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Dh'èirich an Festering
Dh'èirich an Festering is Scottish for "The Festering Rose." Festering, in some contexts means "spoiling, deteriorating" and roses are generally represent love. Basically, the name of this story is "The Deteriorating Love." However Dh'èirich an Festering is also the ship's name. Keep that in mind as you read as I have tried numerous accounts of irony and symbolism in this as well.
It was a fair day the day Lady Arlin had set to the sea. The sky was vacant of a single cloud and the rays of the sun stretched across the vast land. It was days like those that drew tears to her eyes. Standing on the rocky shore, the fragmented shells poking the soles of her weathered feet, Lady Arlin held the golden chain closely to her bosom. Outside of overdue contempt from the villagers she passed each day prior her walk along the coast, it was all she had left from her first marriage.
He was a dark man, an evil man, but Lady Arlin, then in her youth, saw little past his dashing features: a sparkling smile, flawless skin, and combed hair. He walked, much like Lady Arlin herself, with a sense of confidence and independence in each step, hiding only his deepest emotions from the provocative world around him. His eyes always level with the world around him, never once drifting from the lips of his fellow conversationalist. It was one of the many qualities Lady Arlin had first fallen for. However, as the young bride had soon discovered, her first husband was externally the man she had been searching for, but, internally, he was a torment raging havoc on her innocent heart.
It was not until they had wed when Lady Arlin had first noticed the other qualities he had contained from exposure. The young woman soon found herself no longer in love, but in hatred. She despised her husband with the last ounce of her soul. He knew not how to care for a woman yet knew a woman would care for him. He spat. He cursed. And he stripped Lady Arlin of everything she once was: beautiful, caring, and adventurous.
"Lady Arsenic," Bernice, the ground's servant, cooed from the iron gates, the outermost boundary of the prison her second husband- an even crueler man than the first- had established while he was away. Bernice, although loyal to both Lady Arlin and her husband, still fell into the well-laid trap of deceit that the villagers had set; she was not exempt from overhearing the rumors.
"Lady Arsenic, please, his majesty will not be pleased with you stepping from the courtyard."
"Bernice, have you ever wondered what was out there?"
The servant took no notion forward, but rather stared at the ground. "Murderers, thugs, man-eating beasts." She paused a moment, her dull eyes raising to focus on the incoming tide. "Pirates."
"Yes, ma'am. And they would be willing at any time to rob you- especially you- of your riches."
Lady Arlin lingered by the coast for a second longer, considering the very thought of escape from the palace. Yet, she turned and obeyed the wishes of her second husband- the soon-to-be prince- becoming imprisoned once again by her betrothed.
Yet the sea had, almost simultaneously, become imprisoned in her mind. The lulling of the water's lullaby easing her every fear. The refreshing chill against her polished skin. As she sat at the room-length table alone, she had entered a world she had known only once before.
Lady Arlin had once resided in a cottage alongside the Northern sea coast. She grew watching the changing tides from her bedroom window, a room she had shared with four brothers, all of which were older by several years. Lady Arlin, or Golden Hair, as they called her, cruelly mocking her amber locks from their own fiery red, spent many of her days alone sitting back on the dock awaiting the arrival of her father, a weary whaler. Without guidance from a mother, she grew to be like her brothers: tough and relentless. However, there was always something more that Lady Arlin could never place segregating her from her family. And it was more than just her golden hair and femininity.
It was true. Lady Arlin could not blend into any society. The daughter of a widowed Irish whaler had presented a share of its own problems, most of which concluded in a single word: loneliness. And there she sat many years later at the table of the richest and most attractive man in the kingdom… alone.
"Lady Arsenic, are you ill?"
"Not ill, Bernice."
Not ill by any standards. Lady Arlin was worse than ill. On her quest to find the perfect ending, she had merely found an ending, not nearly close to happy nor perfect. The tide flooded her every thought, sweeping away the past, bringing in the new. She knew where she needed to go.
"I think," she began, addressing the young servant, "That I will just go to my chambers. Please tell my husband that I do not wish to join him for dinner tonight."
