1. Capt’n Tia

Chapter 1

Capt’n Tia

            It was going all too beautifully- explosions left and right, peasants screaming in sheer terror, and not a single knight, guard, or lawman to be seen. Sending threats to neighboring provinces always worked well- the self-centered nobles fear for their lives, take all of the protections they can, and leave the little coastal towns utterly defenseless.

So long as there was no one to fight us, we had no reason to harm anyone. I’d trained my crew well- just break into whatever home, scare out the residents, and then take the valuables and destroy what’s left. It was the perfect plan, even though the citizens of Lostil didn’t think so. So what if they lose their homes and most of their possessions?

If they don’t play hero and bother us, then they could live to rebuild their homes and gain new treasures. They should be grateful that I wasn’t a bloodthirsty pirate- I was just a greedy one.

Though it wasn’t all fun and games, I also had to do my job- if there weren’t any pirates around for people to hate, then they would just fight amongst themselves. As Lord of the Sea, I had to bring balance to the world by antagonizing the ‘heroes’ and the ‘forces of good’ before they took it out on the innocent bystanders.

I did see the irony in my beliefs, of course, as I was technically bothering the neutral party right then, but I was sure that gaining their ire was bound to bring them closer as a community. Naturally my ‘charity’ was going to go unrecognized, but hey, I get their shinies, what do I care?

When I was sure the boys could handle the pillaging without my supervision, I sauntered over to the seaside manor of the ruling family in town. I had a good reason for choosing this town in particular for a raid, as I had reports from my network of land spies that the sole survivor of the noble family was just a young girl. Apparently there was some accident that claimed the lives of her parents and siblings (I didn’t do it I swear), but for some reason she hadn’t been there to suffer the same fate.

I’m sure the fact that she was just a girl further convinced the stuffy old nobles of the other towns to leave her without much protection, because her death would mean nothing to them. And they say pirates were savages.

Some part of me felt a little bad for dumping this problem on her lap, likely while she was still grieving, but… well, we had to make our living too. These days it was hard being a pirate with all the advancements in long range weaponry. Used to, we were the ones with access to good cannons and the like, but now the coastal regions and most land-locked cities surpassed us and made it to where it was near impossible for a ship to get close enough for an attack, let alone an escape.

However, none of this applied to my ship, The Cruel Whore. I had the power to use tidal waves to knock out their artillery and I could send my mermaid army to sink navy vessels and eat their crew… though I usually reserved that as a last resort. But my fellow brothers-in-arms from other ships didn’t have such luxuries, and they had dragon masters to serve, so I formed a coalition where I worked with several other captains to fight the enemy and split the profits with them.

This is why I had to level the playing field for them- so they could join us in the raid without having to worry about the king’s men coming to attack them. For now, there was only one other ship working with us, and it was kind of last notice since the captain thought he could earn enough riches to feed his dragon master on his own, but… oh whatever. This was an easy raid, so I had no qualms about helping him.

My men stayed within the city while my ally’s seemed to have stormed the manor and took out what little guard there was left to protect the mistress. Captain Fiet was obviously after the big treasure, and I wasn’t going to begrudge him that- after all, I didn’t have a nasty sea dragon breathing down my neck.

I ignored the bodies that littered the courtyard, choosing not to acknowledge them. I’d grown used to seeing death in my long reign as Lord of the Sea, though I still had reservations about killing others by my own hand. I’d accepted that death would always exist, but I never had the desire to exert my power in choosing the life and death of weaker beings. I’d kill if I had to… but I’ll just leave it at that.

I soon found that not all of the guards had been dispatched, as I heard a war cry to my right side. I turned my head lazily to regard him since I knew he was still quite some distance away from me. When I noticed that he had no protective armor on in the non-vital areas, I quickly drew my old multi-shot revolver and fired at his feet. He soon let out a yell of agony as he dropped his sword and collapsed to his side, clutching his bloody foot.

My gun was a prototype- brand new when I had obtained it, and there were only a few others in existence. But now it was an antique and every gun loving halfwit could get one like it or better. Even though there were models that were faster and lighter than mine, I still had an attachment to this one. If I hadn’t taken such good care of it, then it would’ve long been rusted over and lost to the sands of time.

“Oh ye’ll live,” I growled before I holstered my gun and strode off towards the nearest door. “Ah only shot yer foot.”

