Tidh Connelly sat in silence for a moment, staring into his drink. Benedict and Akshainie waited, unsure if he was done, or if they should say something. When the silence grew uncomfortable, Benedict began to reach and lean forward as if to offer comfort.
“Do you fear death, father?” Tidh asked. Benedict stopped, then sat back in his seat.
“I do not welcome it. But, as Saint Paul says—”
“It’s cold, you know. I don’t know if that’s because of the water, or because I wasn’t in God’s favor, but there were no angels to carry me to old Saint Peter. No light, no smiling faces from beyond. There was just water, and cold, and terror as the lungs begin to fill with water, and then darkness.”
“But it wasn’t the end,” Akshainie said, before taking a sip from her own bourbon. “Not for you.” Tidh shook his head.
“No. Not quite. It should have been, though. Maybe…” He sat silent again, then looked at Benedict.
“Father, I know what kind of monster I became. Will you, when you get the chance, will you put in a good word for me? Remind the Lord, you know, whatever good you can think of.”
“Are we having a confession now?” Benedict asked.
“This has all been my confession.” Benedict sighed and relaxed into his chair.
“Then, please, by all means. Continue.”
“Should I leave?” Akshainie asked. No one answered, and she didn’t leave.
“I don’t know if I really died,” Tidh continued. “I don’t know if I was brought back, or if it was just that I was spared from death, but it hardly seems to matter now. The point is, after the darkness, there was something else.
“I don’t know how to describe The Deep. The sea, you should know, is not one great spirit. There are spirits for parts of the sea, for different bays or coves or currents. But down at the bottom, where the light is gone, there’s just The Deep. Vast, and cold, and dark, and somber. The spirits in the light, people make deals with them sometimes. They like humans, or they don’t, but they never much mind us either way. We’re just passers-by to them. But not The Deep. The Deep only knows mankind in death, only knows the broken hulls of ships and scattered remnants of treasure that sink beneath the waves. But the sea, all of the sea, knows that the world needs it, and won’t let you forget it. The spirits in the light, they get their payment from the superstitions of sailors. The Deep, though, was tired of not getting its due.
So I was given a chance. The Deep promised me power, and a return to the surface, and a new life to throw at my enemies, if I would agree to collect the tithe of The Deep. I would sink ships when I needed to, or when I wanted to, and as long as the darkness beneath the waves got its due I could carry on with my mission with the full rage of the sea at my beck and call.
Well. What’s a dying sailor bent on vengeance to do? I sold my soul to The Deep. And when I did, I felt the power of the sea surge through me. I could see in those depths for the first time, and my lungs quit burning from the water. I knew I could stay down there as long as I wanted, I could live in the water just fine, but my goals weren’t in the water. I let out a sharp whistle, I don’t know how I knew it would work, but I whistled and along came a kraken, or the kraken, I don’t actually know how many there are. But this one, or the one, came to me, my ship wrapped in its arms. Pieces of broken wood rose from the floor of the sea and snapped into place, making my ship and sails whole again. And I took my place at the wheel, and called for daylight, and together my ship and I sailed back to the surface.
I don’t know how long I was under the water. Maybe I was dead for a while, or maybe the conversation with The Deep took longer than I expected, or the building of my ship was slower than I remember. But when I breached the water like an angry whale, and sailed right into that cove, the Heretic Wind was gone.
The wood shards flew in every direction, and one of them drove right through Hendricks’ head, the poor bastard. Another went right into my leg, and I went down hard and found quite a lot of blood coming out of me. I saw her, you must know. I saw Ingrid start to run toward me, but with a word Lambert stopped her dead in her tracks, and she never stopped singing. We stared at each other, and for the first time in years, the world faded away and it was just me and her and her song. I felt the water rise up between us, and I heard the wood breaking, and the men screaming, but it was distant. Like it was a dream I was remembering, while Ingrid and I were sharing the only piece of reality left. She was crying, God, I’d never seen her cry like that before, and I’d slice open anyone that could make her cry that way again. The water pushed our ships apart, and the few surviving cannons on the Heretic let loose, and my ship buckled under the strain. The storm bore down on us with all its might, and as the distance between our ships grew I reached out for her, and she reached out for me. Then Lambert was there, his hand on her shoulder, a bloody grin on his face as he watched me.
