Notes for Readers
- This novel has been completely written and posted.
- Check out my FFN profile for links to story materials, artwork, and the audiobook(!).
- This novel is a part of Jily Pirate Fest! Check out the "jily pirate fest" tag on tumblr to find more excellent pirate art and fic. There's also a JPF masterlist link on my tumblr sidebar (I'm fetchalgernon).
- Thank you, Stefanie and Karaline, for being my fabulous betas/friends! Your work is so, so appreciated. Thank you for telling me I wasn't crazy to take this story where I did, and for noticing whether Lily uses a bookmark.
- The cover art is by my wonderful, extremely talented friend Zeina, and it depicts a scene from this story. Check her out on tumblr (prongsvssquid) to see more of her excellent art and graphics.
- Thank you, Andrea, for translating the Latin quote for Part II.
- This story is dedicated to the Novel Writer Club (Adriana, Allison, Ayesha, Karaline, Katie, Laura, Natalia, and Todd). Aw, man, you guys were with me on this from the start. Thank you so much for your feedback and support during all of my angsting! This one's for you. :)
"For somehow this is tyranny's disease, to trust no friends."
Chapter One – Another Alley
Lily peered out around the corner, back flat against the alley wall. Target spotted, she darted back to Sam, who stood a little further into the alley, outside the range of the dim streetlights. "He's coming," she whispered. "Come on."
Sam grinned. "I'm gonna miss you."
"Shut up and snog me already." Lily flashed him a seductive smile. "Or have you forgotten how?"
Sam's handsome face flipped from amused to enraged, and he shoved Lily up against the wooden building behind her. "Think you can say no to me?" he snarled.
"Stop it!" Lily cried, forcing a few tears into her eyes, just enough to show but not enough to fall.
Sam's rough hand ripped her dress off her shoulder, the thin fabric tearing easily. She pounded her fists against his chest while he swooped in and began laving messy kisses along her neck.
"Sounds to me like you need to work on your seduction skills."
Lily saw him from the corner of her eye, a skinny, dark-haired bloke standing in the entrance to the narrow alley.
Or at least, it certainly looked an awful lot like the picture Lily had seen. He wasn't as tall as Sam. He didn't have half of Sam's muscle. He didn't even have an obvious weapon on him, probably to maintain a low profile. And yet there he stood, leaning one shoulder against the wall of the same building Lily was pressed against and looking terribly matter of fact about things.
Sam flipped him a rude gesture. "Sod off."
"I really have to insist that you leave this woman alone, actually," James said. "Immediately, if you please."
Sam kept Lily pinned with one hand and shot an annoyed look at James. "What are you going to do if I don't, eh?"
"There was an officer just around the block. I'd be happy to fetch him and leave you to his tender mercies."
Sam looked back and forth between Lily and James before finally shoving her aside.
"Don't think I won't find you," Sam sneered. "Now get out of here before I change my mind."
She let her shoulders fold in a little. "Sam, please, be reasonable—"
"I said go!"
James offered his arm out to Lily. "It's a lovely evening and I could use some company for a walk. Care to join me, miss?"
Lily threw one last panicked glance at Sam and made a dash for James, pulling her dress up over her bust where it'd been ripped. James eyed her state of partial undress with distaste. He removed his cloak, swung it around Lily, and wrapped an arm around her shoulders, drawing her in close.
She kept quiet until they'd passed a few homes and shops. Except for a few passersby in the distance, and the occasional flicker of a candle in a window, they walked alone in the small town.
"Thank you," Lily said, with as much depth as she could muster. "He can be very kind, but lately he's been very…."
"Crass? Cruel? Unwilling to listen to no?"
James still had his arm around her, and it was nice, pretending he really was her hero. They strolled down the cobbled street together and soon reached the boardwalk overlooking the harbor, the candles in the streetlights reflecting back at them in the ocean.
