Kerdi woke with a raging headache. She gagged at the stench of unwashed bodies and human waste, rolled over, and sat up. She almost fell off the shelf hanging from the wall in a small room with a round window and two wooden buckets on the floor. The floor moved up and down, and the buckets splashed their contents indiscriminately on the walls, floors, clothing, crates, and barrels.
She retched at the motion and grabbed for the buckets, one held scummy water and the other was easily identifiable as a honey bucket. Kerdi vomited into the honey bucket and considered rinsing her mouth with water from the other, but it didn’t smell much better than her vomit.
She held her breath, gargled the water, and spit it out. She pushed her hair behind her pointed ears and tried the door. It was locked.
Prisoner, she thought. I’m a prisoner. Who the fuck would want to lock me up? One of the Elf Queen’s minions, the fucking Elf Queen herself, an old lover, a new lover, a jealous husband or wife, or pretty much anyone paying attention for the last ten years. It wasn’t like I’ve been a little princess.
Kerdi pounded on the door. She heard footsteps and screamed, “Open this fucking door. Do you know who I am? Let be out or there’ll be fucking hell to pay.”
An hour later, the rusted latch turned and the door opened. Three elves and a goblin stood in the narrow hallway and all three were armed with short swords and dressed in loose flowing shirts and pants tied in place with wide sashes. The elves wore brightly covered bandanas on their heads and the goblin might have been attractive enough for a one night stand if he hadn’t been sporting a black eye patch, hoop earrings, and a scraggly beard. Kerdi said, “Who the fuck are you supposed to be, the fucking pirate king?”
“Must you use such language?”
“You got a problem with my fucking language, what are you, ten fucking years old? You should have grown up with me. My three mothers swore like sailors, no, I take that back, you lot are sailors, and my mothers could out curse, out fight, and out drink all of you. Now, goblin, stop bitching about my fucking language and tell me where the fuck I am.”
The goblin pirate wrinkled his nose. “I’m not a pirate king, I’m Captain Redcap of the good ship, Shadowdancer. My, but you do smell as foul as your language.” He ordered his men. “Take her on deck, cleaned her up, give her some fresh clothes and bring her to my cabin. Something pink and frilly, if we have it.”
Kerdi shouted as the three elven pirates forced her through the passage. “Pink and frilly. I’ll shove pink and frilly up your ass, goblin. You don’t know who I am.”
The pirate bowed with a wave of his tri-corner hat. “Oh but I do, Kerdi Karnapple, royal treasurer, potty mouthed strumpet, conniver, and assassin. I know you for what you are, as does Queen Renna, my employer, and the reason you’re on my ship. Please go clean up and try not to vomit again – it’s so unsettling.”
“Fuck you. Fuck the Queen and fuck blue ducks running.”
Kerdi didn’t have to think about maintaining her tough broad personae throughout the washing process. Being the bitch from hell was second nature to her. She’d learned it at her mothers’ knees. If you are aggressive enough, demanding enough, and don’t give a shit about anyone else’s feelings, you can pretty much always get your way.
One thing her adoptive mothers had down pat was selfishness, but Kerdi had raised it to a fine art. Hundreds of little fairies, elves, pixies, gnomes, goblins, and other Fae danced around each other, playing nice, and hoping for a fair share of the dwindling resources available to the Fae as the humans outbred them and built cities where the dryads and naiads used to roam.
Kerdi believed that all that sweetness and light was bullshit. Take what you want and take no prisoners. Screw who you want to screw, physically and financially. If you want it, take it, that was how to survive, although as she shivered from her sea water bath, perhaps her “all for one and I’m the one” attitude might have contributed a bit to her current predicament. Revenge is a dish best served cold, and based on the temperature of the ocean water being poured over her head by laughing pirate elves, someone was having a little revenge right now. No worries, she’d figure it out and payback is a bitch.
They gave her a faded and flowered silk shirt, baggy pants, and a blue sash to hold them up. She felt one eye patch short of being a pirate, herself. One of the elves who was hogging three or four teeth all to himself said, “The Captain wants to see you in his cabin. Mind you behave. He’ll blame me if you don’t and I’ll make your life hell.”
“Just standing down wind of you is close enough to hell for me.”
The elven pirates led Kerdi to the Captain’s cabin, where they tied her in a ladder back chair in front of a large desk. The Captain stayed focused on a crystal ball, but he held up one hand and motioned the men to stay in the room. Captain Redcap whispered to the ball. “As you command, my Queen.” The ball turned into a shiny black orb.
Kerdi hadn’t seen a black crystal ball before. She’d seen clear orbs, white spheres, and even one that belonged to a druid witch that was rose colored with blood red veins. The witch used it to drain the life force from her victims. Whatever powers a black ball had, she figured that it had to be bad.
