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BBW Lady Luck - by Marlow

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Marlow

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Chapter 26


May, 1812 – Rio de Janeiro


As the French legions overran Iberia, the royal court of Portugal had escaped Lisbon and sailed for the relative safety of their overseas colonies.

Rio had abruptly become the capital of a major kingdom and the exiled monarchy raced to transform the town into a stately, palatine metropolis equal to its European counterparts. They were desperate to reassert royal authority, to feel noble and superior once more, and to recapture in flight an image of opulence and prosperity.

They made excessively munificent hosts, therefore, rushing to meet a wealthy guest’s every need or desire, no matter how minute or unusual, with nervous haste. Any distance was worth traveling, every modicum of effort worth expending, and no consumption was too conspicuous if the exertions meant a traveler might, on returning home from Brazil, remark to a peer that the Portuguese Empire was as rich and illustrious as ever.

Most of the city center had been expropriated by the nobility or traded to the royals in exchange for favor and titles. The Governor’s House had been converted into a new Royal Palace with the hasty addition of a third floor and a throneroom.

The parties were lavish, the fashions were splendid, the food was exquisite, and the captivating Madame de Ville-Chanceuse promptly became a popular guest for every occasion. Adelaide had made herself instantly famous at a ball celebrating Tryphena’s astounding victory, acting without the slightest glimmer of restraint or embarrassment, an object of fascination, gossip, sex appeal, and speculation. She had woken the next morning in a heavy haze to find a crowd of messengers and a stack of invitations.

But poor battle-scarred Tryphena had to be stripped for a much-needed refit and all but her most essential personnel were sent ashore or to receiving-ships to berth in the interim. There was no room for Adelaide amongst the carpenters and no money for private lodgings, but an alternative had quickly presented itself.

Hermes Allen had come to Brazil with an American diplomatic delegation, traveling aboard Trimalchio, one of the U.S. Navy’s hefty new warships. Allen maintained a large passenger-cabin as his studio and was all too happy to make space for his favorite muse.

It was a fortuitous association. The men from the British consulate and their parcel of soldiers, who had been watching Adelaide intently throughout the victory celebrations, suddenly began to keep their distance. Allen’s delegation had been sent to foster good relations and Adelaide now found herself traveling among some of Rio’s most honored guests.

While Captain Muir and his men struggled with their repairs and fought with corrupt dockyard officials, Adelaide toured the city with the Americans, viewing the strange tropical flora or one of the displaced monarchy’s ambitious new engineering projects. They traveled by hired coach and refreshments were provided at every station.

The carriages were cramped and rarely comfortable for guests of their size. Allen was at least as heavy as Adelaide, though a good deal taller. Captain Adams of Trimalchio had grown much too portly for the strained buttons of his uniform and the captain’s wife, who had accompanied him on the voyage, was a prim but pudgy woman. The foursome rode stuffed into the carriage together, jiggling and apologizing as it jostled about.

They were carted through the brand-new royal botanical garden, they were rowed around the Island of Snakes, they were hauled up to the peak of Corcovado, and they were led along the beach at Ipanema.

Any weariness on the part of their guides evaporated at the sight of Adelaide’s awestruck gaze and the sound of her delighted laughter. She beheld every landmark with genuine wonder and a torrent of fascinated questions. Even the carriage’s unusually exhausted horses seemed gratified.

The only eyes that did not light up at her passing were those of the captive Captain Aubert. As an officer he had been given a limited parole and could walk the town at his leisure, though always with a guard of British marines. He would fix Adelaide with a long glare, but she would take another bite of guava and pay him no mind.

On most weekdays the Americans would eventually return to the harbor and their enormous ship. The captain’s barge would be submerged nearly to its gunwales by the party’s combined weight and the oarsmen would be purple and gasping by the time they pulled alongside Trimalchio.

Captain Adams, despite his bulk, could still clamber up to the deck on his own as smartly as any seasoned mariner, but his wife and Mr. Allen would wait to be hoisted aloft in a boatswain’s chair like so much cargo. Adelaide, intent on impressing the Trimalchios with the skills she’d learned aboard Tryphena, would make a commendable effort to heave herself up but would invariably require the help of a few powerful hands.

Once safely aboard they would be served a sumptuous dinner in the captain’s cabin. Adams had not sailed with a private cook of his own, but Allen’s wealth had snapped up the services of Sophrosyne’s former chef. Tryphena’s drafty cabin and its tasteless hardtack quickly became distant memories.

They would finally retire, thoroughly sated, to their respective quarters, there to be overcome by glutted drowsiness. On some evenings, though, an inspired Hermes Allen would bid Adelaide pose for a new portrait, depicting her now as Helen, now as Sappho, now as Lysistrata. He would eagerly uncover his easel; she would eagerly uncover her glowing figure.

But on weekends or special occasions—and there were many special occasions in Rio—the delegation would receive an invitation from one of the noble houses. An exiled lord would request the honor of their attendance at a garden-party on his estate. A newly-minted baron would beg them to join him in a celebration at his recently purchased manor.

“A full-course dinner will be provided,” read Allen, squinting at the letter over his breakfast. “More eggs, my dear?”

“Urrp,” said Adelaide.

“I believe I shall visit a tailor beforehand,” Captain Adams agreed, unfastening his waistband. “Madame, I remember you mentioned needing a new dress…”

Adelaide nodded. She reached for the toast, but the plate was an inch too far and she couldn’t muster the energy to sit up.

“…and you, sweetheart? Would you like something, ah, roomier from the dressmakers?”

“No,” lied Mrs. Adams. “Unlike you wastrels, I have been able to practice moderation and temperance.”

She practiced neither that night at the baron’s ball, however. They weren’t halfway through the meal before she’d filled up on so much mondongo her dress had split down the middle. Only a hurried folding of her arms prevented the table from seeing her bare bosom.

Fortunately she had been seated beside Adelaide, no stranger to such experiences, who sent a servant for a shawl, some festive ribbon, and another round of caipirinha.

The dinner dragged on and on. Music began to fill the ballroom and couples began rising from their seats, but despite several offers from handsome suitors neither Adelaide nor Mrs. Adams demurred to dance. Captain Adams wandered off to gladhand with the baron and Allen slunk away to flirt with the baron’s zaftig wife.

“The most fun I’ve had since we left Baltimore,” Mrs. Adams shouted, again.

Adelaide sat back and watched the elegant dance that had coalesced. As the partners clasped hands, she clasped hers to her gurgling stomach. As they traipsed about in their swirling rings, she massaged her taut flesh in soothing spirals. As they leapt fancifully to a sudden flutter in the music, her paunch bounced with a sudden belch.

While she watched the dancers, two stiff, uniformed men watched her from the mezzanine.

“We should have arrested her as soon as she waddled ashore,” growled one. “My men could have brought her to the consulate that very day. We could have her back in London by now, telling us everything and anything we could want to know.”

“Lower your voice, man.”

He didn’t. “The longer we let her roam free like this, the more harm she can do. The prince regent’s most recent proposals for sending regiments to Spain have already leaked. The French knew of the numbers almost before we did.”

“We can’t simply arrest her.”

“She is an enemy agent! I am certain of it.”

“She is also a guest of our allies…a very public guest. And these are allies we cannot dare to offend. And now she’s under the protection of these bloody Americans. We can’t afford a diplomatic incident with them. Tensions are high enough…they could declare war at any moment. I think neither of us wants to be responsible for that.”

The first man sighed. “Damn it all, she’s good. She knew just how to position herself.” He shook his head. “I say, you would hardly guess she could be such a master of espionage and intrigue by simply looking at her. I suppose that’s part of the genius.”

A rending crack interrupted the music. Adelaide had leaned too far back and her chair had given out beneath her. A crowd rushed to her aid, but that famous laughter assured them all she was unharmed.

“But this beguiling ‘cover’ may also provide us our opportunity,” murmured the other agent. “Tell our men to leave her be.”

“You can’t be serious.”

“Quite. Let it be known: Ville-Chanceuse is to be allowed every conceivable liberty…she is to be made as comfortable as possible.” He smiled. “Too comfortable. Then, once our political constraints are lifted…we’ll have her right here in our grasp.”
 

DaveTheBrave

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I like how you’ve woven this story’s journey into the actual world events of the time.

Of course, now I’m just wishing Adelaide will marry into the emerging Kingdom of Brazil, and grow happily ever after shielded by the age old Anglo-Portuguese Alliance. But, of course, I doubt Marlow will let her get off so easily!
 

Marlow

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Chapter 27


June, 1812 – Rio de Janeiro


Anemone
meandered in harbor under a lazy sunset. It was early in the week and the city was relatively quiet and subdued after a raucous weekend.

The old lugger, made an even slower sailor by her encounter with the reef, eventually floated up alongside Tryphena. The frigate was almost unrecognizable with her masts struck down and her decks stripped, but the wiry figure of Captain Muir stood unmistakable at the taffrail.

“Mr. Boreas,” he said a few minutes later, once the boat had rowed across and the portly merchant had climbed aboard. “How glad I am to see you’re still afloat.”

Boreas shook his hand. “It was a near thing, but we made it to port right-side up, haha. And I would say the same to you, captain. We heard of your action…what a feat, sir, let me give you joy. Nothing short of heroic.” He glanced around the scarred deck. “Upon my word, they must have clawed you terribly.”

Sophrosyne had the worst of it, luckily.” He waved to a hulk in the dockyard. “Nearly sank at her moorings last month. I expect she’ll be broken up for scrap.”

“Alas for your prize-money.”

“But you’re well, I hope? And is—”

“Ah, here she comes, now,” Boreas chimed, bending to help Zephyra up the last step to the deck.

“That never gets easier,” she panted. “Oh my…captain…bless me…Captain Muir, thank god, hello. You’re alright.”

“I am. And you’re…well,” he managed.

He was not alone in staring. Time spent with Boreas had treated her waistline well, at least. She was rather heavier than the Tryphenas remembered; her beer-belly pushed out against an ill-fitting nightgown and her sagging cleavage was deeper and even more mesmerizing than ever.

