The search for aveline, p.1
The Search for Aveline, page 1
Table of Contents
The Search for Aveline
We Were Strangers
Weathering the Storm
How to Kill
One Wild Night in Bogo
The Clan of the Black Rocks
Letters and Loss
The Kidnapping of Lady Cavendish
Returning the Favor
In the Firelight
A Song Without Words
Bravery and Trust
About the Authors
Captain Harriet "Harry" Roberts and her daring crew have many adventures involving dangerous mermaids, stolen sisters, voiceless sirens, and various love affairs whilst clashing with the wicked Wrath Drew, captain of The Charon. Climb aboard, and enjoy this series of interconnected stories about the good-hearted, diverse, (and rather lusty) crew of The Sappho.
Sink or Swim
The Search for Aveline
By Stephanie Rabig and Angie Bee
Published by Less Than Three Press LLC
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner without written permission of the publisher, except for the purpose of reviews.
Edited by Emilia Vane
Cover designed by Natasha Snow
This book is a work of fiction and all names, characters, places, and incidents are fictional or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual people, places, or events is coincidental.
First Edition March 2017
Copyright © 2016 by Stephanie Rabig, Angie Bee
Printed in the United States of America
Digital ISBN 9781620049204
Print ISBN 9781620049211
To all of the ladies left out of the history books. We know you were there, even if others ignored or forgot you.
We Were Strangers
They always said Captain Harry Roberts had the Devil's luck.
As a curtain of rain doused the rigging and sails, the only illumination intermittent forks of lightning, Harry wondered if perhaps that luck had finally hit its limits. The ship tossed and bucked like an unbroken stallion—the wild to-and-fro-ing would have sent a lesser seaman careening over the railing. But the captain pushed forward doggedly, hand tight around the sea-slick wood.
"What's the status?" Harry screamed over the tempest, voice crying out between crashes of thunder.
"The hole aft is getting bigger, Cap!" the first mate reported, usual sangfroid cracking. If asked before today, Harry would've said it'd be a frozen day in hell before Jo's steel of self-control would so much as bend; now the captain was half-tempted to check the tropical waves for icecaps. "The bilges are half-full and the level's only rising. If we don't find the eye of this storm or a harbor soon—"
The rest of the words were lost in an apocalyptic crack. The questing lightning had finally struck something solid: one of the three masts. There was a terrible, pungent scent of ozone and ruined wood, a chorus of screams from the crew in the adjacent rigging still trying to secure the now-useless sails, and then the top third of the splintered mast gave way to gravity and fell. Jo threw an arm around the captain's waist and dove to the side only a moment before the timber cracked the boards they had been standing upon.
"Captain!" shouted the steerswoman over the chaos. "Captain, I see a cove ahead!"
"Aim true, Agnessa!" Harry ordered, standing and helping Jo upright.
"Aye, Captain!" The thin arms strained with the wheel, hauling the listing craft to the east. If it had been anyone but Agnessa standing there, Harry might have worried. But the steerswoman's slight frame belied a whipcord strength and a diamond-hard resolve. Lashed to the tiller with knotted rope, feet planted as if she was rooted there, Agnessa stared straight ahead through the storm. When she was focused on her job, she never paid the slightest attention to anything else.
Harry Roberts was not superstitious. While other pirates carried talismans and steered clear of so-called cursed wrecks and paid soothsayers outrageous sums to foretell the luck of raids, Harry listened only to the wind and the waves. Harry understood the sea and knew its dangers, and refused to pay any attention to omens and signs.
"Look!" shouted a voice from a crow's nest. "Did you see it?"
"See what?" came the rejoinder down on the tilting deck.
"Just off the bow—a giant tail! Something is leading us into the cove! A sea serpent!"
"You're seeing things, Mad! There are no serpents in these waters!"
"I swear, Cap! I saw it! It's good luck, it is! We're being guided to safety!"
