Chapter 1 – An Honest Mistake
Molly waited until she was certain the Dockmaster had finished his rounds before she moved quietly in her bare feet to the stacks of crates near the water. The Grand Maiden was moored only a stone’s throw away. So far, everything had gone perfectly according to plan, and she smiled in the dark. No doubt the Guild would be looking for her come morning, but if her luck held, she’d be long at sea before they figured out that she was even missing… or what she had taken.
Shoes in hand, she only lost a little skin wiggling into an opening on a netted bundle of crates; something she was only able to do thanks to her small size, then she carefully checked the contents of her carrisack. Everything seemed fine, and she breathed a sigh of relief. Now all she had to do was wait there until they loaded the bundle onto the ship and she would be free of the Guild and their stupid misogynistic rules. The Maiden would take her to Pellin Harbor. She’d have to declare herself as a stowaway of course, but passenger ships were kind about such things, allowing her passage to be paid after the fact, or so she’d been told. If she could just get to Pellin, then she could contact her uncle to come pay her bond. He was perhaps the only one in her family she actually liked, let alone trusted.
Settling her back against a crate, she pulled out a half loaf of bread and a small wine skin. She wasn’t fond of wine, but it was actually easier than getting fresh water without making noise. The numbing effects of the alcohol would probably help her sleep as well. The hard wood palette under her, and the cramped quarters, wasn’t much of a bed, but with a little more luck she could get a few hour’s rest before morning.
She was just thinking that the wine also helped with the very dry bread, when something alive scurried over her bare feet. With nowhere to go, she reared up in sudden terror and smacked her head hard against the crate above her. Slumping over unconscious, the dock rat got the rest of her stale bread.
Upon waking, Molly vowed that the next time she had to run away, she would charter the ship in advance. Spending the night crammed into a cargo palette was horrible.
Her head was pounding, and her hip was no doubt bruised where it had been rubbing against the crates. And then of course, there was the nausea. She really didn’t think she had enough wine to feel this bad, but she had never been able to drink like her sister, Caitlin. Cat could put down ales with the best of them and still dance gracefully.
Yawning, she looked around her and realized that she was no longer on the dock. The palette had been loaded into the ship’s cargo hold, just as she planned, and she giggled. Now all she had to do was go up on deck and declare herself. And she was about to do just that when a hand reached down and snagged her by the collar.
“Gotcha, you little curr!”
“Ahhh! Wait, I‘m a stowaway!”
She was yanked straight out of the crates and set hard onto a barrel by a tall black-haired woman with a purple kerchief around her head. Molly noticed that the woman was also wearing twin sabers, something that she hadn’t expected on a passenger ship.
“I can see that, bilge-sucker.”
“I… I d-declare myself, and seek bond at Pellin Harbor!”
The woman laughed outright. “You what?!”
“I declare myself…”
“Yeah yeah, I heard you. Captain’s gonna love this,” she continued, sarcastically. “We’re not a day out of port and we already have baggage to throw overboard.”
Molly’s eyes grew wide.
“Overboard?…” she said, meekly.
“Quite possibly. But that’ll be up to the Captain. Come on then.” She pushed Molly off the barrel and pointed her toward the stairs. “You certainly are a short one, kinda cute though,” she added, slapping her on the rear. “Maybe the Captain will let you ‘entertain’ the crew before we toss you to the fishies.”
The morning sun was blinding to Molly, and she put her hand up over her eyes.
“To Port, lass, up a deck.”
She just stared at the woman, who rolled her eyes.
“Good lord… Turn left, take the stairs. Go on, or do I need to carry you by your ears?”
Molly tripped as she scrambled up the stairs to the next deck, barking her shins on the steep steps. The tall woman followed, and then ushered her through a door. There was a small hall that seemed to double as a storage space, and then another door. At this one, she knocked.
“Come!” said a female voice beyond.
As they stepped into the captain’s cabin, Molly boggled at how incredibly cluttered it was. She was used to seeing heavily used workspaces at the Guild, but this was an order of magnitude more congested. But as she mentally catalogued what she was seeing, she decided that most of it was simply stored for space rather than quick access.
The tall woman pushed her forward until she was before a large anchored desk. Standing behind it was another female dressed in a more formal uniform of sorts. She didn’t recognise the tailoring or colors, which made her a little nervous. The woman herself was blonde-haired, with her mane tied back into a single ponytail. Molly noticed that she too wore a sabre, and sighed with trepidation. Something wasn’t right.
“Oh, you have got to be kidding me. Brill, I thought we sealed the cargo this time!”
The black-haired woman, who Molly took to be the one named ‘Brill’, looked a little embarrassed, but nodded.
“We did sir. Netted and marked. My guess is she just fit through the seam.”
The Captain rubbed her forehead as though she had a headache. “Gods, we don’t need this. Not this time…”
“What’s your name, child?”
“Molly Amberly, ma’am. I declare myself for bond as a stowaway. And… I’m not a child. I’m of age.”
“Are you now,” responded the woman, unimpressed. “Let me tell you something, girl; I’ve know people twice your age that acted like infants, and also ‘children’ that needed to be adults long before their time. Your age means nothing to me, not out here.” She indicated the sea beyond the ornate window behind her. “To me you’re a child until you prove otherwise, got that?”
“Yes, ma’am,” she replied, more meekly.
“You call me, ‘sir’ or ‘Captain’, as is my rank. I’m not your mother, understand?”
“Good. Now about this bond you seem to think I’ll give you…”
“I was told that I could declare myself, and that you would take me in bond to be paid when we reach Pellin Harbor… Sir.”
“Miss Amberly, if you interrupt me again I’ll have the deck watch take you upstairs and flog you bloody.”
Molly shut up.
“Pellin? Why in the world would you think we’re going to Pellin?”
She scratched her chin. “Oh for goodness sake, speak, girl!” she added when Molly remained quiet.
“I… I was told the Grand Maiden was to stop at Pellin Harbor on route to Greattree, sir.”
The other woman suddenly looked as though something had occurred to her. “The Maiden was moored abreast to us in port. If I may, Captain, the dock was stacked for crosswise loading…”
“I don’t understand,” said Molly.
The Captain explained. “Some docks have their loading cranes out by the boats, but the main spars are too long to hoist palettes from the same side of the dock as the ship they’re servicing, so the dock has ‘crosswise’ loading.”
Molly still didn’t get it.
“… They stack goods on the opposite side of the dock from the vessel.”
Suddenly she understood. “Oh my god…”
“You’re on the wrong ship, lass,” said Brill, smiling.