New week, new story. We're leaving the cold reaches of space to visit a warm tropical island. Don't forget your sunscreen
EXILE TO PARADISE, PT 1
Olivia’s eyes opened. She was slowly sinking into the darkness below. Already, she could feel the pressure of the water. Soon, it would crush the air out of her, and she would drown.
“No, not like this.” She thought. “I can’t die now, fifteen years is not enough. I have plans. I’m going to be somebody. I’m going to be famous. I’m going to matter.”
Still, the darkness dragged her down, and beckoned her to give up.
She looked up to see the sunlight on the surface, so far away. So impossibly far.
She kicked off her stolen boots, and started swimming for the surface. Her jeans and jacket weighed her down, but she didn’t have time to lose them. Kicking her way to the light, so painfully slow. Already, her lungs were aching.
“Just a little further,” she told herself, “You’re almost there.” She clawed at the water, reaching for the light.
A shadow passed over her. A boat? A hand came at her, grabbed her collar, and hauled her up like she was a kitten. She was dropped onto a wooden deck, blinded by the unfiltered sunlight.
“Throw it back,” A coarse voice joked. “Too small, for sure.”
The next sound was a meaty slap. “Keep your tongue in your head, Jim. Nobody needs to hear your nonsense.”
Olivia got her hands underneath her, tried to push herself up. She vomited seawater and gasped for air.
“Where do figure he came from?” A third, deeper, voice asked.
“Well, that is a puzzle.” The raspy voice opined.
Olivia managed to sit up with her back against the mast. Mast?
“This is a sailboat.” Olivia said. “I’m on a sailboat…” She was a little dazed.
“Well, for sure, it’s a sailboat. What were you expecting?”
“Shut up, Jim.” Deep voice said. He was the biggest man Olivia had ever seen. He had fierce tattoos and kind eyes. He wrapped a blanket around her shoulders.
“Wow,” she said, staring at his face, “That’s a lot of ink.”
“I’m Māori, boy.” He said. “What are you?”
“I’m…” she was still piecing things together. “I’m lost.”
Raspy Voice came into view. “Get away from him, you sodomite. I want some answers.” He squatted down and peered into Olivia’s eyes. He was cracked and leathery from too many years of sun and wind. “Red hair, green eyes, I figure you’re Irish.” He grabbed her hand. “But you’re no slave. You ain’t worked a day in your life. I figure we have a young gentleman here.”
“They all think I’m a boy.” She figured out. Forgive her, she’s had a rough day.
“That doesn’t explain where he came from.” Deep Voice stood up and scanned the sea. “There’s no wreckage. If he’s shipwrecked, he’s a hell of a swimmer.”
“So what’s your story, your lordship?” Raspy asked, all sarcastic. “Where’s your ship then?”
“I was flying from Detroit to Nashville …” Olivia started to explain.
“Flying?” Jim asked, “Are you an angel, then? Did your wings fall off?”
“He’s no angel, just a damned liar.” Raspy said. “Probably a thief as well. Throw him back. Let the sea have its prize”
“No! Please!” Olivia shouted.
Deep grabbed Raspy by the shoulder. “We ain’t throwing him nowhere. We’ll take him to shore and send him on his way. That’s the least a Christian can do.”
Raspy wasn’t convinced. “This is my boat, and I can’t abide a liar…”
“He ain’t a liar, he just has water on the brain.” Deep said. “Let him dry out, and he’ll start making sense.” He sat next to Olivia and glowered at Raspy.
“Thank you.” Olivia said, “And thank you for fishing me out.”
“Don’t see how I could have done otherwise.” Deep said. He handed her a bottle. She pulled out the cork and took a sip. It was brandy. She gagged at the taste and recorked the bottle.
They sat in silence as the wind took them to shore. Olivia watched as they tied the boat to the pier and started unloading the day’s haul of fish. Deep helped her disembark, and they stood on the pier. She looked at the harbor town and was puzzled. All the buildings were wood and stone, like in some Robin Hood movie or something. There weren’t any cars!
“What is this place?” She asked. “Is this…Canada?”
“This is the Duchy of Killington.” Deep said, handing her a small pouch. “Take this to ease your journey. I’m sorry it isn’t more.”
“In sooth, good sir, tis nary but kindness you’ve shown me. I shan’t forget this boon.” She clapped her hand over her mouth. “Why am I talking like that?” She wondered. “What is wrong with me?”
Deep smiled and went to help with the unloading. Olivia looked in the pouch. There was a small handful of coins. She pulled one out and examined it. It was thick, heavy, silver, and not Canadian. Weird.
“Ello, Guvnor.” A girl not much older than Oliva appeared at her side. “Fancy some company, do yah?” she was wearing a low cut dress that was mostly ruffles and bows.
