Thursday, September 19, 2013

International Talk Like A Pirate Day 2013

Happy International Talk Like a Pirate Day!

It's my tradition to post a pirate themed poem or story every year for this day. This year's story follows. Also, I'll put an e-book this week with the complete collection of my pirate work. Details on that to follow. For now, I give you ...





Pretty Peg

of the Stalwart Heart

by Maryanne M. Wells

Copyright 2013

All rights reserved











Pretty Peg stood by the mizzen mast

Her heart was light, and in her grasp

was Golisight, pearl of might,

bane and savior of the Damned”

- Pirate Legends, Chapter 20, lines 13-16




One

Pretty Peg stood alone on the deck of her ship, hoping to catch the zephyr breeze. In the Caribbean, northern breezes like the zephyr were rare and docile, when they came at all. They kept low, twining themselves around the base of ships masts. Standing where she did, near the mizzen mast, Peg felt certain she would feel the north breeze. She stood by the mizzen mast and let Whattumba have the wheel.

Whattumba, seven feet tall, steered the ship with muscled arms thick as the masts. He stared straight ahead. But his thoughts, like those of all his shipmates, were directed at the lustrous pearl hanging from a gold chain around Pretty Peg's neck. Mighty Whattumba steered the ship, and worried about the jewel called Golisight.

Peg worried that she felt no northern breeze. She missed it dearly. Peg might have lost Billy forever, but she had at least the breeze from her lover's homeland to remind her of what had been. At least, until today.

Frowning, Peg joined Whattumba at the wheel.

“You do not feel his touch in the air,” Whattumba guessed.

Peg sighed. “Never should I have told ye 'bout it. Shouldn't have told anyone.”

“You forget, you told me when you were sick with fever. There was never intent to share. And, Whattumba tells no one.”

“Still, better t' forget,” muttered Peg.

“And yet, you wait each sea's day for the zephyr to stroke your skin.”

Peg stared up at the sails, full of tropical winds. The great white streets billowed and whispered with palm leaf serenity.

“Nothing from the north today,” Peg said quietly. “Everything we have be from here.”

“You are sad. Here,” Whattumba said, and offered Peg the wheel.

Peg shook her head. “You know the course as well as I.”

“No,” Whattumba replied, glumly.

“What's that? What do you mean? Take us into port, so I can pay a visit t' Salty John.”

“You speak of a destination, Captain. But, I do not know your course.”

Peg's eyes narrowed. Whattumba's ability to wrap listeners with blankets of words, obscuring meaning, annoyed Peg.

“Speak directly,” she snapped.

And, Whattumba knew better than to argue.

“You should not have taken Golisight from its resting place,” he answered bluntly. “It is not a jewel we can sell. How would Salty John put a price on such a thing? He does not know. You do not know.”

“It's extremely valuable. Priceless.”

“Yes. Meaning, a price cannot be placed on it. Worse still, it be cursed.”

Peg scoffed, “There's no curse. Just a legend.”

“Golisight be the bane and savior of the damned,” Whattumba intoned. “The damned created it from the pool of cursed tears. The damned crave the release it will bring, though it destroys them all. None use Golisight; all it meets are used. Beware the great pearl Golisight.”

“Am I damned, then?” asked Peg.

She picked up Golisight by the chain and held it before Whattumba's eyes.

“I hold it,” Peg continued. “When we approached the idol, a great earthquake struck the island, and Golisight practically lept into me hands. Ye saw it.”

Whattumba glumly agreed, “Yes. I bear witness.”

“And, nothing's happened t' you, me, or any one else on board the Stalwart Heart. The curse isn't real,” Peg said triumphantly. “Just a legend, a story to drive up its value. Anyway, who knows which of us be damned?”

Whattumba stepped back. “Golisight uses all it meets. If you are not the damned who can unleash its power, you are still the jewel's tool. And, it knows who be damned.”

“Avast, and return to yer post, me hearty. Take the wheel.”

Whattumba shook his head and stalked away.

“Fine. I'll bring us to port. And, I'll keep the lion's share o' the booty pay, seeing's how I'm the only one who believes doubloons be waiting,” Peg muttered.

So, Pretty Peg was not beside the mizzen mast when the zephyr came. This was a great pity, for the zephyr wanted to tell Peg important things. It wanted to warn her. When it didn't find her, it slipped away. A great fog rolled in behind it.

Two

The first cannon ball punched a whole in the main sail. The second hit the mizzen mast directly, splintering the wood and sending the mast and sail crashing to the deck.

