For Krim the Bell Tolls: Chapter 20

Read all previous installments here.

Earlier that same day, while Torralei was fighting her way through the Lamacoln jungle, Wynefrede Aumberden waited in Fishlips’ cabin for whatever horrible thing would happen to her next. Sitting on the floor with a chain around her ankle was uncomfortable but probably better than how her friends were faring.

At first, she spent her time planning suicide attempts but then decided to try to stick it out if she could.

The first time she’d been kidnapped, it could have been random. She was on a date with Raphe Faryndon, one of the other Royal Season Singletons, and it could have been a crime of opportunity. But this time, it was clear that she was being personally targeted. If she could stick it out for just a little longer, maybe she could find out who was behind it. Usually, if she were playing a game in a virtual world, she wouldn’t bother. Did it matter if some random player had it in for her? But she hadn’t been on Krim long enough to make any in-game enemies, and she was becoming increasingly concerned that the kidnapping had something to do with her real life.

Shorty brought her cheese, bread, and water for lunch.

“That’s it? I’ll get scurvy,” she said.

He handed her the mug of water and then pulled up a shelf attached to the wall under the porthole with hinges. It clicked into place, and he set the bread and cheese on it. There was no plate.

“Scurvy takes months,” he said. “I doubt one meal will do it.” He glanced down at her, then yanked at the chain holding her to the bed’s frame. It held tight. “Let me know when your teeth start falling out.”

After he left, Wynefrede got up from the floor and sat on the bed to eat. Both the cheese and the bread were old and dry. Still, it was better than nothing. She ate slowly to kill time, then stared out of the porthole for the next few hours. The chain was just long enough for her to reach the window but not long enough to let her climb out.

A couple of hours later, someone came to the door again, and Wynefrede quickly sat back down in her corner while it was being unlatched.

A pirate she didn’t recognize stuck her head in and looked around for Wynefrede, then walked in and closed the door behind her.

“So, you’re my transitory lodger,” the pirate said in a low, raspy voice. “I’m known as Alma Stafford. I’m the first mate on this glorious oaken vessel, sailing the briny seas under the gentle caresses of the sun and moon.”

“Nice to meet you,” said Wynefrede. “They told me I was rooming with Fishlips.”

“Who called me Fishlips?” asked Alma. “Was it Shorty? That notable coward. He is an infinite and endless liar and owns not one good quality.”

“Okay,” said Wynefrede and tried to edge further away from the pirate, but she only wound up pressing her back further into the wall.

Alma glanced down at her storage chest.

“Have you been looking through mine most precious livings?” she asked.

“Umm, no?” Wynefrede lied. “It’s locked.”

“That’s unfortunate,” said Alma. “I woulds’t have asked, what did doth thee bethink of mine poetry?”

Wynefrede shook her head. “I don’t know anything about poetry,” she said. “I really don’t.”

“Then your virgin ears should savor a recitation,” said Alma. “Prepare thyself for an auditory garden of splendiferous delights.”

“No, really, that’s okay,” said Wynefrede.

“Whether or not a grumpy feather swells, coalescing into an ineffable infinity of serendipity,” said Alma. “For her mind is never changing, but her body’s always fervid in its fragility.” She paused and looked down at Wynefrede. “What did you think? That just came to me as I was up on deck.”

“You should write that down,” said Wynefrede. “Before you forget it.”

“Valorious conceptualization,” said Alma and pulled out a key ring. She looked back at Wynefrede as she unlocked her chest. “The mariners on our particular transport have so far failed to conceive of the meliority of mine poetic talent, mine skill with parlance.”

“I’m so sorry,” said Wynefrede.

Alma pulled out a stack of notebooks and put it next to Wynefrede’s empty mug on the still-extended table surface, then dug out a quill and jar of ink.

“This will only take a few minutes,” said Alma. “But what is time? It travels in divers paces with divers persons, as the waves make towards the pebbled shore, in sequent toil all forwards to contend.”

The pirate arranged her writing instruments carefully in front of her, sharpened her quill, opened a notebook to a fresh page, dipped the tip into the ink, and began writing.

