She’s seen this house before. Walked the path a million times. She knows that it’s home.
But it doesn’t feel like home today.
She pauses just before the steps to the front door. The way the stone has worn down over the years, from harsh angles to smooth, rounded softness, used to bring her comfort.
But not today.
Because today the sturdy oak door is hanging awkwardly in the doorway, swinging in the breeze and struggling to remain attached when half its hinges have been ripped from the wall.
Today the rounded stone steps are slippery, coated in bloody footprints that track down the path.
She steels herself, gathering her skirts around her and forcing herself to enter.
And then she screams. She screams and screams and screams as she sees Wynonna’s body, broken and bloody, on the floor.
Waverly Earp woke with a gasp. One hand flew to her face as she pushed herself into a sitting position, struggling hard to catch her breath and keep the tears at bay. She tried to wipe the image from her mind, chanting over and over again that Wynonna was alive. Still alive.
It had been 47 days and the nightmares were only getting worse. Waverly tried to remember the details of what really happened, hoping that reality might chase the image from her mind. Their home had been broken into and ransacked. Drawers ripped open, cabinets emptied, furniture turned over and sliced open. Even their bedroom and personal items had been torn through. But there was no blood on the steps. No broken body in the main room. Just a splash of blood on the washbasin.
She spent hours looking for Wynonna that day, hoping that her sister had simply gone out for a drink or to check the distillery while Waverly was at the market. But Waverly knew, even before her search was complete, that they had taken her.
As the dim light of dawn filtered in through shuttered windows, Waverly recited the facts. Over and over again until her heart rate began to slow and she could finally catch her breath.
She reached behind her, feeling the space beneath her pillow for the paper she had placed there. That stupid scrap of paper that Wynonna had made her promise to keep with her. The one that got her father and oldest sister dragged away. The one that got her home destroyed. She felt the tattered corner of the folded scrap, fingers brushing past the carved, wooden handle of the dagger she kept under her pillow as well — just in case. Assured that both the scrap and the dagger were still where she had left them, Waverly sighed and headed for the washbasin in the corner of the room.
She splashed the lukewarm water on her face, glad for what little relief it provided in the already oppressive summer heat. Leaning hard, Waverly rested her forehead on the wall as she gripped the basin hard enough to turn her knuckles white.
“Today.” She breathed out slowly, eyes closed. “Today is the day.”
It has to be.
The words hung in the air like a shadow that Waverly couldn’t seem to get rid of. But today would be the day. The day she was going to find a ship in this godforsaken town to take her north. To where she knew the bastards who took Wynonna were headed. Waverly thought of the last 47 days and wondered how things fell apart so quickly.
It had taken less than two days for the rest of Port Royal to return to business as usual. Most of Waverly’s friends and employees begged her to hold a funeral and simply move on. To take over Earp Distillery, settle down, marry a nice sailor boy and start a new family…
But Waverly couldn’t. She knew that Wynonna was still alive. She knew that whoever attempted to find that scrap of paper took Wynonna in hopes that she would have the information they needed. And knowing Wynonna, Waverly was sure that her sister would lead them in circles for weeks.
But weeks had passed and Waverly neared the end of her rope. Her funds ran low. She had no home, no business, and no family to return to. She had tried to think of the captains and companies whom she had not yet contacted, wracking her brain for potential new arrivals. Most had turned her away, formally telling her that she could not afford their prices while subtly implying that there may be…other ways of paying her debt. The more subtle captains had received a polite nod of thanks followed by Waverly’s quick exit. The not-so-subtle captains received broken noses.
Waverly took a few more deep breaths, trying to calm her thoughts and the tremors in her arms caused by lack of sleep. She needed to form a plan for the day.
“Okay,” she murmured to herself in the dim morning light. “Simone Trading Company, Magnus Holdings… and Gardner Shipping.”
She tried to avoid Gardner Shipping at all costs, but her options were dwindling quickly, and she would rather go to the Gardners than stoop to pirates.
Waverly stood upright, splashing more water on her face and the back of her neck. It wasn’t a proper bath but it would have to do. Her plan formed, she strode over to the small trunk at the foot of the bed. It was the only thing she had brought with her from the homestead. She knelt to the floor and lifted a small key from the chain around her neck, clicking open the lock and wrenching the fitted lid open.
She surveyed the two pistols, ammunition pouches, and cleaning kits, making sure that none had slipped loose from the straps holding them tight to the lid of the trunk. One, a plain but effective pistol, had been a gift from one of their clients, the owner of a tavern called Shorty’s on the east side of the city, on her 16th birthday. The other, an ornate pistol with the Earp family crest emblazoned on a silver inlay on the handle, had been Wynonna’s. Waverly ran her fingers over it gently and smiled, remembering how Wynonna had referred to it as their peacemaker.
Assured that nothing was out of place, she rifled through the neat stacks of clothing, tossing a white cotton shift and a dark, blue-grey linen dress with deep forest green embroidery onto the bed.