"And you've been hitting the rum again! You're imagining things, or seeing jetsam stirred up by the storm!" Harry caught at a swinging rope and hauled hard to pull up a sagging sailcloth. "I swear to Ol' Jones himself, Jo, that when we get through this and shipshape again, I'm tearing out Wrath's liver with my own two hands."
"As well you should, Cap," replied the first mate, once again outwardly unruffled as the ship scraped past an outcropping of coral that would have sunk a craft with a less deft steersman.
"To think, I saved that cur's life!" Harry ducked as a chill wave doused them. "Twice! I should've let the noose have him!"
"Turning his cannons on us was utterly uncalled for," agreed Jo.
"Guess we're sorta lucky this squall blew up," said Harry as Agnessa spun the wheel sharply, missing a half-submerged wreck that had clearly fallen victim to the treacherous reef they were now navigating. "Bloody hell, remind me to give that woman a kiss when we weigh anchor. She's got us dancing through this muck like it's a bleeding waltz."
"I'll just take a couple of those eagle egg rubies you've been hoarding, Captain," called the steerswoman. "You can save your kisses for someone you actually want to kiss."
"Good God, woman, how did you hear that over this roaring?"
"Your voice sort of carries, Captain."
"She has a point," said Jo. "And I believe the storm is abating."
A ragged cheer rang out as the black clouds roiling like oil overhead began to dissipate, and weak, gray sunlight started shining through the drizzling rain. Almost immediately, a rainbow cut across the sky, arching triumphantly over a beach that couldn't have been a more welcoming sight. The driftwood-dotted strip of sand would no doubt be golden when dry. The sagging palm trees looked to be heavily weighted with coconuts. And—by far the most lovely of sights—a clear stream trickled down from a volcanic hill, lush with greenery, spilling over the black rocks and soaked beach into a small, misting waterfall.
"Weigh anchor, if it's still attached," shouted Harry. "Take stock of provisions and the state of the hold. Jo, I need a headcount immediately. Agnessa, three of those rubies are yours, m'girl. Not even Davy Jones could've sailed through that reef in such weather. You're a credit to us."
"Just doing my job, Captain."
"Both lifeboats still accounted for?"
"They are, Cap," called Mad Maddie, sliding down a rope to land with monkey-like agility beside Harry. "I volunteer for the landing party!"
"Of course you do," Harry smiled, pulling off a paisley-patterned headscarf and mercilessly wringing it d
Then Harry undid her long blonde hair from its salt-encrusted braid and threw back her head to laugh. "We made it through Wrath Drew's cannon fire, a typhoon, and the very teeth of the Devil! I'd like to see another crew manage so much in a day! Excellent work, beauties!"
Just beneath the waterfall, submerged to the nose, he watched the bustle on the ship...
"I got the feeling we're being watched," Mad Maddie said quietly, an ominous edge to her voice.
"Mad, what the hell did I tell you?" Harry snapped.
"To not intone dramatically, like something outta the worst kinda blue-faced tale," Maddie sighed, pulling up the hand she'd been trailing through the water. "But Cap, I really do—"
"Shut up and keep an eye on the shoreline if you're not gonna row, girl," came the sharp retort.
"Yes, Cap. No sign of any hostile locals, no sign of civilization, no sign of much of anything excepting lots and lots of driftwood and broken coral. That storm must've scoured the bottom of the seabed nice and clean."
"We'll make camp on the beach until I'm assured The Sappho isn't sinking in slow motion," Harry said, hauling on her own oar. "But keep a sharp lookout. Jungles like this can hide any number of dangers, and after a typhoon that size, all sorts of creepies may crawl out of the water to lick their wounds."
"I'm glad Great Krakens aren't native to this region," Jo said. "Don't fancy dealing with another one of those any time soon."
"Those sucker marks made you a hit at every pub, though, mate," said Lucky Franky, the usual twinkle flashing in his dark eyes. "Every wench from here to Tortuga wanted to hear how you got them."
"If you've got enough air to chat, you've got enough air to row, so row," ordered Harry.
