When Frankie opened his eyes, everything was complete darkness. He tried to move, but his wrists were bound firmly behind his back. His mouth was dry, and he vaguely wondered how long he had been unconscious. As his eyes adjusted to the dark, he saw that he was in a cell.
Slowly, his memories returned to him. The last thing that Frankie remembered was exploring the cove when he heard strange echoes. Then he was being pinned down, gagged, and knocked unconscious.
It was his own damn fault. Frankie had been warned never to stray too far from the palace. He and Ari, his twin sister, always had to be escorted by no less than two guards whenever they wanted to go down to the shore. How many times had he been warned never to wander alone?
Frankie tried to vomit, but his stomach was empty. He ended up gasping for air as the uncertainty of his fate hung like a knife above his neck. For a heart wrenching moment, he wondered if he would be executed. Then Frankie remembered that a Prince was worth more gold alive than dead. What could be gained from his death?
But pirates were not logical creatures. They were brutal beasts controlled by nothing but raw impulses like lust and greed. Frankie thought of the horror stories about raping and pillaging and murder that his nanny had told him, and he dry heaved once more.
He tried to find something to gauge where he was or who had captured him. All Frankie had discovered after ten minutes of crawling around his cell was that the space was void of any blood stains. Then he remembered how some pirates liked to watch their prisoners drown instead. It was cleaner to send him down to davy jones's locker.
Frankie slumped against the wall as he awaited his fate and cried. As tears fell, he sang an old song to calm himself:
"Take me, take me down to the shore
Where you'll find a new golden oar.
Row me, row me down to the sea
where you'll find our love can be free-"
Frankie stopped singing as the door burst open, and two men filed in. They were young, although covered with dirt and scars, and he could tell from their stature and ragged clothing that these were pirates. He wanted to curl up into a protective ball, but Frankie rose up onto his knees instead and stared his jailors straight in the eyes.
"Ay, the captain's right. Got ourselves an odd song bird. He's got chin whiskers like a man but lips that look softer than a women's. Wonder what he's got down below-"
"Shush! Caleb, you heard the Captain's orders. If we touch a pretty hair then he'll cut off our balls and feed them to the alligators. Here, songbird, eat up," they dropped a bucket full of questionable contents in front of him, "who knows when you'll eat again?"
They turned to leave and Frankie found his voice: "Excuse me! I am the crowned prince of the county of Grande Fratelli. My people are descended from the ancient line of-"
"Oh, we know who ye are well enough. Grande scum," one spit into the bucket.
"Then you must know of the vast wealth that my family possesses. Queen Joan would offer to pay your weight in gold in order to have me safely returned. My sister would sing you praise if you-"
"Ain't interested in none o' that."
They slammed the door and left Frankie alone again in the dark. He kicked the bucket, and the slop spilled onto the floor. The pirates had turned down his offer for immeasurable gold without even a blink. If not ransom...then what did they want from him?
As the hours wore on, his pride started to slip away. Frankie was used to dining on lavish meals, and his stomach twisted in pain. He tried to lick the slop from the floor, but it had seeped into the floorboards. The men hadn't been thoughtful enough to leave him a means to relieve his bladder either. Frankie shuddered as he felt the urge make his knees shake, and he stained his clothes. He felt disgusting, but he wouldn't allow himself to cry because that was what they wanted.
He passed out on the floor. When he woke up, he was dizzy from dehydration and disoriented. The door creaked opened, and he saw black boots and silk stockings approach where he was laying. There was a hand in his hair, stroking it, and Frankie shuddered at the affection.
"How is my little princeling? My sailors tell me that you have done nothing but sleep and sing all day and night."
"As- as opposed to doing what? I've been bound and humiliated for a purpose that I can not determine" Frankie's voice cracked as he tried to lift his head up, "I can offer you nothing but the promise of gold or perhaps salvation."
"Salvation? What the fuck does that mean?" the man lifted Frankie by the roots of his hair.
"Do you not yearn to be sent to heaven? If-if I can not tempt you and your men with riches then what more could you want?" Frankie was shaking as the man held him firmly by his hair like a dog. His face was burning in humiliation at being treated so lowly.
Frankie looked into those dark eyes, hoping to find compassion, but he saw nothing but his own pale face reflected back in the captain's irises. Frankie was certain that this was the captain despite his youth and scarless skin because there was an air to him that the other men had not possessed. Authority. Arrogance.
"Such naivety, princeling. Heaven? Did you ever hear about any great pirates going to heaven? No, there'll be none of this 'salvation' for Captain Rance. Give me hell- it'll mean I achieved something with my wretched life."
"Then what more could I offer you?"
"Oh, I know what you'll give me. Whether or not you'll offer it to me is another thing," Captain Rance's voice was low, and he used his free hand to run against Frankie's bottom lip. Frankie's eyes widened as he recalled stories of defiled maidens, and he wondered if this man would wanted to use him in the same way.
Frankie spit onto Captain Rance's face and narrowed his eyes in defiance.
Rance only wiped the spit from his cheek and laughed.
"Hmm, feisty. You have hot blood just like a pirate...I like that. I'm glad we got you and not that docile sister of yours. But it wouldn't be hard to break you, princeling. I've broken men stronger and older and smarter than you. I've watched them reduced to nothing but miserable piles of pathetic, pleading flesh....will that be necessary?"
