Wynefrede Aumberden rose from her bunk trying not to wake up either of her friends. She couldn’t sleep and still felt queasy. Her cotton nightgown wouldn’t be much protection against the chill of the night, so she pulled the wool blanket from her bed and wrapped it around herself before she unlatched the cabin door, eased it open, and stepped out into the hallway.
The ship was quiet except for the sound of the ocean and the creaking of the boards.
She walked barefoot down the corridor, then went up the ladder to the main deck. She saw lights at either end of the ship and sailors moving around. The guards were sitting down on the deck. She padded up the ladder to the quarterdeck and leaned against the taffrail. It was chilly. She pulled the blanket tighter around herself and looked out over the ocean.
A trail of light led across the water to the horizon where the moon hung low in the sky. She wondered how it all worked. Did the moon go under Krim and come back out on the other side? Did it just disappear when it got too low, the way that ships and people did? If seawater poured off the sides, why did the ocean still have any water in it? Was there a wall around most of Krim to keep the water in, like a cup?
She looked up at the sky. Were the stars really there? Or were they just painted on?
She tried to look for familiar constellations. If they were headed north, then the Big Dipper should be somewhere up ahead. She couldn’t quite make it out. There were the masts and a few clouds in the way, and she’d left her glasses downstairs. And was that an island just off to the left? Or just a fog bank? One of the other ships accompanying them was on that side as well, staying just ahead of the Santa Marina.
It was peaceful. The sound of the waves hitting the ship was calming now that she’d gotten used to it.
The nice thing about being out in the middle of the ocean is that nobody was going to suddenly jump out and grab her. She breathed in the salty air and relaxed.
A particularly large wave passed under them and the deck swayed under her feet. She heard a thumb from a stack of crates to her right. These were the same crates that had been covered in cloth and turned into serving tables the day before. She took a couple of steps and looked behind them. A guard who had been sitting behind the crate had fallen over. She tapped his shoulder to wake him up, but he didn’t move. She shook him a little harder. Wasn’t he supposed to be awake and guarding the ship?
The guard didn’t move and she noticed a trail of vomit down his chin. She knew that some of the guards had been drinking with the sailors the night before but she didn’t think that they would let themselves get this drunk. She straightened up and moved away.
The other guards could deal with him later.
Back down on the main deck, she met Wolstan Babyngton and a couple of other men. Wolstan was still in his white tights and red doublet, though it looked dark red, almost black, in the moonlight.
“We’re looking for a spot to play cards,” he said. “Do you want to join us? You can be the fourth.”
“It was getting a little stuffy in our cabinet,” said one of the men. He sounded familiar.
“You know George, right?” Wolstan asked.
“We’ve met,” said George, and stretched out his hand for Wynefrede to shake.
“Benedicta was hoping you’d be here on this trip,” said Wynefrede.
“Yes, she told me,” said George. “When we were all together at dinner last night.”
Wynefrede forced a laugh. “I must have had a little too much grog.”
“And I’m Rowland Snell,” said the third man.
She snapped her fingers. “You danced with Margarett,” she said.
“Yes, a couple of weeks ago,” said Rowland. “Then we’ve gone on a few dates.”
“I must have missed that while I was… you know…”
“So sorry about that,” said Wolstan. “When I first heard that you and Raphe had been kidnapped, I thought of leaving Krim. A lot of us did.”
The other two men nodded.
“But then we decided to form search parties, instead,” said Wolstan. “It’s amazing how many dark corners and creepy basements Krim has.”
“Thank you,” said Wynefrede.
“Oh, don’t thank us,” said George. “After all, we didn’t find you, did we?”
“I’m sure it helped,” said Wynefrede.
They found a spot back up on the quarter deck, where a crate and stools made of barrels were already arranged as if people had been sitting on them.
“Is that an island up ahead?” asked Wolstan.
Wynefrede stood up to take a better look than sat down again. “Maybe,” she said. “Or a fog bank.”
“It’s definitely an island,” said George. “Maybe there’s buried pirate treasure on it.”
“Why are you laughing?” asked George. “They had pirates in the middle ages. You know, Spanish galleons and gold doubloons and Blackbeard and all that.”
“Why would someone want to be a pirate on Krim?” asked Rowland. “There’s no Incan gold. No slave trade. No war with Spain because there’s no Spain. If I wanted to be a pirate, there are much better worlds to do it on. Have you been to the Spanish Main?”
The rest of them shook their heads.
“It’s awesome. Authentic pirate ships. Real sea battles. You’ve got to go check it out.”
“I think I’ve had my fill of ancient history,” said Wynefrede. “Now who’s dealing?”
Wolstan pulled out a pack of cards.
“I’m surprised not to see more guards,” George said as he examined his hand. “They were all over ship earlier.”
“I saw one passed out drunk over there,” said Wynefrede.
“Well, we can’t have that, can we?” said George, and put down his cards. He stood up and walked to where Wynefrede had pointed and looked behind the crates. “There’s nobody here.”
“I guess he finally woke up,” said Wynefrede.
“Then he should be around somewhere,” George called back to them as he walked further away. “I don’t see any guards at all.”
The two sailors up on the poop deck heard him and looked down on him from the top of the ladder. “You should be down in your cabins,” one of them called out.
“We wanted to get some fresh air,” said George.
“It’s not safe up here,” said the sailor. “You could fall overboard and nobody would ever know.”
“Shouldn’t there be more guards up here?” asked George.
“They’re probably sleeping off their hangovers belowdecks,” said the sailor. “But it doesn’t matter. What are they guarding us from out here in the middle of nowhere?”
“How about that?” George pointed off the left.
Wynefrede stood up to look, joined by the other two men.
“That’s one of the guard ships,” said the sailor.
“No, it looks different,” said George.
“That’s not one ship, that’s two,” said Rowland.
“There are supposed to be two guard ships,” said the sailor.
“No, the other guard ship was on the other side,” said Wolstan and walked to the right side of the ship to check. “It’s still there.”
“One of them was supposed to stay port side, and the other to starboard,” said Rowland. “There’s a third ship out there.”
“And a fourth,” said George. “It’s coming out from behind that island? Can you see?”
Wynefrede peered in the direction he pointed, but couldn’t make anything out. “It’s too far for me to see.”
“Maybe it’s other ships coming back from a tour,” said George. “But I’m going to go find some guards, just in case.”
Wostan picked up George’s cards and reached out his hand to Rowland and Wynefrede.
“I had a good hand,” said Rowland, but handed them over.
“Where did the other guard go?” Wynefrede yelled up at the sailor. “He was passed out just over there. Did you see him?”
The sailor shook his head. “You should go back to your cabins.”
“Let’s go,” said George. “We can find the guards and let them know about the other ships.”
“It’s probably nothing,” Wolstan said. “But you’re right. They should know, just in case.”
But when they went down to the lower deck that had the servants and guards on it, all they found was dead bodies.
“They’ve all been poisoned,” George said.