follow them along the dock until we come to a stop in front of the Mockingjay. No sooner have we stopped walking then, just as the first porter had, the man drops my trunk and valise without a word and disappears into the crowd. A feeling of unease creeps into my bones.
"Where are the manners?" Miss Trinket cries. "Honestly. You see, Miss Everdeen, these are the men we warn you about at Panem. Common men have no manners and no decency. Not even a proper bow from that horrid man." She smoothes her dress along her hips and gives me a purposeful smile. "Now you know why your father and mother would not hear of you sailing without companions. That ship will be full of the roughest men you will ever set eyes on. Sailors, Miss Everdeen, are the lowest of the low."
I sigh inwardly and smile politely as Miss Trinket drones on, and I begin to study The Mockingjay at this closer vantage. I am immediately struck dumb at how massive it seems now that I am standing beside it. I swallow nervously at the thought of being at sea for so many months. I have never coped well with nausea, and I fear getting seasick. It shall be a long journey home to Philadelphia.
"Now where is the first mate? I was promised by the Captain himself that his first mate would be here to accept you."
"Will my companions already be on board?" I ask, adjusting my own white gloves and pushing back a stray curl that has sought refuge from my bonnet.
When my father had made the arrangements for me to travel home on one of his company's ships, he had explained to me that it would not be proper for a young lady to sail with just the complement of a crew. Yes, the captain would be a gentleman of similar station, but his first responsibility would be to the ship, and he could not be expected to keep me occupied at all times. Nor was I to distract him from his duties to his post. Thus, my father had secured passage for two families to join me on the voyage to America. I know nothing of either family save both have young children, and I will be expected to read to the children from my morality books and the Bible. I can still picture my father's immaculate script on the parchment: strive to be a role model…honor our family name…
"I do not know, Miss Everdeen. Your ship is not scheduled to depart until day break tomorrow, so they still have ample time to arrive."
"Are you Miss Trinket?" a male voice interjects. I turn and see a tall, but slight, man walking towards us up the dock, clutching a small valise. He sets the bag down at his feet and tents his fingers, studying my chaperone. His mutton-chops curve inward in an intricate pattern, and his dark eyes glitter as they pass over Miss Trinket. He is not dressed as I would expect a sailor to be dressed. His jacket is pressed and reaches nearly mid-thigh and his breeches are tucked into a pair of gleaming black boots. Had I not known better, I might have assumed this was our captain.
"I am," she replies airily. "Are you Captain Snow's first mate?"
"I am." He extends a hand. Miss Trinket hesitates, but accepts it nonetheless. He raises her gloved hand to his lips and presses a kiss to the fabric. "Mr. Seneca Crane, at your service." He offers me a warm smile, and I curtsy respectfully. Miss Trinket's expression relaxes, and she smiles broadly. I cannot recall seeing her smile so readily since we left the gates of Panem.
"A gentleman, Miss Everdeen! How fortunate for you. It's not typical for a ship to have such a distinguished man among the crew. What brings you to sea, Mr. Crane?"
"This is actually my first commercial voyage, Miss Trinket," Mr. Crane explains. "I sailed with Her Majesty's navy for several years."
Miss Trinket squeals. "An officer! Oh, Miss Everdeen, how exciting!"
I nod absently, surprised to discover I am only half listening; rather, I am hypnotized by a movement just beyond Mr. Crane's left shoulder. I can't be sure of what exactly it is that my eyes are seeing, but just below the stern of the ship, I swear I can see something, (someone?) shimmying up a mooring rope. I cannot reconcile what I am watching, and at once, my mind recollecs a photograph in Miss Portia's numerous science volumes of a chimpanzee swinging from a vine.
Had I not heard the chatter of a monkey earlier? Could the monkey have somehow escaped its enclosure? I narrow my eyes in the sunlight in an attempt to get a better look. The rope sways with the weight of the body clinging to it, and I decide it's much too large to be an animal. A human, then? Why would someone be boarding the ship in such a manner? I blink once, blink again, and suddenly, the rope is still. Tis nothing, I decide, scolding myself. You're seeing things.