Brest had a quaint charm that Lily had found and admired in many French ports, a calmness lacking in the larger cities, with the ever present tang of sea salt on the air. She'd met new friends here, and some easy marks. But her coinpurse had got too light, and Sam wasn't so foolish as to ask her to stay, especially not when he would be moving on himself soon enough.
"I'm perfectly content to keep walking," James said, "but is there a particular direction we should be heading?"
"Where are you going?" she said, pretending to feign confidence.
"That's rather immaterial, isn't it?"
"I don't think so."
He looked at her with a vague air of concern. "I mean, you're beautiful and all, but we've only just met."
Lily guided them to the fence overlooking the piers, the sleek war ships rocking gently in the harbor tide. A seagull landed on the wooden railing near them and tucked its head under its wing.
"I'm not from here," Lily said.
"I did rather guess by the accent."
"And I don't think I should stay here much longer. Not now, anyway, not after—well."
"Who could blame you for leaving?"
Lily turned in toward him and looked up through her lashes. "You've already done so much for me."
"It was nothing, really," he said, his eyes going wide when she leaned in, her chest pressed against his.
"And I do want to repay you, only there is something more you could do for me…."
"Yes?" he said, a bit breathily.
Lily licked her lips, and he watched them, transfixed.
"Take me on your ship?" she asked.
He stumbled back, his arm dropping off her. "What?"
"You know the people on that ship, don't you?"
She pointed down to the ship closest to the boardwalk. A man and a woman stood clinging to the rails of the deck, visible in the moonlight, waving and hollering at James. One of them whistled loudly, in an impressed sort of way.
"Oh. Er. Yes," James said sheepishly, "I do know them." He slashed his hand through the air at them and they shut up immediately.
"And it only makes sense," Lily continued, a little excited, as though this were only just occurring to her, "that if you're not sticking around, you also work on that ship."
"You've got me there," he said, sounding rather strange.
"Where are you going?"
"Not that I know why it's relevant, but we're headed for Bilbao."
Lily nodded. "Could you—I mean, if it's not too much trouble—only I've a friend in Saint-Nazaire, you see. If I leave Brest, I won't have to worry about Sam, and then…. Saint-Nazaire is on the way to Bilbao, and it's only a day's journey from here."
"I can pay you, a little, and I need—I need to get away from Sam." Lily dropped her gaze. "You heard him. He won't leave me alone."
"I suppose not." James still had that funny sort of lilt in his voice, like he couldn't quite believe she was asking him this.
"I can help out on the ship, if you need," she said, letting her voice slip into a plead. "Cooking or cleaning or whatever you need that I can do."
"You want to come on board. With me. The man you just met."
"I don't know what else to do besides leave. Please, as a favor to your fellow countrywoman?"
He rubbed his hair with one hand.
Some pirates leapt at the chance to have a woman on board. James was requiring more persuasion than she'd expected, particularly given his earlier confidence.
"Er," he said, "how much do you think is reasonable for passage to Saint-Nazaire?"
"Oh, I dunno. Forty livre?"
"That's…fine. Yes, I'll bring you on board for that."
"Oh, thank you!" Lily pounced on him and engulfed him in a hug. He let out a faint oof but hugged her back awkwardly. "You're my savior. Thank you so, so much."
"Think nothing of it," he said, trying to regain his composure.
"When is the ship leaving?"
"Well, that's the thing, actually. Er, we're just about to pull anchor."
"Oh. That soon." Lily pursed her lips and pulled them to one side, pretending to deliberate this.
"I'm more than happy to walk you home if you're not ready to leave this instant. I wouldn't abandon you to the streets."
"No, I—he knows where I live, you know. And I—if I have to, I can be ready soon. Yes. Right now, in fact."
"Not that I'm reneging, but I have to ask – don't you need to collect your belongings?"
She pulled his cloak tighter around her shoulders, her voice dropping a pitch. "Not that I have much, but most of my things are…well, at Sam's. And I don't…."
"Yes, oh. And I'm—I'm leaving this life behind. If it means not having to see him…. I can easily live in this dress for a few days."
