One of LaRoche’s pyrates stood guard at the entrance to the ballroom. Absinthe crouched in the shadows of the entryway with Lady Montforte, weighing in his hand his rapier, which he had retrieved on their way up the stairs.
“Where are the jewels?” he asked her, whispering.
“Books in a library,” she said as she leaned against the wall.
In plain sight, then, he thought. At the far end of the ballroom he could see LaRoche and his men covering the guests. They had already been robbed, and now the pyrates awaited the abating of the storm before leaving. Doubloon still stood with his tray of cream puffs, and Absinthe knew his men would still be hidden about the room. The jewels...
He looked at the columns, the chairs of the orchestra, the chandelier—the chandelier! It glittered, the candles all lit, the perfect place to keep the jewels out of reach. But then his eyes fell on the skulls in their brackets up in the gallery, the eyes shining from the torches behind them, some red, some green, some white—white as diamonds.
“The skulls,” he said. “Your husband’s face.”
She smiled. “Aye, Captain.”
There was a stairway going up to the gallery along the nearer wall of the ballroom. He lifted his blade. “I’ll take care of this one.”
“No need.” Still smiling, she leaned back against the wall. A line opened and a section of it gave way, resolving into a hidden door. “Servant’s entrance.”
“This mountain is full of tricks, isn’t it.”
A narrow stairway lay behind the door, lit by a single torch. He followed her up. “How did you plan to retrieve the jewels if you were still with LaRoche?”
“I would come to the ballroom with him, disguised as a pyrate, and take them as more loot, just pieces of porcelain, with him none the wiser. Then I would sneak away from him to my ship.”
“You have a ship?”
Another hidden door at the top of the stairs let out onto the gallery. They crawled low, hiding behind the railing. Absinthe looked along the line of skulls on the gallery wall. He put away his rapier and grabbed a silk tapestry, ready to tear it down for use as a sack.
Lady Montforte, smirking, stopped his hand and untied a rope that held the tapestry in place. Crouching low, they went along the line of skulls and took each from the wall, loading them into the tapestry. They finished on the other side of the room.
“Now to my ship,” Lady Montforte whispered.
“I thought we had an alliance,” Absinthe said. “I still have men down there.”
“LaRoche will leave soon, and so can your men.”
“Not without me giving the signal. And what will your guests think when more pyrates appear?”
“That’s not my problem. The storm is waning. I need to plant this dress where it can be seen, so it looks like LaRoche killed me.”
“Why did you have such an elaborate plan? Why not just go pyrate on your own?”
“And how fast would these royals have hired privateers to hunt me down? Better to have them think me dead.”
“If LaRoche escapes, he’ll hunt you down himself.”
“Only if he knows I’m alive.”
“He might learn that from someone.”
“Who?” She looked at him hard, and then sighed. “What do you propose?”
Absinthe’s gaze fell on a rope secured to the wall nearby. The rope was attached to the chandelier, holding it in place near the ceiling.
The lady’s eyes grew wide. “Oh, no you don’t.”
Absinthe secured the sack of masks to the rope and then untied the rope from the wall. He wrapped it around his right arm and braced his feet against the floor of the gallery, now that he had the weight of the chandelier in his grip. As he eased toward the railing, the chandelier—creaking, tinkling—lowered a few feet.
He turned to Lady Montforte. “Give me the dress.”
She shook her head, frightened. “It won’t work.”
“I thought you wanted to be a pyrate!” he hissed.
“I thought you said being a pyrate wasn’t just about swinging from ropes!”
“Well, some of it is.”
Furious, she approached him and slapped the dress over his arm. “I hate you, Monteroy Absinthe.”
“You mean you’re just starting now?”
She sidled up to him and he put his arm around her waist. She drew the pistols from the holsters at her back. “Have you done anything like this before?”
He put a foot on top of the railing. “Of course not. I’m not stupid.”
In one motion he drew himself up to the top of the railing, lifting the lady off her feet, and over the side they went.
At first he thought he had made a terrible mistake judging distances, for they plummeted straight down, the rope all slack and the floor of the ballroom rushing up to them. Then the rope grew taut, the chandelier slammed against its hook in the ceiling, and now they were sailing in an arc down and across, the air whistling in his ear—or was it Lady Montforte screaming curses?—with the room all askew in amber and honey, and guests and pyrates alike gazing at them in stunned shock as Absinthe raised his feet and the tip of his rapier scratched the marble with an audible ching!