Our cannons unleashed once more, and I saw parts of that ship shatter all around Lambert and Ingrid. I raised my pistol and fired again, and I hit him, but only on the arm. I tried to reach for another shot, to reload my gun and try again, but the wood of the ship broke under me and the piece that broke away tore me up something fierce. I screamed and dropped my pistol from my hands growing wet and numb in the cold rain, and when I looked again, Lambert and Ingrid were nowhere to be seen on the Heretic’s deck. I pulled myself onto a more solid piece of deck as best I could, and felt a nail bite into my side and tear a line straight down as I forced myself past it. The ship leaned, and I knew it was going down. My crew were scrambling, and as I heard lifeboats hitting the water I also heard gunshots and lightning strikes. I knew they weren’t going to make it, not if Lambert could have them.
I threw every curse I had at him. I swore on Heaven and Hell that I’d be back, that I’d turn the sea itself against him if I had to, that nothing short of God Himself would keep my Ingrid from me. I continued to curse as I felt the water reach me, the salt searing in my wounds and screaming in my mind. I continued to curse as the ship went out from under me and the Heretic began to limp back toward the cove. The last bit of breath I had was hurled at Lambert, and then the water took me.
4 November 1694
We had laid a trap for the Heretic. We knew full well by now that we couldn’t catch the ship, not in open water, but they seemed interested in very specific marks. My first mate Hendricks, God rest his soul, he figured it out, you know. Just came into my cabin one day and tells me, he says, “I know how to get the Heretic,” and you know I sat right up and told him to get to it, then. So he does. See, Hendricks was a clever one, and he’d sat down and wrote down everything we’d known about the ship, and he noticed that all the times we knew where the Heretic was or had been, had these stories around it. He said he was pretty sure it weren’t just Ingrid they were after, but anything they could find with magic. You know, when we started out, none of us had even really thought magic was that real. There’s the sensible stuff, like luck, but now here we were setting a trap for some kind of magic collector to reclaim my weather-controlling wife. It seemed so natural at the time, but now I think about it and it really wasn’t, was it? Ah, you don’t know, do you? What’s normal to snakes and demons ain’t what’s normal to a man.
Where was I. So Hendricks says, you know, he tells me that if we told a good story about some dark item, we might draw them into a trap. And we had just the place. There was this cove, see, and no one really ever went there. We’d only found it by accident, but we kept going back because no one was really watching it and it was easy to hide and get some fresh water. We were sure we knew that cove better than anybody by then, so we could lure them there and be hiding ready to strike. Block them in, start firing, take what was ours when the smoke cleared. It was about the best plan I’d ever heard. So we found ourselves a couple volunteers, people who’d started to get homesick but were scared of saying so, but you can tell, you know? You can see it in the eyes when a man’s had enough of the sea. They didn’t want to make me mad.
So what I did was, we took the ship close to port, and I called everyone on deck. And so I tell them all, I says, “Look, Mr. Hendricks has found himself some information about this old staff, right, some witch-doctor’d lost that maybe could give us an edge on the cursed Heretic. But look,” I says, “it’s a mighty bad time ahead of us, we gotta go back to that cove, you know the one, and we gotta go inland a bit and the thing’s protected by some dark magics or another, and I know you all agreed to the hunt but this is new, so if anyone’s wanting to stay behind, you know, you can take one of the boats and go now. But,” I says, “you best keep this quiet, we don’t want no extra trouble when we get there,” because these guys, these people we knew wanted to go, we knew they had got some ideas about things. And they weren’t too happy with us. So about four men took the offer, and we all wished them well and let them take the ship, and watched them make it to shore safe before we were off. Let them really think they’d got one over on us, Hendricks said. So we did.
Well sure thing, we’d only been hiding out at the cove for four days before along comes the Heretic Wind. And you know, they think they need to go ashore, so we let them into the cove in peace and send a party to land, you know, wait a little time for the boys they sent ashore to get good and far from the water, and then we come cutting around these rocks, a man on every cannon, and I yell out “Lambert, you devil-weaned bastard!” No offense, Benedict, you know, I was mad, and I says, “I’ll have my wife back yet!” and we opened fire. We did a real number on that ship, let me tell you. By the time they turned to fire back, we’d put enough holes in them that I knew any God-fearing sailor would’ve already been ready to give in. But the Heretic earned her name, you know, and they weren’t going to Hell without a fight. So they start firing back and try to make a break for it, like they thought they could really slip right past us. They had the wind, of course, and took to speed faster than anything I’d ever seen, but we were in a good position. They couldn’t get past us without ramming us, and we were ready for that. We’d put some good solid bracing on that side of the ship, and had hooks at the ready. Soon as they hit, well that wood screamed, and my men threw those hooks, and out we both went into the deeper water, carried by the wind in a song.