"Then take me to your ship? I wouldn't want you—well, us—to miss your departure."
"All right, er…."
She smiled, this time genuinely. "Lily."
"A pleasure to meet you, Lily. I'm James."
"James." She linked her arm through his. "It suits you. Very well, then. Take me to your ship, James."
James's ship didn't fly an obvious pirate flag – in fact, it flew no flag at all, which was what had first drawn Lily's attention to it.
Then Lily had seen him. James Potter, a man wanted by the English government for piracy. She'd found a poster with his face on it barely three months ago in Brighton.
Not that Lily had any intention of turning him in. She hadn't expected to run across a ship full of pirates in a French military port, but she was certainly willing to take advantage of the situation.
A tall, dark-skinned woman leaned over the deck rail and eyed Lily coolly as James led her up the gangway. Lily offered her a meek smile, but the woman's gaze only hardened.
Although James's ship boasted three masts and a sizeable sterncastle, the hulking naval ships of the marina towered over it. Young pirates often dreamed of enormous ships, large enough to hold a crew of hundreds, but Lily knew better, and apparently so did James.
Even after nearly three years, Lily couldn't board a ship without thinking of her mother. Her mum had always gone on about the expansive sails, the sturdy masts, the webbed shrouds – according to her, every ship had its own unique, complex beauty. James's was less elegant than others, but far from simple. Bright red letters along the side of the ship read The Oddity.
She frowned—ships tended to have more poetic names—but then hid it and watched James as they stepped off the gangway onto the main deck.
"Attention, everyone," he shouted. "We're taking on a temporary passenger. This is Lily and we're dropping her off at Saint-Nazaire tomorrow night."
Curiously, only a handful of pirates had gathered around them on the deck. By all rights, the deck should have been swarming with people adjusting the riggings and generally scurrying about.
"We're not scheduled to stop in Saint-Nazaire," said the woman who'd glared at Lily. She stood with her legs apart and her arms folded, a bright red scarf pulling her tightly-curled hair back from her face.
"Change of plans, Meadowes," James said easily. "Won't take very long, and Lily here needs a lift."
Lily kept her eyes wide and hands clasped where they hung in front of her, assessing the layout of the ship. Everything seemed fairly standard, except for the lack of more pirates.
"I'm really not sure that that's a good idea, James," said a sandy-haired man. He'd started rolling down his sleeves from where he'd pushed them up around his elbows, but before he could finish, Lily caught sight of long, faded scars running along his forearms. "We've a schedule to keep."
Obviously that was a lie—pirates had no schedules—but Lily kept her mouth in a small half-smile. She had the captain on her side, true. But this was a pirate ship, and she did need the support of the crew.
"Please. I offered to pay," she said earnestly, "and help out on the ship however I can. Only James just saved me from a—well, an unpleasant gentleman, and I'm…." She let herself break off and look down at the deck.
"I'm concerned about her safety." James slid an arm around her shoulders. "I can't leave her here."
Lily threw a grateful look up at him. "Please? I'd be so indebted to all of you."
A broad-shouldered man with a strong jaw unfolded his arms. "I think we can spare one day," he said, with a gentler voice than Lily expected from such a large person.
"Thank you," Lily said.
A dark-eyed blonde grinned at her, dimples forming in her cheeks. She wore her hair in a complicated braid that wrapped around her head, and wore her practical trousers and shirt with more casual elegance than Lily could ever hope to duplicate.
"I hear Saint-Nazaire is lovely," she said.
James nodded after each crew member weighed in, but he tensed almost imperceptibly when he looked to another dark-haired young man, one with a cleanly-lined face that Lily immediately pegged as noble.
The man shrugged, looking bored by the entire affair. "If James thinks it's a good idea, let her stay."
"That's what I like to hear, Sirius." James beamed. "Marlene, can you help Lily stitch up her dress? She had an unfortunate encounter with a very large rat earlier this evening."
"Those rats didn't become goats, did they?" the scarred man asked, eyes narrowing.