Up they went along the rest of the arc, halting in midair, the room silent now—or was Lady Montforte catching her breath for another scream?—and then they began to swing the other way. When they were once again a few feet above the floor, he let go of her. She landed nimbly on her feet and ran for cover.
Absinthe continued along the backswing, clutching dress and rope; but now that there was less weight on it, the chandelier plummeted down, carrying Absinthe up toward the ceiling. He passed the rattling chandelier, its tinkling lights flashing in his face, and then it crashed against the marble floor, filling the room with a shattering cacophony. The rope carried him within an arm’s length of the ceiling and then stopped. He had time for a brief sigh of relief before he looked down, saw all the guests staring back at him, and then slid down the rope all the way to the floor.
As the last of the chandelier’s crystals stopped bouncing—tink, tink, tink—he nonchalantly approached the gaping LaRoche and threw the dress over the captain’s head. He stood back and said in his loudest storm voice, “What a beautiful dress you are wearing, my lady!”
On cue, all hell broke loose.
Doubloon threw his tray into the air, drew out the two pistols hidden underneath it, and fired to either side. Two of LaRoche’s men clattered to the ground at the same moment as the tray.
Wenn shot up from the urn and flung its lid across the room to knock down an enemy pyrate. He then jumped out, knife in hand.
The sword plant leaves were sliced apart as Havelyn leaped through and lay about him with his blade.
The top of the eleven-tier cake burst open to reveal Merrick, who felled one man with a musket shot and then ducked back in to reload.
Absinthe drew his rapier. As LaRoche struggled out of the dress, his pistol clattered from his belt. He drew a long sword and circled round the chandelier as Absinthe approached. Candles still burned in the wreckage and broken bits of crystal lay everywhere.
Absinthe gauged the feel of the marble floor with his bare feet, shuffling to knock away the crystal shards. He feinted to one side and then the other as LaRoche did the same. Then LaRoche titled back his head, his spectacles flashing, and leaped over the chandelier toward him.
Absinthe turned aside the point and riposted into the attack with his greater reach, lunging. The swords sang. But LaRoche’s strikes seemed not to have much strength behind them; they were really to gauge Absinthe’s technique.
Absinthe did the same, careful that LaRoche not get within his point. Bookish, Absinthe thought, reading all sixteen angles of attack as LaRoche went through them in order as if from a text. But LaRoche was quick—very quick.
LaRoche pressed in and now the fight began in earnest. The swords struck and slewed, flashing from candlelight, the crystals on the floor sparkling with fire. Absinthe backed away, circling behind the chandelier. He lunged, missing. LaRoche’s sword whanged against the fixture in a failed counterstroke.
They parted and LaRoche swooshed his sword from side to side, feeling its weight. At one point he took a pass across one of the chandelier’s candles, sending its tip jumping into the air. He laughed.
Yes, a bookish boy, Absinthe thought. A fine swordsman deep down, innate ability, but too dependent on technique. And too confident by half.
LaRoche took the fight to him again and metal rang. Though LaRoche was quick, Absinthe knew he had his gauge, but though his rapier darted and sang, he could not get a hit. As he sidestepped round, left then right, he realized what it was: the silent, still ground at his feet. Absinthe was out of his element with nothing but dead land under him. His feet fell flat at every step. His legs—land legs—were leaden.
LaRoche laid in with a will. His horizontal arcs tore away the plumes of Absinthe’s shirt, scored hits on his arms. Absinthe chastised himself for holding his blade away too much, anticipating those angles; slow on recovery, it should be kept more in line for the lunge. And now the frills of his shirt, hanging down from the cuts, were weighing on him like a drag sail.
He circled round the chandelier, a temporary respite, and tore away the remainder of his shirt so now all that remained of the tailor’s careful work were simple breeches. And was not this the way he always fought? On decks hundreds of fathoms in the air, among clouds red and gold, in bare feet and breeches with his sword whistling in the wind?
Now a cold anger overcame him. How could this boy deign to come between him and his treasure, tittering his way across the Archipelago? How could this upstart churl think he could take it all? How could he himself think that frills and creamy silks could deliver into his hands what he desired? Elaborate capers were all well and good at whiles, but most times the only solution to a problem was a swift, sure, well-delivered blade.
Absinthe feinted to one side and leaped to the other, right hand on hilt and left on pommel to strike with greater force. Now it was LaRoche’s turn to back and parry, his face sheening with sweat. A weak titter escaped his throat. Absinthe did not need to see past the spectacles opaque with candle flame to know there was fear in LaRoche’s eyes.
