We last left our intrepid hero, Lord Montague Moylan-Hazwell, attempting to return to England at the will of his Aunt “Tropey”, otherwise known as Lady B. However, a series of unfortunate mishaps delivered him, his toucan, Harold, and his trunk to a small, disreputable ship, populated by gentlemen who look surprisingly attractive for all their lack of vitamin C and personal hygiene.
After discovering that the ship was headed to the Pacific and far away from where his duty called, Monty managed to get the disreputable captain to agree to drop his unexpected passengers off at the next island for a generous fee, and to lend him a cabin for the interim.
Harold squawked quietly once they were “safely” within the borrowed cabin.
“Yes, I know, Harold,” Monty said, surveying the filthy room and finally deciding to sit on his relatively cleaner trunk. “He’s more likely to kill us for everything in my purse than accept a handful of gold.”
Harold hopped up onto the massive trunk as well and then started pecking at one of the brass fixtures. Monty started to brush him away, because after all, that trunk had cost quite a pretty penny back in London and, considering the currently precarious relationship with his father the duke, it was best not to count his guineas before they…well, perhaps not hatched but—
He bent down and studied the brass. Then he jumped up, startling Harold, whose feathers ruffled in indignation, and took a step back to survey the trunk. What had looked like his trunk in the confusion of his dock, and to be honest, the confusion of the lingering shisha, was on closer inspection, clearly not his! Gone were the finely tooled designs that he had specially commissioned, and gone was the intricate detail of the metalwork.
He shot a despairing look at Harold, who shrugged his feathers as if to say, what do you think I was trying to tell you. Unless by some lucky twist of fate, his trunk ended up on the correct boat to London, he now had to accept that all the books and carefully selected gifts for his relatives and friends, were lost forever.
His utensils and toiletries. His clothing and bedsheets. And of course, Harold’s special delicacies.
At least he possessed his purse and his knife and an increasingly lucid head. And the gold pin on his cravat was useful for picking the unfamiliar lock.
The trunk lid creaked open (which his well-oiled and expensive trunk would never have done!).
<< Squawk! >> Harold’s alarm mirrored Monty’s own and he sprang into action. While he knew very well that he was not the sharpest of the Moylan-Hazwell clan, to say nothing of the Beaufetheringstone side of the family, when called upon to help a female in distress, he was in his element.
And this female was most certainly in distress. Her wrists and feet bound in rope. Her long black tresses obscuring her face. And her very fine, diaphanous, muslin chemise obscuring little else. The sound of her breath filled the space but she made no other sound. Was she even conscious?
He reached down to pull her out of the trunk. How long had she been in there and who had put her in there in the first place? Her hair fell back and above the rag that had been stuffed into her mouth, her brown eyes flashed with intense gratitude.
He quickly untied her hands.
And then found the point of his knife pressed against his throat as she pulled the cotton rag from her mouth.
“Who are you? Where is Rahul?”
Monty sighed and then winced as the knife pricked his throat. He needed to remember to make certain next time that the woman he saved knew he was her rescuer before untying her. After all, the very definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
“Listen, I don’t know who this Rahul fellow is, but I’m Lord Montague Moylan-Hazwell—”
“I love marchpane.”
“Yes, well, I’m sure you love hats as well,” Monty returned, feeling rather surly. He’d heard all the jokes a million times before. “But what matters at the moment is that I am not the one who locked you in that trunk. So would you please return my knife to me and we can discover who did?”
She studied him a moment more, and then the cabin door slammed open behind him and a gust of balmy ocean wind swept in.
“Ho, what do we have here?”
<< Squawk! >>
Monty didn’t need Harold’s warning to know that real danger was afoot. He could tell from the lusty leer in the Captain’s eyes. And in his first mate, and whoever other sailors were in the gathering crowd as the shout of “Woman!” travelled across the ship.
“Smuggling women aboard, eh?”