“Sixteen stone,” whispered Joe. “Not a pound less, or you may call me a Dutchman.”

The old foretopman scoffed. “Oh? And how is it you can never reckon numbers so well when it’s your turn to buy drinks?”

Eventually Muir collected himself and welcomed Zephyra with a relieved hug. The crew seethed with jealousy as her chest pressed up against him.

“And Addie?” she asked, peering past him. “Sleeping off dinner, I assume?”

He frowned. “Possibly. Not here, though. Not with the cabins turned out. She’s taken up with some Americans…she had a friend among them, a painter. That’s their ship, there, the big one.” He gestured across the harbor to Trimalchio’s lights. “I’m sure you would be welcome if you visit. Captain Adams is exceedingly hospitable.”

“Painter,” she recalled, glowering.

“Darling, why don’t you go across?” asked Boreas. “I know you’re bursting to see her. You go…I’ll catch up on news with the captain here.”

“Dinner will probably be a little better over there, anyway,” Muir admitted. “But do say hello for us. We miss having her ladyship aboard.”

Zephyra winced. “Oh, don’t say ‘dinner.’ I don’t want to be impolite…but if you don’t mind…” She disappeared over the side; a subsequent thud announced that she’d plopped into the boat.

Boreas watched it paddle off. “What’s this we’re hearing about a spy, now?”

“I expect you know as much as I do.” Muir pulled off his hat. “There’s some talk of intelligence leaks. I don’t know. But there’s no way it’s Adelaide, if that’s what you’re hearing. Troop movements are…the last thing on her mind.”





It was dark by the time the jolly-boat delivered Zephyra to Trimalchio. After finally persuading the sentries that she was not simply another harbor-wench looking for work (this time) she was finally led across the unkempt deck and down the companionway.

“Oh! Oh my. Hello!” Mrs. Adams chirped, setting down a drumstick and wiping her lips. “She’s just through there. And, bless your heart, you are every bit as gorgeous as she said.”

Captain Adams looked up from his logbook. “Consider yourself at home. Just mind the canvasses. Mustn’t disturb Allen’s artistic process.”

Zephyra thanked them and made her way aft. She ignored the stunned leers of the American crewmen, wishing she’d worn something less revealing.

Allen’s artistic process featured Adelaide, nude save for sandals, a laurel wreath, and her diamonds, leaning her weight upon a fake marble column. A large Grecian bowl sat on the pillar beside her elbow. A sailcloth backdrop hung behind her, stenciled with a sketch of the acropolis.

He painted with a focused grimace, working slowly, checking his model often and moving candles about to adjust her shadows. So far he had only painted her stomach, but the depiction was exquisitely detailed. It captured not only her midsection’s soft contours but the stretchmarks and the pinkish ridges where it would have creased if it were not presently so packed with soup and pâté.

She was a restless model, though, clearly not as comfortable spending long periods on her feet as she’d once been. She shifted frequently and sometimes when Allen looked down to mix more paint she would dart a pudgy hand behind the bowl to a hidden glass of wine for a quick sip. After the gulp that finished the glass, she noticed a newcomer to the cabin and her glazed eyes filled with delight.

“Zephyra!” she squealed, knocking over the bowl.

Allen whirled about, his initial impatience giving way to cheer. “Is this…ah! Of course! Welcome, dear! Madame has told us all about you.”

Zephyra took a cautious step in and Adelaide wrapped her in a squishy embrace, resting her weight on the maid’s shoulders. “I missed you so much. So, so much.” She pulled away, patted Zephyra’s lovehandles, and reached for a robe. “You look…amazing. Mm. Incroyable.”

“And you…look…” Zephyra cleared her throat. “I was so worried. We heard you were right there in the battle…”

“She fought like a true heroine,” Allen assured her. “A warrior queen. An amazon…a valkyrie…Ah!” He reached for his sketchbook.

Adelaide giggled. “Hermes, would you fetch us a fresh bottle and another glass?”

“Certainly, my dear. Please, Miss Zephyra, sit and be comfortable while I find you both some refreshments. I’m sure there’s something left from supper.”

“Oh, I already—” Zephyra sputtered, but he had gone. She stepped over to the indicated bench. A table nearby was littered with dinnerplates.

Adelaide wrapped herself in the tiny robe and crossed the room, weaving a little. She fell onto the bench with a weary huff and massaged her overworked legs. The robe immediately flapped open and her gurgling stomach swelled out across her thighs.

“You came,” she sighed with a dreamy smile. Her eyes wouldn’t quite focus. “I’m so happy you came.”

“We got your letter and sailed as soon as Boreas could get the boat ready again. I was so worried.” Zephyra glanced over her shoulder and through the door. “You’re safe, though? They’re taking care of you? What’s the plan?”

“They’re taking very, very good care of me,” Adelaide snickered, shaking her stomach. Both rolls wobbled happily. “That’s why I’m so glad you’re here. That’s the plan.”

Zephyra furrowed her brow. “What do you mean?”

Adelaide leaned in as though sharing a devious secret, but forgot to lower her voice. “Everything here is so wonderful. So great. This is such a good, good life.” She paused to stifle a long belch and massage the side of her gut. “Stay for dessert. And tomorrow…come with me into town and I’ll show you what I mean. It is going to be just…just the most beautiful day, I know it.”
 

Marlow

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(27, continued)


The beautiful day started late. Zephyra waited on deck through the morning watch, forcing small-talk with the American captain and flirting politely with a few of the hands until Adelaide finally appeared, groggy and disheveled but smiling her irresistible smile.

While they breakfasted on the usual pile of bread and bacon, Zephyra restored Adelaide’s hair, helped her with a touch of makeup, and fussed with her wardrobe and accumulated accessories. She dressed her for a day-trip, holding back the obvious comments about Adelaide’s undeniably widened waistline.

Once ready, Adelaide flagged down a cutter and they went ashore in style, basking in the midmorning sun. Every eye in Rio seemed to turn and stare as they sauntered up the wharf, sometimes at Zephyra’s overexposed cleavage but more often at Adelaide’s overflowing bulk.

“It feels like we’re being watched,” Zephyra murmured, glancing at the pair of stiff Englishmen gazing back at her from a terrace.

“Oh, probably,” Adelaide said with a shrug. “I’m something of a celebrity. See…”

She led the way into a quayside café. A hostess looked up in barely-concealed horror, but managed a smile. “Dia—welcome back, madame! Erm. Please, your table. Two today?”

“Just some breakfast before we get started,” Adelaide explained, easing herself into a chair. “Big day ahead.”

“What was that we just had on the ship?”

“That was just to keep our stomachs from growling.”

“Ah.” Zephyra still felt uncomfortably bloated from it.

“Just try some of this. You’ll love it. You’ll love everything.” She adjusted her dress below the table. “I do.”

Adelaide set about devouring a spread of cheese buns and angel-hair eggs, exhorting Zephyra between bites to eat her fill, too. The bewildered maid attempted to play along, but after their long night and filling breakfast aboard Trimalchio couldn’t manage more than a few portions. Adelaide, undaunted, more than doubled her and spent the subsequent hour half-dozing in her chair, hands folded atop her belly.

Zephyra sat staring. A severe, vaguely familiar-looking man in a French naval uniform marched past the café with marine guard. He paused to glare at Adelaide and strode off with a growl.

Waking with a sudden burble, Adelaide thanked the servers and beckoned for Zephyra to help her up. She waddled out in contented triumph, waving regally to the staff and other patrons as she departed.

“Where’s your coinpurse?” Zephyra whispered. “We need to pay your bill.”

“Taken care of. I’m…something of a celebrity. Urrp. Flag down a coach, will you? One of the nice carriages with the springs. I don’t think I could handle a bumpy ride yet.”

They eventually secured what claimed to be the most cautious coachman in Brazil, but Adelaide still winced at every minor imperfection in the road.

Between the bounces, she showed Zephyra her favorite landmarks in an abridged, haphazardly planned recreation of her tours with the Americans. People at every stop greeted her with familiar smiles and waves, wishing her and her alluring new friend well and offering to treat them sometime to a meal.

“We should be most happy,” Adelaide replied to each with a dramatic flourish. “Call upon us aboard Trimalchio at any time.”

The carriage brought them to a beach for a while in the afternoon. They lounged in the sand, letting the water curl around their feet and the sun warm their skin. Zephyra’s apprehensions began to subside and she joined Adelaide in recalling their various journeys and the people they’d met. She let Adelaide coerce her into enjoying a postprandial snack and over a few glasses of cana recounted the embarrassing details of her unintentionally decadent voyages with Mr. Boreas.

As the afternoon wore on they returned to town and passed an hour at the dressmaker’s. Zephyra helped Adelaide try on several luxurious garments—the owner knew her well by now and had prepared a selection in his best estimation of her size—until they finally decided on a sultry, scintillating ensemble so openly sensual that Mrs. Torcia would have fainted on sight. It only needed a quick adjustment: Adelaide’s arms had grown too flabby for the straps.

“On Mr. Allen’s credit?” asked the blushing dressmaker.

Adelaide nodded. “And now, back to the ship to freshen up. Can I ask you to help me get ready?”

Zephyra picked up the boxed dress and followed her out. “Ready for what?”

“I’m dining tonight with a local gentleman. A lawyer, I think. I still don’t understand much Portuguese, but I think he’s very sweet on me.” She winked. “Let’s hurry. I’m starving.”

She needn’t have spoken any Portuguese, for she and her suitor made almost no conversation over dinner. The wealthy, handsome young man could only gape stupidly at her. His eyes had bulged immediately at the new dress, at how her broad hips stretched the skirt, at how her backfat curled over the fabric behind her. His mouth was too busy hanging open to speak and her mouth was too busy devouring his dinner to reply.

Zephyra stood with the house’s staff and watched the bizarre, silent meal in astonishment. Adelaide relished every new plate the stewards brought out: duck, perfectly boiled in a yellow root-sauce, a curious squash, baked cassava, fried cassava, cassava cake, balls of cassava stuffed with cheese, all washed down with plentiful madeira.

