Wayward Daughter by Sevvina X

Chapter 1

Kingston, Jamaica, May 1717

“Hit ‘im again!” a shrill voice screamed amidst the children’s cheers. Maria dodged and ducked as a larger, half-African boy swung his fists wildly. The boy stumbled, overextending, and Maria jabbed him in the kidney. The boy fell to the dirt floor of the old warehouse with a grunt, holding his side. Maria kicked him in the belly and he folded in two, eyes closed, as he tried to get his breath back.

“C’mon, Tully, get up!” another child shouted in encouragement.

Maria raised her hands in victory and turned in a circle, daring any others to approach. Colby, a red-haired boy with freckles that she had fought before, stepped forward, grinning. Fast and ruthless, he had always been a challenge.

Colby shook his arms to loosen them and squared off with Maria, gaze locked to hers. They circled in the center of a crowd of other children who were hooting in anticipation.

An angry, full-throated yell came from the side and both Maria and Colby turned to see Tully charging them both. Without hesitation, they punched him, Colby aiming high and Maria aiming low. Tully again fell to the ground, groaning.

Colby smiled crookedly at Maria and shrugged. Maria returned the gesture, not fooled in the slightest. She was proven correct when Colby lunged forward an instant later. She grabbed his shirt with both hands and swung him to the side, but he had ahold of her as well. They rolled clear of the still-prone Tully as the crowd shrieked even louder.

The door to the warehouse flew open with a loud bang, cutting off the cheers. Maria and Colby ceased their struggle and looked up to see Mister Weathers, the owner of the warehouse, silhouetted in the doorway.

“You Goddamn ragamuffins get out!” he roared, brandishing a cudgel. “I swear to Christ, I’ll bust every last one of you!”

The children fled, most of them streaming out the back door, away from Weathers. Colby flashed Maria a grin and ran toward the older man. Maria, not one to pass up an opportunity to cause more trouble, scrambled to her feet and darted after him. As they reached Weathers, they saw his eyes widen in surprise. His sight had not yet adjusted to the darkness of the warehouse interior and he had not seen them until they were on top of him.

As though they had practiced together, Maria and Colby each planted a foot behind Weathers’ and pushed, sending the man sprawling on his ass. They did not stop running.

Colby waved at Maria and turned inland, while Maria ran farther into town, toward the docks. After a few moments, she slowed, then ducked around the corner of a building and into an alley to see if she had been followed.

Once she was sure that Weathers was not about to rap her upside the head with his cudgel, she sat down against one of the buildings and began to laugh. She leaned her head back and closed her eyes against the bright Jamaica sun and continued laughing without a care.

“Rat!” a high voice piped. Maria opened her eyes to see a small girl, perhaps nine years of age. A slightly older, dark-skinned girl followed her. They were both wearing plain brown dresses and decent sturdy shoes covered with dust.

“Hullo, Anne, Rachel,” Maria said, smiling.

Anne, the pale girl, brought her hands from behind her to offer Maria an old, battered tri-corn hat. “Brought your hat,” she said cheerfully. “Din’t want mean ol’ Weathers t’ throw it out.”

Maria took the hat and put it on. “Thank you,” she said.

“Girls gotta look out for each other,” Anne said with a bright smile.

Rachel snorted. “Rat ain’t a girl,” she said with that particular disdain of the young. “Girls wear dresses, not trousers.”

Anne whirled to face her. “Rat is too a girl. I once saw Tully kick ‘er in between the legs an’ if you kick a boy in between the legs, ‘e falls down. Even I know that, ’cause I kicked Sam there once when ‘e called me a git an’ Colby tol’ me that’s what I should do.”

Rachel leaned back from the onslaught of indignation and looked at Maria pleadingly. Maria reached out and put a hand on Anne’s shoulder.

“Don’t matter,” she told the younger girls. “We’s all orphans together, aye?”

Rachel nodded, encouraging Anne to do the same. Anne huffed and pouted for a few seconds, then agreed with a smile, her anger already forgotten.

“You should get back to Father Kellan at the church,” Maria told them. They both hung their heads and looked guilty. Maria rolled her eyes. “Ah, you went out without asking again? I’ve tol’ you a dozen times, Father Kellan is a good man, an’ he really is lookin’ out for you. He ain’t one o’ them bad apple priests. He loves you kids.”

The girls began to look truly ashamed. “He does tell me stories about my ma an’ da,” Anne said sadly.

“And I do like to sing the songs he teaches us,” Rachel added.