The Captain covered the ball with a scarf and picked up a dagger with a dragon motif handle. He smiled at Kerdi and used the point to clean his grimy fingernails.
“You clean up pretty well. Promise to behave and I’ll have you untied.”
“I’ll behave,” she smiled. “Untie me and I’ll cut off your fucking head with your own fucking dagger and shove that shiny black rock so far down your throat that you’ll think you have three balls.”
The Captain dismissed his men. “Okay, tied to the chair it is. I’ve tolerated your rudeness thus far, but don’t confuse my courtesy with weakness. The Queen is paying me well to return you to her, but not well enough for me let you undermine my position. You don’t have to like it here. I don’t care. You may think this is unfair. I don’t care. You have three choices. You can stay locked in the closet you woke up in and spend the time we’re at sea keeping your water bucket and your slop bucket straight, you can give me your parole and receive freedom to roam the deck, or you can really piss me off and I’ll hang you from the yardarm.”
“Exactly what the fuck does behave mean?”
“You can’t kill anyone except in self-defense. Don’t call me names or incite mutiny. If you choose to develop a closely personal and mutually consensual relationship with someone on my crew, enjoy yourself.”
“Not very fucking likely.”
“It’s a long time between ports.”
“Fine, I’ll behave. I never seen a black crystal ball.”
“Obsidian. It’s an obsidian orb. The Queen’s grandfather ordered thirty orbs made from the same obsidian vein. The orbs resonate together and allow communication. The Queen said not to kill you unless I have to. She wants the money you embezzled and hid. She also said that we’re to chase down another ship, the Broken Wind, and capture her niece and nephew. You’ll do me the courtesy of staying below deck during that encounter.”
“No problem. It’s not my fight, but tell me the truth, is the ship really named the Broken Wind?”
“Indeed it is. The first captain had an inordinate fondness for beer, but a serious intestinal response to overconsumption. Now, do I have your word that you’ll not interfere with me or my crew?”
“You have my word and I always keep my word,” said Kerdi, but she thought, fuck yes, I always keep my word, that is, until I don’t.”
Kerdi selected a couple wormy apples from a barrel and made herself comfortable on deck. She ate around the brown spots and worms. She stayed out of the way while Redcap issued orders and the crew prepared to pursue the Broken Wind. Sails were hoisted, anchors, cargo, and rigging were made fast, and the crew fastened the openings to below deck. They called it “battening down the hatches.” She paid close attention in order to learn as much as possible. The only thing she knew about pirate ships was that she didn’t like being on one.
Once the sails were rigged, Redcap ordered a change in heading, and the Shadowdancer turned until her prow pointed due west. A tall female sailor with hair as red as a storm laden sunset positioned herself on the rear deck, faced the sails, and screamed. The sails filled from the blast of wind that erupted from her mouth accompanied by an ear piercing shriek.
The Shadowdancer lurched forward and Kerdi rolled across the deck. One seaman caught her by the sash before she went overboard. He said, “Best hold tight. Things get exciting when the banshee screams.”
Kerdi crawled to a mast and held on. A banshee, imagine that, how clever. The Shadowdancer could sail in any direction, including against the wind under banshee power. She had no idea where the Broken Wind was, but she no doubt they’d catch her pretty damn quick.
Redcap ordered the banshee to stand down before sunset. Kerdi looked at him questioningly and he said, “Can’t travel at night at banshee speeds. Might hit another ship, an island, or a shoal, besides we could all use a bit of rest, a ration of grog, and a bite to eat.”
Kerdi couldn’t sleep. Why the hell did the Queen care about her niece and nephew unless she feared a challenge to her throne? That had to be it. The children were the Queen’s older sister’s children, and since the Queen’s sister had died under mysterious circumstances and her children disappeared, good Queen Renna had reluctantly assumed the throne. Somehow she’d located the kids, Bronya and Brix, and following a family tradition, knew that the only good heir is a dead heir. Well, whatever the Queen wanted, Kerdi didn’t want and a little self-serving payback was in order, after all, selfishness is enlightened self-interest in the first person. Time to ingratiate herself with the crew.
Kerdi moved closer to a group of pirates. One of the elves complained to another wearing a green bandana. “Mordia, we got one passenger on board courtesy of the Queen and now we got to fetch two more. There won’t be no booty while the Shadowdancer is naught but a ferryboat. I’ve half a mind to complain to the Captain. I’m not in this for my health, and if there ain’t no piracy, we ain’t getting no gold.”
Mordia grumbled, “Redcap don’t take kindly to them what complains, but I’m not any happier about it than you are.”
