PART ONE: THE DAWN
Prologue: I'll Find Him
A man's thin, oily fingers touch the tabletop lightly as he talks. Voice whining.
"I saw his ship go down that day. Sad. Sad."
The girl's shadowy eyes blaze wildly, but she can do nothing.
"He wasn't smiling, but he was brave."
She sees a man under the water, going down, heaved up to the surface once more.
"One last yell he gave before he went. Never could remember what he said…"
She sees his mouth opening and closing, forming words. Water gushes in. Darkness. A still, motionless form is tossed in the deep.
Bubbles floating up.
All through the tavern, men turn to stare at the girl who stands from the table, eyes flashing vengeance.
"He is not dead," she says.
He is not dead.
They believe her. But she's leaving now. Ripping between the tables and scattering grog bottles everywhere, clinkety-clink. She stops once at the door, turning. Eyes alight.
"I'll find him. I'll find my father." Conscious of having convinced the tavern of that fact, she turns and stalks away into the darkening street, the wind blowing the first leaves of autumn around her feet.
"A memorable spectacle," murmurs someone.
"Regular little beauty," says another.
"Spitfire, that. Watch out for her, I would."
The man who had told the story to her sighs reluctantly. Do someone a favor and all you get for it is…well, this.
But the girl, tramping determinedly over the cobblestone streets, knows where she is headed. And she knows what her purpose is…
Chapter 1: Captain Sashay
Many Days Earlier
Quest loved thunderstorms. Especially if they were midsummer storms, and began with an overcast day and a low growl of thunder.
And then the rain, the rain that would come spitting like so many glassy devils down from the heavens to the mortal earth. Thunderstorms meant that somewhere out on the gnarled blue Grimblian Ocean ships were preparing to battle the elements. Tanned sailors would jump over ropes, tying knots, the captain would be shouting orders…
Quest longed to live that life again. She had, until two years ago. She had been fourteen, and her father had drowned, as was said, commandeering the second of their two ships in a thunderstorm. Perhaps this was why she loved the storms; it may have been paradoxical, to love the storms that killed your father, but Quest didn't think of it that way. Maybe, just maybe, if she reached far enough into the heart of the darkness and the high winds, she would find her father again, still trapped amid the torrent.
After realizing that he wasn't coming back, she had cried herself to sleep for a year, then forged ahead. Life went on, after all, and tears didn't pay the grocery bill. So she no longer cried. Weeping was replaced by a deep, quiet sadness that lurked behind her eyes and tiptoed over her face unexpectedly.
Now, at the half-grown stage of nearly seventeen years, with a grey, unkind past and no future to speak of, Quest was a strangely bright and optimistic soul. She settled herself in a comfortable heap by the bakery window and looked out, watching as rain began rattling the glass.
Oh yes, there were ships out on the ocean. One in particular.
Like a tall white queen, the Black Widow floated over the azure waters, tight creamy sails lifting with the swell of the wind, a regular snow lady.
And stalking to the front of her, who but Captain Dolly Maybe!
Tossing her golden curls over one shoulder and turning her perfect face to the wind, one could see by the pretty picture she made in her pirate's costume how she had earned her name. Cheeky ruffles rippled the edges of her linen shirt under the leather jerkin, and a small white bow was tucked over one ear.
But like the treacherous blackcap adder of the distant east, there was more to the pirate's charming appearance than greeted any naïve looker. Flaps of steel-studded oxhide layered themselves over and under every pertinent inch of her body. She was well protected.
She boasted that her ship - daughter, mother, and sister to Dolly - could never be sunk. Which may have very well been true; no one had even heard of its having to be repaired.
Big eyes round as saucers. Not to mention long, curly lashes. Blue eyes, like round sapphires, wells of never-ending blue, big and bright, twisted, twinkling gem-like eyes. Once you were under their spell it was hard to escape.
And no one knew that better than Dolly…
The storm was over, and all was sunshine. The world was smiling again!
Quest nodded to the baker. "Thank you for letting me stay here for a while, Mr. Lamotti." Don't say it. Please don't say it. Please don't -
"Miss Rightley, I expect to be repaid sometime." The baker fatly folded two fat hands over his apron, seeing if Quest had a remark.
