Her boots were almost silent against the cobble-stones as she made her way along the building, the scent of fish and the Thames thick in her nostrils. I should have worn a hat, she thought grimly. A lady in trousers is quiet the spectacle.
Jenny couldn’t stop the niggling feeling in the pit of her stomach that something was wrong. Of course, the idea of a pirate marching into King Henry VIII’s presence was wrong in all manner of ways. But it was the only way to keep the king from making good on his promise.
The voyage had been horrible. All the way across the Atlantic, something she tried desperately to avoid, and then nasty storms all the way through the English Channel. Then there was the dreaded River Thames… there was no way to hide such a large ship. And The Pryde and Joy was one that would stand out no matter where it was.
But the voyage was behind her. Now she just had to look to the most dangerous matter.
She had to save her friends.
Gritting her teeth, she strode out into the open, moving past people gathered about on the streets. She earned several stares with her men’s clothing and strange contraptions strapped to her coat, but perhaps that was best. Maybe the king would get wind and send someone after her.
A hand clamped down on her shoulder.
Jenny dropped down, twisting as she stuck out one leg to take out whoever was behind her. But the person stepped to the side as though he were expecting it. Jenny jumped back up; moving her arm to smash him in the collar-bone, but the man grabbed her fore-arm and pushed her back gently.
“You’re jumpy as a puppet on a string, Jenny,” said a teasing voice.
Jenny snatched her arm back and looked up at Shipley sourly. “I suppose you followed me all the way from the plantation,” She sighed.
“Whenever you sneak off without a warning you usually end up in trouble,” Shipley said. Jenny grimaced, recalling the multiple incidents he could be referring to. She wondered which in particular he was talking about… the time she had impulsively gone off to find Will’s sister, and returned with the spiteful Faye? Or maybe the time that she had been convinced that Rex was in trouble and nearly gotten Melba killed. And of course there was always the infamous punchbowl accident with Alexandra.
“But all the way across the Atlantic? And through the English channel?”
“And down the River Thames. Yes, Jen. I know the route. Seems awfully rash of you to travel it on a whim, though.”
Jenny snatched his arm and dragged him to the side of the street so that they were partially hidden from passersby by a load of crates.
“Honestly Shipley, why would you follow me that far?” She asked suspiciously. Shipley crossed his arms, looking down at her.
“Why are YOU coming to London?” He asked casually. Jenny pursed her lips.
“I have business here,” She finally said. “Which I will attend to as soon as you explain why you would follow me all the way across that blasted ocean.”
“Rough voyage?” Shipley asked.
“No changing the subject!”
Shipley dropped the casual façade and reached out, touching Jen’s shoulder. “Because you have the nasty habit of getting everyone into trouble when you try to do things on your own.”
Jenny stiffened. “Well now that’s just rude.” She flicked his hand away and turned, marching off. Shipley stepped into the road, calling after her.
“Where are you going?”
She turned and stepped close. “Get home before they hang you,” She pleaded. “It’s not safe for people in our line of work here.”
“Then it’s not safe for you either,” Shipley reasoned.
“I have an excuse. Shoo!”
But Shipley wasn’t leaving.
“You’re up to something Jenny. And these little plans of yours rarely turn out well. Especially not when you think them up in a rush as you must have done to leave so quickly.”
“But they nee- Oh, just go!”
“Who needs what?” Shipley pressed, walking behind her.
Jenny broke into a run. Part of her knew it probably wouldn’t work. In fact, she felt as though she could feel Shipley’s grin.
She ducked into an alley-way and snatched onto a window-sill, expertly climbing the side of the house. She made her way to the top via precarious finger and toe holds, a trick she’d learned from Rex, before taking off along the roof.
She made her way from roof to roof, not looking back. Shipley was most likely behind her by now, so she dropped into an alley-way in hopes of confusing him.
Jenny turned, snatching the handle of the door in the building she’d jumped off of. It opened easily in her hand. This bit of London looked seedy… most likely a deserted shop.
She pulled the door open and stepped inside, then pulled it shut behind her. Cautiously, Jenny listened for any signs of another person, but the building was deathly still.
Jenny took a few steps forward, her boots, still wet from puddles at the dock, leaving muddy footprints on the dusty floorboards.
There was the sound of banging wood.
“Nice try Jen.” Shipley stood in the doorway to the next room, a grin visible on his face in the dim light.
“Come on. Just tell me why you’re in London,” Shipley wheedled, moving closer. She pursed her lips for a moment, and then let out a sigh.
“A contract,” She said carefully. “One that can protect the others from… the notice.”
“The notice?” Shipley said, brow furrowed. Then his eyes widened slightly. “The one from…?”