"Don't pay her any mind, love," Maddie assured him in a carefully-modulated undertone. "She always gets a little snippy when she's been double-crossed."
"Noted," he whispered back, giving her a smile that put his dimples on fine display.
With their combined efforts, it took less than a minute to haul both lifeboats high enough up the beach to keep them from floating back out with the tide. Maddie promptly scrambled to work with the tent canvas and stakes, trailed by Lucky Franky, swinging a mallet in one large hand and a heavy bag over his shoulder.
"Like a puppy," Harry said to Jo, fighting the urge to grin.
"Like a lost lamb," her first mate agreed. "An unlikelier pair you'd be hard-pressed to find."
The small crew had become adept at moving around one another, and they were all of them hard workers. The camp went from rudimentary to solid in no time. A fire pit was dug, lined with flat black stones, and prepped with driftwood that was drying quickly in the hot sun. A small city of tents sprang up and palm fronds were gathered, shook free of insects, and laid out as temporary mattresses. Buckets were filled from the stream and pots were set to boil.
"Lizzie, Zora, Katherine: bring down some of those coconuts and then see what kind of fruit the edges have to offer us. I'm gonna try that lagoon. Cast a line and see what bites—rather have fresh fish than pickled eel for supper tonight."
"Can we come, too, Cap? Me and Franky?" Maddie asked, springing up seemingly from nowhere. The baggy shirt she wore had slipped down one dark brown shoulder.
"Of course you can't. Fishing requires patience and quiet, Mad—two things you've never gotten the hang of. Why don't you and the boy just walk the perimeter and scout the lay of the land. Make sure we won't have any nasty surprises once night falls."
The girl looked somewhat crestfallen and her, "Yes, Cap," was unusually subdued.
"Buck up, girl," Harry said, nudging her bared brown shoulder roughly. "I'm givin' you some time to get to know our newest recruit a bit better. I'm expecting you to take his full measure and report back on your findings."
Maddie’s sloppy grin appeared like the sun through storm clouds. "Will do, Cap."
Harry rolled up the legs of her trousers, undid most of the buttons on her baggy shirt, and adjusted the floppy hat she'd slapped on as soon as the clouds had parted and the sun had shone through. The heat was heavy, humid, and would be unbearably oppressive if not for the brisk wind rolling in from the waves and the cooling mist of the ocean's spray. She grabbed a rod from the pile of supplies beside her tent, made sure her silver flask of rum was still tucked into her belt, and set off towards the rockier end of the cove where the water was deeper.
"Mind some company, Captain?"
Harry didn't slow her stride, knowing the woman just behind her was more than a match for it. "You really did some magic getting us through that reef, Nessa. I'm proud of you."
"You can call me Harry, you know," she teased. "You earned that right long ago."
"Sorry, Cap—Harry," Agnessa replied. "Still haven't quite shaken the upbringing. Alvar and I had respect drummed into us by the time we were walking. You must always give a superior their full title and honors," she said in a sing-song cadence. "You must always defer to the social hierarchy, and bend your head in the presence of nobility. A lady curtsies and a gentleman bows..."
"Good thing none of us are noble," Harry snorted. "And you're the only lady on board, so don't waste time on curtsies."
"Don't think you can do a proper curtsy in breeches anyhow, Cap—sorry. Harry."
"Alvar is your brother, yes?"
"The one that showed you how to run a wheel?"
"Yes. He's in the Navy now."
"What colors does he sail under? We can steer clear of any ships with—"
"No worries on that count. He's currently sailing around the Horn of Africa, on a three-year voyage with a ship full of scientists and botanists. We won't be crossing paths with him."
"Well, if we happen to find ourselves sailing for the Dark Continent, remind me to keep a weather eye out for him."
There was a large outcropping of rock that jutted over the lagoon like some accusatory finger: flat and smooth and with ample space for the pair to sit side-by-side and cast out fishing lines. They settled themselves carefully on the hot rock, dangling their legs over the edge, and dropped their baited hooks. The wind played with their hair, weaving the loose strands into knots, and dried the sweat on their brows.