I didn’t want to kill, but I had nothing against wounding anyone. I was confident that any injury I inflicted on anyone was survivable- and I was pretty sure he wasn’t going to come after me again with the way he was sniveling. I’ve had a long time to master the quick draw and my aim was nearly perfect now. I didn’t have to second guess when I fired at my enemies- I knew I was going to hit where I wanted it to.

I believe I entered a side entrance used by servants, since I was met with plain brown walls and more fallen bodies. I hazarded a guess as to where to go and decided to see where my feet would lead me. I still had plenty of time to explore before enemy forces were expected to arrive, so I was in no hurry.

My wanderings seemed to have led me to a main foyer and the walls were soon more decorated and painted in cheery pastel colors of blue and white. I could see men from the other ship running around, ransacking the area. I watched them as they examined beautiful ceramic vases, only to drop them to the ground moments later and snicker at the damage. Some admired the various paintings, while others just pulled anything that looked shiny from random objects and stuffed them in their rucksacks.

I shook my head slightly at their desperate looting- they looked like that hadn’t had a safe and leisurely raid in years. I made sure to keep that in mind to rub in my crew’s faces later- it would do them well to remind them how privileged they were to serve under me.

I was easily recognized as I walked out to the center of the room and headed for a grand staircase near the back. Even though I was a captain of another ship, I had the fear and respect of nearly every pirate in the world. Most stopped what they were doing to salute at me, while others just nodded in my direction before they went back to their frantic ransacking.

“As ye were, boys,” I said, acknowledging them with a nod as I ascended the stairs to the upper levels.

Though there was some confusion around the world as to who the Lord of the Sea is, no pirate could mistake my presence. For some reason, coastal seafarers and landlubbers alike couldn’t wrap their minds around why a woman would bear the title ‘Lord’. By all rights, I should be called ‘Lady of the Sea’, but that wasn’t how it worked. My role was created by the Goddess of Storms, and she originally made a pact with a man- and my body had been created from the flesh and blood of that same man.

Regardless of my sex, I was an unusual case and there was no point in changing everything just because I slipped through the cracks of Elati’s logic. What was important was that the Lords of the Sea were doing their job, and to hell with those who don’t agree with my being a lord. As for the pirates, all they needed to see was my tri-cornered hat and the gold coin earring hanging from my right ear to know I was to be respected- female pirates were rare enough, but I was the only existing lady captain. They would have to be very dense (and some were) to not make the connection.

It’s not as if I dressed like a man or anything to confuse people either- I actually wore outer bodices and ruched skirts over leggings. I didn’t cover my femininity, nor did I embrace it too much to hinder my masculine role. I was clearly a tough lady and nothing in my appearance or attitude portrayed otherwise.

“Wot’re ye guardin’ o’er there?” I inquired as I approached two pirates standing before a carved brown door in the middle of one of the halls.

They immediately straightened their backs upon hearing my voice and appeared uncomfortable. It was odd enough to see them up here rather than down with the others to loot, but those guilty looks they were giving me gave me reason to be concerned. …Just what were they hiding?

“Uh…er… nothin’ Capt’n Tia- just watchin’ o’er somethin’ fer our capt’n,” a raggedy clothed man muttered as he nervously scratched his greasy seawater-damaged hair.

“Oh? Wot is it? A hidden horde o’ treasure?” I asked with feigned interest as I let my eyes travel to the older man with brown beard stubble.

“…Ye could say that,” he replied hesitantly as his seafarer grey eyes darted away from my gaze. That immediately sent warning signs to my head- I was now even more suspicious as to what was behind that door.

I took a step closer to them, earning a frightened step away from them. I was both inwardly pleased they were scared of me and a little more worried as to why they would be cautious of me right then. If they were hiding something that was about to piss me off, then they had every right to piss their pants.

“Let me have a peek- ah wanna see,” I ordered softly with a tilt of my head. I wasn’t threatening them yet, as I wanted to give them a chance to redeem themselves if they were doing wrong.

“T-that won’t be a good idea- Capt’n Fiet said-”

“Ah won’t take anythin’ o’ value- ah jus’ wanna look,” I reassured them coolly, while wondering if said captain was actually in there right now. The two looked at each other nervously before they plastered themselves against the door and surrounding wall as I took another step closer to them.

“But we have our orders…” the man with beard stubble managed to get out, hoping that I would accept that.

“An ah’m givin’ ye an order- yer here on this raid upon me sufferance an’ so ah’m the commandin’ officer ‘til we part ways,” I reminded them with a stern glare. Without me, they probably wouldn’t have even got within visual distance of this town.

