A ship, alight upon the sea, surging upon the waves as it’s crew stands watch, eyes straining forward, alert to the horizon. This was the image that came to her mind as Ance whiled away the interminable hours in this desolate place. A ship coming to take her home.
She had long ago stopped counting the days, it had grown too depressing by far. No matter how many she marked off her calendar or in her diaries, the remainder still loomed ahead, the weight of them the same, as backbreaking as the work of the porters who carry her belongings up and down the mountains of this cruel and barbaric place. Her greatest fear was that her husband would arrive at one of their homes, on one of his occasional acknowledgments that they were in fact married, to announce that the Viceroy had extended his term and they would be remaining for another five years.
It was a thought beyond bearing. Every day she was surrounded by hundreds of people, most of whom could not speak more than a civilized word or two to her. Their disdain was evident in every gesture they made, in every expression when they thought she was not paying attention. They were doing things to her food as well, she was certain. She always felt weak and ill, though perhaps that was just the abominable climate, so frigid and damp.
One day, as she spent another afternoon lost in pointless reverie, it came to her that it did no good to idly dream of such things, she needed to make chance bend to her will and act. Her husband spent most of his days pretending she did not exist, it could be easily done. She called her porters and had them gather her belongings and set off from her home in the misty highlands.
Ance told no one the purpose of her journey, swearing the porters to secrecy under threat of banishment. Would her husband even notice her absence? It was galling to her that he had insisted she come to this land, to exile herself from all she knew. His chances of advancement in the colonial hierarchy were better if he were seen to be a family man, he had told her, and she had seen the logic of it. And after all, they were husband and wife, and she had longed for his touch.
Her destination was the nearest harbor, a day’s journey away. She was unfamiliar with it, but she felt she could not risk the three day journey to the one she had disembarked from. Three days was enough time for her husband to catch up to her once he discerned her intentions, as he surely would. He was no fool after all, he had played her for one.
It was only after he had welcomed her to her new home in the highlands that she came to understand the true nature of the situation and why he had been so desperate for Ance to join him. It was not love or longing that had driven him to beckon her. He had taken up with one of the local women. She traveled with him as he surveyed all the territories he governed and they had spawned several half-witted children. What talk there would have been in the capital with his goings on, which he had foolishly hoped to quiet with his wife’s arrival. It had not, for he had refused to so much as hide his relationship with the other woman, carrying on as ever, with the result that his position in the hierarchy had not improved and Ance had suffered shame and embarrassment that she had been so duped by this rogue.
Their precarious journey down from the highlands passed without incident and Ance felt certain of her chances for success as they arrived at the harbor. But as the emerald blue of the ocean came glistening into sight, she saw that she had deluded herself. There was only a little fishing village at the far end of the narrow bay. The water was speckled with the canoes of the men out fishing for the day, but no vessel of any size would come here.
She wanted to throw herself to the ground and weep at the wretchedness of it all, to curse the porters for deceiving her. But she had only herself to blame. She had let herself become deceived by a reverie. Bad enough to be led on by a rogue as she had by her husband, now Ance had deluded herself. Madness was surely only a step away.
Just as she as about to tell the porters to return her and her belongings to the highlands and return to her fate, a ship appeared around the bend of the bay, curving along the coastline toward the harbor. Ance watched dumbstruck as the vessel dropped anchor and a small boat was sent ashore. Before any of the porters had time to react she ran toward the incoming boat, wading into the water and crying out for help.
“Please, please,” she said. “These men have kidnapped me. Take me on your ship, my family will gladly pay you a reward for my safe return.”
The men on the boat, faces heavy with tangled beards, squinted past her at the porters who remained on the beach watching what was happening. At a nod from the man at the head of boat, two others pulled her aboard while the rest loaded their muskets and let fire at the servants. She saw one porter fall on the beach while the rest began to run back up the beach, before she turned her head away, unable to watch.
The boat turned around and made its way back to the vessel, as she babbled her incoherent thanks to her saviors. None of them replied, their eyes intent on the beach to see if there would be any response to their shots. The boat was raised up back onto the vessel and she was brought before the captain, a scarred and vicious looking man who studied her through narrow eyes as she begged him again to return her home, telling him a tale of kidnapping and sorrow.
As she finished he nodded and said, in an unfamiliar accent, “Aye, we’ll see you brought home.”
She was so overwhelmed she could not find the words to speak and she worried she would collapse in a faint. The captain uttered a command in a dialect she did not understand and the vessel began to turn about. She looked about surreptitiously at her new companions and saw they were all gaunt faced and hollow-eyed, dressed in tatters and with a hunger to their expression that gave her chills.
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