A hush had settled over the whole of the ship and the only sound to be heard was the melodious creaking of the ship’s wooden boards as the vessel rocked on the waves. Overhead, gulls’ cried and, for once, Calypso thought the sound to be entirely mournful. A lone survivor stood amidst the carnage, her chest rising and falling rapidly. Head reeling from the events past, she attempted to piece together everything that had happened. The scent of blood had never bothered her in the past. Heavy on the air, it filled her nostrils and turned her stomach. Pooling around her feet, the familiar liquid spread upon the glossy deck like a coat of fresh paint. There was a clatter as metal struck the floor near the woman’s feet, the sword lay forgotten as she stared at the two bodies before her -- one belonging to her father the other to her brother.
Suddenly and impossibly heavy, Calypso’s feet felt like lead as she stepped toward her brother only to drop to her knees beside him. She paid little attention to the carnage that soaked the fabric of her pants, his blood, still warm against her frigid skin as she stared down at him. His face remained unmarked by the fight that had, ultimately, ended his life, and despite the violence that surrounded them, his expression was peaceful. With eyes closed against the world, his faint smile was one familiar to her and, for a moment, she found it all too easy to imagine that he was merely asleep. Hovering over him, blood from her own wounds dripped freely onto his face, breaking the illusion of peace and she stared. Numbly, brokenly, she committed the young man’s face to memory. Every curve and crease of it belonging to her best friend, her confidant, her protector, her whole world up until the very moment his eyes had closed forever.
A broken sob rattled her chest, murdering the silence as she gathered him in her trembling arms.
“Damn you, Triton.” She whispered into his hair, her tears and blood wetting the darkness of it. “Damn you. You promised...”
“Caly?” The interruption was unwelcome, and she did not hasten to acknowledge it, hoping that she could be left alone to grieve.
“Calypso,” the voice persisted, its insistence impossible to ignore.
Hesitantly she looked up and through her tear-blurred vision. With one eye blind, she could barely make out the silhouette of the first mate, John. The shape of him was odd, and it took her a moment to recognize the bundle he held against his chest. Calypso rubbed her uninjured eye with the back of her hand to clear her vision and instantly wished that she hadn’t. She would have gladly remained blind forever to prevent herself from facing the reality he presented. Dangling grotesquely free, the hand attached to the arm registered to her brain long before she could recognize the rest of the body. Her mind began shouting at her reassurances that her eye was deceiving her, that John carried the body of another crew member. But that didn’t make sense, and her heart knew differently. There, in his arms, resting lifelessly was the body of her mother. The whole world swayed beneath Calypso’s feet, and the sky seemed to trade places with the sea – as if they had been consumed by a hurricane. The stabbing pain behind her injured eye intensified, spreading to her forehead and down the back of her neck. Waves of black and blue swirled at the edges of her vision as darkness slowly closed in around her.
Then everything went black.
There was no way for her to measure time in that place of overwhelming darkness. Memories danced before her eyes as images she had hoped to forget were resurrected again and again. Forced to relive her worst nightmare, she begged to awaken hoping that, when she did, everything would be just as it had been before. Triton would tease her about sleeping in, and her mother would ask for help preparing the meal for the crew while William scoffed from his favorite corner in the galley. Although far from perfect, it was that fantasy that she desired more than the reality she knew was waiting to swallow her. And, as if to end the comfort she’d found in her dreams, sunlight filtered through to rouse her.
Consciousness did not fail to meet her expectations. Lying on her back, she felt the hardwood of the ship digging into her spine. Her muscles ached, and her head continued to throb, the pain focused just behind her eye. Forced to look up, she took a moment to admire the perfectly clear blue sky above. She held her breath, hoping, for a moment, that everything would remain as it seemed. A terrible nightmare. She knew it could not be, however, as pain from the fight ravaged her body. Experimentally she lifted her right hand above her face, staring at the blood that coated it -- already dried and cracking over the ridges of her knuckles. There was no use in pretending, and she touched her face experimentally. Her expression did not change, the lines of it remaining blank as she felt the pillow of bandages beneath her fingers. Despairingly she dropped her hand back to the deck. Pain shot through her wrist, but she welcomed it as she turned her head to the left to meet the dead eyes of her father. Anger filled her.
She felt no pain towards the loss of him. Disgusted to have been kept next to him, she pushed herself up slowly, ignoring the dizziness that accosted her as she stood. All around her, the crew slowly gathered, collectively holding their breath as they awaited her reaction. She was captain now, she supposed. That right had once been reserved for Triton. Now the title and position had been forced into her hands. Both were things that, at one time, she had dreamed of possessing. Those childish daydreams felt decades away as she faced the reality of the event that had thrust her into power. Now, becoming captain filled her with dread.
