Susannah’s Kiss

A short story about a skeleton, a remnant of the Napoleonic Wars, on the floor of the Caribbean Sea. He contemplates his fate. Read the complete story below, or click here to listen to it.

Susannah’s Kiss

Cover of Jane New's Susannah's Kiss, a short story about a skeleton on the floor of the Caribbean Sea contempating his fate, by Jane New

The hurricane subsided off the coast of Bermuda, rearranging two hundred years of detritus on the ocean floor.  The debris included the skeleton of a human male in excellent condition, considering its age.

A small school of newly hatched pilchards took up residence behind his left clavicle.  A sea urchin soon settled into the right eye socket.  An octopus appropriated a hip cavity.

Life continued as usual.

It was not always this way, the skeleton mused.  After two hundred years, the last remnants of my canvas shroud are floating away in the outgoing tide.   They sewed me into it as though frightened I’d escape, putting an arm in with me.  The arm wasn’t mine.  They thought it decent for me to have two, I suppose.  Arms can be hard to identify when they’re all in uniform.

I don’t blame them.  They had to get rid of us, what with the heat and all. And it isn’t as if it makes much difference, where we are now.  The pastor gave us a nice send off.  High church, of course, and I’m Wesleyan Methodist, but they weren’t to know that either.  Re

quiescat in pace.  Well, I’m doing that.  Me and the others.

One of them was the young midshipman, a well set-up young lad.  Heard tell he was his father’s only son.  He’s down here with me, a few yards to the right.  You won’t never make captain now, boy.

The Scots carpenter’s away to the north, what’s left of him.  A man of few words, they used to say.  He’s got none at all now.

Those Frenchies, they can shoot, I’ll give ‘em that.  Two cracked ribs to prove it and a shattered arm socket.   Not much point in telling you about what the ball did to my heart, nothing left to show for it now.

But what a battle it was!  The Frenchies caught us by surprise they did, sailing straight for us around the corner of Gunpowder Island just on dawn.  Our officers had us all on deck, even us pressmen, armed to the teeth.  They gave me a rusty cutlass and a blunderbuss my grandpa would have been proud to call his own.  Half the time it threatened to misfire, and the other half it gave a kick like a mule and was six feet off target.  I didn’t get a chance to use the cutlass.

Pressmen don’t usually get to go into action, so I was glad I did it, just the once.  A Devonshire farm boy, on the far side of the ocean, fighting the Frogs!  Would you believe it, eh?  What the lads in the Pig and Whistle would say, if they saw me here!

Many a pint of refreshing ale and many an adventure we’d shared, but nothing like this.  For half an hour I was a hero.  That half hour almost made up for the six months of rotting food and back-breaking work that came before it.

The lads enjoyed a good story, a lark, a bit of an adventure, which was how come we’d been in Plymouth when the press gang was out.  Napoleon’s war was almost over, everyone said.  No-one had seen a press gang for months.  I suppose in a way I didn’t see them either.  I just woke up in the bowels of His Majesty’s Frigate “The Jupiter” with a hangover.

Well, we’d been celebrating even more than usual.  After eight years of courting, Susannah had agreed to marry me, you see, on her next Sunday off from the big house.  She’d even lined me up a job as a stable hand with a cottage for us on the estate to go with it.  So I had a lot to celebrate.

We said goodbye at the stile.  I leaned over and kissed her, and she let me hold her breast through the layers of her best dress.  The summer’s day was clear and cloudless.  A lark sang his little heart out in the next field.

Susannah’s kiss, it all started with Susannah’s kiss.

Seaweed brushing my lipless grin doesn’t begin to compare with it.

(c) Jane New


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And now for a sneak preview of “The Troubadour”, the first book in the Sir Thomas Archer series, to be released shortly…

January, 1195

Somewhere in the south of France…

There was once a man, in a tavern, drinking ale.  He was surprised to find it was exceptionally good.

Nothing else was.  The central hearth belched smoke every time a strong gust of wind howled across the roof, which was often.  The serving women were the innkeeper’s wife and daughters, and an unspoken hands-off rule ensured the absence of fun to be had there.  The food, a few stale vegetables in a greasy broth simmering over the meagre fire, was best avoided.

But Tom wasn’t there for a woman or food.

He was there to listen.

Fulk had sent him, God rot his evil black soul, to this cesspit of an inn in the middle of nowhere.  Count Fulk, as he insisted you call him, was not the sort of person you argued with.  Not if you wanted to continue breathing.

Fulk ruled half the valley, a region called Betizac.  The ruler of the other half, known as Freycinet, had been an old man, long sick.  He’d died a few days ago.  His older son was already dead, the other a member of the Church.

The Count didn’t usually encourage fraternization with the people of Freycinet, but a need for news was his priority.

The funeral had been this afternoon.  Every able-bodied individual for miles around had been there, Tom heard, plus a few who weren’t able-bodied but had climbed out of their cots and gone anyway.

Nothing beats a good funeral, he thought.

Of course she’d been there too: Berenice, the Lady of the Vale of Freycinet, the eastern end of the valley, and  the purpose behind Fulk’s mission to him.

“I love her, we all do, but it makes no difference. She can’t rule.”  The speaker, a black-bearded giant of a man, pounded the table.  “She’s a woman!”  Going by his size and strength he was bound to be the Freycinet blacksmith.

The innkeeper glared at him across the room.

“Please excuse me.” The big man ducked his head in apology. “I forget myself.”

“Women can govern,” announced another, his voice quieter than his companion’s, his demeanor calm.  Broad in shoulders and chest but with ample grey in his dark beard, he was a knight perhaps. He’d definitely been a soldier.

“Tell me when,” demanded the smith, leaning over the table until his face was inches from the soldier’s, “Tell me when it’s not against the laws of the land and of God.”

“Convents are run by women,” stated the soldier, calmly sipping his ale.

“But we are not nuns!”

The others laughed and pounded the smith’s back.

“Regardless,” answered the greybeard, “We all know the Lady would rule if she’d been born a boy, and so her husband is the heir, the new Lord of Freycinet.  She must rule until his return, whenever that is. She has no choice.  You all heard her say so today.

She needs your support, not your questions and condemnation.”

The smith grunted his agreement.  The others nodded.

Tom knew the Lady had another option.  He noticed none of the men even considered it.

But he’d heard all he came for. His loyalties – such as they were – lay with his Lord. Say what you would, Fulk paid him well.  Wrapping his thick, woolen cloak around himself he headed for the door.

To be continued…


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