James looked confused. "Of course not."
The man gave a thin smile, verging on sad. "Just checking."
In the interest of drawing as little attention to herself as possible, Lily kept her questions to herself.
"Let's set sail, then," James said. "Remus, Sirius, we've got to chart a new course. My cabin, immediately?"
Sirius gave a lazy salute.
James leaned in close before removing his arm from Lily's shoulder. "Marlene will take good care of you."
"Thanks," Lily said, her cheeks unexpectedly heating.
"Come on." A hand tugged at Lily's forearm, and Lily looked away from James to see the friendly blonde. "I'll fix you up."
James waved at Lily as she let herself get dragged to a ladder leading below deck.
"You've got stunning eyes," Marlene said as she started climbing down.
"Er," said Lily. "Thanks."
She followed Marlene down and took a second to let her eyes readjust to the dim lighting. Like most ships, the crew slept on thin mats nestled between the cannons, a personal trunk tucked between each bed and the wall of the ship. A few candles flickered in iron holders along the walls.
Bafflingly, she and Marlene had entered an empty room. If the crew wasn't on the main deck or the gun deck, there were very few places left for them to wait for departure.
Marlene crawled onto one of the beds and began rummaging through her trunk. "You're not as curvy as I am, but I think we can make do. I can find something temporary while we fix up your dress."
Lily removed James's cloak and draped it over a polished cannon, holding up her ripped bodice with one hand.
Marlene turned around holding plain yellow dress and frowned. "You weren't lying about that gentleman."
"I always liked his strength," Lily said, "until…."
"Men," Marlene agreed.
Lily took the dress and smiled in thanks. "James seems all right, though. Er, do you mind?"
Marlene obliged her by turning her back, and Lily gratefully changed out of her broken dress and into Marlene's. She carefully transferred her mokeskin pouch to the new bodice, trying the keep the coins inside from jangling against each other.
The dress sagged around her chest a little, but at least she wasn't on the verge of exposing herself.
Marlene turned back around and raised her eyebrows. "Interested in the captain, are we?"
"He is fit," Lily admitted, adjusting the way the dress draped across her shoulders.
"I mean, his hair, for one thing."
"Oh, tell me about it. Makes me want to run my fingers through it, you know?"
"Well, I'll only have tonight to seduce him, and all things considered, I'll pass."
"Nothing on you, but I don't think he'd oblige you. He's not the type."
"Then I'll have to keep myself warm, which is perfectly fine by me." Lily made a show of looking around and counting the number of beds surrounding them. "It's all right if you don't have a bed for me, you know. I can sleep on the floor for one night."
"Oh, we've plenty of spares. Don't worry about that."
Lily didn't understand how they could have spares when they only had a few dozen beds, but she couldn't ask without revealing her vast experience with pirate ships.
"That's very generous of you," she said. "And I do appreciate you fighting for James to take me on. I know everyone didn't want to, and I don't want to cause any trouble on board."
"Oh, don't mind Dorcas. She hates everyone, and Remus is just obsessed with punctuality."
Lily smiled. "Well, they don't have to worry. I'll be out of your hair before you know it."
She expected Marlene to go help the crew leave Brest, but instead Marlene dropped onto her bed, brushing what looked like a letter off to the side, and invited Lily to sit on the mat across from her. Marlene settled in and leaned forward, like they were children and Lily was spending the night at Marlene's house.
Marlene was in the middle of a story about haggling over a coat in Brest when Lily felt the ship start moving. How they'd managed it with such a small crew so quickly, she had no idea, and she couldn't think of a good excuse to go up onto the deck and watch them work.
"If you need to leave me to help everyone else," Lily said, "I can manage on my own. I'll just go to sleep."
Marlene waved a hand. "Oh, they're fine without me."
"If you're sure," Lily said uncertainly.
Not long after the ship started its journey, more members of the crew started trickling down from the main deck.