Waverly removed her sweat-soaked night dress and pulled the cotton shift over her head, sighing as the clean, dry cloth settled over her shoulders. She felt cleaner and more determined already. Dressing quickly and quietly, she tightened the strings of her corset and retrieved the scrap of paper from under her pillow. She tucked the scrap into the small pocket she had sewn between two of the wooden corset ribs and, checking that it was secured in place, slipped on her dress.
She ran her fingers through her hair, pulling it to one side in a loose braid and checking her reflection a small mirror from her trunk. Satisfied that she appeared presentable and trying hard to ignore the dark circles under her eyes, Waverly reached for the dagger still under her pillow.
Light glinted off the steel blade as she held it gingerly in her hands, admiring the complicated engravings on the polished walnut handle. It was one of her mother’s few surviving possessions, and the only thing she left to Waverly.
Remember, baby girl, always be armed but never let them know.
She checked the sharpness of the blade and tucked it into a pocket-sheath hidden in the folds of her dress.
With one last look around the room and a silent prayer that she would not be back that night, Waverly Earp stepped out onto the bustling streets of Port Royal.
“Well fine!” Waverly shouted as a very large man with arms bigger than her head forcibly pushed her out onto the street. “I’ll just take my business elsewhere!”
She stood as tall as she possibly could and glared at the man’s retreating form, refusing to flinch when the door to Magnus Holdings slammed shut.
“Sixty gold pieces is practically robbery anyway!” she grumbled to herself.
It had not been an easy morning. Mr. Simone, an older gentleman who had been established in Port Royal since before the British occupation, had outright refused to see her. Too much of a liability, his manservant had said, not worth the trouble. Apparently those broken noses had not stayed as quiet as she had hoped.
At least Lord Magnus’ shipping captain had allowed her in the building. Though he, too, had heard the rumors quickly spreading about her and demanded that Waverly pay triple the price for safe passage to the colonies.
Shoulders slumped in defeat, Waverly tried not to notice how quiet the normally busy street had become. She tried to ignore the people who stared after her, whispering and pointing, as she started up the road to the markets. She told herself that it didn’t matter, they didn’t matter.
Stomach grumbling angrily, Waverly stopped at a small cart, one of many in the sprawling markets that served everything from hardtack and cheese to a full, spit-roasted pig. After exchanging a few pleasantries with the saleswoman, Waverly continued on her way, pulling a golden pastry stuffed with meat and spices from her bag of four.
The cobblestone streets of Port Royal were bustling with life despite the mid-afternoon heat. Waverly walked quickly, avoiding the merchants’ carts trundling past and dodging her way through the crowds of people with the practiced step someone who had roamed these streets all her life. She ducked into a shaded alley, smiling kindly at a young boy poking his head out from under a pile of rags. She tossed him two of her pastries and continued on, following the alley until it opened onto her favorite tree-lined courtyard. An empty, shaded bench on the other side of the courtyard provided an exceptional and necessary respite from the day’s heat.
Waverly sat gingerly, finishing her last pastry and watching the crowds rush by. Sailors idled about, spirits brightened by copious amounts of liquor; children dashed through the streets, leather ball bouncing between them; women ran errands and sold goods. Waverly observed them all, feeling at peace in the chaos for the first time in nearly two months.
As the afternoon sun began to sink lower in the sky, she steeled herself and approached Gardner Shipping. It was an imposing building, with three stories of brick and ornate masonry, beautiful even as it began to sink into disrepair.
Waverly took a deep breath to steady herself and knocked hard on the mahogany doors.
A moment later a burly man in a tattered overcoat a half-size too small appeared in the doorway. He looked Waverly over, disdain clear in his eyes.
“How may I help you, Miss...”
Waverly tried not to shudder under his gaze. Everything about this man, from his greasy unwashed hair and obviously stolen coat to the pistol tucked into his belt, screamed at Waverly to turn away and never come back.
“Earp,” Waverly said with all the courage she could muster. “Waverly Earp. I am here to speak with Mr. Gardner about a business opportunity.” She had learned long ago that the only way to hold a Gardner’s ear was with the prospect of money.
The man paused, seeming to consider the offer. Waverly drew herself up to her full height and stared back at him.
“This is a time-sensitive matter and I do not have all day.”
He sighed exasperatedly but stepped aside and motioned her forward.
“Mr. Gardner is a very busy man, so be sure to keep your proposition concise.” He sneered as he led her further into Gardner Shipping.
The hall was long and dim, the dark wood paneling doing nothing to reflect the light from what few candles hung along the walls. Waverly supposed that it had, much like the building’s exterior, once been quite beautiful. Touches of the company’s former wealth dotted the tables and rooms, gilded portraits hung between the candle holders, crystal glasses sat on on silver trays in a gallery to her left while expensive carpets softened her steps. But many of the candle holders were empty, and everything from ceiling to floor was covered in a thin layer of dust.
They arrived at a set of gilded double doors at the end of the hall. The man opened one of the doors and stuck his head in, whispering harshly.
