Tin Man: Pirates of the Nonestic

Chapter Seventeen

Where DG and Cain have been

Cain woke before dawn. He left DG in their bed with a ghost of a kiss on her cheek. His back muscles screamed in protest as he dressed. He didn't want to traumatize Sprite with the dark places he had been. Seeing Raw dealing with Kalm in the Brain Room was bad enough. But this pain tempted him to ask for help regardless.

He slipped into the corridor outside their quarters, and heard a plane running over wood. Lanterns cast shadows of a person under the main stairs. Lips twitching, Cain headed aft.

This area of the hold contained stacks of boards, sawhorses, and open trunks of woodworking tools. Spencer sat on a bench shaving the pale board to the thickness he wanted. He looked up when Cain emerged from the corridor. "Morning."

"Morning. You're up early?"

The boy shrugged. "It happens. I'm not the best sleeper on board."

"I hear ya. Though speaking of sleeping," he pointed his thumb back toward his quarters, "I'm letting Thea have as much as possible."

White teeth flashed as the boy grinned. "None shall pass me but the Captain or Mr. Jenkins."

Cain nodded. "Much obliged." It seemed a taboo to ask for personal stories, which he appreciated for his and DG's sakes, but he had a suspicion that Spencer had come from higher than the criminal classes. And it was a relief to know that he could at least trust the boy. One of his first sights when he had climbed on board was Spencer and Sprite standing over DG's prone body and pushing aside the other sailors. He headed up to the galley where he could watch those stairs while cooking.

Jenkins called a meeting while most of the men were seated in the mess. "Kingsport is a working landing, men. No carousing."

The portly sailor wearing an eye-patch frowned up at the standing Jenkins. "We're not raiding Kingsport, are we?"

"Home of the Island Navy? Don't be daft, Laffite. We may need to haul ass and I don't want to deal with a drunkard if that happens. You can go shopping with a time limit, so see me if you need your cash."

The dark-skinned man with short curly black hair gestured with his tankard. "What's the time limit?"

"I'll know that once we make port, Bellamy. Anything else? To your duties then." Jenkins joined Cain at the stove as the rest of the men finished their breakfasts. "Don't worry about the other meals. The Captain wants you and your wife with her today."

"So much for buying pants." Cain handed over the list of supplies he had used in the galley.

"I'm sure she can work it into her schedule. To quote her 'I want to be close enough to smack if anyone starts more funny business.'"

Sprite carried down the dishes from the Captain's meal as Jenkins left the galley. Cain caught her before she scampered off. "Can you bring this down to Thea and make sure she's waking up?"

"Yes, Mr. Cain." She vanished down the stairs. He nearly had everything washed and put away by the time she returned. "Mate says fix you and no take no as answer."

Cain sighed, but it was typical of DG--worried about him instead of herself. Sprite tried to dart behind his back. "Wait a second."

"Nothing to fear with healing."

He shook his head and sat on the bench to be eye level with her. "I need to know you won't read me."

She cocked her bushy head to the side. "Healing not same as reading."

"There's stuff I've been through I don't want you to see." Sprite still looked confused. "Bad things a child shouldn't see. You read us so easily when we came on board, I don't want to hurt you by accident."

Her golden cat eyes gleamed. "No look without permission ever. Different when hearts scream, no choice but to feel. Better now. Mate heals heart." She patted his chest. "And I never tell what I see. All crew have secrets, even Sprite." She twisted him on the bench and set her hands on his back. He groaned as the warmth soothed the pain away.

He faced the right direction to see DG come upstairs. She smiled. "Thanks, Sprite."

"Welcome. Glad to help. Shouldn't make port in pain. Going ashore fun." Sprite patted his shoulder. "All done."

"Thank you." He watched DG wash up her dishes. "The Captain wants us with her today."

Sprite grinned. "Ashore is fun." She scampered up the stairs.

"She must mean it; she repeated it."

"She woke me up saying it." DG finished wiping the tankard dry. "Did you let me sleep in on purpose?" He nodded and she stood on her tiptoes to kiss his cheek. "You're too good to me."

"I try." They headed upstairs, staying out of the way of the crew as they brought the ship next to the pier. The men pulled on ropes looped around huge cleats on the wooden planks with their repeated response as Drake chanted the first line.

"Haul in the Bowline" by Bob Neuwirth
Download the Tin Man: Pirates of the Nonestic Soundtrack here

Haul in the bowline, my Kitty comes from Liverpool
Haul in the bowline, the bowline, ho!
Haul in the bowline, Liverpool's a fine town…
Haul in the bowline, the bowline, ho!
Haul in the bowline, Kitty's on the game again
Haul in the bowline, the bowline, ho!