Olivia dropped the coin back into the pouch and stuffed the pouch into her pocket. “No, thanks, I think I’ll pass.”
“Oh, don’t be shy, Squire.” The girl stepped in front of Olivia. “We can go someplace private.” She pressed herself against Olivia.
“That…really won’t be necessary.” Oliva said, trying to sidestep.
“You’re right, Squire. We can just duck down the alley for a quick one, if you like…” The girl sidestepped with Oliva, not giving up.
“I really don’t want to, could you just leave me alone?” Olivia asked.
“Come on, Squire, you’re hurting my pride.” She pouted. “Give Darla a chance. I can see that you like me.” She reached down to stroke Olivia’s crotch. “Waitaminute…” she said, looking puzzled, “You’re a girl!” Darla objected.
“Yes,” Olivia said, “In sooth, or whatever.”
“Of all the rotten cheats…” Darla complained. “Why are you dressed like a boy? If the vicar sees you, he’ll hang you for a witch!”
“Why?” Olivia asked, “Where I come from, lots of girls dress like this.”
“Where you come from. Where’s that, Squire?” Darla asked.
“I’m from Detroit.” Olivia said.
“I ain’t never heard tell of such a place.” Darla crossed her arms.
“Motown? It’s in Michigan…”
“Never in my born days…” Darla objected.
“You have to have heard of Michigan.” Olivia said, “It’s a state. As in the United States? Of America?”
Darla’s jaw dropped. She was gob smacked. “You’ve been to the Americas?”
“Well,” Oliva said, “Just the one, actually…”
“I heard that the Americas are full of savages with copper skin who wear nothing but feathers!” Darla exclaimed.
“Yeah.” Olivia said. “I’ve never met anybody like that.”
“Oh.” Darla was crestfallen. “I figure that was just a traveler’s tale then.”
“I’m sorry,” Olivia said, “I’ve disappointed you twice today already.”
“No worries, Love, but I meant what I said about the clothes. If the vicar sees you, he’ll hang you for sure.” She kissed Olivia on the cheek. “So be careful. Boy or girl, you’re too pretty for the gallows. I’d be sad to see you die.” She walked away.
Olivia watched Darla walk off and considered her options. Going to the town seemed foolish, as town was where the vicar lived, and Olivia had no desire to mount the gallows. Going the other way led to the castle. Olivia had never seen a real live castle before, because there aren’t many castles in Detroit. Besides, it was a nice, sunny day, perfect for a walk in the country. Whatever crazy country this was.
So she walked along the rutted road, wishing for some shoes. Her socks offered scant protection from the flagstones. When she got to the castle she saw a sign. It read: “Boy wanted: inquire within”.
“Well,” Olivia said to nobody in particular, “If they want a boy, I’ll just give them one.”
She strode through the gates, bold as day. A lackey stopped her.
“Oy! Where do you think you’re goin’, my fine lad?” The lackey was joined by a minion, and they both gazed at her suspiciously.
“What do we have here, Jacob?” The minion asked.
“A vagabond, clear as day, Martin.” The lackey answered. “Probably a footpad as well, don’t you think.”
Martin shrugged. “I see him more as a cutpurse. Or a swindler. Mind you, he could be an assassin…”
“I’m a boy!” Olivia shouted, throwing her arms wide. Then, pitching her voice lower, “I mean, I’m a boy. The sign outside said you wanted one, and here I am.” She tucked her thumbs into her belt, and struck a heroic pose. “I’m a young, strapping boy, perched on the brink of manhood, and I seek honest, manly employment, for a fair and decent wage.”
Martin and Jacob stood there unblinking, as if mesmerized.
“Well, that’s alright then,” Jacob said, turning to Martin. “Take him to Malivio.”
“Why do I have to do it?” Martin asked.
“Because you’re a minion,” Jacob explained, “And minions does as they are told. So hop to it before I put a boot in your arse.”
“Fair enough,” Martin nodded. “Come along, you. Malivio will sort you out.”
“Why?” Olivia asked, suddenly nervous. “Who is this Malivio?”
“He’s the task master.” Martin said, taking Olivia’s arm, “He’s the one what decides if you get the job or not.”
Martin steered Olivia up a steep and narrow stairway, to Malivio’s office.
Malivio stood there with folded arms. He was tall, thin, and pale like a vampire. But the scary kind of vampire, not the pansy kind that wears glitter.
“Mar-tin.” He said, pronouncing the name as if it were a foul curse. “What have you brought me?”
“He’s the new boy,” Martin said, stepping back, “He wants to be, anyhow. Shall I give him the boot, then?”
“You are dismissed, Martin.” Malivio’s voice droned with menace. “Be gone from my sight.”
Martin bolted from the room.
“So, Boy,” He addressed Olivia. “Did your parents have the kindness to bless you with a name?”