Remus came first, climbing down the ladder with precise steps, and gave Lily a faint smile. "Evening," he said, moving toward the bed next to Lily. "Marlene, James nicked himself and is bleeding all over. Would you mind patching it up? I remain unconvinced by his pleas that he's fine."
At least that explained why Marlene wasn't expected to help out on deck. They were foolish to sail with such a small crew, but not so foolish as to sail without a surgeon.
"Idiot," Marlene said fondly. She hopped to her feet and threw an apologetic look at Lily. "I'll be right back."
She clattered up the ladder, and Lily turned to Remus. He pulled a few neatly-folded shirts out of his trunk and set them precisely on his bed.
"It seems James showed up just in time to save you," he said, not looking at Lily.
"He has impeccable timing."
"I admit, it's not something I've ever accused him of before." Remus bent over to reach into the bottom of his trunk with one arm, nearly sticking his head in his trunk, and frowned.
Lily kept herself from straining her neck to see what he was looking at so intently. "Mathematically speaking, he must be in the right place at the right time at least occasionally."
"True enough." He leaned back to sit on his heels and placed his shirts back in his trunk, as deliberately as he'd removed them. "You're awfully far from home."
"So are you."
"My purpose is a little better defined than yours, I should think. What's drawing you to Saint-Nazaire?"
"I've a friend who'll take me in, at least for a while."
"And then what will you do?"
"I don't know," she said, which was technically true, only not in that particular context. "Sam said he was going to ask me to marry him, but obviously that didn't quite pan out, and now I'm rather without a plan."
His face softened. "I'm sorry to hear that."
"I knew for a while it wasn't going to work out, but I…I didn't want to give up hope. Because he'd always been so kind, and he'd always loved France, but we moved and—well. He changed."
People who'd just had their worlds turned upside-down always needed to explain things, rationalize them in some way. Even more than most, they had a strange affinity for the liberating feeling that came from confiding in people they barely knew and would likely never see again.
Of course, Lily was lying through her teeth, but Remus had unfolded his arms and was looking at her with curiosity, not suspicion.
He smiled. "I'm glad we could be of some assistance."
"I'm so indebted to all of you. I really can't thank you enough."
When she met people like Remus and Marlene, her deception sometimes seemed ill-advised, and misplaced. But she wouldn't know them for long, and besides, they were pirates.
The broad-shouldered man and a new man, a shorter one with watery eyes, found their way down the ladder. While neither man was exactly small, only the first carried his weight well.
"Evening," said the broad-shouldered man, smiling softly. "I'm Caradoc."
"Lily," she said.
"I'm pleased to meet you." He kneeled down on a bed near the ladder and began methodically searching through his trunk.
"Sorry," she said to the shorter one, who stood at the foot of the bed across from Caradoc. "I don't think we've met."
His eyes flicked anxiously between her and Remus. "Peter."
"What's your station on board?"
He shrugged, with an affected air of disinterest. "Sailor."
"How long have you been at that, then?" she asked warmly. "It's very exciting, I should think."
Peter knelt down on his bed and pointedly turned his face away from Lily. "Long enough."
He could have been tired – it was late, after all, and Caradoc had already curled up on his bed. Only Remus was still sitting up with her, and he gave her an apologetic smile.
"I think it's best if we all go to bed," Remus said. "Plenty of work to be done in the morning, and all that."
"Honestly, sleep sounds wonderful," Lily said. "Thank you for your kindness."
"Oh, our pleasure." He started to lie down, but then stopped himself. "I wouldn't normally fuss over these things, only you're sitting on Sirius's bed…."
"Ah. Yes." She climbed to her feet and looked down the row of beds.
"I think you'd be best off in the bed on the other side of me."
Lily nodded. "Anywhere is better than Brest."
Creeping along the main deck later only confirmed that there was something terribly strange about James's ship. Ropes lay in perfect coils on the deck. The sails shone as white as shells in the moonlight, and the rails showed no signs of bird droppings even after sitting in a harbor all day.
