Amanita lay awake in bed, staring with chestnut eyes at the ceiling above her cot. The edge of sleep was a terrifying place, where her mind was free to wander unrestrained. It was where the past, present, and future blended into one, and she could almost reach out to her past in comfort or strike in bitter frustration. To not be in control; she would not have it. With a cat's grace her bare feet alighted on the wood of the cabin floor, perfectly smooth from wear. Her tanned, wiry form stood before the empty frame of what had once been a full length mirror; one of the spoils from a raid on a coastal Kentor noble her crew had placed in her quarters. It had been a very fine mirror until she put her fist through it.
Jixden rain was strong enough to wash away a child her age, but the worst had passed leaving the city of thieves as clean as it ever was. The slow, soft dripping of water from eaves, the sound of feet in puddles, the heady smell, the still as others remained inside. She would look into the puddles for her twin, poking and prodding her to see her waver. She had left her coat somewhere. It was something so easily discarded but so intensely remembered. Jixden strays did not have coats, she had a mother or father (or maybe even both) who cared for her. Once upon a time.
Once upon a time? Drawing her hands across her eyes she refocused. She was more tired than she had thought, but still not tired enough. She whipped the piece of thin black leather off the mirror frame and bound her mass of intense auburn hair. Life was not a tale to be told to lull children to sleep. Roughly she began drawing tight black leathers over her bare skin, crossed with faint scars. The familiar embrace was comforting, with the gentle tinkling of dozens of buckles and straps. Pull, latch, fasten...
Pull, pull, pull, latch, fasten. Up went the sails, like billowing celestials in the night sky. She was so small compared to them. A sharp sound reminded her she could not stare for long or First Mate Teach would take the belt to her. She continued to scrub at the decks in the dark, until Smythe the Wretch came up from below to take watch in the nest. She waited for him to begin his slow climb and then scampered about putting away the bucket and sand. She scrambled up the rigging quick as a monkey and reached the nest just moments after Smythe, quickly settling down in her prescribed spot. Turning around he pretended to start, his one eye and sagged lip giving a most comical face to delight the girl.
"Why, bugaboo you move like a ghost! What'll be your pleasure tonight little miss?"
"I asked Teach today how I got on the Siren's Laugh, he said I had always been here. I know that can't be true, there are no ladies on the ship!" Smythe chuckled.
"Ahh, so you want the story of how little Ami came aboard the Siren's Laugh." Smythe poked her nose with his left hand, then used it to haul himself into a comfortable sitting position balanced on the edge of the nest. "There was a time several years ago when the Siren's Laugh would tour around the Sezod isles, the most beautiful place in all of Etzem. The waters are so clear and turquoise, striking against the white cliffs, the isles so lush and verdant-"
"What does verdant mean?"
"Green. The islands are ruled by the beautiful queen of Celtimark, who sits in her sapphire palace looking over the ocean. This magical place is where we were when we found you, bugaboo. We had heard a thud at the side of the ship, and when we investigated we found a mermaid holding you. We hauled her up, and she gave you to Captain Smuilang, pointing at your little feet." Smythe pulled out his pipe, holding it in his teeth as he tamped and lit it with his only hand. The creak of rigging caused Amanita to tense, and Teach's dour face appeared over the edge, disembodied. The head remained there, scowling at them for a few moments before he drew himself into the nest. Sheepishly Amanita slunk to the rigging and began to work her way back down. She could hear Teach scolding Smythe above her.
"What is this shit you're filling her head with?"
"You can't beat the brains out of her, Teach, and it's better than telling her you plucked her from the streets of Jixden as an orphan boy for slave labor."
The last fasten slowly clicked in satisfaction. Standing up, she looked over her collection of instruments to choose one for the night. Smythe would know, there are a few things you cannot beat out of a person. Her fingers rested on a metal chain interlaced with black leather. It was heavier than her typical whip, but she needed to exhaust herself quickly before the dreams reached the present. A flick of her wrist and whistle of leather opened the door to her quarters. A strong stride led her out onto the deck. She wanted her footsteps to be heard. Smythe was also wrong, if there was one thing she had learned on the Phyrric Revenge it was how to break a man.
She could hear the whip crack overhead. One lash, two, three... Chained to the bed in the captain's quarters curled in a ball she tried to put the images of last two days from her mind. Smythe pressing his pipe in her hand and telling her to hide, Teach leading them to the blossoming woman only to have a blade thrust through him, watching the Siren's Laugh light the water with flames. As hungrily as the crew looked at her she knew she would not be touched by them. They had scars that ran much deeper than her own and a vacancy to their eyes, skittishly they deferred in all ways to the captain; she was his property. Twenty seven, twenty eight, twenty nine... enough to break a young man. She could tell it wasn't simply the beatings, it was everything about the captain. He walked, he talked, he moved and even breathed in a way Teach never did. She laughed for the last time. She knew what he was compensating for.
Only a handful of her crew were on deck. As her eyes alighted on them they quickly moved to attention before her. She loved the look in their eyes; so timid but hopeful, like beaten dogs. Her footfall soft she moved around and between them, looking for what would satisfy her. One of her favorites was here, and she blew on the back of his neck in passing to watch him start. Smiling to herself she moved past one of the few female crew. She frowned and clucked her tongue. "Don't slouch, love." Gently she placed her hand upon the small of her back and pulled her close. No, what she wanted was not here either. She left the girl breathless and trembling on the deck as she descended to the crew's quarters with a grin. There was a new crewman asleep in his bunk, and it was him she was looking for.
