Wynefrede peered down the companionway to the deck below. “They can’t all be dead.”
“Someone must have poisoned the servants’ food,” George called back.
Wolstan pushed past her. “I’ll help you check,” he called down, then turned to face Wynefrede. “Knock on all the doors and wake everyone up,” he said. “I think something bad is going to happen.” He glanced at her nightshirt. “And you’ll probably want to get dressed, too.”
Wolstan disappeared down the companion way.
“I’ll start waking people,” said Rowland, and started banging on doors.
Wynefrede ran back to her cabin, trying not to think of the bodies on the deck below. How did the bad guys know which food was for the servants? Or were they planning to poison everyone? Either way, if the plan was for the pirates to capture the ship, it was a good plan. Wynefrede and the rest of the Singletons probably wouldn’t be much good in a sea battle.
She opened the door to her stateroom. “Margarett, Benedicta wake up!” She had to prod Benedicta several times to wake her, but Margarett sat up immediately. “Get dressed. We might be getting attacked.”
“Might? We might be getting attacked?” Benedicta rolled over and pulled the blanket higher over her head. “Wake me up when you know for sure.”
“Everyone is dead,” said Wynefrede. “Get up.”
Wynefrede grabbed her shoes, stockings, and gown and went into the hallway to put them on. The small cabin was cramped, and there was no room for all three of them to get dressed at the same time. She put her dress on right over her nightshirt. She was probably a missing a couple of layers but without her servants to help, she didn’t think she could manage them, anyway. By the time she was pulling out her stockings, the passageway was full of Singletons in various stages of dress. Like her, many had problems managing without someone to help.
Pleasance Pratt herself and the two other Royal Season staffers who shared her cabin were alive and well, and Pleasance quickly took charge. She sent her assistants to help George and Wolstan look for any crew members who were still alive, then ordered the rest of them back to their cabins. Most of the passengers ignored her. Some gathered in the passenger deck galley instead, while a few went up to the main deck.
“Some of the sailors are still alive,” Rowland told Pleasance. “We saw them up on the quarterdeck. There were a couple up on the poop deck as well.”
“What about the guards?” asked Pleasance.
“Everyone on the decks below is dead.” That was George’s voice coming from the other end of the passageway, though Wynefrede couldn’t see him through the throng of people still in the way.
A few more people, hearing the news, went back into their rooms and latched the doors.
“There are plenty of swords and other weapons if anyone wants to arm themselves,” George added.
“Is this the reason we’ve been getting swordfighting lessons?” someone asked.
“Maybe it’s all part of the program,” another Singleton suggested.
Pleasance frowned but didn’t say anything. Wynefrede came up to her. “The captain might still be alive. She was in her cabin last night, sick. So she might not have eaten whatever it was that killed everyone.”
“I’ll go check,” said Rowland.
“I’ll go with you,” said George, pushing his way past the other passengers. He handed Rowland a sword.
Wynefrede followed them to the upper deck. She preferred not be confined if the pirates arrived. She’d rather throw herself overboard than be taken captive again.
The moon had set, but there were lit lamps hanging on the deck to see by.
George looked out over the water. “There are several more ships out there now,” he said. “I can see their lights. And they’re getting close.”
Wolstan joined him. “The other ship, the one with our guards, I think there are some people alive on it. I saw lights moving around.”
“Are they going to get here in time to help?” asked George.
“I think they’re actually drifting away. Maybe something happened with the sailors?”
“They were probably poisoned, too,” said George, looking around. “I wonder where our sailors went.”
“They’re up at the forecastle,” said Wolstan, pointing to the front of the ship where a light was moving around. “I think they’re signaling to the guardship.”
“Or to the pirates,” said George.
Pleasance Pratt came up the ladder from the deck below, carrying an oil lamp.
“The captains quarters should be this way,” Rowland told her, pointing to a door heading to the back of the ship. “Through the officer’s mess.”
“I know,” said Pleasance. She looked him up and down. “Do you know how to use that?” she asked, glancing at his sword.
“I once spent six months on the Spanish Main,” he said. “You know, the pirate grid?”
Pleasance nodded. “I know it. We’ve done day trips.”
“That was a couple of years ago, but I’ve been getting a lot of practice lately.”
“That’s true,” said George. “He’s the best swordsman in the group. The instructor always has him up to demonstrate moves.”
“Then let’s go see the captain.” Pleasance lifted the lamp, squared her shoulders, turned to the door, then waited to Wolstan to go through first.
“It’s clear,” Wolstan said.
Wynefrede reluctantly followed the three of them into the officer’s mess, where they found more dead bodies. The captain’s cabin was all the way back and to Wynefrede’s left. Which made it the starboard side of the ship. The air smelled foul. Wynefrede tried not to breathe in the stench of vomit, urine, and feces, then put her sleeve over her face. It didn’t help.
Pleasance knocked on the captain’s door. There was no answer, so she knocked again, then opened the latch to look inside. “It’s empty. Where did she go?” She stepped inside and looked around. The captain’s cabin was large by comparison to the passenger rooms and had a large bank of windows.
Wynefrede opened the sashes to get some fresh air and turned around.
“What’s going to happen to us?” she asked Pleasance.
“I don’t know,” she said. “We really need to find the captain.”
“I’ll check the helm,” said Rowland. He left the captain’s cabin and turned left, to the back of the ship. Wynefrede put her sleeve back over her face and followed.
Rowland opened the door to the helm. It was dark inside and Pleasance lifted the lamp behind him. He stepped inside the turned around. “Can you pass me…” he began, then gurgled and collapsed. Pleasance screamed and rushed forward, then backed away when the captain appeared in the doorway, holding a large knife.
Wynefrede started backing away as George fumbled to pull his own sword out.
“I wouldn’t do that, if I were you,” said the captain. Her voice sounded different than when she’d spoken to them earlier, Wynefrede thought. Maybe she was feeling better.
“We’re not the pirates,” said Pleasance. “We’re passengers.” She lifted up the lamp so the captain could see them.
“You think I don’t know that?” the captain asked.
Wynefrede started backing away.
“Oh, don’t go just yet,” said the captain.
Wynefrede turned around and saw three sailors blocking the way out, each one with a sword in hand.