So now we’re close enough to look each other in the eyes, me and Lambert, and I raised my pistol and I shot him soon as I knew I could. Put a hole right in his stomach. Mind, I was aiming for his heart, but hell, I’d take his slow death long as I gave it to him. So he stumbles back, and my cannons unloaded another volley right into their side, and I think everyone there knew the Heretic was good as dead. But Lambert wasn’t done. While I reloaded my gun and walked forward, ready to jump right on that sinking ship to get Ingrid, and I was calling out to her, I could see her take a step toward me. Then she stopped dead in her tracks as Lambert hissed out a command. I couldn’t hear it, but I saw tears start to roll down those perfect cheeks, and he yelled as I yelled, and she closed her eyes, and began to sing a dark tune. I could hear the sorrow in her voice, but before anything I could do about it, the sky turned dark, and a lightning bolt shattered my mast.
So I set out on a mission of revenge. We shunned all other goals but hunting down the ship that had taken our men and my wife. We tracked every pirate ship we heard rumor of, and hunted every trace of a legend about a ship driven by a song or a pirate that seemed in tune with the elements. At first, we operated within our jurisdiction, bowing to the crown’s demands when they sent us against a specific ship or asked us to mind a certain vessel, but as time wore on we grew less patient with these errands. They started to feel more and more like a distraction. And, it turns out, the crown was growing weary of us. They began to hear tales, reports from ships we escorted that ran into trouble or whispers at ports that made their way back to England. We were growing more angry, more focused, more violent. By the time we received orders to turn the ship over to a new crew, we were much farther gone than the Navy realized. I sent that messenger back with scars he would never shake and we were gone before the new captain could even try to walk onto the ship.
I suppose, by their definition, we had become something of pirates ourselves. But we didn’t care. The more ships we burned, the more men we slaughtered, the more trails we followed that led us nowhere, just served to steel our resolve. Every once in a while we would find them, the Heretic. We would realize we were drawing close, and prepare for battle, and then they would vanish into a mist or fly away on a wind that only served them. Always we were left behind, always with Ingrid’s song tickling our ears. Some men grew to hate her voice, to hate her, and I was beginning to have trouble convincing them otherwise. It was too much, we couldn’t stop, they couldn’t separate her from the work of the Heretic, not after coming so close yet again. We never looked back. I suppose there must have been something broken in all of us that finally snapped.
Six years we spent in this way. Hunting, destroying, taking our supplies from the pirates we killed and avoiding the English navy wherever possible. We started to go mad out there on the water, avoiding land, forsaking everything we had committed ourselves to protecting. When one man finally realized what we had become, and urged us to go back and rethink our quest, we left him on a lonely patch of sand with a bottle of rum and a pistol with a single shot.
No one challenged our mission again after that. It took me another hundred years to consider the idea he may have been right. But none of that mattered, not then. After a while, I think some of us forgot why we were even doing it. What we were after. What we wanted out of it. We gave ourselves over fully to the destruction, and we took our reward in blood. By the time we finally found the Heretic and managed to make it fight us, we were barely more than animals.
8 July 1688
I tell you lad, those years with Ingrid were the best years of my life. We made a real name for ourselves among the pirates and criminals and other vermin of the Caribbean, a much-feared, almost mythical ship. They all knew we were coming for them, and were always ready to fight when we arrived. We lost good men along the way, picked up others. Ingrid and I, we stayed through it all, and every minute of it was better than the years since. Even at our worst, when we’d fight about something or an outing would go wrong and we’d be left tending our wounds, I knew how fortunate I was that it was her instead of anyone else. Maybe I thought it better than it really was, maybe I just didn’t see something. I’ve spent the last three hundred years wondering what I’d missed.
It would’ve never occurred to me that there’d been anything wrong, mind you, until the summer of 1688. We made port like usual, having just finished some work for the crown, when someone approached her at a tavern. I wasn’t there at the time, you know. She was off getting some things while I was dealing with the cargo we’d brought back with us. Something for a colony, I guess. I didn’t much concern myself with where things the crown sent were off to once they were away from my ship. Sometimes it was better that way, and you couldn’t rightly know whether a shipment was best left unknown until it was too late. So I assumed all of it was. But a few of my mates were at the tavern at the time, and they saw a man approach Ingrid and speak to her. She seemed angry, they said, then scared. She slapped him and stormed off, asking the crewmen there to take her back to our cabin. There was no more bother from him that night, but she was clearly bothered. I didn’t find out what had happened until the next day, but I knew something was wrong, and for the first time we went to bed that night with something pulling us apart.
