Tin Man: Pirates of the Nonestic

Chapter Thirteen

DG found herself awake before Cain again. She stared at the shadows on the ceiling, and he was on his stomach with his chin near her shoulder and his arm draped over her. Who would've guessed the Tin Man was a snuggler? A smile tugged at her lips.

She had lost count of how many times he had made her scream last night. And in between, he had cradled her so gently. None of her ex-boyfriends had ever taken time with sex before, nor had they ever gone down on her, not even reciprocating her blow jobs. For the first time, she felt she had met someone whose words matched his actions.

And he had said he loved her.

Truth be told, it surprised her to find him still with her in the morning. Even more surprising that he held her. She had thought, after splitting ways with them in Central City that he had followed Zero to the Twister Club but then found them first, knowing they'd be in trouble. Actually, he had come looking for her, just like at the Tower, the Mausoleum, and the inn. Hell, not even the Longcoats were as persistent as Cain.

She stroked his bare arm. His breathing didn't change. She didn't want to wake him. The past few days had been rough and he needed the sleep.

And now they were off on a crazy adventure again. DG suppressed a giggle; she didn't have to worry about her parents tracking her and Cain down. Ahamo's orders probably didn't include knocking her up, and she didn't relish his attitude change when he found out.

A knock hit the door to their room. DG froze, hoping something had just hit it accidentally. No such luck, the knocking continued. She shook Cain until his head jerked up. "Are you answering the door or should I?"

"It's morning already?" he muttered.

"Maybe I should get it. You don't seem to be awake yet."

The blond man grunted and grabbed his pants as he slid out of the bed. He turned his back while fastening them. "Stay put."

DG snorted as she shut the shutters. "If you get a chance, give me my clothes. Otherwise, I'm not leaving the bed."

She heard the outer door open. "Shifts start early on board." Jenkins's voice was too jovial when the suns weren't up yet. "You two are going to need more sleep if you want to keep up."

Cain's voice muffled as he answered. "We'll keep that in mind." His black-clad arm thrust through the shutter and dropped her clothes in her lap. "Time to get up, sweetheart."

"Thanks, honey." DG pulled on the white shirt.

"I wish I could give you more time." Jenkins sounded apologetic. "But you got breakfast for twenty to start on."

"We're not arguing with you," Cain said.

"Aye, and I appreciate that. You wouldn't believe the bellyachin' from this lot."

DG buttoned the fly of the pants and slid out of the bed. Cain had neglected to throw in the bodice with the shirt and pants. She found it on the pile of clothes. "There's twenty people on board?" She tied it closed with her back to the two men.

"Eighteen crew plus you two." Jenkins waited against the wall while they found their boots.

"What did you tell the crew about us?" Cain asked as he straightened, dressed first.

Jenkins's white moustache bristled. "I did have to tell them the Captain owns ya. Sorry, but the collars give that away. But she wants you treated like any other crew members." He shook his head.

"There's going to be trouble?" Cain hooked his thumbs in his belt.

"They're pirates, man. You'd be daft not to expect trouble. And I had to tell them you're a magic user the Captain needs." He gestured toward DG. "And if you can't turn them into toads, don't let them know. I had to tell them something to make 'em keep their hands off. Otherwise, they'll assign you the one job they think a woman should have."

So much for getting away from the slut label. DG tied her boots and stood. "But they sail for a woman?"

Jenkins shrugged. "They're scared shitless of Blood-rage. This is the only day I can coddle you two, so pay attention." He opened the door while nodding to himself. Cain put DG between him and Jenkins during the tour. The Quartermaster pointed down to the end of the ship. "Spencer is in the room next to yours, past that is his workshop."

The next stop was up to the middle deck and the indoor outhouse that Jenkins called the head. DG decided it was better than the woods. Then they headed to the front of the ship to a room with the mast through the center of it, a combination mess hall and kitchen called a galley. A long table with benches took up most of the space between the mast and the steep steps up to the top of the ship, along with chairs made from cut-up barrels. The metal stove and oven behind the mast on the left side of the ship dominated the galley. A tapped keg of water hung from the last rafter before the front of the ship. Again, DG silently considered it a step up from the camping from her first week back in the O.Z.

