Romance Adventure Historical Fiction


“Land ho!”

A desperate bellow, brightened by hope. Perhaps salvation was within our grasp and we would survive after all.

I tightened my hold on the whatever-it-was that I was clinging to, and held my breath as yet another salty shower washed over me.. The night was alive with curses, screams and prayers. A bolt of lightning turned our darkness into day, and I caught a glimpse of two men wrestling with the great wheel of the Windrider, striving to keep her nose headed into the towering waves. I possessed only meagre book knowledge of the art of sailing, but I knew enough to realize that if our vessel’s course changed even a little, she would wallow helplessly in the trough between waves and be overturned.

Time seemed to stand still while images of my life paraded before my inner eye. Myself as a little girl in ribbons and lace, the first disappointment of a father who longed for a son and fathered only daughters. Next, the eagerly inquisitive adolescent fenced in by the disapproval of her mother and her governess, whose only goal was to foster a favourable marital union. Some years later, the woman of twenty-two, stolidly watching the marriage ceremonies of two of my five younger sisters, wondering if matrimonial bliss was truly the destiny of a woman of even a modicum of purposeful intelligence. Then, finally, my latest self at an overripe twenty-four, involuntarily betrothed to Lord Cecil Behoven, who looked old enough to be my grandfather.

Then I fell in love and everything changed. I, Lady Cynthia Panterra, knew without a doubt that I was destined for better things.

Romain Desrochers, first officer of the tall ship Windrider, had some business with my father. After their deliberations, he was invited to stay for luncheon. As soon as he kissed my hand, I knew that this was the love of my life, and there could be no other. 

We exchanged the customary pleasantries over the meal, and all too soon he was on his way to conquer the oceans. I watched his receding back until he disappeared from sight, wondering if he shared the mysterious stirrings deep in my belly.  That day, I became a woman; that very night, I became a man.

I stole a rough blanket and boy’s clothes from the laundry, wrapped up a few provisions, slashed away my long hair, smeared some dirt on my face, and betook myself to the harbour, where the Windrider was moored, prepared to depart at dawn. 

Providence was on my side. One of the cabin boys had been arrested for pickpocketing, so not many questions were asked when I presented myself. I gave my favourite uncle’s name, Josiah Garton, and made my cross on the paper, agreeing to serve in any capacity required, for a year or a day, more or less, since the length of sea voyages was unpredictable.

My ineptness earned me many an oath and the occasional cuff, but I learned quickly, and became more capable as my muscles grew stronger. Despite the lack of amenities, I found life at sea much preferable to the interminably humdrum hypocrisy of the drawing room. My days were brightened by the presence of Romain, who seemed oblivious of my existence; my nights were haunted by dreams of passionate adventures-to-be. The romances I had read in secret proclaimed that true love always finds a way, as inevitably as the ocean waves which now threatened to engulf me.

Another bolt of lightning struck our central mast, splitting it in two. One half bounced off the deck into the waves; the other struck the first mate's shoulder and mowed him down like ripe harvest grain. Romain jumped out of its path, but not far enough. It caught his leg, pinning him down.

With no consideration of possible consequences, I leaped forward to help. The deck tilted, liberating Romain and rolling the mast towards me. Some force greater than I – perhaps an angel, perhaps a gust of wind, perhaps the simple will to live -- lifted me upwards out of its path. Before there was time to feel any relief or gratitude, the next wave hit, capsizing the boat and spilling us all into the turbulent waves like discarded chess pieces.

By some uncanny synchronicity, Roman and I happened to grasp the same piece of mast before the waves swallowed us. We rode the infernal waters together, choking, sputtering, gasping for breath, but never letting go of the wood that was our only hope of salvation. After an eternity, the sea calmed and the sun rose.  

Guiding the fragmented mast to shore was no easy feat. I was too exhausted to stand when we landed, and crawled only a few feet before I lost consciousness.

So began our great adventure. Not the one I envisaged when I put to sea, but marvellous nonetheless.

After I recovered my senses, I nursed Roman with great solicitude, splinting his damaged leg with tree branches and vines, though he swore that it was not broken. A week later, he set out to walk the circumference of the island, while I hovered over him, imploring him to rest. By evening, we were back where we had begun, having found no evidence of human habitation.

No other souls from our ship managed to reach shore. A few fragments of wood, a sea chest, and a barrel of stout drifted onto the beach in the next few days, but that was all. The chest contained some clothing, four books, needles and thread, and a flint and steel, all of which proved useful in the days to come.

