Author's notes: Finally Gingerhead continues his journey.
Many thanks to everyone who has taken the time to read and review his tale.
A few explanations:
As far as I know, Bast worship never reached England, at least in the way Isis worship affected Rome. But there were slaves and it's logical to assume that some of them brought their religion along.
This is set in late sixteenth century England and Caribbean. There a connection with my fictional realms in terms of a Multiverse; meaning different realms of existence. This would explain how Gingerhead has lived his lives in so many different environments.
Chapter title from Walt Whitman.
Gingerhead quotes Shakespeare
And what the captain reads is Herodotus' History.
Enjoy, and tell Gingerhead how much you love him!
CHAPTER 3: O Captain! My Captain!
Have I told you how much I hate water?
Oh, I have.
Well, let me repeat it, then. I hate water.
The first week, it was horrible. The second week, I began to adjust to the never-ending screeching of the wooden beams by the continuous battle with the waves. The third week, it grew tiring. A month after I set paw on the ship, I was badly missing the earth beneath my paws.
I rarely went out anymore, spending my time below deck either raiding rat holes or just napping in the kitchen. I slept on Jim's feet, dreaming of grass and birds and butterflies. Samuel, the cook, must have sensed my dark mood one day, when between scraps of lard and smoked fish he stroked my head affectionately.
"Hold in there, boy," he told me with his deep, booming voice. "In a couple of days we'll be reaching shore."
It felt as if a long night was finally coming to an end. From that moment on, I spent my time on deck, climbing on ropes and masts, searching the horizon for a sign of dry land. Jim ran after me, fearing that I would somehow lose my balance and fall overboard. I liked the lad, but he was not very bright, I must say. Cats do not lose their balance. Masters was not happy about my behavior either, since he seemed to believe that my place was down below with the rest of the slaves. He tried to kick me numerous times, but I was always faster.
The second day after Samuel's announcement, I was blissfully sunning myself when a cabin door opened. I saw the ship's alpha human, the captain, as he's called, for the first time. He was old, with his hair graying, bearing a short beard and many lines on the skin of his face. Jim was quick to throw a cloth over me to hide me from the captain's gaze, since I was not allowed to nap on or knead the sails. But in a glance I had seen more than any human eye could ever see.
There was a dark mist around his chest. Not the lethal kind my Bridget had and neither the taint I sensed on Masters. This seemed somehow alive, writhing and lashing and slithering inside his heart, feeding from him. But I sensed no evil about him; just a deep, silent sorrow. So when he knelt beside the pile of sails I was lying on, I did not flee. He lifted the cloth Jim had tried to hide me under and stared at me. His eyes were smiling, but he kept his face blank as a true alpha, keeping his emotions concealed from the rest of the pride to maintain his authority.
It certainly worked with humans. But I am, after all, a cat.
"So, Jim," he addressed the boy, "this is the 'ginger pest' Masters keep talking about?"
Jim almost passed out in hearing the captain speak directly to him. He mumbled something incoherent, nodding.
I was not impressed.
The human then reached out as if to touch me, keeping his fingers in sniffing distance from my nose and waited my response.
To bite or to lick? Ay, there's the rub.
And again, I'm not a dog. But in a wooden vessel dancing on water, I would be foolish to cross the alpha human. So I put on my adorable face and rubbed my head against his hand. Pleased, he stroked my fur and I instantly knew that he had experience with fur stroking. So I began to purr, something that seemed to please him even more.
Poor Jim was staring speechless at this unexpected scene. Then the captain spoke again.
"Did you know, boy," he said in a distant voice, "that in old times, some people revered cats as divine?"
Jim was left flabbergasted. And I was equally stunned.
Amidst hostile waves, I had found a human who could appreciate my true nature.
The captain, William Jenkins, as I later learned that his name was, allowed me to follow to his cabin, under Jim's bewildered eyes and Masters' disapproving stare. I jumped on his desk and watched him as he searched through parchments and maps, putting a real effort not to follow the sudden urge to shred every paper to pieces. He opened a drawer and took out an old, tattered book. I made my self comfortable on a pile of maps as he sat behind his desk and started reading.
I heard him narrating the memories of a long dead traveler who had once visited distant lands. With his deep, soothing voice he spoke of a land where the sun always shines, of Temples and music and people dancing to the sound of sea shells and rattles. I closed my eyes and I could almost feel the warmth of the sun on my fur, the soothing sound of a great river in the distance as his voice brought me to the feet of a great statue of a cat-headed woman. He turned the page and I raised my head. There were drawings on this page, showing the banks of a river with celebrating people under the great statue. I stood up and stared in the book, sensing something familiar.
I wanted to ask him if Ol' Ma was in there. I mewed, but he did not understand me. He smiled sadly and turned the page. And his smile died.
A dried flower fell off the book. Pressed between the pages, it had retained something of the once bright yellow of its petals. It was nothing more than a dried daisy, but it had a vast impact on the captain's soul. His lips formed a tight line as he shut the book and shoved it back in the drawer. He picked me up and I saw that the mist around his heart had awakened, tearing and lashing in frenzy. I tried to distance myself from its furious tentacles, but before I could raise a paw, the captain had opened the cabin's door. I jumped off and started for the kitchen, feeling his eyes burning the fur of my back.
Later that night, I was resting on Samuel's lap in the company of my ghostly friends. Samuel was smoking his pipe, lost in dreams of his homeland and paid no attention to my dealings with the Unseen. Tom knew little about the captain, but Old Mat had a tale to share.
Captain Jenkins had never desired to be a mariner. His heart was set on a scholar's life, a priest or a historian, perhaps. But this was against his father's wishes, a retired captain from a long line of naval officers. Mat had met our captain when he was just a young ensign and had followed him in many travels. He could not enlighten me to what finally drove him to the sea, despite his own dreams. But he knew of the mist that had been strangling his heart.
Many years ago, he had a family; a wife and a young daughter, no more than five winters old. He had met his mate across the ocean, the daughter of a merchant dealing with strange plants and exotic spices. After six years of marriage, he asked her to leave her homeland and live with him. With her heart heavy, she left the warm nights of her green island for the rainy mornings of another island where his family had lived for many generations. But the woman and the child never reached its shores.
Their ship was lost beneath the waves, prey to the human predators that sail the waters of the New World. And Captain Jenkins' heart followed his family to their watery grave. A deep hatred rooted in his soul ever since. He loathed pirates deeply but in truth he loathed himself even more, taking the blame for sending his wife on that fateful journey.
With every breath, Captain Jenkins cursed himself for being alive. And each day, the mist grew stronger.
I was curious why his family's ghosts were not around him. But Mat told me that grief and loathing keeps them away, for it saddens them to witness his torture. When he finds peace, they would come.
I rested my head on Samuel's lap, saddened by the captain's story. I dozed off, wondering if I could somehow ease his pain.
A freshly killed rat might do…
Not long after, my dreams of hunting were disturbed by a sudden cry from the upper deck.