He stepped backwards, removing his head from the gap, and pushed the door open, stepping inside just before announcing Waverly’s presence.
“Mr. Gardner, a Waverly Earp is here to speak with you.”
Waverly glared furtively at him as she passed; she didn’t trust the burly man. Marching into the office, back straight and head held high, Waverly hoped she appeared more confident than she felt.
“Waverly!” Tucker Gardner stood hurriedly and scurried out from behind the desk. “It is so good to see you.” He grasped her hand in both of his and Waverly fought the urge to slap him.
“Hello, Tucker,” she said stoically. Something about Tucker had always struck her as wrong. It was the reason that she had never ventured to the Gardner Estate with Wynonna when she would visit Tucker’s eldest sister, Mercedes.
Tucker finally released her hand and leaned back against the desk, motioning carelessly to the man behind them. He left quickly and returned holding a tray with two steaming cups and a saucer of tiny molded sugar cubes.
“Coffee?” He gestured to the tray as the man set it down on a side table and backed out of the room, closing the door with a thud as he left. “I had it imported by a friend at the Levant Company.”
Waverly nodded, annoyed by Tucker’s lavish display of wealth. Still, she was eager to try the beverage she had heard so much about, and such highly refined sugar was a luxury she did not often enjoy.
The coffee smelled bitter and strong. She added a tiny square of sugar and stirred the cup’s contents gently.
It was complex and wonderful. Waverly felt like her very bones were more alert. She finished the cup quickly and turned back to Tucker, who was watching her intently, his cup untouched.
“Er, thank you for the coffee, Tucker. It was lovely,” she said awkwardly, still tasting the bitter sweetness on the back of her tongue.
“You are very welcome, Waverly. To what do I owe the honor of your presence?”
Even his voice seemed oily. Waverly fought the urge to run and dropped her right hand to her side, feeling for the outline of the dagger in her skirt.
“I need safe passage to the colonies. I know your ships sail north, and I am more than happy to compensate you for your troubles.”
Tucker stared hard at her for several minutes and Waverly began to worry. He still had not touched his coffee.
After what felt like an eternity, he dropped his gaze and moved closer.
“You’re a good person, Waverly Earp, and I think I can help you,” he said sincerely.
Waverly felt hope bubble up within her and wondered if, for the first time in a month, things might just be going her way. “Really?”
“Of course,” Tucker said seriously. “I know exactly what you need, Waverly.”
He took a step closer and leaned in. When had he gotten so close? Waverly gripped one arm with the other and grabbed hold of the dagger in its hidden sheath, gripping it tightly and praying she wouldn’t need it.
“You’re a good person, Waverly. And you deserve a good husband. Someone who will elevate you. Save you from that vile, rum-selling distillery scum legacy.” Tucker was inches from her face now, eyes earnest and determined.
“I can be that person for you, Waverly.”
A chill like ice ran down her spine as she stepped out of Tucker’s reach.
“Thank you for the offer, Tucker, but I’m not looking for a husband. I need to get to the colonies and find my sister.” Waverly hoped that the tremor of fear she felt had not shown in her speech.
“Forget about her!” Tucker shouted furiously as he towered over her, wild rage on his face. “She’s probably dead already and you’ll be next if you don’t leave it alone—”
There was a flurry of movement and Tucker stopped abruptly, surprised by the dagger pointed at his throat.
“Not one step closer.” Waverly pushed the dagger’s point into his skin for emphasis. “I’m leaving now, Tucker. You would do well not to follow me.”
She backed up slowly, eyes never leaving Tucker’s face as she felt for the door handle behind her. Her shaking hand gripped it tightly as she wrenched the door open and hurried through it, only turning her back to Tucker once the closed door lay between them.
Waverly jammed the dagger back into its sheath and sprinted down the hall, bursting through the doors and into the late afternoon sun.
The tension of the moment eased from her muscles and she laughed in relief, not caring one bit if people stared.
She made her way back toward the tree-lined courtyard and smiled at the sight of her empty bench. Flopping down onto it, she reveled in the feeling of the soft, tree-filtered sunlight on her face. She sat there, breathing in the organized chaos of the city and feeling the last of her fear ebb away.
Now, Waverly thought to herself, I just need to…
Dread rose sourly in her chest as she realized that she was out of options. Gardner Shipping had been her last hope, and it had failed spectacularly. Resting her head in her hands, Waverly tried not to cry.
A rowdy group of sailors startled her from her thoughts as they staggered by, headed for the east side of town. Towards the bars and taverns and brothels where liquor flowed more freely than anywhere else in the colonies. The east end of Port Royal had long ago been claimed by Britain’s army of so-called privateers. But fancy titles and letters of mark didn’t fool Waverly; they were little more than thieving pirates.
The few times Waverly had ventured into East Port Royal, it had been to accompany a delivery to Shorty’s Tavern. Waverly had always liked Shorty. He was a good man in a bad part of town, and from their first meeting, he had treated her with a kindness that she rarely received from her own father.