They parted, breathing hard. Absinthe took his own swipe against a candle with the tip of his blade. It remained intact.
LaRoche tilted back his head and laughed. “You missed!”
Absinthe crouched down, picked up a crystal from the floor and threw it. It shattered one lens of LaRoche’s spectacles and a shard of glass embedded itself in his eye. As the candle slowly toppled in half from his invisible cut, Absinthe leaped and drove his blade through LaRoche’s chest, the bloody tip erupting from his back.
LaRoche stumbled backward as he withdrew it, collapsing on the floor. Absinthe started to dart forward for the final dispatch, but LaRoche’s hand snatched up his fallen pistol. He raised his head, bringing the pistol to bear and aiming with his good eye.
LaRoche’s finger pulled back on the trigger.
A dagger flew from somewhere on the right, end over end, and drove itself into LaRoche’s wrist. His shot went wide.
Absinthe jumped the intervening distance and plunged his blade into LaRoche’s heart. The light glinting in the remaining lens went out.
Lady Montforte stood to the right, hands on hips. “Was that as good as Red Betty?”
Absinthe took a deep breath. “Not if you were aiming for his neck.” He pulled out the dagger and handed it back to her, smiling. “But it was good enough for me.”
Absinthe saw that his men had dispatched the last of LaRoche’s pyrates. A commotion at one of the windows drew their attention: the jolly boat from the Crimson Moon had arrived, bobbing on its bags of argent dyoro. Absinthe gathered up the sack of masks as Lady Montforte grabbed her dress, and they made their way to the window.
The storm had subsided. Doubloon, Wenn, Havelyn, Merrick, and all the rest were climbing into the boat. The twins Brace and Brack, who had sailed the boat in, stood to leave the vessel.
“We’ll stay behind, sar,” said one.
“Storm drove a moonfish into one of the bags, sar, what pierced it,” said the other.
“Won’t float with two more aboard.”
“Of all the—” Absinthe began, but bit down on his words. There was no point in cursing the bad luck of a storm. “No. You stay and get everyone back to the Moon. Lady Montforte and I will take her ship and rendezvous.”
“Aye, aye, sar,” Brace and Brack said together. They raised the little sail and the boat pulled away.
Lady Montforte was glaring at him. “What?” he said, and then turned around.
All the guests were staring at them.
Baron Sabato snapped open his fan and gazed through its eyeholes. “Lady Montforte?”
The Electress Serpentine frowned extravagantly. “A ship?”
Earl Reticella pouted. “My lady, why are you dressed as... as a pyrate?”
Absinthe had forgotten to address her as the Autumn Rose. Now he looked at her and back to the angry guests. Already a slab of cake whizzed through the air toward them and Absinthe ducked. This was followed by talia fruit, three petit fours, and a coconut.
They were behind one of the food tables, the one with the huge punch bowl. Without exchanging a word, he and the lady braced their hands under its rim and heaved. Up went the bowl. The concoction of bubbling yellow disgorged onto the floor, splashing the guests in a slippery flood. Amid the shouts and curses, dress swords were unsheathed, while a small group of people shuffled toward the carving table where several cleavers glinted.
“Come on,” said the lady, grasping his hand and leading him to the entrance as the guests slipped and slid.
They flew down the steps that led to the hallway where lay the water cells. Lady Montforte splashed into the water, which came up to her waist, and took the torch that remained in the cell.
Absinthe stopped, gazing into the black depths.
“This way,” she said. “The docks are down here.” She waded ahead of him.
Absinthe plunged into the water and for a moment he could not breathe. The shock of the cold—the shock of fear—threatened to suffocate him. He stood in the black water as the lady moved forward, her torch growing smaller, dimmer. Its orange flame receded, turning a sickly green.
The water churning around his waist went silent. As he gazed after that far-off light, the inky darkness welled up from below. The air turned a prickly chill, and he became aware of the yawning gulf of space behind him. He dared not turn around.
The water came through in waves to splash against the wall behind; it echoed against the stones like the beating of a drum. It felt as if some mass were gathering itself there, or a space were opening, vast and pitch black. He could not move. He became aware of the oppressive weight of stone above his head even as he sensed that something rose, or opened, behind him.
This is what it is like in Harrowdeep, he thought, in the domain of Leviathan. This is the fate of the world. He imagined the shape of the thing behind, and what came to mind were tales told to him when young of the inky bloaters. Everyone knew what they looked like, stooped and dripping black sludge from the voidful depths.