"What do-do you want from me?"
"You'll find out your purpose soon enough. Shhh, don't tremble. We need you alive. But...but we also need you obedient. Will you obey me?"
"My only rulers are my Queen and god. I do not obey any others. Especially not low-blooded pirates."
"Great bunch of rulers you've picked! None of them have managed to save you yet," Rance snarled and pushed him back to the ground, "Perhaps a week more in the cell will change your mind? Might bring your majesty down a couple pegs and back down to us common folk."
Frankie froze at the thought of another week here. His whole body was sore from having his hands twisted behind his back, and he craved food and water. Captain Rance was walking away, and Frankie couldn't believe that he had already been reduced to begging with his captors.
"W-wait! Please, do you have no honor?" Captain Rance paused at his words, "My Nonna used to tell me that if you beat a pirate at hand to hand combat that they would let you go. I challenge you to a duel."
"A challenge? You think it's wise to challenge a pirate?"
"I've been dueling since I was a child. I could beat you. Easily."
Captain Rance smirked, "You really think you could take me in a fight?"
"I know that I could take you in a fight. If you play fair," Frankie was confident.
He could see the glimmer of interest in the Captain's eyes, and Frankie knew that he had hooked him. For a moment, Frankie felt his heart swell with hope. It was just like the stories where the noble prince would defeat the dastardly pirate and prove his worth.
"So if you win then we will return you to your family. But if I win...?" Captain Rance pulled a small pocket knife out of his pocket and toyed with it. Frankie, whose wrists ached, grew eager at the sight.
"What is it you want?"
"You know what I want."
"You- you will have my, uh, my obedience if you win. If you win," Frankie choked out the words in disgust as his cheeks burned with humiliation.
He hated lying. How could he ever owe allegiance to anything as baseless and vile as a pirate? Pirate were the scum of the earth. A prince was more likely to give his loyalty to the dirt than a pirate.
Captain Rance reached down and undid the bounds around his hands, and Frankie flexed his fingers in relief. He scampered to his feet only to stumble and find himself pressed far too close to the Captain for his liking.
Frankie pushed him away and leaned against the wall for a moment to try and steady himself : "How is it fair that I have to fight in this condition? If you were a gentleman than you would offer me a couple days of rest."
"I'm a pirate not a fucking gentleman. Consider yourself lucky I even gave you a deal instead of just starving you into obedience. Come, your majesty, I don't have all day to wait on you.
Frankie found his footing and tried to hide the beating of his heart as he walked up to the main deck behind Rance. His palms were sweaty as he observed the dirty, rugged men that surrounded them. Frankie was surprised to observe that the Captain was by far the youngest man here, and, instead of making Frankie confident, he felt as though he was walking into a trap. What had made these men swear their allegiance to a young man as cocky and arrogant as this?
"Cody, give Grande your sword. We're going to fight like 'gentlemen'," the crowd roared with raucous laughter as Frankie was thrown a weapon, "And we'll see who should kneel before the other. Like my sword, princeling?
"Who did you steal it from?," Frankie snarled as he observed how the golden handle was engraved with rubies and diamonds. The blade gleamed in the sun, and Frankie's expert eye could detect that this was a finely crafted weapon. Frankie bit his lip as he weighed all his disadvantages- poor health, weak weapon, and nerves- and he could see from Rance's easy stance that he already considered this fight over.
"Whenever you feel ready, princeling" Rance teased.
Frankie attacked his exposed left side, and Rance was barely able to stop his blows. Rance's eyes widened in disbelief as Frankie easily advanced on him. Frankie swiped his legs and sent the man sprawling to the floor as the crowd 'oh'ed in excitement.
Frankie pressed the tip of his sword to Rance's exposed throat, "I am the crowned prince. Not a 'prince-ling.' You shall refer to me by my proper title."
"Very well, crown-prince. We fight the best two out of three. I-I did not expect you to be so..."
"Strong? I warned you."
"And I won't fucking underestimate you again," Rance grumbled as he stood back to his feet and held up his sword.
He did not go easy on Frankie. Frankie, who didn't have the advantage of surprise, found himself falling onto the defensive. He took a step back as Rance cut a mark in his arm. This time it was the Captain who had a sword pressed to his throat. Rance smiled with childish glee as Frankie raised his hands in surrender.
"Last round," Frankie announced even as he felt blood dripping down his arm, "ready?"
"At your command, my mighty prince," Rance said with mock sweetness as he aimed a vicious blow at his chest that Frankie easily blocked.
They were dancing around each other, eyes locked, and Frankie had never felt so alive. The kiss of his sword against Rance's felt less like war and more like an intricate dance. The world behind them was distant to the intimate tango they were locked in. Every stroke felt satisfying, and Frankie never had to be afraid that Rance wasn't keeping up. They were equals.
Frankie could have gone forever, but exhaustion overtook the initial burst of adrenaline. He fell to the ground as Rance's sword knocked him off balance.
The crowds cheered their Captain's name as sharp metal pressed to Frankie's throat. He raised his hands in surrender, sword clanging to the ground, as he tried to catch his breathe.
"Pao. Victoria. I don't need the prince bleeding to death on my deck- take him to my bed chambers."