Halcyon: Salvage (Tilly POV)

Happy New Year’s Eve, All. ❤

Apparently I need more images of ships and mermaids in my life. I’ll add it to the list of creative goals for 2018. In the meantime, please enjoy this waterfall from one of my favourite hikes.

This is a work in progress set within the Halcyon world. I don’t know if it’s part of the actual main narrative yet, but it’s been something I’ve been working on to get better acquainted with a character that I’m really struggling to write. Tilly is many things I am not: cheeky, impulsive, reckless, a risk taker. She’s very much a shoot first and ignore the consequences later kind of gal. I have a very clear map of Tilly’s arc through Halcyon—what I haven’t had is any confidence in how to bring Nicole’s characterization of her out in my words. I’ve written some other things that didn’t work out well, but when Nicole read this one she said it was a good fit for how she saw Tilly. I’m feeling a bit more confident, now. It’s going to take a lot more work to get to where I can write Tilly as easily as I do Shaava, Kaprys, or the Wyrdkin. Maybe going skydiving with Marion in May will help me understand the risk-taking thing a bit more. ^_~

This story is set well before where I see the main narrative picking up. In my head it’s similar to WhiteRock sketch. An introduction of sorts. I have a second part of the story largely drafted. It might be ready in the next few days. We will see. ^_^

***

I took another lungful of air, adjusted my goggles, and dove, propelling myself down to the wreck with steady strokes. Schools of tiny silver darts scattered and re-formed around my intrusion. The water cooled as I made my way down, but given the way the sun was scorching the surface, it was welcome. When I got hands on the hull I pulled myself along, trying to map the failed ship so I could make my next dive more efficient. The wood under my hands was slimy with algae but wasn’t degraded, so it hadn’t been here overly long. It was a caravel, probably a merchant runner of some kind. If it had been carrying spices I’d be out of luck, the saltwater making anything I found inedible. But if there were perfume oils, gems, or even cloth, I might make out okay. If, if, if… always a gamble, salvage.

I found the first door I was looking for, the entry into what had been the captain’s quarters. The door was intact, but open. The hinges were dull, the handle missing completely. With a quick glance up to check for sharks, I pushed off the deck and made for the surface. When I broke, I waved to Uli, signalling that I found what we were looking for and was going back down. He waved back, confirming my plan. I gave him the thumbs up and dove.

The captain’s cabin was tiny, maybe half the size of Elias’. A thin mist of shredded pulp clouded the water near the roof, evidence of whatever documents or maps had been loose and lost when everything went to the Abyss. I glanced around, zeroing in on some cutlery on the floor and swam to collect it. From there I spotted other odds and ends, caching them in my bag. Then a jackpot, a small, banded chest locked fast. I tugged at it experimentally and nodded with satisfaction. It was going to be a bitch to get up but it was full of something heavy. Usually a good sign. I gathered it to my chest and struggled out the door, kicking hard against the weight and pressure building in my lungs. My vision was starting to grey out by the time I broke surface but that didn’t wipe my shit-eating grin away. Literal treasure chest. Fuck, yeah. Uli’s holler caught my attention and I treaded water, circling clumsily until I caught sight of the rowboat.

Uli brought the row around, plucking me out of the water with the ease of someone whose biceps were the size of one of my heavily muscled thighs. The man was a mountain, a cheerful, ugly, solid slab. We joked that Uli’s father had been Olfrin, one of the fabled giants of the Northern Reaches. Uli had never met the guy, so who knew? Might even be true. Stranger things had happened. That unlovely face grinned down at me as I landed in the boat with a grunt for the chest digging into my gut.

“This it, Killick?” he asked, pulling the chest off me and centring it on the narrow bench between us.

“I’m not a small anchor, Uli,” I replied, peeling my goggles off my face and setting them up on my forehead. If I’d said it once, I’d said it enough to name entire constellations by. The nicknames you’re given as children have a way of following you like albatross. “And no, that was just the CQ. There’s this, too,” I said, hauling my dive bag around my body and pulling it open.

“Silverware? A candlestick, oh, two… Necklace, inkwell, compass…” His inventory was efficient and would be perfectly remembered. He might look like an elephant, but that was okay. He remembered like one, too. “We’ll open the chest later. You’re going back down?”

“Hell yes,” I said with a grin. “Perfect dive conditions. And it’s not like we have anything better to do.” I jerked my chin at The Vagary, becalmed these last few days, where Elias, my father-ish person, was shooting the shit and rats with the rest of his men.