Bernice nodded, allowing Lady Arlin to reach the back stairwell, which had since been weathered and worn by the great storm several fortnights earlier. But in a matter of seconds, the fair woman turned her head and, seeing as though her servant was gone, rushed to the cusp of the courtyard, lingering hesitantly at the iron gateway.
"Ah...quite a temptation, is it not?"
She turned and peered into the night, unsure of where the voice had aroused from. She feared it to be her husband.
"Who...who is there?"
The voice laughed, but remained concealed by the darkness.
"Show yourself!" She demanded however shakily. "Or...or I...I will release my royal guards."
The gravel crunched as the voice stepped closer to Lady Arlin.
"Call your guards." The voice was plain and flat and oddly calm. It gave chills to Lady Arlin. She wrapped her fingers tighter around the metal rod.
"Why are you out here?" she pressed. "What do you want? To steal my jewels? My throne? Me?"
There was a chuckle.
"Don't fret, my little dear, if I wanted anything of yours, I would already have it. No, I want something more." And then the voice stepped from the shadows, peeled back the hood of the navy cloak, and let a toothy smile shine beneath the flickering light of the lantern. "I want your freedom."
"What freedom?" Lady Arlin eventually scoffed at the man.
He was a grotesque figure. Deep pock marks lined his face only fading upon reaching the bristles of his unshaven, crooked chin. His teeth glittered in the poor light, a product of golden and silver caps, and his dark hair hung long and messily around his prominent cheekbones. And the smell! Lady Arlin dared not breathe standing beside the man; it was an odor of musk and rum, two things the lady much despised from her childhood. But he was tall and, in some aspect, fairly attractive.
Lady Arlin took a step back, her heel crunching on the loose gravel. "What freedom?" she repeated slightly louder.
"What freedom?" he mocked her. "What freedom? Dear, you don't know what it means to be not free, do you?"
She could muster no response.
"Do you?!" He raises his hand towards her, but pulled back last second with her slightest flinch. "Well do you know what it means to be free?"
Again, she could muster no answer.
The man grunted and adjusted his cloak. "You can either come or you can go, the choice is entirely yours."
Lady Arlin turned back momentarily. A wave of black had just swept across the east wing and it would only be a matter of time before a little spark would begin to flicker in the west as her husband would divulge himself in the warm bath he had taken each night, without doubt, every night of his entire life. But without fail that light would too fade in the darkness and the house would remain dark until the sun would rise at dawn. She turned back to the horizon. Dark, darker than the house would ever be, but so still and so peaceful, something about the lulling tide called her, just as it had done in her youth. Her eyes flickered in the very direction of the ugly stranger for only a moment before she turned back once more to the house.
Hand pressed against her bosom and beads of perspiration forming above her lip, she closed her eyes. "When do we leave?"
It was a fair day Lady Arlin set to sea. Before the sun, she stood on the rocky shoals, Italian leather covering her soles and a five layer dress over her body. And she still stood shivering as the sea mist rose up. The stranger was nowhere to be seen.
Just as the sun began to arise over the lulling tide, Lady Arlin grew restless. Had this been another one of her betrothed’s tricks? Were the guards stationed for yet another capture of her? Was Alasdair, her husband, watching from their bedroom window with a cruel, mocking grin? The shifting of the gravel made it clear that she was no longer alone. She turned slightly, mainly out of fear, looking for any badge of the royals.
Lady Arlin let out a sigh of relief as the stranger stepped from the shrubbery. "What took you so long?"
She knew it was best not to ask of the business and instead faced her large chest on the sand.
The stranger stared at it blankly.
"What the hell is that?"
He kept his eyes on the trunk.
"And how you think you're gonna get it there?"
He laughed and pushed the trunk forward with the heel of his boot. "The first step of losing your freedom: you take it, you carry it."
Lady Arlin however disdainfully scorned the man, but did indeed reach forward and lift the trunk.
The stranger walked a ways down the shoreline, a heavy limp, which had gone unnoticed in the mask of darkness, had slowed him slightly, and he only stopped periodically for Lady Arlin to readjust her grip on her belongings, until they reached a wooden tall ship.