My eyes narrowed further when they remained silent and stubbornly barred my path. “Get out o’ me way before ah feed ye ta me mermaids.”

That did it- they quickly slid to either side of the doorframe and out of my way in sheer terror. My threat was a loaded one though, as the beautiful sea demons tend to seduce and play with their food before going for the kill. Some men believed that death was worth that short moment of pleasure, but thankfully these two valued their lives.

I huffed as I approached the door and reached for the brass handle. I noted how they both winced as the door creaked and I pushed on in. My storm grey eyes took in the view of a child’s bedroom, complete with a princess canopy bed and piles of stuffed animals gathered in a corner.

“…Wot be the meanin’ o’ this?” I asked darkly when my eyes fell upon a certain squirming mass on the soft pink sheets of the bed. There, bound and gagged, was the sole survivor and lady of the manor. She appeared unharmed and very frightened, so I knew it wasn’t too late- but the implications of why she was being held here of all places were far too obvious.

Suddenly the two pirates really wished they were somewhere else.

“It’s a tradition fer Capt’n Fiet- he takes the youngest o’ age daughter o’ the rulin’ family and…” the younger man trailed off at my look, knowing that if he finished explaining I was not going to be pleased.

“Be fair m’lord- ye advocate wrong doin’s fer the good o’ the people an’ this is somethin’ that inspires hatred,” the bearded man reminded me, hoping to pacify my anger with the backwards logic I abide by. But he knew I was against this- the fact that he was calling me ‘lord’ was proof that he was trying to flatter me.

“Aye,” I agreed calmly as I walked into the room. “Stealin’ their baubles an’ destroyin’ their homes- don’t fight them unless they want ta fight. Make them hate ye until they can hate no other. But ah don’t recall saying anythin’ ‘bout violatin’ bodies. There’s a line ta be crossed, an’ this is it.”

I turned to them and leveled a particularly dark glare. “Ah don’t care what hobbies yer capt’n partakes an’ ah don’t care ‘bout yer views on the matter. Wot’s important is followin’ me rules and me Code while workin’ wit’ me. Ah didn’t create article eleven fer no reason- and Maker forbid ye cross me.”

Every ship had their own Code of Conduct and I added a few rules to the original draft- with approval of the crew I’d had as a courtesy. Article eleven expressly forbids forced sexual intercourse with another person during raids. My official reason for it is to argue that we don’t have the time to wait for some man to take out their sexual frustrations out on some weak man, woman, or child when enemy reinforcements could arrive at any time.

But my real reason was actually to protect the potential victims from my men. I held no delusions that I could stop rape around the world, but I could at least prevent as much as possible while under my terms. My stance was that if they wanted sex, then they could get it consensually wherever there’s a brothel- I’ll even pay for the women myself if I had to.

“Ye did good in lettin’ me in, boys. Now ye can’t violate me rules, an’ ah won’t have ta punish ye or yer capt’n,” I replied with some forced cheer. The punishment I arranged for violators was death by marooning or instant death by mermaid sacrifice- of which the girls are not allowed to play with their food. To this day I’ve yet to actually punish anyone, as the threats were enough to keep them in line.

They shuffled their feet and cast their eyes to the floor. Sure, I was going to spare them, but they were likely to get in trouble once Fiet discovers that I knew what he was up to. Though, really, they got the better end of the deal- what I could do to them was far worse than what Fiet could think of.

“Leave us,” I commanded with a brief glance to them from over my shoulder.

“But-”

“Ah’ll watch the lass in yer stead. Go. Join the others an’ get some treasure fer yerselves- raid the wine cellar if ye wish,” I added in a silky tone. There was a hidden warning in my words that if they didn’t follow my orders soon, then they’d regret it.

They hesitated for a second before I heard their feet shuffling away. When I was sure they were gone, I kicked back my foot and slammed the door shut with the heel of my boot. I then stalked over to the bed where the young woman was laying, visibly shaking from the ordeal.

She looked no more than twenty with wavy, chestnut brown hair almost dark enough to be black and eyes a vibrant shade of sea green. She was no seafarer, though that wasn’t much of a surprise. There was no such thing as a rich or noble seafarer- they just liked to reside at our coasts and insult our intelligence.

She had delicate features, though some of her face was obscured by the gag, and I noticed that she was wearing a fancy white dress of silks and frilly lace. It almost appeared to be a wedding dress, but I decided that couldn’t be it- as far as I knew, she wasn’t engaged and I couldn’t see a reason why she would rush into a marriage and leave behind her family’s home.