“Throw him over.” Her voice was devoid of emotion, and she barely recognized the sound of it.
With dead eyes she watched as William’s body was lifted off the blood-stained deck, the crew murmuring insecurely. With rigid movements, they collectively tossed their deceased captain, and now murderer, over the side of the ship.
“Set sail for Ireland,” she continued, not wanting to give them a moment’s pause to question her authority.
Her demeanor shifted as she turned to look at her mother, laid gently beside her firstborn child. Side-by-side, mother, and son appeared peaceful, their hands nearly touching. That was how she wanted them to stay. Together.
Exhaling sharply and holding back renewed waves of emotion, Calypso turned away from the bodies and walked quickly toward the cabin that was now her own. She could not stay there, and grief was a luxury that she could not afford. Slipping into the dark warmth of, what had once been, her parent’s quarters, she slammed the door behind her. Unable to remain upright a second longer, her knees wobbled before failing her completely. Her whole body shook as she fell to the ground; her shoulders slumping against the firmness of the door. From the depths of her sobs bubbled up, threatening to choke her. In the same breath of overwhelming sorrow, grief quickly morphed into rage. At William – at Triton, but, most importantly, at herself.
Forcing herself to stand, she angrily began to tug at her bloodied and torn clothes. With jagged and disrupted movements, she undressed and disposed of the ruined articles. She did not look to see where they landed, but her hand halted, however, when her fingers brushed over the cold amulet that her mother had given her. ‘For protection,’ Pandora had said when she’d slipped the chain around her daughter’s neck. Fresh waves of rage filled her, and Calypso gritted her teeth and yanked the bloodied bauble from her neck. A furious scream ripped through her throat and escaped in an explosion of sound as she threw it across the cabin. It whistled through the air and clattered against the far wall, bouncing off of it before falling onto William’s desk and into a nest of scattered papers. There it would remain. Forgotten, hated, and untouched.
Calypso woke with a start. Sweat had gathered on the crest of her brow, and her chest felt hollow as she sat upright in her bed. Nested around her, the sheets were collected and tangled. Wrapped around her ankles tightly, a sign of how fitful her sleep had been. Clenching her jaw, she rubbed the sleep from her eyes, feeling as though she hadn’t slept at all. Her scarred eye ached beneath her palm, the roughness of the puckered flesh serving as a permanent reminder of that day and how hate had destroyed everything that she’d ever loved. The reality of her situation echoed all around her.
Although six years had passed the cabin remained mostly untouched, scraps of the captain before her lingered like a cruel joke. For a moment her sea-blue eyes lingered on his desk, still overflowing with charts and maps and correspondence from other captains. The ghost of him taunted her, and she quickly turned her back towards it as she forced herself out of bed. Shouldering on her frayed leather coat, she strapped on her sword belt beneath its folds. The weight of it was oddly comforting amidst the unease that had disrupted her rest.
Above her, the day had already begun. Dulled by the thin planking above she could hear her crew as they shuffled about, tending to their duties. Only a few of her father’s old crew had remained, her trust having been completely shaken. Assuming the role as the captain had clearly not settled well with those who blamed her for the death of their most respected leader. His were impossible shoes to fill, and she knew, without a doubt, that she was not even interested in trying.
After a quick glance in a mirror to check her appearance, she smoothed back her nearly black curls. Still held back in a sloppy braid she could not be bothered to fix the untameable mess. With a steadying exhale she emerged from the cabin, sunlight instantly washing over her pale white complexion.
The oceanic air filled her lungs, and she felt the night’s reopened wounds slowly begin to close. It was comforting to her, the predictability of her life. Having been born at sea, she’d always expected that she would, eventually, die there as well. Life on land had never appealed to her. Boring and tedious, the daily toil of land-dwellers filled her with dread. On her ship, she was free to roam wherever the tide took them. Set before them, the horizon held endless possibilities, and her pockets were rarely empty. She had earned the respect of her crew and the fear of every merchant that dealt with them. Not a soul dared to challenge her rule. What more could she want?
Beneath her feet, the ship rocked, and the sound of the ocean filled her ears. Absently, as they wandered by, various members of her crew nodded in acknowledgment of her emergence. A display of respect.
