"I swear more of their brains leak out each time we make port." The Captain was between DG and Az's ages and was probably more muscular than either of them. She Frisbee-tossed her hat onto the bed and smirked at Cain. "Stand down, she's not my type."
The annoyed grimace Cain shot DG was fleeting on his face. He shifted into a less defensive stance but didn't sit down.
The Captain dropped a leather bag on the table in front of DG. It clinked, betraying metallic contents. "Our hospitality stores are running low. Sprite, go fetch the basket I dropped on the deck." The Viewer girl assented and ran out. The Captain hung her sword belt and the now sheathed cutlass on the back of the chair before sitting. "I'm sorry for the welcome you got aboard my ship. I'm Captain Betsy Bobbins and this is my Quartermaster, Hank Jenkins." The man nodded as he took the last seat, leaving the one next to DG for Cain. He looked to be in his sixties and his bushy moustache drooped with unhappy resignation.
"I'm Thea," DG faltered under the woman's brown-eyed gaze.
"And I'm her husband, Wyatt Cain." He rested a hand on DG's shoulder.
"They know that now." Betsy fought not to grin. "That's your compensation from Hodges. The rest of the crew should keep their hands to themselves now."
DG opened the bag to reveal a mix of gold and silver coins. Sprite set the basket in front of Betsy and scurried to the cabinet for more tableware. A ham and two long loaves of bread joined the remaining fruit and cheese.
"Compensation?" Cain asked.
"The crew agreed to abide by the Captain's code," Jenkins answered. "The code forbids attacking a woman."
"Normally the punishment is castration." Betsy carved the ham with gusto. "However, Hodges had enough to buy his balls off the block. The money is yours."
DG glanced at Cain. He had no answers for her confusion. "But we're slaves?"
"It's up to your master what you can own, lass." DG thought Jenkins' accent was familiar, but she didn't know from where.
"And losing the money hurts Hodges more than losing his balls would, so you get the money." Betsy handed a plate with a ham sandwich to DG.
"You bought us?" DG asked. Betsy nodded. "Why would a bunch of pirates want us?"
"Now the word pirate has so many negative connotations. I prefer freelance procurement specialist."
"Or privateers," Jenkins added.
"You have to work for a government to be a privateer," DG said.
"Name one and I'm sure we have a letter of marque from them." Betsy handed the next sandwich to Cain, who sat again. "Truth is I need a witch and the opportunity to buy you three fell in my lap." Jenkins took his sandwich with a scowl. "Oh stop it, I already answered your objections."
DG swallowed her bite of sandwich before chewing it completely. "I'm not a witch!"
Betsy's eyes narrowed. "You can't work magic?"
"I can do some. I haven't had much training. But that doesn't make me a witch!"
Her hard look eased. "I don't care what you call yourself, witch, warlock, mage, whatever. I need a magic user to get the treasure I seek. Help me and I'll free you two and drop you off at the port of your choice."
"And what if we don't want to help?" Cain asked.
Betsy leaned back. "I get my money back from the Sorter and you two will be separated for next month's auction." She smirked at Cain's glance at the bag. "There's not enough there to buy the baby's freedom."
"We need to discuss this." DG pulled Cain away from the table, ignoring Betsy's sure-keep-your-pretensions smirk.
It took Cain a few deep breaths before unclenching his jaw. "I don't want to agree to this."
"I don't want to either, but I don't want to go back to that jail more." She wrapped her arms around herself.
"Use your magic to get this off." He gestured at the silver collar.
"I don't think that's a good idea." It seemed too easy and after many movie lessons, she knew easy never worked.
But Cain's lips twisted with annoyance. "Just try it."
She put her hand on the collar. Biting her lip, she summoned her light. The jolt of magical feedback burned her hand. Cain flew backwards and hit the wall. "Wyatt!" she screamed. He slumped to the floor.
"Shite!" Betsy pushed DG into Jenkins while she and Sprite knelt next to Cain. "He just had to test that."