Kerdi caught Mordia’s eye for a moment, smiled, and shook her head. Mordia sneered, “What’s your problem, missy. You’re the reason we ain’t behaving like proper pirates. Careful you don’t misstep and fall overboard.”
“Sorry, I couldn’t help overhearing. I have a question, but I don’t want to upset Captain Redcap. Please don’t tell him I asked, but I was wondering how much of the gold the Queen’s paying the Captain to deliver me and to capture her niece and nephew is he sharing with you?”
“Gold from the Queen. What gold?”
“It’s not really for me to say, but I overheard the Captain talking with the Queen through a black crystal ball. She’s paying him my weight in gold and as much more for the capture of her relatives. He said something about retiring to a castle in the north.”
Mordia spit a foul-smelling glob of whatever weed she was chewing over the side. “Bastard. I knew he was selling us out.” She turned to her fellow pirates. “We’ll play along until we got the kids and then, we’ll mutiny and sell the ‘em to the Queen ourselves.”
Durk, an overweight ogre with a wooden leg and a hook instead of a left hand, pointed at Kerdi. “What about this trollop? She’ll rat us out to curry favor with the Captain. Let’s throw her overboard.”
Kerdi stood up. “Good fucking luck with that. First, I was in charge of the Queen’s treasury and I’ve hidden most of her gold. She wants me alive while she searches. If she doesn’t find it on her own, she’ll either torture me, make a deal with me, or both. No one, not the captain and not you lot, gets paid until she finds her gold. If I’m dead, she can’t share it with you. Second, I won’t go easy. I was raised by a trio of female sellswords, an ogre, a troll, and a hobgoblin. They taught me to fight, curse, and take what I want. You may toss me overboard, but most of you lot won’t live to see the splash.”
More than a dozen of the crew surrounded Kerdi. She pointed at Durk. “What’s it going to be, riches or death? How about you fat boy, you feel lucky?”
Mordia stepped between Kerdi and the pirates. She faced the mob. “Put away your knives and belaying pins. There’ll be time enough to kill this one later. I’ll fetch the first mate. We’ll see what he has to say about this, but as for me, I got no problem with playing along with the Captain until we have the two kids. We’ll sell all three to the highest bidder.”
“Mind you,” said Kerdi. “I don’t give a flying fuck about the children. My only interest in them is that the Queen wants them dead and that’s enough reason to keep them alive. I live to piss off the Queen. Before she was Queen, she commanded a squadron during the goblin wars and her warriors killed my real parents. Payback is good for the soul.”
The crew grumbled, but dispersed. Mordia came back with a halfling, a dwarf elf hybrid named Gord. Gord said, “I’m the first mate. What’s this scuttlebutt I hear about the Captain making a deal with the Queen and cutting us out of it? Tell me the tale and make me believe it.”
Kerdi repeated her story and Gord grunted. “Can’t say as I believe a damn word, but I can’t say that I doesn’t. I’m given to wonder how a woman raised by sellswords comes to be able to cipher well enough to become the Royal Treasurer.”
“My three mothers apprenticed me to a merchant for two years. He taught me a lot. He was a good dwarf and if he’d have kept his hands to himself, I wouldn’t have slit his throat. I spent a year with a scribe learning to read and write. She was of a different mind than the merchant and as far as I know, she’s still writing missives for the public in bazaars.”
Gord addressed the pirates. “I say that for now we follow the Captain and fetch the children. Could be we’ll even put one of them on the throne. Like as not, they’d be grateful. Have one of the pixies hide in Redcap’s quarters. I’d know the truth about this obsidian orb your new best friend here is talking about.”
“My new best friend?” asked Mordia.
“Aye. Keep her alive until I’ve decided how to best make us rich.”
Kerdi made herself comfortable on a large coil of rope. This had gone better than she hoped. Nothing like a little dissention in the ranks to make things interesting. A few more timely gentle shoves and this would work out nicely, but for now, she ate three more apples and tried to sleep. There’d be no sleep after the banshee started screaming at sunrise, and mutiny was hard to plot with a tired mind and an empty stomach.
At midday, the lookout flashed sunlight into the Captain’s face with a small mirror. Shouting would have served no purpose, he couldn’t be heard over the banshee’s scream.
Redcap waved to catch the banshee’s attention and slashed one finger across his throat. The banshee stopped screaming. The lookout scanned the horizon with a spyglass. “Captain, the
Broken Wind’s to starboard.”
“Prepare to engage. On my order, pixies go aloft, cut the rigging on her sails, and leave her dead in the water. Gord, confine the prisoner to her quarters until the engagement is over.”
Gord took her arm and Kerdi jerked it free. “You’ll not put me back in that fucking closet.”
“Go quietly, please. I’ve heard what you’ve said and I’ve no desire to toss you overboard. Live to fight another day.”
