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Candied Fruit

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There was a tale spreading from port to port, from Hanse town to Hanse town, from the North to the Baltic Sea. It told of the ship of fearsome pirates that would appear as if the sea had spit them up, trebuchet already loaded and leveled on the sails of the merchant vessel. Once they had the vessel disabled and adrift, they would jump on board, taking the cargo and not leaving any valuables behind, no matter how well hidden.

So far, so true, Logan thought as he listened to two sailors trying to outdo each other in their tales about their encounter with the pirates. He snorted into his beer when one of them mentioned the Captain was a woman, beautiful as a siren, hair long and straight and the color of dark gold when not stained with blood. No man would be able to touch her in a fight, the other hurriedly chimed in, intent on winning the boasting contest. “Not in a fight,” the first relented, “however-” he added “-when she came aboard on our ship and the fighting had ended, she picked whichever sailor she liked the looks of and had their way with them in the captain’s quarter while her crew looted.”

At that, Logan could not help the barking laughter erupting from his chest. The sailors threw him dirty looks but then wisely decided that they weren’t drunk enough yet to attack a man as burly as Logan. With a smirk, Logan waved down a waitress and send her over to the two braggarts with fresh beer. By the time they’d emptied half their mugs, they were back at telling their tall tales about invisible pirates and their siren captain. He noticed the crowd around him part without any of the people paying any attention as to why they were leaving room all of a sudden, but didn’t look at the man they were parting for until he’d sat down at Logan’s table.

“Chuck,” he greeted with a nod. “Got everything you wanted?”

Charles’ eyes gleamed when he looked at Logan. “Better,” he whispered, sliding a box across the table to Logan. “I found presents.”

Logan sniffed, noticing the overwhelmingly sweet smell even before he opened the box to find candied fruit of all colors and types inside. He snorted. “Emma will love these.”

A mug of white dog appeared in front of Charles without him ever having to order. Logan watched the waitress walking away, pocketing thin air instead of coin. Charles smiled beatifically. “Why would a pirate pay for his drink?”

“Because I don’t want them to go out of business,” Logan shot back. “They’re always a help when he dock here to buy and sell the more obscure goods you fill my hold with.”

Charles snorted. “You’re the most honest pirate I ever met.”

“And yet you like me,” Logan smirked, his knee nudging Charles’ under the table. “Can’t be doing much wrong when you and the Cap’n still like me.” He slid the box back to Charles who pocketed it quickly. “Those sweets explain why you didn’t just leave it to your quartermaster to find whatever you and the Cap’n need.” He rolled his eyes. “Speaking of which I could do with buying less French letters.”

“In that case, sugar, you’re welcome to lick me where the sun doesn’t shine.” With those words Emma dropped into the chair between them, pressing a kiss to Charles cheek. As always, no one but her two men even noticed the pirate captain.

“Is that an invitation?” Logan challenged.

“Hm, more like an order. No Frenchies, no dick in me,” Emma said, stealing Logan’s beer. “Or do you want to herd children in addition to sailors?”

Logan scrunched up his face. Charles laughed at him.

 


 

They had been back at sea for days when Charles and Emma noticed the war ships at the horizon. The telepaths were both better at spotting ships than any lookout could ever be, yet this time, Logan noticed they were getting nervous. They exchanged a look, much too long to not be a conversation in their minds, before they climbed up to where Logan was standing on the stern of their cog.

“We’re changing course,” Emma hissed at Charles and Logan. Her voice held no room for discussion.

Logan looked between Charles and her. “Aye, Cap’n, but…” he said slowly. “What’s this about? This doesn’t sound like the usual heaps of booty.”

“It’s not,” Charles said hurriedly. He had a far better grasp of hw thin Emma’s patience tended to be when she sensed danger. “There’s warships coming for us. Directly for us, you understand? And they have people… armed men… whose minds we cannot reach. There’s no hiding.”

“But there damn well is the traditional sort of hiding,” Emma snapped. “If we can shake them off quick enough, they’ll never find us.”

Charles nodded but he didn’t look entirely convinced, which worried Logan greatly.

“Just plot the new course, Chuck,” Logan rumbled. “As soon as I have it, I’ll make sure we get there.”

Charles nodded, hurrying off to his charts. He was likely keeping half an ear on their conversation, but neither Logan nor Emma minded.

“You’re worried,” Logan observed.

“They’re hunting us, specifically,” Emma sighed. “There’s no other explanation. Maybe they know I’m a telepath, maybe they know about Charles. Might be both, even. But we’ll give them the fight of their life if they get too close.”

Awkwardly, Logan clasped her forearm, holding her in a tight, steady grip. “Nobody’s dragging me back to those gallows you saved me from,” he swore. “Nobody’s dragging you back to that bastard of a father while I still draw breath. And Charles won’t be taken back to his life, his engagement in England, either. If they still want him and not decided to hang him, too.”