Whattumba ran onto the deck, spear in hand. “Who be it? Who?”

“I know not,” Peg shouted back. “Can't see a thing in this fog. The lookout barely saw the ship's outline and gave warning, when -”

Another cannon ball crashed into the ship. Peg abandoned the wheel, pulled her sword free of scabbard, and pointed the blade at the attacking vessel.

“Kill them. Wash the deck with their blood,” shouted Peg.

The crew roared with fervor and rage. They grabbed every hanging line and prepared to swing across, to the other ship. Before they could move, pots of flame appeared. Peg spotted them. Her stomach dropped, and the blood drained from her face.

“Run,” she began. “Abandon -”

The catapults unleashed their payloads of burning tar onto the Stalwart Heart's deck and crew. Men screamed as it hit and melted the flesh from their bones.

Peg stepped forward to aid the nearest victim. Whattumba saw her, and the fiery payload headed her way. He threw himself against Peg, knocking her to the deck. The hot tar slapped against his back. Peg looked up, realized what had passed, and whispered her friend's name.

“Too late for Whattumba,” the warrior gasped. “You live. Live strong. Throw Golisight away and live free.”

“No,” Peg insisted.

Whattumba twisted his head. He spotted men on the other ship preparing to board the smoldering Stalwart Heart.

“Only – one – King – do – this -” Whattumba whispered.

The fog parted, and Peg saw the flag of her enemy.

“It's him,” she confirmed. “King Thomas.”

Whattumba didn't answer.

Peg looked up and saw the glaze of death clouding Whattumba's eyes.

“I'm sorry, Whattumba,” Peg said.

Only one thing would possess King Thomas with such mad desire that he would send a ship half way around the world and risk pots of burning tar. Golisight. King Thomas wanted the jewel of the damned.

“By me life, he shall have it, curse first,” Peg vowed.

Three

The men stared at Peg, wondering and afraid. They'd pulled her out from under Whattumba's body. Some blood had dribbled from the warrior's mouth onto Peg's cheek. The pirate's clothes were singed, and her arms streaked with ash. Her hair stood about her head in a wild cloud. But for all that, Pretty Peg lived up to her name. She was beautiful and wild.

And, completely in control.

“I know why yer here and what ye want,” Peg said.

She held up the jewel. The men stared at it, but not one stepped forward to claim it.

“I see ye know the legend,” Peg remarked. “Then, ye know what will happen if ye try and take it from me. If ye be one o' the damned, ye will unleash its power, a power that may consume ye. If ye be not damned, ye will still become Golisight's tool.

“So, who's brave enough – foolish enough – t' take it from me? That's right. Yer all thinking about the little facets o' livin that put fire in yer bellies – good food, rum, arrack, 'haps a willing woman between yer legs. Ye want those things more than ye could ever want this jewel. But, ye have t' take the jewel t' yer King. Duty bound.”

Peg put her hands on her hips and tossed her head. Her hair glowed like fire, backlit by the flames of her dying ship.

“Here's what ye do,” she informed them. “Take me and Golisight t' yer King. Ye tell him I demand a parlay, where I will give him the jewel. From me hand t' his; it will never even brush yer fingers. Why should an honest warrior suffer the curse o' thing he never wanted t' know, a thing he was sent t' fetch in the name o' duty? Let this thing remain between yer King and me.”

And, the men agreed.

Four

Pretty Peg lifted her head and placed her eye to a knothole in the wood. She saw a dock and people hurrying past. The heavy scents of city slipped in between the boards. Seeing the sights and inhaling the scents, Peg's mind whirled. She didn't know what to think. Part of her wanted to embrace these hallmarks of the place she once called home. But, the rest of her remembered, vividly, the reasons she'd left.

“Billy,” Peg whispered. “Ye could have stopped him.”

Her mind flew past the docks to a building many streets away, and to a memory of a girl and boy whispering sweet nothings between the sheets of their soft bed.

“Always,” Billy promised.

“Ye don't mean it. Ye can't,” teased Peg. “Your family will chose a wife for ye. They'll even choose your mistresses.”

Billy brushed a lock of Peg's hair away from her cheek. “I chose you.”

And, Peg believed him.

When men came in the night to her little rented room near Bakers' street, Peg knew it couldn't be Billy's choice. She screamed and struggled as the men dragged her into the street. When they threw her into the carriage, she tried to kick them.

Once the carriage stopped at the dock and they dragged her towards a ship, Peg changed tactics. She went limp. Startled, the men lost their grip on her.