I watched as her eyes widened at my approach- almost to the point of bulging out of her head. …That was a familiar sight. I let out a sigh before I reached under the short part of my ruched skirt to pull out a small knife- the same one I obtained once long ago along with my gun. I then drew closer to her and held out my free hand to grab her.

The woman’s reaction was instantaneous- her skin paled to an unhealthy white and she shook her head as if to beg me to stop. I couldn’t blame her for thinking that I was about to kill her, as I wasn’t giving any indication that I meant no harm. I reached for her gag and pulled her head up as I brought the blade closer her. My actions managed to free her mouth so she could scream loud enough to hurt my ears.

“Shut up!” I snarled as I fitted the knife between the material and her face before I sliced the gag and let her head fall back unto the pillow under her. Her shriek ended in a startled grunt from the impact, relieving my ears. I re-sheathed my knife and glanced around the room again to find somewhere to sit and wait for Fiet.

Everything in the room was white, save for the carpet, sheets, and sheer curtains hanging from the window and the canopy of the bed. They were in the same soft pink color. This room was much too childish to belong to a woman her age- I would sooner believe that they just happened to shove her in her younger sister’s bedroom. I pulled an elegant painted chair out from under a nearby table and set it before the dresser next to the bed.

I ignored her gasp as I pulled out my rapier sword and proceeded to sit down. I crossed my legs before I reached into a small pouch hanging from my waist, retrieving a cloth to polish my blade as I waited. I was filled with rage at what I’d discovered, but I held back and decided to distract myself- after all, I wanted to save my emotions for the one who deserved them.

Many years ago, I had walked in on some man violating a woman. The sight was so shocking to me that all I could do was stare dumbly at that woman’s pained and frightened face before I finally kicked the man off her and beat him up. That was the day when I learned what rape really was, and that everything I was taught as a child was wrong.

My pappy’s crew once told me to be clear with others if I didn’t want a man’s attention- no teasing or dressing like a floozy unless I really did want it. In a way, that was good advice, but it was also misleading- I was being taught that it was the victim’s fault should they be forced into sex. After some counseling with the only motherly figure I knew, I discovered that sometimes a man didn’t care what his victim wanted or how they were dressed.

Rape was more about control and fulfilling a selfish desire. That woman had been crying for help and begging for that man to stop- it was very clear she didn’t want him and he didn’t care that he was hurting her. He didn’t even take the time to undress her or anything- I remembered seeing the pool of blood beneath her as he moved carelessly inside her. I felt sick that I couldn’t save her from the trauma- I felt even worse for my former beliefs and for initially thinking that she had brought it on herself.

…I’ll never forget the look on that battered woman’s face. Villainy be damned- this was one crime I’ll never allow.

This was why I didn’t tolerate such behavior and forbade my crew from engaging in it. All this time I had been lucky to never have experience rape personally… though I did once unwittingly have a close encounter with a few mermaids, but that was more of a realization that I could’ve been taken advantage of rather than actual violation. I could beat a man with my bare hands if they even tried to force me… but ladies like that noblewoman on the bed stood no chance against men like Fiet.

I soon realized that it was awfully silent save for her shaky breathing as I ran my polishing cloth along the narrow metal. After a while, I stole a glance at the girl to make sure she was still conscious. I was somewhat impressed to find that she was still awake, as what she had just suffered would have been enough to send any fainthearted woman into a coma. Maybe she was stronger than she looked.

“How old are you, my dear?” I inquired suddenly, losing my seafarer accent for her benefit. Annoying as it is, most landlubbers couldn’t figure out what we’re saying and assumed we were ignorant because of it.

“Why do you want to know?” she countered guardedly. It seemed some of her courage returned to her once she realized that I had no intention of harming her- yet.

“Curious,” I replied as I returned my full attention to my sword.

I didn’t care if she answered me- what was more important was that I got to her in time to save her from something psychologically and physically damaging. I didn’t need to know more about her than necessary.

For a long while, I thought she was going to resist me, but she did eventually speak again, although hesitantly. “…I’m twenty-two.”

My fingers paused from their work for a brief second before I ignored that strange feeling in my mind. What was it about her that was so familiar?

“What are you going to do with me?” she inquired, thinking that she was entitled to a question.

“I don’t know- I might let you go… then again, I’m sure your head would fetch a pretty cedit or two if I held on to you for a little longer,” I muttered cryptically, not wanting to give away my true intentions. I had no desire or need to keep a hostage, but at the same time I couldn’t appear friendly to her. I wasn’t her savior, nor was I going to give her any indication that I had a ‘nice’ bone in my body. That would totally ruin my reputation.