The ship moved closer to the pier with each heave. The men tying up the sails so they couldn't catch the wind sang a different song.

"Roll the Old Chariot Along" by the Bilge Pumps
Download the Tin Man: Pirates of the Nonestic Soundtrack here

Oh, a drop of Nelson's blood wouldn't do us any harm
Oh, a drop of Nelson's blood wouldn't do us any harm
Oh, a drop of Nelson's blood wouldn't do us any harm
And we'll all hang on behind.

And we'll roll the old chariot along
We'll roll the old chariot along.
We'll roll the old chariot along
And we'll all hang on behind!

Oh, a little mug o' beer wouldn't do us any harm
Oh, a little mug o' beer wouldn't do us any harm
Oh, a little mug o' beer wouldn't do us any harm
And we'll all hang on behind.

And we'll roll the old chariot along
We'll roll the old chariot along.
We'll roll the old chariot along
And we'll all hang on behind!

The You and What Navy? nestled a few clicks from the pier and the men slung a gangplank out of the opening in the railing. Betsy and Jenkins headed down it first, followed by a skipping Sprite. Cain and DG followed. Other moored sailing ships unloaded cargo onto neighboring piers. At the opening of the bay, two ships twice the size of the You and What Navy? bobbed.

Kingsport Island

The wooden planks ended on a cobblestone street running the width of the harbor. Betsy paused at the announcement board set up against a tavern. "Steward Granite will announce Commandant Thomas Slate as his adoptive heir at a celebratory ball tonight." Her voice was flat, hiding all her feelings. Cain's lips twitched. He had used that trick on occasion.

Jenkins looked at her. "Don't do anything rash."

"You think this whole thing is rash." Her eyes bored holes into the announcement board.

"'Tis, but we stand a better chance of surviving it. You face off with the leader of the Island Navy…."

"Who's about to become the leader of Kingsport and the rest of the Archipelago." Betsy's hand tightened on her sword's hilt. "Power hungry bastard."

"The Isle of Yew is nice this time of year. Take a few weeks; I can pretend to be retired." Now she turned her blistering glare on Jenkins. "No? Then can you at least promise me to not kill Slate until after we found your treasure?"

"I won't start anything with him. It's not my place. I can't promise on the outcome if he starts anything with me." She took a deep breath and her bland voice returned. "Gilgad on Rinkitink was destroyed by pirates and the Island Navy commissioned another warship in response. So Slate has what now, twenty?"

"I haven't been keeping count."

"Of course not." She turned to him and dropped the sarcasm from her voice. "Keep Spencer on board."

He nodded, "Already done." He twisted, spotted Cain and DG standing as unobtrusively as possible, and handed her a money bag. "And take 'em clothes shopping, Captain."

"I'm sure we have time for that. Take what you can."

"Give nothing back." Jenkins walked away to take charge of the crew leaving the ship.

Cain fell to the rear guard position as they trailed the Captain into the marketplace. Political intrigue didn't surprise him, and neither did Betsy's vendetta against someone in law enforcement. But protecting Spencer from the political intrigue or the personal vendetta did. Along with the number of women wearing trousers, most favoring the short breeches like Betsy had given DG. Betsy turned a corner into a dingy alley of a staircase. They emerged on a street a level above the marketplace, but it had collected all odors of the market and the docks mixed with the stench of rotting mud.

Betsy crossed the street to a narrow shop front without windows. The sign that hung by one chain named the building Trash to Treasure in faded, peeling paint. You could barely read the 'Open' placard hanging in the filthy window on the door. She thrust it open and the bell didn't ring, but fell on the floor with a clunk.

Once Cain was inside, Sprite darted around him, locked the door, and turned the sign over. She grinned at his scowl. Betsy never paused in her stride up to the cash exchange counter. A deep snoring filled the dark room crammed with shelves of broken and dusty knickknacks. Cain shifted so he could grab the snorer should he prove to be a threat, though Betsy and Sprite probably had plenty of practice.

Betsy picked up a wire basket filled to the brim with dusty gears and dropped it back on the counter. The clanging metal jolted the snorer to his feet. A pudgy man with stringy dark blond hair blinked at them before drawing up his jowls in a smile that displayed like a grimace. "Betsy-me-girl, er, captain. You're certainly looking ship shape. Much better than the last time I saw you."