“Of course!” Waverly smacked her forehead in annoyance and looked toward the eastern docks. Shorty could help her! If she had to turn to pirates, he would know which ones she could trust.
With the daylight quickly fading away, Waverly hurried toward the entrance to the eastern port.
Determination quickening her steps, she had not noticed the burly gentlemen at the fruit stand behind her bench, in tattered overcoats a half size too small, staring at the same plantain for the last half hour.
Waverly made her way gingerly through the streets of East Port Royal. This part of the city was famed for its debauchery, and she could vividly remember her father ranting about how the pirate scourge was ruining their city. She had questioned him, once, about why they sold rum to the pirates if they were such evil creatures.
She still bore the scars from that day.
Picking her way toward Shorty’s Tavern, Waverly stepped around sailors passed out in the gutters and dodged drunken couples, most of them together for just one night. Shorty’s was right in the middle of East Port Royal, close to both the docks and the slums, which made it an ideal place for all. Shorty never turned anyone away, too eager to accept the pirates’ loot. He had told her once that pirates just in from a raid could spend a thousand gold pieces in a single night.
A boy no older than 15 stumbled out of a tavern nearby, dressed in expensive velvet and clearly drunk. As he stumbled past, Waverly began to think Shorty had told her the truth.
She turned right at one of the main courtyards and looped back up another street. There were a few alleys connecting the two, but Waverly did not dare venture down them in the dark.
Up ahead, Shorty’s Tavern shone bright at the end of the road, a beacon for all who came to drink and gamble the night away. It was a steady establishment, with two stories of plaster and brick, and a balcony overlooking the the entrance. The shutters had all been thrown open to combat the heavy summer heat and the doorways hung empty and open, their doors long since destroyed. Shorty had always said there was no need for doors in East Port Royal, they simply provided another barrier between the pirates and their alcohol.
As she drew closer, Waverly ducked into a side alley and took a few deep breaths. She could do this. All she had to do was walk into a tavern full of drunk, rowdy pirates and find Shorty. Piece of cake. She peeked around the corner of the building. A ship must have docked today because Shorty’s was busier than Waverly had ever seen it. Men and women were everywhere, hanging out of the windows, crowding onto the balcony, and oddly enough, one enterprising gentleman was doing a jig on the roof, his half empty bottle of rum glinting in the moonlight.
There was one table that she could see through the first floor doorway; it was, surprisingly, nearly empty. Only a lone sailor, young and dressed in fitted breeches and a colorful vest, sat at the table. He played idly with his mug of ale while he waited for whoever was important enough to warrant an entire table to themselves.
Waverly ducked quickly into the shadows as voices approached from behind. She waited until they passed and then poked her head out to watch the young man once more, her curiosity overriding her apprehension.
The three young men who had passed her were walking purposefully toward Shorty’s, two of them bickering loudly to each other around the man in the middle, who was shorter than the others and wearing the decorated tricorn of a captain. Waverly watched curiously, unable to hear what the men were arguing about over the din of Shorty’s other patrons. The men slowed as they approached the door, smiling at each other good naturedly and letting the third enter first.
The captain turned to the young man at the table, shrugging off their coat and removing their hat in one fluid movement. Waverly froze in shock and awe. The captain was a woman.
She was one of the most beautiful women Waverly had ever seen, and one of the most curiously dressed. She wore a deep grey vest over a startlingly white shirt with full sleeves. Her vest covered the top of her fitted black breeches, which were tucked into knee-high, coffee-colored calfskin boots. Her navy blue coat was slung over the back of her chair, and Waverly could just make out the glinting silver buttons. The captain’s tricorn sat on the table next to her, black with intricate silver trim that Waverly was sure must be beautiful up close. She wore her fiery red hair short, just above her shoulders, and pinned part of it back from her face in a short braid at the back of her head.
The woman slouched back in her chair, one foot resting against the table, an easy confidence about her as the young sailor handed her a full mug of ale. She smiled, wide and easy, before raising it in a toast to her companions, and—
Waverly’s world went black.
Panic and rage tore through her, searing white hot, as she felt the cloth of the bag against her face and a man’s hands on her waist. She reached for the dagger at her side and scratched behind her, trying desperately to get the bag off her face.
“Get off me you insufferable shitstains!” she screeched as she could feel them dragging her further into the darkness of the alley. “Let me go!”
Her fist closed around the dagger’s hilt and she slashed wildly, finding grim satisfaction as the man behind her cried out in pain.
“Put her out already!” came a gruff call near her right ear. She tried to strike out at him, but someone caught her arms and pinned them to her sides.
There was a flash of pain at the back of her head, and everything went dark.
Waverly woke slowly, sitting up and rubbing the back of her head where a splitting headache was starting to form.
The floor pitched down abruptly, throwing Waverly back onto the small cot she had been lying on. One hand still on the back of her head, she pressed her back straight against the wall, using her other arm to brace herself as the floor pitched again. If the damn floor didn’t knock it off soon, Waverly was going to be sick.