"Sad man very stubborn, Captain."
"Who on this ship isn't?"
Jenkins pushed DG into her chair, and sitting made it easier to see Cain's prone form. "I killed him!"
"I suspect it'll take more than that to kill him." Cain groaned and Jenkins patted her shoulder. "See, coming to already."
"For the record," Betsy grunted, pulling Cain to his feet, "you can't get the collars off by force or magic. They will only release when I say my secret word. So no more macho stunts, they upset your wife."
Cain stumbled into his chair. Sprite had taken the opportunity and healed his battered face. The Viewer child leaned against DG. "Back shouldn't hurt in morning."
"Thank you." DG squeezed Cain's knee. He gave her a rueful half-smirk. She smiled, feeling her heartbeat return to normal. "I guess we're in."
"Great!" Betsy grinned.
Jenkins shook his head. "What's your experience with boats?"
"Only a passenger," Cain answered.
"My first time on one." DG tried not to look as sheepish as she felt.
Jenkins' expression matched the one DG's etiquette teacher always leveled at the wall before muttering, "What have you given me to work with?" Betsy answered the look. "So they're landlubbers. I've waited for a year."
"Everyone on board pulls their weight. The crew won't like preferential treatment, and Hodges will egg on that discontent."
"The deal is struck." Betsy finished her sandwich. "They need quarters with some privacy."
"And how am I supposed to explain that to the men?"
"Tell them if they ever get a woman crazy enough to sail with them, they'll get the same consideration." A knock against the door stole Betsy's attention. "Enter."
A young man with dark skin smoothed his tied-back hair. "Captain, you wanted my report?" He looked at DG and Cain and pressed his lips together.
"It's alright, Spencer. The Cains are joining." Betsy leaned her elbows on the table. "Did you find her?"
He shook his head. "No, Captain, ma'am. None of the ships here is the one from Pingaree."
Betsy raised her eyebrows at Jenkins. "That makes six. Still think we should wait?"
"My vote has always been sail to the other side of the world," Jenkins said as he crossed his arms. "Not that you ever listen."
Spencer rocked from side to side. "There's another thing, Captain. Cooky lost a bar fight."
"How much did he lose?" Jenkins asked.
"Lost it all, Mr. Jenkins."
Betsy turned her attention back to DG and Cain. "Mr. Cain, can you cook?"
Cain raised his eyebrows. "Trail food."
"Close enough." Jenkins stood up. "Come on, Spencer lad, we have to build some quarters."
Betsy waited until the door shut before heading to the cabinets. "Few minor details before we leave port. Have you had enough to eat?"
"I'm full," DG answered.
"Aren't you going to help your man?" Cain glared at Betsy's back as she dug into the cabinet closest to the table.
"Lost it all means you're dead in Mount Cove. Besides, Cooky had a lousy temper. He probably started it." She grunted as she pulled out a foot-long chest. "Now that you're fed, we need to move onto washing up, clothes, and your story."
DG glanced at Cain. "Our story?"
"My men have the collective intelligence of ill-tempered sea bass, but eventually they will notice a wedding ring is not on your hand." DG snatched her left hand off the table. Betsy pushed the unlocked chest in front of them. "Find some matching jewelry."
DG glanced at Cain, guilt clawing at her insides. He didn't want this and was too damn noble to admit it. She dived into the chest of jewelry, looking for a plain silver band. Unfortunately, Betsy had lots of gold in a box that was only one-fourth full.
"You mentioned clothes. They gave you our things?" Cain asked Betsy.
"That stuff is long gone with the slavers who sold you to the Market."
DG dug deeper. If Jeb meant the most to Cain, his gun came in a close second. He hadn't let her give him a new gun as a thank-you after the Eclipse. She winced into the box. How much more was she going to take from him?
Betsy moved to a larger trunk at the foot of her bed. "Thea's about my size, so she can have some things of mine. You're harder. I have a shirt that will fit, but you'll have to buy pants in Kingsport."
