What’s the furthest away you’ve ever been from the place you were born? How did you get there? Why did you go? Did you return or even want to come back to where you came from?
The furthest place from where I was born is where I am now. I was born a small island that is considered a part of Scotland. We call it the Fortunate Isle. I now live on another island; the Island of Jamaica in a small place that overlooks the town of Port Royal on a sheer embankment just to the West of Fort Charles. My cottage is small, but it is mine.
How I got there was I was trying to escape my past and carve out a future. I made passage on a ship to the New World. There is little for a Priestess and Wytch to do but to try her own hand at making her own way.
And so it came to pass that I was gaoled for my very Wytcheries in Port Royal. I was thrown into a cell to be tended by a gaolor who was aptly named, Igor Clubfoot. He was known throughout the Caribe for his penchant toward the most heinous and unusual tortures. Clubfoot was a disgusting, foul-smelling creature that had a deep, wet consumptive cough and a frequent spitting of phlegm.
With every new prisoner Clubfoot would launch into a long diatribe on the complete inventory of his instruments that he used to question the guilty. Perhaps nothing was quite as bad as the foul smell, and gaol rats that ran through the darkest reaches of the cells both day and night. That they were as large as small dogs made them particularly formidable. When left to my own devices, I can fend off a rat, or any other creature, but within th gaol, when one is unarmed or worse, chained with iron, there is little that can be done. The rats would often snatch my food a’fore I could ever get much of it myself and so often I would go to bed hungry. Since I was in the cell nearest the rear to keep me safely hid from the other prisoners, or maybe so that Clubfoot would forget about me, the light rarely reached my cell.
One night, while Clubfoot was discussing with a sea captain about men that could be pressed into service, I espied the largest rat I had ever seen. Goddess knows that I am afraid of few things, but large rats are enough to give me nightmares! Screaming I pressed my back against the back wall of the cell. As an answer to my cry, the man who had come to see Clubfoot, whom I judged to be the sea captain, dashed to my cell. He looked at me to see what was the matter, but I could only shudder and point in the direction of the creature whose eyes fairly seemed to glow in the dim light of my cell.
Clubfoot, who had just come upon the scene, just laughed.
“Oh her!” he clicked his tongue, “She’s always complainin’, that one. But don’t feel no sympathy fer ‘er. A Wytch she is, Cap’n. Let that l’il mouse eat a little of her and he’ll turn up dead right there.”
“A witch? Who says this?” the captain scoffed at the gaoler’s assertion.
“Many have seen her ply her trade, Captain,” Igor replied, “Aye, I do think that there will be trial by water for her.”
I looked at the Captain who seemed to come to realize what every Wytch knowes. For if she is tried by water and water accepts her, she is innocent, but no less drowned and dead. If she can swim, as I certainly can, then it is taken as proof of Wytcheries on the part of the woman. Then it would be only a matter of hanging or burning. I had come close to this once before, in Tortuga, but that was years ago, and He saved me from such a certain dire fate!
“I’ll take her and six of the men here who can walk half-decent,” the sea captain said.
“Ya canna want that woman!” Igor spat, “I tell ya, she is a Wytch of the first order, Cap’n! Ye will be sorry for takin’ ‘er on for certain!”
“Then how the hell did any man catch her and keep her here if she’s so damned powerful?” the Captain growled at my gaoler, “I want her, so you had best take her out of that cell.”
“Ye’re only entitled to take men for the press!” Clubfoot argued, “The Governor of Port R—”
“Damn yer blood, I’m pressin her! She’ll be me cook,” the sea captain spat. He then turned to me, “Can ya cook, wench?” he asked as I crouched in the corner, still terrified that the rat would return.
“Aye,” I answered him nodding.
The captain turned and glared at Clubfoot, “What be the wench’s name?”
“She says she don’t have one,” Clubfoot retorted indignantly, “But some in town call her ‘Fanny’.”
The sea captain raised an eyebrow as soon as my name was said aloud. My eyes met his and I remember that we had met on the streets once, months ago. Men are so transparent. For I swear that e’en then he had stared at me, just for what reason I could only guess.
The captain pointed to the lock, making it quite clear to the gaoler that his mind had been made up about his pressing me into service.
“Open it,” the Captain commanded.
“Ye’ll rue this day,” Clubfoot said, doing what the sea Captain asked of him, “This only proves that she has already bewitched ye, Cap’n.”
The Captain entered the cell and reached out a hand to take my owne, raising me from the place where I was still cowering. For a long time he stared at me in the eyes, then assessed the rest of me from head to foot. I felt self-conscious being still clad in a dress that since my captivity was made far more of rips than of cloth.
“Fanny,” he said, “my name is Captain Christopher Myngs. You’ll have to work fer yer keep,” he explained as Igor Clubfoot assembled the rest of the able bodied prisoners. All of them together formed a pack of foul-smelling filthy dogs as ever there were, but what else could be expected in such abysmal circumstances?