She pressed herself harder against the wall and looked around. She was in a small, sparse room. The walls were plain wood, empty but for a single round window on the opposite wall. There was a wash basin attached to a crate in one corner and a chamberpot in the other, and the door to her right had no handle.
“This is so not what I meant when I said I didn’t want to go back to the tavern,” Waverly grumbled to herself as she stood on shaky legs. The floor pitched more violently under her feet, sending her stumbling into the wall.
She braced herself with one hand on the wall and made her way slowly to the window, body crouched to avoid losing her balance. The world tilted, rocking back and forth in a rhythm that Waverly wasn’t sure she would ever get the hang of. Hands gripping the edge of the window, she pulled herself into a standing position.
Water. The only thing she could see out the window was water. The sun glinted off foam-tipped waves as understanding clawed its way through the fog in her aching head.
She was on a ship. Someone had kidnapped her and stuck her in a tiny room on a ship. A ship that, if the view out her window was any indication, was well on its way to the open ocean.
“Double shit. What the holy hell—”
“That’s no way for a lady to talk.” Waverly whipped around, nearly losing her balance as a wave of nausea engulfed her and the ship jolted again beneath her feet. There was a man in the doorway. His cheek was a mess of ugly purple bruises surrounding a deep gash that extended from his ear to the side of his nose, and his coat was a half-size too small.
“You.” Waverly seethed, murder in her eyes and rage in her bones. “You did this to me!”
She tried to rush him, hand going to the empty sheath in her skirt as the ship pitched back. The floor rushed to meet her and the man laughed as she sprawled on the ground.
“Ha! That was almost worth what you did to my face! Come on.” He yanked her roughly to her feet, wrenching one of her arms behind her back before beginning to march her forward through the door.
“Let. Me. Go!” Waverly struggled as best she could but the pain in her arm and head threatened to overwhelm her. The ship rocked again. She was definitely going to be sick.
“You’re lucky the boss paid me well to keep you from harm, young lady.” He continued marching her in front of him towards a set of stairs at the far end of the deck’s main area. He wrenched her arm harder and laughed as Waverly cried out in pain.
“So much for no harm,” she muttered as he pushed her up the stairs.
They stumbled out onto the main deck and Waverly recoiled from the bright sunlight. The man pushed her harder toward a group of men standing at mid-deck.
She squinted hard at them, trying to put the pieces together, but her brain would not cooperate. Looking up, she could just make out a British flag flying atop the main mast.
“Oi! Boss! She’s awake!” the burly man yelled. Waverly flinched from the noise, but he didn’t seem to notice, still maneuvering them steadily forward. One of the men turned and Waverly’s vision narrowed to nothing, red rage obscuring everything around her.
Tucker. Fucking. Gardner.
Tucker motioned to one of the sailors, probably the first mate if his shabbily embroidered vest was any indication. The other two men were dressed in what appeared to be rags.
“TUCKER, YOU SON OF A BITCH!” Waverly roared at him, ignoring the pain in her arm and her head, ignoring the seasickness, ignoring anything that prevented her from wringing Tucker’s scrawny neck until his eyes popped right out of his stupid head.
She tried to reach for her dagger, only to remember it wasn’t there. Instead, she settled for struggling hard against the man who held her.
“Looking for this?”
With a flick of his wrist, Tucker pulled her dagger carefully from a pocket in his coat. Sunlight reflected off the steel and Waverly wished she had run it through his throat when she had the chance.
“Get your hands off it,” she growled through gritted teeth. “That’s mine.”
“Oh!” Tucker raised his hand to his mouth in mock surprise as he let the dagger clatter to the deck. “I’m so sorry, Waverly. I did not realize it agitated you so.”
He kicked at it and the dagger slid across the deck behind him. Waverly watched as one of the ragged deck hands picked it up and skittered off toward the Captain’s quarters.
She fought harder against her captor, crying out and falling to her knees as he wrenched her arm so hard it nearly broke.
Tucker calmly walked closer and crouched down beside her, lifting her chin with one finger and forcing her to look at him.
“You’re wild, Waverly. Out of your mind. I can fix this, fix you. You just need to accept it,” he murmured gently. Waverly’s skin crawled and she fought the urge to vomit.
He looked hard at her, searching her eyes for something.
A few moments later, Tucker stepped back and nodded at the man that held her tight. “Let her up, Tate. She’s calmed down now. Haven’t you, Waverly?”
Waverly stared at him, defiant through her watering eyes. The man, Tate, kneed her hard in the ribs. She cried out and nodded frantically.
“Okay, okay. Fine. I’m calm.” Tate released her arm and Waverly slumped to the deck, arm shaking as feeling slowly returned to her fingers. She stood cautiously, glaring at Tucker but determined to keep herself in one piece.