"Miss Everdeen!" The annoyance is clear in Miss Trinket's voice this time, an exasperated look marring her porcelain features. I duck my head slightly, ashamed I have been caught being so outwardly rude to my chaperone. "I was just saying it is time for me to bid you farewell. Mr. Crane will occupy your time until your companions arrive."
"Thank you so much for accompanying me, Miss Trinket." I place my hands on her slender shoulders and draw her towards me into a tentative hug. Miss Trinket is not one for showing affection, save for the fact that embracing her too tightly would wrinkle her gown. She catches me by surprise when she releases me but grips my gloved hands in hers, eyes locking on mine.
"You are a delightful young woman, Miss Everdeen. We shall miss you greatly at Panem. I bid you a safe and swift journey home." I nod and smile tightly, blinking back tears that I think are more the result of anxiety towards being left in the company of strangers rather than a genuine sadness at leaving Miss Trinket. Mr. Crane looks perfectly gentlemanly, but I have never, not for a moment, been alone in the company of a man. The only male who frequented the halls of Panem was Reverend Templesmith. And he was ancient.
My stomach twists as I watch Miss Trinket hand Mr. Crane a folded slip of paper, then walk stiffly back to the coach. The paneled door closes, and my last tie to the world I have known for the last eight years is gone. My corset suddenly feels too tight, and it is a struggle to draw a breath.
"My companions have not yet arrived?" I manage to whisper. Mr. Crane turns and offers me a wry smile, his obsidian eyes glinting like smoldering coal.
"I have not seen them yet, no, Miss Everdeen," he responds. I cannot keep the frown from my face, and Mr. Crane's own expression is instantly sympathetic. "Relax, my lady, I'll ensure your company will be well kept once you are safely aboard." His words do little to comfort me, and I am once again seized by the panic that I am in the presence of complete strangers, strangers who are men.
"Thank you." I hardly recognize my own voice, sounding more pathetic than I have ever heard it before.
"Now if you will be so kind to wait here, I shall just be a moment as I check in with the captain." He reaches down and retrieves his bag, and purposefully strides up the gangplank. I sigh and try to compose myself, my trembling fingers combing back more stray hairs that have sought freedom from my bonnet in the warm air. I have not been alone on the dock for more than several minutes when the din of voices rises sharply above me. Glancing up, I can just see Mr. Crane at the topgallant rail, gesturing wildly as he argues with an unseen opponent. A frisson dances along my spine as Mr. Crane outwardly motions down at me. Am I the source of some disagreement?
I do not have adequate time to consider the implications before Mr. Crane is suddenly beside me once more.
"Is something the matter, Mr. Crane?"
"Nothing too serious, Miss Everdeen. I've been assured by the second mate that we are on schedule for our morning departure. Our cargo is loaded, the crew is present, and the captain is ready to sail." He clears his throat and his prominent Adam's apple bobs just above the collar of his shirt. "There is one slight problem." He pauses again, and my breath catches in my own throat. "The families…your companions…it seems that there is a delay in their subsequent arrivals."
"A delay?" I stammer, shaking my head at the possibility. Mr. Crane coughs and lowers his eyes.
"Perhaps it's not a delay," he sighs. "I've been informed that neither family will be making the voyage to America." I gasp, and in spite of its rudeness, my mouth gapes in disbelief much like a fish out of water, struggling for every breath.
"Mr. Thread, the second mate, received word that one family has a gravely ill child. The other family has simply changed their minds about leaving London."
"Changed their minds?" I echo dumbly. "That cannot be! What shall I do?"
"I am not sure I understand the question, Miss Everdeen."
"What shall I do!" I parrot again, panic welling in my chest. "My father would not wish me to travel alone!" Mr. Crane's lips curl into what I would describe as a smirk.
"Alone? You shall have a captain, a first and second mate, and a full crew, Miss Everdeen. You shall hardly be alone." I am taken aback by his snide reply to me.