Uli shrugged and nodded. He wasn’t crazy about rats and hadn’t objected when Elias had assigned him babysitting duty. Maybe that was ungenerous. Uli liked salvaging wrecks as much as I did, and if Elias hadn’t assigned him to keep an eye on me, he would have volunteered anyway. It just rankled a bit, being overseen. I wanted time alone, something that was in mighty short supply on the Vagary, as much as I loved her. Uli seemed to get it, though, and was apparently content to roast his skin under the sun’s broiler while I adventured below. If the man got any darker we’d lose him on the decks at night. His tattoos hardly stood out against his skin this time of year. “Off you go, then. Where next?”

“I think I can get below decks without too much trouble. It’s pretty shallow.”

He nodded, placidly. “Your mother must have been a pearl diver, the lungs you have.”

I laughed. “My lung capacity comes from sucking cock, or so you all tell Elias.” Teasing was a way of life on the Vagary. You either rolled with it, or you got off next port. I’d been on the ship as long as I could remember.

“Even so,” Uli laughed, himself. “At least you’re putting it to good use.” He slapped the side of the row twice, a sign I should get going. I nodded, pulling my goggles back into place and sitting up on the edge while he counterbalanced me.

“I wish I had flippers,” I complained, lightly, tying the guide rope to my belt and securing the other end to the bench holding the chest. “I could swim so much faster with webbed feet.” I threw the line out into the water so I wouldn’t get tangled in it when I went overboard. Helpful to have if I went into an enclosed space and needed to get out quickly. We’d figured that out the hard way.

“Might as well wish for a tail,” he returned drily. We both made quick chivvies over our lower lips, the gestures intended to cancel out wishes. It was a bad idea to let the wind carry wishes away. You never knew whose ears they’d end up in.

I fell backward into the water thinking a tail would be fantastic.

The light and current held while I made my way back down, revelling in the feel of my muscles propelling me through the water. There was really nothing like swimming for making me feel alive. The silverfish seemed surprised to see me again. Nothing like fish brains for surprise, either. They scooted around me in a torrent of tiny bubbles, their shifting scales like sequins on a highborn’s dress. I made it down to the hatch and pulled a witchlight into being before pushing my way through. The little ball of violet-white light floated ahead of me and just above my head, giving me light without blinding me. The witchlight made salvage so much easier. I don’t get surprised by things that want to eat or sting me nearly as often since I figured out I could cast it underwater. I swam into an open space that had been galley and sleeping quarters. The ghostly sway of the remaining hammocks made the hair on the tops of my arms stand up, just a little. Crabs littered the floorboards, methodically consuming the last of the flesh from the bones of those who’d once lived aboard. I gave the remains wide berth and a respectful nod and went to see what I could find. They didn’t need it anymore.

The food stores were mostly useless, although a few small waxed casks of oil and salt seemed intact. Was that butter? There was the usual bin of limes; saltwater might not have fucked with those too much. Uli would know. He was always better at assessing that kind of thing. I pushed myself around the room, scanning quickly and carefully. Behind the galley lamp was the usual niche—we had one of our own—holding Keltyr’s coin and a scattered handful of small, semi-precious stones. I left those the hell alone. Say what you will about sodder gods, you don’t steal from them. Even if you’re not sure they exist—and I’m not—why risk it?

There wasn’t much to see other than that, so I started looking for the cargo hold. When I found it, I knew I’d lucked out. The witchlight glinted over an open crate containing rows of glass bottles, all nestled carefully in straw that swayed gently like thin fingers caressing their last drink. Wine? Brandy? It was hard to say. I didn’t recognize the bottle shape. Too big to be perfume, too small to be boring. I pulled two free and stuck them in my bag, feeling the ache start. I’d need to surface soon. I gave another quick look around and sent the witchlight out ahead of me, using the rope to haul myself out of the caravel and back to Uli. Jackpot.

She told me later that my victory grin when I saw those crates was when she fell in love. I still wonder what it looked like.

Uli confirmed that the bottles held some kind of fancy booze by popping one open and taking a swig. “Apples-something,” he announced, taking another pull. “Apples-something very nice, actually.” For the son of a giant, Uli had a refined palette. It was probably the only refined thing about him. Made sense, though. A body that size meant you’d need to make sure whatever it was tasted good because you’d be at it a while if you meant to get drunk.

