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'Cause a Pirate is Free

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When the morning bell rang, Sarah Snedecker quickly checked to ensure that the other girls were, in fact, in their beds. She knew Polly had snuck out every night for a week without getting in trouble, and it was only a matter of time before she tried it again. Anastasia didn't particularly care, being rather more focused on her crush on Archibald Pringle, but at least the other girl had noticed the transgression. Likely, she even knew what happened to Sarah's bed.

Sarah didn't particularly care for either of her roommates; Anastasia was far too focused on the romantic side of things, an odd blend of her sheltered upbringing and the sensational novels she was far too fond of. Sarah's parents had felt no need to shelter their daughter from the world, only to leave her with no concept of what would await her once she entered it, and would answer her questions honestly – while maintaining, of course, that such things were not to be discussed in polite company (or at all, by a proper young lady).

Polly, of course, was far too deft at avoiding trouble than was proper. She always seemed perfect – paying attention in class, working laundry duty without complaint, and always going on about how graceful and proper her mother had been. Sarah would wager the girl had snuck out that week, underestimating the danger, and had only kept mum on the matter to keep Anastasia's silly dreams from being crushed. The girl had probably gone looking for the Emperor, or tried to find a pirate. Given that word was getting around about a new pirate in the area, Captain Peg – ghastly thought, that – Polly might just have seen something interesting. She would finally have tarnished that perfect reputation, had her father not come to the rescue.

She was certain he had – well, not lied, as such – but certainly made Mrs. Lovejoy believe that he had been with his daughter the entire time. And this, Sarah was certain, was not the case. All parents, regardless of title, were required to check in prior to every visit. And as proper as Polly claimed to be, it seemed unlikely that she wouldn't insist on her father going through the proper procedure before a visit.

And in the weeks since Archibald Pringle returned to Vervenvania, and the Emperor had made that proclamation declaring Captain Peg the official pirate of St. Helvitia, Polly seemed to have an endless list of perfectly valid reasons to leave the school, be it for a few hours or days at a stretch. Sarah suspected that, despite her claims of propriety, Polly Anne Pringle had a romantic streak in her as deep as Anastasia's, and was doing her best to sneak a look at a real pirate.

Sarah had learned to keep a closer eye on Polly, as Polly had learned to be more careful in avoiding detection. She stopped by her closet longer than the others, seemingly just taking longer to decide on an outfit. Once Polly and Anastasia had left to make their toilette, she rushed to the window and examined it. A fresh finger-smear of grease on the sill -- someone had been through it recently, and with hands that were less than pristine. She frowned, recalling that Polly was even now washing up. There certainly wouldn't be any evidence remaining by the time Sarah was able to check her hands. She'd just have to wait for another opportunity.

Later, having made herself presentable for the day, she tried to put the matter out of her head and focus on Mrs. Lovejoy's lesson. It certainly wouldn't help her credibility if the one sneaking out paid more attention in class than she was, when trying to seem observant.

The lesson was as dull as expected in the school; they had history lessons, certainly, but always focusing on the politics -- the official politics, not the sort discussed behind closed doors, as her father was involved in -- and rarely touched on matters that might interest the likes of Anastasia. Even now, the girl was reading a novel she'd hidden behind her history text. Sarah decided to keep quiet on the matter. Telling on a classmate who was sneaking out was one thing, but pointing out a minor indiscretion would merely make her a snitch. Her grades would have her out, in the end.

A sudden splash came from outside, and the school shuddered. Every girl in the class rushed to the windows, and Sarah was glad she'd been assigned to the far row as she peered through the glass. Mrs. Lovejoy attempted to call them to order, but reassessed her priorities as she saw what was happening outside. An anchor had been dropped next to the school, and the ship attached to it -- Sarah couldn't quite believe her eyes -- the bottom of its hull was bobbing by the window of the third-story classroom. A banner bearing the emblem of the Pirate Queen waved from the rudder -- a flag that hadn't flown for over thirteen years, now, even Sarah knew.

With a bang, the classroom door slammed closed, and a glance confirmed that Polly had run off. Again. Mrs. Lovejoy seemed momentarily annoyed, then her face returned to concern over the flying ship that had stationed itself next to the school. "Miss Pringle will deal with the consequences of her actions on her return. Odd as this may be, it is no excuse for her to abandon her studies. And Polly isn't the only one who needs to remember her priorities."

Clapping her hands twice and giving a Look to her students, the girls reluctantly moved away from the window and back to their desks. Just as Mrs. Lovejoy was resuming her lecture, though, a blur of movement caught Sarah's eye. There, climbing hand over hand up the hull of the ship with a pack over her shoulder and the most unladylike clothing on, was Polly Pringle.

Sarah did her best to maintain her composure. Everyone else seemed to be focused on the lecture, and soon enough Polly had climbed out of sight. She was conflicted, now. To do something so daring, so unheard of, so sheerly improper, was enough to get her expelled. Was that, really, what Sarah wanted? She thought for some time, and remembered her father's words on his last visit. Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer. To keep quiet now, save Polly from expulsion, she might have a powerful hold over the girl. Assured help anytime she was stuck on laundry detail.

The smug feeling faded as it sank in that this also meant Polly had far more going on in her life than one school could hold. Polly Anne Pringle was an interesting girl, and no matter how much she studied, no matter how proper and perfect a lady she became, Sarah would never have as interesting a life as Polly had in this moment. Such a thing, no amount of propriety could equal. Whatever motivated Polly to do such a thing, it held more weight than the possible threat of expulsion.

A rumble, and another splash could be heard outside. The anchor was being raised. "Whoever was silly enough to drop anchor next to a school, they're heading on their way," Mrs. Lovejoy said. "Nothing for us to concern ourselves over."

Sarah wished this were true.