"You're going to let us go shopping?" Cain asked.
"I don't see the point in treating you inhumanely just because I own you. You have money, you can buy things. Though with shipboard lifestyle, it's best not to own too much."
Cain snorted in response. DG paused in digging to deal with the rings caught on her fingers. "When did you get so picky about jewelry?" he said over her shoulder, making her jump. "What's wrong with these?" He plucked two rings made of a thin gold wire braided into a larger band. His larger hand picked up her left and slid the ring on her finger, a perfect fit. He frowned at his own band before twisting off the silver band and dropping it into the money bag. "You get cleaned up first."
DG nodded, and followed Betsy through the door into the most compact bathroom she had ever seen. "The hot water tank isn't very big, so rinse, shut it off while you suds up, and rinse off again to leave Mr. Cain some hot water." Betsy hung the clothes on a hook on the door and left.
She watched her face as she unbraided her hair in the gilt-framed mirror. The golden yellow towels and rug on the floor were a few shades off from matching. The sink counter and toilet were sturdy when she tested them while undressing. She followed Betsy's directions in the corner shower and discovered the pirate captain liked cucumber melon soap.
The new pants were looser than the pair she had been wearing and the legs ended mid-calf. The white shirt poofed around her body, and luckily, it had a normal collar instead of a lacy ruffle. But the black and blue striped vest that tied closed in both the front and back, she couldn't figure out how to put it on.
Betsy smirked as DG exited. "You have the bodice too loose." She took charge of the vest while Cain took his turn. "Tie it tight and it will hold your breasts up without needing anything else." She made sure the front edges met and tied the lace before turning DG around to tighten the back. "Just untie the front, and you won't need anyone to help you."
DG pulled her wet hair over her shoulder. "Thank you."
"You're helping me. Mr. Cain says you're from beyond the desert, the O.Z. Is it true?"
DG blinked. "Wyatt doesn't lie." Except about who I am and his feelings, she amended to herself.
Betsy pulled the black laces snug. "No, about the Sorceress. I asked him if it was true she had the fashion taste of a dominatrix and he turned beet red and refused to answer. So did she?"
She wondered how long Cain could keep up his stoic fašade. "When Princess Azkadellia was possessed, she wore a lot of leather and corsets. She doesn't dress that way now."
"Possessed? We heard she was exterminated not exorcised." Betsy tied the laces and stepped back.
The bodice compressed her boobs but didn't have boning molding her body like the stupid corsets. "An evil witch possessed her. The Princess was freed and the witch died," DG explained.
"It couldn't have been pleasant, but I'd take dressing like a dominatrix over demonic possession."
DG watched the pirate drop into a chair as she warred with needing to ask. "How did you end up captain of a pirate ship?"
"Only career path available for someone with my education." The brown-haired woman ruffled Sprite's hair. "Which reminds me, we need to send you to a better school."
"Happy where I am." Sprite wiped off the table. "Still on my journey, and Captain needs me."
"I want what's best for you too, fuzzy one."
Cain exited the bathroom wearing a black, long-sleeved shirt. The collar was supposed to tie close but he let the linen ties dangle on his chest. DG looked away, her throat tight. It wasn't right to want him so badly when he wasn't hers. When she had done nothing but ruin his life, even before she had known him. He stood next to her, but she couldn't look up. He held a black-handle razor out to Betsy, but she waved it away. "Keep it. You need it more than I do."
The giver of the rapid knock barely waited for Betsy's permission before opening the door. "We nearly got their quarters done if you're through." Jenkins leaned against the doorjamb.
"Fine. We're heading to Kingsport on the tide."
Jenkins frowned. "But trading will be increasing around the Isle of Pharee this time of year."
Betsy raised her eyebrows. "Kingsport on the tide."
"Can't blame me for trying to keep your head out of a noose." DG and Cain followed him out of the Captain's quarters.