“I think there’s some usable stuff in the galley, too. Oil and salt, maybe some butter. You’d know better than me.”

“Limes?”

I nodded. “Yeah. Barrel looked intact. No preservation buzz though.” He looked disappointed. I shrugged. If I could figure out how to make that buzz work, we’d live like kings. That was some damn useful magic for the seabound. “What’s the plan?”

“How are you feeling?” he asked, looking me over carefully. “You look okay.”

I nodded. “I think I can do two more before I need a break. It’s an easy dive, Uli. Mostly it’s going to be trying to get all of that out of the hold, which will be a lot of back and forth but nothing complicated.”

He rubbed a hand over his leathery scalp, lost in thought. “Do it. Bring up what you can from the bottles. I’ll go down and check out the galley while you take your break. Can I fit down the cargo hold?”

“I think so. Might be tight though. I could try to push some crates closer to the door. With the way it went down, you might be able to reach them from there if I can get them in place.” I grabbed a second coil of rope, silk this time. He nodded as I attached it to my belt. I tipped him a quick salute and headed back.

I noted the slight fatigue in my strokes and filed it away. Two more dives and then I’d take a good break. No big deal. The hold was simple to slip into now that I knew where I was going. The witchlight flared a bit brighter this time as I fed more energy into it. I was turning around to assess the crates when I saw her.

All of my air vanished as I screamed, replaced with bitter water and lung-crushing fear. Choking, I yanked on the rope tied to my waist as she swam up to me, her hair a cloud of crimson like blood in the water. Uli, Uli, where are you? Pull me back, pull me back, for fuck’s sake, pull me back… My heart was hammering, my vision patchy as I started to pass out. Her hands restrained me, a tendril of her hair brushing my cheek. She forced something into my mouth and I struggled to spit it out, but couldn’t because her palm was covering the lower half of my face. As I caught my breath, I fought harder, trying to yank her arm away from me. She was unbelievably strong. All of my effort barely amounted to anything.

Wait.

What?

I clamped my mouth shut around what she’d put there. Whatever it was, it was my best fucking friend because I was no longer drowning. I took a deep breath and then another, trying to get past the panic and the sensation of breathing in my mind rather than through my lungs. I started to think about it too much and began choking again. She motioned that I should close my eyes. I am pretty sure the facial expression for ‘are you fucking kidding me?’ is universal. Her frown intimidated me into compliance. I stopped choking and she withdrew her hand once it seemed I wasn’t going to start again. This is the weirdest introduction to an afterlife I’ve ever heard of… But the way the current moved around me as she did gave me the eeriest sensation of being alive that I’d ever felt. Eventually I opened my eyes again, telling myself sternly to not panic. I discovered that she was using my silk line to tie neat slip knots around the necks of a crate’s worth of bottles. Between me and the exit. Of course.

I studied her as she worked with her back toward me, astonished I wasn’t dead, waiting to see if I could get past her and back to Uli. Her colouring was sand and scarlet, her patterning like a firefish. The cargo hold was crowded between the crates, my body, and hers, her lengthy tail and abundant fins filling what had been open water the last time I’d been in the chamber. Sea stories taught to me from the time I’d learned to toddle told me how easy it would be for her to coil that tail around me and crush the breath from my lungs. Then I remembered that I somehow wasn’t using mine. I bit off a hysterical laugh, clamping my mouth shut around the miracle, breathing, breathing.

She was clad in confidence, adorned with jewelled chains and pearls. Her hair twisted in the slight current, a soft contrast to the jagged spines along her hairline, between her shoulder blades, and down the length of that formidable tail. Fuck. What if she was poisonous? Firefish were. My muscles stiffened as I tried to hold myself away from her. It would be just like the stories, keeping me breathing long enough to watch me die of poison. The panic started to rise again. I looked around wildly, trying to distract myself from my racing brain which suddenly wanted to review every trickster Mer-story I’d ever heard. Fucker. At my feet I could see something like my own dive bag, made of some kind of scaly hide that reflected the witchlight in hypnotic, iridescent halos. For a moment it was weirdly hilarious that she’d have a bag like mine. But they ate the drowned, didn’t they? So maybe hunting was really what she was doing. The idea of a Mer lunch kit had me choking on the miracle again. 

