I raised my head. I could still hear the creaking of wood, like footsteps on the floor, but this time I heard the sound of rushing water as well. A man—tall, brawny, and wearing seaman's clothes—stood staring at my hiding spot, glaring and waiting for me to emerge. I decided to go with a more timid approach. I raised my hands.
"Please don't hurt me," I begged, "I was only looking for safe passage! I wasn't going to bother anyone!"
The man grabbed my arm so hard it hurt.
"Why couldn't ye take it up wi' the Captain then, eh? Yer nothin' but a measly stowaway, an' the Captain's got no time for those!" He twisted my arm behind my back and used his other hand to cover my mouth. "I could just slit yer throat 'ere, an' slip you overboard, quiet-like, see, then all my problems would be solved."
I was powerless against him, thoroughly petrified by fear. He shoved me toward a shorter keg I could use for a stool.
"Start talking," he growled, "What was you doing behind those barrels?"
I thought fast; what would a stowaway be doing on a ship? I hung my head and looked very sad.
"I'm running away," I whispered.
"What?" the sailor barked.
"I'm running away!" I screamed like a girl with nothing left to lose. The story seemed to tumble out of its own accord.
"I'm from Port Aida, I've been hiding on this ship since you left there. I am only a servant girl whose mistress had died, leaving me as property to her daughter, who from the day she was born only thought of how she could make my life miserable. I knew it was only a matter of time before you or one of the others caught me," the tears began to well in my eyes, "and I know I deserve to die for doing this, but I would rather die than remain in the service of that horrible woman!" I was so worked up with believing my own story that I was having trouble calming myself down after I finished.
A large hand steadied my shoulder, and the sailor himself knelt in front of me, all the suspicion and gruffness gone as he gently brushed the tears from my cheeks with his calloused hands.
"Aye," he agreed, "I'd ha' bought you off myself, if only just to spite the she-devil. No person should be passed handed around like a china tea set or a prize animal. I'll take you to Cap'n Stormy; if you're true about wantin' a place on this ship, Cap'n will find one for you." He beckoned for me to follow him as he left the room. I stood and stumbled after him as best I could on a rocking boat.
"Can you cook?" the man asked over the roar of the ocean.
"Sort of!" I replied. "Why?"
"I think I know just the post for you!"
He led me over the slippery deck. I saw a ragged bunch of scruffy sailors, many with earrings and head-rags. They all nursed weapons of some sort. Some swigged rum or grog. Men and women alike, they all looked strong, well-fed, and dangerous. These weren't just sailors, then; they were pirates! I had left the West behind and gone straight to a pirate ship on the high seas!
The man now leading me commanded a sort of silent respect from the others, I noticed; perhaps he was first mate, then? He rapped on the door to the captain's cabin. I heard muffled voices, but no one answered the door.
"Oy! Cabin boy!" the pirate barked.
A shaggy head with a smooth face appeared on the deck over the door.
"Aye, sir?" the cabin-boy (who did not look much younger than I was) responded.
"Somebody to see the Cap'n," he jerked his thumb at me. "Sounds like trouble in there."
The boy—or rather, young man—leaped lightly over the balustrade to land in front of us.
"I'll check on the Captain for you," he pushed the door—which really hadn't been barred in any way—open.
The mate shoved him inside. "Get in there, boy! Do your job!"
The door closed after him, and the mate turned back to me.
"A word of introduction while we wait," he said, "My name's Jerry, I'm the first mate on this ship; and you are—" He paused.
"Laura." Another Jerry! Somehow, now that he said it, I knew it couldn't have been anything else. He almost reminded me of Sheriff Jerry—if his manner was not so rough.
"What's the cabin boy's name?" I asked.
Jerry snorted, "Him? Ah, Charlie, I think it is; most of us call him cabin boy, his name's not worth much." A scowl darkened his face, "You'll want to keep a weather eye out for the Marquis, though."
Just at that moment, we both heard a woman's voice shrieking loudly at something from within, and Charlie poked his head out, looking like a freshly-beaten dog. "The Captain will see you now," he announced.
"Ah-ha," Jerry laughed as he strolled into the cabin, "They don't call her Captain Stormy for nothing!"
Her? The Captain of this deadly-looking crew was a woman?