Gord hurried her to the little room with two buckets and shoved her inside. He glanced up the passageway to ensure privacy and handed her a pearl handled dirk with a razor sharp edge. “In case things go awry. I’ll be back as soon as we’ve finished with the Broken Wind.”
“What if you lose the battle? What happens to me?”
“If we lose, I can’t imagine I’ll be caring about your wellbeing. You might offer a prayer to one of the old gods if you’re on good terms with any of them.”
The Shadowdancer closed with the Broken Wind. Six pixies assumed their largest size, flew with knives in their teeth, landed on her rigging, and slashed the ropes. The Wind’s sails flapped in the soft breeze, drifted down, and covered half her deck.
Redcap positioned his ship to fire a broadside from the nine cannons mounted on the Shadowdancer’s port side. He nodded and one cannon fired a shot that passed just above the Wind’s deck. “Ahoy the ship. You’ve nowhere to go and no way to get there. We’ll not be boarding for a fair fight, we’ll sit right here and blast you into splinters. “All we want is the children, Bronya and Brix. Put them on a boat. We’ll take ‘em, and leave you to repair your ship.”
Gord’s mouth opened in astonishment. He whispered, “Captain, this is but a ploy, is it not? Surely, we’ll take her. The crew deserves booty. Even if there’s no valuables aboard, the ship will fetch a pretty penny and we all deserve our share of her price.”
“Price be damned. The Queen ordered me to take the children and that’s what we’ll be doing. Nothing more and nothing less.”
“Shall I tell the crew we’ll be ransoming them?”
“Tell them nothing. My ship, my crew, and my orders.” Redcap shouted across the narrow gap between the vessels. “I can order more cannon fire to help you decide. Or I can order my pixies to set fire to those sails draped across your deck. I need your answer.”
“Aye, you can have the children. There’s naught else we can do except to die and let them die with us. We’ll deliver them to you soon enough. Take them and be damned.”
Captain Redcap turned to his first mate. “I’ll be in my quarters. Bring the children.”
Redcap locked his door and removed the yellow silk cloth covering the obsidian orb. Looking into the depths of the orb made him a little dizzy. It was like peering into a starless night. “My Queen, it is I, Redcap. I’ve the children.”
‘Of course, it’s you. Who else would it be? You have the only orb that I don’t have locked up. Bring me the children. Sink the “Broken Wind.” Stupid name for a ship, anyway. Don’t you people have a saying, ‘dead men tell no tales,’ or some rot like that.”
“What about Kerdi?”
“Bring her to me as well. I haven’t found my treasure. She’ll tell me soon enough where it is.”
“And my payment?”
“Once I have my sister’s children and recover my treasure, you’ll have your payment.”
“My crew and ship?”
“As we discussed, you’ll have no need of either once you fulfill your tasks. My men will burn her to the waterline with all hands aboard. No witnesses. Make haste. Use the banshee.”
The interior of the orb filled with clouds like a storm building in the night sky. Redcap considered for a moment that it might be easier for the Queen to kill him than to pay him, but a knock on the door distracted him.
He opened the door and Gord had two small children in tow. “Here they be. What should I do with them?”
“Tie them on deck. Prepare the banshee. Fire two full broadsides into the Broken Wind. Sink her.”
“Captain, what about your promise?”
”Promises be damned. I’m a pirate. We sail for the capitol at sunrise.” Redcap slammed his cabin door and poured himself three fingers of rum. He vaguely recalled worrying about something before Gord disturbed him, but he couldn’t remember. He opened one porthole. Fresh air might help his memory. He removed his hat, scratched his head, and poured another measure of rum. He never noticed the pixie in her smallest size fly silently out the porthole.
Kerdi woke with a hand over her mouth. Gord whispered, “Quiet please. I’ll do you no harm. We need to talk.”
Gord pointed to a pixie who’d sized herself small enough to perch on his shoulder like a parrot. “This here is Mabel. She’s the one what spied on the Captain and the Queen. She’s paying him blood money like you said. Not only that, she’s ordered him to deliver the children and you to her. When he goes ashore, her men will burn us alive. Sunrise is in an hour and the banshee will scream us to the capitol. We’re going to mutiny before then. I seem to recall you suggesting you had access to the Queen’s treasure and hinting that you might be willing to share it, peaceable like.”
“Give me a sword. I’ll kill the bastard myself. I’ll share her treasure. Hell, I’ll buy you a new fucking ship if that’s what you want. What’s the plan?”
“Plan’s simple. There’s forty of us and one captain. We’ll kill him when he comes on deck. Don’t want to do it near the black crystal. Wouldn’t do for the Queen to see.”
