Th' applause were t'underous, as always. JB 'ad outdone 'imself, and th' ladies above me were prob'ly tossin every garment they had at 'im. I were wishin' they'd give it up already so's I could concentrate. Once th' noize died down some, JB come crashin' inta me room th' same way 'e did every night.
"What did you think, Emile? A command performance, no?" After closin' an' lockin' the door behind 'im, he picked up th' brandy I'd left by the door, and swirled his way across th' room to where I were sittin. He were stripped to th' waist, drippin' sweat from th' lights and th' heat, an' after a sip of 'is drink started washin' th greasepaint off 'is face.
"Hmm? Oh, yes. Saint Crispin. Moving, Sir."
"You do not like Shakespeare?"
"No, I enjoy it very much. Especially Richard III. But doesn' it raise yer 'ackles t' pl....OW!" 'E were standin' at th' basin, still drippin, wif 'is miniature pistol pointed at me gut. Th' balls it fired weren't big, and there weren't enough shot for 'em to stick, but they still left a welt an' a bruise.
"Watch your language please, Emile."
"Sorry sir. Aren't you, how should I put this, doesn't it rankle you to portray one of England's greatest kings?"
"Non. Why should it?"
"Well, you are a proud Frenchman, and the animosity between your nations is well known."
"Yes, but when I am onstage, I have no nation. No church. No family. I am he who I portray. Or she. Either way." He dried off, sat down in th' chair opposite me, and tended to 'is brandy and th' reloadin' of 'is pistol at th' same time.
"And you don't feel embarassed to perform in a woman's clothes?"
"Whatever the role requires, my dear Emile. It is not my decision to make."
'E'd had me in 'is basement, below th' stage, fer near on four months. 'Is rules were simple - I weren't there, I did whot 'e said wifout question, and above all else, I weren't there. While th' theater above us were empty, it were my classroom. It's halls, th' stage, th' seats, e'en th' gallery where th' Governer sat when 'e came to th' show. At three bells, I were to be below decks, in me library, bedroom, study, gymnasium - all were one room - th' basement. 'E'd lock me in, and not let me leave until 'e were sure everyone were gone, and 'is doors were all locked above. "What I will teach you," 'e said, "is how to pass as one of them. I do not know what you desire from them, and I do not want to know. All Mary has told me is that what you want is under the eye of the Governor, and I dislike him as much as anyone, so I will help you. Your money," 'e kicked me trunk, "will be returned to you - minus what is needed for clothes, food, and supplies - but for now it remains with me. You are unarmed, yes?"
"Aye, I left me cutlass and pistol in me bunk."
"That is good. Now, this is your room. Begin reading. You will read everything here before we are done, and I will help you understand."
"Thot's a fair bit o' parchment, mate. 'Ow long's this gunna take?"
"That is up to you, Emile. A good start," he motioned to th' washbowl in th' corner, "will be a shave. You do not smell like a woman or a dead fish, so I assume you have bathed recently. You will do both daily. And you will speak properly from now on."
I examin'd 'is raizor - it were sharp enough t' cut th' smile from a masthead wifout leavin' a mark. "Wot ye mean, prope...OW!"
"Properly, Emile. I will see you in the morning. Goodnight." 'E closed an' locked th' door, and I wunner'd wot I'd got into. I waited fer th' kettle to sing fer me, and set t' shavin'. It'd been a while since I'd seen me face wifout a bit o' beard onnit. It weren' bad. Ling wuld prolly laugh. After me shave, I found a bottle of whuskey inna cupboard, and looked at me books. Pickin' wun at random, I sit down an' read th' cover.
"Meta...mo...Metamorphoses. Ovid. Moight as well."
O'er th' next months, I'd read damn near all ov 'em. We'd spent a lot of time talkin', me and JB, and 'e'd helped me unnerstan' wot I couldn't see on me own. Durin' th' night, if 'e weren' off wif some fan or other, 'e'd march me aroun' th' theatre whoile I read. 'E taught me 'ow dem skinny swords work usin' th' blunt ones in th' prop closet, but I still thinks a cutlass an' pistol be better then them slivers o' steel. Mos' days I'd only as much t' eat as wuld keep me alive, save fer Fridays. JB, 'e were a believer, and on Fridays after th' show, we'd 'ave a right fine pasta dinner wif plenty o' drinks t' go wif it. Wun night I'd got 'im deep innis cups, thinkin' I'd be able t' get out fer a bit o' time wif Ling, an' 'e start'd askin' questions. "Emile?"