“I’m Olive…” She caught herself, and pitched her voice lower again, “I’m Oliver, sir.”
“Hmm.” He hmmed. “Tell me, Oliver. Do you know your letters?”
“Letters?” Olivia considered the question. “Yes, sir. All twenty-six of them.”
“Impressive.” He said, sounding unimpressed. He picked a bible off his desk and handed it to Olivia. “Open that to a random page and read it to me.”
She complied. The print was hard to make out, but she managed and read till he told her to stop.
“That’s enough.” He said. “You can read the lord’s word, and you didn’t burst into flames. Therefore, you are neither a dullard nor a demon. If you are a scoundrel, you’ll be found out soon enough, and your dying screams could prove amusing. Welcome to house Killington.”
“Does that mean I have the job?” Olivia asked.
“Yes.” He said, sounding even more bored than before. “Have that worm Martin show you to the seamstress. You’ll need some proper clothing. You are dismissed.”
Olivia backed out of the room, only too happy to leave Malivio’s presence. There was something creepy about him.
Martin showed Olivia to the sewing room, but the seamstress was nowhere to be found.
“That’s a lucky break,” Olivia said to herself. She grabbed a red tunic and a pair of yellow tights and slipped behind a screen. She was stuffing a sock into the tights when Martin came back and said, “Follow me, Oliver. His Grace wants to see you.”
“His who wants to what?” Olivia asked.
Martin clapped his hand on Olivia’s shoulder. “You’re going to see the Duke. So you show him some proper respect. You don’t talk till he asks you something, and when you do, you call him ‘Your Grace’. Can you remember that?”
“I think I can…” Olivia said.
“Good.” Martin said, pulling his bangs back to show his forehead. “Maybe you won’t get one of these then.” He showed Olivia an old scar left by a signet ring.
“He hits you?” Olivia asked, horrified. What kind of monster was she working for?
“He’ll do more than that if you don’t give him his proper respect. You forgot your hat.” He grabbed one off a shelf and put it on her head. “Let’s go. We don’t keep the duke waiting.”
They climbed more steps on the way to the duke’s chambers. With every step Olivia grew more anxious. Who was this cruel master? Would he lash out at her like he had at Martin? What had she gotten herself into? She envisioned a tyrant, more beast than man. She hesitated at the chamber door.
“Maybe this isn’t such a good idea.” She said to Martin. “I’m thinking unemployment might be a better option for me at this time…”
Martin shoved her through the doorway. She went sprawling and found herself at the duke’s feet.
“Ah.” Malivio’s voice said, “May I present Oliver, your new page.”
“Well. He’s certainly no acrobat, is he?” The duke’s voice was deep and resonant.
Olivia struggled to her feet. “Sorry, sir, I mean Your Grace,” she said, ducking the expected blow. She was careful not to look him in the eye, which gave her time to admire his broad, manly chest. And his broad, manly shoulders which led to his broad, manly arms…
“Look at me, boy.” Duke Killington commanded.
Olivia looked up. “Hummina.” She said, not able to stop herself, because the duke was the most gorgeous slab of man meat she had ever seen.
Killington’s brow furrowed. “Malivio assures me you are articulate, and well spoken. Are you actually capable of speech?”
“Oh, Your Grace,” Olivia replied, “I’ll say anything you want.”
“Yes.” Killington’s brow grew more furrowed. “There’s something unusual about you…”
“Is it my eyes?” She asked breathlessly. Then she came to her senses, and said, in her Oliver voice, “Oh, no, Your Grace, there’s nothing unusual about me. I’m just a strapping young man, chock full of ‘Y’ chromosomes, ready and eager for whatever task you have for me.”
“Very well,” Killington said, handing her an envelope. “Take this letter, and deliver it to Lady Veranda. I’m courting her, and she’s resisting my efforts. Go and show her the error of her ways.”
Olivia took the envelope. “I’ll do it, your Grace. I won’t let you down.”
She scurried from the room.
“Martin!” she whispered, “How do I find the Lady Veranda?”
“Her chateau is on the other side of town. You’d better hurry.”
As she made her way through the town, she ran into a strange old woman.
“What are you playing at, girl?” the old woman cackled, “All gussied up in boy clothes. And in the duke’s livery, no less! If the vicar sees you…”
“Please, don’t raise an alarm!” Olivia pleaded. “This is the only job I could find.”
“You’re a making a fool out my lord duke, you are,” the hag said, “And that gives me a chuckle, it surely does. Here, I’ll help you with your disguise.” She reached into a pouch, and threw a pinch of dust at Olivia’s face.
Olivia coughed. “What did you do that for? How’s that supposed to help me?” she asked.
“Oh, you’ll see,” The old woman cackled. “It’ll work like magic.”.