“Cap’n. Stores’re more’n low. Cookie says soon we’ll be eatin’ dry biscuits and tha’s about all fer here on out.”
Captain Erislos Thanat looked up from the map spread out on her desk and stared at the crewman who came to deliver the news. Beside her, her first mate Tendaji remained stoic.
“How soon until we make port?” she asked in a carefully calm tone.
“Not soon ‘nough. Bellies will go hungry a’fore then says Cook.”
Nodding, Eris lifted the top card of the stack sitting near a small lockbox on the corner of her desk. She studied it for a moment and then nodded.
“Next ship, no matter the sail, we fly the black flag.”
The sailor, a sturdy man by the name of Broul, flashed a look at Tendaji, but the first mate did not meet his eye.
“Yessir,” Broul said as he turned to relay the message. “We’ll get ready, sir.”
Once the man left, Tendaji stepped behind Eris and put both hands on her shoulders. His confident fingers worked the tension in her muscles and she leaned back against his torso.
“We are ready,” he said simply. “We will not let you down.”
“I know,” she answered with a quiet confidence she did not fully feel. “We must do what we must do.”
The ship was small and fast. It flew over the waves on its way south, but it could not outrun The Golden Apple. In fact, it did not try to; the unsuspecting Gondorian vessel slowed its speed to allow Eris to catch up.
When they hoisted the black flag, they could see the shouts of the men on board the other vessel and Eris had to laugh at the deception. They were too close to be outran now and their line bit into the deck and rails like fishhooks. Heave! Ho! Lure them in. Board and plunder.
It was carrying mainly passengers from the northern ports to the south. Pelargir waited for its cargo and crew, but two less would make it to port after they unsuccessfully fought to defend their ship. Tendaji did not lie when he said that they would be ready. Within minutes, the survivors knelt along the deck, hands at the backs of their heads, eyes cast down. All but one.
“Now, here’s a pretty dress for this lot,” Broul said as he tipped a woman’s chin up with the flat of his sword. “Pretty lass, too. No sailor are ye, I’d reckon.”
The woman leaned away with an angry glare in her eye. She remained silent in her fine traveling cloak and fancy black leather traveling boots. Eris noted how she refused to look at the man, but also refused to lower her eyes and she couldn’t help but smile.
“Leave her be,” Eris commanded. “We’re not here for that.”
Leering, Broul lowered his sword and continued walking down the deck in front of the other prisoners.
“Now, thank ye kindly, good folk of Gondor,” Eris said as she leaped onto the rail and snagged the rope she used to swing onto the victim ship. “Yer goods will be well taken care’ve in the practiced hands of me crew.” She touched the broad rim of her feathered hat and coiled to swing back to the Apple when the pretty woman in the pretty dress spoke in a clear voice.
“I know who you are. I know your ship.”
Eris paused and looked over her shoulder at the woman whose shoulders bent back cruelly her bindings were so tight.
“It is The Golden Apple and you are Captain Erislos Thanat. You have to be.”
Eris’ blood ran cold. Every inch of skin tingled with alarm.
“Who are you?” she asked against her better judgement. “From whence you came?”
“You won’t get away with this,” the woman said, her sable hair gleaming in the sun. “My brother won’t let you do this to our name.”
Realization dawned on her. Eris smiled with the recognition and then, within a heartbeat of the thought, frowned.
“Why are you here and not with your new husband in Eriador? Did he send you back?” She did not feel nor acknowledge all the eyes on her.
“No. I chose to return.”
“But not to the City of Love and Delirium. Why go back where you are a black scar on such perfect stone?”
Halvel’s cheeks flushed. “No, not to Dol Amroth. But I will send notice. He will not let you continue to tarnish our family’s–“
Eris laughed. The force of it resonating on the open sea caused the noblewoman to stop mid-sentence and gape at her.
“Broul, take her aboard,” she ordered, still smiling. “It looks like we have ourselves a guest.”