The mast alone stood to be seventeen and a half feet and two large cream sails hung loosely from the thin, wooden yards. A gentle breeze continuously puffed and collapsed them in the crisp morning air. On the bow was a large wooden mermaid carved delicately by hand. And the most prominent feature of them all was the black bandana piercing in the crystal sky.
Lady Arlin turned to face him. "You're a pirate."
The stranger smiled toothlessly, a glitter in his eyes. "That won't be a problem for you now would it?"
"No," she lied, turning her blushed face from his. Even after years of lying to her husbands, she still could not perfect the act.
The stranger grumbled, hobbled closer to the ship, and then hollered something hardly intelligent and scarcely versed that Lady Arlin could not comprehend. Moments later a wooden dock was slid down the side, crashing down as it hit the sand.
Lady Arlin looked skeptically at the barnacle encrusted surface. "You expect me to go on there?"
"I expect you to do what I tell you."
"You sacrificed your freedom."
Lady Arlin bit her bottom lip and proceeded forward, dragging the chest behind her.
The upper deck of the ship was not much better than the dock. Seaweed and barnacles were spread across the decking. Lines of salt and water were drawn coarsely over the boards. And the smell! Lady Arlin gagged as she walked further onto the ship; it was the smell of fish, of musk, and of rum.
The stranger nudged her forwards with a brisk touch of his hand. "Keeping walking!"
And so Lady Arlin continued forward, nose upward, daring not to turn her head nor meet eyes with the stranger. She had sold her freedom, not her dignity.
"Marge!" the stranger hollered down the ladder to the lower deck. Moments later a woman, rounded in figure and decorated in filth, climbed up the ladder.
She wore a torn, brown dress, of which fit tightly around her gut, and a creamy bandana in her graying hair. Her face, which consisted of two oddly positioned eyes of different sizes, a flat, plump nose, and two fat lips that, when parted, revealing a crooked mess of yellow teeth, spoke not of desperation, but of courage and resilience. Her skin was black.
"Wha' ye want, Cap'n?" she growled.
"Lady Arlin of Grelinberry," she introduced, refusing to extend her hand.
Marge turned to the stranger with a scowl. "You sure know how t'pick 'em, Cap'n."
"Help her to the lower deck."
"She work fo' herself now."
He turned to see Lady Arlin outstretched on the chest, heaving and sweating in almost equally alike. He grabbed Marge by the ear, the woman instantly flinching under his hand.
"Please, Cap'n," she trembled.
He released his grip. "Now help her get to the lower deck!"
"Yyyes, Cap'n," she nodded and scurried over to the chest and Lady Arlin, who stood and slowly went to lower deck, without once looking at the pirate nor Marge.
For three days, Lady Arlin did not see the light of day. Instead, she laid back on a string hammock, rocking with the ocean waves. She had spent those three days crying, not only of homesickness, but of general sickness as well. The sea was not her friend and, unless there were others than the pirate and Marge, the crew were not her friends either. Those three days she had spent wailing and whining without a single soul to question her condition. So, at the dawning of the fourth day, she peeled herself from the hammock and stomped to the upper deck.
The pirate was sitting back against the mainsail post, a flask of rum in one hand and the second hand floating freely in the breeze. He seemed sober, but dazed. A crooked smile crossed his face as she walked to him.
"You finally accept the reality?"
"You will bring me back home this instant!"
"You gave up your freedom, you'll never get it back," he laughed with an air of drunken sobriety.
Lady Arlin bit her lip so hard she thunk it to bleed. "I am tired and hungry and thirsty and sick and none of you even care! I smell like a peasant! I cry like a baby! I sleep next to a god-damned n***** for Christ's sake! What does a lady have to do to win back her freedom?!"
"Never give it up in the first place," he smirked.
She reached for the post to steady herself, fraudulent tears forming in the corner of her bloodshot eyes.
"If you're hungry, we got food. If you're thirsty, we got water. If you're sick, get used to it, because you are not going home!"
Lady Arlin quivered, but remained on the deck.
The pirate nodded and proceeded to overlook her dress, his eyes falling carelessly on her bosom.
"You cannot work in that."
"I am not working. I am going home."