We found no signs of life on the island save some fat birds and four-legged creatures that resembled foxes. We sampled the fruits on the trees and discovered by trial and error what was palatable and what was not. The ocean provided us with an abundance of clams and fish. Sometimes we would roast one of the birds, which were easy to snare because they had no fear of us whatsoever. During the long sunset-blessed evenings, we would exchange tales true and imagined, and teach each other songs and dances. Romain’s manner gradually warmed towards me. It seemed that he might be developing feelings for me, the lowly cabin boy he had never taken the slightest notice of. In response to his smiles, I became more and more careless about concealing my identity, hoping that he would realize the truth of our situation.

One hot afternoon, while Romain was busying himself with weaving a mat from palm fronds, I retreated to a nearby pond to freshen up my clothes. Because I had nothing to change into, I usually played in the water fully dressed, rinsed myself under the waterfall that fed the pond until I tired of the game, and then allowed my clothes to dry on my body. On this particular day, the sunshine sparkling on the water enticed me to remove all encumbrances. The warm breeze caressed my body as I plunged into the water, laughing and reveling in the innocent freedom of a child. I had never felt more alive.

I was luxuriating under the falls, eyes half-closed, when a tall form reared from the water. Romain had come to join me.

We stood face to face, Adam and Eve in Eden before the fall. I had never seen a naked man before. My bemused curiosity quickly turned to dismay when the grin on Romain’s face faded to utter horror.

He splashed out of the water, scooped up his clothes, and ran like all the demons of hell were in pursuit. I did not see him again until he appeared at our encampment the following night. I had started a fire and was roasting some clams.

I heard his step and looked up, expecting an apology, or at least an explanation. He towered over me, his face twisted in wrath.

“What have you done?” he roared like an offended deity.

I was too taken aback to answer. I had spent considerable time wondering whether modesty or revulsion had driven him away, but I had not anticipated this response. It was obvious that I had sinned in his eyes, but I did not have the slightest notion of what I had done amiss.

“You must have known that a woman aboard a vessel is bad luck,” he continued. “Thirty-three good men and a cat lost their lives because of you, and my career as a marine officer is utterly ruined.”

He continued to rant and rave until I was too exasperated to put on a submissive face. I stood up and met his eyes. “Such nonsense! You know full well that is a tale that sailors invented so that they could have freedom to do whatever they wished while they were at sea!”

He stared at me as if I had grown a six heads. I stared back, shooting imaginary lightning bolts into his insolence. He subsided, bit by bit. Then a rueful smile lit his face.

“I do admire a woman who has the courage to speak her mind.”

I sat down, knees trembling. “Supper is ready.”

He did apologize eventually. All barriers between us vanished for a few golden hours. I told him my whole story, how I had found my life’s purpose in his eyes and could not bear the thought of never seeing him again. Death was preferable to being chained in the bonds of loveless matrimony, but I had dared to hope that life at sea would be preferable to death.

Romain recognized me then, and even remembered my name. He kissed my hand gallantly and said, "My dear Lady Cynthia, I am at your service in every way but one. I have no taste for the fairer sex."

He was true to his word, and cared for me in every possible way, like the most faithful of servants. I lacked for nothing he could provide. However, my shattered heart could take no pleasure in his attentive efforts. How I longed for our former days of bawdy jokes, familiar slaps on my buttocks, and the uninhibited freedom of dancing on the beach together! But I was Lady Panterra now, and Romain was forever beyond my reach.

We still had long conversations in the evenings, reading the rather tiresome books about botany and economics that the waves had gifted us with, recalling the past and speculating about the future. He shared his sea lore with me, and I acquainted him with the peculiarities of genteel society. We whiled away many hours in storytelling -- tales of adventure, battles, narrow escapes, love lost and found. I smiled and jested when it seemed appropriate, and wept bitter tears in the solitude of the night over my own tragic tale of eternally unrequited love.

A year or two later (it was so hard to keep track of time!), we were rescued by the Blessed Mary, a merchant ship which had wandered off course. When Romain was lighting the signal fire we had prepared on the beach, I considered disappearing into the trees to escape returning to my bondage. But my sense of duty kept my feet rooted in the sand.

I need not have worried about the sensibilities of my family. They were dismayed by my return. It was one thing to have a daughter tragically snatched from them by an unknown perpetrator; it was quite another to have said daughter returned, with roughened hands, muscular arms, and sun-bronzed skin, from being marooned with a sailor. Mercifully, Lord Behoven had succumbed to influenza, so he was spared the disgrace of breaking our engagement. The last of my sisters was only days from her nuptials, which narrowly escaped being cancelled by the family of the groom. I was allowed to attend the ceremony, but not as a member of the bridal party. I was a ruined woman, with no prospects whatsoever.

Romain did his chivalrous best to amend the scandal by asking my father for my hand. Father refused rather ungraciously, saying that he did not want a common sailor in his family. He had advertised an offer of a substantial reward for my safe return. After much hemming and hawing, he presented half to the captain of the Blessed Mary, and half to Romain. Romain immediately purchased a vessel of his own, assembled a crew, and set out on new adventures.

