Written for the Writer's Island prompt: Embark
I’m clinging for dear life onto the edge of one of the sails, high up above everyone else, all the rest of the crew who scurry about like beetles over the main deck of the Discovery. If I dare to shift my position I’m just able to make out the Captain himself, strolling leisurely amidst the general hubbub of activity that takes place around him. As I watch, he takes out a large white handkerchief from his pocket and blows his nose loudly – I can hear the sound clearly from right up here on the ship’s highest yard. I smiled to myself; I have a great affection for the captain, although I hardly know him really, for I’m only a nameless one of the ship’s crew, no one special. I’m one of tens of workers, pulling the ropes, setting the sails, getting the ship already to embark on this voyage – this voyage of discovery.
I crawl slowly along the yardarm, inching towards the centre mast, the steady centre. It seems to take a long time for me to reach the place where I can feel relatively at ease, where my heart can perhaps beat a little easier and my breathing become slightly less frantic. I’m still high up on the mast, with the sails flapping below me and there are even a few gulls screeching around my head – though this may be merely my imagination, for after all, we’re not yet at sea, this is only the Thames. Reaching the mast finally, I sheen my way down carefully, feeling the ropes, rough and abrasive, against my skin… for my skin is a soft female one, though I almost forget this, so caught up have I become in the part I am playing, in my disguise.
My rough fabric shoes make absolutely no sound as they make contact with the wooden deck, and the rest of my body follows noiselessly, but even so the captain turns his head to see who has moved the air around him, disturbed the stillness. I get to my feet slowly, very aware, as always, of the absence of my skirts rustling and dragging around my legs, dragging me down. My legs cry out with freedom, the freedom of the thin cotton breeches… I stare back at the captain as he meets my eyes directly, challenging. I’m sure for a moment that he recognises me, but of course he says nothing. It’s not so easy for me to keep my face raised and my eyes confronting his shamelessly, without blushing or turning away, as I have been told to do all my life, all these past twenty years. I’m trying so hard to meet the gentle eyes of Captain Cook… remembering that last time we lay together, quite some months past, perhaps it’s even years, I’m not quite sure. I want to raise my hand to touch the captain’s face, to let him know that I have come on board The Discovery beside him… for I could not possibly allow him to embark alone on this voyage.