Cain poked through the shallow cabinets built against the hull while Jenkins pointed out where different items were kept. Trunks and barrels were organized in a semi-circle behind the stove, avoiding the cabinet doors and the trap door down into the cold storage below them. DG sat at the table, recognizing she needed to learn the vocabulary for sailing life to not sound like an idiot.

Footsteps clattered down the steep stairs until Sprite jumped to the floor, skipping the last few steps. She grinned at DG and grabbed her hands. "Captain wants to see you."

DG glanced at Jenkins and Cain while Sprite pulled her to her feet. Jenkins waved their concerned expressions away. "Rest of the ship's not up yet. It's safe enough to go with Sprite."

She followed the Viewer child up the stairs that were almost a ladder. DG managed to climb without using her hands. Sprite grabbed her hand and led her down the length of the ship to the wheel. It was set up on a part of the deck raised four steps above the rest of the ship.

Betsy's brown hair was tied back as she stared at the horizon, tweaking the direction of the ship with slight movements of the wheel. "Morning."

"Morning." DG rubbed her arms. "Is it always this chilly?"

"Before sunrise, aye. It'll warm up. Did you sleep well?"

DG's eyebrows came together. "Why do you care how we slept?"

Betsy bit her lip. "Look, there's no reason for us to be at odds. I realize that I've forced you to help me, but I don't want it to be an unpleasant experience."

"Come again?"

"On the top ten list of great evil in the world, I didn't even make the cut for consideration. Does that make you feel better?"

"So you're not after a magical artifact that will bring death, destruction, and mayhem?" DG leaned against the railing on the right side of the ship.

Betsy threw back her head as she laughed. "No, no. This is strictly personal gain. And no taking over the world either. I don't want that headache." She wiped her eyes as her chuckles wound down.

DG frowned. "If you're serious about the unpleasant experience, no more boxes. I've got issues."

"I had to get you on board without spying eyes in Mount Cove asking why I would start buying slaves. I'm sorry, but choices were limited. And if I made things unbearable by insisting on the marriage, well, we can make other arrangements."

DG focused on the dark waves beyond the ship. "Thanks, but it's okay."

"Are you sure? You were all kinds of awkward last night."

She pushed her black hair away from her face as she considered the best way to answer. "Wyatt and I have gone through a lot, but we only became lovers three days ago. Now I'm knocked up and playing married."

"And they say pirates don't waste any time." Betsy's mood seemed open this morning or DG had more mental balance, so maybe now was a good time to get answers.

"So what's the deal with this treasure? Why do you need a magic user? Cause if you need me to break wards, I should warn you I don't have much training."

"Nothing like that. It's not cursed, but it's at Rock Fort. Could be hostile forces according to the legends." Betsy shrugged, not worried about fighting. "But Rock Fort is enchanted to move. The only way to track the island is with a magic-powered astrolabe."

"That's all you need me for? To act as a magic battery?"

Betsy grinned. "That's it." Her expression grew more serious as she looked at the horizon. "Once we have both halves of the astrolabe, you can show us which way to sail."

Sprite skipped from the rear of the ship to the wheel. "Kingsport tomorrow. The waters sing it."

"That's right." Betsy and DG watched the Viewer child skip down the steps and head to the central mast. "I don't know if the waters actually tell her or if she senses it from us, but she always talks like that."

DG settled her elbows on the railing as Sprite climbed the ropes into the sails. "Are there many Viewers on this side of the desert?"

"I have no idea. Sprite and her mother took the same route you did." DG turned her attention to the Captain. Betsy stared ahead. "Jenkins and I had just made our first port at Mount Cove, and we ran across a man who had decided a five-year-old child had purposely damaged the packages he had made her carry. Her mother stopped him from beating her child. He turned on the mother to teach her a lesson." Her lips curled back. "He didn't think much of the lesson when I did the same to him, but I convinced him to sell his Viewer slaves to me. And I freed them right in front of his face." She sighed. "Her mother didn't recover. So we made Sprite the cabin girl."

DG looked back at the girl sitting in the crow's nest. "You didn't try to get her back to her people?"

"Too dangerous. Crossing the desert, the Sorceress in charge and she used them." Betsy shook her head. "I like better risks than that and on my own neck, not a child's."

"Things are different now, but thenů how long ago was that?"