“Don’t be sad. You got a good thing there,” Maria said. “Want me to walk you back to the church?”

The girls were silent.

“How about we go by way of Foster’s Bakery?”

Anne and Rachel beamed at the thought, their faces filled with joy.

Maria stood and took each of them by the hand and led them out of the alley and down the street. “What new songs have you learned?” she asked them.

Rachel took a deep breath. “In Amsterdam there lived a maid, mark well what I do saaaaaaayyyyy,” she began.

“Hey!” Maria interrupted. “That’s not a church song, that’s a naughty sailor’s song.” She tried to be chastising, but could not stop from grinning.

“But I just learned it!” Rachel protested.

Maria laughed. “In Amsterdam there lived a maid, and she was mistress of her trade,” she sang.

“I’ll go no more a’ ro-o-vin’ with you, fair maid,” Anne finished.

“Not you, too!” Maria exclaimed.

“I learn songs as fast as Rachel does,” she said proudly.

“Well, don’t let Father Kellan hear you singin’ songs like that,”

“Yes, Rat,” the girls chorused.

They reached the door of the bakery and Maria led the girls to the bench nearby. “Sit tight,” she said. “I’ll bring you something good.” She went inside and reached into the money pouch she kept tightly tied under her clothing. It was reasonably heavy, as she had had a good morning of cutting purses.

Mistress Foster scowled over the counter for a moment before seeing the coins in Maria’s hand. Then, her frown softened a bit. “What can I get you?” she asked neutrally.

A minute later, Maria walked out the door of the bakery with her hands full of sweet cakes and darted quickly to the bench. “Quick, run!” she hissed with an exaggerated grin of mischief. She turned and ran down the street, hearing Anne and Rachel following. They ran to the next side street and ducked behind a pile of crates.

“Didja steal those?!” Rachel whispered excitedly, eyeing the cakes greedily.

“I did!” Maria lied. “Right out from under Missus Foster’s nose!” She handed them each one of the small cakes, keeping the last for herself. They ate the pastries, the younger girls gazing at Maria in awe. Once they had licked their fingers clean, Maria leaned forward, glancing to the side as though expecting an ambush.

“Now,” she said, “we need to split up. I’ll go to the harbour, an’ you run straightaway back to th’ church.”

“But if we run straightaway, we’ll be followed,” Rachel protested.

“That’s why, when you get to the church, you run in and yell ‘sanctuary!’,” Maria told them.

“Oooohhh, like when we let alla Missus Henry’s chickens out an’ chased ‘em all down the street with Missus Henry tryin’ t’ hit us with a broom!” Anne replied.

“Aye,” Maria said with a laugh, “like that. Now, go!”

The girls ran off and Maria shook her head. These children, I swear…she thought. I take care of them far too much. Her mind began replaying all the times that she had bought or stolen food, all the times that she stolen coin or clothing. All for others, the orphans left behind by the hurricane of 1712 that had killed so many.

As her mind traced over those old, worn thoughts, Maria walked old, worn paths down the cobblestone streets. She was invisible, her short hair and shabby pants making her appear as just another street urchin. With her confidence and willingness to fight, even most of the children she played with thought she was a boy. Maria found this to be a useful illusion.

“Rat!” The cheerful cry came from the mouth of an alley, where two dirty faces grinned. Maria smiled and walked over to the orphan brothers. They were a few years older than Anne and Rachel.

“What are you doing out here?” she asked them. “I thought you had a home now.”

Jack, the youngest, stuck out his tongue and wrinkled his fair, sunburnt nose. Jed answered for both of them. “Mister Shaw makes us work,” he complained. “We gotta put rocks inna cart.”

“All day?”

“All the way from dawn ’til noon!”

“What do you do after noon?”

Jed looked down and shuffled his feet. “Whatever we want,” he said guiltily.

“Does Mister Shaw make you pull the cart?”

“Donkey does. Jack likes leading the donkey.” He paused, his round little face serious. “An’ we get a room of our own an’ Missus Shaw makes cookies…”

Maria waited until the boy’s mind followed the line of thought to its inevitable conclusion. When she saw Jed’s sheepish smile, she ruffled his straw-colored hair with one hand. Both boys looked up at her expectantly, waiting for her judgment.

She saw herself reflected in their attentive stares: tall for her age and confident, her features already hawkish. Her limbs were long and lean, her body still disguising her gender. Her coarse black hair that she kept cut short may have inspired the nickname “Rat”, but her eerie bronze eyes were those of an eagle.

Jack and Jed, like so many others, saw her as a leader and, as always, that was a debt she would repay. Even if it seemed a burden.