Dessert seemed to last even longer. Adelaide finished off a plate of sweet rice, a baked custard, an acai tart, and several guava rolls.

At length she announced she would consume no more—it was only Tuesday, she reminded everyone, and she wished to be ready for the grand ball next weekend—and the handsome young man could wait no longer. Draining another glass, he rose and helped her make her way gingerly upstairs.

But he had drunk too much and she had eaten too much for any great activity. Zephyra had only just finished helping the staff clear the overladen table when Adelaide leaned out from the bedroom, wearing a sheet and a mischievous grin, and waved for her to come up.

The ulterior motive was soon revealed. The young lawyer’s new house was furnished with an expansive, garish bathroom, with a beautiful gilded washbasin at its center. The room was lined with tropical plants, creating a private jungle spring for its guests.

While the man snored away on his bed, Zephyra drew Adelaide a hot bath. A butler brought in a fresh bottle and a plate of fruit.

“Perfection,” Adelaide purred, closing her eyes as Zephyra massaged her scalp. “It’s like the good times in Valletta.” She reached for her glass and savored the mouthful. “Do you remember that tub at the palazzo?”

Zephyra nodded. “I do. You fit a lot better in that one.”

“It must have been bigger.”

The tubs were much the same size, but Adelaide now all but filled it. Half the water had splashed out when she’d clumsily slipped in and even now only a portion of her bulk lay submerged. The slope of her breasts and the engorged dome of her stomach rose from the surface like a volcanic island. She could only just see the peaks of her knees beyond.

“This is it, Zephyra. Bigger and better, like we always wanted.”

Zephyra poured her another glass. “Much bigger.” She reached for a papaya, but Adelaide snatched it first and took a sizable, messy bite.

“Now don’t think I didn’t notice you looking a little…softer, yourself.”

She slapped at Zephyra’s gut, but missed. Zephyra splashed soap at her.

“I feel so free.” Adelaide belched. “I can forget…forget everything.”

She slipped a hand underwater and lifted up her paunch. It had developed a lower roll of quaggy flesh that hung down, remaining soft and pliable even after the rest of her belly had bloated to firmness. It spread over her hips and bunched up into deep creases along her flanks.

“I like everybody. Everybody seems to like me…” She drained her glass and grabbed a sponge, splashing it absently in the suds that gathered between her breasts. “It suddenly…mm…suddenly feels like I can do anything.” With a grunt she reached the sponge over her belly, but the distance proved too great. She reached it around one side, then the other, tried to contort herself, and after a few more halting attempts settled back with a frustrated pout.

Zephyra took the sponge. “Here, I’ll do it. And you aren’t worried?”

“Worried? About what?”

“Well, I…” She grimaced and slid down the tub to lather the underside of Adelaide’s paunch. “Aren’t you still, in sense, a fugitive? You said that French captain wanted to haul you back to France in irons…the British want you arrested as a spy…Addie, you could have been killed in that battle.”

Adelaide shrugged and sat back, letting her face sink into her second chin. “I wasn’t. And everything has been fine. I don’t think it matters if anyone is out to get me, because…because everyone is…hmmp…everyone’s taking care of me.”

Zephyra plunged the sponge between two folds of flab. “It does seem that way.”

Adelaide twisted slightly to one side. “Oof, thank you,” she could. “And then there…yes, all that. Thank you so much. It’s so hard to reach, sometimes. I’ll turn over in a minute so you can get the other side.” She plucked a fruit from the tray. “That feels great. And maybe if you could do my legs…”

“Bless me, yes. Just lie still. I’ll do it all.”

“You are the best.” She swallowed and splashed more water onto her distended belly. “But no, I’m not worried. No. Never again. I have realized…mm…that maybe I really am lucky. Lucky, Zephyra. I’m…urrp…I’m Lady Luck, aren’t I? Good things will happen.”
 

Marlow

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Chapter 28


July, 1812


Tryphena
rocked nervously against her moorings. Her masts had been stepped, her knees reinforced, and she seemed at last restored. Her men had finally come back aboard and begun setting her insides to rights. After a long day of hauling on cables they now lounged belowdecks, avoiding the sudden tropical rainstorm that swept through Rio. Those near the open gunports gazed out across the harbor at the lights of Governor’s Island.

A great mansion there glowed with life even through the rainy midnight darkness. It was hosting a ball and all the city’s elites were in attendance. The party was louder and more raucous than usual, for recent news from Europe—a prime minister assassinated, a potential alliance between the French and Prussians, rumors everywhere of conspiracy—had created a desperate mood.

The American delegation was strangely absent from the gala; Trimalchio was said to have received some correspondence from home that had troubled Captain Adams and warranted his attention. His famed French guest had appeared, however, squeezed into a tautly stretched emerald-green ball gown. Firmly cinched short-stays were all that kept her girth from bursting its seams.

Zephyra, once she’d successfully seen Adelaide to her seat with the dress intact, retired to the back hall of the house. She was by now familiar with many of the other stewards and they spent the evening sharing drinks and stories.

When after midnight neither the revelry nor the rain showed any signs of letting up another bottle was opened. Zephyra had just finished a long pull and was flirting with a swarthy valet when a nearby door flew open.

“Zephyra!” gasped Mrs. Adams. She pressed the door shut with her prodigious backside and fumbled to close her umbrella. Rainwater splashed everywhere. “Thank goodness I found you. Where is she?”

“What? Georgia, are you alright? Here, have a drink.”

“Thank you. Now, listen, I’m not supposed to…there’s, well, I overheard these marines…it’s…she’s been so kind. She’s the only real friend I’ve made since we left Baltimore…”

Zephyra stood and led her away from the group. “I don’t think I’m sober enough for this. What are you talking about?”

Mrs. Adams grabbed her shoulders. “Something’s changed. New orders. There are British soldiers coming. They’re going to arrest Adelaide…maybe us, too, as party to the spying. Oh, oh…”

A flourish of music and a chorus of drunken cheers drifted in from the ballroom.

“What do we do?”

Zephyra took a long breath. “Tryphena. You go and get word to Captain Muir. Tell him what’s happening. Have him meet us at the wharf. I’ll…I’ll find Addie, warn her…and we’ll catch up with you down there.”

“Coffee?” offered a valet. Zephyra gratefully grabbed the mug.

Mrs. Adams eyed her. “Are you alright? You’ll be able to slip her out?”

Zephyra took a long gulp. Her head still swam and she had to shake it alert before replying. “I admit I don’t really know my way around here, but, uh, I can let her take the lead. She’ll know where to go.”

“But…well, it…see, I’ve been to these events with her. She can be…”

“She’ll be fine. We used to do this all the time. I know she likes to indulge, trust me, but between the two of us she’s generally the more sober one at the end of the night.” Zephyra forced down the rest of the coffee. “She’ll know what to do. Getting away with things is what she does best.”

“Just be safe. The men are already on their way to the house.”

“Go. We’ll be fine. Go before I sober up enough to be nervous.”

She found herself shaking apprehensively nonetheless as she crept out to the party. A walk along the dining table revealed that Adelaide was absent her seat. She was not to be seen on the dancefloor, which was less surprising, nor in any of the groups chatting and flirting around the edges of the room, nor even, as had happened on a few prior occasions, in the kitchens. Adelaide’s bulk was never difficult to locate amongst the lithe aristocrats and Zephyra began to fear the worst.

Finally, a footman by the grand staircase gave her a knowing look and nodded toward the grand staircase. Zephyra cursed and raced up, falling clumsily just before reaching the top and bursting a lace on her bodice.

Her heavier bosom appreciated the relaxed restraints. “I don’t know whether to blame Addie or Boreas,” she grumbled, adjusting the bodice with a wince.

An unmistakable laugh echoed through the upstairs corridor. A door down the hall was ajar; two empty plates, an overturned bottle, and a shoe lay outside. Zephyra tiptoed over, steadied herself against the wall, and pushed the door open.

She sighed. “Bless me.”
 

Marlow

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(28, continued)

Adelaide lazed on a short divan, her hips all but covering its cushions. A man sat against her side, his hand on her belly and his head lolling with a vacant grin. Another man lay at her feet, snoring. They were all naked and covered with various crumbs and syrups. As Zephyra rolled her eyes she noticed a trio of women likewise passed out on the colossal four-post bed, faces smeared with frosting and a half-eaten cake (formerly an impressive recreation of Sugarloaf Mountain) between them.

Zephyra swallowed and stepped inside.

With one hand, Adelaide fidgeted absently with her necklace. With the other she raised a pitcher to her lips and drained the remaining third of its pungent contents. She let it clatter to the floor, belched, and turned her glazed eyes to Zephyra with befuddled delight and a ringing hiccup.

“Zephyra…hurrp. Mon…dieu.”

Zephyra crossed to the window and peered out, but there was too much rain to make out any soldiers. “Addie…” The man on the divan slumped to the floor with a plaintive moan and rolled himself beneath a nearby writing-desk.

“I drank them under the table,” crowed Adelaide, splaying her arms over the back of the divan. “Just like you—hic!—just like you taught me.”

“Addie, we need to get out of here.”

She laughed. Her entire body quavered. “Ah, no. Hic! Too full.”

“You’re always full. This is—”

“This is…this is new full. Ooh. Trop…trop…mon dieu.”

Zephyra rounded the couch and frowned. It certainly appeared to be true. She had seen Adelaide stagger into bed after Mediterranean banquets and waddle home after shaming the greatest appetites in the Caribbean, but she could not recall having ever seen her so pinned down by her own indulgence.

She had seen the all-too familiar stomach bulge with contentment, but now it defied gravity, swollen so taut that it remained almost still while the rest of her wobbled, its top roll pushing outward and upward enough that her breasts could only hang out to her sides. Its signature crease was stretched so flat that her sagging lower roll had become part of a contiguous globe, forcing her knees apart. Her face was flushed purple and her frequently interrupted breaths came short.

“How,” was all Zephyra could muster.

Adelaide smiled. “Like I said on—hic!—whatever day that was. I’ve been…saving up for this one. I could sense…sense that something big might happen to…urrp…tonight.” She presented her midsection with a flourish. “Something big. Hic! Tres grande.”