She didn’t sing that night or the next morning.
She wouldn’t tell me what was happening, and when the men told me what they’d seen and I asked her about it, she tried to blow it off. I pushed, but she weren’t budging, so I went back to the two men and asked them to find out what they could about this man. Only one man returned, barely moving. Oh, he was cut up something terrible, and knew he’d only been allowed to live so he could tell me. It was a pirate captain, man named Lambert running the ship Heretic Wind, who’d shaken up Ingrid so bad. And when my men went looking for him, he made sure they knew what he thought of privateers. I couldn’t let that stand. I called together all my men who hadn’t vanished into a brothel or something by then, and we went hunting on land for the first time. Ingrid, she stayed behind on the ship, with a few trusted men to watch and keep appearances as though the ship was fully manned.
We found some of Lambert’s men and we gave them the same treatment they’d given ours. It was a bloody fight, and something in me took pleasure in it. Oh, I’d killed before, could hardly do our job without it, but this felt different. It felt right, in a way I didn’t even know I’d been missing. Killing for the crown was a job; killing for Ingrid, and for my men, that was a pleasure.
The bits of information we found led us on a hunt through the whole port, and we had probably four scuffles before we found ourselves back at the water, in sight of the Heretic Wind. We made our way forward, but only then noticed the ship was moving. They were leaving dock, and here we were on land! I sent the men to go get our ship while I made a dash for the Heretic. At least one of us needed to know where they were going. But as I approached, I heard the song. Well, I froze right there in my step when I heard it. There, on the Heretic Wind, was my Ingrid. She was standing on the deck, free as she’d ever stood on ours, and singing to the sea. And I knew that song. I’d heard it many times before. And I knew, if she was a-singing that song, there’d be no way we’d catch the ship out of port.
I screamed to her. I ran as far as the end of the dock, calling her name, but the ship was gone before I even got there. Just like that, Ingrid had up and left, and didn’t seem to be under the least bit of coercion. It was almost like she wanted to do it. I couldn’t believe it, I knew there had to be some foul play at work, but I didn’t know what it could be. I made for my own ship, I had to try and find her, I knew that. When I got to the ship, though, it was a grisly scene. Four men, the lot I’d left with Ingrid, were torn to pieces and scattered all over the deck. The sails were much the same; torn, even ravaged, like wild animals had been set loose on them. I could barely contain my rage. I knew, then, why they let one man return to the ship. They’d drawn us out, and while we was gone they’d killed my crew and hobbled my ship and taken her. They’d taken Ingrid.
I called all the men together and told them what had happened. And we, all of us, made an oath that very night that we would stop at nothing to find and burn the Heretic, whatever it took. I would have Lambert’s head on a pike before I went to my grave.
Her presence on the ship was a blessing we couldn’t overstate. Having people who knew about and accepted her ability to move the sea with her song took some time to grow on her, but once it had, she was finally free to act in the open without fear. She would sing twice a day, at morning and evening, just as a matter of course. She told me about it, how it was like a greeting, a regular communion with the water. It didn’t do anything for us, but everyone believed it did, and when we needed something more direct she was happy to provide.
Well it was about this time that old captain got a new commission from the crown, and we left cold European waters for warm American ones. We’d been protecting vessels, you see, keeping trade running smooth, keeping our goods out of the hands of the Spanish or French or whoever was in a fit with us that week. And as soon as Ingrid was on board, well, we sure made a name for ourselves. We were requested special by the king, I’m told, and sent off to mind the ships running about everything we could find out of the colonies in the New World. But that captain, he was a clever one, and knew we had an advantage. So he didn’t just accept the commission to protect some vessels now and then, but sought a new task we could handle between escorts. We became privateers.
So that became our lot. We’d set out from port one day and go hunting, and Ingrid, she could do more than sing to the sea. She could hear it singing back. And the sea had all kinds of things to say to her. She’d get us information on pirate movements, and off we’d go tearing through those black sails like they was paper. Spend a couple weeks asea hunting, then back to port where we’d rest a couple days while the captain checked in with the trade ships. If he got an escort mission, well, we did it, as was our duty to the crown. But if nothing turned up? Well. The real money was in privateering, anyhow.