I wasn’t sure what it was about that girl, but I was able to easily predict what she was going to do next. She showed a brief flash of fear before she hid it behind indignation. The little lass wasn’t going to give me the satisfaction of intimidating her- and that made me respect her a little.

“You better not, you cur! I am the fiancé of Prince Bardam- that means I will be a princess soon. You’ll not get away with kidnapping me, as he’ll rend you and your men asunder to get me back!”

Hmph! Where did all this feisty rubbish come from all of a sudden? Just moments before she was pale and thinking she was about to die. I inwardly applauded her for thinking up a story on the top of her mind, but she didn’t need to lie to me.

“Yes, because he’s done such a good job in stopping me before,” I told her sarcastically, wondering if she knew I had a few encounters with said prince before. Bardam was a pretty aggressive man and perhaps one of my most devoted adversaries, but he had yet to find a way to breech my water magicks and actually hit me with his little toy cannons.

“You’ll have to try better than that, little girl- I’m the Lord of the Sea! No human can touch me, let alone some cowardly prince who hides behind his shiny guns. And-” I stopped myself long enough to give her an evil grin, “you’re just making your position worse by proclaiming you’re a future princess. That would make you even more valuable, thus giving I and any other self-respecting pirate the grounds to chain you in the brig and demand a hefty ransom just for a sight of your silk handkerchief.”

And I actually did that once, too. I had a kingdom pay me over five hundred cedit for the promise of returning what they called ‘royal property’. They didn’t want it to get out that some pirates managed to capture a princess, so they were being careful about their wording- and I took full advantage of it. Luckily for that kingdom, I later left a message telling them that I had left the wench on an island close to their shore.

In the spirit of article six – no women on the ship – I couldn’t keep her for too long anyway, but oh were they pissed!

“No, you’re making your situation worse! There are forces out there that are more powerful than you are, and they will save me if you dare to take me from this place!” she insisted with a little more fire.

“Oh what? The falucite?” I guessed with an arched brow. She let out a gasp that I knew what she was referring to. It wasn’t too well known that falucite controlled human nobility like pedigree pets, but it also wasn’t a known fact that I had inside knowledge of the falucite culture. I found that being mated to one of them often had its advantages.

“I fear you’re out of luck- they don’t respond with violence if I happen to mess with their little pets. They’re quite the negotiable lot depending on your station,” I added to her further dismay.

Of the six falucite clans, there was only one I couldn’t deal with, and I knew that I had little chance in running into them around here. We were currently on the northeast side of the Continent of Rynrir, close to the borders of the Sea of Loerati. I was still well within the territory of the Fodaren clan, and they didn’t care what I did, so long as Satel had first informed them of what I was planning to do. If there was someone or something they didn’t want me to mess with, then they were free to take them away before I arrived.

“Who do you think you are!?” the woman growled indignantly, offended that I presume to know her masters- or maybe she was simply upset that I wasn’t falling for her lies. I believed that she might’ve held some importance with the falucite, but I didn’t believe for a second that she was to be Bardam’s  bride. Sure, that dress she’s wearing gave me some pause, but no man would leave his intended unprotected like this- not even him.

Considering how obsessed he was with me, I’d be surprised to see him settle down with any woman. Actually, some part of me believed I was simply an excuse for him to be around men all day- I fancied him a homosexual.

“The Lord of the Sea,” I said again, answering her angry question with a smirk. I wasn’t sure what she didn’t understand about that- everyone knew I’m an evil pirate captain with powers that should be forbidden to humans. One would think the nobility would figure out I was above falucite rule from the moment they refused to stop me.

“By the way,” I began as a new thought came to me. “When exactly did you become engaged to the prince?”

I’m not sure why I was giving her the benefit of the doubt right then, but I figured I should ask just in case. She was being rather passionate about her story- almost to the point where it could have some truth to it.

“…A few days ago. He’d proposed to me in a letter and said that we were to be married soon- I just received my wedding gown this evening,” she responded, giving her dress a sad glance.

…Just days ago? Suddenly a bad feeling washed over me- this raid was planned weeks in advance, and the last information run my spies went on was about seven days ago. That would explain why this new development escaped me, but it doesn’t explain why my plan is working thus far. Unless…

I put that thought on hold when I heard the distinguishable footsteps of a certain ‘dead man walking’. I quickly slid my features back to my calm and collected look as the door creaked open to reveal Captain Fiet.