Before she’d left for England, the British had arrived. They’d put up notices all over the islands about how the piracy had gotten out of hand. It had read that the cargo ships no longer needed to worry about the pirates… the British were going to stop it once and for all.
Of course, the message had never been for the cargo ships. All the pirates knew it had been for them.
Some chose to ignore it. They’d sailed rougher seas and seen worse warnings. Others quickly reverted to more lawful means.
And Jenny decided to strike a bargain.
“It was just a rumor. A small one. But worth it,” Jenny’s eyes began to light up as they always did when describing one of her plans.
“Jen,” Shipley said warningly. “What was the rumor?”
“That the King would pardon any pirates who agreed to become pirates for him,” Jenny said.
There was silence for a moment.
“Say WHAT?!” Shipley cried.
“Calm down!” Jenny scolded. “Privateers. It’s so simple, and horribly easy. We do exactly what we always do but ONLY to the Spanish, not the English.”
Shipley stared at Jenny. Then he dropped his face into one hand and groaned. “I can’t give you all that scientific probability and the like, but that’s an absolute horrible idea.”
“But it’s perfect!” Jenny cried out. “All of us are safe from England, and are still free to do as we please!”
Shipley looked back up at her. “Safe from the English? I don’t see why you’re so worried about the warning.”
Shipley stepped forward and took Jen’s hands in his, looking her in the eye.
“The English can smoke it. Our friends are capable of taking care of themselves Jen. They wouldn’t have made it this far if they couldn’t. And besides, do you THINK someone as stubborn as Melba or Rex would WANT someone to rescue them? We have survived far worse than a bloody warning from the British.”
“And suppose we can’t this time?” Jenny demanded, pulling her hands away.
“And suppose your rumor is false?” He shot back. “Then you’ll have traipsed into the arms of the very man who swore to kill you. You’ll be hanged by morning. Something tells me Rex wouldn’t be too happy his sister got herself killed.”
Jenny paused for a moment, looking up into Shipley’s face. She searched it, then shook her head. “That’s a chance I’m willing to take for those I love.”
“For those who you can’t trust to handle themselves.”
The sudden thought of living without Will to annoy Rex or Melba to gossip with Alex was too much for Jenny to think about. Or if Shipley got killed... there was once a day when Jenny might have almost wished that. But now they were growing closer and closer, and the idea of missing what might come, what might now be able to happen, was horrible.
“Those who I can’t afford to trust,” Jenny replied.
Suddenly, she reached into one of her many coat pockets and pulled out a tiny device. Shipley dove instinctively to the side, and Jenny dashed past him, tossing something onto the floor. Within seconds, the room was full of smoke and Jenny was out on the street.
She darted across the dirt road, snatching the reigns of an unattended horse. She mounted quickly and squeezed her legs, dropping a few coins behind her as the animal took off.
“Horribly sorry!” She called out. Her heart pounded with the adrenaline of a brashly made decision.
Jenny could hear the faint sounds of Shipley’s curses in the background, but it was soon drowned out by the sound of thundering hooves as the horse sped up. The horse clattered down the street, bringing her ever closer to either the safety of her friends, or the end of her life.
* * * * *
“What do you mean he won’t see me?” Jenny demanded. The words were simple, and she easily grasped the meaning. But she wanted an explanation. And besides, she could easily kill the scrawny man. Of course, then every cannon in the place would be trained on her. But it was ridiculous in any case.
She snatched out a knife and stabbed it down into the table. Wistfully, Jenny recalled when Rex had done the same to Shipley the day they had all met, rather unfortunately, at the same tavern. That was before they knew who Rex was, and before Shipley had become his less-arrogant self. The memory reminded her why she was there.
“I want to see King Henry NOW,” Jenny said, leaning close, eye-to-eye with the scrawny man. “And I have the nasty feeling that King Henry will most likely want to see me too.”
“Why would he want to see you?” The man asked, eyeing the knife warily.
“Because. He threatened to kill me.”
The man lowered his voice, leaning in. “The king has killed and threatened to kill many women, miss. Perhaps you’ll recall Anne Boleyn?”
Jenny frowned. “I haven’t exactly kept abreast of royal gossip while in Havana,” She snapped.
The man’s eyebrows went up. “Havana. So that’s why he threatened you in particular then.”
“Are the rumors true or should I just slit your throat and go home?” Jenny growled. The man looked amused. She sighed inwardly. I never was as good at the intimidating bit as Rex was, she thought. Of course, Rex had become slightly less intimidating with time. She could hardly imagine her brother threatening her life now. At least, he didn’t threaten her life most of the time.
The man didn’t reply. He reached out and pushed Jenny back, then stood and left the room.
Jenny bit her lip.
