Daniel Williams

Arwen Blackgrace: Part One

In Arwen Blackgrace, Stories, Writing on 15/07/2013 at 17:55

Arwen Blackgrace

Part One

 

Seastone was a port town on an island and it thrived on trading goods and sailors spending money ashore. The sailors and their captains and their cabin boys would come ashore and spend money in the taverns and cathouses before sailing to another part of the world. And we in Seastone would be left to count their money and be ready for the next lot to come ashore.

A little way from the harbour was a small pub called The Hope and Anchor. I’d been working there a few weeks, scrubbing the floors and serving the drinks. At nights The Hope and Anchor would be full and I’d be weaving around the drunks to collect empty tankards.

I picked up an empty tankard from a table when a sailor grabbed me around the waist and pulled me onto his lap.

‘Hello there, girlie.’

His teeth were rotting and yellow, and his breath reeked of fish. I struggled to get up, but he wouldn’t let me go.

‘You’re a pretty one,’ he said. ‘How much for you, then?’

I clenched my teeth and thought that I was meant for better things than this.

A voice from across the pub spoke up. The voice of the landlord was soft and measured, but somehow rose over the noise of the pub.

‘Let the girl be.’

The sailor let go of me and I got to my feet.

‘I was only messing,’ he muttered.

I made my way to the bar and put the empty tankards down. The landlord, Giles, gave me a sympathetic look. His eyes were very blue and he had a small white beard. He gently put his hand on my arm.

‘Don’t let it bother you.’

I looked around the pub, at all of the drunks and the sailors. They had no idea who I was. If they knew then they would fall out of their chairs and go out of their way to treat me with respect. That made me smile.

Giles took out a heavy brass bell from the bar and gave it to me. ‘Time, please!’ He called while I rang the bell.

Last orders when taken and the old-timers shuffled out. As I snuffed out the candles, Giles took his keys from his belt to lock up. As he opened the door, I said, ‘Giles, I wanted to ask you-’

He raised a hand. ‘I’m very tired, lass,’ he said. He gently smiled and said, ‘Let’s talk about it in the morning.’

There was so much I wanted to ask, but instead I just nodded.

He said, ‘See you in the morning, Beatrice.’

I went upstairs to the room where I lived. The room was small and it had a dresser, though I hadn’t much use for it as I only had a few clothes. Out of the window I had a view of the harbour and the sea. I sat on the bed and looked outside and listened to the sounds from the sea.

After I left the orphanage and got the job at The Hope and Anchor I’d had to share a room with Giles in his house. It was a smaller room than this, with only a partition across it to separate where Giles and I slept. People gossiped about the landlord taking home his barmaid every night, but it was never anything like that. Even though I had the room above The Hope and Anchor now, I still heard snide comments about living with Giles.

I lay back on the bed and ignored sounds the drunken shouts of the sailors and the fake moaning of their women, and instead I focussed on the sea and the waves. I was told Giles Corrigan was a good man to work for. The girls who’d worked for him had left Seastone to sail away to other parts of the world.

There was so much I wanted to ask Giles. Every time I tried to question him it was always, ‘We’ll talk tomorrow’ or ‘Not now, lass.’  And when I did get him to talk about it, he never wanted to say much, just the same- ‘You can’t tell anybody about this’ and ‘You cannot tell a soul. If, God forbid, any of the Governor’s men should find out… The Governor hates the whole pack of Blackgraces, he’d hang every last one if he had a chance, so if ever he found out about you, Beatrice…’ Giles shook his head and wouldn’t say anymore.

I lay back on the bed and ran the name through my head- Blackgrace, Blackgrace, Blackgrace.

*****

A fist hammered against the front door. Early morning sunshine came through the window as I mopped the floor. The fist thumped at the door again.

‘We’re closed,’ I called.

Thump, thump, thump.

‘We’re closed,’ I called, and said to myself, ‘it’s the opposite of what open means.’

‘We’re here,’ the voice from behind the door said, ‘on the Governor’s business. Kindly open up.’

My heart beat a little faster. I put the mop in the bucket and went over to the door. I took out the bolt and moved the latch. Standing outside were three of the Governor’s officers. All three dressed in identical midnight blue uniform with sabres hanging at their sides. The officer at the door had a blonde moustache.

I said, ‘The landlord’s not in.’

Blonde-moustache officer said, ‘But we must come in.’

Meekly, I moved aside. Their boots echoed around the pub as they came inside. Two officers stood on either side of the pub and the third, with the moustache, sat down and took out a pipe.

‘I’m Lieutenant Wiseacre,’ he said filling his pipe with tobacco. ‘And you are Beatrice Seastone. Is that correct?’

I winced. Seastone was the surname given to any orphan on the island. It wasn’t uncommon. The sailors sometimes left the whores with more than their coin.

‘Yes,’ I said, ‘if you want to speak to the landlord-’

‘That’s why we’re here,’ he said. ‘Giles Corrigan is dead.’

My insides turned cold.

Lieutenant Wiseacre said, ‘I was told you lived with him.’