"Three years. Time flies when you're plundering." Sprite scrambled down the ropes so fast, DG thought she would miss the grip and fall to the deck. Betsy chuckled at DG's sharp inhale. "I trust Sprite on those ropes better than the rest of the crew."

DG's heart stopped pounding once Sprite reached the floor. "I think I'm developing a fear of heights. I never had one before."

Sprite bounded up the steps and grabbed DG's hand. "Come see, come see!" The Viewer dragged DG to the end of the ship, avoiding the thick rod and ropes between the tiller and the steering wheel as well as the sail overhead and the ropes pulling it taut. They stood beside one of the extended pulleys holding up a small rowboat. Sprite perched on a sturdy locked box built onto the floor and DG found a spot where she didn't disturb the ropes tied to cleats on top of the railings. She leaned over and saw the ropes held shutters off the windows in the Captain's quarters. Sprite quivered with excitement. "What are we looking for?"

Sprite pointed at the horizon, already tinged pink. DG fell silent as the sky brightened. The lapping waters reflected the bands of color created in the sky as the two suns rose, one after the other. A lump filled her throat. She hadn't seen such an unencumbered sunrise since leaving Kansas.

"What's Kansas?" Sprite's eyes gleamed, curiosity making her face look even younger.

DG looked over her shoulder. Betsy was talking with another sailor, and neither showed any sign of having heard the Viewer's quiet question. "It's where I'm from, but it's a secret."

"Where everyone is from is a secret. I no tell." She leaned her arms on the railing, and looked at the waters. "You know my people."

"I'm good friends with a couple of Viewers."

Sprite nodded. "Maybe you're the ones." She grinned at DG. "I can teach you ship, Thea Cain. So most crew won't think you useless."

"Most crew?"

Sprite nodded vigorously. "Hodges says you and your mate can't pull weight."

"I have the feeling Hodges will complain about something else."

"Hodges complains about everything." The Viewer pointed at the deck. "Stern. Bow means front. Starboard," she pointed right, "port," she pointed left. DG copied Sprite's movements with the terms. Sprite grinned, grabbed her hand, and pulled her forward.

Betsy smiled as they rushed past. "Stay on this deck," she yelled.

DG waved to show they had heard her. They dodged around sailors emerging from the open hatches and the cannons tied into place at the railings. She didn't know if she would remember all the terms Sprite was throwing at her. They stopped at the bow, a raised section two steps above the rest of the deck between the first mast and the bowsprit.

"Foredeck," Sprite corrected.

"Right," DG replied as she turned. She avoided the pipe from the deck radiating steam and heat. Two cannons smaller than the ones on the main deck were mounted on the railings on the port and starboard sides.

There was a laugh behind them. Inge Spencer climbed out of the forehatch carrying two bowls of oatmeal. "Taking care of the new crew and then forget to eat." His thick lips smiled as he handed one bowl to Sprite. "She did the same for me, Mrs. Cain." He handed the bowl to DG with a flourish.

"Thank you." DG took the bowl, but didn't shovel down the oatmeal as fast as Sprite. "Any idea when Wyatt can come up?"

Spencer shrugged, "Cooky always claimed he was too busy. But he always had excuses handy."

She nodded. One of the cooks at Hilltop had always managed to disappear when a school bus pulled in. "I know the type. Wyatt's not like that."

"But Mr. Cain's not a sailor." He watched the rest of the crew scurrying over the ropes and sails. "I'm not much of one yet, either. I've only been aboard about a cycle, but I've got the only woodworking skills, so master carpenter." He tugged on his shirt as his shoulders went back.

"The Pingareen is proud of his unearned position." Hodges hung by one hand on the support ropes for the sails. His lanky body swung slightly as he scarred face glared at DG and Spencer. Sprite glared at him from her seat on the deck, but he didn't spare her a glance. "How proud would your parents be of your profession, orphan boy?"

"Probably prouder than yours are of you." Spencer's chin jutted up, but DG saw the welling of tears in his brown eyes. "The Pingareens are warriors, and honorable ones."

"Aye, with sticks and stones, so it was a massacre when they faced cannonballs and bullets." Hodges sneered, "And how did you survive the carnage, boy?"