She turned to offer me the end of the silk rope and I froze. Her enormous eyes were black, and though they shone, I couldn’t say if it was with benevolence, malevolence, or something else entirely. Her face bore a passing resemblance to mine in that it had two eyes, a sort of nose, and a mouth. But everything about it was wrong, her cheekbones too sharp, her chin too narrow, her nose smoother than mine with nostrils more like slits than anything. Her lips were thin, even when she smiled, and although I know now that she meant it to be friendly, the way her teeth were filed to sharp points did nothing to make me feel comfortable with the way she was blocking the door. The gills along her neck flared rhythmically and I shuddered. Necks weren’t supposed to move like that. The hand that offered me the end of the rope had webbing between its too-long fingers. I couldn’t take it from her, not knowing if it was a trick or not. The stories cautioned sailors to never take anything from Mer because gifts were really contracts, indebting you to them until repaid.

She was flaring her gills in impatience when a harpoon flashed between us, embedding itself in a crate and shattering bottles, releasing syrupy amber liquid into the hold. We both stared through the hatch in surprise. With relief I saw Uli, hoisting another of his spears. She let out what should have been a screech but was something more like the peal of a sodder chapel bell, low and sweet. It reverberated in my bones, surged in my blood, struck me dumb. I suddenly understood why the bards sang of the bewitching power of sirensong. Even Uli was dazed by it and she took that split second to vanish. Before I had time to wonder where she went, he was hauling on the rope tied to my waist, dragging me through the door and pushing me ahead of him up to the surface. I didn’t have time to communicate to him that I could breathe. Either way, he couldn’t, and we needed to get topside so he could.

Uli’s ragged gasp as we broke surface made me wince. Poor fucker. That sounded like it hurt. But it didn’t stop him from trying to bitch me out as soon as he regained his breath. “Tilly! Alaune’s balls, girl! What the hell was that thing?” I couldn’t tell if his voice shook with fear, fury, or exhaustion as we swam for the row. If he was feeling anything like I was, probably all three. We cantilevered ourselves into the row, drawing tired limbs in after us in case she was lurking under the boat looking to pull us under. We lay there panting until our hearts stopped trying to break out of our chests. It took a while.

“We both know what she was, Uli.” My words were garbled around the miracle in my mouth. I spit it out carefully, studying it as it hit my palm. It looked like a tiny, translucent octopus, almost colourless, scattered with black dots. It was less than the diameter of a standard copper, wreathed in minuscule bubbles that started to pop as soon as it was in the open air. It started crawling into the centre of my palm and I realized it was seeking the seawater that had pooled there. I let my other fingers drip over it and it moved more slowly, bubbles blooming on its skin again. Fascinating. In a gross way. That had been in my mouth. “She gave me this. It helped me breathe.”

Uli eyed the thing with deep suspicion. “It’s a Mer-gift, Tilly.”

It was, too. Fuck my life.

“You’re not going back down there,” Uli declared in a voice that brooked no argument.

So, naturally, I argued.

We went back and forth for a while. It felt like hours, but was probably less than half of one. I only have so much patience for standoffs. Needing some peace, I popped the creature back in my mouth, adjusted my goggles, and dove again. I could hear his frustrated bellows about how she might be down there waiting to kill me for a few lengths before they faded. I shook my head to clear it. That was future me’s problem. 

I made my way slowly this time, still tired, eyes peeled. It was easier to think-breathe now that I knew what to expect. As I settled into it, I noticed things I hadn’t had time to see on previous dives. The way the kelp forest in the distance swayed with the current. How the colony of purple sea stars on the rock that had probably torn the ship asunder was crowned by one ten-legged, brilliant orange interloper. Shafts of light playing off the sandy hillocks of the seafloor. Something in me was greedy for this, the open space and silence standing in priceless contrast to Uli’s growling condemnation and the claustrophobic hubbub of the Vagary. If it took me getting scared to death and carrying a hitchhiker in my mouth to experience it, well, there are worse things.

Marvelling at how the critter on my tongue stayed perfectly still, I explored for quite a while before feeling a tiny bit guilty about making Uli wait for me without knowing what was going on. It was the barest sliver so I roved a while longer, until the guilt started to distract me from the novelty in front of me. Fine. The caravel had been a trim piece before its demise and I took some time to admire it while I examined its contents more methodically. The captain’s quarters had a few more treasures in drawers and closets, including an outrageous jacket all gold braid and fancy buttons. Elias had one like it, too. Too much clothing for my tastes. If I could live naked, I would, but Elias forbade it, not trusting the men to remember their manners. Fair enough, really. I knew exactly how often the men got to port—you just didn’t court disaster like that. It’d be like putting chum in the water and expecting sharks to refrain. I collected what I thought we could resell and left the rest. 