"That is not what I mean!" I refrain from stamping my foot like a petulant child. "My father would not wish me to sail all the way to America with men. I am but a girl!" I cringe at the word because at sixteen, I much prefer to consider myself a lady, almost a woman. But in the interest of decorum, I do not hesitate to use semantics to my advantage.
"You shall have Captain Snow, Miss Everdeen, and you shall have me. We will be your eyes and ears and ensure no one does you any harm. No one shall even direct a misguided glance your way in our presence." His words provide me with little consolation. I cannot help but imagine my father's horror at learning how his daughter was returned to him.
"But Mr. Crane, it's wrong!" My cries fall on deaf ears, as Mr. Crane withdraws a gold pocket watch and studies the face intently. He snaps it shut, replaces it and gesticulates widely behind us.
"Miss Everdeen, your ship awaits."
Sullenly and reluctantly, I follow Mr. Crane up the gangplank, being careful to watch my footing on the wooden slats. At the top, we are met by another man, one who more resembles my romantic notion of what a "classic" sailor should look like. He is small; Mr. Crane is easily a full head taller than he, and his bronzed skin is an obvious sign of his daily exposure to the sun. The scratchy remnants of a beard dot his cheeks and chin, and I can see the cracks in his chapped lips this close to him. His eyes wander from side to side rapidly, looking everywhere but at me directly, but I can tell he is still studying me with suspicion.
"Miss Everdeen, Captain Snow is unavailable at the moment. May I present to you the second mate, Mr. Romulus Thread?" I wait for him to address me with some sort of gesture befitting a lady of my station, but he makes no motion to do so.
"Miss Everdeen, you should not be here," Thread announces, his voice surprisingly loud and clear for a man with such a haggard appearance.
"Mr. Thread, do not be absurd," Mr. Crane chides, laughing nervously. "Where else should she be?"
"There are a number of ships on this dock that are making voyages to America. You would be better off, miss, on one of those ships."
I am relieved to hear the suggestion; I am resolute in the notion that my parents would not want me sailing in the company of these men. Mr. Thread's less-than-desirous appearance has affirmed this notion for me.
"This ship is one of my father's," I offer, "but I can assure you my father would not be pleased if I were to sail without companions of…" I catch myself. No doubt these men cannot be daft enough to know what I am implying without me having to state the obvious.
"And your father, Mr. Everdeen, has made no other arrangements for you," Mr. Crane adds. "Your passage on this ship has already been paid for. Miss Trinket signed for you, and she has fulfilled her obligation by turning you over to our careful watch." He waves the paper Miss Trinket had handed him prior to her returning to her coach, and my stomach twists painfully. My well-being (and ultimately, my honor and my life) has been treated as cavalierly as a crate of tea or tobacco.
"We set sail at daybreak," Mr. Crane declares, adjusting the lapels of his jacket. "Now if you'll excuse me, I have a few things to which to tend." He is gone before I can utter a protest. I am suddenly intensely aware of the sailor still at my side, and I slide my eyes to meet those of Mr. Thread. He is now glaring at me openly.
"Don't say I didn't warn you," he mutters. "Very well, Miss Everdeen, I guess it's my duty to show you to your cabin." He makes a move to his right, and when I do not immediately follow him, his glare increases in intensity.
"I'm sorry, sir," I begin, not able to stop the word from slipping past my lips. I reprimand myself immediately. This man does not deserve such a term, and I shall be infinitely more careful to reserve its usage for when I am in the presence of Captain Snow and Mr. Crane.
"My trunk and my valise. They are still on the dock."
"We will see to it that they are brought on board, miss. You have my word."
I sigh, but it is the best I can expect. Mr. Thread moves again, and I grudgingly follow him this time. I reprimand myself once more, this time for being such a good girl, for not being more vocal about my unease being aboard this ship. The irony of the situation is my father would no doubt find some pleasure in my obedience.