Kerdi took a curved sword, really a scimitar, from a short one-legged pirate. She swung it few times to measure its weight and balance. She ran one finger along the blade. “Damn, man. Don’t you people ever sharpen a fucking blade? Never mind. If it comes to it, I’ll beat him to death. You said kill him. Does that mean hang him from the yard arm, make him walk the plank, or weigh him down with cannonballs and toss him overboard?”
“You’ve been listening to drunken stories in taverns. Colorful as all those sound, when we want someone to be dead for sure, we find throat cutting is simple and quick. He’ll go overboard right enough, but not in one piece.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Come on deck and guard the children. Some of the crew get confused about where their best interests lie. Can I trust you to keep them safe?”
“I not a babysitter.”
Gord held the door open. “Aye, you are. Time’s short. Let’s get to it, then.”
Kerdi approached the two children, who were huddled at the base of a mast. She took one look at the shivering children and yelled at Gord. “Bring me some dry clothes for these two before they fucking freeze to death. I bet people can hear their teeth chatter in the capitol. Won’t do us no good to take the ship if the prince and princess die on our watch.”
Gord sent a pixie to fetch dry clothes. “Kerdi Karnapple, if I didn’t know better, I’d think you cared about these two.”
“Don’t be an idiot. I care about me, and right now, the best thing I can do for me is to take care of these two brats. Enlightened self-interest, not compassion.”
Gord smirked. “If you say so. Right now my enlightened self-interest is interested in a spot of mutiny.”
A pixie flew quickly to Kerdi, tossed an assortment of clothing on the deck, and chased after the first mate. Kerdi picked up the clothing and tossed it to the children. “Put these on.”
Brix sneezed. “Are we to be killed, then?”
“If we were going to kill you, we’d have left you on the Broken Wind. The Queen prefers you to live until we reach the capitol. Nothing discourages revolution like publicly hanging your relatives. Put on dry clothes before you freeze.”
Bronya crossed her arms over her a seawater soaked linen top. “Change clothes? Right here on deck in front of everyone?”
“Yes, damn it. Modesty or freezing. Your choice.”
The two turned their backs to Kerdi and quickly changed. Brix cinched a purple scarf around his waist to hold up pants several sizes too large. The green shirt that Bronya wore almost reached her feet. Kerdi almost choked trying not to laugh. “You’ll grow into them.”
She took four apples from the nearest barrel and tossed them to the children. “Eat and rest. I’ve only been a pirate for a few days, but I’ve learned two things. Never pass up food and sleep whenever you can. Life on a ship is full of surprises.”
The next surprise came within seconds. Gord ran screaming from the Captain’s cabin. “Fire. The Queen’s killed the Captain and set the ship on fire. Man the sea-pump before we lose the Shadowdancer.”
Kerdi just stood still. “What the devil is a sea-pump?”
“Follow me,” shouted Gord.
Kerdi and a dozen pirates chased Gord across the deck to a large coil of tubing. Gord struggled to feed one end of the hose into the ocean. “Mordia, take over here. Get the hose into the sea.”
Four pirates grabbed handles on opposite sides of what looked like the largest blacksmith’s bellows that Kerdi had ever seen. Gord took the end of a second hose and shouted at Kerdi. “Woman, you gonna watch the ship burn or you gonna help me get this hose to the Captain’s cabin.”
Kerdi placed herself about an arm’s length behind Gord and mimicking him, wrapped her arms around the hose. Another pirate positioned himself directly behind her. Gord said, “On my command, move forward. Stay in step with me or we’ll tramp all over each other’s feet and end up flat on our asses.”
Kerdi kept her eyes down so she wouldn’t trip. Water slowly dribbled out of the end of the hose. The dribble grew larger and gushed in a torrent by the time Gord reached the flaming cabin. “Hold tight. When the pumpers hit their stride, it’ll be all we can do to keep the hose pointed at the fire.”
In spite of their best efforts, the spouting end of the hose whipped Gord and Kerdi around the deck like a child on the business end of a crack the whip game, but most of the water sprayed on the fire. Eventually, all that remained of the fire was the stench and a sludge of wet ashes.
Kerdi returned to the children. “Fire’s out. We’re safe for now. The old Captain is dead. He was going to sell the three of us to your aunt, Queen Renna. She doesn’t like me and I expect she doesn’t much care for you two. Apparently she decided to forgo a public execution and burn the three of us to death.”
Bronya rubbed her ash covered face. “Did the man say the Queen started the fire? She’s not here is she?”
Kerdi was startled by the question. Yes, she thought. Gord did say that the Queen killed the Captain and started the fire, but how could that be possible? Perhaps she’d ordered the Captain to burn the ship and he’d killed himself doing so. That made sense, didn’t it?
“Princess, I don’t know, but I’ll find out.”