Peg jumped to her feet and slashed at the nearest man with her fingernails. Then, she turned to run. Strong arms wrapped around her, holding her in place.

“You're getting on that ship,” a voice hissed in her ear.

With great effort, Peg pushed away and looked at her captor. She saw a long, pale face with eyes like dark pebbles.

“I know ye,” Peg said. “George Fitzsimmons.”

“That's right,” George said, with a solemn nod. “And, if you know who I am, you know who I work for.”

Peg nodded.

“You're getting on that ship and you're not coming back.”

“Where's it going?”

“Oh, some place warm. I think you'll like it. Many people do.”

Peg frowned. “Ye don't care if I like it or not. I don't think ye even care if I live through the journey.”

“On the contrary, I intend to see you well started. It's only fair. You kept the boy entertained, for a time.”

George dropped his hold on Peg. He pulled a small leather pouch from an inside pocket of his coat and handed it to the girl. Peg opened the pouch and stared at the jewels inside.

“After you disembark, seek out a man they call Salty John. He will give you what he thinks the jewels are worth,” pronounced George.

Peg shook her head. “He'll cheat me, whomever he is, assuming I even live to the end of the journey. Giving me a bag of jewels and putting me on an ship is like signing a death warrant.”

“Whether or not you survive is entirely your affair. I have done my part,” George replied, nonplussed.

He stepped back, waving Peg onto the ship with a flick of his fingers.

As Peg walked slowly up the gangplank, one of her kidnappers awkwardly shifted his weight. Peg glanced at him. Their eyes locked, and Peg saw a faint glimmer of sympathy. She dropped one arm to her side, and as she passed the man, felt him slip something into her hand.

On board the ship, Peg inspected her new prize. It was serviceable dagger with the name H. Tunkin carved crudely into the handle. Peg thanked Mr. Tunkin silently, from the greatest depths of her heart.

She had occasion to repeat that thanks frequently in the days to come, as the knife drew first blood then killed again and again. It was with Peg in Tortuga, and played no small part in convincing Salty John to give her the price that she, and not he, thought was best.

Years later, Peg lost the knife freeing Whattumba from his captors. She'd lost the knife, but never forgot the man. H. Tunkin.

In the Caribbean, Peg survived. She dominated and thrived. And, she vowed to never go home again, for Billy's sake as well as her own. Surely, her reappearance would put him in danger with the same vicious and powerful men who'd first spirited her away.

So, it was Billy she thought of, as she stared at the city she'd once called home. Her thoughts might have stayed with him for some time, except that Golisight began to glow.

Peg looked at the jewel with wonder and dread. She touched it tentatively with one finger, and the glow subsided. At the same time, Peg heard the voice of Whattumba whisper in her ear:

“The city, it be damned.”

Peg nodded. She knew what she must do. But, she had one request.

“Do ye know what I desire,” she whispered.

Golisight pulsed. Whattumba's whispered, “It will be done.”

Five

“See that? That could be you,” a guard said to Peg. He directed her attention outside the carriage to a man being dragged from prison, to a waiting wagon.

“You could do time in prison. You could be traveling in a wagon now, exposed to the crowd,” mocked the guard. “And, you should be.”

Peg looked at him coolly. “Ridiculous. Ye actually think ye can provoke me.”

She stared the man down. It didn't take long for him to fidget under the weight of Peg's gaze. Soon, he looked away, and didn't raise his head again.

“Ye sit in presence of a pirate queen,” Peg hissed. “Don't forget it, and be glad for the privilege, ye scurvy dog.”

Then, she stared out the window. Peg studied the features of the man in the wagon. Her eyes lit up, and she smiled lightly.

“What be his crime?” she asked.

The guard didn't answer. Peg leaned over and punched his arm, then repeated her question.

“He refused to turn his sister over to a nobleman,” the guard answered at last.

“Why did the nobleman want the sister?”

The guard shrugged. Then, he made a rude gesture with his hands.

“I see,” Peg said dryly. “And, by what right did this man think the – request – could be refused?”

“He used to be a warrior. Before his arrest, you know. Had some family and connections. Thought that would be enough. But, when one who outranks you speaks, you obey.”

“I've heard aplenty,” Peg announced coolly.

She kicked up the carriage door and stepped out. The guards all shouted. But, before they reacted fully, Peg slipped through the crowd and made her way to the wagon.

“Hello, ducks,” she said brightly to the startled guards in the wagon. Then, she knocked one unconscious and kicked the other off his seat.