Lady Arlin kicked off her shoes and gingerly balanced herself on the side of the ship, as she once did on her father's dinghy, the rope swinging overhead. She grasped it so tightly it bit into her skin.
The pirate stood, narrowing his eyes, which had instantly become stone. "What are you doing?"
"I just told you."
"You're going home?"
She looked at the choppy waters, swallowing the arising lump in her throat.
"Yes, I am."
"You're swimming, I presume."
"With the sharks?"
"About four hundred miles?"
He threw his hands back in the air and smiled. "Well, go ahead then."
Lady Arlin looked back at the ocean, her entire body quivering.
The captain smiled wider. "Well, you going?"
She remained silent.
"Come on, your majesty," he sneered. "Your villagers must be distraught. And your husband, oh, he must be ever so worried. So what are you waiting for?"
She stared out at the water, tears burning in the back of her eyes.
“Your husband,” he taunted. “Don’t you want to see him again? Don’t you want to feel his love, receive his affection, have his children?”
Her left foot slipped forward and a tiny yelp escaped from between her lips. The captain neared, rather quickly for a crippled drunk, to steady her body with a single touch of her waist. Lady Arlin collapsed backward into his arms, sobbing lightly.
The captain said nothing. He knew as much as he need to know about her now. He set her back on the dock, put the flask in her hand, and walked away.
Lady Arlin looked down at her hand between the blur of the tears and then back up at the wheel, where the captain now stood with a blank expression. He was sober.
"Why did you give me this?" she asked, walking closer to him. The salt and the wood stung her raw soles.
"Take a swig."
"Do what you may now, but you'll need it at one point. I did."
Lady Arlin looked at the flask once more. Her mind was made up. She set it on the grimy deck.
"You'll regret that." He stooped over to take a swig of his own.
Lady Arlin continued to stare. She wiped her face with the corner of her sleeve, the makeup smeared across her cheeks. "Why...why do you do this?"
"Why do I pirate? Why do I steal? Why do I drink? Why do I do anything?"
"Why do you take away freedom?" she clarified.
He paused, took another swig, and stared out at the horizon. "Because I do."
They travelled many days and many nights. Lady Arlin had cried every one of those days. She missed Grelinberry dearly. She cried out for her husband, however big of a brute he could be, and she cried out for her servants, but, above all, she cried out for her freedom. Why had she even merely considered such an idea as selling her freedom? Surely being back at Grelinberry would be better. She would be laying beside her husband on their sheets of silk, imported from Egypt earlier in the month, and they would be making love, however much forced on her by her betrothed, beside the flickering candles of India and the endless bottles of wine from the French vineyards, a place called Lieu du vin.
The captain had taken those days with a lot of rum. He was barely sober for more than an hour. He awoke drunk, fell asleep drunk. It was a wonder on how they managed not to wreck on the course of the journey.
It was a gray day when the two had finally spoke at all. Marge had been ill below deck for several days, it was supposedly the weather at bay that was responsible for her condition, and neither of them had eaten since. Lady Arlin had never missed a meal in her life back in Grelinberry, but, after sacrificing her freedom to the captain, she had withered away by a few mere pounds. Her stomach now growled with detest.
Coincidentally, the captain, who had much adapted to a life of unsatisfiable hunger, staggered below deck at the same time as his prisoner.
"Where's my food?!" he roared in a torment of drunken rage.
"She's sick, you bastard," Lady Arlin spat. "The least you could do is care."
His left brow twitched as he stared. "The least I could do? The least I could do?! Cook, woman, cook! That’s what you’re good for!"
Lady Arlin set her jaw. "I would if there were food!"
"Then you get some," he growled.
She stared at his flask. "Give it to me."
He seemed to sober up for a brief moment.
"You...you finally giving in?"
She smiled, took the flask, and bashed it over his head. The captain stumbled backwards, his hands thrashing.
He fell back onto the second hammock, Lady Arlin's crib, a stream of red oozing from his forehead and down his cheek. It soaked his skin deep, trickling out after many years of being untouched. Lady Arlin shook as she saw his state, it was one she had worn one too many times. Marge stirred slightly, but was unable to open her swollen eyes even the least bit.
