George Bedgbery was forced to give up his sword. Pleasance Pratt, her lamp and her handbag with its collection of writing supplies. “She could stab someone with a pen,” said the sailor who searched them. And Wynefrede? She had to give up her shoes. Did they think she was going to whack someone over the head with a flat heel? Maybe. She had been thinking about it.
She was also thinking about trying to climb through one of the portholes. They were still in the officer’s mess, and the portholes were small and closed tight. Also, she’d have to get past the dead bodies to get to them. She didn’t know what she’d be stepping into. Those moments of indecision cost her.
“It’s all clear, they can go in.” A sailor walked out of the cabin two over from that of the captain, carrying an armload of weapons and potential weapons.
“You can put all that in the captain’s cabin,” said the captain. “I mean, my cabin.”
“This is such a violation of our agreement,” said Pleasance. “Didn’t we pay you enough to guarantee your loyalty?”
“You didn’t pay me anything,” said the captain and the sailors stepped closer, swords drawn.
George backed into the quartermaster’s cabin.
Pleasance refused to step back, even with a sword inches from her neck. “How can you say that? We spent days in negotiations.”
The captain lifted the lamp higher, so that it shone straight onto her face.
“You’re not Captain Clare Lestrange.” Pleasance frowned. “You look just like her.”
“I do, don’t I?” said the fake captain. She took off her hat and swept it in front of her as she bowed deeply. “Gervis Gefroi, at your service.”
Pleasance looked at the sailors. “Your men must have known you were a fake.”
Gervis laughed. “I’m paying them a lot more than the real Captain Lestrange ever did.” She turned to one of the sailors next to her. “Harman, can you make sure that they’re locked up well?”
Wynefrede squinted at him. He looked vaguely familiar. Was he their tour guide from the day before?
“You’re the first mate,” she said. “You betrayed your real captain.”
“And I’m the captain now.” Webb glanced at Gervis. “No offense.”
Gervis shrugged. “That was the deal,” he said.
“We’ll call you the Admiral from now on,” said Webb. “After all, if I’m getting a promotion, you can, too.”
Gervis pulled back her shoulders. “Admiral. Admiral Gervis Gefroi. I like the sound of that.”
“You won’t get away with it,” said Pleasance. “We’ll tell everyone what you did.”
“Please do.” Gervis stepped back and Webb forced the two women into the quartermaster’s cabinet, where George was furiously trying to pry open the porthole.
“Don’t bother trying,” said Webb. “Crabby’s been trying to get that open for the past two weeks.”
“Who’s Crabby?” asked Pleasance.
“The jerk of a quartermaster who shorted my pay every week,” said Webb. “Accident, my ass.” He looked back at the bodies in the officers mess behind him. “Let’s get this mess cleared away,” he said. “Mess, get it?” The other sailor groaned and shut the cabin door.
Wynefrede immediately tried opening the door, but it was wedged shut, then went to the far end of the cabinet to help George try to open the porthole.
“I think it’s rusted shut, but maybe we can pry it open with something.” George looked around. “Maybe there’s something sharp here that they missed.”
He and Pleasance started searching the cabin, but Wynefrede just sat down on the quartermaster’s cot, defeated.
“I should have thrown myself into the water the minute I knew that something strange was going on,” she said.
George peered through the porthole. “I see lights getting close,” he said. “Maybe its the ship with the guards coming to save us.”
“They can’t have poisoned everyone,” said Pleasance. “I mean, some people must not have been that hungry, or noticed a funny taste, or saw that other people were getting sick.”
“They didn’t poison everyone.” George sat down on the small table anchored to the cabin wall right below the porthole. “When I was down on the crew deck, I found some who’d been in their cabins, their throats slit.” He swallowed. “It looked like they were caught by surprise, while they were sleeping.”
“And they got all the guards?” asked Pleasance. “Or did some of them turn on us, too?”
“All the guards down below looked they like had died of poisoning,” said George. “I don’t know the ones who were on duty above decks.”
“I found one,” said Pleasance. “I thought he was passed out drunk.” She shuddered. “I didn’t think that he was dead. Then his body was gone, and I thought that he had woken up and left.”
“That must have been when they got rid of his body,” said George. “I bet they walked around offering the guards something to drink. I mean, how would they have known that it was poisoned?”
“They wouldn’t have,” said Pleasance. “We ran background checks on everyone. All the sailors seemed like respectable people.” She sat down next to Wynefrede on the cot. “I guess that’s the lesson for us. Don’t take the Royal Season to a role playing grid where betraying people is just a normal part of the game.” She patted Wynefrede’s hand. “I’m so sorry that this has happened to you twice.” She sighed. “Nobody was supposed to get hurt. The point of coming to Krim was that there was the threat of danger, to add excitement to the whole experience, but with enough precautions taken so that nobody was at any real risk.”
George looked out the porthole again. “I’m sure they’ll be here any minute,” he said. “I mean, how many bad guys are there, anyway? Just four or five, right? We’ll get rescued. I mean, they can’t have poisoned everyone on all three ships.” He paused. “Right?”
There was a loud bang from the outside and Wynefrede had a sudden memory of a pleasant afternoon a few days prior, where they’d all sat on a hill, ate picnic lunches, and watched a small army get massacred in a field below.
“That was a cannon,” she said.
“There’s another ship approaching on this side,” said George. He looked back at them. “The island is over on the other side, so maybe this second ship is here to help us.” Then he flinched as another boom came from outside the ship. He looked back through the porthole. “I think the ship with our guards on it is damaged,” he said. “We’re doomed.”
“We’re not doomed,” said Pleasance. “We have a group of highly trained swordsmen and swordswomen among our Singletons. If there are only a handful of traitors on board, we can take them.”
“Now I wish I’d stuck with the sword lessons,” said George. “Instead of switching to embroidery. How is embroidery going to help us now?”
“Maybe you could…” Wynefrede paused to think. “I don’t know.” She looked around the cabin. There was the cot, with bed clothes on it. And a box, pushed half-way below the cot. She bent down and pulled it out. It contained clothes and a spare set of shoes.”
“I could hit them over the head with a boot,” said George.
“Or you could strangle people with these clothes,” said Wynefrede. She pulled out a white under shirt and twisted it. “You could strangle me.”
“I don’t want to be taken prisoner again,” said Wynefrede.
“Wait, I think I hear something.” Pleasance stood up.
“What?” asked George.
Pleasance raised her hand to quiet him and pressed her ear to the cabin door. “I hear fighting outside,” she said.
Now that Wynefrede was listening for it, she, too, heard the clang of swords. “Oh, thank God,” she said.
She hadn’t really wanted to die of strangulation.
“They’re coming closer,” said Pleasance.
The fighting sounds were louder now. Wynefreded stood up.
George jumped off the desk and faced the door.
Then it went quiet outside.
“We’re in here,” Pleasance yelled and banged at the door.
Then someone outside the door pried it open and a familiar face was visible over Pleasance’s shoulder.
“Benedicta!” Wynefrede said and stepped forward just as Pleasance was pushed back. Benedicta fell into the cabin, followed by Margarett.
Wynefrede dropped back down on the cot and Pleasance landed in her lap.
“We came to rescue you,” said Benedicta, as the door slammed shut behind them.