Chapter no 21 – The Pirate

Tress of the Emerald Sea

LAGGART CALLED FOR THE AFTERNOON watch to go for dinner while they waited out the stilling. Not wanting to draw the captain’s ire any further, Tress returned to her work, scrubbing while everyone else relaxed.

As always, she spent the time thinking. I would call the gift of thoughtfulness a double-edged sword, but I’ve always found that metaphor lacking. The vast majority of swords have two edges, and I’ve not found them to be any more likely to cut their owner than the single-edged variety. It is the sharpness of the wielder, and not the sharpness of the sword, that foreshadows mishap.

Tress’s mind was sharp as a sword, which in this moment was unfortunate. Because while she’d identified a path to freedom, she couldn’t help listening in as Ann leaned against the mast nearby and spoke to Laggart.

“The one who loaded spores for your cannon?” Ann said, thumbing over her shoulder at Tress. “It wasn’t the Dougs. It was her. Thought you should know.”

Please don’t stick up for me, Tress thought, feeling another stab of guilt.

Please don’t remind me how nice you are.

Night fell and the seethe began again, sending the ship back on course toward its port. Tress tried to scrub away her frustration, but guilt does not clean as easily as spore scum. And soon I came ambling up to her.

“Your coat is nice,” I whispered to her, “but it would look better if you painted half of it orange.”

“Orange?” Tress said. “That…sounds like it would clash.”

“Clashing is good fashion, trust me. Oh, Fort says to go see him for food.” I winked. “I need to go nibble on my toes for a bit. They taste like fate.”

Tress tried to ignore the offer, but soon Huck came bouncing up to her.

“Hey. You hungry? I’m hungry. We gonna go try to get some food or what?”

With a sigh, Tress let him climb onto her shoulder, then trudged down to the quartermaster’s office. There, by the light of a small lantern, Fort handed her another plate of food. It didn’t taste quite so offensive as last time—but perhaps that was because so many of her taste buds had committed ritual

suicide following the apocalyptic breakfast.

Tress sat on a stool in front of Fort, who insisted—via his incredible

writing board—that he wasn’t doing her a favor, and this was merely a trade. Tress saw through it. She saw it in the way he refilled her cup (the same bronze one she had used earlier) when it got low, and how he had saved her a bit of cake for dessert. It was awful, old and crusty like the rest, but the thought meant something.

Moons, it hurt. Not the food; her own betrayal. She’d known these people only a day, but she still smiled when Ulaam sauntered in and haggled for the gull bones from dinner, which Fort had saved for him. It was not the haggling itself that she smiled at, but the fond way the two sported during it. This ship was a family. A doomed family led by a mother who didn’t care for them.

Tress had to do something.

“Fort,” she said, looking down at her plate and pushing around the last bit of what she hoped was gull meat. “I don’t think Captain Crow has the crew’s best interests at heart.”

Fort froze, holding a cup he’d been polishing. A nice pewter mug, with delightful nicks along the rim from repeated use. Tress didn’t know if it was from the seventh-century Horgswallow tradition or simply a close copy, but it was an excellent specimen.

“I…I listened in on her,” Tress said. “When she and Laggart—”

That’s enough, Fort wrote. Anything more will get you tossed overboard, Tress. No speaking mutiny.

“But Fort,” she said, lowering her voice, “you were worried about the cannonballs, and I discovered—”

He slapped the counter to cut her off. Then he very deliberately wrote in large letters, NO MORE.

Moonshadows…he looked terrified, broken fingers trembling as he tapped on his board.

Captain visited, asked why I was being so nosy. Shouldn’t have said anything. Don’t you say anything. It’s too dangerous. SHE’S too dangerous.

He erased those words quickly, glancing toward the door, sweating as he shook the board and made certain nothing incriminating remained.

Finish your food, Fort wrote.

“Why are you all so scared of her?” Tress said. “She’s just one person.”

Fort’s eyes widened. You don’t know, he wrote. Of course you don’t. And I won’t say; not my place. But she could kill every one of us, Tress. Easy as that. So keep your tongue and LET IT

DROP. He punctuated that by putting the board down and turning away from her.

So much for warning the crew about the captain’s plans. She forced herself to eat her last bite of the meal, then slipped out of the quartermaster’s office. She lethargically walked back onto the upper deck, her belly full, her feet feeling like they were chained.

“Moons,” Huck whispered from her shoulder. “We need to get away from here before the place turns nasty. How are we going to escape? You never told me.”

In response, Tress raised a finger and pointed. The Verdant Moon dumped spores far in the distance, but was close enough to illuminate the deck with a green glow. Ahead of the ship, lights dappled a large shadow. Land, and the port city of Shimmerbay. Freedom.

“I could sneak away no problem,” Huck said. “But they’ll be watching you. Captain will set guards, Tress. They won’t let you go.”

“Ah, but they will,” she said, sick.

The captain ordered the crew to quarters for the night, saying they were making a quick stop and anyone who tried to sneak off would be flogged.

Then she set Laggart on watch. But Tress slept on the deck as she had the night before—and with no sailing to be done, there was no one to trip over her.

Around midnight, Laggart wandered off to use the privy. He made certain to clomp loudly on the steps, to wake Tress—who wasn’t asleep, though she appreciated the gesture. She stood up, quietly gathered up her sack of cups, then crossed the empty deck.

“Huh,” Huck said. “If they didn’t want anyone getting off…why did they run a gangplank down to the dock?”

