We were unable to meet with the mysterious Voodoo man that day, he was apparently busy with a ritual and would be locked in his home for a few days. Phineas booked us a room at the Inn, granting us some privacy away from the crew aboard the Esmerelda. Miss Grace, whom I had come to calling by her first name Margaret, had taken her defeat well and was soon becoming a welcome tea time companion. She was the first woman close to my age that was minorly interesting. Sure, she still talked about all the girly things like silks, the Royal Court, and minor gossip from around town. But she also had other interests such as cooking, and distilling rum. She had started making her own rum for sale, it had become an instant hit with the local tavern and the many passing sailors stopping in when they made port.
She had been working at the Inn since she was eight years old. Once she turned fourteen and started to attract the male eye, she started to sell herself for profit. But Margaret didn’t seem to have any ill feelings towards her prostitution, it seemed to boost her confidence even more. The couple who ran the Inn treated her somewhat as a daughter they never had and helped her fund the start of her rum making, helping her purchase sugarcane from a nearby plantation. She had dreams of distilling her own rum and creating different flavors of spiced rum for sale. Though she still had a long way to go, she was clearly very well off.
Whenever Phineas was brought into conversation I could see Margaret’s cheeks flush pink. I was jealous, but I also had to take the upper hand. He was destined to be mine, after all. But she had also opened her heart to him in the past and he did not return her feelings. And now the man who’s heart had been impenetrable was getting married to the woman who was visibly different from all others who had come before, me.
“You know, he always used to talk about you whenever we would start to get close.”, she said with some sadness in her tone, “We were never anything real, it was only physical for him. I always asked why he wouldn’t open his heart to me, and it was always because of you Miss. He was waiting for you to come into his life. He always said he was destined for someone truly special’, a ‘woman so magical that her true beauty lies within her soul’. I was always so confused, why couldn’t I be this special woman he was supposedly destined to be with. But I see you, and I know that woman he has been waiting for is you. I can see it in the way he looks at you, you really have pulled him out from the darkness and into your light.”
Her words brought tears to my eyes, but I refused to let them spill. He really had been waiting for me for all that time. Oh, how lonely he must have been, shutting his true self out from the world alone for so long. My heart began to ache for Phineas.
On our third day in Nassau, Phineas decided it was time to begin combat training again. This time I did much better, having not being tied up from my old heavy skirts. My footwork was fluid, and I learned that I was rather fast with my movements. More than once I caught Phineas off guard and caused him to stumble to the ground.
We took a break and went to the gazebo behind the Inn for some shade and water. Lekan and Kwasi were with us. Margarete came out and offered everyone a cup of her latest spiced rum recipe.
“You fight well Jatu Krajilica. In Africa you would be considered great warrior.”, Lekan complimented me with a smile and took a sip of rum.
Margaret asked, “What does Krajilica mean? I’ve heard you call Miss Ashton that word a few times now.”
Kwasi cut in, ignoring Margaret’s curiosity, “Yes she a good fighter, but Jatu could never be warrior in tribe.”
I turned towards Kwasi, astonished by his forward remark, “And why not?”
He looked at me straight on, “Because woman do not fight so can not be warrior.”, he sniffed the rum in his cup then placed it down on the table with a sour look. “Why does white man make everything sweet?”
I laughed lightly and brushed off Kwasi’s remark. At least he was treating me with respect, which was more than I could have hoped for from the uptight man.
Margarete cut in again, “You called her ‘jatu’ too, will any of you tell me what it means?”
Phineas turned towards Margarete, “It means ‘white’ or ‘light skinned’.”
Margaret nodded in agreement, “Oh yes, a very fitting term for Miss Ashton then. She does have the most lovely pale skin and white blonde hair. Though I do not understand why you would wear your hair in those braids. Sure, they are pretty, but they aren’t very feminine, are they?”
Phineas cut in before I could respond, “I think they suit her rather well, very fitting for her fiery personality.”, he took a swig of his wine and looked out into the horizon, “And they are very nice to hold onto.”, his eyes met mine and gave me a wink.
Margaret had a quizzical look on her face, “I do suppose that could prove to be useful in the bedroom.”, she turned to me and said with a smirk, “So now I know your secret for nabbing the Captains heart!”, and we laughed out loud together with Phineas chuckling silently beside us.
Lekan rolled his eyes and dropped his head back. Kwasi was slightly fidgeting in his seat, visibly uncomfortable with the direction the conversation had gone. Margret started stacking diches on a tray to clear them away. She noticed my cup was almost empty and filled it to the brim with rum with a little wink.
The sun was beaming down, and the humidity was stifling. I rather enjoyed Margret’s rum and may have drank it down a little faster than I should have. I quickly started to feel the effects of the alcohol running in my veins. Phineas noticed my new inebriated state and offered me his arm for a slow stroll around the gardens.