A tall black armchair stood behind a desk strewn with maps, plates of old food, and dirty goblets. Jerry waited patiently behind me for the Captain.
"What are you doing here, Jerry?" a hard, heavily-accented voice asked slowly. "Did I not give direct orders that I was not to be disturbed until the next port?" Her voice rose to a shriek and she turned to face us.
Thick, heavy auburn hair framed a dusky, exotic face. Her eyes shone like emeralds, even as she glared at us.
"Who is this?" she demanded.
I stepped forward. "I'm Laur—"
"I wasn't talkin' ta you!" she thundered. "Jerry! You hidin' city girls in yer berth ag'in?"
I glanced down at the green dress I still wore from Phantom Gulch.
"No, Cap'n," Jerry responded quickly. "This'n I found hidin' behind some barrels in the hold. Stowaway from Port Aida."
"I have no use for stowaways," The Captain's voice was cold and inhuman as Captain Gayle's had been, "Slit 'er throat and leave her for the sharks." She turned around without a second glance.
Finally, the captain turned around again. She pursed her dark red lips in mild irritation. "Why are you still standing here?"
Jerry shoved me forward. "Per'aps ye should let the gell speak for 'erself."
Captain Stormy rolled her eyes, "What's yer name, girl?" she grumbled.
"Out of all the ships in the harbor, ye had to walk inta mine. What did you expect to find, eh?"
"Adventure, Captain Stormy, ma'am."
If I had even seen the dagger coming, I probably would have flinched and so lost a finger. As matters stood, though, I had no idea what the noise meant till I looked down and saw the razor-sharp silver blade buried in the stack of papers right between my outspread fingers. When I looked up again, the Captain's face was so near my own I could smell the wine and rum on her breath.
"You will never mention that name in my presence for the rest of your life, or I swear it will be the last thing you say." She dropped back into her seat. "The name's Gale, Captain Wendy Gale, Terror of the Main, and don't you forget it!"
I nodded, "Yes, Captain Gale."
Captain Gale pulled the dagger out of the desk and sheathed it. "So, my dimwitted first mate brings me a hussy," she addressed Jerry again, and turned her jade fire upon him. "What does he expect me to do with it?"
"She can cook, Cap'n."
Wendy turned her dubious gaze on me and raised her eyebrows. "Can she, now? Well, that'll save me the ducats if we can eat as well at sea as we do in port. Maybe my pigs-for-pirates won't spend so much spoil on port-victuals if they could get free meals for naught!" She waved her hand, "Very well; enjoy the adventures of being a galley-maid, Laura."
I nodded, and turned to leave the room.
"Wait!" Captain Gale's voice stopped me like the lash of a whip. I turned.
"Take the dishes with you; I'm finished with them. See if you can get me and my crew something fine for supper."
I turned and gathered the plates and goblets.
Jerry walked out behind me. "I'll show ye where the galley is," he said.
He led me aft, down a cramped stairwell to a tiny, unkempt area that smelled like rancid meat and rotten vegetables. I lifted the skirts of my green dress away from the nameless goo coating the floors.
Jerry snorted, "I s'pose first ye'll have ta clean the place afore you can use it," he observed, "The last cook ain't had time ta finish afore Storm blasted him overboard." He sniggered at his own pun. "Good luck, Laura!" he clumped back up the stairs.
I was at the brink of despair as I looked around at all the work I would have to do. Sure, it wasn't life-threatening, but still! There's not much adventure to be had scrubbing pans and floors!
“Reluctantly,” I muttered, picking up the soiled sponge next to the basin of dirty water, “she fell to work. Once she finished, she stood back and surveyed the now-spotless kitchen.” I closed my eyes as the sponge came in contact with the goop.
When I opened them again, I was staring at the clean, smooth surface of well-polished wood. My head spun as I stood to my feet. The dishes were washed, the surfaces were clean, and my arms were as sore as if I had done all these things—but I had no recollection of going through the motions. I glanced out a porthole to where I could see a patch of sky. It was about mid-afternoon at this point; time had passed, but to me it all seemed but a moment. What was going on?
I recalled how my narration tended to have bearing on the events taking place around me. Here in the galley, I had narrated my own actions—and it came to pass, just as it did when I talked about someone else! I glanced around the kitchen, at the tiny door to the storeroom with its musty, foreign smells wafting from the room. What other miracles could I work out by narrating?