“You hungry?” Maria asked, eager nods swiftly replying. “Tell you what, we’ll go down to the docks and steal some food, then I’ll take you back to Mister and Missus Shaw.” Fear narrowed four small eyes. “I’ll talk to them so’s you don’t get in too much trouble. Now, I say you stay with the Shaws. You got to work to get things, that’s the way the world is.”

“Can’t we steal?” Jack asked.

“Stealin ain’t easy,” Maria answered, “an’ that makes it work. Now, make me a promise: you be good boys for the Shaws an’ when you really feel the need to run around, you come find me straightaway an’ we’ll cause trouble. But,” she stressed, “if I think you’re not elsewise behavin’, I’ll march you right back home.”

The boys were silent for a moment and Maria squared her shoulders, putting a hint of steel in her gaze.

“We promise, Rat,” they both said, resigned. Such was the authority of Rat among the urchins of Kingston.

“You know I’ll let you raise hell with me,” she said with a smile. She took the boys by the hand. “Now, let’s go make some sailors dance.”

The brothers giggled, half-running to keep up with Maria’s long strides. She took them to the waterfront, where they crept behind a warehouse and crouched, hiding. Maria peered around the corner to where dockworkers were loading supplies aboard boats to take to a ship at anchor. Jack and Jed waited patiently as she searched for a suitable prize.

After a few minutes, she leaned back to the boys. “I see it,” she said.

“Can we be privateers?” Jed piped, bouncing excitedly.

Maria smiled. “We can be privateers, but we’ll have to be stealing from the Spanish,” she told them. “They’re too tough for us to fight, so we’ll have to be quick and clever.” She swept a patch of sandy dirt clear and began drawing with one finger. “You’ll load your cannons first. Now, the wind is out of the west, so you’ll have to sail up behind that great stack of barrels here. Then, you give the Spanish dogs a broadside!”

“Port or starboard?!” Jack asked with a huge grin.

Maria craned her head, looking at the planned approach and trying to remember the directions aboard a ship. “Port,” she said definitively. “You’ll need to come about before they see you so’s you have a fast, straight getaway.” She drew accompanying arrows on the ground to illustrate. “While you take the brigantine and fire, I’ll bring up our fastest sloop and board them. I’ll steal the treasure and we’ll all sail away as quick as we can.”

The boys nodded enthusiastically and started picking up rocks, putting them into their pockets. Maria circled around the warehouse and waited, watching Jack and Jed pretend to raise a sail as they walked toward the barrels. The dockworkers and sailors on the pier continued their work and ignored them, even when Jed shouted “come about!”

They were not unnoticed for long, as they stood up on the barrels and yelled “death to the Spanish!” and “fire all cannons!” pelting the workmen with the rocks they had gathered.

The men cursed at the boys and ordered them to stop, but the orphans cackled and threw even harder. As the dockworkers ran toward them, Maria darted forward and grabbed the prize. Taking the chance of a few extra seconds, she fished in the open crate for another handful, then turned away as the boys escaped around the back of the warehouse. They ran up the street as fast as they could, dodging around startled townsfolk. When the pursuers gave up and turned back, the seagulls echoed the children’s laughter.

Maria slowed her pace, but did not stop until they had reached the old ramshackle wooden shed that was once used to dry meat. It was outside the town proper, but not so far into the jungle forest that it was inaccessible. It was a common meeting place for the more daring children, orphan and otherwise.

This time, it was deserted, to Maria’s delight. She never liked the idea of sharing with people who she felt had not earned the right. They went inside and sat on the empty barrels around the worn crate that served as a table.

“What did we get?” Jack asked, looking at the burlap sacks with wide eyes.

“Take the pail and go get water out back,” Maria said. “Then, we’ll have ourselves a proper feast.” She grinned and the boys leapt to obey.

Inside the crate were scavenged cups and chipped plates, and Maria set the crude table for the three of them. Within moments, the boys had returned with a tin pail half full of clear, cool water from the stream behind the shed. Maria smiled and, with great ceremony, drew the long knife from the sheath on her belt. She cut the cloth open and the boys giggled as they saw what was inside.

Jed dipped three cups into the water and returned them to the table as Maria sliced off thick slabs of the ham and cheese she had stolen. The boys grinned as they ate with their hands, relishing the taste of their ill-gotten treasure. Maria cut up her portion and ate the chunks off the tip of her knife, but grinned no less.