“Excellent!” Tucker beamed at her. One of the sailors appeared from behind her holding the most beautiful dress Waverly had ever seen. It was pale green silk with white ribbon-trimmed sleeves and ornate embroidery on the bodice and hemline. Small crystals glittered like tiny stars along the collar. It must have been worth a fortune.
“Now, Waverly.” Tucker took the dress and offered it out to her. “You’re sick with grief, and that is understandable. But you need to clear your head if you are to be my wife. I’m taking you home, where you can gather your thoughts in peace. Away from that barbaric colony.”
“You’re taking me back to England?” Waverly said, shocked at his audacity. “Tucker, I’ve never even been to England!”
It was true, Waverly’s grandfather had been one of the earliest English settlers in Port Royal, back when it was still under Spanish rule. Neither she nor her sisters had ever desired to see their homeland, though their father talked often of going back. Waverly could picture the life Tucker had planned for her, stuck on some estate far away from the ocean, unable to read or explore, while catering to his every whim. She despised the idea.
Oh god, he would probably never let her near a library again.
“—and that’s why this will be good for you, Waverly. It’s time you saw what proper culture looked like.”
Aw, crap. She had completely missed whatever Tucker was droning on about. One thing was for certain though, she was not going to England.
“Tucker,” Waverly started as calmly as she could. “I’m not going to England.”
“What are you talking about? Of course you are!” He stared at her in disbelief. “This ship is going to England and there is nothing you can do about it!”
“I’m not going, Tucker! Take me back to Port Royal. Now!” Waverly’s voice rose with her panic. This wasn’t supposed to happen. She was supposed to be heading for the colonies. And now Tucker had kidnapped her and he didn’t even have the decency to be heading in the right direction!
Tucker stormed up to her, face inches from hers, and sneered “You are going to England. You will be my wife. Now,” he said lowly, shoving the dress into her hands. “Take it.”
“I would never,” she growled.
Waverly stepped back, mustered all her strength, and spit in Tucker’s face.
Movement exploded behind her as Tate grabbed her wrists, pulled them behind her back, and forced her to her knees. Tucker, disgusted, fell backward in his attempt to get away from her. Waverly just grinned at him, cold and menacing.
“Ugh, fine!” Tucker wiped at his face with a handkerchief. “You have spirit Waverly. I like that. But you will learn proper manners.”
He looked up at Tate.
“Take her to the brig until she’s willing to cooperate.” He turned and began to walk away.
Waverly’s panic returned, her small victory overshadowed by the prospect of being thrown back into the darkness.
“No! Please!” She struggled harder as Tate dragged her back toward the stairs.
“Tucker!” she screamed. “Tucker, please! Don’t do this! Please!”
He didn’t look back.
Waverly screamed and fought but Tate hardly seemed to notice. Down past the deck with her little room, down past the sailor’s quarters and the gun deck, down into the dark and dank and cold.
Down among the cargo, tucked into a corner, the brig was little more than a metal cage with a plank bench across one side. Tate held the lantern he had grabbed in one hand and kicked the door open with his foot. He tossed Waverly roughly into the cell, slamming the door as she rushed it.
“Please!” Tears were streaming down her face now as she gripped the bars, all pretense dropped. “Please, I’m begging you. Please just leave the lantern!”
Tate locked the door and sneered at her, holding the lantern close. “How about a trade then?”
Waverly nodded hastily, anything to stay out of the dark.
“I’ll give you this lantern if you go back in time and fix my face!”
He laughed harshly, holding the lantern just out of Waverly’s struggling reach.
“Have fun down here!”
His laughter receding with the light, Waverly sank onto the plank bench. She drew her knees up to her chest as the last of the light fell away and cried.
“Come mourn, come mourn, come mourn with me.”
Waverly hummed quietly to herself in the darkness. She lay on the plank and tried hard to remember what light looked like.
“Ye loyal lovers all.”
She rolled onto her side, hunger gnawing at her empty stomach. Opening her eyes wide, hoping for any shred of light, Waverly kept singing. It was all she had left. There was no time, no day or night, no food, no people, just the darkness. The darkness and the creaking of the ship and the scurrying of the rats.
“Lament my loss, in weeds of woe.”
There was a distant crash on the decks above, the ship groaning and shuddering with the force. Faintly, she could hear men shouting. Waverly sang on.
“Whom gripping Death doth thrall… AHHH!”
She curled into a ball, her hands flying to her face as the room was bathed in bright sunlight.
“What the hell! What the hell? What the hell!”
Waverly slowly moved her hands and tried to squint through the tears in her burning eyes. She rubbed them hard; this had to be a hallucination.
But there it was! Streaming through the wall like a gift from god or a… cannonball? She followed the source of the hole in the hull through several shattered crates to the far wall, where there was indeed a cannonball embedded in a large barrel. Scraps of wood lay strewn about, many of them peppered with musketballs.
The shouts and screams of men and women — where did the women come from? Waverly thought — rang sharply through the air now that they weren’t filtered through three decks.