The captain remembered where our fortune came from, and I made first mate when Mr. Covington ate a cannonball off the coast of Hispaniola. It was a few months yet before the captain was called back to England, and that left me with the ship. I had finally found a path into the captain’s cabin, and when I sat behind this desk for the first time it felt like a shock went straight through me. I knew I’d spend the rest of my life on this ship, if the Lord would let me, and I was eager to make the most of it.
When we got back to port after my first hunt as captain, Ingrid and I stole away to a Catholic mission outside of town and got married proper by a priest. It was the fifteenth of May, year of our Lord 1685 when she became Ingrid Connelly, and I became the most fortunate bastard on the waves. We raised hell that night when we returned to port, and by the time we made it back to my cabin we were both half drunk and ready to take on the world. I believed this was it. There was nothing more for it, my life and hers were bound together forever, and we were gonna make a mark on the world of pirates they’d never forget.
I think, now, they were watching us even then. There were people who pieced together that Ingrid was the key to our success, you know, and I don’t know how they did it. Maybe they heard her singing out there, maybe someone talked. Don’t matter now. What matters is, we made a show of ourselves that night, and I tell you someone remembered it.
10 October 1683
We attended Mass and received blessings from an Anglican priest the morning of the tenth, and then went about with the final work to set sail. But we watched the sky cautiously, as there was darkness on the horizon that we knew not to trust. The captain, intending us to drive east, now looked in that same direction with hesitation. When it became clear there was a storm brewing, we braced for impact. By the time we knew the storm was too much for us to leave port, it was nearly too late.
We scrambled to safety as best we could, pushing out from the docks a bit to ride out the storm on deeper water. But it beat us hard, and I heard the ship fighting to stay together. We all prayed for safety, but then I heard a familiar voice cutting through the gale. It was Ingrid, I knew it sure as anything, and I found myself stricken with the thought that she was out there in this, probably crying out for help, and here I was hiding away in a ship! So I made to the deck and fought against the wind and the rain, trying my best to reach her. She must have been close, I knew that, for her voice to ring so clear in my ears.
But as I listened, I realized that she wasn’t crying, or calling for help. She was singing. It was soft and sweet, like a lullaby, fit to soothe the fiercest rage in a man’s heart. And as the lightning strike lit up the shore, I saw her on the edge of the water, facing me. It was just us, the two of us across the water from each other, separated by a storm. I was fighting the storm with everything I had and trying to get as close to her as I could, while she just stood there, singing her song. I stopped, and stood bolt upright, and listened. It was only then I realized the wind seemed to be breathing, in time with her. And the rain was falling into a beat with the song. And all of creation, in that moment, seemed like it was built for her, and guided by her, and I swear I lost sight of the clouds and the lightning and the waves as I stared at her, and she smiled as she sang.
And I felt the pull of the song, how it really was a lullaby, but not for a baby, and not for a man. The storm slowed, then came to rest. The sea took its slumber, and the black clouds drifted away, slowly moving west. For my part, I dove right into that sea and I swam as hard as I ever had, tearing up to my feet as soon as the land was close enough and splashing through the surf until I held her in my arms and pulled her close. We stood there for some time, her arms around me and mine around her, both of us soaked from the rain and the sea, just happy to know the other was safe. When finally we pulled back enough to talk, I asked what had happened.
“I couldn’t,” she told me plainly, “I couldn’t let the storm take you. I had to calm it.” As I thanked her, I heard the sound of oars slapping water, and when Ingrid and I turned I found my captain and two ship-mates in a boat drawing near.
“What’s the meaning of this?” he asked me, and I couldn’t well deny that I had disobeyed his orders in breaking rank, and sure as hell I’d jumped into the sea at the first sign of calm. These were grounds for leaving me ashore, and I knew that, but the thought hadn’t even occurred to me until he asked me to explain myself. So that’s what I did, and Ingrid confirmed that she had saved us. She told us it was secret, that she hadn’t been telling anyone what she could do, but she had to help us. Well, that captain knew a good thing when he saw it, and she was invited to prove her claim. So she sang again, and the waves rose and beat against the shore in time with her, and when she stopped, so did they. My captain, he said to her, he said, “you’re not meant for dry land,” and that was probably the most true thing he ever did say. So she was invited aboard, to keep us safe and give us good travels, and she agreed.
