Warm as it was, the damned wind on the island blew to some degree every day. William’s nostrils twitched as a wisp of breeze carried with it, the definite aroma of swamp rot. The morning rains saturated everything.
William, Smith, and the ship’s one-legged carpenter, Mr. Lancaster, had done what they could to reinforce their own pitiful huts, making do with the basics of nature that surrounded them.
But in fact, everything was in short supply–food, clothing, medicines, and weapons. In spite of the double thatching, both the swampy winds and the driving sheets of rain had managed to invade their primitive shelters. Lost in his own thoughts, William startled when a voice sounded behind him.
“It’s the swamp fever, ain’t it? It followed us back here. Can ya’ not smell it?” Smith spoke of the obvious odor.
William raised his face to the sky and sniffed. “I can. It’s been on the wind a week or more.”
With a sudden push, Smith lashed out and shoved William’s head facedown. “Ya’ crazy bugger!” Smith’s brown eyes were wide with disbelief. “Don’t be suckin’ that evil air into yer body on purpose!” He semi-crouched in fear of the unseen sickness. Releasing his grip on William, he nodded toward the outermost row of huts.
“Didcha’ not notice that them what’s most sick are the ones stayin’ in the outer rows?” He snorted in disgust. “That’s where the poison wind settles first. That’s what’s got me Cassie ill. Would’a been safer to be on an inside one,” he grumbled. “She didn’t even come to the swamp yet she’s got the fever anyhow.”
“Yeah, well, we’re lucky that these Maroons let us stay anywhere at all,” William reminded his friend. “If you remember, both of us would have been killed on the shore right where they found us washed up in that storm if it hadn’t been for Mambo taking a liking to Tess’s ring.”
“Yeah, that and Cassie’s brand matching the one that that friggin’ pirate captain burned into Mambo’s arm, too,” Smith recalled with a scowl. “It’s a damned right thing he’s dead, that’s all the good I can say about that one.”
But what about the child Cassie bore, sired by him? The son you now call your own? William didn’t dare ask out loud. There was no reason to bring up the baby’s parentage. Smith seemed as devoted to the child as he was to Cassie.
The three pairs of shipwrecked survivors–he and Tess, Smith and Cassie, and Tess’s grandmother, Emma, and the ship’s carpenter, Brigham Lancaster–had been ‘married’ by Mambo, shortly after their assimilation into the Maroon’s camp. They had substituted the priestess’s ceremony for the church ceremony that they would never have.
The marriage ceremony, if it could be called that–Crikey, it was a weird thing!–had been, at the same time, both frightening in its strangeness, and exhilarating in its ferocity. It had taken place under a shimmering canopy of stars, when the sky had been under the dark influence of a new moon. Each couple had been bound, tied face to face, in the centre of a circle, its boundaries outlined with a collection of fruits, giant seed pods, shells, and flowers. Led by Mambo, the Maroons chanted in a foreign tongue, and had begun to dance around them, with feet and hands keeping time to a steady rhythm played out by a trio of men who had clicked their tongues and pounded on a collection of hollowed out logs and dried stems.
Having grabbed a stick from the ever burning fire pit, Mambo had held it high over head and whirled around them, spraying the helpless couples with a shower of sparks and chunks of glowing embers. It had been unsettling for the three brides to say the least, but their screams had been drowned out by the increasing volume of the chanters. Instinctively wrestling against their tethers but helpless to escape them, the grooms had bellowed out some very un-churchlike phrases.
Heedless of their dismay, Mambo had then produced a dried seed pod containing a smoking wad of herbs, and she had blown the smoke into the faces of each betrothed couple. The rest of the ceremony was hazy to William’s recollection except for the sharp poke of a wooden splinter into his lower lip and the salty taste in his mouth of Tess’s blood from her own freshly pricked lip, as their faces had been forced into an awkward kiss.