My parents decided that it would be best to sequester me on a country estate, in the hope that my existence would be forgotten. So here I am, living quietly in reasonable contentment. My allowance is not opulent, but adequate, allowing me to purchase all the books I can read. I am patiently putting money aside in the hope of embarking on another sea journey. I no longer dream of romantic escapades, but rather of exotic lands beyond the horizon. I am thirty-one years old now, practically a crone, and I wish to see more of the wide world before I die.


Cecil Rutherford set his pen down and picked up the sheaf of notes he had written. He spent interminable minutes riffling through the pages, sometimes scowling, sometimes smiling, sometimes raising a quizzical eyebrow. Just when I was sure that I would explode with impatience, he rendered his verdict.

“My dear Lady Panterra, your story is both fascinating and unusual. But we cannot possibly publish it. The scandal would be too great.”

I put on a face of innocent dismay. “Scandal? How can the truth be scandalous?”

He huffed at that, with a sardonic smile. “You must know that Lord Dogshead is happily married.”

“Lord Dogshead?” I queried. “Oh – you mean Romain Desrochers.” The “common sailor” whom my father had rejected had done very well for himself. He owned a fleet of four ships, and had been elevated to the peerage for his scientific discoveries and advancement of lucrative foreign trade which enriched the Crown. He had shed his past like a dead shell and adopted the name of his estate, which was well-known for its unusual landforms.

Cecil coughed discreetly. “He has been blessed by three children, and one on the way.” 

“He is much at sea,” I said shortly, biting my lip to keep me from mentioning that any fool with nine fingers to count on would know that two of those children could not possibly be his.

“You know,” Cecil said in a conciliatory tone. “If we – tweaked the story a little, our readers would find it entertaining and even inspiring. As it is, we cannot offer you any remuneration.”

“I care nothing for the money,” I burst out. “I just want the truth to be known, once and for all. I have born the burden of whispered slander and half-truths for too long, and I want it to end.”

He stood up, gazed at me with renewed interest, and bowed. “I do admire a woman who has the courage to speak her mind.”

I stood up as well, and waited for him to take his leave. But he had other ideas.

“I hear that there is a country festival in progress. Perhaps I can find a story there. Would you care to accompany me?”

I blushed and lowered my eyes. “I am so sorry – I must decline. I am expecting a visitor in an hour.”

Cecil tilted his head, completely unruffled by my attempt at a polite social lie. “This evening, then? I hear that there will be dancing. I would very much like to learn something of the local country dances. Could you assist me?”

My heart started to pound. Joining the servants in their festivities was one of my guilty pleasures, but none of them had ever presumed to offer to dance with me. 

I opened my mouth to utter a tactful refusal, and heard my voice say, “Seven o’clock would be convenient.”

So here I am, hysterical with anticipation, trying to decide what to wear. I do not even know if Cecil is married, and I don’t care. If I must be a disgraced woman, I may as well enjoy the freedom of acting like one.

I am not naïve enough to imagine that anything will come of this chance encounter. But if it does, I will never consent to be confined at home. I will insist on accompanying Cecil on each and every one of his adventures. Who knows, I might even become a journalist in my own right.

Come what may, this will be a night to remember. It will be good to dance with a man again. 

September 29, 2023 06:38

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Michał Przywara
03:05 Nov 06, 2023

Ha, what a fun adventure! It could almost be a comedy, if not for all the people dying - well, it still is funny, in the way that life can be sometimes. A pity it didn't work out for her with Romain, but she seems to have come out stronger for it, and the end is a bright note. Come what may, she intends to enjoy it. Thanks for sharing!


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04:18 Oct 05, 2023

Loved the story! Is it Romaine or Roman? You seemed to have both spellings. Poor Cynthia. She grew up but so sad to have fallen hopelessly in love with such an idiot. Hope it works out better with Cecil. Great handling of the show not tell with this story. Well done.


18:43 Oct 05, 2023

Oops! It's supposed to be Romain. It started out as Roman, but I changed it. I was trying to set as many stereotypes on their ear as possible. The idea of the possibility of a happy ending did not emerge until later. Cynthia has a lot of spunk and deserves someone who appreciates her. Thank you for your comments!


19:08 Oct 05, 2023

A pleasure. I loved Cynthia's determined belief that Romaine was the one and he would grow to love her. A wee tip. I write my story in Word and copy and paste it into the Reedsy submission page. Before doing so, if you are using an app, it will probably allow you to put in the original name in search. Then highlight the name. Change the spelling of all instances and then un-highlight. It's the easiest way to make sure you change the name throughout. This is also a good method to make sure you have caught all instances. Put in the old name an...


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