If she were to leave the Jackdaw now she'd have a hard time finding another ship to crew, which must mean she has no plans to leave. The thought splits my face into a grin. That means she trusts me and, whether she'll admit it or not, she loves me too. I brush a tendril of hair off her cheek and she swats at me in her sleep. I chuckle. It seems Mary is Mary, even when unconscious.
No one left the Jackdaw the morning James Kidd turned into Mary Read, though that's not to say it was a seamless transition. By the time we got to the dock any timidness Mary might have been feeling was long gone. She retrieved her hand from mine and strode aboard the Jackdaw with no visible weakness, only strength. If I hadn't seem her ten minutes earlier you couldn't have convinced me she'd ever been nervous.
"All right ye tars, get this deck squared away! I expect to be casting off within the half hour." The few that weren't looking at her, that had only heard her voice, went scurrying off to do what they were told, but the ones that saw the person the voice came from... let's just say they weren't as responsive. Shocked and confused would be a more apt description.
"Kidd?" asked John cautiously. "That you?"
"Of course it's me, ye bilge rat. Who else would be yelling orders at yer sorry arse?" she demanded. John looked around him in wide eyed surprise, no doubt wondering if he was the only one seeing the woman standing where James Kidd should be. He seemed to find the rest of the crew's mirrored expressions comforting.
"But... yer a woman," said Mal, trying to get his head around it. Mary raised an eyebrow in sardonic amusement.
"What gave it away?" she drawled. "Was it the breasts?"
"Those are a dead giveaway," I said, moving to stand beside her. I know she wants me to let her fight her own battles, but I figured a show of support in this wouldn't be out of place. John's frozen look of surprise transferred to me.
"Ye knew, Cap'n?" Mary snorted in derision.
"No, he's been playing beneath my knickers for months now and never noticed." When the crew just continued to stare she let out a long-suffering sigh. "All right, I'll make this real simple for the lot of ya. As Mal so astutely pointed out, aye, I am a woman. Me name's not James Kidd, it's Mary Read, though if ye'd like to keep calling me Kidd it's fine by me. As of right now ye have two options: ye can go find a new ship to crew or rig the bloody sails."
The sails got rigged. Besides a few lewd congratulatory comments to me behind her back nothing else has been said about Kidd changing from a he to a she. Of course, Mary has spent the last week pushing them doubly hard just to prove her being a woman doesn't change a damn thing.
I've never been happier in my entire life, not even right after I met Caroline. Of course, it's thoughts of Caroline that are keeping me awake tonight long after Mary has fallen asleep. It seems so obvious to me now that I wonder why my younger self was unable to see it; Caro and I were a bad match, simply not meant to be. The woman I'm meant to be with is currently hogging the bed beside me. I press a kiss to her forehead, dodging her swatting hand, and slip out of bed.
I head for the desk currently covered in maps and information about my fleet and pull out a quill and parchment. I've made up my mind- I want to marry Mary Read. The problem with that, besides convincing her to agree, is that I'm still married to Caroline. It's time for me to do what I should have done long ago and set us both free.
I wouldn't be surprised if she's already moved on, filed for divorce in my absence or had me declared dead. My life here has no ties to what my life was there. I could take Mary to a church tomorrow to marry and no one would ever know that in some far away land called England there was another Mrs. Kenway. I won't though. Not only would Mary throw me overboard for the sharks if I tried, but I can't do that to Caroline. I loved her once, though it seems like a lifetime ago, and she deserves to know the truth, perhaps get some closure from me after all.
I sigh and brush my hair back from my face. How to start this letter? My former salutation of "My Dearest Caro" certainly doesn't seem appropriate, but "To Mrs. Caroline Kenway" seems far too formal. I finally settle on "Dear Caroline" and am immediately stuck with how to continue. Do I confess all? Admit I was never faithful to her from the time I left England, that the only reason I'm writing now is because I've fallen in love with another and want to marry her? True though it may be, it seems cruel to say.
Act the noble soul, then? Setting her free for her own good? I smile wryly. I doubt even Ade would believe me of such unselfish goodness, even with all the progress I've made. Mary stirs in her sleep, reminding me that unless I want to explain what I'm writing and why it needs to be done before she wakes. I focus on the letter and the sun is beginning to peak over the horizon by the time I'm finished. I read through the letter once more.
I'd wager you never expected to hear from me again, and perhaps you were glad for it. If so, fear not, this will be the last letter you'll receive from me. I'm writing to tell you something you've probably figured out for yourself by now- I'm not returning to England. I've built a new life here, Caroline, one I don't intend to leave. I suppose we were doomed from the start, you and I, but I want you to know that I did love you, once. I've enclosed a purse of gold with this letter to pay for the divorce, anything left over is yours to keep with my blessing. I hope you find someone to make you happy, Caro. I have.
A small hand pulls the quill out of my hand and scribbles something near the bottom of the page. Mary sets down the quill and nods at me.
"Now you may send it," she says before turning to get dressed. The sounds of the ship coming alive for the day filter into the cabin and I glance at the letter to see what she's changed. I grin. It now reads "Formerly Yours, Edward." Yep. She definitely loves me.