From down the hall Waverly could hear a pair of bickering voices grow louder as they approached. Somehow, it sounded familiar, as if Waverly had heard those same voices a lifetime ago.
She pressed herself into the corner of her cell, hoping the darkness would hide her as two men appeared from the hallway.
“I do believe, Xavier, that the captain put me in charge of this little expedition to the loot.” The shorter of the two men was talking animatedly. Well dressed in brown sailor’s breeches and a white shirt under a tan vest, his most distinguished feature was the impressive mustache that twitched when he spoke.
“Sure she did, Doc, but only to make you feel better about losing your damn hat. Everyone knows I’m a better leader,” the taller one argued. He was dark skinned and stoic, with a bare head and a brightly colored cloth tied around his waist. His sailor’s breeches and shirt were both a deep brown. Neither man had seen her.
The men from the tavern! Waverly knew she had recognized their voices. And if these men were here, and there were cannonballs in the hull…
“Pirates,” she whispered to herself. They must have been boarded by pirates!
Without hesitation, Waverly knew they were her only hope for escape. If they refused her, she might never see daylight again.
Waverly moved out of the shadows, pressing herself against the bars closest to where the men had disappeared, and screamed.
She heard the men’s footsteps stop, then grow louder as they rushed back toward her cell.
They burst through an opening in the rows of cargo, shock on both their faces, and cautiously approached the brig.
“Please help me! Please! I can’t stay here!” Waverly did not wait for introductions, too frantic for rational thought.
The men recoiled in shock at the sight before them, appalled at the treatment of the woman in the brig. Waverly was a mess. Her hair was disheveled, her tear streaked face covered in dirt and grime, her dress hung tattered and loose on her thin frame, shoes long forgotten. And sheer, animalistic panic in her wide eyes.
The shorter man, Doc, some distant part of her brain said, stepped toward the brig.
“Excuse me ma’am,” he said gently, “How did you come to be here?”
“Have to get out. Not supposed to be here. Please,” she said, quiet and desperate.
“Doc,” the taller man, Xavier, her brain screamed at her, said quietly. “Do you think she’s why he left in such a hurry?”
“Aw, hell.” Understanding dawned on Doc’s face and he shared a look with the taller man. “We can’t leave her here, Xavier.”
“Agreed.” Xavier nodded curtly. He moved close to the bars, gently prying Waverly’s hands away and holding them in his own.
“We are going to get you out of here,” he said slowly, as if to a child. “But first, I need you to move back to that far corner.” He pointed to the corner in the dark. Waverly shook her head.
“I am going to shoot the lock off the door,” Doc said quickly, “I need you as far away as possible so that you are not injured when the lock goes flying.”
“I was fine when you shot that cannon through the hull.” Waverly groaned even as she moved toward the far corner.
Once she was wedged on top of the bench, Doc stood facing the cargo and pulled a pistol out of his belt. He took aim quickly, and a moment later the broken lock lay smoldering on the floor. The door swung open and Waverly was out like a shot. She threw her arms around Doc’s waist, tears flowing heavy down her face.
“Thank you!” she sobbed into his vest.
She could feel movement behind her and then Xavier’s hand was on her shoulder, providing gentle reassurance. They stayed like for a moment, until a sound at the end of the hall leading to the stairs drew their attention. Doc spun quickly, pushing Waverly behind him and raising his pistol in one fluid movement.
“Xavier…” he said lowly.
“Listen to me.” Xavier leaned down and held her arms gently. “We need to get out of here. To do that I need you to follow my instructions exactly, okay?”
Waverly looked up into kind eyes and found herself nodding.
“Alright. Here’s what we’re going to do,” he spoke quickly and efficiently. “We are going to head up to the main deck. I will go first and Doc will bring up the rear. No matter what happens, you stay between the two of us. Alright?”
Waverly nodded again and they started off down the hall, Xavier overtaking Doc, who pushed Waverly gently in front of himself.
“Wait!” Waverly remembered suddenly “My mother’s dagger! Tucker had it but one of the sailors took it! I think they gave it to the captain.”
Xavier looked apprehensive, weighing his words carefully. “We will do our best to find it, but first we need to get out of here.”
“Thank you,” Waverly said softly.
They continued down the hall and up the stairs, meeting no one until they reached the crew’s quarters. Tate charged at them from a side door, his face unbruised and the gash healing fast, screaming about dirty pirates. Xavier flattened them against the wall with one hand, the other grabbing at the hilt of Tate’s sword. His muscles tensed as he wrenched the sword from Tate’s hands and ran him through. They kept moving.
They burst onto the main deck and Waverly’s arms flew to her head, shielding her eyes from the sun. It was overwhelming.
In the bright light of the day, all Waverly could see was chaos. The main mast was little more than a stump, three quarters of it shorn off. The rigging and sails were shredded to pieces, and sailors lay strewn over the deck. Some were crushed beneath the fallen mast, a few had lost limbs to shrapnel, but most had been shot or stabbed. She could not bring herself to mourn them, these men who had let her rot in the dark.