"You say you were raised by the ladies...which ladies, exactly, are we talking about?"
"The fine women of Miss Kate's Brothel."
"Your mother was a .... painted woman?"
"She was a whore, sir." I pour'd 'im another, and saw 'is eyes widen as I called me mother by 'er profession.
"That's a bit indelicate, isn't it?"
"For who? I'm perfectly comfortable with it, as well as the fact that I am a bastard. Miss Kate was very clear on both points."
"She sounds dreadful."
"Dreadfully large, yes, but very loving, in her way. She hoped I might fetch a good price, so she taught me to read, fed me well, and made sure I was completely obedient to my betters."
He paled quicker then any lass I've ever seen. "Fet..ch...a good price?"
"Yes. She sold me to a group of rum runners on my eighth birthday. I'm not sure what they paid, but Kate seemed very pleased."
"My god, Emile...."
"Your god indeed! You see, these were not only rum runners, they were Zealots. I was lucky."
"Yes. It was from them that I learned of him, and his chosen people. I was twelve, no, thirteen when I jumped ship and signed on with my Captain that I might be a pirate."
"I did not see you that way, Emile."
"As a believer?"
He laughed, "no, as one who would flee from his master instead of running him through." 'E got up faster than I'd thot 'im capable ov, and were at the door in a flash. "I think I've had more than my share of wine tonight, Emile, and if I'm not careful, it may come to be known that you are here. Therefore, I bid you goodnight," and 'e were out th' door, turnin' th' key, before I could clear 'alf the room.
"Damnit, ye blaggard! I'll skin ye whun next I sees ye!" I shouted at th' top of me lungs, defiant toward 'is rules.
"No, Emile. You won't." 'Is voice were soft from behin' th' door, "you still need me. See you in the morning."
'E finished reloadin' 'is pistol, an' handed me 'is empty glass. I set down me book, and walked to th' cabinet to refill us both. I 'adn't skinned 'im yet, and were passin' sure I wouldn't. "What are you reading tonight, hmm?" 'E picked up th' book, keepin' me place wif a finger, and read th' cover to me. "Persian Letters. What interest does a pirate have in politics, eh?"
"Didn't strike me as politics. Well, not at first. Montesquieu was good at hiding himself behind his characters."
"As you will be, Emile."
"My thanks." I 'anded 'im another drink, and sat down again wif me own.
"So what strikes you from this? Anything?"
"Letter forty-six. I read it last night, and it has stayed with me."
He smiled at me, and returned my book. "What did it say?"
"The line I've been considering reads, "I would serve Thee according to Thy will; but each man whom I consult would have me serve Thee according to his.""
"And this applies to you because I keep you here in the basement?"
"No, because in spite of the language and the clothes I wear, I am a pirate. This, to me, is the essence of that. I serve as I can, not as they would have me."
He rais'd 'is glass to me, "a toast then, Emile. You are ready for your final training."
I touched mine t' his, "what's that then?"
"Finish your drink first. And then have another." 'E weren't won fer bein' drunk, and I knew summin' were comin', but since the night I tried t' get out, 'e'd not let me drink me fill again. I weren't about to let this pass. Instead of th' two, I had four quick ones. By th' time I turned 'round, 'e 'ad a whistlin' kettle in 'is 'and, and were pourin' it in th' basin. "Come here, Emile, quickly. Put your face in the water. It will burn you, but only for a moment."
"What are you suggesting, that I boil off my face?"
If I weren' drunk, and 'e 'adn't been true to me, I'd 'ave twisted 'is head, taken 'is key, an' been done wif it. But I were drunk, and 'e'd been true to me. It hurt more than I'd expected, an' 'is hand held me in th' stuff 'till me need fer air give me th' strength t' pull away. As soon as there were air in me lungs, it came out as a scream, an 'e started pourin' cold water o'er me mask t' stop th' burn.
"Emile, you will do this every morning until you have what you seek. You will use the cream I have prepared after you do so - it will give you a terrible appearance, but no one will recognize you. Keep your resolve, Emile. In the morning, I will tell you where to go next." 'E sigh'd at me, curled up on th' floor, whimperin'. "You will become used to this. You serve in your way, and your strength will see you through it."
Cap'n never told me to do anythin' like that. Worst 'e ever had for me were scrubbin' th' bilge, or scrapin' barnacles at low tide. But one time I'd got hit wif a bit ov mast after a cannonball'd splinter'd it. "Keep yer pain in mind, boy! And make them wot stand between ye and yer plunder unnerstand retribution!"
There's no need to stand on ceremony, nor call to impress.