An amber glow to the left caught his eye. He heard voices, calling “They went this way!” and “Down here!” It was the guests, making their way down the stairway. The light brightened as their torches approached. He darted a glance behind to see the shadows fly away, but not before glimpsing one that shimmied straight down into the water.
He found his legs. He splashed rapidly toward the lady’s distant torch, which had resumed its normal color, and presently the voices of the pursuing guests broke out clear behind him.
“What took you so long?” Lady Montforte glared at him as he entered the large chamber where she stood on a platform above the water. The place was one of the grottoes, its walls glowing blue from scuttling crabs. One of the hapless creatures was skewered by a carving knife thrown from behind him.
“I ran into your friends,” he said, his head rapidly clearing.
Suspended by ropes next to the platform and above the water was a two-man launch. Its bags of argent dyoro were full; presumably its ballast barrels were too. The tops of incoming waves kissed its keel. It was small.
“You said you had a ship,” he said.
“That’s a boat!”
She pointed at their pursuers, fuming. “Why don’t you lecture them about the difference?”
Muttering, he climbed up the thin gangway and secured the sack of masks. She followed with the dress. As an incoming wave passed underneath, he unshipped the ropes and they dropped into the water. The wave hit the back of the cavern and rolled forward, carrying them with it just as the guests splashed into the chamber.
He and the lady ducked as the boat was pelted with dishes, cutlery, and angry shouts. A cleaver chunked into one of the barrels while another whanged off the gunwale to spin away above their heads. Then they were shooting down the channel, past the opening of the grotto and into the sea beyond. Absinthe immediately threw open the ballast levers and into the sky they flew.
The night was dreary dark, but the clouds in Cumulo had cleared enough to show the great blue stone of Sussurus nearly full in the northeast. Absinthe put up the little sail, but it caught only a fitful breeze: they were on the lee side of the mountain. As they gained altitude they came level with the mansion on top of Montforte. Swinging round, they rose above its twinkling lights and the sail snapped full.
In the southwest sky he saw his ship the Crimson Moon, lying to about three hundred fathoms above Ocean under close-reefed topsails on all three foremasts. She was just swaying up her topgallantmasts, having taken them down for the storm. The skull-and-crown banner snapped at her stern. Her proud lines, her forecastle towers, and her beautiful figurehead cupping in delicate hands a crimson orb all stirred his heart. I do have a home, he thought, one that flies through clouds and sun under billowing russet sails.
Something struck the boat. And another. Looking down, he saw on the mansion’s roof more of the ball’s guests. Puffs of smoke appeared, followed by hollow reports peppering the air.
“They’ve broken into the guards’ locker,” the lady said.
Another shot hit the boat. “Get down,” Absinthe called. A soft plumpf sounded on their starboard beam, and they rapidly dropped two fathoms.
“They hit one of the bags,” he said, levering away the rest of the ballast. “Are all your guests sharpshooters?”
“The Electress Serpentine is,” Lady Montforte said flatly.
Absinthe peered over the gunwale. Earl Reticella was preparing the cannon, a twelve-pounder, assisted by Baron Sabato.
“And gunners too.” He let go of the ballast barrels themselves, then cast about for anything else to throw overboard. His gaze fell on her.
“Well don’t look at me!” she cried.
“I was looking at your dress. Those lead hoops—”
“You’re not taking this dress.”
“It’s either that or the jewels.”
A crackling of musket fire sounded from the mansion, and a hit sent a shower of splinters into the boat. As he sought a way to unship the seats, he heard a rumbling boom, followed by something striking the inside of the boat with a clank. Had Reticella fired the cannon? He then noticed a puff of smoke drifting from the rail of the Crimson Moon.
Lady Montforte saw it as well. “They’re going to hit us if they fire on the mansion!”
“They’re not aiming for the mansion,” Absinthe said. What had landed inside the boat was a grappling hook. The rope attached to it led all the way back to the railing of the Crimson Moon, a hundred-fathom line.
Lady Montforte’s eyes grew wide. “Oh, no you don’t.”
Absinthe tied the bag of masks to the grappling hook and wrapped the rope around his arm. “Give me the dress,” he said.
“We’re hundreds of feet in the air!”
“Hundreds of fathoms.”
“Swinging from a chandelier is one thing—”
“And escaping certain death is another. Come here.”
She rolled her eyes. “I suppose I should be used to this by now.”
He draped the dress over his arm, which he then hooked around her waist. More musket fire clattered against the boat, and a final glimpse revealed Earl Reticella reaching toward the cannon’s touchhole with a smoldering match.
