Alice. Did they have something to do with hurting her?
Killing her, a voice corrected at the back of her mind.
She swept her eyes back out over the water to avoid the grim efficiency of it, their twisted, stretched bodies—their pieces—being stitched up into linen bags by sailors with faces like stone. There wasn’t a speck out on the far horizon. No land. No other ships. Just a sparkling blue that was darkening along with the sky. Just her, these ships, these men, and these bodies. The water and foam sloshing across the deck had turned a revolting shade of pink from the blood.
Etta barely made it to the rail in time to lean over it, stare into the dark water, and throw up. She closed her eyes, tried purging the images that were clinging to her mind like rosin on a bow. By the time she finished, she shook with exhaustion and more than a little embarrassment.
But she felt better for it. Clearer.
Her shoes were long gone—if she’d ever been wearing them at all? Her heel slid against an edge of sharp metal, and she instantly seized on the idea of finally having a weapon. She stooped to pick it up. The many-pronged hook was nearly the size of her head and weighed twice as much—Etta barely got it in the air before it was trying to tumble out of her hands.
“Ma’am, please,” the older man said, sparing a brief glance up at the heavens. “If I may, I would far prefer death by harpoon to death by grappling hook. Less of a mess for the men to clean up after, believe me.”
“Perhaps you should take a moment to think through your course of actions.” The younger man remained where he was, arms crossed over his broad chest again. Was he speaking to her?
That’s when Etta noticed that he was as drenched as she was.
Idiot. You didn’t get back up onto the ship by yourself.
“I don’t…You were the one that…saved me?” she asked.
“I should expect that’s obvious,” he said pointedly.
The older man turned back to him, blocking Etta’s view of his expression. When he faced her again, he winked. “Don’t mind him. He’s allowed one day of good nature a year and he’s already spent it.”
The other man gave a curt nod, an abbreviated little bow, and said, “Nicholas Carter. Your servant, ma’am. This is Captain Nathaniel Hall. May we have the pleasure of knowing your name?”
Etta hesitated, looking between them again. Captain Hall clasped his hands behind his back, never once losing his pleasant smile.
The situation was so past the point of being strange, and Etta was still not totally sure she wasn’t dreaming or having a nervous breakdown, that his question gave her pause.
Perhaps you should take a moment to think through your course of actions. The memory of Nicholas’s words made her grip the coat again. She straightened slightly, making her decision.
Whatever this was, she needed to keep herself alive; and, at that moment, the best way to do it might be to cooperate.
“My name is—”
“Henrietta!” a voice called. “Where are you? Henrietta?”
“Henrietta?” Captain Hall repeated.
“Etta,” she corrected, searching for the source of the shriek. “Etta Spencer.”
The girl appeared in a cloud of rustling green fabric and stormy dark hair. An already pale face went chalk white, then green, as she braced herself and took in the scene. She took slow steps through the gore that hadn’t yet been scrubbed away by the small boys with their buckets.
Her. Etta hadn’t imagined her, either.
“Madam,” the small young man with glasses said. “Has your stomach finally settled?”
Etta smelled the sick on her, saw the sheen of sweat coating her forehead and upper lip. The girl’s bloodshot eyes locked on Etta.
“You had me so very worried!” she gasped out.
Etta had to throw her hands out to steady them both—and to keep her from getting too close. The girl was shorter than her, but her presence was made larger by the coiled hair piled on top of her head, now drooping off-center. Her dress’s full skirt enveloped Etta’s wet one, and the shade of ivy green only deepened the queasiness of her complexion.
I don’t think so. Etta struggled out of the girl’s grip and felt her nails dig into her hand. The girl’s brown eyes were framed with full, dark brows, her lips set in a thin line—a smile that was as mocking as it was unforgiving.
The warning was clear: Don’t say another word.
Etta struggled to hold on to her composure. She opened her mouth, with sharp, wild words already poised at the tip of her tongue, before she clamped it shut again.
Perhaps you should take a moment to think through your course of actions.
This girl knew what had happened. Where they were. Information would start and end with her, and the only way Etta was going to get it was if she shut her mouth and listened.
You know what happened. She pushed you. Etta exhaled loudly through her nose, turning to look out at the sea. She didn’t trust herself not to give away her discomfort.
“Really,” the girl said, keeping her voice light and airy, “you must not panic that way. I told you that everything would be perfectly fine! Surely these gentlemen mean us, as passengers, no harm.”
“Battle can rattle even the steadiest of nerves,” Captain Hall said. “Miss…?”
“Oh—Sophia Iron—erm, Spencer.” She gave a little curtsy. Etta watched without a speck of sympathy as the girl straightened and swayed, her eyes clenched shut, her fist pressed against her stomach. “And…this is…my sister.”