The man was by no means an average seafarer, as he boasted a tall six foot height that was rather uncommon for our kind. He had a strong, sturdy body with rippling muscles not quite at the point of being too much and a chiseled bearded face that made women swoon and men swear undying loyalty. And if that wasn’t enough, he had a fairly charming personality… unless someone made him mad- then he’s half the bitch I am.

However, his ‘charm’ held no power over me- the only reason I took pity on him was because Pappy taught me to always help out a fellow pirate. Fiet was a big, strong, unflappable man- unless he’s facing me, of course.

There was a leer on his face which quickly changed to shock and then a wince when he noticed me sitting there. He wasn’t expecting me, meaning that his men didn’t warn him- they probably were afraid to. I had to give Fiet some respect in being brave, as he chose to walk inside and close the door behind him, rather than run away like a coward.

“Uh… hi…” he greeted me with a sheepish grin.

“Fiet,” I purred as I made one final swipe over my blade. “Mind explainin’ wot ye intend ta do here on me time?”

“It…it ain’t wot ye think-” he cut off his defense as my eyes darted over to the girl, of whom had her arms tied behind her back and ankles bound together with rope. He quickly realized that that excuse wasn’t going to hold very well.

“Oh come on, Granny- ah haven’t been on a good raid fer months! Ah just need three minutes- it won’t take long!”

Despite my youthful appearance, it was a well known fact among the pirate captains that I am ninety-one years old, and so they nicknamed me ‘Granny’. That was the other benefit of being mated to a falucite- I aged liked them, and I live as long as they do. It took years, but I finally appeared like a woman in her twenties, just about as old as the girl right now. My face firmed in maturity and my hair was still a light brown with highlights of gold- I still had freckles though there were less than before and they were beginning to fade.

“Oh, that’s attractive,” I muttered in disgust as I put away my polishing cloth and stood up. “Are ye really so desperate that ye can’t satisfy yerself with a workin’ wench? Or are ye serious ‘bout the three minutes that ye need ta impose yerself on virgins ta save face?”

One of the many things I’ve mastered over the years was how to use sex, aggression, and inner fears to utterly humiliate a person. It was an effective tool to gain true resentment and to control those who wanted to defy me. I never had to use it against my own men, but there were many outside of my inner circle who wanted nothing more to see me fall so they could somehow take over. Fiet could very well be one of them.

“They’re called ‘whores’ now, Granny, an’ don’t insult me manliness- as ye said, we don’t have time, but ah have a reputation ta keep,” he replied, showing some annoyance over what I had said.

“Oh yes- ‘hide yer daughters when Fiet comes ‘round’. Why is it ah am more feared than ye when ah don’t resort ta such… acts?” I questioned as I slowly approached him. Impressively, he didn’t back away, but he did regard me with wary eyes. “Ah don’t have ta touch anyone ta inspire true fear and hate. Ye may anger the family of yer victims, but a rapist is nothin’ more than a cowardly man- a man that can be brought down by his own weakness.”

“Yer point?” he muttered with a grunt over my lecture. He didn’t seem impressed, but his tune quickly changed when I placed the tip of my sword under his bearded chin and pressed up lightly enough to draw blood.

“Yer ‘hobby’ is but a handicap an’ an insult ta ye. If ye want ta be a true pirate, then aim fer a reputation that won’t be yer undoin’,” I advised coolly, earning only a slight expression of fear from him.

I knew I could be wasting my breath on him, but I felt it never hurt to lecture the other men and hope that maybe I could turn them around. I had no hopes of inspiring them to respect women or anyone weaker than themselves, but I was hoping to convince them to view their choices as something undesirable when they could have better.

But it was clear with the way his brows were furrowed and his eyes darted away from mine that he was viewing this as a scolding. All I was going to earn this evening was defiance. I let out a scoff before I retracted my sword, earning a sigh of relief from the man. Fear certainly didn’t earn me any respect, but then I didn’t need respect outside of my crew.

Seeing as I’ve successfully stopped him from doing what he was intending, I decided there was no point or time to actually berate him. I really should considering that this was more about him thinking he could disobey me, but… if that lass was telling the truth, then we needed to start moving out.

I wiped the small stream of blood on the sheets of the bed before I carefully cut the rope around her ankles.

“Since yer ‘three minutes’ has passed, ah’ll be takin’ her into me custody,” I announced as I began pulling her out of bed to stand next to me.

Fiet’s eyes widened for a second before anger overtook him. “Why? Wot do ye plan ta do wit’ her?”

