Cynthia’s hands clenched the low stone wall as the moonlight on the sea gripped her heart like a siren song. The silvery orb that was her namesake glowed three quarters full. It had invaded her study and cast its spell on her as effectively as any wizard’s love potion, calling her to the sea.
It was in her blood; as her mother’s sandy hair and her father’s sea-blue eyes had been passed down, so had their love of the sea. The sea had taken much from her in the years since she played sharks and mermaids in the mud puddles of her back yard, but it had never relaxed its hold upon her soul.
She closed her eyes and could almost feel the long, gentle swells lifting her, could almost taste the salt spray. Oh, to have the winds push her effortlessly out to sea, to watch the land sink and finally fade away until nothing surrounded her but the waves. She gripped the stone harder as the fantasy filled her, but the sweet dream shattered with a wavering call on the wind.
She cringed at her grandmother’s call. She should not have been out this late, and the month-end accounts were past due, but the columns of numbers, balances, debits and credits had no power against call of the sea. She looked over her shoulder at the house and smiled thinly, knowing she was safe out here. Grammy never left the house after dusk.
The Garrison home was more of an estate than a simple house. Coconut palms and frangipani lined the wide drive, and bougainvillea colored the trellises on either side of the pillared foyer. The great stone turret commanded a view for leagues, and had beenCynthia’s favorite place to look out over the sea until her grandmother had discovered it, forcing her out onto the grounds.
“The old place isn’t what it used to be, Grandpa,” she said to nobody, unless the spirit of the old sea dog still haunted the home he’d built. Memories of those days rose unbidden: climbing the ancient banyan tree, jumping from the low branches into her grandfather’s gnarled hands. Yes, it had been a home then. Cynthia had been the beginning of the third generation of seafarers to dwell here, with the hopes of many more on the watery horizon. Now all those hopes were as dead as the stone under her hands.
“Odea’s toll,” she muttered, remembering the tales the maids told her as a child, the curse that had been levied upon the Garrison family. She honestly didn’t believe in curses, but the fact remained that the sea had taken away her parents and her grandfather. And still, she loved it beyond all else.
“You’re a harsh mistress, Odea.”
Despite the losses,Cynthia grew up well enough. She had never lacked pretty dresses, always slept in a warm bed and received a proper education from private tutors. Julia Garrison spared no expense to ensure that she was raised in a wholesome and healthy environment, and for a few years after the loss of her parents, that structured existence had been comforting.
But the song of the sea would not be ignored, and as the girl became a young woman she began to hear that song more clearly. The moon called her up to the tower at night to watch its beams dance on the waves, and the sun woke her at dawn when the ships slipped out of Southavenon the ebbing tide. Then one day she asked her grandmother if she could go down to the docks to see the ships come and go.
“The docks? Why ever would you want to see that dirty, smelly place, Cynthia? That is no environment for a young lady! Sailors are nothing but a lot of irresponsible drunkards! You’re best off if you concentrate on your studies.”
Resentment swelled at the memory and her grandmother’s relentless call. She whirled away from it, pressing her palms to her ears, banishing the voice that had kept her prisoner in her own childhood ignorance. With no influence but her grandmother, Cynthia had tried to live her life as she was told, learning to read and write and dress properly as well as mastering the ciphers and ledgers and account books, all boring as stale bread.
The moon emerged from a concealing cloud, casting its light onto the harbor below and the cluster of stately craft swaying at anchor. The sight banished her anger. She dropped her hands and cocked an ear, smiling as she thought she heard distant music of revelers in the local pubs.
“Not tonight,” she admonished herself, as the desire to steal down to the docks tugged at her. She’d done it a thousand times since her discovery that she could disobey with little repercussion. Her first rebellion had been ridiculously trivial, refusing to attend her lessons, but her grandmother had simply talked softly to her, pleading with her never to do it again, a far cry from the harsh disciplinarian of Cynthia’s childhood. The loss of her daughter had changed Julia Garrison; she viewed the world as a threat, and wanted only to protect her single remaining relative. Cynthia, on the other hand, viewed the world as a forbidden adventure.
Southaven quickly became her childhood playground.
She would steal down to the docks, the shipyards, the wharves and even the taverns that lined the waterfront, sneaking around and learning every foul word, ill manner and habit of every sailor she could meet. By fifteen she was a holy terror, and could spit, swear and drink as well as any sailor on the wharf. She showed up at home at dreadful hours, sometimes drunk, and never endured anything more than a stern lecture from her grandmother. Cynthiathought it was all a wonderful game, and would simply sneak out again at the next opportunity.
The full arrival of womanhood tempered her impetuous nature, but had not quenched her love of the sea, nor her desire to steal away aboard one of the stately craft that slid effortlessly out into the limitless blue of Odea’s domain. Now, at twenty-two years of age, she watched those ships and sighed, for that was the one adventure she had never managed to achieve: going to sea. That was where the sailors’ indulgence of her antics had ended. They put up with her tomfoolery on land, but they had never allowed her aboard their vessels, despite—or perhaps because of—who she was. At times like this, with the moonlight on the water glittering in her eyes, that unrealized dream broke her heart.
A patch of blackness moved around the headland to the west, and Cynthia’s thoughts shifted from her spiraling self-pity. One hand wiped at her tears while the other fumbled in the pocket of her dress for the bronze spyglass that had been her mother’s. Her gaze never left the ship as she extended the instrument and brought it up to her eye. She smiled at the thought of the daring captain bringing his ship in under moonlight, a dangerous practice even in tonight’s calm breezes. She twisted the scope and the distant vessel came into focus.
Her breath caught in her throat at the sight of the galleon’s mangled rig. The foremast was a stark pole, the yards gone and the forestays and bowsprit missing save for an improvised spar lashed to the foredeck. The mainmast sported only about half the canvas it normally would, probably in an effort to balance the sails. She could see men dumping buckets over the side at regular intervals. The ship had obviously fallen prey to the greatest threat in the Southern Ocean.
“Pirates!” she said between clenched teeth, climbing atop the low wall for a better view. “The bastards!”
Memories of a thousand stories of the pirates of the Shattered Isles surged through her mind. Those stories had been her only education about what had really happened that day her parents had fallen in a welter of blood and seawater before her eyes, for she had no clear recollection of it. Only in her nightmares did those images surface. Even to this day, visions of blood-red sails, and a deep-throated laugh plagued her sleep. Her hands clenched the telescope until the view shook in her eye.
“Cyn-thia!” came her grandmother’s urgent call, snapping her attention.
She looked back at the house and judged this far too important for her grandmother to spoil. She pocketed the telescope and hopped down from the wall, drawing up her skirts and striking out at a jog for the gate. She could make the docks well before the ship if she ran part of the way, and the last thing she wanted was to miss a single word of what the sailors had to say about the pirates.