I walked toward the storeroom. “Peering in,” I narrated, “she discovered among the rotted, old, unused vegetables enough roots, and a cured side of meat, to make a hearty stew, which she soon had simmering deliciously on the small stove.”
Another head-spinning turn, and the next second, I stood over a large pot of stew, stirring gently and smelling the heavenly scent of cooked herbs and meat. On the table behind me sat the tall stack of used cooking implements, as if I had gone through the whole process of cooking the meal and preparing the vegetables, but I had no memory of it.
“Oy!” Jerry appeared at the top of the ladder. “Cap’n wants to know if the stew is ready!”
“It is,” I answered, quickly ladling the meal into a small pot with a lid apparently kept on hand for that purpose. I climbed the ladder with it, wishing to win favor with the captain by delivering it myself, but Jerry stopped me.
“Gimme that,” he growled, snatching the pot from me. He hollered toward the bow, “Oy! Cabin boy!”
The boy called Charlie obediently scurried toward the burly first mate. Jerry shoved the pot into his hands. “Take this to the Cap’n,” he ordered.
Charlie’s eyes seemed to glint as he felt the warmth of the pot. I saw his sunken cheeks and wondered if the other cook had fed him as well as the rest of the crew before I joined the adventure.
“Aye, sir,” he murmured, and scuttled back toward Captain Gale’s cabin.
“All right, lads!” Jerry called, once Charlie disappeared, “Supper’s hot! Eat fast and return to your posts!”
I realized that they couldn’t leave the ship completely unmanned, so the pirates would eat in shifts, leaving enough men on deck to maintain the ship’s course. I spotted a coil of rope beside some barrels that looked inviting enough. I went to sit down and rest my legs for a bit. Jerry snatched my shoulder.
“Where do you think yer goin’?” He growled at me, pushing me back toward the ladder. “Get down there and draw us some ale, girl! We’re all thirsty!”
The constant flow of pirates meant that I was busy the whole time, clearing mugs, moving dirty dishes, refilling pitchers, all in that cramped space below decks. At last, the final pirate wiped his mouth on his sleeve and stomped up the ladder to whatever job he had on the ship. I was alone with a mound of dirty dishes, bone-weary and a bit bewildered. Never had I imagined that this sort of thing would happen in my lifetime. I turned and began the daunting task of scrubbing pots and bowls.
A scrabbling noise caused me to stop. Did this ship have rats in the vegetables? I scanned the shadows in the main area of the hold. Nothing moved. I whirled quickly—and came face to face with a monkey, hanging by its tail from the rafters as it plucked fruits from the bowls on the table!
“Hey!” I yelled, and the monkey transferred the fruit to its foot-paws while batting me away with one forepaw. Gamely, I squinted against his onslaught and reached for the oranges in his claws, but he suddenly swung away from me, and I ran into the heavy table. The monkey chattered victoriously as it swung out of sight.
At the next meal, I watched the pirates warily, trying to figure out which one would be the likeliest to keep a thieving monkey for a pet. The monkey was obviously stealing food, but not for itself. When I turned around after washing up following breakfast, the monkey was back, picking off rolls, and slipping out before I could get my hands on it. It would take cunning to catch this animal. I would catch it and hold it for ransom till its owner came to claim it.
The next meal, I tied a string around a banana, and fastened the other end around my arm. Sure enough, I was just beginning to wash the bowls when my hand flew away of its own volition. Turning quickly, I did not even give the creature a chance to know it had been fooled before I pulled hard on the string (and the monkey), stuffing the little thief into a pot and tying down the lid so it couldn’t escape. I waited for supper.
That evening, I was the perfect picture of innocence as I sent Captain Gale’s portion away with Charlie (who was looking worse than ever), and ignored the screeching protests coming from the little pot in the storeroom. None of the pirates seemed to be missing anything; they were their same garrulous selves. No one even glanced suspiciously in my direction.I watched them all till the last pirate stumped upstairs, laughing at the amount of alcohol in his system. My plan to unearth the monkey’s owner had failed. I went back to doing the dishes. I had nearly finished the last pot when I heard a suspicious creaking noise.