You should’ve seen the look on those boys’ faces when they saw her on the deck, and the way those faces fell when they knew she was only interested in one man on that ship. Not a single one of them looked at me the same way again after that, either.
8 October 1683
“I was in with His Majesty’s Royal Navy at that time, you know. I hadn’t yet had my own ship, but I was doing alright for myself. We’d finished cleaning up from that Cromwell mess,” the captain said, spitting at the name of the Lord Protector, “some years earlier, and now we were worrying ourselves with things like pirates and heretics of state. I was one of them, which of course my captain suspected, but I was damn fine at my job and he was willing to let a little papism slide in exchange for an orderly ship. You know the sort, I’m sure.” Benedict and Akshainie did not, in fact, know the sort, but didn’t bother telling him that.
“So we was on shore leave, rounding the north looking for some rest from trouble, and made land at Kirkwall up in Orkney thereabouts. So I was having my fun in the tavern there and met me a beautiful young maiden calling herself Ingrid. Well she could’ve called herself or me damn near anything she wanted, the name would’ve tasted sweet as honey as long as it belonged to her and I’d answer to anything provided it rolled off her tongue. We had us a wild run through the docks that first day, and ended it out a-looking over the sea.
It was there that I looked into her eyes and knew as sure as I knew myself, that she already had a love in her life. As she swayed to the beat of the waves, and the song of the wind, I knew in my best days I’d be second to the sea in her heart. So I spoke to her of the sea, and my own love for her, and how I felt more at home on a ship than I did in the mess the English had made of Eire. And she listened, and told me of the rush of swimming through the waters, and the way the sun looks just as it sets the waves ablaze with light, and how she was cut off from her home, as well. We took comfort in each other and in our shared mistress until well after dark.
Ah, those were the best days I ever had on land, and I was sore afraid that when we set sail again I’d have to leave her behind with no promise she’d be there if I ever managed to return. The way those grey eyes would light up at the mere sight of the ocean, the way her yellow hair caught the sun, the soft touch of hands that never knew work but had surely known the salty air as she ran her fingers over mine. I tell you, I could have lived a lifetime in those couple days, and it would have been enough. But then it was coming time for me to leave. I knew it was fast approaching, and thanked the Lord for a storm that trapped us ashore for another day. But that storm would do far more than keep me off the ship for a night.
The small rowboat left the dock near midnight, noiselessly cutting through the black water. It passed through a couple physical vessels as it went, but the two pirates paid no mind to anything but their rowing as they made a straight line away from shore. Benedict and Akshainie said nothing as they went, watching for any sign of betrayal or distress. They saw nothing of the sort.
The ship they approached was a moderately-sized three mast ship, of the type common during the heyday of piracy. It waved no flag, its sails were shreds, and there was very little light on deck. The exception was a bank of windows on the aft edge, which shone with an intense but flickering glow.
Benedict and Akshainie were welcomed on board and immediately shuffled along the deck to the captain’s quarters, a relatively large room which had been the source of light from outside. Inside the room was a desk secured to the floor, and a table between them and the desk. The table had a map pinned to it, which stretched from the eastern edge of the Florida keys to a little past Bermuda, south to just include Puerto Rico and north as far as the southern edge of Virginia. The Bermuda Triangle was marked in bold lines, and there were details of the sea floor but the land was completely empty of markings, save for a handful of ports. A man stood behind the desk, staring at them as they entered, wearing a distinctly large hat and an assortment of patched clothes that seemed to be aimed at looking regal as a set, but rang as a sloppy and mismatched vintage to the new arrivals.
“I’ve been hearing you’re seeking passage,” he said, leaning forward on the desk and flicking his eyes between Benedict and Akshainie. Her hands hovered near her swords, but none of the three moved.
“That we have,” she said, “and I hope you have good news for us.” The man smiled.
“That I do, if you can return the favor.”
“What’s your price?” Benedict asked.
“Work. If we’re leaving my waters, it’s first to make a stop in the Orkneys. There you can repay me for the passage, and then we’ll be along to wherever it is you’re needing to go.”
“The Orkneys are a good way off track.”
“Depends on your track, now don’t it? My track goes there before it goes anywhere else.” He stood upright and ran his finger along the back of his chair. “Why? You got a better offer? Something more direct?”