The prisoner watched Peg, confused and dazed.

“Hold on,” Peg told him brightly. “This will be bumpy.”

She rolled the second guard out of the wagon then grabbed the horses' reins and the whip. One sharp crack of the latter sent the horses rearing. Peg urged them on, and the animals plunged into the crowd. People screamed and scrambled to move out of the wagon's path.

Peg felt relieved once she saw the streets were the same as she remembered. She directed the galloping horses with ease through the dock area and into the bakers' section of the city.

Halting the horses in a quiet side street, Peg said to the prisoner, “I hope ye can find yer way from here.”

The man nodded. “I think so. Thank you.”

Peg climbed into the wagon bed with the prisoner. She pulled a dagger from the sheath hidden in her right boot, and used it to cut the prisoner's bonds.

“Here,” Peg said, handing the man the dagger.

He looked at it with astonishment. “I don't know what to say.”

“I don't much care. Only thing matters t' me, be what ye do next. I'm going t' tell ye what that must be. Within a day, mayhaps within the hour, this city will be destroyed. I need ye t' go 'round the homes of every honest man and woman ye know and tell them t' flee.”

The man stared at Peg with wide and frightened eyes. “Why? What do you mean?”

Peg lifted Golisight's chain.

“Oh,” the man said, swallowing hard. “Is that … ?”

Peg nodded.

“I understand. But, why ask me to be your messenger?” asked the man.

“Matey, ye seem t' be a good and honorable person. Moreover, some years ago, ye saved me. Least I can be doing is to give Mr. H. Tunkin the same chance he gave me.”

Recognition dawned, and Mr. Tunkin smiled at Peg. “Please, call me Harold.”

“Peg. Good t' meet ye, officially.”

Shouts and running feet sounded in the distance. Peg looked in that direction and frowned.

“Better go,” she warned.

When the guards arrived, they found Peg alone, sitting on the buckboard and swinging her legs.

“Damn you,” exclaimed one of the guards.

He rushed Peg with drawn sword. She met him calmly, holding Golisight before her. Golisight turned black and began to pulse.

“See that? Golisight doesn't like ye,” Peg said sweetly. “Or mayhaps, it likes ye a little too much. Care t' find out which it be? Come and take it.”

Gaze focused on the pearl, the guard stumbled back. Peg hopped down from the wagon and took a step forward. All the guards moved away.

“That's right,” Peg said. “Better t' be safe than sorry. Now, fetch me carriage. We're expected at the palace.”

Six

The King's palace sat atop the highest hill, as such a palace should. It gleamed pearly white in the afternoon sun, and the banners fluttering from the windows and balcony railings gave the setting the perfect amount of color. This too, was as it should be.

The sight gave Peg no joy or pleasure.

The drive through the city had left Peg appalled. The wear on the buildings, the refuse on the street, and the wane faces of sickly children she saw as the carriage passed, had cut Peg to the heart.

“It never used t' be this way,” she whispered.

Raucous music spilling from dingy pubs grabbed Peg's ears. The tone was wrong. It should have sounded like Tortuga, the pirate's den, an unending party caught between the hangovers of ordinary life. But, the city pub music sounded different, joyless and depraved. Through the door of one pub they passed, Peg heard frightened screams.

The sight of the palace did nothing to wash away such memories.

Peg glared at the guard sitting near her. For the moment, he was the physical embodiment of the royal evil Peg despised.

“Did ye see the city,” demanded Peg. “Do ye ever look at it?”

“Trying to provoke me,” the guard mocked.

“No. Trying, in the last hour, t' open yer eyes. Can't ye see what King Thomas has done? His lust and greed bleed our country then crush our dry bones t' dust.”

The carriage rolled across the polished cobblestones of the courtyard. Through an open window came the sound of bawdy laughter and a woman's squeals. The guard looked up at the window, a shadow of a frown hovering beneath his lips.

“You may not be all wrong,” the guard said slowly. “But, there is one point where you ere. Thomas the Truthful is no longer King.”

Peg sat bolt upright. “What do ye mean?”

“King Thomas died some months ago. His last order was to send out a raiding party to seek Golisight. By the time word reached the palace that you had the prize, he was already dead.”

“Who gave the order t' pursue me, and t' use any means or measure t' destroy me ship and crew,” Peg demanded.

The guard stared at her with baleful amusement. “The new King. The heir is on the throne.”

“No,” Peg said, her hands balling into fists. “They used flaming tar, when they took the Stalwart Heart. That's a classic King Thomas attack.”