Lily had never seen such an immaculate pirate ship before – they must have been fairly early on in their journey. It was plausible that they'd left from England, but that didn't explain why they'd ported in Brest. It wasn't more than a few days' trip from England, and Lily had seen them come into Brest only the night before. Not to mention most pirates would have avoided a military port at all costs.
Drops of wax from her candle splattered on the cloth she'd wrapped around her hand. She'd had to steal from five ships before she could afford this candle, and she wasn't about to shave off any of it, even the bottom edges to squeeze it into a holder.
She would have run to conserve wax if it wouldn't have put out the flame, and if the candle were capable of hiding the sounds of her footsteps as well as it did her body. The sound of the ship crashing against the waves covered her tip-toeing, but running on wooden decks tended to be loud enough to attract attention.
Lily glanced up at the crow's nest, where she could see Dorcas profiled against the stars. By process of elimination, Sirius was somewhere on deck—he'd never come down to bed—and James was likely in his cabin, which was probably on this level of the ship.
She sneaked up the stairs to the quartercastle deck instead – no one was likely to be in the navigation room at this hour, and if nothing else she could take some maps and compasses. A good map was worth a few months' room and board if she could find the right buyer. She'd have to go to a bigger port than Saint-Nazaire, but she could sell off a lesser map for passage to the Netherlands, or maybe Spain.
She peered in a small port window – the clear light of the moon fell across a sprawling table covered in maps and charts. No crew members, though.
Lily slowly turned the handle and tugged the door open, just wide enough to slip inside, and pulled it shut behind her.
She blew out her candle and wrapped it in the cloth. After a glance at the door, she withdrew her mokeskin pouch from the bust of her dress and turned it inside-out, dumping the few coins it held on the table. She pulled the drawstring shut, reopened it, and placed the candle inside the now cavernous pouch. Once she'd reversed it again, she dropped her coins back in and shoved it back in her dress.
At first glance, the maps on the table seemed to be fairly standard profiles of the French coast. Nothing to get excited about. A few more rolled up maps in the corner looked promising, or…. A cabinet, that was better. People liked to put valuable maps away until they needed them.
Lily strode over to the narrow cabinet in the corner and tugged at the door.
It didn't give.
Her mouth curved into a smile. She pulled a hairpin out from her bun, slipped it into the lock, and after a quick twist, the door sprung open.
She reached inside—
"I hoped I'd be the one to catch you."
Lily spun around, folding the hairpin into her palm, her heart trying to leap from her chest.
Sirius lounged against the open door, a smug grin on his face. "I asked for the graveyard shift, in fact, once James told me he didn't trust you. I don't take kindly to women taking advantage of my best mate, you see."
"What do you mean, catch me?" She frowned. "I'm only looking around – couldn't sleep. I don't get many opportunities to wander around ships. I think they're fascinating."
"I saw you go into that cabinet."
"So? I'm a little nosy, my mother always said so. It's just a cabinet."
Sirius arched an eyebrow. "That cabinet was locked."
Lily mentally cursed, her palms sweating. He had several inches on her and plenty more muscle—no sword, though, which meant if she could get to her pouch quickly enough…. Lying still seemed the most viable option for the moment.
"Was it?" She glanced back at the cabinet door in feigned confusion. "Maybe someone forgot to lock it. It opened fine for me."
He beckoned her closer. "Then what've you got in your hand?"
She couldn't drop her hairpin, not without him seeing, and saying she wasn't holding anything was beyond idiotic.
"It's just a hairpin," she said dismissively, and she shoved it up into her hair among her other pins before he had taken a step forward.
He marched across the room to tower over her. "Give it to me."
"It's mine. You've no right to it."
"I'll rip them all out of your hair if you don't give it to me."
"Sirius," James called.
Lily leaned sideways to see him standing in the doorway, arms folded over his chest.
"You know, I thought we'd covered the difference between threatening and summoning," James said, exasperated. "Do we need to go over it again?"
Sirius brushed a lock of hair out of his eyes. "Where's the fun in summoning?"
James sighed. "Come on, Lily. To my cabin."