"By keeping my wits while everyone else lost theirs." Spencer glared at the taller man before wiping the anger from his face when he turned to DG. "The Captain prefers we don't discuss it. Someone's doing evil in the Nonestic, throwing off the balance. But that's nothing you need worry 'bout. How do you want your trunk marked?"

They had gone to the ignore Hodges' part of the conversation. She could play along. "Marked?"

"I can carve your name on it, but not all the crew can read. A symbol is better, so what would you like?"

"A star inside a circle."

Spencer shook his head with a smile. "Your husband already picked that. A symbol for you, Mrs. Cain."

DG didn't know which was making her more uncomfortable: Hodges' continuous stare or Spencer--not much younger--calling her Mrs. Cain. "I don't have a symbol to describe me."

"Do too." Sprite stopped glaring at Hodges to look up at Spencer and DG.

DG's eyes widened, but kept the rest of her face blank. She had considered the tattoo mark that had been on her hand, but dismissed it. SECRET! Her mind screamed at the Viewer.

"Everyone has symbol, need to find it," Sprite said.

"Okay, but I need to think about it." DG smiled at Spencer.

Hodges chuckled, but menace was behind the amusement. "Does your husband know what a shameless flirt he has married?"

Her stomach clenched as badly as it had when she had been cornered by Prince Aedan. She couldn't show him she was afraid, and lifted her chin. "This is a friendly conversation. But I'm guessing you haven't experienced much of either, so it's no wonder you're confused."

Hodges let go of the rope and stepped closer. Sprite and Spencer both slid in front of DG. He leered at her with a half grin full of teeth, more sinister looking with the scarred half of his face not matching the expression. "I would love to put that smart mouth to the work it should be doing."

"I doubt the Captain will let you buy your way out of an amputation for a second time." Spencer took DG's arm and shouldered Hodges out of the way as he escorted her to the forehatch. Sprite flanked her left side. "Let's get you back to your husband, Mrs. Cain."

DG didn't argue as they went down the steps. As long as it didn't look like she was running from Hodges, she would give into the consuming need to see Cain. What was wrong with her? Back in Kansas, she could handle a creep like Hodges by herself. Hell, she faced the Sorceress and everyone on the witch's side feared her. Maybe it was a side effect of being pregnant. Or maybe life in the Palace damaged something DG had thought essential to who she was.

Cain peered around the stove when they approached. "What happened?" His eyes darted to each face and his concerned frown deepened.

DG spoke first. It was her problem and her over-protective Tin Man. "Hodges." She stopped him as he walked toward the steps with fists curled. "He didn't lay a finger on me, just talk with a lot of sneering."

"You all look like it was just talk."

Spencer shrugged. "Mr. Hodges has a talent for getting under everyone's skin. I need to start on my duties." He waved his dark-skinned hand as he disappeared down the steps to the bottom deck.

"I'll take coffee to the Captain now," Sprite said. Cain let them around the stove where he filled a wooden mug from a stove top percolator. Sprite scampered up the stairs with that one while he poured two more, which he carried to the table. She sat across from him and found his forearms exposed by rolled-up sleeves fascinating. Especially compared to his what-are-you-not-telling-me face.

"Should I still drink coffee?" It smelled divine.

"A cup a day never hurt Adora and Jeb." He sipped his while waiting for her enjoyment over coffee to fade. "Do you want to talk 'bout it?"

"There's nothing to talk about. I was talking to Spencer and Sprite, and he saw an opportunity to annoy us. He made a sexual reference to me, and it was actually cleaner than what I've heard before." That did not make Cain look happier. "I'll stay down here and help you. And you can growl at him if he tries to bother me." That should make his alpha male tendencies happy.

He looked less unhappy. "Does the Captain need you?"

"No, she just wanted to make sure we didn't need different sleeping arrangements."

"I didn't think she was that perceptive." He looked curious, and shook his head. "Did she say anything about this treasure?"

"She needs magic to run the compass thingy to find where it's located. It's kept on a moving island." DG finished her coffee. "And it's for personal gain."

"That's the same for all criminals. What's in it for me." Cain stood up with a sigh. "Don't start apologizing. There are worse places we could've ended up."

"I know," she answered in place of the apology she had to swallow down. "Want me to wash dishes?"

layout of the You and What Navy?
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