Absinthe leaped into empty air. A thundering crash sounded behind him as the cannonball struck home, shattering the boat into kindling.
Then they were flying, falling, until the rope grew taut. The air whistled in their ears as Ocean churned far below and stars wheeled above. Down, across and up they went, swinging free, surrounded by the black gulf of night with the titanic mass of the Crimson Moon high overhead.
Absinthe realized that his throat was raw; he had been yelling with joy. “Now that’s skylarking!”
The rope gradually came to rest. The Crimson Moon unreefed her topsails, let fall her forecourses, and bore away east, already out of range of the mansion. Presently he felt the rope being drawn up. The ship dropped ballast, a cascade of water, to rise higher, heeling to starboard so its charges would not scrape against the hull.
Absinthe felt the lady’s nails digging into his chest. She was shivering, her head against his collarbone. “Don’t look down,” he said. “Look up. And clap your legs around me.”
She did so, tense with fear. She relaxed a little. Her body was warm. A smile grew on her face as she wriggled against him. “It’s bigger than I thought.”
“Your ship. Bigger.”
“Oh. Aye.” He wished he had his cuffs back to wipe the sweat from his brow.
They came in line with the ship’s keel and continued to rise. The planks of the hull slid past, barely a fathom away. Hatches popped open to reveal curious faces from the ship’s population. Men leered; women whispered and smiled behind their hands. Gossip always flew through the ship faster than any nor-east gale.
Absinthe refused to be embarrassed by any members of the population, especially those who lived so close to the Bottoms. Nevertheless, as he held Lady Montforte, feeling the easy grace of her body under his hand, he distracted himself by voicing a thought that troubled him. “Did you kill your husband?”
Her head naturally fell against his chest. Her voice murmured against him. “No. He never beat me or abused me. That was a lie. He was very kind, actually. I did love him. He died of a consumption of the lungs after swimming in one of the grottoes one cold night. I wept for months. Those balls celebrating inheritance are a morbid tradition in the Archipelago. I had to hold them.”
“And the tale about your uncle?”
“That was true. He trained me to protect myself in case of pyrate attack. Pistols mostly. Some of the old battle dancing. He trained me, until they killed him.”
“Who killed him?”
She looked up at him. “Pyrates.”
He held her a little tighter. Becoming one of them won’t assuage the pain, he thought but did not say. We are of the same age, but you have more to learn—at least on that score.
Presently they reached the maindeck and were hauled aboard. They stood at the rail with the crew—Doubloon, Wenn, and all the rest—gathering around them and the bag of jewels at their feet.
Absinthe turned to announce her to the crew. As he did so, she drew the pistols from the holsters at her back and aimed both barrels at his head. “Now, Captain Monteroy Absinthe, you will give me the jewels. And a boat.”
Before she even breathed the word “now,” precisely twenty-seven cutlasses, fifteen pistols, four hand axes, nine muskets from the tops, eight marline spikes, two belaying pins, and a rusty penknife from the boatswain, Patches, were aimed directly at her.
“Steady, lads; calm yourselves,” Absinthe said. He kept himself perfectly still, knowing that at a flick of his eyes they would cut her down. “The lady only wants to leave.” He addressed her. “Hardly the thanks I expected for saving your life.”
“Funny, I thought I saved yours.”
“And I never learned your name.”
“Rosaria, of course. Are all pyrates so thick?”
He sighed. This was certainly turning into a bad day. “I’ll give you a boat to get off my ship. Nothing more.”
The lady clearly had not anticipated the response of the crew and took in the situation with eyes wide, though she did not lower her weapons. “Very well.”
A jolly boat was hoisted to the rail. She slowly backed into it, pistols leveled. “At least give me back my dress,” she said. “Unless you want to wear it for your next ball.”
He had hardly noticed that he still held it. “Too bad it’s not my size.” He threw it into the boat.
She put down one of her pistols and reached behind her to raise the little sail. The boat slowly pulled away. She made way east and then northeast, skimming athwart the Moon’s bows.
Absinthe and his crew went to the larboard bow to follow her. Patches stood beside him, still clutching fiercely to his penknife. As they all watched, Lady Montforte slipped into the dress. She then turned away from them, bent forward, and rudely presented her posterior.
As she did so, the inner hoops of the dress glinted. Lined along them, sewn against the fabric, were jewels, hundreds of them. Diamonds, emeralds and rubies—though perhaps not as big as albatross eggs as the rumors said—were arrayed neatly inside the dress in prodigious quantity.