Gord stood in the wreckage of the Captain’s cabin. Kerdi laughed at him. “A fine figure of a pirate, you are. With that layer of muddy ash covering you, you could be a statue – a statue with little red eyes. Why’re you prowling through the muck?”
“The obsidian orb. I have to find it. The Queen used the orb to kill the Captain and start the fire. If I don’t find it, she’ll learn that she was unsuccessful and try again. Help me find it.”
“You want me to come and play amongst the charred timbers and wet mush. Nice of you to ask, but I’d rather sit in my old cubicle with a honey bucket.”
“Pull your head out of your arse and help me find the damned orb. We’ll put the orb in a bucket of brine and cover it so she can’t see us. I don’t think she can shoot fire out of the orb through a barrel of water. The only way we’ll be safe is if she thinks the ship burned and sank.”
Kerdi waded into the wet layer of ash and shoved the charred remains of the Captain’s belongings aside. “The Queen shot fire out of the orb? Did she have a fucking dragon?”
“No, not fire exactly. Arrows. One of the pixies was watching through the porthole. Flaming arrows erupted from orb. The first one hit the Captain square in the face and the rest set fire to his cabin.”
Kerdi pawed through the sludge and found the orb. It was covered in sludge. Gord grabbed her hand. “Don’t clean it. We can’t let her see us. Once we seal it in a barrel of water, she’ll only see sea water and darkness. She’ll think it’s at the bottom of the sea and leave us be.”
Kerdi covered the ooze covered orb with a muddy shirt. “Why don’t we just throw it overboard?”
“We can do that anytime. Who knows what the future will bring. We may need to communicate with the capitol. Someone more to our liking could become Queen or King. We may figure out a way to use it to our advantage. If nothing else, it may fetch a pretty penny. Waste not, want not.”
“I say toss it to the fishes.”
“Time enough for that latter,” said Gord. He carried the orb on deck and place it in an empty grog barrel. “Fill this to the brim with sea water and seal it.”
The next two days were busy. Everyone pitched in and repaired the fire damaged areas. At night, the entire crew met to make plans. Kerdi sat in on those meetings and was pleased that the crew accepted her as one of them.
The Prince and Princess were allowed the run of the ship. When they weren’t following Kerdi, they climbed the rigging and raced around the deck. The two found the clothes locker and dressed in full pirate regalia, complete with knives and short swords.
Bronya crowded close and dislodged Kerdi’s wide-brimmed hat. “Troll’s tits, child. Give me room to work.”
Bronya pointed to the paisley bandana binding her hair. “Real pirates wear bandanas, not hats. The wind doesn’t blow them off and they don’t get caught in the rigging.”
“Fuck real pirates. You and I aren’t any sort of pirates, real or otherwise.”
Brix touched a brass earring dangling beneath his bandana. “Earrings, real pirates wear earrings.”
“Earrings are stupid. In a fight, your opponent can grab the earring and tear it loose.”
Bronya threw a small knife at the nearest mast and it stuck in the splintered wood. “We are so real pirates. We’re part of the crew on a pirate ship. Gord promised to give us pirate lessons. He says you’re a great fighter. Teach us to fight.”
“No time for that. As soon as repairs are finished, Gord will order the banshee to blow us to the capitol. We’ve a Queen to overthrow and hidden treasure to recover. Bronya, you’re next in line for the throne. You’ll be Queen, not a pirate.”
Gord removed Bronya’s knife from the mast. “Nicely done, girl, but you favor your right hand. Force yourself to use your left. You never know when you’ll be dangling from the rigging from your strongest arm and only have the other to defend yourself. Off with you both. Go practice.”
The Prince and Princess scrambled up the rigging. Kerdi tossed a handful of fire damaged decking over the side. “Don’t encourage them. Do we head for the capitol tomorrow?”
“No, we don’t. The Queen thinks were dead and I’m not of a mind to make her think otherwise. We’ll take our time and give her the opportunity to forget about us.”
“I want to kill her now.”
“And so do I, but taking our time is the smart play.” He pointed into the rigging. “Those two grow older and stronger every day. You can teach them to fight and teach them to think. When they’re older, it’ll be easier to place one of them on the throne. Perhaps, a few lessons in your philosophy of enlightened self-interest. Otherwise, the only things they’ll learn are what my crew teaches them and a pirates are like little children who believe that everything they see belongs to them. We already have a Queen who rules like a pirate, I’d hope we can teach them better.”
“How long am I going to be on this fucking ship?”
“We’re three months out with good weather, but I’m planning to take a bit longer. If you don’t mind my saying, you might watch your language with the children. A ruler shouldn’t swear like a pirate.”
“Gord, you don’t even swear like a pirate. If we’re going to stay away from the capitol and hide, we need to change the name of this ship. How about “Dark Runner?”
