The sky was black; the only light, the stars. The sea reflected the sky so perfectly, Jennifer wasn't sure which she was floating in, or for how long. The ship she and her father had been taking from India back to England had run into a storm...everything blurred for her after that.
She was so cold. It felt like she'd been cold forever. And her arms were so heavy...it was amazing she'd held on to the piece of wood so long. She had nothing to do but stare at the stars. She liked those two yellow ones especially. They were the same size and level with each other. They looked like panther's eyes, with only a large black shadow between them, no other stars.
No...not a shadow, a ship! With a skull for a figure head, and a bow shaped like a shark's grinning mouth. But still a ship, with giant sails blocking out the night sky. Jennifer lifted her head and tried to call out, but her voice was muffled by misuse.
"Cap'n! Off the port bow!" a rough voice called out.
"Bring them aboard Mister Jalyah." The captain's voice was young, but sure and educated. Jennifer heard the sounds of ropes being cast over, then bodies scaling down the rope. A sailor with several scars puckering his dark skin, but kind black eyes swung down to her. She wearily lifted her arms to wrap around his neck as he lifted her from the water. With the skill of one meant for the sea, he scrambled back on deck where he set her down gently. Someone else walked up to her and settled a blanket around her shoulders. Jennifer realized she was shaking with the cold.
The person knelt before her; he was a young man with dark hair and dark eyes. His beard was thin and neatly trimmed, just emphasizing the line of his jaw, which was square, but soft with youth. His smile was the kindest she'd seen besides her father's.
"There you are. It's all right, you're safe now," he said, and she recognized his voice as the captain's. "We'll get you home."
"H-home," she rasped out through her chattering teeth. The captain nodded and stroked her hair.
"That's right. Home. You're very brave Jennifer. The bravest twelve-year old I've met."
His smile warmed her and she relaxed into him. "Know me?" she asked, for he knew her name..
He nodded. "We've been looking for you all night, you'd drifted quite a ways from where you went overboard."
The captain glanced at the older sailor standing behind him. "He's safe aboard the Marie still."
"Will I see him soon?" she wasn't as cold any more, and drier too.
His eyes saddened and he stroked her hair again. "Not for a while I'm afraid."
Jennifer clutched his shirt in her hands. "But I will see him again?"
He grinned, a little lopsidedly. "I promise."
Relieved at the assurance of her father's safety, Jennifer looked at the ship that rescued her. The ship itself seemed to be made of coral rather than wood, with crystalline growths here and there. The sails were pale and...wet? They almost looked like strips of seaweed sewn together.
"This isn't like any ship I've ever seen," she remarked in awe.
The captain's lips twitched, as if he were stifling a laugh. "No, I'd bet not. Come, you can rest in my cabin until we reach our destination." He stood up and offered her his hand. She took it shyly, for she'd never had the attentions of someone so handsome, and let him lead her along the deck. The ship got even curiouser, for instead of a normal deck, it had two balconies running along the sides, and the middle was a level down.
"How long until we reach our destination?" she asked.
"We should arrive there at dawn," he answered as he opened the door to the cabin and gestured for her to enter first. Jennifer resisted the urge to giggle. Her father had warned her against sailors, claiming most were rude and unsavory; but the captain had been nothing but gentlemanly towards her so far.
The cabin was made of the same, pale-green coral stuff, but was lit warmly. In the back stood an impressive organ. It looked like it was made of driftwood, and there were intricately carved sea animals climbing, or swimming, Jennifer supposed, up the pipes.
"Oh! Do you play, captain?"
He looked away. "No...that belonged to the previous captain."
"Oh." Jennifer looked back at the organ, which seemed sadder now. "What happened to him?"
The captain's expression hardened. "He died," he answered shortly.
Jennifer hung her head contritely. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't be prying."
"It's al right. It was a long time ago." He fingered a golden band on his left ring-finger and stared into the distance.
Jennifer stayed quite for a minute or two, watching the captain consult his maps. She didn't want to pry anymore and seem rude, but her curiousity was wriggling inside her like a newly wakened puppy.
"Are you married, Captain?"
His answering smile was loving, if wistful. "Aye. To the loveliest woman in all the world."
"Do you miss her while you're at sea?"
His mouth quirked wryly. "Every minute of it."
How romantic! Jennifer though. "How long has it been since you've seen her?"
His deep brown eyes got a far away look to them. "Eight years, five months and six days."
Jennifer gaped. "Eight years!? Why so long?"
Before the captain could answer, a sailor entered the cabin. "Cap'n, the boats are here."
"Thank you, Mister Fazetti. Miss Jennifer, if you'll excuse me, I have business to attend to." The captain flashed her a quick smile and followed Fazetti out onto deck.
Jennifer lasted all of thirty seconds before her curiosity brought her to the door and she peeked out. The sea was filled with dinghies, each bearing a single person with a dim lantern in the bow.
The captain stood at the bow of the ship, strong and handsome. No one was paying attention to Jennifer, so she slipped out onto deck.
"Ladies and Gentlemen," the captain called out over the water. "Dawn approaches, soon you will be home. Keep your crafts close to the Dutchman, and do not stray."
Jennifer look to the lightening horizon and felt a warmth in her chest. Home. The fleet of boats glided towards the lightening sky, and a faint rumble sounded in Jennifer's ears; like the waterfalls of India. It grew louder as Jennifer made her way to the bow where the captain stood. Several sailors paused in their work to watch her, but none made to stop her.
"Miss Jennifer! What are you doing out here?" the captain asked as she stepped up beside him. He sounded flustered, and younger than before.
"That's the edge of the world, isn't it?" she asked, ignoring his question. He looked flustered now, and glanced at his crew for help. When they quickly turned back to their tasks and pretended innocence, the captain sighed and rubbed the back of his neck.
"Yes, it is," he admitted.
"You're not taking me home, you're taking me Home." It wasn't a question. Jennifer felt it to be true with all of her soul.
The captain studied her for a minute. "Aye. Are you ready?"
Jennifer hesitated. "My father, will he be all right?"
The captain smiled. "I think he will, knowing you're safe and waiting for him."
Jennifer smiled back. "Then I'm ready."
The roaring grew louder and the ships sailed through the water so fast it made her feel weightless. But she wasn't scared. She felt the calmest she'd ever felt. The prow of the Dutchman surged up and Jennifer felt her feet leave the deck. The sun rose and there was a crack of lightning. Green light fell over everything, and the roaring was silenced in a respectful hush.
"Captain," she began, turning to him, "may I ask your name?"
"William Turner, Miss."
Jennifer leaned down, for the light was tugging her upwards, and shyly kissed him on the cheek. "Thank you, William Turner. I hope you can see your wife soon."
Captain Turner raiser her hadn to his lips. "God speed, Miss Jennifer." He let her go, she surged upwards, and then...
She was Home.