There were dozens of notebooks in the chest. If Alma started reading them all, it could take days or weeks.

When Alma finished writing and started blowing on the paper to dry the ink, Wynefrede leaned forward. “I’d love to listen to it all,” she said. “But don’t you have duties on the ship?”

“In the modesty of fearful duty, I read as much from the rattling tongue of saucy and audacious eloquence.” Alma paused. “Do you know who originally scratched out those words?”

“You did?”

“No, ’twas Shakespeare,” said Alma. “I perceive I hath’t much to teachest thee.”

“You don’t have to,” said Wynefrede. “I’m good.”

Alma set aside her latest work to finish drying and reached for another notebook.

“This one is from my puce period,” she said and flipped to the first page. “Spines snick, thighs smack hot sudden hams…”

A knock on the door interrupted her, and Shorty stuck his head in. “Fishlips, the captain needs you,” he said.

Alma stopped reading and pursed her lips. “Don’t call me that,” she said.

“Do you want us to go back to calling you the Vogon?”

“You can call me First Mate Stafford,” she said, slammed the notebook shut, and stood up. “Don’t touch anything,” she told Wynefrede. Then, at the door, she looked back at the prisoner. “On the other hand, you might wend ahead and peruse mine belle-letters,” she said. “And whenst I return, telleth me what thee did doth bethink.”

“She wants you to read her poems,” Shorty translated.

“I got that,” said Wynefrede.

“And tell her if you liked them,” Shorty said, then added, in a whisper, “It’s a trap.”

“I heard that,” said Alma. “I just want your honest opinion.” She paused. “I mean, I wanteth thine artless appraisement.”

“Yeah, sure,” said Shorty and winked at Wynefrede as he shut the door behind Alma.

Wynefrede heard the lock snap into place, and their footsteps faded away.

But Shorty returned soon enough, accompanied by another pirate. They didn’t bring food.

“What’s going on?” Wynefrede asked, and the new pirate kicked her.

They unlocked Wynefrede’s chain from the bed and took her up to the main deck, where she was reunited with Benedicta and Margarett. The three were chained to a mast, then mostly left alone.

A few minutes later, George sidled up, pushing a mop, and started cleaning a spot close enough to them that they could talk while keeping their voices low.

“Have they been treating you guys okay?” he asked them. “I haven’t been able to get my hands on any weapons yet, but I’m still trying.”

“We’re okay,” said Benedicta, then looked at the others.

“I’m fine, too,” said Wynefrede. “But how’s Pleasance?”

“Dead,” said George. “She kept fighting, and one of the pirates accidentally stabbed her to death.”

“Oh my God, that sounds awful,” said Margarett. “Did she suffer?”

“Yes.” George mopped harder for a few strokes, almost as if he was trying to mop a hole through the deck. “Quite a bit. And there was nothing I could do.” He took a step closer and lowered his voice further. “If I could figure out how I’d blow up the ship.” He stepped away again and resumed his mopping. “Anyway, we’re almost there.”

“Almost where?” asked Wynefrede.

“Wherever we’re going,” said George. “I think it’s an island. You can already see it from the forecastle. I spent half the day helping them move stuff down in the hold. I think they’re expecting to pick up something important when they land in return for handing you over.”

“What’s going to happen to you?” asked Margarett.

“I don’t know.” George looked around, then stepped closer to them and bent down. “I’ll probably wait until we’re about to leave, then jump ship and swim to shore,” he whispered. “I won’t leave you. Maybe I’ll get a chance to rescue you.”

Before they could respond, he moved away.

“That man is starting to grow on me,” said Benedicta.

“I saw him first,” said Margarett. “Besides, you’ve got everyone else in the Royal Season fawning all over you.”

“That’s true, I do,” said Benedicta. “Fine, if he manages to rescue us, you can have him.”

The wind shifted direction, and, around them, sailors responded by adjusting the sails. As they were doing so, the island they were sailing towards briefly came into view. Being the tallest, Benedicta was the first to spot it and point it out.

“It looks pretty,” she said.

“Is that smoke?” Wynefrede asked. “I think that’s a volcano in the middle.”

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