Amanita was curious to hear the clank of manacles enter the cabin, and so pulled herself up on her ties to the bed. He was a new face, a fair skinned man with a few minor cuts from his induction into the crew. Probably the new cook, since she had eaten nothing but tack and rum the past two weeks delivered by the captain himself. Seeing her bare, curving torso and meeting her eyes he fumbled the bowl, catching it deftly before it spilled. His fingers were hidden in brown leather gloves, but she could tell they were long and thin. He set the bowl and spoon down on the bed, then began to look at everything in the room but her.
"You're either going to have to untie me or hand feed me." He ran a hand through his ash-blacked hair.
"I'm trying to figure out which one will get me fewer lashes."
"Untying me. I'm wearing jewelry similar to yours so I can at least feed myself." He looked puzzled for a moment, mouthing the word jewelry.
"Oh, these!" He held up the manacles independent of his feet, grinning as he turned to her in bravado and quickly turning back again in modesty. He replaced the manacles began to release the bonds on her hands.
The cabin was black with night, but she knew her ship well enough to move to his bunk without even a sound. She stood there musing for a moment on how she wanted to go about this. New crew were always troublesome, having not yet fallen into the experience. Let him scream. She grabbed him by the waistband of his trousers and hauled him from the bunk with a strength her form would not indicate. He yelped in surprise as she dragged him down into the hold. The others barely stirred.
Erris Lyeorhon, courtier to the King of Kentor, spy for the mob bosses of Jixden, and cook of the Phyrric Revenge. His impish grin seemed to keep him mostly out of the way of the whip; it was so easy to fall in love with. He softly kissed her fingers.
"The Captain is steering us to the ship graveyards in Sezod, there has been a storm recently and I think he hopes to get some sunken trade ships from Okada. My hope is to have convinced him to let you topside by then. We could find a mostly whole ship and I will take you away." He made a grandiose motion and she gave him a light smack.
"I still don't understand how you're going to do that."
"Simple, just incite some discontent in the crew with the fact you're laying here looking beautiful," he paused to kiss her hand in the manner of a lady, "and the rest of us are short staffed, overworked, and unpaid after the last failed raid. Captain puts you to work topside and the rest is simple."
She played coy; "I'm not sure I should elope with such a scandalous thief as yourself."
"My dear, if I was any sort of thief I would have stolen your heart the moment I first set eyes on you." Standing up from the bedside he moved towards the door. She could hear him under his breath. "And if I was any sort of man I would have gotten you out of here by now."
"Erris?" He turned, hand on the door. "Captain and most of the crew is ashore tonight. Stay with me?"
The chain bruised and the leather burned skin. Lash after lash she would not relent until the memories were gone. Erris' long fingers, the thrill of a kiss, the smell of him. The new crewman was taking the lash better than most, already dulling the pain and riding the thrill of subjugation. She could feel flecks of blood beginning to fly, joining many others on the walls, floor, ceiling, and herself. She had saved this man's life, like all of her crew. Some were to be hanged, some burned, some imprisoned, all for their desires. She wished they could have saved her.
She awoke to the sound of sobbing. The stars were coming into focus overhead, and her body felt odd without the rocking of a ship. Trying not to disturb the shambled bandages around her middle she looked around. Large shards of blue glass were embedded in white sand, and the debris of ships littered the ground. She finally saw Erris, on his knees, naked in the sand with blood dripping from every violated orifice. She had never seen him so weak. After a while he composed his face and crawled to her.
"You're awake, love? We're in the graveyard. We need to find a boat before dark, can you walk?" The pair leaned heavily on each other as they walked the beach. "We're going to go to Okada. I'll set up a bakery with you, and we'll have dozens of children with your beautiful red hair running around."
"Erris, I've only ever lived on a ship. And... our child... I won't be able to-" She placed a hand on her lacerated stomach from which the life was cut.
"Shut up." His voice cracked.
The crewman quietly moaned as she rubbed salve on his back, chest, and thighs. Finished and exhausted she stumbled back onto the deck. The air worked to clear the smell of sweat and blood from her mind. A rat ran across the deck, but no ordinary rat. He had the face of a man. Starting, Amanita called out in her mind. "Rynysh, where did you get those rats? What is wrong with them?" A deep baritone responded without sound. "They are the first sign of the Bringer of Black Dawn. Prophecy is not of your concern, wyrmling. Find me my body, that is all that is asked of you."
A magnificent ship, lodged in the sand. It was immaculate from the bow to the stern, and crowned with a figurehead of a raging red dragon. The Red Dawn. She had only heard about dragons from Smythe, like Elves and Dwarves they vanished so long ago few knew how they looked. Everything about the ship felt old, but looked fresh-hewn. Erris was uneasy, but came up from the hold a while later with some ancient liquor. Standing at the helm she called out "Look Erris, I'm a captain now."
"Are you?" Erris' lips moved, but the voice was deep and disconcerting.
"Yes..." With a lurch the ship moved onto the water and a loud voice resounded in her head.
"I am Rynysh the imprisoned. You are my captain until your death or my freedom, and I am your master." Seeing her crumple Erris rushed to her side to hold her.
Not even removing her leathers or releasing her chain she flopped onto her cot. She dreamed of her red haired children, stolen from other mothers. She dreamed of Erris, cold from her absence and scarred from her relations with the crew. She dreamed of countryside aflame.