“Thank ye, Cap’n Myngs,” I answered, fighting the rising tide of wanting to hide my current state of dishevelment, “I’ll not do a thing to make ye doubt your faith in me.”
Although the man seemed to know precisely what he wanted, I knew that Captain Myngs’ act of kindness would most probably come back to haunt him. There would be hell to pay for certain for his having let not only a woman but a Wytch aboard his ship. No doubt I would be accused of every mishap and of having worked my wiles not just with magic, but with errant words. I would be accused of enjoying every cruel game imaginable and especially that of pitting one man against another for no other reason save my owne amusement.
Not soon thereafter, I would find out about Myngs’ poor luck with women. For indeed, his ill fortune with the fairer sex was already the stuff of legend throughout the Caribe. The men of the ship Centurion would try to prove that women, and especially Wytches were bad luck on ships, and would do everything to have me removed once more.
But let me not appear ungrateful for my rescue from my dank cell in Port Royal. By the Powers of the Great Goddess! Her mercies are bountiful, for I did believe for a moment that I would be plunged into the drink for a trial by water for my Wytcheries. As I said, the Court would indeed find that I coulde swim, and from there I would possibly be hanged or burned at the stake. What incredible luck the spirits have given me to have this man, Captain Myngs release me from the gaol, with its huge rats, its ogling and brutal guards and other indignities whiche I had been forced to face! I could scarcely believe my goode fortune!
When we left the gaol Myngs turned to me and looked my up and down. His eyes assessed my form then my face, and he shook his head, “You look a’fright, Fanny, ” he said, “but we shall get you cleaned up and at least a meal in you and some decent clothes. Mind you won’t be staying too clean on board a ship, but you can at least start out fresh.”
“Yes, sirrah,” I nodded, “Thank you sir.”
During the little time we spent upon the streets of Port Royal, both Native and Colonial alike looked at Myngs and then at me and crossed themselves before crossing the street. Whispers of “Wytch!” and “Has he gone mad?” or “Does he not know who she is? Doe he not know what she is?” were heard coming from their pathetic superstitious face, both of dark and white men. Poor Captain Myngs! I suppose it t’would be arrogant of me to believe that Captain Myngs rescued me out of gaol because he found me beautiful or even mildly intriguing. I have been told I am already too arrogant knowing how my face and form could well affect the minds and hearts of men. I could only chalk it up to the beneficence of the Great Goddess, She-Who-Cannot-Even-Be-Named and yet is known as the Lady of Ten Thousand Names. From the corner of my eye, I noticed that Captain Myngs did indeed sneak glances at me from tyme to tyme. Perhaps he could see, even as I could not, ‘neath the gryme and the all-too threadbare garments. Behind his eyes, I saw the whisperings of something, like an aching pain that I had not been able to discern yet. No matter. In tyme I would come to learn just who the man Captain Christopher Myngs was and how he was just as much a slave to things in his owne life as was the meanest darkie in the hold of a slavers ship.
When we had procured clothing, and boots more suited to that of a man, than a woman, and I was allowed to wash off the layers of gryme. I stood before Myngs who gave only the slightest indication of an approval.
“You will forgive my not buying you a dress, Fanny. On boarde a ship, your skirts would only get in the way, and only underscore to the men your sex. T’least this way you can do your part. Make no mistake, ” Myngs said, ” I am not being generous with you. The cost of the garments I will have taken out of your first pay.”
“Aye, sir,” I smiled at him, “Thank ye again for your generosity.”
Myngs inclined his head in the direction of the port, and we made our way toward the docks where his ship awaited us.
Once I had been set into the galley and shewn my quarters, I set about making a list of supplies that I woulde need to administer to the medical care. Captain Myngs looked at the exhaustive list of items that I had ask’t him to procure from the local marketplace. I was certain he took one look at all of the herbs I had listed, and the request for an all white dress, that I had not ask’t for the day before. Captain Myngs assured me that I had been hired as a cook, but if that were the case, he would likely have not bought me half of the items on the list. Having me merely toiling in the galley was clearly not what he had in mind.
In glancing at the list he handed to the ship’s pursor I noticed that he had listed opium at the bottom of the page, almost as an afterthought.
The new pursor Mr. Lightfoot was not at all pleased with my requests. He glanced at me with a snarl and then look’t at Myngs. Mr. Lightfoot tossed the list aside on a great pile of papers that was strewn about his desk and rose slowly.
“We are to be cursed, as they all say” he spat,”Tell me that this common strumpet that ye’ve found, that she be naught but your whore on this journey so we can all sleep safe in our beds!”