Emma looked at him, at the steel in his gaze. She smiled. “I’ll hold you to that.”

 


 

They got away for almost a week. They’d have gotten away longer, had the weather been better, had their pursuers not had flying lookouts, had their pursuers slower ships, had… Logan shook his head. It was no help. The wind was blowing in their faces, their ship wouldn’t, couldn’t beat up. They needed to turn but turning would mean going back, right into the waiting net of their enemies.

“What now?” he asked his Captain.

Emma was glaring at the three ships following them.

“Em?” Logan repeated.

“Call the crew together,” Emma ordered, still not taking her eyes off the ships. By now, they could make out the flags hoisted on the pursuing hulks if they strained their eyes. It was a clear day.

Too bad, really, Logan thought as he shouted at the crew, all more or less fine scoundrel in his opinion and a damn good crew to have at his back. It might be a beautiful day to die, but he’d much prefer a storm saving their asses right about now. Even a destroyed cog, being shipwrecked, would be preferable to losing an unwinnable fight against mortal, human, enemies.

He took his post next to Emma at the top of the cog’s castle, half a step back, just like Charles on her other side. Emma still hadn’t moved and now the crew was staring at her, worry and something like grim anticipation on their faces. Logan felt like they all were holding their breaths.

“I will not lie to you,” Emma said, just loud enough to be heard by the crew. “Every single one of you can see the ships, knows that they’ve been following us for days. Hunting us! I am sick and tired of being hunted! We’re done running. Let’s show them what we’re made of!” At this, she first glanced at her left to Charles and then to Logan. Logan returned her smirk, unsheathing his claws. Emma smiled back, full off determination. When she turned to the crew again, her body turned to diamond, sparkling in the sun like the sea. “We’ll show them! We’ll show them there’s no sword that can break diamond! There’s no hulk that can outrun us! There’s no navy, no king, no fatherland that could take the White Queen or her crew and live!” She raised her falchion.

There was a moment’s pause, a collective intake of breaths, then, a roar broke out from the crew, each and every man raising their weapon in support of their captain. Emma let out the breath she’d held.

“Well, then, get ready for the fight,” Emma ordered. “Logan, I want this ship on course in the opposite direction as fast as you can manage. Man the trebuchet and everyone find a crossbow. I want you ready the second we’re within range.” She jerked her head at Logan, then to the crew. “Until then, they’re all yours, quartermaster.”

Logan cleared his throat. He was nowhere near as good with his words as Emma and he knew it. So, instead of torturing  them all with any of his clumsy words, he started to shout his orders, taking a third of the crew to turn the ship and sending off the rest to ready their weapons and whatever armor they had and wanted. He would make sure they’d be ready, come hell and high water. Emma would have them when she needed them.

 


 

Emma was dancing. There was no other way Charles could call it. He was standing at the castle, watching the rudder and being Emma’s eyes in the fight. She was shouting orders in the minds of their crew, amplified by whatever Charles could give her. Logan was hot on her heels at all times, stabbing and slashing every opponent who thought that coming up behind the White Queen was a good idea. Charles himself only had occasionally to dodge a bolt or smash his hatchet on an enemy. Out of the fray, just like Emma, and secretly, Logan, too, had ordered.

The onslaught was relentless. They’d managed to catch one ship alone, off far enough from the other two that they’d had time for a fight. They hadn’t expected just how many armed mercenaries they’d face. All well equipped on top of that, all well fed and probably very well compensated. Somebody really wanted Emma dead.

By now, the other two ships had caught up. Charles was just translating Emma’s vague intentions into proper orders for the men that were still armed with crossbows and able to aim them off their cog. There weren’t very many of them left. Most were engaged in the melee, fighting for their lives and liberty.

Some of their enemies were the same as them, and wasn’t that a horrible thing to realize. Some had abilities that were more helpful than Logan’s blade of bone or Emma’s diamond skin. There was at least one spitting acid like a demon, another that came and went in puffs of smoke. Three that could fly and would just snatch people up and throw them overboard.

A crossbow bolt hit one of their flying opponents just as he’d snatched another of their crew, right in the wing. The flier screamed, horrified, before both he and the crewman crashed back on the deck, being swallowed by the fight in seconds. The crewman appeared moments later, engaging two enemies at once. The flier didn’t catch Charles’ eye again.

The fighting was slowing down, as was the influx of new men from the enemy ships. A couple of times, it looked like they would lose the battle. But then, one of the ships veered round, slow with her ragged sails but clearly determined to get away. The sight of it lent the White Queen’s crew new strength, helping them push forward against their adversaries. The second ship didn’t get away. With a horrible noise, her mast broke, hit by the projectile from their trebuchet. Another hit smashed into the deck, then another into the castle in the front. The sailors aboard abandoned ship at that, leaving her to sink into the frigid waters alone.

