Port Royal was adorable. Unlike Krim City. Here, residents seemed to have pride in their town. Port Royal was cheerful and spotless, the air was fresh and fragrant, and everyone smiled when they saw her. Matilda hated it.
It was almost as though nobody realized all the different ways she could kill them.
They may have taken her knives. And her sword, her daggers, her dirk, her favorite stiletto, her spare shank, her stylet, her seax, her hewing knife, even the little knife she used to trim her toenails. But they didn’t take her hands. Or her teeth.
She glowered at a passer-by, who responded by smiling and her and wishing her a jaunty top’o’ the morning.
She flexed her fists and considering strangling him. Back in Krim City, she should have. She turned and watched the man walk away. She could snap his neck. Throw him into the water and hold him down until he drowned. Gouge his eyes out. Cut his belly open with a sharp rock and force feed him his own entrails.
With that cheerful thought, she went back to the tavern brochure. The docks were behind her. The customs office was to her right. That meant that the Soiled Swan was somewhere up ahead.
She stopped in the first tavern she came to, which looked over the docks. The Pearl Diver’s windows were open to the breeze and pina coladas were on every table.
The bartender handed her one as she walked in. “It’s on him,” he said, and nodded at a pirate captain celebrating with his mates at a central table. “Fishbeard.”
Matilda took the drink and took a sip, then marched over to the pirates’ table. She was planning to be nice, thank them for the drink, maybe get in on the game of cards they were playing. But then she caught a glimpse of the pirate’s face. “Fishy!”
The pirate put his cards down, face first, and looked up at her. “That’s Fishbeard now,” he said. “Who are…” Then he recognized her and his hand flew to his waist. He didn’t have a knife on him, either. Matilda looked around. None of them did. What kind of lily-livered, peacenik island paradise was this?
“How did you get here?” Fishbeard asked, scooting back a little in his chair. The other pirates around him looked up at her warily. “And what do you want?”
“I heard you sold out all your mates, Fishy,” said Matilda. “And your clients.”
“And I heard that you’re working for the law,” said Fishbeard.
“No, I’m not,” said Matilda. “I’m working for whoever pays me, same as I always have. Except that when I’m paid, I do my job. I don’t stab people in the back.”
A couple of jaws dropped.
“I stab them in the front, like a civilized person,” said Matilda. “Like after an argument over cards. Not because someone bribed me.”
“Well, I’m a pirate now,” said Fishbeard. “So…” He spread his hands. “Things are what they are.”
“Don’t pirates have a code?” Matilda asked. “If you betrayed your old shipmates, what’s going to keep you from betraying your new ones?”
“She’s got a point,” said one of the other pirates. “It’s like when you’re dating a married guy. If he leaves his wife for you, he’s going to leave you for some other gal.”
“Once a cheater, always a cheater,” added a pirate on the other side of the table, who then glanced meaningfully at Fishbeard’s cards.
“Hey! Watch what you’re accusing me of!” Fishbeard started to rise when a long-haired blonde beach bum in surf shorts and a tropical print shirt walked up to the table, slapping a short, thick stick against his palm.
“What’s all this then?” said the beach bum.
“Nothing, constable,” Fishbeard said, sitting back down in his chair.
“Constable? Seriously?” Matilda looked the beach bum up and down. The man was wearing flip flops and had a puka shell bracelet around his left wrist. She could snap him like a twig. She looked up at his tanned face and his gentle baby blue eyes. She could snap him like a twig tomorrow.
“Ma’am, are these pirates bothering you?” he asked her.
“No, but she’s bothering us,” said Fishbeard. “She’s with the law.”
“Hey,” said Matilda. “That’s slander. I’m just here to catch up with some friends and do a little shopping.” She held up her pina colada, then glanced down at this stick. “Is that a truncheon?”
The constable tucked the baton under his rope belt. “No, just an ordinary non-lethal tropical island stick,” he said. “We don’t go in for the law in these parts.”
“He called you constable,” said Matilda, nodding down at Fishbeard.
“I’m just here to make sure everyone is happy,” the constable said. “When Governor Trueblood founded Port Royal, she wanted a place where everyone could come, relax, and enjoy themselves. Why don’t I get you some brochures? You haven’t been to Port Royal until you’ve tried the authentic conch fritters at the Golden Grotto.” He put his arm around her shoulder and steered her away from the pirates. “And if you plan to stay with us longer, may I suggest snorkeling? We also have some amazing nature trails you definitely need to see before you head home.”
“So, constable…” she began.
“Reynald. If I wanted to buy weapons, where would I go?”
Reynald let go of her and clapped his hands. “Wonderful. The Flamingo Market will have everything you could possibly want. Cutlasses, sabres, pikes, axes, spears, machetes…”
“What about guns?”
“Muskets. Matchlocks. Arquebuses. Fireballs. Powder flasks. Even cannons. Once you make your purchase, the goods will be held for you at the customs office until you depart.”
Matilda transferred the pina colada to her left hand and reached inside her jerkin for the brochure she’d been looking at earlier.
Reynald took it from her and unfolded it to the map. “It’s right here,” he said. “Not too far from the Golden Grotto. You really must try…”
“Conch fritters,” said Matilda. “I remember.” She took the brochure back. “Hey, have you seen any newcomers here the last few days? Dressed like medieval royalty?”
