Tin Man: Pirates of the Nonestic

Chapter Twenty-eight

Cain was right about dawn coming too early. The cup of coffee and working the astrolabe wasn't enough to keep DG from yawning as she headed down to help with breakfast. "What do you need me to do?"

"Sit out of the way and eat," he said with a smirk, so she took the porridge and bacon without complaining. It didn't hurt that she was starving for every mealtime. She had never been this hungry in the Palace.

Hodges dropped his wooden bowl onto the table. "Are we still aimed at the Teeth?"

"Aye," Drake answered, "we should get there by midday." He drained the coffee in his tankard. "The astrolabe only shifted the course south by a degree."

"What are the Teeth?" Cain asked.

"A span of ocean filled with rocky shallows and reefs," Drake replied. "It got named the Teeth by how it will chew up your ship if you don't know the channels through it."

"We shouldn't go through it at all." Laffite rubbed the skin under his eye patch strap. A few others grumbled in agreement.

Drake shrugged. "I've sailed with the Captain between them before. But unlike some, I don't mind a little excitement." He headed up the forehatch stairs.

"Suicide isn't excitement," Bonny muttered

Morgan stood next. "My bet is on the Captain. She hasn't steered us wrong yet. You lot should remember that."

Hodges finished his last piece of bacon. "I'd rather be smarter for my gains. Come by my bunk to hear my ideas for a better life." He left first, but it didn't take long for the other crew members to wander away.

DG brought the dirty dishes to the dishpan Cain was filling with hot water. "Are you okay after last night?"

"Why wouldn't I be okay?"

"You don't like to open up and share."

He kissed her on the lips while her hands were in the water. "And I'm figuring out why they always advise talking." He ran his nose along her cheek before he pulled back. "I hope I didn't hurt you."

"By telling me about Adora?" DG's jaw dropped with the guilty flash in his eyes. "Wyatt, I know you have a past. I probably know more about your past than I know about mine, even with your clam-up tendencies. Don't think there's anything you can't tell me."

"Same here, sweetheart. When we get done with all this mess," he gestured to include the ship, "I want to hear all about where you grew up."

"Deal." She hummed as they busied themselves with their tasks. That had gone better than she'd feared. She wasn't jealous of Adora; she would have been thrilled if they had found the woman instead of the gravesite. Cain had never made her feel second-best or second rate. She supposed she was different enough for him not to confuse the two women. Cain deserved whatever made him happy, and if that was remembering Adora while being with her, DG wasn't about to argue. She finished the dishes and took the scraps and bread. "I'm going to feed Dani, and grill her for what she knows."

He looked up from his lunch preparations with a squeamish expression. "That is a figure of speech, right?"

"What? You don't have any slang for interrogations?" She left with a smirk. Dani was gloating over her total of four eggs. "They certainly look good," DG agreed.

The hen tilted her head, eyeing DG before pecking at the plate of food. "You don't fool me, Pullet. You want to know what they're for."

"You compared them to bullets."

"Didn't miss that, did you?" Dani paused to swallow a hunk of bread. "First, why agree to all this when you had no idea what was going on?"

DG sat on their chest. "Wyatt and I were captured and put in the slave market. Betsy bought us and said she'd free us if we helped her. Not helping would have put us back in the slave market."

"And she didn't mention the Nome King when she offered her deal," the hen clucked. "Doesn't explain why you're still here."

"It's the right thing to do." DG frowned because she was sure the chicken had been there when they had discussed this stuff. "And I'm not afraid of a lawn ornament."

"I don't know what that is, but you should get afraid. He tore apart the land to get away from the O.Z. And let's face it, Dorothy or Ozma you're not."

"Do you want to go back to the O.Z. with us? You and my mother can compare notes about how deficient I am." She stared at the floor.

"The difference is, Pullet, I say those things so you can prove me wrong."

DG looked at the chicken again. "How do you know about Dorothy and Ozma?"

"My family, descendants of Billina the Obstinate, were ambassadors to the Land of Ev from the Outer Zone." Dani cocked her head. "Their lives touched more than just you." DG opened her mouth, but Dani flapped her wings. "People are coming."

DG jumped up with glowing hands as the door to their room burst open. "None of that!" Hodges slapped a club of wood in his hands. "Unless you want something worse to happen to the boy."

Jones pushed Spencer into the doorway. His left eye was swelling shut and blood ran out of his split lip. "Leave Mrs. Cain alone!"

Jones jerked Spencer back. "Shut it, Pingareen!"

DG pulled in her magic. "What the hell are you doing?"

Hodges leered, exposing his teeth on his mouth's right side. "Why ruin the surprise? Come on, let's not keep everyone waiting." He moved closer with the club raised, and DG held up her hands in surrender. He pulled her flush against him. "Not so brave without your skillet, are you?"

"I won't let you hurt anyone, but being manhandled isn't part of the deal. Keep your hands to yourself!"

Hodges raised the club again.

"Mr. Hodges." They both turned to a disheveled Slate in the doorway. "There's no need to be violent on a pregnant, cooperating woman." The pirate nodded and shoved DG out the door.

