The Physician has been summoned to the Captain’s cabin. A continuation, of sorts, of The Physician and the Siren.
An inferno of reflected lamp light blazes in the looking glass behind the Captain.
“You sent for me?” he asks.
She sits at her writing desk, a small strongbox at her elbow. She doesn’t look up. He has not been inside her cabin since the night he delivered the baby.
He shivers at the memory.
The Siren had overtaken a slaver bound for Hispaniola with a late summer storm blowing in from the southeast. With the ship stripped of anything the Captain deemed valuable, she’d ordered the crew’s execution. The Africans she’d unshackled and left aboard, the hull damaged but still afloat. He’d been the only one to notice an unsteadiness in her gait, a pearl sheen of sweat on her fierce, white brow.
Seven hours later he knelt between her knees, her screams muted by his belt between her teeth, as the cook and cabin boy carted hot water and linen to and from the galley. The Siren’s crew held their silence, but heavy, haunted chanting from the slaver, adrift nearby, sung the baby into the world between pale green flashes of Caribbean lightning.
As the child crowned, the Captain pushed herself up on her elbows. Her blue-gray eyes, glazed with pain, met his as she bore down.
From across the water, a deep, keening cry cut through the cacophony of rain and wind, and the rhythm of the chanting quickened as the child, a girl, took her first breath and wailed in response.
As if summoned by his thoughts, the baby mewls from its makeshift cradle, hung from the ceiling of the cabin near The Captain’s berth. She nudges the cradle with a distracted hand before smoothing out a folded sheet of paper; a letter, he surmises by the close-pressed penmanship on the page. She does not speak.
“I have a brother in Port-au-Prince,” she says, fingers caressing the worn creases of the letter. “For obvious reasons, I cannot go to him myself. You must take her—“
She pushes the gently swaying crib again as the baby grizzles from her swaddling.
“—To him. We shall send you ashore in the captain’s gig under cover of darkness. You will take a letter of introduction to him. He will take the child and see that you are given passage to England.”
He says nothing. There is nothing to say. She is law and god on this vessel.
The dancing amber light makes the room feel close, and he is more aware of the gentle roll of calm sea beneath him than he has been in weeks
“I presume you were going to England,” she adds as an afterthought.
She doesn’t turn her face to him, but he hears in her tone that he is dismissed.