"No doubt, Pyrite. Kukui haole poisoning has a horrid effect, but luckily, I didn't get a fatal dose."

Pyrite tugged the collar of his stained shirt away from his fat neck. Cain narrowed his eyes. "P… poison? You were poisoned?" He pouted. "And I'm just now finding out? Betsy-me-girl, I thought we were friends."

Betsy pushed her hat back. "What in the deep blue sea gave you that impression?"

"The wedding?" He wilted under her glare. "Well, I figured "back off or I'll gut you like a fish' was friendly pirate banter."

"No," Betsy drew it out sweetly. "That was a friendly pirate promise."

Pyrite gulped and pulled at his shirt collar again. His blue eyes darted, taking in DG and Cain before returning to Betsy. "Yes, well, I don't know which of your pirate playmates failed at killing you, but it spared your life in other ways."

She pressed her hands on the countertop and leaned forward. "Because I was too sick to go on the expedition?"

"Betsy, it really was a wretched idea. I still have nightmares."

"And how well is Slate sleeping these days?"

Pyrite straightened his shirt, but the move didn't hide the growing sweat stains. "I'm not getting pulled into a pirate versus Navy thing. You should know better."

She leaned her right hip against the counter, leaving her sword free on her left, Cain observed. "Didn't realize the Navy marched on land as well, Nick. I don't want Slate after your blood."

"Really?" Pyrite sagged a little. "Because as much as you dislike him, he did save my life and it would be many shades of awkward."

"I understand that. All I want is to remind you of your loyalty to mutual friends." Betsy ignored his wary expression and pulled on a metal chain around her neck. A flat metal disc emerged from her black leather bodice. It had a set of fixed clock hands that sat loosely on it, like pieces were missing to make a tighter fit. "I need the rest of the astrolabe."

Pyrite's eyes bulged. "You can't be serious! We almost all died! And you don't have any magic."

"You worry about the missing pieces, and let me worry about the magic." She swung the disc in his sight line. "Where are they?"

Pyrite's mouth gaped before he moved his jaw again. Sweat gathered in all his skin creases. "I didn't tell you?"

"No." The astrolabe landed on her chest. "According to Jenkins, you dropped this and ran like a rabbit."

"Well, Mount Cove is not the savoriest place to find one's self in. I have property; I could've been targeted."

"Pyrite, pirates have better business sense. What happened to the astrolabe?"

"Those pieces were lost."

"Lost?"

"Lost," Pyrite repeated with more conviction. "It came apart and two discs rolled into the ocean. On our way back. I thought you should have what was left." He blinked rapidly as he tried to grin.

Cain was tired of the conversational dance. "He's lying."

Pyrite spluttered. Sprite stood next to DG. "Mr. Cain's right, Captain."

"Oh, who asked either of you!" Pyrite snapped before cringing when Betsy's sword swung in front of his nose. He sidestepped toward the opening to leave the counter. "Betsy, don't do anything rash!"

"Nothing rash about this. I've always wondered how many cuts would make you spill your guts, you lumpish, ill-breeding giglet!" She lunged forward as Pyrite dodged.

He landed on his back halfway past the counter. A razor-thin stripe oozed blood across his cheek. He scrambled backwards as Betsy lunged again. His protests babbled as he scooted along the dirt-encrusted floor.

Betsy didn't respond to his babbling. "What did you do?" A red line appeared across his shirt sleeve. "Where are the pieces?" A slash ran across his other cheek. "It'll hurt less if you just stay still." The material covering his knee split to reveal another red line on his skin. "What did you do!"

"The Steward has them! Steward Granite has them!" Pyrite covered his face with his hands.

Betsy propped her saber on her shoulder. "You sought the Steward's favor by giving him pieces of my astrolabe?"

"What favor?" He gestured at the dilapidated shop as he stood. Cain silently agreed the favor hadn't improved his business. "Does it look like I have the Steward of Kingsport's favor?"

"Then why?"

"To save my bloody neck!" Pyrite's face molted. "The Steward wanted assurance that the King would not return, so I split the damn thing in half and gave it to both vested parties. Satisfied?"

"Hardly." She sheathed her sword. "He's giving a ball tonight."

"It's not my fault he doesn't keep you appraised of his social schedule." Betsy growled under her breath before marching to the door. Sprite dashed ahead and opened it in front of her. "I guess we'll find out just how much your treasure really means to you," Pyrite called after them.

Cain glanced at Pyrite's sneering, blood-streaked face before slamming the store door shut behind the group.

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