“Not yet,” Akshainie said, “but—”
“But you didn’t ask around about a relay. But you won’t find that, not with him abouts,” the man said, pointing at Benedict. “He’s a curse.”
“And you’re not afraid of curses?” Benedict asked. The man laughed.
“Boy, I been cursed for long enough. You can’t do no worse to me than the sea has.”
“I’ve heard that one before.”
“Aye, I’m sure you have, globetrotter that you are. You in, or are you getting the hell off my boat?”
“What’s this job?” The man shrugged.
“Nothing to bad for a pair of landlocked spirits like yourselves. Walk onto the island, find me a fur coat, and return it.”
“It isn’t just a fur coat, is it?” Akshainie asked. The man’s demeanor dropped.
“It is not. But it ain’t dangerous, not to you.” The pair looked at each other for a moment, then back to the man.
“We’ll accept,” Benedict said, “but we want to know what we’re walking into.”
“I suppose we got time to tell a tale or two on the way,” the man said, walking past them. He threw the door of the cabin open and yelled out to the crew that it was time to set sail, and the deck was suddenly alive with activity as men scurried to their posts and prepared the ship to move. The man turned back to the pair. “I don’t suppose either of you thought to bring rum?”
The problem wasn’t finding spirit vessels. In a hub of activity like Miami, there’s always some spirit or another ferrying something across the sea, for some price. There are so many that even humans with no sense for the magical occasionally stumble upon one, making some deal they don’t fully understand and suffering the consequences after their journey is over, if they’re lucky. Some ships were run by ghosts, others by spirits of wind or wave, still others by crews of assorted creatures. The taverns that housed spirits here were packed with crews of all sorts, wandering spirits who lost their homes to genocide getting into bar fights with the ghosts of pirates while naiads served mysterious liquors and water elementals watched.
The first hurdle to get over was finding a ship willing to go halfway around the world. Most of the activity in Miami centered on the Caribbean, going maybe as far as Panama or Brazil but never venturing out into the greater Atlantic. This shaved a good 70% of the available ships off their list, though Akshainie was willing to keep them in mind if needed. If they couldn’t find a ship to take them all the way, after all, it would have to be acceptable to take one as far as it would go and search for another when they got there. Best not to anger the locals, not least because they had not yet exhausted their usefulness.
The second hurdle was Benedict himself. Akshainie had an affinity for water, but she wasn’t a water spirit, not really. But even the human ghosts on these vessels had been so deeply connected to water for so long that they certainly seemed to be water spirits; and water spirits, it turns out, know a fire spirit at a glance. They had a variety of ways to say no. Some did so with insults in any number of languages, others expressed concern about his rage burning the ship, some noted that it was an ill omen to take a demon on the water (or, in one short-lived instance, that it was bad luck to take a woman. Akshainie left that captain with a permanent reminder that it was bad luck to anger a woman on land, as well), still others simply wouldn’t even talk to or about him. Akshainie tried to book passage without him, hoping to smuggle him along, but by the time that idea occurred to her it was too late. Everyone knew the naga was traveling with a demon, and no one was going to pretend ignorance even to steal her currency.
Benedict was considering resigning himself to taking the River Network when two pirates approached Akshainie. They were visibly uncomfortable with Benedict, but they had come with an offer from their captain. He was aware they were looking for passage, and who they were, but he was willing to talk. The catch was, he couldn’t come on land. If they wanted to talk, they had to do it on his boat. Akshainie accepted their offer and arranged a time to meet the pair at the dock to row out to the ship, but as soon as the pirates were gone Benedict expressed concerns. They had yet to meet anyone here they could actually trust, he noted, and now they were just walking right into something that could very easily be a trap. She smiled at that.
“Did you think we were practicing how to fight just to play nice all the time?” she asked. He sighed.
“That doesn’t mean we have to go looking for unnecessary fights.”
“Who said this is unnecessary, or a fight? We’re just seeing what his offer is. And, I would remind you, we have no other options on the table.” He didn’t really want to, but he accepted that answer, and they prepared to go meet this Captain Tidh Connelly. Of course, part of that preparation included getting what information they could on the man, and what they got was sporadic at best. The spirits of Miami were less interested in talking about Connelly than they had been about Benedict. From what little they could gather, Connelly was cursed in some way, and encountering him on the water usually spelled the end of that ship.
Benedict and Akshainie made sure they were in fighting shape before they met the pirates at the dock.