Spencer wasn't going quietly. He kicked, threw his elbows, and slammed his body against Jones, all while shouting to let him have Slate. Slate ignored him. So it was no surprise that Cain tore down the stairs to see what was going on. Hodges wrapped an arm around DG's throat so that the threat to her was the first thing Cain saw when he stopped on the stairs. His blue eyes glittered as his jaw clenched.

"Back up the stairs, slave. All the way up." Cain didn't argue as he turned and headed up the forestairs. Hodges chuckled in her ear. "I should've known you were the key to making him jump." He shoved her up the steps.

They emerged on the sunlight-drenched deck. Bonny and Laffite held hatchets and guarded Cain, Morgan, and Drake. Jones dragged Spencer to that group at the port railing. Slate stood close to the prisoners but where he could still see everyone. Dampier and Read stood by the main mast looking confused, and Bonnet steered the ship. Betsy and Jenkins started down the steps from the quarterdeck to the main deck. DG pulled at Hodges' arm on her neck, but he didn't release her. Cain glared and moved toward them, but Jones stopped him.

"You better let me go before my husband busts the heads of your partners," DG warned.

Hodges ignored her. "Jenkins, do you stand with Bobbins?"

"Oh, you daft idiot." The quartermaster's white moustache quivered as his eyes flashed. "You want to mutiny now? And you let him out." Jenkins gestured at Slate.

"You didn't answer the question, Jenkins."

DG twisted her head to see Hodges. "If you keep shouting in my ear, I'm going to break your foot."

Jenkins stopped in front of them. "You know whose back I've got. You wouldn't know that kind of loyalty if it bit you on the ass." He glared at Hodges. "Let Mrs. Cain go."

Hodges' arm finally relaxed off DG's neck. She jerked away, running to Cain's tense side. "You okay?" he asked quietly.

"Just creeped out."

Betsy waited in front of the quarterdeck steps. "We're almost upon the Teeth and we need all hands."

Hodges pulled a folded sheet of paper from his vest. "Why go through the Teeth when we got the Princess of the Outer Zone on board?"

DG's mouth dried as Hodges unfolded the wanted poster with all four of the Saviors of the O.Z.'s pictures. How? Cain pushed her behind his back and kept his hand splayed against her side. Lafitte glanced a few times between the poster and Cain. Drake, Morgan, and Spencer stared at her and she winced. Dampier and Read looked astonished.

"You want to change course, Hodges?" Betsy hadn't moved.

"The O.Z. Army is here to get them, let them have them for a price."

DG's ears must not have been working right. "The Army is where?"

"That's the Captain's prerogative." Betsy's brown eyes didn't blink. "I'm not changing course."

Hodges' face reddened. "Then it's time for a new Captain!"

Slate rubbed his black stubble, looking nonchalant as Betsy's gaze flicked to him. "What did Slate promise you?" Slate's eyes narrowed under his thick eyebrows. Her focus went back to Hodges. "My ship? A chance to bugger a Princess? Your own island when he makes his empire?" Hodges' head jerked he could stop it. "You got bought too easily," she sneered.

"I've got the votes. Step down."

Betsy shifted into a fighting stance and smirked. "That's not how the You and What Navy? changes hands."

Hodges swallowed hard as he straightened his shoulders. "I just wanted to give you the least painful way out, Bobbins."

"I appreciate that. Jenkins, get a pair of swords."

Jenkins glared at Hodges until he descended out of sight through the main hatch. Nobody broke the silence. DG pressed against Cain to peer around him. Jenkins returned carrying Betsy's cutlass with its distinctive brass hand guard and a plain one. "Settle this before we wreck the ship." Jenkins said before he stepped closer to their guarded group and crossed his arms.

Betsy sank deeper into her stance, her sword held in front of her face. "Don't keep us waiting."

Hodges grimaced lopsidedly as he circled her. "You'll not trick me into throwing this fight."

"And we all said you couldn't learn new tricks." She lunged forward.

DG clenched Cain's black shirt in her fist as they watched the duelists attack without either getting the better.

Drake clenched his teeth. "Stop being fancy, and just kill the bastard," he seethed.

"You believe Slate is going to keep his word?" Betsy kicked Hodges in the stomach, knocking him across the deck. "He left his best friend to the Nome King. You think he will keep his word to a scummy pirate?"

"Better than facing the Nome King!" Hodges brought down his sword.

She parried the slash, and followed with a blow to his arm. "First blood is mine."

"It's last blood that counts." Their swords locked together. Hodges punched Betsy in the face.

She staggered back with a laugh. "I can't believe you are so scared of a legend, you sided with that bastard." Her sword swipes drove Hodges toward the starboard railing.

He twisted, sending Betsy to the railing. "I just don't want to die!" He tackled her against the railing while her sword was in the air. Betsy screamed in pain, and slammed the hilt of her sword on Hodges' head. He pulled back his sword. DG gasped seeing the red on the blade.

Betsy's hand clutched her side as she fell back over the rail.

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