I notice that he has produced a lantern, which is now lighting our way as we pass through a narrow opening in the wall of the quarterdeck towards a flight of steps that might as well lead to the gates of Hell. As I move to descend the stairs, I notice much of the crew is now assembled on the forecastle deck, pounding something into the planks with mallets (I learn later it is called oakum, and I eventually acquire most of the other sailing terms and ship geography that I will record here) or applying more tar to the rails. Several of them exchange muted murmurs, and I feel scornful glances cast in my direction. I raise my chin and look straight ahead.
"Steerage, miss," Mr. Thread intones as he leads me through the space. It is barely six feet wide, and I estimate it can't be more than twenty or thirty feet in length. The mainmast bisects the area, a massive plank of wood that, should I try, I should not be able to wrap my arms but halfway around. There are a few doors on either side of the mainmast, but without the lantern, it would be pitch black. My ears are highly attuned to the repeated scratching against the floorboards and the periodic creaks and moans of the wood. Though I discover I have been holding my breath and exhale shakily, when I inhale moments later my nostrils are invaded by the pungent stench of rot and a stale scent of urine. I gag and draw my handkerchief from the bodice of my gown, pressing it to my mouth eagerly. I am relieved it is there when I am frozen with horror as something moves over my left boot and I release a silent scream.
I swear I see Mr. Thread hold back a smile in the dimly lit space.
We reach the end of the hallway, and he stops in front of a door that is slightly ajar. He pushes it open and motions grandly.
"Your cabin, Miss Everdeen." I offer him a tight-lipped smile as he raises the lantern to better illuminate the place I will call home for the next eight or nine weeks.
I cannot stifle the anguished cry that escapes my lips as I regard my cabin. It is barely larger than a linen closet, and there is no furniture save for a slim shelf jutting out from the wall opposite the door. My lower lip begins to tremble at the sight of the small pillow and folded blanket on the shelf. This, I realize, is to be my bed.
"This would cost a passenger five pounds, miss. Why don't you go in and get acquainted with the room?"
Room! I choke back a laugh at his audacity to call it such. Drawing in a breath as much for courage as for oxygen (and thankfully the smell has subsided nearer to my cabin) I stoop to enter and am dismayed to discover I can barely stand fully in the confined space. I am not an exceptionally tall girl, so this speaks volumes of the dimensions of the cabin. Once inside the room, I notice there is a makeshift chest built into the bulwark wall, and my fingers gingerly touch a rusted latch that releases a hinge, transforming the chest into a crude writing desk.
My heart nearly stops when the cockroach scuttles across the surface of the desk. I turn to Mr. Thread, my eyes wide and my mouth agape in revulsion. "Every ship has them," is his nonchalant response. I shudder visibly and direct my attention back to the sparse space. There is no chair. There is no lamp. There is no porthole. The notion that the cabin will be plunged into darkness without a lantern or a candle is suddenly all too real, and I'm struck with the vision of the room as a coffin, stifling and strangling the life from me.
A large thump just behind the open door startles me from my ghastly thoughts. I peer around the door frame and instead of seeing Mr. Thread, I am greeted by the sight of another sailor. Indeed, Mr. Thread is nowhere to be seen. Though this man's clothes are as tattered as Mr. Thread's were, he is nowhere near as decrepit-looking. There is a hardness to his steely eyes, which are partially obscured by the shaggy, greasy hair that is falling over his forehead.
"Yes?" I whisper.
"Your trunk, sweetheart." His gravelly voice does not take me aback as much as the manner in which he addresses me. To say that I am shocked by his crudeness is an understatement. I glance around him to see my enormous trunk and the smaller valise just behind him. As relieved as I am to see my possessions, I am equally dismayed at their sight. My eyes survey the cabin, and the sailor seems to immediately sense the meaning of my wordless gesture.
"I'd say you'd be hard-pressed to fit that in here, no?" He reaches down and picks up my valise. I accept it, knowing it contains nothing beyond a few more handkerchiefs, a photograph of my family and the journal my father bade me to keep. I shake my head, and his lips curve into a sardonic smile. "Top cargo it is then. It won't be too difficult for you to retrieve things as you need them from there."