Zephyra stepped over and glowered down at her. “You need to leave. Right now. There are—”

Adelaide reached a pudgy hand up and tugged at the loose lace of Zephyra’s bodice. “Or you need to come here. Hic! Join me. There’s still…cake. Mm.”

Adelaide’s mass was enough to pull Zephyra onto her lap. Zephyra squirmed aside, pulling away but further loosening the bodice. She tripped over the slumbering man as she backed up, but managed to sit herself on the edge of the bed.

“No, Addie, listen. Men are coming for you.”

“Oh?” Adelaide’s eyes drifted shut. She purred. “Delicieux…”

One of the women stirred and wrapped an arm around Zephyra.

“That’s not…stop that.” She extricated herself and stood. “There’s no time. I’m taking you back to the ship. You can ask me why in the morning. Now…where’s your dress?”

Adelaide belched.

“I don’t know why I asked. It was the old green one…you barely got into that thing on an empty stomach. We’d never get it back on.”

“Oui. Hic!”

Feet pattered past in the hall, followed by excited voices. “Soldados!” tittered one.

Zephyra whirled about. “Right. You lot…up and out.” She shoved the nearest of the nymphs aside and yanked at the bedsheets beneath them. “Get off, damn your eyes.” She hadn’t picked up much Portuguese, but had retained a plethora of maritime oaths.

The women stirred and blinked, protectively pulling their cake away.

“Ladies, there are some, ah, handsome soldiers coming to the party. Go entertain them.” One of the men on the floor grumbled a translation. After a moment’s conference the women bustled out of the room, making sure to bring the cake. Zephyra bundled up the bedsheet, crossed back to the divan, and grabbed Adelaide’s hand.

She hauled with all her might and promised every reward she could think of and on the third desperate heave got the besotted woman to her feet. Whatever semblance of balance Adelaide may have retained in her inebriated state was confounded by her exceptionally full stomach, however, and she toppled forward immediately. Disaster was only averted after three bumbling steps by one of the bedposts.

She hugged it for a moment, giggled, and turned to lean back against it. It creaked, but held. Straightening her head, Adelaide found herself facing a mirror.

“Oh my…I…when…” She cradled her distended belly and sighed. “Oh, it’s true. I have gotten fairly—hic!—plump.” Her girth filled most of the narrow mirror. Adelaide had put on nearly four stone since coming to Rio, the balance of it settling in her midsection, an increase so rapid and so visible no one in the city had failed to notice it.

“Stop pretending to be surprised,” Zephyra muttered. “You know what you’ve been up to. Hold still.”

Adelaide spread her arms and swayed while Zephyra wrapped the sheet around her. “I know, I know. But there’s—hic!—every so often I…ow, not so tight…”

“I barely touched it.”

She pressed her hand to the top of her gut and belched. “It’s so full. So sens…sensitive right now. Wait, where are we going? I don’t wanna be on my feet. So full. Hulp! Oh, please don’t make me walk.”

Zephyra guided her toward the door and finished tying off the sheet. Adelaide stumbled into the corridor in a billowing toga.
 

Marlow

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(28, continued)

They stood in the hall a moment, listening. Gruff voices drifted up from the ballroom, but were soon drowned out by a horrible burbling whine and a belch that resounded throughout the manor.

“Bless me, Addie. How much is in there?

Adelaide gave her a bleary smile.
“Don’t answer that. This way, come on.” They set off on a ponderous journey down the hall, Adelaide leaning her weight unhelpfully on Zephyra’s frame.

“Well, there was, um, a lot,” she recalled, licking her lips. “So much. You would have loved it. I know I—hic!—did. Ow.”

The reached the corner. Zephyra elbowed open a door to the service stairwell and squeezed Adelaide through. The steps groaned beneath her, she scraped the stone walls on every turn, and two shocked servants had to interrupt an illicit act to get out of the way.

“Steak!” Adelaide lilted. “Steak, Zephyra. All the steaks. Hic! Center cut…skirt steak…sirloin culotte…it feels like I ate the…the whole cow.” She reached the bottom step with a stumble and another echoing belch. “They had everything. I had everything. And it was all on s…skewers…” She held the end of the word with a hiss while Zephyra peered out through a back door.

“Hell. I can see soldiers in the main room…looks like they’re questioning people. But I think the courtyard is clear.”

“They were so, so nice, Zephyra. They let me try it all.” She slumped against the wall, eyes drifting closed. “And they knew the perfect drinks to pair with…mm…”

Zephyra dragged her out into the yard, where they were immediately blasted by a torrent of rain. It spurred Adelaide enough to wobble forward under her own power, but not with any great speed. They weaved through a garden and around a fountain and stopped behind a hedge near the back gate. A soldier stood guard.

Adelaide doubled over, wheezing.

Zephyra reached back to shush her. “Easy. It’s only a little further. You can do it. I’ve seen you climb all the way to a ship’s masthead in one go.”

“That was…a hundred…pounds ago. Oh, I’m so drunk.”

The soldier began to turn their way, ears perking up at her groan, but something caught his attention. Two of the girls from the bedroom had waved to him from the porch, giggling. He called back to them and stepped away from the gate.

Holding her breath, Zephyra seized Adelaide and dragged her to the gate. They barreled through and staggered into the street just as a carriage trundled past. Zephyra collected herself and glanced around. She was entirely lost, but managed to glimpse the distant twinkling of ships’ lanterns through the rain.

“Only a few blocks to the water,” she whispered, steadying Adelaide before she could collapse. “Here, through this alley.”

“Zeph-hic!—a, where are we going? Just…let me sit down and be…fat. Augh. So stuffed…never wanna have to…move again…” She smiled to herself. “Could just have the servants…thing…bring me things…servants…”

They paused at the opening of a small arcade. Zephyra glanced back and could see the shapes of soldiers emerging from the manor’s gate.

Adelaide leaned back. “Servant. Servant, rub my belly. So full. Hic!”

“Madame!” cried a voice. A man came stumbling out of an inn. “Boa noite, minha docinha!” He beckoned her over.

“See, I always get what I—” Zephyra pulled her into another alley.

This alley proved much darker and crowded with crates and barrels. Adelaide had to be turned and squeezed through the space between two casks of wine, the wine in her belly sloshing as loudly as the rain splashing around her.

“Who was that? He was handsome. Hands. Mm. Handsome.”

“Wasn’t it the lawyer you had dinner with last month? The one with the bath? He…no, Addie, don’t go back…”

The narrow lane ended and Zephyra could see the dark expanse of the harbor just across the street. It was a busy street, though, full of coaches and lit by the windows of a dozen quayside taverns. Beside the alley was a building with a long awning and they sheltered beneath it; the sounds of a busy bawdy-house emanated out and a clique of prostitutes waited by the door. Zephyra glanced anxiously up the lane. Adelaide flopped herself against a pillar.

“Zephyra, some…one needs to rub this belly.” She untied the toga and slipped a hand in to give herself a caress. “This belly…needs a…hic-urrp.”

Someone was coming. Zephyra recoiled, wrestling Adelaide off the pillar and into a shadowed alcove. There were three or four figures, maybe more, heading their way through the rain. Boots clacked against the wet stone.

She peered over to the next alcove, hoping for an escape route, but it was already occupied by an amorous couple. The woman squealed with satisfaction and the man gave a straining grunt.

The boots drew closer. The approaching figures were only moments from the corner. Zephyra tensed, turned, and embraced Adelaide in a fiery kiss.

Adelaide moaned with glee and arched her back, her cachaça-tinged lips taking ready command. She let the toga fall away and pulled Zephyra’s hands to her glutted belly with startling force. Zephyra gave in and began reluctantly kneading it; Adelaide fumbled with the last laces of Zephyra’s bodice and tore open her maid’s rain-soaked gown.

Zephyra raised her head a moment, listening, while Adelaide kissed her neck and collarbone. The boots had stopped. A surreptitious glance over her bare shoulder showed several shadows standing behind her.

She bit her lip. “Do you gentlemen mind? Private…matters.” They said nothing, so she pulled Adelaide’s head up for another kiss to better sell the act. Adelaide’s hands continued to fondle and undress her, squeezing her lovehandle and sliding back up to her breast. “Oh, bless me.”

“Zephyra?” asked a voice. “Adel…oh, for all love…”

“Darling, it’s us,” whispered another.

She pulled away and twisted around, chest heaving. Mr. Boreas, Captain Muir, and Mrs. Adams stared back. Boreas grinned, Mrs. Adams cringed, and Muir rushed forward to give them his boat-cloak. A pair of midshipmen ran over and their mouths promptly fell agape. Zephyra moved Adelaide’s playful hand from her chest and hurried to replace her bodice.

Adelaide fell back against the wall with a hiccup. “Mon capitaine!”

“Are you both alright?” he asked. Zephyra nodded, trying to catch her breath. “Thank heaven. Mr. Irving, ready the barge. Take the ladies to the ship. Tell Mr. Calder he is to hide Adelaide in the breadroom again if anyone from the consulate comes aboard. I will follow shortly.”

“Are, sir. Just like in Portsmouth, sir. Mum’s the word.”

“Bread,” murmured Adelaide.

“Come, Madame,” laughed Boreas, steadying her. “Let me guide you to the boat.”

Zephyra pushed the hair from her face. “There are soldiers coming, captain. Our departure wasn’t exactly…subtle.”

“Yes, they’ve visited Tryphena already,” said Muir. “I’m sure they’ll search Trimalchio, in due course. Mrs. Adams, may I take you back to your ship? We have another boat ready and should make sure your husband is warned and safe.”

“Of course—thank you.”

“And perhaps together we might work out some means of spiriting Adelaide away from all this.”

“I’ll come with you,” Zephyra decided, watching Adelaide wobble away. “I should collect some of her things.”

“I think we have—”

“Nothing that will still fit her. Trust me.”

He grimaced, but nodded. “Aye. Well, there’s not a moment to lose.”