With one ship left, Emma left the command of the crew defending their ship to Charles. She took only a handful of men, Logan included, to board the last remaining ship. They had no problems there, only meeting sailors Emma could send to sleep without much of a thought. She made her way to the Captain’s cabin, intent of finding the Commander who’d dared to challenge her.

One punch with her fist let the door splinter, a kick from her boot sent the sad remains flying inside. The cabin was empty, almost. Emma had thought about turning around again if not for the giant bundle of fear behind the desk. She stepped around, ordering two of her men to drag the shivering bundle out. She wrinkled her nose in disdain.

“And who do you think you are to come after me?” she asked the man, raking her eyes over the finery he was dressed in. He might fetch a good ransom.

A sudden wave of alarm from Charles made her pause.

What is it? she asked, sending worry with her words.

I know him, Charles answered. Memories flickered in their shared minds, of rich dinner tables and Charles’ parental home. He’s ...was my fiancée.

Without a warning, Emma kicked the noble between the legs. He groaned but the crewmen kept him upright.

“Em?” Logan asked. “What’s up?”

“That bastard’s the Duke of Essex,” Emma spat. “How dare you, coming after us like you were a real man! You pathetic…” Logan caught her hand before she could slap the man.

“How is Charles, then? Still manipulating all around him? Does he keep your bed nice and warm every night?” the noble wheezed. “He was always good at that, looking pretty and doing nothing all day.”

This time, Emma had to hold Logan back with a hand on his chest. Charles? What do you want us to do? Cold fury was burning inside her and she pushed it out of her way. It wasn’t her call.

Charles was quiet for a long moment. Don’t- A mental sigh. He’s not worth killing. But we could make one demanding ransom. If nobody pays we can still slit his throat and be done with him.

 


 

They cast anchor three days later, at the coast of an island that had been long deserted until Emma had found it in her second year as a freebooter. It had since become their base of operations and refuge during the long and gastly winter months. Now, they’d lick their wounds back home for a couple of days, maybe weeks. Charles had insisted the crew would need time to grief their losses. They all did. Almost a quarter of their crew, their friends, hadn’t survived the battle. Everyone had lost friends. They needed to heal.

Logan had added they needed to repair as well. They’d dealt better than they’d taken, a lot better, but that didn’t mean their ship didn’t need repairs. Most of the voyage back he’d spent below deck whenever he wasn’t needed to shout at sailors, searching the planks and keel for damages. Charles and Emma let him be, just brushing up against his mind occasionally to show they still cared.

Emma kept busy during the voyage, taking command to lift the burden of it from Logan. Now back on land, she had nothing to busy herself anymore. The ransom demand had been sent, she had given what encouragement she’d felt needed to her men. Logan was taking care of their equipment. Charles was taking care of their men. Emma… sometimes felt like there was nothing for her to care about than their future. Future plans, at least, not future generations. A cold comfort, but still.

Charles found her one evening atop a dune, almost hidden in the tall grass growing there. She was staring out at sea, lost in her thoughts. The red sunset reflected off her hair, bringing out the lighter strands like copper inlays on gold. She didn’t even notice his approach, not until he sat down next to her and put his head on her shoulder.

“Thank you,” he said after a while. Her thoughts were already back on sea then.

It took her a moment to return to the present. “What for, sugar?” she asked.

Charles opened and closed his fists a couple of times. “For getting angry on my behalf,” he finally said.

“He didn’t deserve better,” Emma said, expression grim and voice hard, yet both softened when she turned to Charles. “And you do. So much better.”

“I know,” he sighed. “I got you and Logan.” He cleared his throat. “And I got you something, too, the last time we were ashore. There just wasn’t a time to give it to you yet.” He took the box out of his doublet.

“Charles, you didn’t have to.” Emma was frowning as she took the box and opened it but telepathically, she sent the warm glow of affection and appreciation. She put a piece of candied fruit in her mouth. The glow spread onto her features then, her frame grew more relaxed. She sighed in pleasure.

“Good?” Charles smiled.

“Very.” Emma smirked back. “Try?” She took the next and held it between her teeth.

Charles leaned in without further prompting. She had to know he’d hoped for that, not exactly stealing the sweet from her mouth, but kissing her until the taste had faded from her tongue. Emma pushed him back as they broke apart, down into the soft sand. She straddled his hips before she returned to kissing him again, her hands on his shoulder, his around her waist, holding her close.

 


 

By the time they returned to their home, it was dark, only stars and the sinking moon lighting their way. And yet their home was still lit. Smoke was rolling from the chimney. Logan was waiting for them with smoked fish, cheese and bread on the table.

“Should’ve told me you’d be at the beach for a while, we could’ve eaten there,” Logan huffed, but it was a good natured huff. He ruffled sand from Charles’ hair.

Emma hugged Logan from behind. She pressed her nose to his neck. He put his hands on hers over his stomach. “We had dessert before dinner,” she admitted.

“‘s alright,” he assured her. “We can have dinner now.”

“And then bed?”

“And then bed.”