“Would his son do any less?”

“They be not the same person.”

The guard laughed. “Yes, King Thomas was fatter. But, they're both Kings. Maybe the new King was a better man, once. Certainly when he was a young prince, things seemed different. That was when most of the men in this guard detail enlisted. We thought we'd be part of a change to make things better. Then, he changed, more heir than princely leader. We lost hope. Now, he's King, and we've lost interest.

“You think we can change anything happening in the city? We can't. Follow orders, hide your women, beat the prisoners, go to bed, repeat tomorrow. You know, I'm so sick of it all, I don't even care if you report me. Let them do to me as they like.”

Peg whispered, “Why don't ye leave? Walk away. Go into the countryside or the woods, and start over.”

“If I could believe there was a chance, even a slim one, that I could leave and my family wouldn't pay the price, I'd go.”

“Leave the city within the hour, and take yer family with ye. No one will pursue.”

The guard stared.

“I swear it,” Peg said.

“You're just a prisoner. Promise anything you want, but you've got no power.”

Peg raised Golisight. The guard looked at the jewel and swallowed hard.

“You plan to use it,” he guessed.

“No. It be using me. But, it be surprisingly kind about it, letting me warn some people.”

“That doesn't mean you'll make it out alive.”

Peg shrugged. “I never expected to. Never asked it.”




Seven

Peg didn't know where to look, when the guards led her into the royal audience chamber. She thought at first she would look at her feet. Then, she realized that might be interpreted as weakness, and forced herself to raise her head.

The room was empty. A door clicked close behind her, and Peg realized even the guards had left. Which meant, the King thought they should begin their meeting alone. No doubt, a formal audience before the court would occur later, after the private words were said and done.

“Hello, Peggy,” said a male voice.

Peg smiled. “Ye always greeted me before entering the room. I'd forgotten that, 'til now.”

The King walked in slowly, with measured stride. He seated himself in the ornate gold and red chair in the center of the room. Peg looked him over critically. He was older and a little fatter, but his eyes were the same.

“Ahoy, Billy,” Peg whispered.

“Don't,” King William said severely. “This is precisely why I decided to meet with you in private. I'm King, now. You are one of my loyal subjects.”

Peg laughed harshly.

“Peggy, I mean it. If you're disrespectful to me, you will be killed.”

“Yer going t' kill me anyway, for being a pirate and for a hundred other crimes, some o' which I may have actually committed. From the moment I saw yer royal flag on the attacking ship, I knew I'd dance the hempen jig,” Peg said flippantly. “But, if ye want me t' act respectful in public for what will no doubt be me last appearance, I can do it.

“Greetings, yer majesty,” Peg concluded, with a courtesy.

“Your majesty, King William,” he corrected.

“Ah. William the … Willful?”

“The Warrior.”

“Hmm. Good t' know hyperbole be alive and well in the royal line.”

King William surged up from his throne. “How dare you-”

“Easily,” Peg interrupted. “Do ye know what happened the moment ye entered the room? Golisight trembled and went dark.”

Peg held up the jewel, and they both stared at it.

“Golisight,” King William gushed. “It's more beautiful than I imagined.”

“Yer a fool t' desire it,” Peg warned.

“Not at all. I have in my employ three of the best alchemists in the world. Between them, they have devised a way to harness its power. I will control the Golisight and set its might against mine enemies.”

Peg sneered, “Alchemists be useless. For centuries, they tried t' turn silver t' gold. Not one o' them has done the thing. These are the people ye would trust with yer kingdom and yer life?”

King William didn't hear her. His eyes were fixed on the pearl.

“Pointless,” Peg decided. She let Golisight drop to its natural hanging point and glared at the King.

“Well. Let us join the others. You will give Golisight to me before the court and make a formal surrender,” King William pronounced.

“Know ye how many men died on the Stalwart Heart?” asked Peg. “I know ye care not, but do ye know?”

“If I don't care, there's no point in me knowing.”

“There be point enough. For every man who died on the Stalwart Heart, a hundred thousand will die today. This be what Golisight whispered t' me, the promise it gave in answer t' me lust for revenge.”

King William didn't believe her, and he wasn't a bit afraid. Instead, he mocked her, asking, “Whatever happened to my sweet, lovely Peg?”

The pirate laughed, louder than before. “Oh, it's quite a tale. Several tales, actually. I'd share some o' them, but ye be busy, what with the wanting t' kill me and unquenchable lust for power and all. By the way, the answer be twenty-three. Every one o' them was a better man than ye.”