Two boats shoved off from the jetty. Tryphena’s barge, sitting low in the bow, pulled toward the frigate. Her jolly-boat, moving faster despite fewer oars, raced toward the American ship. The rain drove harder and Zephyra’s torn gown was soaked to transparency. She shivered despite the tropical warmth and tried to avoid Mrs. Adams’ disapproving eye.

The boat thumped alongside Trimalchio. Muir threw down his oars and answered the sentry’s hail. The reply was dubious—any self-respecting royal navy officer would have a barge full of men rowing him about—but Mrs. Adams’ shrill demand for a hoist-up silenced any suspicions.

“Where is my husband?” she snapped once they’d climbed aboard.

“Below, ma’am,” the marine stammered. “In the orlop, with the—”

She ushered her guests below. Trimalchio was a comparatively gigantic ship, but Muir’s lifetime of seagoing experience led him on and he burst into the cabin ahead of the others.

“Captain…Mr. Allen,” he bellowed, ducking under a beam, “this ridiculous tale about Adelaide in conspiracy with France as some kind of spy…there’s no…no…” He froze. Zephyra grabbed his arm.

Captain Adams glanced up from the table. Mr. Allen sat beside him, looking amused, and in the chair opposite, Captain Aubert turned around the meet the visitors’ gaze.

“Of course she’s no spy,” laughed the painter. He calmly cocked a pistol and leveled it at Muir. “But there is, I’ll admit, a conspiracy.”
 

DaveTheBrave

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Right? I’m almost like “okay good—I’m sure this will be the last twist..” Ha! Always a cliffhanger, like a good Netflix series.

Irony is that the longer she’s living this life, the bigger she will ultimately get. But, I suppose, she is also inadvertently becoming quite acquainted with the customs of the noblesse...
 

Benny Mon

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I lost track of this story sometime in the middle of the pandemic, but I just caught up, and, man, was it worth it. You don't need to hear from me, Marlow, what you've heard from everyone else--that you're one of the very best on this site and in the fatfic game across the web--but here I am saying it. The seamless interweaving of this Master-and-Commander-type story, the vividness of the settings, the satisfaction of seeing favorite friends and villains iteratively reintroduced in a vast, transatlantic world...it's all a feat.
 

Marlow

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Chapter 29


“Zephyra?” called Adelaide, hoarse. “Zephyra, I think I’m awake. Mostly. Can you come in here?” She moved to sit up and immediately fell back onto her pillow. “Ugh. And bring some water. Or…I don’t know. You always know what I need and, mon dieu, do I need it after last night.”

There was no reply.

“Please, Zephyra…my head…my belly. I don’t know if I can get up.”

After a few more minutes of unanswered whining, Adelaide pushed open her cabin door and glanced down the corridor. Her hair was a frightening tumble, her already pudgy face puffy and pale, and in the absence of any clothing had wrapped herself in a blanket.

“Has anyone seen my maid?” she mewled. The berth was empty. Holystones scraped the deck overhead with a noise that scraped her brain. “Standing is hard. Ow. Uh, ahoy? Avast? Is anyone…hello?” She ventured cautiously to the companionway and called again.

“I believe it is safe,” offered Lieutenant Calder’s harsh voice, “if you would like to come on deck.”

Adelaide squinted in the midday sun that streamed down through the hatch. She grabbed the railing, clasped the blanket closed, and hobbled up. Gritting her teeth against a throbbing tenderness, she had to pause halfway to let her vision clear.

She finally emerged onto the maindeck with an agonized groan. Calder shooed a party of swabbers, who moved aft as quietly as they could manage. He cleared his throat. “How…um. Ah-hm. How are…”

“Terrible,” she croaked. A breeze fluttered the blanket and nearly knocked her over. “Bloated. Still a bit drunk. Everything hurts.” She took a long breath. “Very, very bloated.”

“You were in quite a state.”

“Quite a…steak,” she murmured. “What is all this noise? What’s going on?”

The harbor was busier than she’d ever seen it. Boats flitted between ships and shore in a reckless frenzy. The streets along the waterfront were full of people shouting and running about. Bells rang throughout the city. British and Portuguese soldiers were forming up near the garrison.

“We don’t know yet. This all erupted about an hour ago. I’ve sent a boat ashore for news.” He lowered his voice. “Fortunately, at least, the soldiers now seem much less invested in locating you.”

Adelaide rubbed her temples. “Soldiers? Me?” She blinked. “Where is Bene…the captain?”

He eyed her. “Madame, what do you remember of your night?”

“Well, there was…” She furrowed her brow. “…meat…” Her stomach growled and she squeezed her eyes shut against the discomfort. “Look, have you seen my maid? She should really be…taking care of me after all that.”

“Sir, the boat is returning.”

“Thank you, Mr. Waterhouse,” Calder replied, motioning for the boatswain to speak softly. He turned back to Adelaide, eyes narrowed. “Zephyra did not come aboard with you, madame. Nor did our captain. Neither has been seen since Mr. Irving and Mr. Boreas collected you from the…ball.”

She reached for a backstay to steady herself. “But she…they were…”

“The jolly-boat is still missing. I understand you may not have been very attentive at the time, but can you at all recollect where the captain may have headed after pouring you into the barge?”

“Boat…jolly…there was…I remember…” She blushed. “I was enjoying the most amazing kiss…some squeezing…and then everyone was there…”

The boatswain’s gang crowded to the rail, welcoming Tryphena’s shore-party alongside.

“Georgia was there. She’s Captain Adams’ wife…they must have gone over to Trimalchio. Zephyra would want to bring me something that, uh, fits.” She tugged the blanket up, to the chagrin of the seamen watching from behind.

Calder paled. “The American ship? By thunder, no. Please, no.”

“What?”

“Madame, Trimalchio is gone.” He pointed across the harbor. The huge frigate was nowhere to be seen. “She and a few other vessels slipped out of port just before dawn. Trimalchio and…”

“…and all the other American ships,” realized the old foretopman. Joe nodded.

“War!” shrieked Midshipman Irving, rushing up from the boat. “The Americans…they’ve declared war, sir. The dispatch just reached port this morning.”

“Dear god,” gasped the doctor.

Adelaide shuddered and fell back. Two of the quicker swabbers dashed forward to catch her before she could pitch over into the ship’s waist and gently guided her onto a nearby crate.

Mr. Boreas clambered up behind Irving. “Infernal yanks got the word before anyone else…they were all set to go. City’s in a panic. And…” He turned to Adelaide. “…there’s a rumor someone sprung that French captain from holding.”

She instinctively clutched at her diamonds.

“Where would they all go?” wondered the parson.

Calder folded his arms. “They know we would be obligated to seize all American shipping once we heard the news. I expect they’ll make for home, or at least a neutral port.”

“The word is,” Irving reported, “most of the commercial vessels are flying north in company. But a girl I was…” He glanced at the parson. “…speaking with said she saw a light heading south just before sunup.”

“South?”
 

Marlow

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(29, continued)

“South,” Captain Adams confirmed. “We intend to round the Horn and so continue into the Pacific. You’ve seen that we’re provisioned for over six months at sea. More bacon, miss?”

Zephyra’s stomach growled, but she kept her hands in her lap. “Thank you, no. I’m watching my figure.”

“I don’t doubt it.” He took the proffered dish for himself. “Now the Pacific, of course, is simply teeming with—”

“Whalers and fur-traders,” supplied Captain Muir, staring at the floor.

“Without a single warship to protect them, so dedicated is your Royal Navy to its precious French blockades. Thus a cornerstone of the British economy awaits our predation entirely undefended, as though on a silver platter.”

Mr. Allen leaned his bulk over the table and plucked a biscuit from a silver platter. “A veritable feast of spoils. We plan to grow very rich and fat indeed, eh, Aubert?”

The French captain looked up from the cufflink he’d been polishing. “Yes, very rich.”

“No wonder you wanted Adelaide aboard,” muttered Zephyra.

Allen gave a wistful smile. “My solitary regret. I think she would have been absolutely delighted at the prospect. I should like to have painted her upon the Galapagos, or the Sandwich Islands…but, my dear, you are yourself a woman of exceptional beauty. I’m certain you will grow, ha, to enjoy our company.”

“And what of all the ordnance stored below?” asked Muir. “I saw artillery pieces when you took us down to the hold. Surely you don’t need all that to prey upon unarmed whalers.”

Adams finished his bacon. “Ah, that is for our secondary objective. A thrilling little scheme Allen and Captain Aubert have been hatching for some time, and something which I know has thoroughly captivated my dear Mrs. Adams.”

Mrs. Adams swallowed her bite of toasted cheese. “Our very own island paradise. You’ll love it, Zephyra. The freshest air, palms swaying in the breeze, pristine sandy beach wherever you look, coconut cocktails under the tropical sun…”

“…a fortified island citadel,” added Aubert, “with a battery of 32-pounders guarding the harbor. The perfect impregnable base for exerting our will upon a vast expanse of ocean.”

“And the food! So many new types of fish we’re dying to taste.”

Muir pushed his untouched plate away. “I’m sure they will be delicious. I wish you many…satisfying dinners. And as for us, Captain Adams?”

Adams blinked at him. “As for you?”

“When are we to be put ashore? We’re prisoners of war, sir. I’m an officer. I will give my parole…the same parole I have granted my own prisoners…” He cast Aubert a sidelong glare. “…and I will honor it. I expect to be exchanged at the earliest opportunity, as is due my rank. And…and Zephyra is a civilian, for all love. You have no right to hold her. If you won’t go back to Rio, then at least leave us at Santos, or even Buenos Aires.”

Allen scoffed. Adams hesitated and looked to Aubert.

Aubert smiled. “We would rather you remain with us. Mrs. Adams worked so hard to bring your aboard. A hostage of your standing can be so…useful.”

“Let Zephyra go home, at least.”

Again Adams moved to speak, but was too tentative and Aubert cut him short. “After she’s heard all this? I’m no fool, captain. No, you will both stay.”

“Embrace it,” Mr. Allen urged them. “Zephyra, you know firsthand how hospitable we are to friends.”