“Not the same thing ye were plannin’. Ah got a man fer that- an’ he can last fer hours,” I responded with a smirk, unable to resist the taunt. But I soon sobered up enough to warn him of the new possible situation. “Ah’m takin’ her as leverage- Bardam might’ve found a way ta invade this side o’ the cove, an’ he could be waitin’ fer an attack once the ground troops get here.”

Bardam was a prince of another kingdom- one that was currently at odds with the one we were in. It would have to take a marriage of convenience in order for him to freely sail the waters near here, otherwise he could risk starting a war with his enemy.

“Wot!?” the man growled. Hmm, did he also have some bad blood with the prince? He was quick to unsheathe his saber and glare at the door. “Then we must board an’ prepare fer battle-”

“No. The raid is yer priority tonight- start gettin’ yer men back on yer ship an’ sail toward the east. Ah’ll hold them back so ye can escape,” I began to order, only to have the captain shake his head furiously.

“Ah ain’t runnin’ away!” he snarled indignantly, earning a startled gasp from the girl now that she was facing him.

“Yer goin’ ta do as ah ordered. Ye ain’t the target here- ah am, an’ ye’ll do well in rememberin’ who’s orders an’ rules ye follow while under me protection,” I countered sternly before I softened my tone some. “That’s the price o’ enterin’ this contract wit’ me. No matter how vile we are, we’re still honor-bound men o’ our word, are we not?”

It was then when his stance and features lightened some as his mind apparently worked out that the last few minutes had not been about the girl, but about obedience. I wasn’t judging him for his lifestyle- I was just lashing out at him for trying to break my rules. Even he had to concede that I was in my right, as he would’ve done the same to any who disobeyed him.

Though don’t get me wrong- I had no respect for a man who rapes. I was only willing to overlook his actions simply because I knew him from when he was just a wee brat. It was hard to completely turn against a man of whom I once knew to be somewhat more respectful to others before he came into power. Some part of me hoped that he might grow out of the phase and be more like his old self- I found that a human never really stopped maturing no matter how old they get, and Fiet was still young.

…But I was also ready to accept that he could be rotten to the core, and that was fine for a villain- I could let him do as he wanted, even if I didn’t like it.

“Aye capt’n. Ah’m a man o’ me word an’ ah’ll do as ye say. …But once we’re out o’ the boundaries, the contract is o’er. If yer fightin’ the wit’ the prince by then, ah’m comin’ back ta fight too.”

“An’ ah’ll welcome yer help then,” I agreed, knowing it won’t get that far. Bardam only wanted to trap me, but no matter how clever he’s gotten, there’s no way he’ll get in range to actually succeed, let alone attack. I’m not that stupid…anymore.

It seemed we came to an understanding as the tall man saluted to me, then left the room to gather his men. This wasn’t the first time we had a clash of ideals, and it certainly won’t be the last so long as he had the delusion that I’ve gone soft in his mind. Oh sure, I had random acts of generosity and compassion, but that didn’t mean I was weak- I never trust lightly, so no one other than a select few could ever get that close to me.

“So you do fear Prince Bardam,” the lady commented, feeling smug with her revelation. I let out a very un-lady-like snort at her misinterpretation.

“Fear? Not at all- I’m just not in the mood to deal with him right now. He always did like to play at inappropriate times,” I muttered sarcastically before I pushed her towards the door Fiet left open. “Well, that’s a story for another time, my dear hostage. Start moving.”

She was resistant at first, but then let out an angry grunt when I shoved her forward. I wasn’t sure if she really was of any importance to Bardam – or if he was really lurking around – but I’m sure any soldiers seeking to stop me will hesitate upon seeing her in my custody.

I may have saved her from being violated, but that didn’t mean she was safe from me.

********************

We had begun our attack the moment the sun touched the horizon. Now that we were an hour in, all traces of warm colors were gone, replaced by the cool night sky and shining stars. As I guided the hostage to the docks, I noticed it was getting quiet- there was much less screaming than before. Most of the citizens should be out of the city by now- and whoever was still left should have been guided to the predetermined ‘safe zones’.

When we raided a town, we did it in style with lots of explosions. As seafarers, we should be ashamed of playing with fire like that, but we were the first in history to make bombs and use them, and we wanted the coastal seafarers and landlubbers to know that fact well. We had set traps everywhere- intended to slow down the land troops once they got here.

We didn’t want innocent villagers to be caught in said explosions, naturally, so that was why we had those areas picked out to contain them in. As long as they were out of the way, they couldn’t get hurt.