“You’re the captain of this creaking pile of rotted wood?” The woman demanded incredulously and Monty winced. It was only a short step and a few choice words and exchanges from that inflammatory remark to—
A right hook across his jaw. His head slammed back and then he gathered himself and, fists clenched, attacked back. Hardly a fair fight, one man against an entire crew, but he could hardly leave this woman defenseless to their mercy.
The captain, his arm bleeding staggered backwards and Monty spared a glance to see that the woman was wielding his knife with voluptuous glee. Not entirely defenseless then. And Harold, too, was contributing to the melee. The bird could always be counted on in a pinch.
Somehow he stumbled with the mass of unwashed sailors, out of the cabin and onto the deck. Even as he fought he surveyed the expanse, seeking weapons. He maneuvered the one brawny man currently attached to his back over to the mast and slammed him back against the wood. Then rolled the barrel to his right forward to take down another two of his opponents. In astonishment he noted that the sailors were now fighting each other, most likely unaware of how the brawl began and simply eager for the violence.
Monty’s head jerked up and then down again. But after he fell backward from the impact of a wooden broom handle against his forehead, he focused back on the immediate danger.
The shout came again and then was echoed. As suddenly as it began the brawl ended as all free men save Monty scrambled to the reserves of water.
From his position flat on his back on the deck he saw that the fire had spread fast and now threatened to fully engulf the ship. Where was Harold?
The ship creaked. The masts were aflame, the cabin from which he’d come engulfed. Sailors were now jumping overboard and the captain ordered the dinghy over. He needed to get himself up off of the ground because he could not, would not, die here in the middle of nowhere when he was needed back in England. If only he had not agreed to give his opinion on Lady G’s etchings.
An explosion rocked the ship and the acrid smell of gunpowder released the air.
<< Squawk! >> As if his injuries were trifling, Monty jumped to his feet and bounded across the deck to snatch Harold before the burning wood fell down. His friend was injured as well but it was no moment to take stock. Escape was needed. He scanned the length of the ship for the woman but a wall of flame obscured his view. And then it didn’t matter anymore because the ship was cracking, listing…sinking.
* * *
At the gentle touch on his forehead, Monty cracked one swollen eye open. A waterfall of shimmering black met his view and he stared at it, confused.
“I pulled you from the water.”
He had heard that husky female voice only briefly before but relief flooded him. She had survived. A quiet squawk and the familiar peck of Harold’s beak at his ear comforted him more.
“Where are…?” He trailed off, wincing as he tried to sit up only to have her gently push him back down.
“It’s better not to move. This trunk isn’t particularly stable and I’d rather stay as dry as possible.”
“What’s your name?” He managed, despite his split lip.
It was just as well that he no longer had the mirror in his own trunk as he likely looked a fright. The woman, however, was now garbed in a slightly more substantial nightrail and looked as if she had suffered no ill effects from the entire fiasco.
“Anisha, and before you ask and give yourself more pain, I’ll tell you. Rahul is my fiancé, but there are many who did not want an alliance between our families.”
“Land,” she cried suddenly, interrupting her story.
Monty started to sit up abruptly and the trunk bobbed wildly. He settled back down but peered at her through his puffy, squinted eyes. She was looking through a spyglass. He wondered at the spyglass for a long moment.
“There are people, women, on the beach, but like no women I’ve ever seen before. With bows and arrows and one breast bare to the sun.”
Monty had never heard a woman say the word breast so matter-of-factly before and for a moment that occupied the entirety of his thoughts.
“Amazons,” he said suddenly, remembering his Greek sculpture and his Shakespeare.
“Not true Amazons,” Anisha corrected him. “After all, Herodotus surely didn’t travel this far east.”
If he was surprised she knew of Herodotus, it was not nearly as important as strategizing what was to come. If these women were indeed Amazons, then surely they would not be welcoming to an errant male. Had he escaped one calamity only to enter another?
While we wait to discover what happens next, I must ask the Ballroom, will we leave Anisha on this Amazon-inhabited island, or, will Monty encounter her again at some point in the future?