A smaller ship, heavily armed with a deck lined by musketmen, was tethered to the railing. The scent of blood and gunpowder saturated the air.
Doc and Xavier stayed back against the wall, waiting for a signal. Waverly squinted around, taking in the carnage and letting her eyes adjust to the light.
A commotion on the far side of the ship drew their attention, and as Waverly followed the noise, time seemed to slow.
The pirate captain from the tavern was here. She stood tall on the forecastle deck, her sword held loosely in one hand as she surveyed the damage and bellowed orders to the musketmen on the other ship. They began stowing their weapons, preparing to board and remove as much cargo as their ship could hold.
One of the few remaining sailors from Tucker’s crew, a tall, lanky, snake of a man, climbed down from the shrouds where he had been hiding and charged the captain. She spun around as his feet hit the deck, and Waverly found herself unable to look away.
The captain moved like water, agile and effortless. She watched in awe as the fiery woman dodged and parried in an intricate dance and, in a moment that seemed to last for eternity, Waverly watched as she found her opening. The lanky man’s feet lifted off the ground with the force of her strike. Bloodsoaked steel shimmered in the sun, and the captain pulled her sword from his chest in one swift motion. She let him fall and made her way down the steps to the main deck.
As she reached the bottom stair a hand lashed out, struggling to hold the captain’s leg. It belonged, Waverly noticed, to the first mate. He lay gasping for breath on the ground, struggling to aim his pistol at her. He tried to hold her in place as a sharp crack rang out across the deck. Faster than Waverly could register and without slowing her pace, the pirate captain had pulled her own pistol and fired. The first mate crumpled to the ground, blood trickling from the shot right between his eyes.
Xavier touched her arm, jolting her from the trance the pirate captain had put her under.
“We need to move. Follow us straight to the ship okay? Just over there.” He pointed to a gangplank laid between the two ships.
The doors to the captain’s quarters burst open behind them as Tucker scrambled onto the deck, pistol held clumsily in his hand.
“Stop!” he roared, spittle flying as he flew toward them, leveling the pistol at the group.
Xavier stepped around Waverly to stand next to Doc. They both had their pistols drawn, bodies firmly planted between her and Tucker.
He stopped dead in his tracks, waving the pistol like a child throwing a tantrum.
“She’s mine! You can’t take her!” he whined.
The sound of a hammer cocking to the left drew Waverly’s attention.
The captain stood a few feet away, pistol leveled at Tucker’s head, posture lazy and calm. It was her eyes that gave her away, blazing with hatred and rage. They forced even Waverly to recoil.
“You take one more step toward that girl or my ship and I will blow your head clean off your shoulders,” she said, her tone low and dangerous.
She shifted toward them, eyes never leaving Tucker and pistol still raised. “Go. Now.”
Xavier pulled gently on Waverly’s arm and she squeaked in surprise, following quickly behind. Doc stopped to whisper something in the captain’s ear and she paused in her retreat, ordering them to do the same.
“Excuse me,” she said with faux politeness. “But I believe you have something that belongs to this young woman?”
“I, uh… I mean, I—” Tucker stuttered.
“Return the dagger, you little shit,” the captain growled.
Tucker huffed in protest, but reached into his coat and produced the dagger, kicking it across the deck.
The captain turned to Waverly.
“Is that it?” she questioned softly.
“Well then.” The captain turned back to Tucker, catching him as he tried to raise his pistol. “That will be all. Thank you ever so much for your time.”
She bent low and scooped the dagger up, stashing it in her belt and retreating toward her ship.
Xavier scooped Waverly into his arms and started down the gangplank, Doc following just behind them.
“It’s easier to balance,” he whispered reassuringly to her.
He set her down on the deck as a shot rang out. The captain, a positively giddy smile on her face, raced down the gangplank.
“You should’ve seen his face!” she wheezed through her laughter, all hint of the deadly fighter Waverly had seen on Tucker’s ship gone. “One shot in the air was all it took to send that little shit skittering below deck like a rat!”
A few moments later, the captain had regained her composure. She stood tall, taller than Waverly had expected, and regarded her curiously, even as she gave orders to the rest of the crew. Waverly could not bring herself break the captain’s gaze.
“—once that’s finished, sink her.”
“Yes, captain!” The young sailor in the colorful vest hurried off to complete whatever tasks the captain had assigned him. Waverly had missed most of their conversation, her elation at finally being free quickly losing out to her exhaustion.
The captain was standing in front of her now, and Waverly was painfully aware of how terrible she looked. And probably smelled. The captain pretended not to notice.
“May I ask what your name is?” she asked kindly.
“Waverly,” Waverly muttered. “Waverly Earp.”
“Oh, like the rum!” The captain answered excitedly.
“Well, sort of.” Waverly could feel her cheeks burning.
The captain gave her a questioning look but did not pry. She extended her hand jovially.
“Well, Waverly Earp, my name is Captain Nicole Haught. Welcome to The Calamity Jane.”