Without warning, their bonds had been slashed and they had collapsed to the ground. William vaguely recalled that several pairs of hands had gripped him, and each couple had been carried into the dark interior of a hut.
Stark naked. That’s how we were carried in. I remember that part. Never did figure out how that happened though….
William smiled at the memory of it. Primal as it had been, he was sure their matrimonial ritual had been as powerful as a church’s and certainly as binding as any on earth. Literally. And the first few weeks with Tess as his new wife, or had it been months–he didn’t know and it didn’t matter–had been wonderful. Sensuous. Full of their warm bodies intertwining, slippery with passionate desire.
William loved lying beside Tess. The nighttime air of the island’s mountainous interior was chilly and the two of them slept curled up together, as much to share body heat as anything. However, having her wrapped up in his arms, with his body in full contact with hers, her firm backside pressed back against him and his top arm draped across her breasts–the position was just not conducive to sleep. No matter how tired the rest of him was, his manhood was always eager and, he thought, considering their spooned position, impossible for Tess not to notice.
When he kissed her neck and nuzzled his way down to the soft spot above her collarbone, her soft moans and gooseflesh announced her willing interest in him, too. Tess would turn towards him and slip her hand between his legs, and suddenly the chill of the night would be a forgotten concern as she straddled him. Her touch, her nearness–it was sheer pleasure and William never tired of it.
And then something had happened. Was it that there was absolutely no privacy here? Was it Tess’s strange dreams that scared her and occupied her thoughts? Or was it his greatest fear–that Tess was becoming tired of him as well as their life on this island? Whatever the reason, their intimate nights had nearly disappeared.
He replayed a favorite moment in his head. He and Tess had been walking along a high trail, hiking up the side of the island’s extinct volcano. On Mambo’s instruction, Tess had been looking for special herbs. They had picked handfuls of one already, a broad, glossy heart-shaped leaf that grew on a tuberous vine low to the ground.
“What’s this one for?” William had inquired.
“Mambo needs it for the women at the camp.”
“Women?” William knew intuitively that he should ask no further, but sometimes his intuition didn’t seem to shout loudly enough. “Heart-shaped. Must be to make a love potion with, eh?” He’d grinned his dazzling smile that he knew she loved to see.
“Actually, no,” Tess had replied. “This herb, contrary to its shape, is called the baby stopper. The Maroons don’t want to go through the heart-break of having children suffer the life of a slave as they have done, so ….” Tess had shrugged and at that moment, had tripped and fallen into him, sending both of them tumbling back down the precarious pathway. He’d wrapped his arms around her and shielded her as best he could, as they rolled and crashed down the jagged surface of the hardened lava pathway. They’d come to a sudden stop in a collision with a rather large boulder.
Breathless, she’d asked, “Are you alright?” There was a moment of relief when he’d realized that neither of them had suffered serious injury. Up there, they were completely alone. It had been a bit frightening. Help would have been a long time coming. Still, having had Tess in his arms with her heart beat pounding so intimately against his own chest, he’d barely noticed his bleeding cuts and scrapes.
And then, to his delight, Tess had lifted her sweet lips to his and had kissed him. Delicately, at first. She’d run the tip of her warm tongue over his own. Had sucked his lower lip into her mouth and then released it, before trailing her soft mouth past his ear and down the side of his neck, lifting his skin in goose bumps as her wet lips made their way across his skin. William had felt his body respond and he’d traced the outline of her breast and hip with his fingertips. Softly. Just the way he knew she liked to be touched.
“I’m fine,” he’d reassured her. He’d kissed her neck and shoulders, had lingered as he’d drawn his own lips across the soft swell of flesh below her collarbone, pleased and further aroused to have her breathing increase with his touch. “I think we should lie here a bit, though, just to make sure.”
And completely alone on that trail, but now awash in gratitude for that solitude, with their bodies in perfect rhythm and sunshine splashing on their naked skin, they’d needed no help from anyone. No help at all.