"Top cargo?" I repeat. He might as well have said Persia.
"I can show you when the time comes." He glances around, and I wait for him to retreat. But he does not.
"Pardon my forwardness, sweetheart, but I gotta tell you that you really shouldn't be here."
"You are the second person to say such a thing to me." A quiver of fear slithers up my spine, and I shiver involuntarily in spite of the oppressive heat of the ship. "Why?" He takes a step towards me, and I instinctively back away, but in the tight space, he looms over me, fixing those grey eyes on me again. I cannot help but notice that in the muted light of the lantern, they appear to be a similar shade to my own. The reek of stale ale is heavy on his breath.
"The others asked me to. I was deputized, if you will. I know it's not my place to say it, but it's too important. Your presence on this ship can lead to no good. There is still time, sweetheart." There is a lilt of urgency to his rough voice.
"Mr…" I pause, at a loss as to how to address this man who never presented himself formally to me.
"Haymitch," he replies. "Haymitch Abernathy."
"Mr. Abernathy," I continue, refusing to call him by his Christian name. Crass sailor or not, I can hear Miss Trinket's voice echoing in my ears to address my elders by their proper name in conversation. "My father has made the arrangements for me to be on this ship." Mustering all my strength to straighten my back and square my shoulders, I turn away from him, ignoring my trepidation and the overwhelming urge to scream to be allowed off the vessel.
"Don't say I didn't warn you." I hear his footfalls begin to fade away, rhythmic bumps from my trunk that he is no doubt hauling behind him punctuating each step.
A smothered sob escapes my throat, and hot tears prick the corners of my eyes. I move to close the cabin door, but upon doing so, I am left in absolute blackness. Instead, I push the door as wide as it will go, letting in the meager light that streams down through the stairwell at the opposite end of steerage. My body trembles violently, wracked with great, heaving ugly sobs. My knees buckle, and I stagger to the plank, (I refuse yet to call it my bed) intending to lie down and let sleep overtake me. Perhaps if I close my eyes, I will awaken and this will all be revealed as a horrific dream. It is only when I am standing beside the plank that I realize it is impossible to climb onto it in my garments.
I try not to think of the cockroach I saw earlier as I sink to my knees and let the sobs consume me.
I have never felt more alone in all my sixteen years.
How long I cry I cannot say, but a gentle knock at the door rouses me. Sniffling, I withdraw my handkerchief again and blow my nose before I whisper a barely audible, "Yes?"
Before me stands yet another sailor. Though his clothes are as tattered as Mr. Thread's were, he is nowhere near as decrepit-looking. He is smaller than Mr. Abernathy, but his gold-flecked eyes exude a warmth that was wholly absent from the crass sailor's countenance. His skin is the color of café au lait, and I find myself thinking there is something beautiful about him. The thought alarms me.
"You are upset, young miss," he says gently, and I can imagine my tear-stained cheeks and swollen eyes have me looking like some sort of demonic ghoul.
"I am fine," I reply, rising to my feet and adjusting the buttons on my bodice inconspicuously.
"Begging your pardon for interrupting, then, but I thought you might like some tea. A small comfort that I might offer you, miss." His golden eyes dance in the light from the candle he is holding. I think that I have never seen longer eyelashes on a man.
"Thank you," I stammer. "Tea would be lovely." When neither of us moves, I raise my eyebrows expectantly at the black man. He shuffles, almost apologetically.
"If Miss Everdeen wishes to have tea, it cannot be here in her cabin. Captain Snow insists all tea be served in the galley." A puzzled look crosses my face. "The kitchen, miss."
"If it must be so. Lead the way, Mr…"
"Cinna," he answers smoothly. "Cook and surgeon and preacher for the Mockingjay, at your service, Miss Everdeen."