“You could be my maid!” Mrs. Adams realized. “Sweetheart, I have so envied how you take care of Adelaide.”

Allen heartily agreed. “And without her ladyship aboard, I do need a new model. May I paint you sometime, Miss Zephyra? I could depict you as…as…ah, as Volumnia Cytheris, that most venerable of whores.”




“Check the brothels, too,” shouted Calder. “I want every man-jack of ours back aboard within the hour.”

Adelaide watched, her stomach churning and her world spinning, as the Tryphenas processed and discussed the news. A general din of speculation and disagreement had risen and any real work had ceased, for while Lieutenant Calder’s seamanship could not be questioned he lacked his captain’s familiar commanding presence. His anxious stammering had quickly unnerved many of the newer hands.

“What are you in mind of, lieutenant?” Boreas prodded. He still hadn’t returned to his own ship, lingering beside Adelaide and sending his mate to Anemone to fetch some clothing.

Calder paced. “Only being prepared. The admiral had gone inland yesterday to hunt. He will be hurrying back with all haste and I’m sure he will call a command meeting as soon as he’s returned.”

“But your captain…”

“I know, Mr. Boreas. I…I’m…”

“Sir,” coughed the old foretopman. A crowd of seamen shoved him forward and he knuckled his forehead.

“What—forgive me. What is it, Rivers?”

“Well it’s—which I’m telling him now, Joe, ain’t I—the lads, see, we’ve talked it over and taken a vote, like, on account of what’s transpired, and seeing how it’s that captain and Miss Z what got—”

“We oughta go after them,” blurted Joe.

“I was getting to that, damn your…” He composed himself and apologized to her ladyship. “We should like to rescue them, sir. Head out straight away, and sod the admiral’s meeting and all the delay, sir, if you’ll pardon.”

The assembled men grumbled their assent.

Calder spread his hands. “We can’t just go to sea. We aren’t victualled. We—”

“I am,” offered Boreas. “Anemone’s loaded to the gunwales with produce. We’ll sail with you.”

“That’s exceedingly kind in you, of course, but—”

“I’d still be on that reef without your captain. And if you think I’ll just let them make off with Zephyra, sir, you’re mistaken. If you’re going after them, I’m coming with you.”

Calder wrung his hands. He began a few more protests, but his words quickly trailed off. The junior officers and warrant officers were staring at him and nodding. The topmen glowered down at him from the rigging.

“Gentlemen,” he explained, voice cracking, “without the captain, I’m not sure I’m comfortable making such a decision.” He shuddered as their eyes bulged, but pulled off his hat. “Therefore…I propose that we go find our captain and, ah, ask his advice on the matter.”

The men grinned. Tryphena rocked as they rushed to their stations.

“Mr. Waterhouse, hands to raise anchor. Boreas, you’ll want to return to your ship.”

Boreas nodded and set a hand on Adelaide’s shoulder. “Let me know what you need. Anything.”

“No, I…” Adelaide finally replied. “I should go ashore, I think.” She wiped her eyes. “I’ve troubled you all more than enough already. Just…put me ashore. Drop me in a tavern or something where I can’t pretend to be important or cause any more problems.”

“We’ll do no such thing,” snapped the parson.

She gaped at him.

“Please stay,” he continued. “The ship will need your…luck.”

Irving rushed over. “Lieutenant Calder, sir, musn’t we signal if we’re to leave port?”

“You and your flags,” laughed Boreas, heading for his boat. “Signal enemy in sight; chasing to south.”
 

DaveTheBrave

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Honestly, my only critique on this entire story is how many times I check this forum hoping for the next chapter lol
 

Marlow

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Honestly, my only critique on this entire story is how many times I check this forum hoping for the next chapter lol
Ha, sorry for the pause! Figured the holidays would make for a timely act-break.



Chapter 30


October, 1812 – Cape Horn


Violent seas surrounded the edge of the world, whipped up by perpetual Antarctic gales. Lightning crackled overhead. Chunks of ice swirled past in the water, the gravestones of countless ships lost to the Drake Passage.

The waves rose as high as Tryphena’s masts. All hands were hard at work day and night, making constant adjustments to the rigging, changing out sails as the wind turned, replacing broken spars, and pumping water from the hold as quickly as it gushed back in. Swells washed over the ship’s railing and their frigid froth washed over everyone aboard.

The ship, plunged into the valley between waves, would suddenly lose her wind and spin helpless in the vacuum, but as she was carried up to the next crest a howling gust would blast her from some horrible new direction. Ropes would snap, sails would carry away, and Tryphena would nearly heel over.

The men labored without a glimpse of respite, clinging to their lifelines. Keeping the ship afloat, much less keeping her on course, required some new feat of heroism every hour, whether it was climbing an ice-crusted mast to cut away a parted sail or catching a fallen mate before he could pitch over the side and never be seen again. They never complained, for they’d chosen their path together, but they each quietly wished they’d caught Trimalchio before the thirtieth parallel.

But they’d sighted nothing. Putting into Montevideo to take on water and wait for the slow-sailing Anemone to catch up, they’d learned Trimalchio had passed over a week ahead of them. The horrible truth had settled in: they would not catch the Americans unless they could brave the passage.

The fragile old Anemone could never have rounded the horn. Boreas had left her in the care of his second mate and volunteered aboard Tryphena as a supernumerary. He had so far been of little actual help; he was more merchant than mariner and while he had seen hurricanes in the Caribbean he could never have imagined such a volatile sea nor such mountainous waves.

Tryphena rolled to starboard. Adelaide, lying belowdecks in her cot, felt the flab of her empty stomach sag to her right accordingly. The ship righted itself and continued over, heeling to larboard. Adelaide’s paunch sloshed over with it, flowing across her midsection and squishing up against the bulkhead.

The wind turned and Tryphena crested an impossible wave, paused, and began a plummeting descent into the trough. Adelaide watched her stomach bulge up and float with a magical, momentary weightlessness before settling back down, heavier than ever.

She’d spent much of the arduous voyage in her cabin, angry and ashamed. There was little to do but eat, drink, and blame herself for their predicament. While the men worked themselves to exhaustion with only spare moments for cold cuts and a quaff of grog, she’d somehow managed to put on another stone of fat.

It was, however, scarcely the decadence she’d grown so accustomed to (she’d joked aboard Trimalchio that if she were to stay in Rio another month they’d have to list her as cargo rather than a passenger) and the new weight hardly signified. Anemone’s fruits were welcome flavor, but the bulk of her diet had necessarily reverted to naval fare. While the quantity never lacked—so far—after months of the Portuguese court’s extravagant, incomparable culinary gratification, the salted beef, mushy peas, and crumbling biscuit of the British Navy could only disappoint.

She’d drunk all that remained of Aubert’s wines and emptied much of Boreas’ private stores, she’d sweet-talked the wardroom into gifting her the few prized meats and cheeses they’d bought in Montevideo, and she’d emptied the parson’s hidden stash of confections within days of discovering it. She devoured everything with dispassionate efficiency and never once seemed satisfied. Now there was little left to look forward to.

The ship’s bell rang, regular and reliable even in the chaos of the storm. Adelaide raised the last of Aubert’s stock—a particularly bitter vintage—to her lips and found it empty. The timbers around her groaned. Her stomach soon joined it. She had not been fed in hours.

She listened awhile, but heard nothing beside the howling wind, the continuous bellowing of orders, and the pounding of panicked feet overhead. A rogue wave sent the ship lurching onto a new heading and Adelaide was nearly bounced from her cot.

“Putain de—” Tryphena swung round again and Adelaide’s belly flopped against the wall with an audible slap.

Recovering, she stowed the bottle and eased herself upright. Her belly flowed onto her lap. Once the ship seemed to have temporarily steadied she grunted and pushed herself to her feet.

The passenger cabin was a five-by-eight-foot cloister. With much of its already cramped space taken up by her cot, her writing table, and the storage locker, there wasn’t much room left for Adelaide’s six and a half feet of circumference. Her hips scraped against the furniture as she turned and as she bent to collect her clothing her backside popped the cabin’s flimsy door open.

The doorway, intended for a wiry ten-stone master’s mate, made for a ludicrously tight squeeze. She slid sideways with a wince, glad she’d given up her dresses for a set of sailor’s slops. The sailcloth blouse showed off a shameless swath of belly, but she needed the freedom of movement and by now there was little her shipmates hadn’t seen.

Holding on to the doorframe as the ship rolled again, she glanced around the sternquarters. The other cabin doors were closed and there was no flicker of light within. The only sign of life was an occasional moan from the very seasick Mr. Boreas. Adelaide made her way out into the gundeck, shushing her grumbling stomach.

She wandered slowly, stepping from handhold to handhold as the deck pitched underfoot. It was unusually dark belowdecks; even the warm glow of the galley had been doused. Frigid water trickled around her feet.

Adelaide passed her portrait. The woman it depicted was unrecognizable now, barely half her size. For a moment she wished the woman would stop smiling—so arrogant, so selfish—but soon simply wished to be back on that dry, warm, steady chaise lounge with that plate of dessert. Though perhaps with a different, less deceitful painter behind the easel.

“Anyone down here?” she asked the galley. “It’s me, your big, fat lucky charm…hungry again…”

A din of shouting echoed overhead, followed by the cracking of timber. Adelaide stepped cautiously forward, eyeing the leaky hatch. A draft whistled along the deck. Something crashed behind her, a flurry of orders rained down, and a party of seamen hurried below with tools. A torrent of water gushed after them.

The ship pitched. The men scattered, seizing anything solid. Adelaide tottered over and slid down the sloping deck, colliding with one man and crushing him against the bulkhead.

“I’m so sorry,” she gasped once they ship had righted, peeling him off her abdomen. “Are you hurt?”

“Not at all, your ladyship,” he wheezed, doubling over. “Ain’t the first time…only need to…find my lungs again…”

His mate helped him up. “Need something, ma’am? You’d really be safest in your cabin.”

