Authors: Irina Shapiro
Tags: #Romance, #Time Travel, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Historical
Sins of Omission
Wonderland Series Book 3
By Irina Shapiro
Copyright © 2015 by Irina Shapiro
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form, except for quotations in printed reviews, without permission in writing from the author.
All characters are fictional. Any resemblances to actual people (except those who are actual historical figures) are purely coincidental.
Table of Contents
January 1, 1686
The deck of the ship was drenched in golden sunshine, the sea a startling shade of turquoise, and the sky a cloudless dome of azure; the whole scene reminiscent of the inside of a snow globe, the type people brought back from a holiday to remind them of the fun they’d had, Max mused as he pried his eyes open to gaze around. He could barely see after being in near darkness for close to two months, but the warmth felt good on his shoulders, and the briny smell of the sea carried on the gentle breeze was heavenly after the stink of men cooped up in a wooden cell without the benefit of sanitation or even water for washing.
The calamitous voyage had been plagued by storms; the ship tossed on the waves like a child’s toy, riding the huge swells until Max had nothing in his stomach left to vomit. He had been so seasick, he’d often wished that he would just die and be done with it, but somehow both he and the ship survived, and eventually sailed into the calmer waters of the Caribbean. Max’s once-short hair brushed his collar, and his thick beard scratched liked the devil and was infested with lice.
What I wouldn’t give for a bath and a shave,
he thought with intense longing. He’d always been lean, but now he was downright skeletal, having survived on meager rations completely devoid of any nutritional value for weeks. Max’s shabby clothes were stiff with dried sweat, vomit, and other bodily fluids he didn’t care to think of.
Whatever was to come couldn’t be any worse than this. At least he would now be on land, hopefully have a cot or mattress of his own, and not have to shit and eat in the same fetid space. Max’s optimism was short-lived as he was herded off the ship and onto a busy quay. People darted all around, commands were shouted, and downtrodden Negro slaves with sweat-glistened backs carried crate after crate to and from vessels being loaded and unloaded. Max heard snatches of conversation in several languages, ranging from English to Dutch.
“Where are we?” Max asked the quartermaster who escorted the line of men into town with two armed sailors bringing up the rear. The quartermaster’s mouth was stretched into a thin line; his eyes fixed on some distant point straight ahead, his hand on the hilt of his sword. Max couldn’t account for the tension the man felt, but clearly he didn’t relish this part of his job. Few would.
“Bridgetown,” the man replied curtly. “Barbados.”
A dim memory of a sunlit classroom sprang to Max’s mind, making his eyes fill with angry tears as he remembered those carefree days. He’d been too busy passing notes to his friend Jack, and making plans to go to the arcade after school to pay much attention to the droning of Mr. Peters, the history teacher, who went on at length about the establishing of the first British colony in the West Indies. How Max wished he had listened that day; for now, some of the information he’d so carelessly disregarded as being boring and irrelevant might be useful in helping him survive this ordeal. He did recall that many Englishmen and Irishmen who now toiled at the tobacco and sugar plantations had been sent down by Oliver Cromwell as well as George Jeffreys, the man responsible for his own sentence, giving rise to the term “barbadosed.” Max had thought it a funny-sounding word at the time, but he wasn’t laughing now.
They passed several low buildings painted in a dazzling shade of white, their windows closed against the blazing sun and the verandas shaded by overhanging awnings. Here and there, a house slave hurried along, shoulders stooped and eyes glued to the ground for fear of attracting unnecessary attention, but otherwise the streets were empty since the sun was riding high in the sky, and this was likely the hottest part of the day.
The quartermaster herded the men into an enclosed courtyard where at least a dozen men, women, and children huddled in a queue, waiting for their turn on the auction block. Several children cried, but the adults just stared straight ahead, their eyes hollow as they waited to find out their fate. Despite the stink of unwashed bodies coming off the slaves, what Max smelled was the reek of fear and defeat. These people were too broken to fight back, as their demeanor and the scars on some of their backs suggested. There was not a glimmer of hope among them, just a resignation and mute acceptance of their lot in life.
A number of prosperous-looking white men stood before the block, assessing the merchandise with undisguised interest. They were dressed in suits of light fabric and wore wide-brimmed hats to keep out the sun, but were still sweating; their faces red and glistening from the heat. The men talked among themselves, made jokes, and displayed general signs of camaraderie, completely oblivious to the plight of the people in front of them. For them, this was a commonplace occurrence, something that they’d seen and participated in numerous times. They were probably looking forward to a cool drink and a good meal once their business was done and the new slaves were paid for and delivered to the plantations.