Her eyes drifted along the length of the ship. Harshly she took note of the work that had not been done to her standards. Near the back of the vessel, a stirring of commotion grabbed her attention. A small cluster of men had bunched together, their bodies hunched forward and their excited murmuring rising loud enough for her to hear. Standing at the center, Calypso spotted her first mate, John, attempting to keep the excitement in check. Catching her eyes from across the deck, he beckoned for her to venture over.
More than likely, they had snagged some unfortunate sea creatures on their ropes. It had been some time since they’d last resupplied and the rations had long since grown stale and repetitive. The promise of more exotic meat would be enough to inspire the scene before Calypso. Curious, she ventured closer, and John pushed aside the other pirates to meet her.
The man’s face was grave, his lips pinched in a line beneath his peppered grey beard. Everything about the man brought a wave of fresh memories. In many ways, he had been like a second father to her. Present throughout her childhood, he had been the first of her father’s old crew to step up to help her navigate through the difficulties of becoming captain. She owed her very survival to him and trusted him without a single shred of doubt. Drawing nearer, she saw a flicker of annoyance light his gray eyes, and she wondered what could have inspired such a reaction.
“Pulled ’em from the sea,” he said nodding towards a seemingly lifeless body belonging to a very ragged looking man. “Half dead by my accounts, nothing of value on ’em except this.”
Dangling from his hand, an unusual looking ornament hung from its chain, the pendant swaying hypnotically. Taking it for herself, Calypso studied the unique piece of jewelry. Encased in silver, the face of it seemed to glow, even when exposed to the sunlight. Swirls of color blended together, the hues of blues and purples shifting as she examined it. Glittering like diamonds, a star like shapes sparkled against its backdrop, forming the shape of a familiar constellation. Pisces, Calypso recognized. Stuffing it into her hand, she turned her attention back towards the man.
Finding bodies drifting aimlessly upon the sea was not a rare event. Usually, such findings signaled that a rival pirate ship lurked nearby. Many dead bodies meant successful pillage and that there would be nothing but scraps left for them. A lone body, however, presented more questions than answers. Pushing through her crew, she shot them all a look insinuating that they ought to busy themselves elsewhere. With soft grumbles, they departed, peeling away quite begrudgingly. Alone, with John at her side, she examined the evidence presented. He had been tied to an empty barrel, a tactic meant to keep him afloat and alive. The rope used sat in a heap beside the body, its chords green with algae. The man was young and wore no clothes except a grubby shirt and a pair of trousers, both similarly stained by the salty sea water. Undeniably handsome, a mop of thick auburn curls were plastered against his sharp cheeks and forehead. Somehow not burnt by the sun, his complexion was very pleasantly tanned, and she quickly noted how he had been stripped of every frivolous possession, including his shoes. Despite the stillness of his body, however, his chest continued to rise and fall.
He was either a fortunate man – or very unlucky, a fact that remained to be seen.
“This,” she began by holding up the necklace, “was all that was on him?”
John nodded gruffly, his eyes traveling along the length of the man who, miraculously, persisted in living. “Poor fop seems to’ ave got’ emself in a bit’ o trouble.”
More than likely the castaway had been a thief or a stowaway hoping to steal himself a free voyage to wherever it was he was headed. Most merchant ships didn’t take kindly to extra mouths to feed, and that would explain his dumping, but in the middle of the ocean? The nearest port was far behind them, and Calypso was unsure whether she should be impressed or disgusted that such a fellow had managed for as long as he had. Falling to one knee, she tilted her head to study his face. He was not swarthy or unattractive, quite the contrary was true. It was a shame. From beneath his soggy and fraying shirt, she could plainly see the ridges of his chiseled muscles. He was strong and could have easily found some purpose on any ship. So, why then, had he been so carefully disposed of?
Standing upright, she glanced down at the only thing of value he had been allowed to keep.
“This is very nice,” she said mockingly as she twirled the pendant appreciatively. The pale metal glinted and gleamed attractively. “I think I’ll keep it for myself.”
Closing her fist around the round bauble to stop its spinning, she threw the chain over her head, enjoying the tug of the necklace’s weight as it settled around her neck. More than likely he would be dead come morning and wouldn’t be missing his little trinket. It made no sense to see such a beautiful thing sent to the bottom of the ocean. Besides, she thought to herself, it suited her more than it did him.
“What do ye want to be done with ’em?” John asked speculatively as she fell in step beside him once more. “Not much more left of ’em except as fodder for the sharks, me thinks.”
He was right, of course, and she nodded dismissively. “Throw him back overboard then,” her tone seemed bored as she waved her hand towards the crystal blue sea.
