Beginning: Part 1: Constantinople
The air was thick with the stench of rum and sweat in equal measure. The men’s boisterous voices rang out over their mugs as they slopped dark liquor over the sides, while toasting one another. I kept my smile hidden beneath the wide brim of my hat and remained silent. My table was in the furthest corner of the room; my back to the wall and my feet, clad in leather boots, perched up on the chair next to me. My table was empty but for the bowl of nuts and dried fruits the barkeep had brought over. He didn’t offer such delicacies to his usual clientele, but whenever my ship pulled into port, he made a point of stocking up. I picked a raisin out of the bowl and held it out to Mago. He sniffed at the shriveled grape, his whiskers brushing it and my fingertips. He snatched the raisin in tiny paws and nibbled at it. I stroked my fingers along his sinuous back and long, furred tail.
The door to the inn banged open, admitting two thick armed men and a blast of hot air from outside. Judging by their odor, barely masked by the coating of sea spray, I guessed they were fresh off the boat, in search of both drink and company. The shorter of the two men, who was in the lead, did not approach the bar, but stopped in the middle of the room and spread his arms.
“Who’s up for findin’ some treasure?” he bellowed. The talk subsided and all faces turned to him and his companion.
Ned Reef, my bosun, got to his feet, his head almost brushing the ceiling. “What you on about?”
“Treasure, mate,” the sailor said with a grin, leaning towards Reef. “We know where to find it. All we need’s a crew.”
“Who’s interested?” the second sailor shouted to the room. “We got a ship and a map. Come with us, and get your piece of the treasure.”
“How much?” Withers, a wry man built for scaling the shrouds, called out from the back.
“Ten percent,” the first sailor called back. The men’s eyes widened and a few exchanged looks. “To share,” he added and Withers’ grin dropped off.
“What say you?” the sailor asked the room.
I looked up from my table and caught Reef’s eye across the room. He waited. I nodded. He smiled and stepped forward, offering his hand to the sailor.
“I say we’re off to find some treasure.”
The sailor grinned and took Reef’s hand, several of the other men got to their feet and began closing in on them.
“We leave at dawn,” the sailor crowed.
“I didn’t say you were coming,” Reef said, still with a smile on his face.
The sailor’s triumphant smirk fell and he tried to pull back from Reef’s grip, but the bosun didn’t let go.
“What’d you think you’re doing?” he growled.
Withers skipped forward, light glinted off the blade he held at his side.
“Finding treasure, mate.”
I plucked another raisin from the bowl and fed it to Mago.
There was a yell and a crash. A table was knocked over as one of the sailors was thrown into it. More yelling and the thud of a fist connecting with flesh. A chair was lifted and swung at one of the men. He ducked, and the item of furniture smashed against the wall. Glass shattered and rum splashed across the floor. I heard at least one of the men wail at the loss. Reef emerged with the sailor’s collar gripped in his hand. He shoved the man backwards over a table.
“Where is the map?” he said, his voice low.
The second sailor roared and pulled out a pistol. He fired it and the resounding bang in the tight room burned my ears. Mago squeaked and ran up my arm to perch on my shoulder. One of my men retaliated, drawing his own weapon and swinging it back and forth.
“Enough!” The barman came charging out from the back, shotgun aimed into the melee. “There’ll be no brawling in my bar.”
I swung my boots down to the grimy, stone floor and stood. The room went silent as I stepped around my table and towards the barman.
“It’s alright, Henry,” I said, eying him.
Henry nodded and lowered his gun. “O’ course, Captain. I didn’t realise they were your men.”
One of the sailors tried to look at me, but as he raised his head, Reef shoved it back down onto the table top. Mago jumped from my shoulder onto the countertop and bounded along it. The sailor saw him and his breath came out in a huff.
“Mink,” he hissed.
I took a step closer to the restrained sailor. “Now, about that map.”
The sailor’s eyes swivelled up from under Reef’s hand to look at me, but before he could answer the door banged open for the second time. This time, a line of men streamed into the dingy bar, a flurry of cadmium yellow and crisp white. A sword hung at the hip of each, a bayonet in each set of hands.
Henry was the first to drop his gun, raise his hands and drop behind the cover of the bar. The guards poured in until every available space was filled. My men held their positions and nobody spoke. The guards, evidently expecting a brawl, went still. Their eyes jumped from one man to the next, to the broken furniture and shattered glass.
For a moment everything everything was silent, and then Mago squeaked.
The guard nearest me jerked his head around. He spotted Mago and his eyes widened. He spun towards me, raising his rifle. I grabbed the barrel and forced it to the side then kicked him in the chest, sending him sprawling backwards into another guard. Reef released the sailor, and instead, rammed his fist into a uniformed man. The guards yelled; weapons were fired. I saw at least one man go down. He was one of mine. I growled, pulled the pistol from my belt and aimed it at the man who shot one of my crew. I pulled the trigger.