Max and his compatriots were ordered to join the queue as the quartermaster joined the gaggle of buyers, his face creased with annoyance. He clearly didn’t want to do this, but the captain had given his orders, and he couldn’t disobey without facing punishment. Perhaps he was an abolitionist, if there was such a thing in the seventeenth century. Most people of the time saw slavery as part of the natural order, an institution sanctioned by God, and they quoted the Bible to justify the selling and buying of human beings. Max felt as if he were having an out-of-body experience as the queue moved forward. Was it really possible that he was here, at a slave auction, awaiting his turn to be bid on when only a few months ago he had been contemplating a political career in the twenty-first century, and was a man of wealth, position, and rank?
Max watched as one person after another mounted the block and was sold with the minimum of fuss, then taken out of the courtyard to a waiting wagon which would transport them to their new home. He tried to steel his heart as he saw a mother separated from her howling child, but felt an overwhelming pity for the woman as the boy was torn from her embrace. The buyer didn’t want the woman, just the boy, who was about eight but already showed signs of physical strength and good health. The boy screamed for his mother as she cried softly, knowing that nothing she said or did would appeal to the hardened hearts of the slave owners. She barely had a moment to say goodbye before the boy was led away and told to shut his mouth if he knew what was good for him.
It was finally Max’s turn, and he stepped up on the platform and stood facing the buyers, shoulders back, legs apart, head held high. He wouldn’t let these people break him, not on his first day. He was filthy, and smelled like a man who hadn’t bathed in months, but he was still Lord Everly, and he had his pride. The auctioneer waited until the men quieted down before presenting Max.
“Lord Hugo Everly, sent down for high treason and attempted murder. Despite his less than groomed appearance,” the auctioneer added with a smirk, “he’s in fine health and would make a welcome addition to any plantation. Do I have any offers, gentlemen?”
A few men shrugged, indicating that they had no interest in a disgraced lord. They needed workers, not traitors who might use their leadership abilities to rile their men against them. There had already been two island-wide slave rebellions, and they didn’t need a third. One man stepped forward, his jowly face full of curiosity. He was squat and overweight, his stomach straining against his beige coat, his face flushed from the heat. He pushed up the brim of his hat and studied Max as if he were an animal at the zoo.
“I reckon having a chastened lord among my slaves might give me something of a leg-up, socially,” he said quietly but with a sneer to a large, blond man who came up beside him. The blond man had bushy whiskers, which only served to accentuate his high cheekbones and slanted light eyes, which were openly appraising Max. He looked as strong as a bull, and slapped a riding crop against his thigh as he waited for the other man to make a decision.
“The governor takes an interest in men sent down for treason, especially those involved in the Monmouth Rebellion. Perhaps he’s under orders to make sure they never return,” the fat man speculated, still watching Max. “Having a convicted traitor might give me some leverage,” the man mused.
“He looks strong and healthy,” the blond man said, encouraging his associate who opened the bidding.
Another man stepped forward to make a bid, but he was too late.
“Sold,” the auctioneer said before he pushed Max off the platform. Max watched as the quartermaster handed over his indenture contract to the man and accepted the payment. Max briefly wondered who’d get the money, but it didn’t really matter. The auctioneer’s eyes briefly rested on Max, and he thought he saw a twinge of pity, but then he looked back toward the platform as John took his place.
“I’ll take that one as well,” his new master said before tossing a purse of coin to his associate and turning to leave the auction. “Johansson, take them to the plantation. I have some business in town. Tell Dido that I will be back for supper, and I have an appetite for honey-glazed pork tonight,” he said and walked away. He moved quite briskly for a man of his size, and Max couldn’t help noticing the air of well-being emanating from him. This was a person well pleased with his lot in life, and very much aware of it.
“I’m Erik Johansson, the overseer at The Palms sugar plantation. You are now the property of Master Jessop Greene until such a time as you work off your indenture contracts, ja?” He laughed at that point, as if the possibility of them regaining their freedom was some great joke. He was trying to intimidate them, Max realized, but John just shrank under the scrutiny, his eyes darting around with anxiety as Johansson stopped in front of the wagon and stared them down.
“Forget whatever life you had in England,” he said gruffly. “You will work twelve-hour days cutting sugar cane for Master Greene. Any slave or indenture who slacks off will know the sting of my whip on his back, and will remember it long after the scars heal. You are here to work and to pay your debt to His Majesty. Now get in the wagon and keep your mouths shut.”
Max and John silently climbed into the wagon, only the rattling of their chains audible over their ragged breathing. They stared out over the azure expanse of the sea as the wagon pulled away from the building and drove through the narrow streets and away from Bridgetown into the hills. The ride lasted several hours; hours of baking in the hot sun without so much as a cup of water or an inch of shade.
John hardly looked around as they finally reached the plantation and passed the two-storied house with wide verandas and a garden ablaze with colorful, tropical flowers. A middle-aged woman, presumably Mistress Greene, stood on the veranda, gazing at them as the wagon passed by. She smiled, but her smile was not one of compassion, but one of pride. They were two more slaves whom she now owned; two more men who increased the value of her property and elevated her status in society.