She grimaced. “It’s not urgent. Well, but…not as…uh, I just wondered when we expect to call dinner. We’re already two bells late and I’ve had nothing but wine since breakfast. Well, not including the wardroom’s leftovers. And—”

“Likely no dinner today,” the first man admitted. He traded a glance with the other. They’d had nothing but a corner of hardtack since the previous afternoon.

Tryphena lurched again. Adelaide steadied herself on a pillar and the man, flailing, plunged a hand deep into the fold of her belly.

“Sorry, your ladyship, sorry,” he wailed, extracting himself. In a bewildered attempt at politeness he cradled her paunch to readjust her waistband, as though realigning a knocked-over vase. It rippled in his hands and he backed reverently away.

“Pas de problème,” she assured him, patting it. “You’re lucky it was empty. Speaking of…”

“No dinner today, I wager. Lieutenant’s had the galley fires doused. Ain’t safe to cook with the seas cut up this rough. We’re all hands on deck watch-and-watch just to keep the barky right-side up.”

Adelaide hadn’t heard anything after ‘no dinner.’ Her stomach protested noisily and she turned to give it an apologetic knead.

The men cautiously wished her well and started back toward their post, but she grabbed the scrawny one’s sleeve. “Look, is there any way…”

They turned. Their weary, exasperated eyes froze her more thoroughly than any icy spray.

“Ma’am?”

“I…” she swallowed. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

The men traded an incredulous glance.

“I’m not a total landlubber…blubber aside. Remember, you all used to teach me so much about the ship. I may not be able to climb the rigging anymore, but I still…know the ropes.”

The elder man eyed her.

“You could go below,” suggested the scrawny one, “spell one of the fellows at the pumps. Heavy work, down there.”

She nodded. “Right. Thank you. Yes. I can do that. I really should start pulling my weight.”
 

DaveTheBrave

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Hahaha I didn’t mean it as a genuine critique! This story is amazingly well-written. I love the consistency of the writing—you are so true to the time, place, and sailing context in history that it makes for a fascinating read all on its own. In addition to the consequences of a 19th Century food addiction, I love the way you weave in world events, letting them bleed into the plot.

Now here is to hoping the Tryphena will catch a lucky break in this springtime weather!
 
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redrider772004

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Ha, sorry for the pause! Figured the holidays would make for a timely act-break.



Chapter 30


October, 1812 – Cape Horn


Violent seas surrounded the edge of the world, whipped up by perpetual Antarctic gales. Lightning crackled overhead. Chunks of ice swirled past in the water, the gravestones of countless ships lost to the Drake Passage.

The waves rose as high as Tryphena’s masts. All hands were hard at work day and night, making constant adjustments to the rigging, changing out sails as the wind turned, replacing broken spars, and pumping water from the hold as quickly as it gushed back in. Swells washed over the ship’s railing and their frigid froth washed over everyone aboard.

The ship, plunged into the valley between waves, would suddenly lose her wind and spin helpless in the vacuum, but as she was carried up to the next crest a howling gust would blast her from some horrible new direction. Ropes would snap, sails would carry away, and Tryphena would nearly heel over.

The men labored without a glimpse of respite, clinging to their lifelines. Keeping the ship afloat, much less keeping her on course, required some new feat of heroism every hour, whether it was climbing an ice-crusted mast to cut away a parted sail or catching a fallen mate before he could pitch over the side and never be seen again. They never complained, for they’d chosen their path together, but they each quietly wished they’d caught Trimalchio before the thirtieth parallel.

But they’d sighted nothing. Putting into Montevideo to take on water and wait for the slow-sailing Anemone to catch up, they’d learned Trimalchio had passed over a week ahead of them. The horrible truth had settled in: they would not catch the Americans unless they could brave the passage.

The fragile old Anemone could never have rounded the horn. Boreas had left her in the care of his second mate and volunteered aboard Tryphena as a supernumerary. He had so far been of little actual help; he was more merchant than mariner and while he had seen hurricanes in the Caribbean he could never have imagined such a volatile sea nor such mountainous waves.

Tryphena rolled to starboard. Adelaide, lying belowdecks in her cot, felt the flab of her empty stomach sag to her right accordingly. The ship righted itself and continued over, heeling to larboard. Adelaide’s paunch sloshed over with it, flowing across her midsection and squishing up against the bulkhead.

The wind turned and Tryphena crested an impossible wave, paused, and began a plummeting descent into the trough. Adelaide watched her stomach bulge up and float with a magical, momentary weightlessness before settling back down, heavier than ever.

She’d spent much of the arduous voyage in her cabin, angry and ashamed. There was little to do but eat, drink, and blame herself for their predicament. While the men worked themselves to exhaustion with only spare moments for cold cuts and a quaff of grog, she’d somehow managed to put on another stone of fat.

It was, however, scarcely the decadence she’d grown so accustomed to (she’d joked aboard Trimalchio that if she were to stay in Rio another month they’d have to list her as cargo rather than a passenger) and the new weight hardly signified. Anemone’s fruits were welcome flavor, but the bulk of her diet had necessarily reverted to naval fare. While the quantity never lacked—so far—after months of the Portuguese court’s extravagant, incomparable culinary gratification, the salted beef, mushy peas, and crumbling biscuit of the British Navy could only disappoint.

She’d drunk all that remained of Aubert’s wines and emptied much of Boreas’ private stores, she’d sweet-talked the wardroom into gifting her the few prized meats and cheeses they’d bought in Montevideo, and she’d emptied the parson’s hidden stash of confections within days of discovering it. She devoured everything with dispassionate efficiency and never once seemed satisfied. Now there was little left to look forward to.

The ship’s bell rang, regular and reliable even in the chaos of the storm. Adelaide raised the last of Aubert’s stock—a particularly bitter vintage—to her lips and found it empty. The timbers around her groaned. Her stomach soon joined it. She had not been fed in hours.

She listened awhile, but heard nothing beside the howling wind, the continuous bellowing of orders, and the pounding of panicked feet overhead. A rogue wave sent the ship lurching onto a new heading and Adelaide was nearly bounced from her cot.

“Putain de—” Tryphena swung round again and Adelaide’s belly flopped against the wall with an audible slap.

Recovering, she stowed the bottle and eased herself upright. Her belly flowed onto her lap. Once the ship seemed to have temporarily steadied she grunted and pushed herself to her feet.

The passenger cabin was a five-by-eight-foot cloister. With much of its already cramped space taken up by her cot, her writing table, and the storage locker, there wasn’t much room left for Adelaide’s six and a half feet of circumference. Her hips scraped against the furniture as she turned and as she bent to collect her clothing her backside popped the cabin’s flimsy door open.

The doorway, intended for a wiry ten-stone master’s mate, made for a ludicrously tight squeeze. She slid sideways with a wince, glad she’d given up her dresses for a set of sailor’s slops. The sailcloth blouse showed off a shameless swath of belly, but she needed the freedom of movement and by now there was little her shipmates hadn’t seen.

Holding on to the doorframe as the ship rolled again, she glanced around the sternquarters. The other cabin doors were closed and there was no flicker of light within. The only sign of life was an occasional moan from the very seasick Mr. Boreas. Adelaide made her way out into the gundeck, shushing her grumbling stomach.

She wandered slowly, stepping from handhold to handhold as the deck pitched underfoot. It was unusually dark belowdecks; even the warm glow of the galley had been doused. Frigid water trickled around her feet.

Adelaide passed her portrait. The woman it depicted was unrecognizable now, barely half her size. For a moment she wished the woman would stop smiling—so arrogant, so selfish—but soon simply wished to be back on that dry, warm, steady chaise lounge with that plate of dessert. Though perhaps with a different, less deceitful painter behind the easel.

“Anyone down here?” she asked the galley. “It’s me, your big, fat lucky charm…hungry again…”

A din of shouting echoed overhead, followed by the cracking of timber. Adelaide stepped cautiously forward, eyeing the leaky hatch. A draft whistled along the deck. Something crashed behind her, a flurry of orders rained down, and a party of seamen hurried below with tools. A torrent of water gushed after them.

The ship pitched. The men scattered, seizing anything solid. Adelaide tottered over and slid down the sloping deck, colliding with one man and crushing him against the bulkhead.

“I’m so sorry,” she gasped once they ship had righted, peeling him off her abdomen. “Are you hurt?”

“Not at all, your ladyship,” he wheezed, doubling over. “Ain’t the first time…only need to…find my lungs again…”

His mate helped him up. “Need something, ma’am? You’d really be safest in your cabin.”

She grimaced. “It’s not urgent. Well, but…not as…uh, I just wondered when we expect to call dinner. We’re already two bells late and I’ve had nothing but wine since breakfast. Well, not including the wardroom’s leftovers. And—”

“Likely no dinner today,” the first man admitted. He traded a glance with the other. They’d had nothing but a corner of hardtack since the previous afternoon.

Tryphena lurched again. Adelaide steadied herself on a pillar and the man, flailing, plunged a hand deep into the fold of her belly.

“Sorry, your ladyship, sorry,” he wailed, extracting himself. In a bewildered attempt at politeness he cradled her paunch to readjust her waistband, as though realigning a knocked-over vase. It rippled in his hands and he backed reverently away.

“Pas de problème,” she assured him, patting it. “You’re lucky it was empty. Speaking of…”

“No dinner today, I wager. Lieutenant’s had the galley fires doused. Ain’t safe to cook with the seas cut up this rough. We’re all hands on deck watch-and-watch just to keep the barky right-side up.”

Adelaide hadn’t heard anything after ‘no dinner.’ Her stomach protested noisily and she turned to give it an apologetic knead.

The men cautiously wished her well and started back toward their post, but she grabbed the scrawny one’s sleeve. “Look, is there any way…”

They turned. Their weary, exasperated eyes froze her more thoroughly than any icy spray.

“Ma’am?”

“I…” she swallowed. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

The men traded an incredulous glance.

“I’m not a total landlubber…blubber aside. Remember, you all used to teach me so much about the ship. I may not be able to climb the rigging anymore, but I still…know the ropes.”

The elder man eyed her.

“You could go below,” suggested the scrawny one, “spell one of the fellows at the pumps. Heavy work, down there.”