I looted the galley efficiently, taking casks and barrels to Uli who steadfastly refused to speak to me each time I handed up something I’d purloined. He still took it, though, so he couldn’t have been that mad. I wasn’t tiring as quickly as I had on previous dives, which was interesting and also useful for avoiding his obstinate silence. Once the galley was depleted, I quickly scouted the hammocks, finding more bloated remains being claimed by Mother Mother Ocean. I left them with shuddering gratitude that I wasn’t joining them in being reclaimed by scavenging mouths. With that I’d searched everything but the hold. I sent the witchlight ahead of me, whether to entice or warn her, I didn’t know. Either way, it was a moot point. She wasn’t there. My adrenaline-tired heart was glad, my bewitched bones disappointed. The bottles she’d been tying together were gone. Straw loosed from the crate floated around the enclosed space as if mocking a school of fish. I opened the remaining crates and began the long work of dragging their contents back to Uli. He still refused to talk to me. Fuck that guy.

The crew got roaringly drunk that night, declaring the apple-something quite fine, yessir. I lay in my hammock cradling the critter in a bottle of seawater. I’d added some sand and a spiral shell I’d found, reasoning that if I wanted somewhere to hide from all the drunken hullabaloo, it probably did, too. It climbed around, its skin crowded with delicate silver bubbles. It was probably going to be dead by morning. I had no idea how to take care of it and I sure as hell wasn’t sleeping with it in my mouth. Before I fell asleep I waved goodbye to it, feeling foolish and sentimental. When it was alive in the morning, I changed the water and named it Lucky.

Uli didn’t tell Elias what had happened, proving someone else had a sentimental streak, too. Elias would be forced to leave me on a cay if the crew found out I’d accepted a Mer-gift. Uli made sure I knew it, muttering under his breath about me being bewitched, making warding gestures against curses when no one else could see. It was irritating. In the weeks that followed he threatened to rat me out repeatedly if I didn’t behave. The idea of him telling Elias was usually enough to get me to fall in line. I mean, there is a limit to how much you can imitate saints when you have only passing familiarity with gods.

There were fewer wrecks to salvage over the next few months which meant fewer opportunities to dive. Not seeing her didn’t stop her song haunting my bones. It was as steady as the tide, a lullaby of beauty and horror. If Lucky hadn’t been busy exploring the new shells and trinkets I put in its bottle and Uli hadn’t been trying to blackmail me into good behaviour, I would have started to think she’d been a scurvy-induced hallucination. I worked, joked with the guys, and cleaned house at cards, all of it underscored by this weird, growing grief that I’d never see her again. When the silk cord showed up coiled around the anchor one morning, my heart raced. Fear that I would see her? Fear that I wouldn’t? It couldn’t have been a coincidence, could it? Uli gave me a knowing look as I took the rope. I shrugged, hoping to hell I looked more casual than I felt.

That night I gave Uli a nod as I hopped the rail and started climbing down the side line to the water. He sighed unhappily and nodded back, pointing to the moon and making the silent sign for midnight with sharp, brutish gestures. Less than an hour, but it would have to do. I nodded and crossed the heart that would have been in my mouth if Lucky wasn’t. 

It was different diving into the dark. Anything could have been in that inky expanse and the potential of it thrilled me. When I heard the clicking behind me I turned slowly, not knowing what to expect. If it was her, great. If it wasn’t, it could be anything, and I’d probably end up a tasty memory. I was okay with that. Something was going to kill me, might as well be a surprise. But it was her, tapping two metal spoons together. My heart skipped. She didn’t approach, studying me boldly as she put them away. I was mindful of Lucky as I swallowed nervously.

I hadn’t misremembered her. She was every bit as threatening as my memories painted her. That didn’t do much to dampen my curiosity, though. That shit was going to get me killed one day, Elias always said so. If she was going to be bold, so was I. While her facial expression stayed the same, the steady rhythm of her gills fluttered a bit as I swam closer. What did that mean? Anything? Nothing? I had no idea. She didn’t move away, though, and I finally paused a few feet from her, as close as I had been in the hold of the caravel. We circled each other slowly, her movement through the water so graceful it made my years of swimming look like barely tutored thrashing.