One morning ten years later, eighteen year old Brix swung down from the topmast, his blonde hair streamed behind his pointed ears. Bronzed, shirtless, and barefoot, he landed lightly on the deck. “Captain, one of the Queen’s ships is to starboard. She’s moving toward us.”
Kerdi didn’t answer.
Bronya put her hand on Kerdi’s arm. “Captain?”
“Sorry,” answered Kerdi. “Gord’s only been dead a moon, and I’m not accustomed to being addressed as Captain. Let’s turn toward her, but ensure that we stay upwind. I’d prefer to swoop down on her rather than let her control the action.”
“We’ll have to rely on the wind, our banshee’s been drunk since battle where Gord was killed. Those trolls could really fight.”
“Order battle stations and tell the crew not to kill everyone. I hunger for news about the Queen and the capitol. I fell in love with Gord, something no one who ever knew me would’ve believed possible, and I let our love delay my revenge and my promise to put one of you on the throne. I don’t want to wait any longer.”
Brix said, “I like being a fucking pirate.”
Bronya laughed, “Watch your fucking language.”
Kerdi said, “I hope you’ve learned to fight as well as you’ve learned to swear. No cannon fire, no flaming arrows, and no pixies with firepots. We’ll take this ship the hard way.”
The two ships jockeyed for position until midday. Kerdi’s crew stood on the deck with grappling hooks ready to throw. Kerdi tightened her grip on the helm. “Mabel,” she said to the pixie next to her. “Mabel, you and your pixies fly to their sails and cut them free, but don’t engage her crew. Once her maneuverability is compromised, I’ll close with her. We’ll board and take the ship. No fires. Don’t kill them all.”
The sky filled with a dozen pixies in bright clothing. They slashed the riggings on the Queen’s ship and the brigantine floundered and drifted with the current. Kerdi spun the wheel and brought the Dark Runner alongside the other ship, the Maiden’s Promise.
Bronya spun the grapping rope in her hand. “Kerdi, the Maiden’s Promise? What a stupid name.”
“Stupid don’t mean her crew can’t fight. On my command, reef the sails and throw the grapples. I want her Captain alive.” Kerdi spun the wheel and the Dark Runner bumped against the Promise. “Now,” Kerdi screamed. She raced to the rail and lept onto the other ship. She ignored her own orders and skewered the first two elves that confronted her.
The battle was short. The Promise was manned entirely by elven sailors and marines. Queen Renna didn’t allow gnomes, orcs, trolls, pixies, or even fairies in her armed forces. The pixies rained blunted arrows on the defenders, and the pirate trolls and orcs battered overmatched elves unconscious.
“Over here, Captain Kerdi,” shouted Brix. “It’s the Captain.”
Kerdi crossed the deck. Brix sat on top of an overweight elf in a Captain’s uniform. Kerdi dropped to one knee. “Captain, I assume that you are aware that your ship has a stupid name. Your crew must have to fight a lot in dockside taverns, but apparently they never learned how. You were chasing us. I want to know why.”
“Piss off, pirate. Do your worst.”
“You don’t want my worst.” Kerdi grabbed a rope that ran to a pulley high on the topgallant, looped it around his feet, and hoisted the Captain until his head was about three feet above the deck. She belayed the rope in place and yelled to Bronya. “Fetch a large kettle from the galley. We’ll build a fire under this fucking idiot. Perhaps, that will loosen his tongue before his brain roasts.”
Bronya placed a black caldron near the captain’s head. He tried to knock the pot away, but his fingertips couldn’t quite reach the lip. Bronya filled the caldron with wood and linen. She pulled a long stick from her sash. “Sulphur matches from the cook’s galley.”
“Light it up,” said Kerdi.
Bronya struck the match on the rough sawn deck and it smoked, smoldered, and burst into flame. She lit the caldron. “I like his boots. I’ll take them after he’s dead.”
The Captain waved his hands uselessly above the fire pot. Huge chunks of his greasy hair burned away. Smoke obscured his face. Kerdi rocked him gently and he swung back and forth through the flames.
“This one’ll be dead in a moment. Find the first mate, maybe he’s of a mind to talk.”
The Promise’s Captain coughed and sputtered. “Cut me down. I’ll talk.”
Kerdi shoved the firepot away, but left the Captain hanging by his feet. “You attacked us. Why.”
“Well, you’ve got the Queen’s niece and nephew on board and you’re pirates. Queen Renna don’t like pirates. There’s dozens of ships what’s searching for you. Only yesterday, she told me where you were.”
Kerdi jerked the elf to his feet. “Yesterday? Where’s the Queen?”