She nodded. “Right. Thank you. Yes. I can do that. I really should start pulling my weight.”
It would be amazing if someone could do some art work to go along with your story!
 

Marlow

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Chapter 31


January, 1813 – Valparaiso


Tryphena
was lucky to be afloat and her crew acknowledged, to a man, that they were lucky to be alive. Their journey had taken months, months of misery and hardship and unbelievable toil.

For weeks at a time they had beaten fruitlessly against the wind, turn after turn, never making any progress westward. Hoping for better luck further south, they had passed the roaring forties to try the furious fifties and had even for a few days dodged ice mountains in the screaming sixties, where the sun never fully set and the water froze in mid-air.

And once they’d turned north again the horrors only continued: swirling thunderstorms, sudden shallows, and the chaotic currents at the confluence of two oceans. A lightning flash one moonless night had suddenly revealed the cliffs of Cape Noir—a lee shore in such weather, saints preserve us—and the men’s hearts nearly broke.

They had been saved at the last moment by a shift in the wind and a perfectly placed channel, but the image of those hideous rocks remained forever in their nightmares. Tryphena spent a terrified week fleeing before the wind, dodging through Tierra del Fuego’s labyrinth of islands, afraid to stop until the sea opened up again. No one slept, for every bell brought some new cry of surf or shoal. No one ate, for the last of the provisions had gone foul in the inescapable wet.

The ship that limped into Valparaiso scarcely resembled that which had left Rio five months earlier. Icy seas had stripped her paint, the constant tension had frayed her lines, and a freak gale had snapped her foremast. The locals had seen countless exhausted ships reach their port after a rough passage, but had to applaud Tryphena.

Fearing desertion or mutiny, Lieutenant Calder—who commanded much by committee anyway—promptly gave the crew a week’s liberty ashore. The men flooded into the boats with their backpay and last reserves of energy, racing for solid ground and making straight for the taverns. They took Adelaide with them.

Since the day the galley fires were doused she had been on watch as regularly as any able hand, taking on any task that didn’t require running or climbing. Her presence had a notable impact on the men who had revered her so long from afar; to see her ladyship heaving on a tackle beside them, managing a smile against the bitter storm, warmed the heart of every tar aboard.

She had become part of the crew again. ‘Ad. Chance’ (ordinary, afterguard, starboard watch) was a plodding, easily winded, four-hundred pound deckhand who could neither go aloft no arrive at her station with any speed, but she could hand, reef, and steer, she could line the railing with the idlers, she could anchor a rope, and she could heave her considerable weight at the pumps.

She now heaved her considerable weight through the doors of the Cinturón Desabrochado, calling for ale and ushering into the unprepared tavern a parade of seamen desperate for any and all comfort. It was a strange sight for the barman—a beautiful woman in sailor’s slops, a hundredweight heavier than the heftiest sailor in her company—but he had never turned away a thirsty mariner with coin and the Tryphenas were desperately parched.

They dined and drank until he had to close, but then simply spilled over to the bawdy-house next door, carrying Adelaide with them on the chair she’d broken. She woke the next morning cuddled around the brothel’s fat-bosomed madam, who kissed her and refused her money.

A wealthy merchant, hearing that the famous ‘Lady Luck’ was in port, sent a cordial invitation aboard to his home at Bellavista. Despite a promised tour of the Jewel of the Pacific, despite a promised meal of roast chicken, chilli rolls, and stuffed avocado, and even despite the promised leches asado dessert, Adelaide declined. She remained instead with the crew, settling for the tavern’s seafood stews and layered meat pies.

They worked every day to repair the ship, hammering and rigging and painting. But when night fell Adelaide led them in debauchery ashore, supported by a handsome local man on each arm, her exposed belly swaying as they weaved through the hillside streets.

At the end of the week, waking in yet another new bed, she folded her hands atop her still bloated midsection and gazed fondly at the other naked bodies sprawled around the room. The buxom madam had nestled her face in the fat of Adelaide’s pillowy upper arm, a delicate hand to her own modest gut. A swarthy man lay on Adelaide’s other side, his left leg trapped beneath her flabby hip.

Another man, with a voluminous beard, stood at the end of the bed and pulled on his breeches. He wandered to the window and gazed wistfully out at the boats in the harbor, then grabbed his shirt and made for the door. It took Adelaide a moment to remember him: the wretched stranger had been drowning his sorrows at one of the taverns and she’d decided to cheer him as only she could.

“Wait,” she grunted, trying to sit up. Her companions groaned and stirred, but she quieted them each with a squeeze. The woman wriggled down to kiss Adelaide’s lovehandle.

“Sorry,” whispered the bearded man. “Didn’t mean to wake you. You throw a…great party. It was nice to feel happy again for a little while.”

“You…hold on. Oof.” She pushed herself up against the headboard.

“Redonda,” mumbled the woman. She continued kissing her flank, grabbing and kneading it. The man now joined in on the other side. Adelaide opened her mouth to dissuade them, but only belched.

“Sorry, that’s still really full. Ooh. No, listen, before you go…you said something last night. Something about…Americans.”

 

Marlow

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(31, continued)


“And it was Trimalchio?” asked Lieutenant Calder.

The bearded man nodded and glanced around Tryphena’s great-cabin. “Saw the name as they sailed off. I had a lot of time to contemplate it from the longboat.”

Adelaide tromped over, pushing an empanada into her mouth and loosening her neckcloth. The crew had been mustered for inspection prior to the meeting and Adelaide was still squeezed into her sailor’s Sunday rig: snug hemp trousers (ripped along the inseam), buckled shoes (broken open), white sailcloth shirt (worn so thin by salt and sun that her stretchmarks showed through), smart blue jacket (too short to cover anything below her navel), and a rakishly tilted straw hat plaited with blue ribbon.

She sat herself on a frighteningly creaky chair and unbuttoned her breeches, breathing loudly. “Sorry…inspection’s a long time for someone my…size to be on her feet. Go on.”

Tryphena’s doctor leaned over and studied the whaler. “The longboat, you say? You don’t mean…they set you adrift?”

The whaler looked up from the rim of pale flesh Adelaide had freed from her waistband. “Sorry? Oh. Aye. They gave us all a choice. We could join up and serve with their crew, right, or we could take our chances in the boat.” He shook his head. “About half the boys stayed. I can’t blame them. But me, I didn’t like the look of that French fellow. No offense, ma’am.”

Adelaide wiped her lips. “No, he’s…” She shifted nervously and her belly bounced the dining table. The men reached to steady their glasses.

“We were damned lucky to make it to port. Bailed the whole way. Thought the boat would founder any moment. Bloody yanks…we’d been two years out here and just finally set course for home.” He turned to Calder. “You’re going after them, aye?”

Calder coughed. “Once we’re seaworthy again, we hope,” he ventured, clearly trying to convince himself as much as the stranded whaler. “The storms have left us in a poor state. And…”

“Whereabouts were you when they attacked?” interjected Boreas.

“Just off the Juan Fernandez islands. Once they’d finished with us they made to head north, by my recknoning.” He scratched his beard. “Sirs, I can’t afford to get home from here and even if I found a way they’d never let me come back empty handed. If you’re going after those bastards, I’d as soon come with you.”

The lieutenant blinked. “Oh my. Er, yes, of course. We could certainly use all the hands we can get. Mr. Irivng, pray take Mr. Lynn here to the clerk and enter him on the books as, um, able. Welcome aboard.”

“Thank you, captain.”

“Lieutenant,” Calder admitted, shaking his hand. “Only acting-captain.”

They watched the whaler duck out behind the midshipman. The doctor refilled his coffee cup and offered Adelaide the pot.

“That fellow was most helpful,” he observed. “Where did you find him, by the way?”

She blushed and took another empanada.

“Juan Fernandez,” Boreas repeated. “North from there…and that was a month ago.”

“They could be anywhere by now,” grumbled Calder.

“We can guess some likely cruising areas, at least. The Peruvian fishery has been popular, as have some grounds west along the equator…and Trimalchio will have to put in for fresh water somewhere. Someone will have seen them.”

“So you propose we haunt every fishery until they appear?” wondered the doctor.

“They’ll have to go about eventually…resupply, repair, sell off their prizes, anything. As long as we can stay on their trail, we’re bound to get our chance.”

“Assuming we stay afloat that long.” Calder unrolled a chart and lowered his voice. “I’ve been conferring with the carpenter. It’s worse than we hoped. The scantlings, the rot…there’s…we simply cannot keep Tryphena at sea for as long as Trimalchio clearly intends to be out here. We can’t rescue anyone if we’re in need of rescue, ourselves.”

Adelaide bent over the table, her midsection engulfing the corner. “There must be something we can at least try.”

Calder flattened the chart. “Based on what your Mr. Lynn has told us, their likeliest hunting grounds are here…and here. Our best hope will be to fall in with Trimalchio at one of those. But if, as you mentioned, they continue west, we’ll have only one try: we catch the equatorial wind and, well, we make the crossing.” He traced a line across the Pacific. “It would be their most logical course in the later months.”

“Whalers often call at the islands out there for rest and water,” Boreas agreed.

“But there would be no turning back. We’re in no condition to fight the prevailing winds. If we don’t find them, we’ll have to run for the East Indies station and hope we float long enough to get there. And if we are lucky enough to make it, the admiral there will take over. I…we will be in enough trouble as it is.”

Adelaide pushed her chair back. “How soon can we sail?”

He glanced back at her, but she was resolute. “Chips will have the new foremast ready by Wednesday. But we’ll need to come up with at least six months of provisions.”

Boreas pulled a pen from his pocket and reached for an inkwell. “I still have some funds left. I will buy up what I can. Anything special for your private stores, madame?”

“No,” she murmured. “Whatever gets us to sea sooner.”

They eyed her with concern.

“I’d eat nothing but crumbs if it means we can find—” Her stomach gurgled so loudly the men on deck above them stopped swabbing. She reached under the table to peel her shirt up and give her gut a rub. “Well, it would still need to be a lot of crumbs.”
 
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