“Because,” Tress whispered, standing there, “Crow wants me to spread the story of the Oot’s Dream sinking. Remember, the captain wants this crew to be deadrunners. If I am allowed to slip away, she presumes I’ll tell


“Then the crew will be trapped beneath the captain’s will. They’re too afraid of her to mutiny, and as long as they’re too frightened of the law to

escape, they’ll have to do what she says. Sail dangerous spores, essentially as her slaves.”

“Poor lunatics,” Huck said. “Well, let’s get away before we end up like them.”

Tress hesitated at the top of the gangplank. Shimmerbay was a good distance from Kingsport, but she could make her way there. Continue her plan of figuring out what the Sorceress wanted for Charlie, then find a way to free him.

“Tress,” Huck said, “I can’t help noticing that you aren’t moving.” “I should stay,” she whispered. “And help the crew.”

“What?” Huck exclaimed. “No, you shouldn’t.” “They’ve been so kind to me.”

“You barely even met them! You don’t owe them anything.”

“I saved you when I’d barely met you,” Tress said. “I didn’t owe you anything.”

“Well, I mean…” The rat rubbed his paws. “Yeah, but…well… Huh.”

She didn’t know if she could rescue Charlie. She wanted to so badly, but his pain—though poignant to her—wasn’t something she could immediately prevent.

The people of this crew were different.

“Maybe if I can help the crew,” Tress said, “they’ll take me to the Midnight Sea to get Charlie.”

“They’re pirates.”

“They’re a family,” Tress said. A plan started to form. A way she could stop Crow in secret. “And I…Huck, I need to do what I can. For them.”

Decision made, a weight came off her. She wasn’t abandoning Charlie.

But this was something she needed to do.

“Oh boy,” Huck said as Tress turned around and walked back to her sleeping spot.

“You should run,” Tress said to him. “Get away. I won’t blame you, Huck.

It’s the smart thing to do.”

He clicked his teeth together, and she thought maybe that was a ratty version of a shrug. “I have a good feeling about you,” he said. “But, I mean, are you sure about this?”

Of course I’m not, Tress thought. I haven’t been sure of anything since I left the Rock.

Something flared in the night. A match. Tress felt a spike of alarm as she saw the light illuminate a figure sitting on the steps up to the quarterdeck.

Captain Crow, her face outlined in orange as she lit her pipe.

Had she seen? Had she heard Tress talking to Huck? The captain puffed on her pipe and waved out the match, plunging her face into darkness— backlit by the bright, moon-filled sky.

“Captain?” Tress asked.

“You should run, girl,” Crow said. “You’ve proven yourself these last two days, and I judge you worthy of life. So go ahead. Slip away into the night.”

“I…” Tress took a deep breath. “I want to join your crew.”

“Join us?” Crow laughed. “Just earlier today you were cursing us for having killed your family.”

“I lied, Captain. I wanted to make you feel sorry for me, so you’d take pity and feed me. I know you saw through that. Your kick proved it. I

shouldn’t have lied.”

“Then that wasn’t your family on the ship?”

“I was a stowaway,” Tress said. “Didn’t belong there any more than I belong in Shimmerbay. I think I might belong here.”

Crow didn’t reply at first. She unscrewed the top of her canteen, a rattling sound in the night. Tress thought she could track the captain’s thoughts. If Tress hadn’t lost anyone, if she wasn’t angry at the crew…

Captain Crow stood up, a shadow in the night. “Run along anyway. No place for you here. We don’t need you scrubbing the deck all day, underfoot.

I save that job for punishment, and with you doing it, you’ve taken away one of my tools for ship discipline. Everyone on this ship must have a place, and you have none. Unless you’d like to take the role of our anchor.”

Crow turned toward her cabin, smoke drifting up from her pipe. Tress nearly ran off as she’d been told. And yet…

A piece of her hated being bullied. Hated it enough to overcome her reluctance to impose. She’d hated how the duke bullied Charlie. She’d hated how the inspectors bullied the dockworkers. And she hated it more here, facing down a woman who thought she could do whatever she wanted, to

whomever she wanted.

“You don’t have a ship’s sprouter,” Tress said. Captain Crow froze at the door to her cabin.

“He’s dead,” Tress continued. “You need someone for the job, but the

Dougs won’t do it. Otherwise you’d have pressed one of them into it by now. They made me fill the zephyr pouches. They’re frightened of spores.”

“And you aren’t?” Crow asked from the darkness.

“Of course I am,” Tress said. “But I figure a healthy respect for them helps a sprouter stay alive.”

Silence. Crow was a shadow in the night, watching her, judging her, smoke puffing up into the emerald sky.

“Aye,” Crow said. “You’re right on that. Suppose maybe there is a place for you here. You did cross the spores on foot. Took a zephyr explosion to the face. Still willing to work with spores, eh? Yes indeed…I could make use of you. In fact, I might have the perfect place for you.”

Tress frowned to herself. Were they participating in the same conversation?

“Welcome to the Crow’s Song then, ship’s sprouter,” the captain said, pushing into her cabin. “You’ll forfeit your share of loot from our first three plunders, but can take an officer’s portion after that. Also, you can’t eat with the others. Go to Fort for leftovers. Sprouters are a strange lot, and I don’t

want you getting spores into the food.” “I… Yes, Captain.”

“And don’t lie to me again. Or we’ll be finding out what happens to a human when they swallow a pouch of zephyr spores. Dr. Ulaam has always wondered.” Crow raised her canteen to her lips as she shut her cabin door.

Knees soft as lard, Tress flopped down on the deck, then pulled her red inspector’s coat tight. She was terrified by what she’d done, but determined.

She knew it was right; she felt it.

For better or worse, Tress was a pirate now.

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