“Ooooh,” the crew had said as the lady bent forward, but now crowed a disappointed “Ahhhh” as the jewels were revealed. A few tittering laughs were quenched by Absinthe’s angry glare. He dismissed the crew back to their duties. Patches remained behind.
“She did say the dress was worth a fortune,” Absinthe muttered. He bent to the bag of masks and scratched a crystal eye with his thumbnail. It broke apart and crumbled into powder. “Paste.” He threw the mask down and it shattered.
“I’m sorry for it, Cap’n, sar,” Patches said, scrunching his hat down low on his head. “That’s a right bung-up, that is.”
“She did say that her best seamster worked on the dress,” he mused. “Not seamstress. She knew who I was from the beginning, because he told her everything before the ball. No wonder he pricked me with a pin when I presumed she would be ugly.” He turned to Patches. “Remind me later to keelhaul the tailor.”
“Stem to stern.”
“Of course, Cap’n.”
“She had the jewels all along. When she had us go back to the ballroom it wasn’t to get them. It was so that I would dispatch LaRoche, who would have gone after her when he realized he had been betrayed.”
As the lady’s boat drew farther away, a shape rounded from the shoulder of Montforte. It was a ship, trim and pretty, a three-masted twenty-four gun, sailing up and east, soon to cross the gaze of Sussurus.
“She did say she had a ship,” Absinthe murmured. “It was probably waiting in the north, hidden by the glare of the moon.” Now he fully felt the wind spill from his sails. “Well then, Patches, what should I do? Go after her and get the jewels? Destroy her ship? Or should I just let her go?”
“Oh, no, sar, don’t let her go!”
Patches’ eyes grew wide. “Well, sar, a woman like that, bootiful and purdy besides, and clever enough to hand you your arse, you don’t let a woman like that go, no, sar!”
“Hand me my what?”
Patches doffed his hat. “Pardons, Cap’n, sar. What I meanter say is—if ‘twere me, sar—why, I’d marry her.”
Patches fairly danced a jig. “Oh, aye, sar—I’d marry her in a pinch!”
They could not see the jolly boat anymore. It had presumably tied up to the ship, which was now cutting across Sussurus, the taut crescent shapes of her sails reflecting the blue.
Patches clutched his hat. “She cut a right caper, didn’t she, Cap’n? And nuthin’ for yer trouble, no, sar.”
“Well, I wouldn’t say that.” Absinthe drew from his pocket a square-cut green gem more than half as big as his palm.
Patches gazed at it in wonder, his eyes wider than ever. “By the Thirteen, Cap’n, what that be?”
“I believe it’s called the Searock—or Seawrack.” He held it up to the light of Sussurus. A cloudy form of a darker green lay within it, toward the bottom. He turned the gem upside-down. The darker portion, now at the top, slid slowly down one inner side, collecting at the bottom and rolling along it to splash against the other. It curled over itself like an ocean wave, collapsing and gently coming to rest.
“How did you nip that, sar?”
“I just groped around under her dress until I found something big to clap on to.”
Patches’ shoulders climbed up to his missing ears while his face turned bright red. “Oh that’s larks, Cap’n! That’s larks! Your hand up her dress? Oh! Ooooh!”
Absinthe did not bother to tell him it was while the lady was not wearing it, while they were being drawn up the rope to the Moon. He had suspected the dress when she was reluctant to let it go, and when he threw it to her on her escape he had already been convinced by her belief that such things were soon to become worthless. Besides, the best place to spend such treasure would be the Archipelago, where the value would be honored, but its people knew all about him now. Best to give her what she was after; there was always tomorrow.
Of course, he was not above taking a souvenir. The legend said that the Seawrack had power over Ocean. A thought now struck him. Power over Ocean. It commanded powers above it. The storm. She had controlled the storm with the gem, summoned it even. She had controlled the situation the entire time, every bit of it, with the storm delaying all so that her plan could fully unfold.
He shook his head. Well, now he had the best of the jewels of Montforte; but as he gazed out toward the lady’s ship and thought about her eyes, which seemed now to swim before him, and remembered the feeling of holding her in his arms, he wondered if he had let go the better treasure.
“Aye, Patches,” Absinthe said. “She is a beauty. A fine lady indeed.”
“Pfffft!” guffawed the boatswain. “Oh, no, sar, no—she weren’t no lady.” He leaned back and threw his hat into the air. “She were a pyrate!”