Her sand and crimson colouring was muted to cool greys and smokey charcoals in the shadow of the ship, the stripes that decorated her skin almost the same colour as the dark water around her. It helped that her hair looked more like a cloud of ink than blood in this lack of light. Her elongated limbs and digits were still unsettling, no less than watching her gills work. Her tail moved slowly and I forced myself to take in its length, noting the elaborate arrangement of fins shifting minutely, holding her steady. I couldn’t help but compare their gentle movement with the eerie sway of those half-forgotten hammocks. I shuddered. If I stopped myself from thinking of being crushed to death, I was fascinated by the way her body moved in the water. I hoped to hell that the dark would hide my awkward interest—staring was rude in most human cultures and I had no idea what the Mer thought of it. When I looked back at her face she didn’t seem to be offended, but really, I couldn’t be sure. She was strange. Awful. Beautiful. I could have stayed suspended in the water and her sight until the ocean turned to dust. But I only had until midnight. Fucking Uli.

She tapped her cheek. I realized she had no eyebrows around the same time I figured out she was inquiring about Lucky. I nodded, awkwardly smiling around my mouthful. She grinned, her pointed teeth flashing in the low light. I tensed and she immediately sobered. It took me a moment, but I realized she knew seeing her teeth unnerved me. I tried to make a reassuring gesture, to tell her not to worry about it, but it didn’t translate. She seemed to take it as a dismissal and turned to leave. I snapped my fingers trying to get her attention but couldn’t strike up sound in the water. One of her tail fins slid by me and I reached out, trailing my fingertips along it, hoping to catch her attention and then hoping I hadn’t just poisoned myself. She stopped and turned back, her expression definitely surprised. I forced a gawky smile, baring my teeth, and gestured for her to come back. She tilted her head in inquiry and reoriented with a smooth undulation of her hips. If Mer had hips.

Her tail swirled around me again with the movement, and cocky, I trailed my fingers along another fin as it drifted by. The texture was indescribable, somehow smoother than the water itself. She tilted her head in the opposite direction, smiling with carefully closed lips. Holy shit, this was actually happening. I grinned recklessly, gesturing that I’d do it again if she’d let me. She did. It was surreal. She gestured to my feet imperiously and I shrugged self-consciously, indicating she could touch them if she wanted to. My toes seemed as fascinating to her as her fins were to me. Her fingertips were sharp, like the ends of crab claws. I knew she could pierce my skin whenever she wanted to and had to work on not swallowing Lucky until the sensation of her touch became slightly more familiar. It didn’t help that it tickled. Trying to communicate that was challenging, but eventually she got it, her expression becoming distinctly mischievous. She tapped the side of her head behind one of her ear-spines, as if saying she was going to remember that. I grinned and raised an eyebrow, hoping she understood I was daring her. It meant I’d get to see her again.

The bells tolled above us, signalling midnight. I pointed upward with regret and she nodded. Uli would raise the Deep Fleet itself if I didn’t keep my word. With a crooked grin she rifled her bag, pulling out the spoons. She handed me one and then flicked the other with a fingertip. There was an answering vibration against my fingers. I grinned in reply. She swirled around me as I swam over to the rope, trailing her fingers along my calves as I hauled myself up out of the water. I blushed furiously as I climbed, spoon clenched carefully between my teeth. If anyone had told me that scratches on my calves would turn me on more than having sex with a dock boy, I would have laughed in their face.

But there I was, climbing with crossed fingers, as close as I got to praying that Uli would let me head straight to bed without an inquisition. If he figured it out, he’d never let me out of his sight again. All Mer stories end the same way: the seduced sailor drowns. I knew that as well as he did. I was just beyond caring. I crept down to the hammocks without incident and settled Lucky into the bottle with a ridiculous grin. Stripping out of my wet clothes and pulling on the breeches and threadbare tunic I wore to sleep took longer than it should have, my mind still in the dark with her. I flopped into my hammock still blushing, the thin lines she’d left on my legs tingling until the sensation felt like it was taking over my body. An orgasm took the barest edge off. Afterward, I didn’t fall asleep so much as get abducted by it.

When morning finally paid the ransom I knew I had to see her again. Uli cursed me roundly when I told him quietly over breakfast, but muted his hisses when Elias looked our way.

“Your daughter is the worst, Captain. But you knew that.”

“Raised her myself,” Elias affirmed. “And by all means, keep swearing at her. I am sure there are a few of your phrases she hasn’t memorized yet.”

Elias got me. Like father-ish, like daughter. I toasted him with my coffee and went to convince Sawyer to trade watches with me so I could have the night off.

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