“Hey, Rat,” Jack asked as they were finishing their meal, “Colly and Jacob were sayin’ you ain’t a proper orphan. That true?” Jed punched his brother in the shoulder, but Jack gave him a glare and he said nothing.

“How you mean?” Maria replied. “What else did they say?”

“They was just talking shite out their arses,” Jed answered derisively.

“Hey, mind your tongue at the dinner table,” Maria chided casually, still looking at Jack. “What else did they say?” she repeated.

The younger boy frowned. “They said that Miss Bridgestone’s yer ma, an’ that’s why you sometimes stay at the tailor’s shop an’ work.” He knitted his brows in consternation. “If you’ve got a ma, that…means yer not an orphan…?”

Maria leaned her elbows on the table. “Miss Bridgestone an’ I don’t owe each other nothin’,” she told the boys. “I learnt to sew because it’s useful, an’ I can earn a few coins whene’er it suits me. ‘Sides, don’t I look nothin’ like her?”

Jack smiled, his problem solved. “You don’t!” he said with glee.

Jed shook his head. “Din’t I tell you they were talking shi—swallop,” he said, correcting himself at the last instant.

“All right, boys,” Maria declared. “Rinse off those plates and let’s get you back to the Shaws.”

Having had their fun and a good, stolen meal, the children complied without protest. Maria walked them to the home where they lived and knocked on the door. Mister Shaw opened it and looked down at his young wards with fatherly disapproval.

“Jed. Jack,” he said calmly. “I do believe the donkey’s stall needs mucking, an’ I do believe that it would have been done earlier if you two hadn’t run off.”

“Yes, Mister Shaw,” the boys chorused, looking at their shoes. They shuffled off toward the small barn behind the house with the gait of the condemned.

Once they were out of sight, Shaw smiled at Maria. “Did they at least eat something?” he asked with barely suppressed mirth.

“Aye,” Maria replied with a nod. “I bought ’em a good bit of ham an’ cheese down at the docks. They’re good lads,” she added.

Shaw nodded. “They’re lads,” he said with resignation. “But, aye, I imagine if we’d been able to have any of our own, they’d’ve been no different. Do I owe you for the meal?”

“No, I could’ve marched them home straightaway, but I made the choice not to. I think I still owe you and the missus for takin’ ’em in.”

Shaw nodded again, ending the negotiation. “You’d best find a roof for the night, too, Rat,” he said. “Looks like rain comin’.” He turned and closed the door.

Maria glanced up at the dark clouds making their way across the sky and sighed. The tailor shop was the best place for her to stay, regardless of how she felt about it. Still, she took her time getting there and, by the time she climbed the steps to the back door on the second floor, the sky had grown dark and fat raindrops had just begun to fall.

She quietly opened the door and stepped inside, avoiding the creaky board just beyond the threshold. Luck was not on her side, however, as she heard a sniff of disapproval behind her. Turning, she faced the proprietor of the shop, who also lived there. The woman was in her mid-thirties, with pale skin and bright blonde hair drawn up in a bun. She wore a plain but very well-made dress and apron. Her expression was a familiar one of resentment.

Maria stood her ground. “Hello, mum.”

“Oh, child,” Elizabeth Bridgestone said crossly. “What did you do now?”

Maria knew that the question was rhetorical. Her mother did not care to hear an answer; she just wanted to voice her displeasure, give it form and definition. The girl shrugged dismissively, firing her mother’s wrath.

Elizabeth scowled. “You have too much of your father in you,” she said. Just as always, that hissed invective offered no excuse, no forgiveness. It was a statement of fact, an epitaph of years-old bitterness.

Maria met her mother’s heated gaze with a glare of icy indifference, then walked to the door of her room. She wondered which of her misadventures had returned home ahead of her, then realized that she did not care. The streets of Kingston were her real home; her mother’s flat above the textile shop was more of a storm shelter. Except that there was often a worse storm inside those walls.

Still, Elizabeth left her alone this time and Maria was grateful for that. She lit a candle and pried up the loose board in the wall, pulling out a heavy purse. Years of illicit gains had accumulated there, carefully exchanged and consolidated into the perfect balance of value and weight. She spread the coins across the small table and sorted them with what she had stolen that day. Once she was satisfied, she replaced her stash and got ready for bed.

Maria listened to the rain on the roof for a while, then finally fell asleep. That night, as on so many other nights, she dreamed of pursuing a tall man with black hair whose face she could not see.





Sevvina X is an online personality that may or may not conceal a real person living in Michigan, USA. This person has never been to the Caribbean, but loves researching the Golden Age of Piracy.