Seraphine paused at the mouth of the gambling den on the pirate island of Tortuga. With her hands rested on two pistols in her belt, she sized up the room. No one she recognized. Perfect. Her first mate stood in front of her, one of two people who knew of her truth, knew her from before. He’d helped her escape the plantation in Haiti. Now, with her auburn hair cropped close to her head and her breasts bound tightly to her broad, six-foot frame, no one would mistake “Captain Cyrus” for the deceased slave woman named Seraphine.The loud room reeked of ale, piss, sweat, shit, and violence. It smelled of pirates. Seraphine needed a few more of them to fill out her crew. Everywhere, men crowded around tables laughing, drinking, threatening the maids, and threatening each other. “What do you think, Captain?” Ray stroked his beard. “Anyone look interesting?”No one did, but maybe she couldn’t be too choosy. They’d been lucky until now but being gone sooner than later would be prudent.Before Seraphine could answer, a gruff voice said, “In or out. You’re blocking the door, asshole.”Ray was already reaching for his dagger. Seraphine gave the slightest shake of her head, grunted at the rude man, and stepped aside. The pirate had shoulder-length brown hair and a scraggly beard. He badly needed a good scrub. None of that mattered. What caught Seraphine’s attention was the petite young woman whose arm was clutched so tightly in his hand, red marks bloomed outlining his fingers. Old bruises splattered her face and neck. The girl’s expression blazed, and her eyes flicked to Ray’s knife with something like hope sparking behind the wall of hate in them.“Apologies, monsieur.” Seraphine slowly moved aside but tracked the pirate as he hauled the girl behind him over to a table where a card game was starting. With her milky skin and limp curls, she tried to wriggle out of his grip. He grabbed her neck and sneered, pulling her in to whisper something to her. She scowled and looked about to cry before sitting stiffly on his lap.“Ray, find us a few more men. I think I do see something interesting after all.”Ray nodded and circulated among the tables, weaving through bodies, seeking out those he sensed would fit in.Seraphine watched. The man played cards and drank and in between grabbed the girls face forcing a kiss into her mouth or plunged a hand into the top of her corset. All the while, she sat, wooden and staring ahead. Eventually, she turned to him and spoke. He pushed her away, and she headed toward the privies out back. Through the shithouse wall, Seraphine listened for sobs or sniffles, but the girl silently did her business. When she came out, Seraphine blocked her way.“If you lay a finger on me, my husband will shoot your balls off.”“Not likely.” Seraphine laughed. “Husband? Ah, then I suppose these…” Seraphine lightly touched the visible bruised places. “…are of no consequence to you. My apologies. You looked like someone who might want to improve their lot.” She made to leave.“And you’re any better?” The girl huffed.“What’s your name, girl?” Seraphine didn’t turn back. “I wouldn’t attempt to stand in the way of true love.”“Love? My love died at sea three years ago. I made my way to land and found work keeping books at the dock of a small trading village. We were raided by pirates, and I was kidnapped and forced to marry that beast. I love him like I’d love syphilis.” The girl paused to spit. “I’m Charlotte de Berry. Are you next going to promise to save me?”Seraphine turned back to Charlotte and studied her lifted chin and angry glower. “Save you? I’m out to save myself. But I can offer you the opportunity to save yourself.”A glimmer of curiosity.“My ship, Domingue’s Scourge, is moored at the east end of the island. We sail at dawn.”“A slaver? No. Pleasure ship? I won’t be anyone’s whore.”“Neither.” Seraphine flashed a mischievous smile.“What then? And why me?” Charlotte crossed her arms and stepped back, bumping the shithouse wall.“You have a combination of rage and courage that would be an asset in my endeavors. I mean to create quite a ruckus on these seas and get rich in the process. If you can free yourself, there will be a job waiting as well as regular meals, liquor, and a share of any plunder. No one will touch you unless you choose so. What happens after that is your affair.”Charlotte’s appeared to be calculating. “And how do you propose I free myself from that brute?”From the back of her belt, Seraphine withdrew a dagger, flipped it in the air, caught it by the blade, and presented it to Charlotte with a flourish. “That is also your affair. Good luck. Remember—sunrise.” She started toward the building expecting that Ray should be done by now.“What’s your name?” Charlotte called.“Captain Cyrus!” It was nearing three o’clock when Seraphine, Ray, and three new recruits boarded Domingue’s Scourge, weaving slightly in their steps. A thick woman with coal skin watched from the railing, a pistol in one hand and a wooden spoon in the other. Seraphine went to her, swept her into a hearty kiss and gave her bottom a squeeze. This was mainly for the benefit of the new shipmates. Her affection for Ruth ran deep. The cook kept Seraphine’s secrets and kept the captain fed in more ways than one. “Time to leave, Captain?”“We’ll wait a bit longer.” She explained about what she’d seen on shore.A couple of hours later, a slight figure trotted down the dock checking the names of the ships. Charlotte came aboard, the light blue of her bodice now a blotch of purple. Blood stained both her hands. She still gripped the knife.“Welcome aboard, Charlotte.” Seraphine gave the order to raise the anchor, and Domingue’s Scourge glided into a new day.
*For more stories like this check out my new anthology, Anti-Villains, in the Dragonlight shop!