Harry glanced over at Agnessa with a half-smile and lidded eyes. She was only a handful of years her junior, but seemed much younger, thanks to a closeted upbringing. She came from money—her father was some financial genius in Sweden: big in banking and the owner of a shipping company or three. Harry had overheard the crew saying something about Agnessa's mother having been minor nobility, a blue-blooded name tied to large tracts of land. She certainly had the fine bones and elegant hands of a lady, a sharp chin, and demanding, dark eyes. Nearly a year at sea had darkened her skin to a uniform nut-brown, bleached streaks of blonde throughout her dark hair, and had put thick calluses on her once-soft palms.
But even with the tan and rough hands, it was impossible to hide what she truly was: a fine lady. She still spoke with the eloquent rounded vowels that were hallmarks of wealth, still had a graceful way of moving, as if she were dancing in heavy skirts. In comparison, Harry was a coarse character indeed.
She was fair where Agnessa was dark. Her pale hair had begun to go white in patches—not from age, as she was still only in her thirties, and not from shock, as Harriet Roberts was nigh unshockable. No, it was the constant sun and brine that was bleaching away the blonde. And while that same sun had made Agnessa brown, it did nothing to Harry. She didn't freckle, didn't burn, and didn't tan. Her skin remained so pale that it was almost translucent, and she knew this oddity had added to her growing legend. Maddie had overheard another pirate tell his drunken mate that Captain Roberts was act
But no—Harriet Roberts was a flesh-and-blood human woman, not a siren in disguise or a vengeful spirit, though she wasn't above the occasional act of revenge. Her teeth were slightly crooked, just like her smile, her nose was a bit snub, and her pale blue eyes could glitter with amusement, go flat and empty with anger, or flash with hellfire, depending on the heat of the moment. She wasn't particularly tall and there wasn't much meat on her bones; all of her muscle was whipcord. Besides her pale skin and white hair, the most unusual thing about her was her scar: it ran nearly the full length of her left arm, a dark and jagged red line that bumped where the stitches had been uneven. Only Jo knew how she had gotten it; the scar had been old by the time Harry became captain of The Sappho.
There were many stories about Captain Roberts and The Sappho—one was that all of her crew was undead and cursed: women that had been thrown overboard or murdered at sea. And there was some slight truth in that story: most of her crew had indeed been thrown overboard or cast aside by cruel sailors. Wenches who had tired of constant beatings, stowaways with murky pasts, sailors whose disguises had been compromised.
Agnessa was a rare exception: someone who had sought them out and demanded to join the crew rather than a woman rescued from the waves or brothels.
"Nessa, why did you decide to go to sea?" Harry asked, breaking the serenity of the lagoon.
She was quiet for a long while, eyes focused on the striations of the rock they sat upon. "I didn't want to live the life society demanded of me. When Alvar announced his intentions to join the Navy, Father said it was time for me to marry. He'd picked out a husband for me, and a wedding date, and had already commissioned the finest dressmaker in Stockholm to make my gown. And I didn't want any of it. I had never met this man who would be my husband. And he was so many years older than me. I didn't want all the fuss of a wedding, or to wear any more uncomfortable dresses and, most of all, I did not want to become a broodmare."
She shifted, drawing up one leg and tucking it beneath the knee of the other. Her fishing line bounced slightly as she rolled her shoulders and settled her arms more comfortably across her lap. "I had an older sister. Agathe. She was seven years senior. She died in childbirth, trying to deliver a third child in as many years. I was in the room with her. I held her hand as she bled out—I watched the light fade out of her eyes. It was the same way our mother died. The same way our neighbor died, and the baker's wife. I decided I would never share that fate. They always speak of what a tragedy it is when a war claims so many young men, and yet society cares nothing for the war that women face—are expected to face, over and over again. I want no part in it."
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