Perhaps Lightfoot expected me to be shocked at his blatant and derogatory references toward me, but I did let any sort of emotion show. I saw Myngs flush with emabarrasment as he glanced at me. Even with the Captain’s reaction I kept my gaze and my temper even. Rest assured, I have been called far worse by better men. T’was no sense feigning shock for something that was little more than a fly’s buzzing to my ears.
“Bastard! That she ain’t,” Captain Myngs spat, ” Move yer sorry arse afore I kick it past the taffrail,” Myngs warned, “and be certain that ye be back afore the sun sets!”
Does this man not realize that you cannot order another to not fear something or someone? Captain Myngs had done his level best by me by ordering his men to do as they were told and to pay me little or no mind, and they would much rather to let me be. But does he not know that convincing others to obedience by order and threat regarding such issues is not realistic? And it is particularly not realistic where men are concerned. For men have a tendency to kill what they fear and they fear what they do not understand. They fear women on their blasted and blighted ships, and worse they fear me as a Wytch. What is a Wytch really, other than a woman who can simply do things, or does do things that other women cannot or will not? Ah! May all of them get what they deserve, including Myngs! Truth be told, I have my own agenda. Aye, Sir, to be sure I do! On board your ship, one way or t’other I shall do my best by you, but I have my owne fixt intent. If it comes betwixt you and me, my choice shall be clear. make no mistake.
All the while we were taking on e’en more supplies and preparing for our departure, I did my work but I also studied Myngs and his crew. Most of them did not care much for having a woman on boarde, and others still were even more afraide of my being a Wytch. I need only fix them with a long stare, or something so simple as a half smile and they would hurriedly turn their eyes from me, whispering prayers ‘neath their breath. Their fear was a tool to be used, and if I could but earn the smallest bit of their trust, then I could turn it all to my owne advantage. Beauty is as beauty does and true power does as power wills. Like the Great Ladies of Avalon I would both of these things well and very much to my own purpose.
Captain Myngs, of course, is still another story.
He watched me, his eyes filled not only with the pain that I knew he felt in his body, for I saw that in his walk and heard it in his voice. I did not need to use my seconde sight to discern that. I saw the hope that somehow my skill as a healer, my reputation as a Wytch, and a Vodouisante could cure him.
And yet……and yet, there was more behind his eyes. I have seen this look before, I have watched it fester and growe in other men just as surely as their cock grows more turgid and pronounced at nearly the same tyme! Do not think me immodest for saying such things, for I am telling the truth. The truth of Myngs and his lecherous nature n’er needed to be explained to me. My own awareness of his nature was sure enough. Mind you people not only tell us who they are by their words and actions, but by how they weare who they are out in front of themselves. It’s like announcing your presence, and Myngs’ announcements on many levels were as clear as a summer day to me!
To his credit, Myngs managed to get the pursor and the rest of his men to procure the items on my list, and indeed they got nearly all that I had asked for. What they did not get, I could make substitions for. The calabash was fine, and I seasoned it and rubbed inside the oils and herbs to cure it. It would be ready in time along with the healing baths and brews that Myngs would have neede of afore we were too far on the journeye. Cowries were easily procured in port royal, and I had all the things which I would require. I would have enough time to prepare everything, but would be very busy. Surprisingly, the dress that had been picked out was pure white, loose enough and would suit my purposes in the healing rites that I would do for Captain Myngs. That, of course, would not be donned until the righte time. There was no sense sullying that whiche was intended to be pleasing to the Gods by placing it before the eyes of swine!
I bent o’er the pot of herbes, stirring it quietly, the sharpness of the ginger roote and the fennel and anise assailed my nose. Within the mist of the steame passed before my awareness and visions passed upon the surface of the simmering liquide. Oh that face! That fair, face! How many times has the vision of him passed before my eyes? I knew in my heart that he was still alive but the vision showed me that he was older now, dark eyes, but hair grayer than I once knew. The Lwa whispered to me, telling me to keep it close to my heart. There are those that woulde be greatly agitated if they knewe that my Fair One were still among the living! “Do not trust anyone!” they warn.
As the mist cleared, I saw Myngs himself standing in the doorway, oggling my hindquarters. A twisted smile played on my lips but only for a moment before I turned ’round to face him.
“Thank you, Captain, for procuring the items that I needed, ” I said, “I have some things that will help you fel better. I can bring them by your cabin later, a’fore we get underway.”
“Good, “Myngs nodded, I was unsure if his face were red because he was in pain, the heat of the kitchen or the thoughts that were affecting his loins, “We sail in the morn and we can discuss your form of treatment after supper.”
“Aye,” that we shall, and we shall make certain that your gout, and your other afflictions do not plague you e’er too much.” I smiled a finer smile than any mynx in Port Royal.
Other afflictions indeed! I thought! And when we cure you of each, Captain Myngs, I thought, you will be none the wiser and shall be my catspaw to be sure.
Have I ever wanted to go back to Scotland? Some days, but most days I go where the winds carry me.