The garden was not small, but it was not very much of a garden either. It mainly consisted of cut down jungle with some tall trees in random places. Phineas led me very slowly around the grounds of the garden to help be gain some sobriety. I had been drinking at least one cup of rum per day since he had first presented it to me, but the rum Margret gave me was clearly stronger than I had expected.
I stumbled a few times and always found Phineas’ arms around my frame to catch and steady me. After a few minutes my body started to welcome the exercise and worked through the toxins in my blood. Though I was still indeed intoxicated, the world was no longer spinning around me and I could more easily comprehend my thoughts.
Phineas held me close to him, “When we get back we will make sure to get some water and food into you. Miss Grace must have given us one of her stronger batches.”
I laid my head down on his shoulder lightly and took in a deep breath. Right here in this moment, I felt complete safety. Like no matter what trouble I could possibly get into, this man would always be there to protect me. Soon we were reaching the back of the garden where there were some trees with dark green waxy leaves and small purple flowers. The largest one in the middle was nearly 25 feet tall and must have been nearly 15 feet in diameter. As soon as I saw the trees I felt a pull in my chest, pulling me towards them.
I looked at Phineas, he must have felt something too because he was staring intently at the trees before us, determination in his eyes. Once we got to the edge of the trees I could see just how many purple flowers there were. From afar it there looked to be only a few, but upon close inspection there were hundreds of little purple flowers everywhere buried beneath the leaves.
I reached my hand out to touch one of the flowers but suddenly stopped when I was startled by Phineas gasping behind me, “Cora! Your skin!”
I looked back towards my outstretched arms and studied my skin. There was a rainbow iridescent sheen glowing over my skin. I looked down towards my chest and found it there too. I looked back towards Phineas to ask him if it was on my face, when I was struck by his instant change of appearance. His tanned skin had been transformed into a glowing combination of gold with little specs of green. His eyes were that green molten fire, and his hair looked like it had a slight green glow to it. I had never seen anything more beautiful. My thoughts drifted to the thought of what all of his skin would look like without his layers of clothes on. Yet another time when clothing was getting in my way!
Phineas spoke before I could, “Cora, you…I don’t know what to say…you are so beautiful.” He paused for a moment and came closer to me, examining my new features, “Your skin is glowing like pearls in the moonlight, and your hair is shining like crystals…but most of all...Cora, your eyes. They are like glowing opals burning white with slivers of blue, green, gold, and purple.”, he knelt down in front of me, “you truly are a goddess, my love.”
I was speechless, Did I really look as he described? How was this possible? All I could muster to say at that moment was, “How?”
Phineas broke his stare from me and looked towards the trees next to us, “It must be the trees….these are Lignum Vitae.”
My eyes widened in wonder, I had so many unanswered questions. What did this tree have to do with me, and the sea, and these changes I was having? What would I become, and when? I knew almost nothing of my history and nothing about the truth of the magical blood that was coursing through my veins. What would become of me, what would be expected of me? Queen of the Sea sounds like a huge responsibility, why me?
I took Phineas’ hand in mine and said, “I need answers my love. What is to be expected of me, of us? It is not just me that looks different, you do as well. Your skin is glowing golden and your hair looks green with you burning green eyes. I have always seen the God in you, but your true form, if that’s what this is, is incredibly intoxicating.”, I licked my lips and traced his hand with my fingers.
Phineas couldn’t stand the short distance between us any longer and pulled me into a kiss, I was happy to go along with this notion. My hands started to roam up his body and ended on his hard chest, heaving with heavy breaths. Phineas pulled my hips away from him with his hands and broke our kiss.
“We must stop, or I will not be able to stop. We can not go anywhere looking like this. Cora come, we need to go see Cudjo as soon and possible.”
He took my hand and started to pull me away from the trees, “Who is Cudjo?”, I asked.
With each step further away from the trees, our appearances gradually went back to normal. Phineas turned to me and looked relieved that we did not look so magical as we had just moments ago.
He let out his breath and said, “Cudjo is the Voodoo man whom I have been trying to meet with. I am tired of waiting, we will go there now a demand that he speaks with us!”
I put my arm on his shoulder, “Are you quite certain you want to disrupt his business Phineas? The changes wore off as soon as we stepped away.”
He paused and looked at me quizzically, “Are you not at all curious as to the reasoning that all of this is happening? Mother told you that we had to find the answers out on our own, and we only have eight more days left before we make sail for our wedding. There is no more time to lose.”
I gave him a gentle smile and took his hands in mine, “Thank you, my love, for always looking out for my best interests. I have never had so much change in my life and go so fast paced. I have so many unanswered questions that I don’t even know where to begin to find the truths to anything that is going on. The only thing I know for sure that is true is you, so anywhere you want to go, I will be right there by your side. Lead the way to our destiny.”