The floor banked steep underfoot. Paj stumbled and smacked her hands on the gloss finished, dark oak table to keep upright. The ship’s roll had interrupted her conversation with Katarina. Shooting a heavy-browed glance at the other woman, Paj shoved away and stormed through her heavy door, with mild worry her feet would slip from under her.
“Hey hey hey!” she cried, catching a banister outside the captain’s door. Half a dozen pairs of eyes looked up at her. Paj’s gaze rested on the ocean. The water itself was like smooth blue glass, no chop churning the surface, but the swells were huge. They were caught on the center of an enormous swell, tilted at a dangerous angle to the horizon. “Why are you trying to sink her?”
Words of protest followed her as she whipped around the banister. “Why are you trying to sink our home?” The wind tussled the short, soft strands of hair loose from her braid, tickling her cheeks. Her stone gaze locked on a broad-faced helmsman with a salt and pepper beard. His mouth opened, but her order bellowed first: “Angle her!”
She climbed the stairs with a single stumble. The helmsman had snapped to, and she came face to face with a sweating, breathless elven man. The ship pitched forward to ride the swell downward. The roll was still steep but at least they weren’t in danger of drinking sea water. Her critical eyes studied the elven man, who went by Ren. “Why are you out of breath over?”
“I… Captain, I couldn’t… hold the steering. I’m so-”
“I thought I told you to hold steering?” Paj interrupted Ren’s apology, staring up at the broad-faced helmsmen.
“Aye, ma’am. Ya did.”
“So you ignored me and got a petite man to hold against these swells?”
There was a smile tickling the man’s cheeks, beneath that monstrosity of a beard. “I suppose the petite captain thinks she’s going to deliver a punishment to a lad like me.”
Green magic swathed her fingertips before she’d completed a breath. “I am.” Viridescent glyphs sprouted beneath the helmsman’s feet. He shouted in surprise, jerking, but found his feet attached to the boards. Paj smiled, gay and white teeth catching the sunshine rays. Venom serrated her words. “She sinks, you sunk her, and you’ll be the first to drown.”
“You can’t-“ he sputtered, even as Ren shushed him.
Thunder in her eyes, Paj snapped back. “I can! And for as long as I want! Because I’m the only mage on ship. And the captain. Not that Ren, or any of the others would defy me.” Glancing at Ren, the elven man was shaking his head. Paj delivered her final hiss, “Don’t sink her!”
Ignoring the helmsman’s protests, Paj’s booted feet thudded back down the steps. She rested a hand on the railing, watching as the next swell rose next to them. The boat shuddered, but cut through the water at the proper angle to the swell. Smiling, she stroked the railing with her thumb. They wouldn’t sink, and she could already see where the waves were shrinking.
The rigging jumped and trembled beside her. A crew member was scrambling down, swinging on the rope, and she touched down on the deck lightly. There were crew checking ropes, peeling vegetables, scaling fish, or restocking the pilot boat. The ship shivered over yet another swell, assisting a few stumbles on deck, and Paj was at ease. Her crew. Her ship full of cargo. The whole ocean ahead of her.
Kat standing near her cabin entrance. Paj smiled at the other woman as she stepped over the rise back into her quarters. A map spilled across the table. A ship’s log almost up to date and a couple of names of people to harass at the next port. Paj twisted one of Papa’s old rings, the one she kept on her thumb for luck, as she searched her short memory for where they’d left off. She shut the door again and the captain’s weight fell from her shoulders.
“About Fontegue… I’m thinking… maybe you should speak with him?” And it was okay to be uncertain, because it was Katarina. Of everyone, she was the most special. A safe haven.
Meeting Kat’s gaze, Paj smiled, even and bright.
Feeling right at home even as she caught the lantern sliding off the table.