I didn’t see where the voice came from, but more guards turned towards me. I punched one, kicked another in the head and drove my elbow into the temple of a third until his eyes rolled back. My pistol was knocked out of my hand so I drew my knife instead and jammed it between the ribs of the guard who tried to restrain me. I heard Reef’s bellowing cry and glanced over to see a line of red down his arm. There were too many of them in the cramped space. I knew the guards would gladly arrest any of my men, given the chance, but they would give that up for the chance to take me.
I whistled and felt a familiar thud as Mago landed on my shoulder and buried into my hair.
“Get back to the ship,” I called to Reef.
He didn’t look my way, eyes locked on his opponent, but I saw him nod and new he would get the crew out safe.
I took down the guard in front of me and leapt over him, then vaulted a table. Another guard jumped into my path and managed to grab hold of my arm. I twisted, spun him around and kicked him onto his back then burst out the door.
The sunlight hit me first, bringing with it a wave of heat that dropped over me and made my clothes cling uncomfortably. For a moment I almost wished for the flowing gowns of Constantinople. Then I remembered how much easier it was to run, and fight, in pants. My boots hit the hard packed dirt as I took off at a flying sprint through the Havana streets. My long coat billowing out behind me. I pushed past pale women in dresses designed for a very different climate, and men whose cloaks must surely have them sweltering like swine in such heat. I heard the guards rush out of the bar behind me and call to others on the street.
“Stop! Stop her!”
A man appeared in front of me and lunged. I ducked low under his grab, flipped him over my back and kept running. I dodged between sand colored buildings and under hanging palms, as the blasts of gunshots rattled the shutters over nearby windows. Something hot slashed my arm and I hissed at the sudden pain. I did not let myself stop, and within seconds the wound had repaired itself. Rapid healing was a boon I had not anticipated when my body had ceased to be entirely human, but it was one I had quickly come to appreciate. I turned right, hard, and the stone wall behind me blasted out a flurry of dust and chips as another lead ball struck it.
The docks weren’t far, I could hear the gulls calling from above the fish market. If I could get to the water I could get back to my ship. Once I was in open water they would never stop me.
A swath of yellow and white spread out across the end of the road, rifles raised. I leapt to the side, grabbing the back of a man’s coat and using it to swing myself around and down another alley. The guards were trying to block me off from the harbor, they were trying to cut off my escape. They wouldn’t succeed. They didn’t know who it was they pursued.
I could shift now, take to the air and be out of firing range before they knew what had happened. But no, the streets were too crowded. To change here would be to reveal myself to the entire city. The need for discretion was a lesson I had learned the hard way.
Instead I changed course, heading north, along the coast rather than towards it. The cliffs loomed ahead of me, standing above the city. The guards continued to follow me, although they had given up on firing, possibly because the sloping ground afforded few vantage points. I outpaced them easily; their uniforms and their weapons weighed them down. And although I too felt the blanket of humidity wrapped around me, I was better equipped to deal with it.
The dirt path became a rough stairway, then became stone, and soon I was standing on paved plaza that reached to the cliff face, protected from its edge only by a low, stone parapet.
I stepped up to the parapet and the vividness of the ocean reached out beyond, continuing until it fused with the sky to create an endless blue that would consume everything.
The guards appeared and spread out to surround me as much as they were able. A man pushed himself to the front, and I turned to face him.
“Felicia Mink,” he said, changing my name to its Spanish variant. “You are hereby under arrest for the crime of piracy.”
I smiled and took off my hat. The wind brushed the white feather in its top and tugged at my hair.
“You’ll have to catch me first.”
I threw the hat. It’s rotating brim sliced through the air as it sailed towards the guard. He recoiled instinctively from its approach and every set of eyes turned to follow it. I didn’t wait to see if it would hit him. Turning, I stepped up onto the parapet, grabbed Mago and tossed him out over the cliff. Then I jumped.
Air rushed past me, grabbing at my hair and clothes. I let myself change. My body reformed, becoming smaller, lighter. Feathers sprouted from my skin. I pulled in my arms, which were now wings and rolled in the air, sliding free of my heavy coat and letting the material fall. Reaching out with my talons, I grabbed Mago, being careful not to puncture his sides. As a black and white sea eagle, I soared out over the blue.
Amongst the sails and bobbing hulls, I spied the triple masts of the Argent Wing, and angled my flight towards it. The gray sails unfurled as I swooped low over the deck. I released Mago and Reef’s hand shot out to catch him. I glided up to the stern as the ship began to move; the wind and tide already nudging it out from the shore. Pulling in my wings, I dropped onto the deck and morphed back to my own form. Johnson appeared beside me with a coat identical to the one I’d lost over the cliff, and held it as I slipped my arms into the sleeves. Rodrigo placed a hat on my head, and Reef held out his arm so Mago could scamper from it onto my shoulder.
I smiled and gripped the wheel, feeling the motion of the Argent as the sails filled and the ocean swelled under her hull.
Continue: Part 4: Berlin