‘Not anymore. I have a room above the pub…’

A sword tapped against the wall as an officer rocked back and forth on his heels.

‘There was a break-in. Somebody came into Corrigan’s room and shot him in the head.’ A puff of smoke came from the Lieutenant’s pipe. He took it from his mouth and said, ‘We were under the belief you lived with Giles Corrigan. So, where were you last night?’

‘Here.’

‘All night?’

‘Yes.’

‘Can anybody confirm this?’

‘No,’ I said.

‘Hmm,’ the Lieutenant replied. He puffed on his pipe.

I said, ‘I liked Giles. He was a good man. He looked after me, he didn’t mistreat me.’

‘Yet somebody put a fatal dent in his forehead.’ Lieutenant Wiseacre said, ‘Perhaps he had another woman?’

‘It wasn’t like that,’ I said.

‘You wouldn’t be the first jealous lover.’

Slowly I said, ‘It wasn’t like that.’

The Lieutenant looked at me and said nothing. The pipe smoke danced around his face. He took the pipe from his mouth to his hands. ‘Violent murder is something the Governor does not tolerate.’ He got to his feet. ‘If this is unsolved by the end of the day, the Governor himself may take a personal interest in the affairs of Giles Corrigan the landlord. The Governor does not tolerate murderers running free on his island.’

He beckoned to the other officers and led them to the door. As he stood in the doorway, he turned to say, ‘I would stay put. We may have need of you in the future.’

He left, closing the door behind him. I felt myself sinking to the floor and pressed my back against the bar and hugged my knees to my chest.

Giles was dead.

Shot.

And know I would never know…

That day, weeks ago, he’d said to me, ‘Beatrice, what do you know about the Blackgraces?’

I think I was washing mugs and tankards at the time.

‘Only stories,’ I’d said. ‘They’re pirates.’

He leaned closer to me. ‘Do you know about William Blackgrace’s child?’

I had said no and Giles, with some reluctance, told me.

‘The Blackgrace’s have always been the most revered pirates. William Blackgrace was the Captain, with his brother Byron was his second-in-command. William had a wife and two babies- a girl and a boy. While Captain Blackgrace was at sea, rivals kidnapped his wife and the children and held them hostage. The Captain was wild with rage. He and his brother Byron raised a fleet and stormed the island where his family were held. The rivals were slaughtered, but when William Blackgrace found his family his wife and son were dead.

‘His infant daughter, Arwen Blackgrace, was never found. William Blackgrace was convinced his daughter was alive and taken somewhere, maybe to be ransomed again. He searched for years.’

I said, ‘And the baby?’

‘The baby was never found. Nobody knows what happened to her. This was…nearly twenty years ago,’ Giles said. ‘She was looked for, a girl with red hair and blue eyes. And…’ he said, ‘and a scar. A long scar on her left shoulder.’

I was an orphan, abandoned as a baby, never known who my parents were. I was seventeen. My hair was red. My eyes were blue. For as long as I could remember there had been a scar on my left shoulder. I had no idea how I got it.

‘Giles…’

‘You mustn’t say anything about this, Beatrice.’ His watery blue eyes stared hard at me. ‘You cannot tell a soul. We’d both be in danger if anybody knew.’

All my life I had felt like I had never fitted it. Not at the orphanage as a child, not as an older girl, looking after the new orphans. Not even here, at The Hope and Anchor, had I felt like I belonged. I had always felt there had to be somewhere else for me. Somewhere I really, truly, belonged.

But Giles was murdered.

He may have been the only one who knew if I really was Arwen Blackgrace. For a moment, I thought what if he was killed because of me? Everyone thought I was living with him? The Blackgraces were feared-

I dismissed this. Nobody knew. I didn’t even know Giles knew about the scar on my shoulder.

I got off the floor and rushed to the front door. I quickly put the latch on and bolted the door. I told myself there was nothing to be afraid of.

*****

My mind was full of thoughts I couldn’t fully grasp. From the window in the room I live in, I watched the ships make their way from the port and towards the horizon. I wished I could disappear into the horizon like that.

No noise stirred me until I heard glass shattering at the very back of the pub.

I stood up and crept out of the room and onto the landing.

A hushed voice said, ‘-bloody tell everyone that we’re here.’

‘Would you hush up,’ said another voice.

‘You’re the one making all the noise.’

Peering over the landing, I could see the two men in dark clothing. One was large and bald, the other was small and had thick black hair.

‘It’s the one with the scar we want,’ the bald one said. My eyes widened. ‘And the red hair.’

One looked at the other. ‘Just how many bloody girls do you think Corrigan’s got stashed here?’

‘Never know with old Corrigan.’

They were making their way around the bar and towards the stairs. I crept back into my room, heart pounding. They might have been Giles’ murderers. Their being here and Giles’ death could not be a coincidence.

The men were heading towards the stairs. I looked about but I could see nowhere to hide. The steps on the stairs creaked as they ascended.

******

Part Two: 18/7/13

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