And if I'm not, your honor will be forever smudged, thought Quest. Three, two, one.
"And if I'm not, your honor will be forever smudged."
Bingo, thought Quest.
But she would, she promised herself as the sweet air of midmorning overcame her. She smelled apples. She would repay the baker, and the tailor, and the grocer, and all the other friends of her father's who she had - no, not sponged off. Borrowed from.
Ah, who am I kidding, she thought. Yes, sponged off.
Her father had many friends. Had had many friends. And they had been very generous to her. Perhaps she wouldn't think of it.
Perhaps she would just walk along the docks jauntily. Her father's first ship, the one Quest had been on when the second ship went down, was still with the same sailors. Quest had often gone by to say hello, and they tolerated her, but they would not allow a girl to go to sea with them.
She swung on a rope towards the Suzy and threw up an arm in salute. "Hey, boys," she called fondly to they who had once been her father's men.
Bad Lucky grimaced, his yellow knobs of teeth smacking against his mouth. "No going aboard her today, Quest. She's just been scrubbed well past glistenin'."
"I'm coming with you on your next voyage," said Quest, ignoring him and running up the gangplank.
"No you're not," Captain Sashay said.
Quest blinked thoughtfully up at his handsome face. He was only twenty. She had always thought him attractive. However, the Suzy was going to be legally hers when she turned twenty-one; and since she fully intended to seize it and flee the instant she held the deed between her fingers, forming an attachment to the captain she would be throwing out didn't seem to be in her best interests.
Consequently, she had gone through many periods of denial, dismissiveness, fury that her pathetic attraction didn't pack its bags and leave, and finally weary acceptance. The tiresome cycle would then repeat.
"A woman onna board'll bring the Black Curse upon us all," prophesied Salt grimly.
"I will not. And Lucky, this deck hasn't been scrubbed in days. Anyway, I'm coming."
Captain Sashay shook his head. "No, Quest. A woman's place is on shore."
"Chauvinist," muttered Quest darkly. "And besides, Sashay, I'm not a woman. I'm a girl." She liked saying his name.
Sashay took a newspaper from a chair and pointed at a headline. Black Widow Kills Its Own Mate.
"You see there? Wickedest ship on Mother Earth. It says she cannoned her sister ship, the Speckled Recluse, because the captain suspected that there were traitors on her! Suspected! Quest. There is danger, and you're safer here."
"You want me safe."
"Of course I do."
"Because I'm a girl."
"Yes, and because your father asked me to look after you."
She blinked. "I never knew that."
"He did, all right?" Sashay strode to the railing.
"You were only a - "
"Lowly sailor. Yes."
"And he still…?"
"Don't ask about what you can't understand."
That stung. She whipped her almost-black brown hair around so fast Bad Lucky felt a breeze.
"Can't understand? You're the one that can't understand, Sashay. I can - "
"Go. Exactly. Goodbye." Sashay pushed her down the gangplank, and pulled it up again at lightning speed.
"Hey!" shouted Quest.
"We're going after the pirate ship, Black Widow," shouted Finn Blade, as the ropes were cast off by other crewmen. "Five thousand gold coins as a reward. The greatest adventure."
"And I want to come!" shouted Quest, feeling like an idiot. A whining, childish idiot. But she was so angry she could feel the steam from her own ears.
"Sorry, Miss Rightley. Can't," said Captain Sashay lazily, leaning on the railing and smiling suavely.
"Turn around right now," shouted Quest.
"Shan't," he said.
Quest turned and ran back through the streets, head pounding, dodging carts and people, jumping over a boat.
Quest turned to the man who was pulling it and smiled the sweetest she knew how.
And she knew how.
Elfine's Note: I have to say: These first few chapters were written a few years ago, by a young and twiddly Elfine who named her characters weird things like Quest because she thought it was really cool or something, so if there are writing mistakes blame them on her.
I named Dolly's ship before I ever heard of the Avengers, see? Great minds think alike is all. And I hope Quest and her affection/annoyance for Sashay is not cliche.
Review and tell me what you think please!