“You didn't always think me so terrible. Didn't we have some fun?”

“Fun? I loved ye,” Peg said.

King William shrugged. “No doubt you convinced yourself of that. But, that's your doing and no fault of mine.”

“Were it yer father what ordered me away, or were it ye?” Peg asked.

But, when the King began to answer, Peg shook her head and held up her hand.

“Don't,” she pleaded. “Don't answer. I don't really want t' know.”

Peg walked to the nearest door. “Let's get it over.”

Eight

They stared at Peg like she was an animal, an exotic creature that belonged in a zoo. The women whispered about her dirty face. The men smiled and lusted over the bits of bare skin showing through the tears in her clothes. And, Peg ignored them all.

She gave fleeting attention to the people at the front of the room. Peg noticed three gaunt men in matching black robes and assumed them to be the alchemists. She recognized George Fitzsimmons and nodded a greeting to him. He returned her greeting, cool amusement in his eyes.

King William the Warrior entered the room to great fanfare and lavish cheers. He stood proudly before the throne while the court bowed to him. Even Peg managed a curtsey, low but mocking. She made sure her angle gave King William a good view of both the curve of her ample breasts and Golisight nestled between them.

After the King seated himself, the ritual began. George Fitzsimmons, chief advisor to the King, stepped forward to explain the purpose of the audience. The alchemists arranged themselves in a perfect line facing Peg, ready to accept the stone. King William stiffened his back and stared straight ahead.

And, Peg decided she'd rather die than suffer one more minute of the hellish courtly charade.

The pirate grabbed the necklace and yanked, snapping the chain.

“Ahoy, Billy,” she yelled to the King; “Catch.”

Peg threw Golisight at King William. Startled, he leaped forward. King William caught Golisight in mid-air.

The ground shook violently. Courtiers fell to the ground. The great walls of the throne room cracked.

“Save the King,” shouted Fitzsimmons.

He moved forward to protect the King himself, but was stopped by a giant piece of masonry crashing to the ground before him. The second falling piece crushed Fitzsimmons flat.

People saw the blood and screamed. Their terror excited Golisight. It increased the earthquakes, and one wall after another caved in.

King William cried out in terror as his fawners died around him. He tried to drop Golisight, but it wouldn't let him go.

Something knocked Peg to the floor. She didn't fight it. Peg closed her eyes and lay still. She heard the ceiling and walls crashing all around her, but did nothing.

When the room fell quiet and still, Peg opened her eyes. She saw, for a fleeting moment, the face of Whattumba hover before her.

“Thank ye, Whattumba,” Peg said.

Then, she saw the open sky. Thick clouds rushed in.

Peg sat up and looked all around. Everyone was dead but herself and the trembling King. The latter still held Golisight. Past the King, Peg saw the city, broken and in flames. She scrambled to her feet and ran to the edge of the hilltop.

“Ye finished the job, Billy,” Peg reported. “For years, ye and King Thomas killed them slowly. Now, ye done the job proper. Earthquake and fire, and now the river's rushing in. This storm we're seeing must have already hit the ocean, hit it hard enough the river's run backwards. Ye killed yer capital city with every disaster under the sun.”

“Make it stop,” King William pleaded, trying to shake Golisight out of his hand.

Peg turned back around and stared at him. “It will leave ye when it's done, not a second before. Want t' know where I found it? On an idol placed before the tomb o' the last man Golisight used. It clung t' that damned 'til death. Then, his family placed it on an idol. No one wanted t' claim ownership o' the thing. I think ye and I can both see why. It's yern now, Billy, ye damned fool.”

Peg picked her way through the rubble of the throne room. She heard the King call her name, but didn't look back.

Allies waited in the woods past the palace hill, honorable men Peg could trust, who trusted her. Men and their families. They could be the start of a new city or,

“A new crew,” Peg murmured. “A fresh ship be all I need.”

She did look back, then, and spotted a group of dead courtiers under chunks of rubble near what had been the front hall. Peg picked over the dead until her hands were full of gold and precious jewels. She ripped off part of a woman's skirt, made a quick bag, and dropped the jewels inside.

“Now t' the new crew, the Old Caribbean, and Salty John,” Peg announced to the world.

She hummed cheerfully as she walked towards the woods, and passed the time thinking of names for her new ship. Perhaps, Golisight's Gleam or Billy's Bane? No, alliteration was over used.

When Peg saw the first of the refugee's campfires, the answer came to her. She would christen her new ship the Cheerful Damned.


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