The sleek luxury schooner The Constellation sliced through the open seas with full sails, as close to flight as the ocean-going vessel could ever be. From the moment the anchors were weighed until the sun plunged into the western horizon, Captain Gisela Koning maintained a grueling pace with the help of her first mate Mr. Fernsby and Mesa, who also knew the ship well.
Hunt stood at the taffrail near the bow with the wind in her face. The cheerful blue waters and serene cloudless sky reminded her of pleasure cruises. To go exploring or fishing or swimming. Or all of the above. She missed that.
Idyllic, she thought wistfully. But they had a job to do. We can enjoy ourselves after the rescue.
Disquiet jabbered at the back of her mind. Not knowing the precise actions they were going to take unsettled her. She needed to know. To plan. To be prepared. Lally and Zvonko both had faith in the improvised nature of Mesa’s plotting, however she was disinclined to.
She squinted back at the deck and found Mesa nowhere to be seen. She didn’t care where he was per se, rather she was simply glad that she wasn’t in the same space as him.
She’d have to have faith, too, eventually. Only because it would be necessary.
Her gaze drifted back out to sea. But not yet.
As day faded into a night with a light breeze and small wavelets, Gisela reduced The Constellation’s pace to a gentle cruising speed and ordered dinner to be served on deck under the stars for her guests.
Lally loitered on deck like a lost child, watching in wonderment as crewmen and women set up tables which were secured to the deck. The deck possessed a custom design, one that allowed for the placement and removal of tables under the stars; tables which could later be broken down and stowed. Fragile dinnerware, silver utensils, lanterns on each table. The scent of freshly prepared food drifted from below every time one of the chef’s assistants bustled by. And all under a vivid ceiling of endless stars.
Hunt appeared with a drowsy Zvonko in tow by the elbow.
Upon leaving port soon after sunrise that morning, the swordsman had spent most of the day sleeping. He had been more exhausted than he let on. No one was surprised, and no one disturbed him. That night, he emerged from below deck and became briefly disoriented when he discovered the sun gone.
Lally frowned at his friend with concern. “Are you alright?”
“I’m confused,” grumbled Zvonko. He squeezed his eyes shut. Opened them. Scowled. “Give me a moment. It’ll pass.”
Mr. Fernsby noticed the guests huddled together and took immediate action. “Captain Lally,” he called as he strode over. “Please, be seated. Dinner will served immediately.” He gestured to the nearest table. “Please.”
Lally smiled. “Oh, er, thank you. Zvonko, sit down until you get your bearings.”
“Will do, sir,” replied Zvonko. “But first.” He looked down at Hunt who was still on his arm. “Miss Hunt?” Zvonko pulled out a chair for Hunt who gratefully accepted it. He took the seat beside her, oblivious of her red face, and Lally sat beside him.
Turning away from him, Hunt fanned her face, embarrassed at her reaction. Calm down, girl.
The tables were set up in two short columns facing one another. There was no order or hierarchy. No captain’s table. Gisela always dined among her crew.
The chef and her assistants arrived with large dishes for a scrumptious community meal; one the platters and bowls were placed among the diners, the chef and assistants took seats and Gisela stood to offer a prayer which signaled dinner had begun.
The atmosphere relaxed into one of lightheartedness and easy laughter. Many of the crew had such tremendous senses of humor and great stories to tell, that no one was ever want for a jocose anecdote or aggreeable listener.
One of the chef’s assistants, who occupied the other seat by Hunt, mentioned her ability to play the guitar and was instantly hailed to play. A guitar was fetched and music played. Her fingers danced across the strings, drawing out familiar tunes to which the crew belted their favorite shanties for a time until the song collapsed into an original melody that no one knew but everyone readily loved.
This, thought Hunt as she leaned back in her chair with a glass of wine in her hand. This is perfect.
She flicked a glance aside at Zvonko. He was smiling kindly across at the schooner’s shipwrite, who was a former boatswain’s mate in a navy across the world, as he recounted a past adventure.
Enjoying the music, Hunt allowed her gaze to wander up the line of diners toward where she heard the singular tones of Captain Gisela’s voice. Hunt couldn’t make out what Gisela was saying, but she was using bodacious gestures and overdrawn facial expressions as she fairly acted out whatever story she was telling. Her lone conversation partner was a surprisingly good looking young man who wore the biggest smile, wiping tears from his eyes, his face flushed with laughter.
The man wasn’t wearing a crew uniform nor was he clad in stripes like Mr. Fernsby, neither did Hunt recall any other passengers coming aboard.
The unknown man’s laugh captivated her. It was a refreshing sound, pure. It echoed in memories of her childhood, reminding her sharply of way her little sisters used to laugh, so freely. Hunt discovered that most adults gradually lose the ability to be genuine, and instead resort to putting on airs to a degree that even their laughter never quite sounds quite like it used to when they were young and carefree. Hunt was one of those adult who put on airs, too. She knew it. But she didn’t know how to be any other way.
Nostalgia stirring in her heart, Hunt became aware that she envied this man and his ability to be unhindered in his expression of joy. He must be a rare and beautiful person.
Mr. Fernsby approached his captain and touched her on the shoulder; Gisela and the handsome man looked up at him. Before trusting her voice, Gisela cleared her throat of one last giggle, and her companion face dropped his joyful guise and became Mesa.
Shuddering, Hunt choked on her wine and, shoving her glass of wine on the table, bent forward to cough.
Zvonko’s brow furrowed with concern. “Drink the wine, Miss Hunt. Don’t breathe it. Are you well?”
Eyes filling and streaming, Hunt hacked through burning lungs. “UUGH I feel filthy!”
Zvonko and Lally looked down at her clothes, assuming she’d dumped her wine down the front of her. Both offered their handkerchiefs.
Gasping for air, she pushed their hands away. “That’s not what I mean!” She pointed, glowering. “I just saw Mesa smile and—.”
“WHAT?!” blurted Lally and Zvonko at once, and whipped bulging eyes in the direction that she pointed.
Eyes moist, Hunt blinked in stupefaction. Coughed.
[to be continued…]