Lady Arlin closed her eyes and, feeling the queasiness return, walked back to the upper deck. His face was engrained in her memory, the clouds each forming into the same likeness of the sorrow and the pity.
Marge had miraculously felt better by the next morning. The captain, on the other hand, was not even able to arouse from his own chambers. Lady Arlin, although keeping a wide berth, had heard of his condition.
"How this hap'n?" Marge had asked, rising from the lower decks, it was the first time she had seen the sunlight in three days time. She had mostly healed, but her arms were still rashed and her face was still red, the fever had weakened, but not entirely disappeared.
Lady Arlin knew not how to explain it.
"You two was in a fightin' mood, aye?"
She bowed her head, not daring contact with the other woman. Marge seemed not the least bit bothered by Lady Arlin's avoidance.
"He a good man, drink like a fish, but he a good man."
"He's a brute and a pirate and he stole my freedom!"
"He ne'er stoled, you sold you freedum."
"He is a scumbag!"
"He a good man."
"Stop saying that!"
"Can't lie to you," she pouted, turning back to her duties. "He a good man. You do not change me mind on that."
Lady Arlin pouted too. "Well I am a lady of nobility and a woman of honor, my word will forever be greater than your own, you damn n*****!"
And, with that being said, Lady Arlin turned, her golden hair flying into the woman's dark face, not a single bit of remorse nor shame in what she had said. It was the truth as far as she concerned herself, the truth she had heard her first husband speak so openly about.
"She is not no damn n*****, you scoundrel," the captain moaned as Lady Arlin's heels knocked on the wood outside his chambers. "She is a proud woman, a good woman, and you will learn much by her."
Lady Arlin considered to pretend not to hear him, but the nausea in her stomach returned, stopping her sore soles from lifting from the salted floor.
"What do you want, Captain?" she spat, refusing to turn her head. She knew he would be laying there undressed, a bandage around his forehead- that was how those things always ended.
"An apology," he whispered, his voice thick and coarse. It was far softer than the one she had first encountered. There was no doubt to Lady Arlin that he was drunk or high on one thing or another.
"An apology?" she mocked. "For what? Damaging your penniless, ugly face?"
"My face can be repaired, it can be fixed- this is not the first time, trust me- but Marge, her face cannot. She is black by nature, dark for life, and she knows that...she knows that."
Lady Arlin grew curious with his fading tone and took a quick glance to her left. The captain was sitting up in the midst of torn fabric, mainly scraps of weathered sails and navy-colored patches, his face pale and dotted in beads of perspiration. He wore nothing save a blanket around him waist. There were no bandages, no wraps, no starched linens. He swayed and then he shivered and then he sweated and he froze.
"Captain?" she cooed, nearing closer. "Captain? Are you alright?"
He waved her off, keeping his eyes closed.
"I'm fine, I'm fine," he mumbled, his words slurring.
But he was not fine, even the unskilled, but educated Lady Arlin knew that. She brushed back her golden hair and sat beside him, a sigh suppressing from between her two lips. She ran the palm of her hand across his bare leg.
"You're burning up," she whispered into his ear.
She found the flask dormant beneath her feet. She sighed, stooped over, and took the metal into her hand. With a brief moment of hesitation, Lady Arlin uncapped it and drank a long swig. Her stomach instantly lurched and her mind contorted, it was an array of color and life...and confusion. Lady Arlin threw herself against the beams, clinging tightly to the wood, as tears fell from her face.
The captain stayed silent throughout the entire episode, his body quivering and his skin growing paler. But a smile crossed his face as Lady Arlin drew her frame straight, unknotted her precious locks of gold, and ripped back four layers of dress. Lady Arlin had finally accepted the journey.
"Marge," Lady Arlin called out as she reached the sight of the warm sun, the morning clouds had subsided. "Marge, I-"
The woman would not hear any of the prisoner's pleas for salvation. Rather she reached forward, her frail bones creaking, to grab a broom. She turned to Lady Arlin, wearing a similar smile to that of the captain, and tossed her sole possession over.
"Welcum to dh'èirich an festering."