“Home in bed, like as not. She communicates through an obsidian orb in my cabin. Sometimes we talk and sometimes, she sends written messages through the orb.”
“Do you send messages to her?”
“Only in emergencies. Mostly, the orb stays hard. It is a rock, you know. Normally, I can’t put anything through it, but I have vial of the Queen’s blood. One drop and the orb goes all cloudy like. Until the blood dries, I can send messages and such things as will fit through the orb.”
He pulled a chain from around his neck. A cork and the remains of a small blood stained bottle dangled from the gold chain. “It appears that your mate here broke the bottle when he jumped me.”
“How did the Queen know where to find us?”
“There’s an orb on your ship.”
“I know. It’s sealed in a barrel full of seawater.”
“Not anymore. It’s in a barrel right enough, but the Queen checks it regularly. She opened the orb with her blood and drained the barrel dry. She can’t see through it, but she can listen well enough to hear your plans.”
Kerdi stepped away from the Captain. “Brix, put him with the other captives. You and Bronya meet me outside this idiot’s cabin.”
The narrow passageway was tight and oppressive, the walls were spotted with mold, the ceiling was covered with soot from years of smoky torches, and the wooden planked flooring was black from the passage of thousands of unwashed feet.
Kerdi put one finger to her lips and whispered. “Speak softly. She may be able to hear through the door. The Queen must die or we’ll never be safe. Here’s my plan. I want six pixie archers. After dark, we’ll enter the cabin and surround the orb. We’ll wait until the Queen tries to communicate and I’ll slice my hand and bleed on the orb. As soon as it opens, we’ll all shoot arrows into it. One of us should hit the queen right in her regal face.”
Bronya nodded. “I’ll fetch the pixies, but the Captain said that he used the Queen’s blood to open the orb. Like as not, your blood won’t work.”
“Perhaps not, but we have to try. Brix, whilst Bronya fetches the pixies, toss the damn barrel holding our obsidian orb overboard.”
“Aye, Captain. I’m on it.”
The sun sets quickly on the high seas and soon after, six pixies followed Bronya past the dangling captain, down the stairs, and into the passageway. “Lamps out,” Kerdi ordered. We’ll watch the orb in darkness until we see Queen Renna’s face.”
The nine pirates positioned themselves around the orb and eight of them held bows with arrows nocked, ready to aim and fire, but the orb remained black and lifeless. The full moon shone through a porthole and the orb seemed to absorb its light rather than reflect it. Just before midnight, the orb lightened from black to gray, and then from gray to white, and finally the white surface faded into transparency. The Queen’s face appeared inside the now clear ball and Kerdi moved to stay out of the Queen’s vision. She stepped to the globe, and sliced her palm.
Her blood dripped down the orb. Kerdi nodded, and eight arrows bounced off the translucent surface. The Queen flinched and then laughed. “I see you, Kerdi Karnapple. A common born trollop such as yourself doesn’t have the blood of my family. The orbs were invested by my ancestor and only respond to our royal blood. I’ll burn you all alive.”
Bronya dropped her bow and pulled her dagger. She held her hand over the orb and cut her thumb. Her blood dripped onto the orb and vanished into the surface. The orb turned slightly pink and the smell of the Queen’s chambers filled the Captain’s quarters. Bronya screamed, “My blood is royal. Shoot now. Shoot now.”
Seven arrows vanished into the orb followed quickly by seven more. Bronya starred into the orb and saw Queen Renna on the floor of her royal chambers with several arrows in her face and neck. Bronya grabbed sulphur matches from her sash. “Flaming arrows. Set her castle on fire.”
The smoke and heat from the fire in the Queen’s chamber poured through the open orb and filled the Captain’s cabin until Bronya’s blood dried and the orb regressed into a cold black obsidian ball.
Brix opened portholes to let the smoke clear. Kerdi picked up the orb and staggered toward the deck. “Follow me.”
She tossed the orb overboard and ducked her head in a scuttlebutt of water and washed the smoke and soot from her face.
She shook her dripping hair and pointed at Bronya. “The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen.”
“Fuck that. You didn’t raise me to be a queen. I like being a pirate.
Bronya held out her bleeding hand to Kerdi, who clasped it tightly and their blood mingled. “Blood oath. Pirates we are, and pirates we stay.”
Kerdi hoped that her tears didn’t show. “Pirates forever. We’ve two ships now. We need another for Brix unless he fancies himself a king.”
Brix cut his hand and joined it in a three handed grip with Kerdi and his sister.
“Blood oath. I fancy myself a pirate. I’ve no desire to rule a kingdom. A dead Queen’s got no use for the gold that Kerdi is always going on about. I say we go after it.”
“Brother, we can fucking sure do that,” said Bronya. “Sober up the banshee and let’s get under way.”