The man came back into the room and impatiently waved her in. Feeling strange in the formal setting, Jenny moved forward into the room beyond.
She was expecting him to be sitting on the throne, as he was in paintings and political cartoons. Instead, he was sitting behind a desk, looking rather weary and very disgruntled.
“Fawkes didn’t tell me you were a girl,” He huffed.
“Because it doesn’t matter,” Jenny snapped back. “Is the rumor true?”
“If not I could have you hanged,” King Henry VIII replied.
“Not before I kill you.”
“The rumor is true,” The king said slowly. “If you’re willing to go after the Spanish, I would be willing to overlook… past actions.”
“And those of my friends?” She pressed.
The King paused. “Honor among thieves?”
Jenny smirked slightly. “Honor? If you’ve ever seen Faye play poker, you’d know we’re far from honorable. But there is…” She trailed off. Love didn’t seem a concept this man could understand. The word was too delicate, too deep for him to grasp. “Camaraderie.” She finally said.
King Henry nodded slowly. “The contract could extend to them as well.”
Jenny nodded briskly. The king motioned to one of the servants flanking the room and the man brought over a sheaf of papers. King Henry rifled through them before pulling one out. He nodded to a quill.
As Jenny stepped forward to pick it up, she heard the terrible sound of flesh being torn and a door being kicked in. Horrified, she turned to see Shipley standing in the doorway with a bloody sword.
“I hate that chap,” Shipley said, motioning to the scrawny man lying on the floor behind him.
King Henry VII raised his eyebrows. “And who is this?”
Jenny scowled. “One of those not-so-honorable friends. Shipley, leave me alone!”
“The instant you leave us alone,” He said, pointing the sword at her. “I’m just making the decisions that I think are best for you, same as you would for us.”
“Don’t give me any of that philosophical blarney!” She snapped. She reached out for the quill determinedly.
“Look sharp,” Shipley said. She heard the swish of a sword and ducked as it passed where she had been moments before.
Aghast, Jenny turned to face him. “You’re not serious.”
The sword came down on her and she rolled to the side. The sword clanged on the edge of the king’s desk.
Jenny crouched, watching Shipley in disbelief. He drew his second sword and rounded on her.
“I thought you were done trying to kill me! It’s been twice already.”
“Three times.” Shipley corrected, lunging forward. Jenny leapt to the side and spun, planting a boot on Shipley’s backside. She kicked roughly, sending him forward. Quickly, she snatched up the quill.
“You’re a very uncivilized lot,” King Henry VII observed. “If this is what you consider ‘camaraderie’.”
“Shut it,” Jenny snapped at him. “I’m busy.” She reached for the parchment, but Shipley had rounded on her again, forcing her to dance away from the desk.
“Think, Jenny,” Shipley scolded.
“Hard to do with two blades being whacked at me every which way!”
“Whacked?” Shipley said, shocked. “I don’t whack! You whack. I’m a skilled swordsman.”
Jenny moved behind the desk and reached over the King’s shoulder. The horrified servants, who had so far been frozen against the walls, suddenly moved forward, worried that she might try to knife him. She darted back around before they went for her too and rolled under the desk. Teeth gritted, she signed her name and the names of her friends on the contract.
“You didn’t!” Shipley cried, throwing one sword down on the ground in a flash of temper.
Jenny crawled out and slapped the parchment on the King’s desk. “Yes I did. You always were a sore loser.”
He glared at her. Jenny hadn’t seen a glare so harsh since the night that he had almost, almost kissed her. Until, of course, Alex and the punch bowl.
She brushed past him, moving back outside.
* * * * *
She was at the dock, waiting. She knew he would come. And he did.
“It was a mistake Jen,” He said gravely. “I know you don’t see it now.”
“Maybe you don’t see.” She shot back. “Your bloody pride’s in the way. I’m trying to save you.”
“Sometimes,” He said quietly. “The hardest thing to trust someone with is themselves. And perhaps the most important.”
Shipley turned and left.
Jenny waited. She hadn’t thought the meeting would make her feel like this. Triumphant, maybe? But she hadn’t expected to feel… guilty.
Suddenly, Jenny wasn’t as confident about her plan as she had been.
She didn’t have many fond memories of her parents. Neither had been good to her. But her father had moments between bouts of drunkenness that she recalled with a near-fondness. During one of those moments he had pulled her close, bloodshot eyes looking into hers.
“Sometimes, Jenny dear, the hardest thing to trust someone with is their own life,” He said softly. “Don’t be rash, love.”
Jenny turned and faced the ship. She wasn’t entirely sure what she had done to her and her friends. Impulsive decisions, she thought. Hasty and panicked thinking. You know how to think more logically and be more prudent than that.
But she also knew that they could sail the roughest storms.