"Cinna," I repeat, the name rolling off my tongue. He smiles and shields the candle in such a way to allow me to pass through the narrow doorframe. I follow him through the steerage to the stairs from which I descended with Mr. Thread what seems like hours ago. But instead of continuing up onto the deck of the ship, we cross a short threshold and down another narrow flight of stairs. We emerge into a large open area piled high with extra rigging and heaps of canvas that are no doubt spare sails. There are coils of ropes and buckets of tar. A few closed chests pique my curiosity, but Cinna pauses in front of a small door so I stop beside him.
"If the need arises, miss, the he-…" He catches himself. "The privy." I nod in gratitude. I had not yet considered the embarrassment of having to relieve myself and not knowing where to go. I should think I would rather have soiled myself or died of discomfort rather than ask one of the sailors.
Cinna continues several paces ahead and gestures proudly to a small room to his left, holding the candle aloft to light the space. A face looms in the shadowy glow. I gasp.
"I'm sorry, miss!" As a figure emerges into the galley's doorway, I am met by the bluest eyes I have ever seen. Even in the candlelight they are pools of cerulean, bright and clear. "I'm sorry, Cinna."
The man is young, much younger than any of the other sailors I have encountered so far, I think, though he is taller than both Cinna and myself and much broader as well. I realize that I was wrong earlier: this man has the longest eyelashes I have ever seen.
"That's quite alright, Mellark," Cinna's gentle voice replies. "My galley is your galley. And 'tis our secret." The young man flashes Cinna a brilliant smile, and I can see two rows of perfectly straight, gleaming white teeth. He is hardly what I picture a rough, seafaring man to be, and I scold myself for wishing the light was better. Before I can study him further, he brushes past Cinna, careful not to touch me in the process, and he retreats into the dimness beyond the galley entrance.
"Now, how does Miss Everdeen take her tea?" He sets the candle down on a small wooden table at the center of the galley. I glance around at the space, noticing the neatness of the room and the order with which the cups, saucers and plates are stacked into open cabinets. There is a wooden stove in the far right corner, and a tea kettle whistles softly, a ribbon of steam winding from the spout. An aroma of raspberry and mint wafts past my nose. It is heavenly. Cinna smiles.
"It seems young Mr. Mellark has already prepared the kettle. I hope you like it." He pulls a cup from a nook above the stove and pours the tea into it, offering it to me carefully. I accept the cup, but shake my head when Cinna indicates the stools set on either side of the table. I cannot begrudge his kindness, but I am acutely aware it would be wrong to sit beside this man and have tea like acquaintances.
The tea is delicious. It soothes my throat, which I hadn't even realized was raw from crying. It warms my bones and makes me yearn for home.
"Miss Everdeen, if I may have a word?" I glance up from my tea, the warmth immediately chased and replaced with another wave of uneasiness.
"I do not think…" I begin.
"Please. Miss Everdeen, I know that Haymitch-"
"Mr. Abernathy?" I interject.
"Aye, Mr. Abernathy," he repeats, "I know that he spoke to you on behalf of the crew."
"It was not his place to speak to me in such a manner," I assert, irritation rising again at the slovenly sailor's declaration.
"Be that as it may, Miss Everdeen. But it needed to be spoken. And I would like to further extend to you my friendship should you find yourself-' I interrupt him again.
"I think I have had enough tea, Mr. Cinna," I say coldly, setting the cup down on the table with a clink. "And I do not think that I shall need a friend on this ship." However kind this man has been to me, I cannot forget that he is a lowly sailor, and black man furthermore in spite of whatever beauty I first saw in him. In his ignorance, he has committed a serious breach of etiquette by suggesting he and I become friends.
"One always needs friends, Miss Everdeen," he murmurs, taking my tea cup to the small sink to the left of the stove. "And you and I, miss, have far more in common than you should think at first glance." I look away, uncomfortable at his persistence. "Having something in common is a good start to a friendship."
"I should be getting back to my cabin."
"Very well. But Miss Everdeen, you were warned by more than one person about your presence on this ship. And since you have not heeded these warnings, I must offer you one final caution." He extracts something from a drawer and extends his arm in my direction. I bite back a scream at what rests in his outstretched palm.
It is a dagger.