The instant that she had been out of the captain’s line of sight, Ron had turned sharply and circled back to the abandoned exit, destination in mind. Her wig was secured again, just slightly ruffled as she climbed out of The Blackbird. The crew of the ship were all conveniently inebriated, the stench of alcohol wafting through the doors and tainting the air. Captain Cotton herself was busy participating in rather unsavory activity, moans of sinful pleasure and cries of passion audible within a few paces of her quarters, not to mention the constant squeaking and rattling of a bed frame. Most likely as blazing drunk as the rest of her shipmates, but it was miraculous how she had maintained a sober air while speaking to Veronica. A regular drunkard, possibly. What rotten luck.
Ron was running as soon as her shoes touched the ground, without so much as a breath or a cracking joint. She wasn’t leaving her just-acquired post, but gathering her belongings from the nearby inn, the Frog’s Head. As soon as she had emerged through the ratty wooden door, Veronica remembered. Nobody at the inn had seen her as a man, and that posed many a possibility of getting away without paying her dues.
The innkeeper’s daughter, a young, pretty girl, was unlucky enough to have the night’s shift, sitting at a counter with a massive book before her. She looked up at Ron’s entry, eyebrows rising slightly.
“’ello sir, ‘ave you go’ a room already?”
An accent. Cute. Veronica put on her best suave, manly voice and strolled to the counter, leaning an elbow against it, making the girl inch away uncertainly.
“I’m afraid not. Running an errand at the moment, actually. You wouldn’t happen to have a room booked for a-”Ron paused to study a paper scrap in her hands, plucked from the floor a moment ago-“a Veronica Williams, would you?”
The girl flipped through the dusty book, stopping and putting her finger on an entry.
“Wha’ if I do?”
Veronica leaned over to see the paper, hoping to catch a glimpse of what she owed, but the girl snapped the book shut coyly, a hand over the cover.
“I said, wha’ if I do?”
Ron stood, removing her elbow from the counter, a serious expression on her face.
“She’s to be hanged. All her things have to be sent back to her ailing mother.”
The girl suddenly looked ashamed, grabbing a key from the box behind her and handing it over.
“That’s terrible. Give ‘er my prayers, would you?”
Veronica took the key, smiling a small smile.
“I will. She’ll be awfully grateful.”
Whistling a cheerful tune, Ron made her way up the stairs, sensing the girl’s appreciative gaze on the defined muscle in her forearms. Dressing as a man did have its benefits, it seemed. She’d tried to pull this same stunt with a bunch of other inns, as a woman, and never got a farthing. There was that one time, though, with the old coot at the Gold Dubloon-the fellow was so busy staring at her waist that he never noticed how empty his till had become. Attractions were such fickle things, and yet so easy to manipulate. A look, the brush of skin against skin, a touch…it all went a long way.
The door of room eighteen easily gave way to the iron key, swinging in softly. Veronica proceeded to throw her things in a canvas bag and tidy the area, making the bed and straightening out the pillows. She glanced behind the wooden screen in the middle of the room and, finding a tub full of warm, soapy water, stripped herself of her now-grimy clothing and took a short but lavish bath.
Dressed in a pair of wondrously well-fitting trousers and a white collared shirt, Ron tied her hair into a bun with a ribbon and secured her weapons to her person. A dagger in camisole, a long hunting knife in her boot, numerous smaller blades, and a magnificent sword secured to her pencil-thin waist. Slinging the bag over her shoulder, Veronica undid the latches on the window and, smiling, hopped out.
The seaside was silent, now completely devoid of people. The Blackbird was peacefully rocking in the gentle waves, a welcoming sight. Ron was still unsure why she had acted so foolishly during her thievery, much too slowly and carefully, as if to preserve the ship. There was something familiar about it, something that was worming about at the back of her mind, too far back to recall. Getting caught and employed was the only option that would allow her to explore the vessel undisturbed, and lay her curiosity to rest. While emptying the crew’s pockets, of course. She wouldn’t tell the haughty captain, lest it hurt her pride or bring on a bout of sarcasm, but there was nothing binding her to The Blackbird, except for memories. And gold.
Veronica inspected the gleaming pocket watch around her neck, looted on her way out of the ship. The crew wasn’t a rich bunch, but they had their heirlooms, and she had her sticky fingers. It was a perfect match.
A noise made Ron stop ascending the rope ladder by the ship, poking her head just over the edge to see the youngest deckhand, Jacob or something, reach out towards a tall man, becoming quickly and impressively incapacitated. The rest of the crew, all hung over, led him inside the ship. Was a pirate trying to raid a ship she was already raiding?
Veronica cursed long and foul, jumping on deck and practically leaping down the trapdoor. She didn’t swear, for the most part, but when it came to pirating, her temper was short. The man was at the captain’s cabin door, a cocky smile plastered on his scarred face, somehow deaf to the ever-persistent squeaking. He was facing away from Veronica so, when she ran at him with a battle cry, he only had a split-second to stare, stunned, before she wacked him hard and good in the head with the canvas bag in her hands. Something hard inside it connected to his temple, making him stand a moment, wavering, and collapse on the wooden floor. The crew, dispersed throughout the hall, stared awe-struck at the body on the floor and, slowly, started to applaud. Isabel finally opened her door, looking drowsy and holding up a hand to block the light from her eyes.
“What’s all the commotion?”
She looked at the man on the floor, and at the bag still clutched in Ron’s hands, before laughing dryly.