“What was that?” the girl questioned in fear and surprise when we heard a distant boom.

“I believe that was your rescuing party- they finally decided to grace us with an audience,” I replied, unconcerned. The first bombs were meant to warn us of their arrival, rather than destroy, so there were likely only very few casualties.

The way everything was set up was to lure them into the center of the city and trap them within until we made our escape. This was the best method to keep everyone safe- and by ‘everyone’ I mean my crew.

As we approached The Cruel Whore, I noted that Fiet’s men were already huddled into their ship and ready to set sail. I let out a wave to Fiet when I caught his eye, and he returned the gesture respectfully before he blew a kiss to the girl beside me. It could’ve been charming to her, had he not already scared her out of her wits earlier. All she ended up doing was whimper and press her face against my side to hide herself from him. I rolled my eyes at her antics and pushed her forward towards my ship.

My men were just now gathering up and boarding as we approached, my quartermaster, Rohje, stood by the steps looking guilty and worried. After my old crew passed away, I’ve been keeping tabs on their descendants, if they had any, and gave special consideration to any that wanted to become pirates. Rohje just happened to be the grandson of two of my men- Seikram and Spearhead. They both retired in Kagma, had children, then one of their children met, married, and had children together, producing my quartermaster.

He was the best of both men, having Seikram’s intelligence and Spearhead’s stubborn streak of loyalty. He had the Kagman red hair, though it was only frizzy compared to the usual wild curls they had. He also inherited Seikram’s Erudian youth, along with his shade of grey eyes. Most of his features were the mix of the two, but they weren’t as prominent since he was two generations down the line.

“Wot’s wrong?” I inquired in a gentle tone, much nicer to him than I was to Fiet. When it came to my crew, I didn’t need to act cold and heartless- I trusted them to understand my ways and respect my authority, so I didn’t need them to fear me like I did with others.

He wouldn’t look me in the eye- not good. “Capt’n… it’s Rutan- he ain’t on the ship.”

My eyes widened and panic filled me. “Wot!?” I roared- just one mention of my son being in possible danger and I immediately reverted to my maternal habits. It had only gotten worse since the passing of his last incarnation eight years ago. I had thought I could handle his death, knowing he would come back to me, but I was wrong- terribly wrong.

“Ah’m sorry Capt’n, ah take fully responsibility fer this- ah’ll gather up a search party immediately,” Rohje said, as he straightened up. For a seventeen year old, he was responsible and level headed- instead of shifting blame or begging for forgiveness, he quickly took charge to make things right again.

Though knowing my son, it was likely not even my quartermaster’s fault that he ran out into the fray. We’d had an argument earlier about him being old enough to join in on raids without supervision, so he likely snuck out to prove me wrong. Damn that little brat!

I forced myself to calm down, knowing that panicking was going to accomplish nothing. “No. Ah’ll go get him- ye take care o’ things here,” I told him before I shoved the girl over to him. “Watch her while ah’m gone.”

The young quartermaster balked at me before he glanced at the girl and then did a double take. He was acting as though he had seen her before, though I didn’t have time to ask him about it. I needed to find Rutan before he did something reckless or worse.

“But Capt’n…wot…?” he trailed off helplessly as he tried to figure out what was going on with the girl.

I let out a sigh as I stopped in my tracks and glanced back at him. “Just watch her fer now- an’ if Bardam’s ship shows up, tell him we have his fiancé.”

“His fiancé!?” I heard Rohje yell out in surprise as I jogged away. I don’t blame him for the reaction- even I still can’t fathom the thought of that guy expressing any interest in women. I knew one doesn’t have to be in love for a marriage, but he was going to have to sleep with her eventually to get heirs.

I shoved those musings to the back of my mind, focusing my energy solely to find Rutan. His immortality didn’t matter to me- I couldn’t go through the pain of losing him again. Not this soon at least.

Though I could accept death, it still hurt when those I knew and cared about left me behind. Spearhead passed at fifty, Seikram a few years back at one hundred two. But it hurt the most when Rutan died- having raised him from infancy to adulthood, I grew very close to him, just as I had with my Pappy before him.

With my continued youth, I had to watch the men around me grow and die- and it was going to continue throughout the rest of my long life. I had to accept that and yet… I didn’t want to see my baby boy die again. At least not now while he’s still a child. Could any parent blame me for feeling this way?

No, they couldn’t. And I’d kill every bastard in this place if he’s come to any harm.

To the Next Chapter

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