There were other, more important, matters to attend to. The crew had been growing restless, and Calypso needed to decide upon their next target before their craving for vengeance grew beyond her control. The castaway provided temporary, albeit short-lived, entertainment, but once he was gone, their restlessness would resurface. Perhaps the ship that had disposed of him was still nearby, and they could find some entertainment there.
Turning on her heels, she prepared to change course, they needed to resupply, and if they happened upon a traveling vessel, she saw no harm in a quick excursion.
She had only taken a single step away from the dying man, the thought of him already eradicated when the stirring of motion stopped her. John grunted behind her. Attempting to turn, her fingertips brushed along the leather hilt of her sword. A bite of cold steel upon her neck accompanied by a firm grip upon her body halted her.
“I would rethink that last order, m’ lady.” The voice was unfamiliar as it hissed in her ear, the heat and stink of his breath wafting over her face. Spoken through clenched teeth, she would not have believed its owner to have been unconscious only moments before had she not seen him for herself. Testing her strength against his, she fought his grip and was surprised to discover there was not an ounce to be won.
“Would you?” She countered sarcastically, her eyes rolling to find her first mate as he clumsily righted himself. With her voice laced with venom, she asked him, “I thought you said you searched him?”
Calypso was many things, but she was not a mindless killer. Should a situation warrant it, however, she had no problem with ending a life. Especially one that was foolish enough to threaten her own. The outcast’s sudden burst of energy was fascinating, however, if not a bit vexing.
Likewise, she was no healer, and she lacked both the time and resources to see such a poor creature brought back to health. And for what purpose? To be nothing more than another mouth to feed? She had no use for another crew member, especially one who had been disposed of by the last vessel he’d traveled on. Though he appeared healthy in that moment, she suspected that his energy would fail soon enough, and he would be reduced back to the half-dead mass he’d been only a moment ago. She’d been raised to show no mercy and taught to understand that even the tiniest moment of weakness could bring an untimely end, not just to herself but to the men who trusted her to lead them.
From the edges of her vision, she spotted John as he moved forward, looking as if he intended to do something stupid. Catching wind of the commotion, several other men had stopped their busy work to watch. Quiet slowly settled over the deck as everyone waited to see what the stranger might do next.
“You’re all worthless!” She snarled at them and, in response, the man jolted her as if meaning to silence her. To say her predicament was inconvenient was an understatement. “Alright then,” she growled as her agitation grew.
Slowly she inched her own dagger free from its trappings, the blade silent beneath the folds of her coat. With movements impossibly measured, she pressed the tip threateningly against his gut. “I think that you’ll want to reconsider what you’re about to do before I slit you from navel to throat.”
She’d half expected him to drop his blade, to back away and hurl himself into the ocean. Instead, he began moving slowly back towards the closed door leading to her quarters. A warm trickle traveled down her neck as the sharp blade broke her skin. The wound stung, but she had endured far worse. Her eye was evidence of that fact. Despite the prick of her own dagger, he remained utterly unperturbed – his movements growing in strength when they should have been fading. Becoming angrier the longer she stayed at his mercy, she decided that the time for words had passed. With a flash of movement, she drew back her arm and shoved her blade up and into him. Expectantly she waited for him to stumble backward, for his body to shudder and for his knife to fall to the deck. Instead, he remained as firm as stone behind her as his blood coated her fist.
Deep in his throat, he groaned as if he had only just been stung by a bee. His free hand released Calypso’s arm only momentarily to press around the split flesh that oozed sticky red.
“That is not ideal,” he muttered under his breath, his nonchalance throwing Calypso entirely. Taking hold of her once more, she noted the increased warmth of his flesh and felt the gummy substance staining the leather of her coat. His next words were more menacing than they had been before. “I think it’s time you and I had a little chat.”
In any other circumstance, she might have found the scene humorous. There she was, a fearsome captain took captive by a man they’d pulled from the sea. He’d appeared dead only to come miraculously back to life the moment she mentioned throwing him back overboard. She’d even stabbed the bastard, and still, he persisted. Clearly, this man was far more determined than she’d given him credit. Now, with her dagger poking out of his abdomen, he continued to push her towards the captain’s quarters. With a surprising amount of sturdiness, he kicked open the door and tossed her unceremoniously within. Stumbling forward she caught herself on the far wall, the gentle swaying of the ship, making it nearly impossible for her to regain her balance. Alone with the dead man, she righted herself and watched as he shut the door and pulled her dagger free from his flesh without flinching. A feat that, under different circumstances, might have impressed her.
Dropping the bloodied weapon to the ground, he sauntered forward and, though she was not afraid of him, Calypso was beginning to understand why he might have been thrown overboard.