“Oh, sure,” said the constable. “They’ve been enjoying themselves all over the island. I’m sure you’ll bump into your friends soon enough.”
“They’re not locked up?” asked Matilda.
“Of course not,” said Reynald. “Port Royal is nothing if not hospitable.”
Matilda lowered her voice. “You do know they’re being held for ransom, don’t you?”
“More’s the reason to be welcoming,” said Reynald. “If you’ve been kidnapped on the high seas, then the last think you want is more stress in your life. You need a little time to unwind, am I right? A little drinking, a little island cooking, a little wenching, a little gambling. Did I mention the snorkeling?”
Matilda heard the strum of a ukulele and looked up.
“Oh, good, the music is starting,” said Reynald.
A short, heavily tanned man with wavy blonde hair and a long mustache sat perched on a stood at the end of the bar, waiting until he had the crowd’s attention. Then he played a quick familiar melody and several of the pirates cheered. “Nibbling on sponge cake,” the man sang. “Watching the sun bake.”
“Oh, for the love of…” Matilda put what was left of the pina colada down on the nearest table and left the bar.
She was about to walk across a side street where she heard boisterous laughter coming from her left. She paused and saw a group of men in fancy dress and women in what must have been their casual sailing dress step out from inside a bar. Matilda immediately turned and headed in their direction.
She recognized them as she got closer. These were the missing Singletons. She looked around, but nobody seemed to be guarding them. Something didn’t feel right. She itched to have something to hold. Something sharp and deadly. She settled for the brochure.
The Singletons didn’t notice her approaching at first. Instead, they were laughing at something and looked a little unsteady on their feet. They must have been drinking.
One finally saw her coming and something in her facial expression must have sobered him up. He held up his hand to quiet the rest. “Uh, oh,” he said. “We’re busted.”
Nigel pulled himself up as far as he could go, which was just about enough for the top of his head to reach Matilda’s chin if he tried to head-butt her, and tried to look down at her through his pince nez. This required him to tilt his head back almost as far as it would go, and push his glasses up with his finger.
“You’re one of our guards, aren’t you?” he asked. “Are you here to take us back?”
“I’m here to rescue you,” said Matilda. “The Royal Season is paying the ransom, but you can’t count on pirates to keep their word.”
One of the ladies cleared his throat.
“Umm, well, we’ve already paid our ransoms,” said Nigel. “Did you know that Port Royal has a bank with an affiliate relationship with the Central Bank of Krim?”
“No, I did not know that,” said Matilda.
“Yes, so we paid our ransoms the minute we got here, and got some spending money as well.” He giggled. “Don’t tell Pleasance Pratt, I beg you!”
“We’re staying at the Golden Grotto,” said one of the ladies. Matilda recognized her as Elinor Duncombe. Or, at least, she went by Elinor Duncombe on Krim. Back in real life she was a financier best known for his high-profile, expensive divorces. “The conch fritters are to die for. And don’t get me started on the stuffed shrimp.”
“We heard there’s live music at the Pearl Diver,” said Nigel. “We’re heading there now.”
“Then we’re going to try our luck at the roulette wheel,” said Elinor.
“And we’re going diving tomorrow,” said Nigel. “Care to join us?”
“I’m here on business,” said Matilda. “I’m going to get you on a ship back to Krim City. And if I can’t do that, I’ll break each of your necks.”
Nigel clutched at his collar. “What? Why?”
“To rescue you,” said Matilda. “I told you. I’m going to save you from the pirates, and if I have to kill you to do it, well, I’ll try to make it quick and painless.”
“But we don’t need saving,” said Nigel.
“In fact, we’ve already bought our tickets back,” added Elinor. “We’re just taking a few extra days to see all the sights.”
“And I’ve ordered a full, custom-made pirate suit,” said Nigel. “It won’t be done until the day after tomorrow.”
“So you see, we can’t leave yet,” said Elinor. “We’ve got too much to do.”
Matilda looked at the other ladies and gentlemen, and they all nodded in agreement.
“Please don’t kill us,” Nigel added. “I know you’ve got a job to do , but could you tell Pleasance that… ummm… that you found us, negotiated our release, and that we’re on our way back?”
“You trust these people?” Matilda asked, gesturing around her with the brochure. “They’re outlaws and scoundrels. They captured your ship and killed all the sailors. And all your guards.”
“Well, but that’s just piracy, isn’t it?” said Nigel. “You can’t hold that against them.”
“What? Of course you can,” said Matilda. “Wait, is this Copenhagen Syndrome?”
“I believe you mean Stockholm,” said Nigel. “And no, it is not.”
“Copenhagen Syndrome is a rare spinal disorder,” added a pedantic Singleton standing next to him.
“We came to Krim to get the full medieval experience,” said Nigel. “And we certainly have done that.”
“Though, technically, the golden age of piracy came after the medieval period, starting in the latter half of the sixteen hundreds,” said the pedant. “In fact, Port Royal, though technically founded by the Spanish in the fourteen nineties, didn’t become a town like we see here today until quite a bit later.”
“This Port Royal is only named after that Port Royal,” said Nigel. “It’s not meant to be an accurate historical representation. Hold on, let me get that brochure…”
Matilda walked away. Where was that arms market? Maybe she’d get lucky and be able to buy another gun powder to blow the whole place up.